Jason Liddy guided the jigsaw along the pale blue lines of the intricate design. He didn’t hear the front door bell. The Funkadelics were on the stereo and he’d turned it up to one notch below full blast, denying himself that tenth notch in a superstitious hope of saving the speakers. If he hadn’t been so relaxed, so one-with-the-jig and if he hadn’t reached a rare six inch straight line, he might have ruined the piece when the loud pounding jolted him from his reverie. He swore, laid the saw down and turned toward the basement stairs. Two steps up he realized he was still wearing his safety goggles.
“Wait, wait!” he yelled. “I’ll be right up.”
He pulled the goggles off, tossed them in the direction of the worktable and raced up the stairs.
The pounding above returned with china rattling fervor.
Reaching the top, he called out again, “Wait, please!” He negotiated first the kitchen, then the dining room to the hallway leading to the front door.
“Don’t break the frickin’ door down. I’m comin’ as fast as I can.”
He didn’t bother to pull the curtains aside to identify the caller; he just wanted to get there before the window cracked or the hinges broke. He pulled the door open and felt all the blood drain from his face.
“Hi, there, Jason,” came a voice from long ago and far away on the other end of a very long double-barreled shotgun. “Remember me?”
Jason was too stunned to reply.
The moment was drawn out, out and back, back along the impossible length of that pair of polished black tunnels to the white ridged print of a large square, pink thumb as it depressed the firing pin. The blue eye that squinted at him from behind the thumb was full of the same unreasoning hate that had filled Jason’s childhood with terror.
Jason Liddy’s last cognitive thoughts were: How did you find me? Who told you? Wait. I have to know. His last word was, “Wait.”
“No time to wait. Gotta go, boyo.”
The right tunnel exploded, showering fiery sparks in eerie silence. A heavy fist punched Jason in the solar plexus and he fell backwards, arms raised, head thrown back to land graceless and limp.
The assassin fired the second barrel point blank between his eyes, broke the gun and removed the paper casings. He shoved them in his pocket and turned to go.
The nearest house in Cranberry Hollow was a good three miles away but he wasn’t going to waste any time. He wanted to get out fast. Jason wasn’t going to tattle; that was the main thing. As long as nobody happened by within the next ten minutes or so, he could get away clean, get home and none’d be the wiser.
It was true that the nearest house was three miles away but one of the best swimming holes in the Greenbrier Valley was only about one hundred yards from Jason Liddy’s cabin. Omar Sharp, “O” to his friends, Omar Nathaniel Sharp, Jr. to his mother when she was angry, came up for air just as the second report thundered down the hollow. Thunder was exactly what he thought he’d heard the first time when, still under water, he was reaching for the shiny quarter he’d tossed in to dive after. It was a game he played when he was swimming alone. Toss the quarter in; gauge where it’s headed, then surface dive down to retrieve it before the river’s gentle currents carry it away. The idea was to get to it before it sank all the way to the bottom and lost itself forever. Clutching the coin in his right hand, he spun around in the water to see where the explosion had come from. It couldn’t have been thunder since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
He heard the muted sound of a car door slamming shut and realized it came from the direction of the cabin up the hill apiece. Omar was all for letting grown-ups deal with grown-ups, so he tossed out the quarter, took a deep breath and watched the silver wink down.
There was a grinding of gears, accompanied by a loud backfire and the crunch of gravel beneath a heavy vehicle as Omar jackknifed at the waist and shot down to intercept the coin. An errant thought, like a tadpole, swished across the back of his mind. Mr. Liddy’s vehicle was a car, not a truck. Automatic shift. A 1998 Ford Aerostar with chrome wheels and tinted back windows because he doesn’t want the interior to fade from the summer sun.
Omar’s dad, Oz, short for Omar Senior, said those windows were unnecessary because, “Nobody in his right mind would keep a Ford Aerostar long enough to have to worry about the interior fading.” Then he’d laugh and add, “Especially not from the brutal effects of a West Virginia summer,”
But Omar was pretty sure it was just a holdover from Mr. Liddy’s days in the Arizona desert. He’d only moved to Riverdale last March to take that teaching job out at the County High School this fall.
So what’s the big deal about his car? Distracted, Omar realized he’d lost the quarter. There it is. But there was something there. It’s not a stick shift and it wouldn’t be heavy enough to crunch gravel so loud you could hear it all the way back here. The tadpole thought was getting heavier. That was a truck. Four wheel drive, worn gears, third sounds almost shot. And the clutch is missing on first.
As fast as the vehicle’s description came to mind so too did the absolute certainty that something was wrong. The twelve-year old’s smooth brow furrowed into a frown as he reached out for the quarter, inches from the riverbed. The shiny coin squirted through his fingertips and he realized he’d been reaching for a trout. Suddenly all thoughts of cars and trucks and biology teachers from exotic desert states darted away as he cast about for his quarter in the clear waters of the Greenbrier River.