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By Lisa Criss Griffin
Butch trembled, terrified and confused as to why his life-long friend Jake was pressing the barrel of his hunting rifle into the side of his hot, sweaty forehead. Taking a shallow breath, he dared to slowly roll his brown eyes up toward Jake’s weathered face, wincing in horrified anticipation of the impending click of the trigger. At that moment, Butch realized what people said about your life flashing before your eyes was absolutely true!
The two of them had always had a special bond. And even though Butch had never been able to talk, it hadn’t mattered to Jake. Jake adopted Butch when he was just a little fellow, and accepted him just the way he was. Jake had protected him from his wife Mae’s addict daughter Meggie and her cruel boyfriend Eddie over the years, who were always wanting to send Butch away to some sort of school. Butch loved Jake for not doing that, and as Butch grew up, the two became inseparable.
Mae, Jake’s second wife, had died unexpectedly last year. The circumstances surrounding Mae’s death were mysterious, and the sheriff and coroner confided to Jake that although they did not have enough evidence for a conviction, they suspected Eddie of foul play. Mae had run across some suspicious packages hidden in the barn a few weeks before she died and had asked Eddie and Meggie what they knew about them. Eddie lost his temper and threatened to harm Mae and the family if they didn’t mind their own business and to forget about what they had seen. Eddie had already spent some time in prison for robbery and assault, and was prone to violent outbursts. Jake and Mae felt that Meggie was secretly afraid of Eddie. She always had some unexplained bruising and usually did everything Eddie told her to do. Of course, he kept her well supplied with her drugs of choice, so it was almost impossible to talk with her about ending the relationship.
After Mae’s untimely death, Butch remained by Jake’s side while he grieved her loss. Jake and Mae had always gotten along well, and he missed her terribly. There had been days when Jake had not even gotten out of bed, but Butch refused to leave him all alone in that big, old house. Butch missed Mae too. She had always been kind to Butch and had never allowed anyone, including Meggie or Eddie, to treat him poorly. Butch blinked and tried to focus on Jake’s face.
Tears of regret were streaming down Jake’s grizzled cheeks as he let the safety off of the gun. Their eyes crashed together. The pair of soulful, fear-filled brown eyes plead desperately with Jake’s red rimmed, exhausted green gaze. At that moment, Jake realized that this was completely crazy…and he simply could not do this, no matter what Eddie and the rest of his “business partners” had threatened to do to Butch, Meggie and himself. “I’m so sorry, Butch. Those awful people are not right, and I will not be a part of this.”
Jake clicked the safety back on and put the rifle down on the grassy bank of the bayou. He leaned back against an old cypress tree tipped with Spanish moss and sighed heavily. “Come here, bud.” Butch got up and walked hesitantly over to Jake and the two solemnly embraced, their pact of trust restored. Tiny jeweled northern parulas warbled from the treetops, their high-pitched twitters echoing distantly throughout the woods. Butch turned away and lay down on his belly to watched the water swirl lazily beyond the edge of the bank while Jake took the lunch he had packed for them out of his backpack. “Here ya go,” said Jake as he tossed a ham and cheese sandwich to Butch. Butch caught the sandwich in mid-air, relieved and thankful he was still alive to eat a meal.
Jake finished his sandwich and poured himself a cup of coffee from a thermos. He didn’t offer Butch any coffee since he knew Butch didn’t care much for it. “Well, ole Eddie and his friends are probably going to be throwing us both out of the house now, if they don’t just kill us both instead. But we will find a way to make it work,” Jake mused. “I figure we can move up to the old huntin’ cabin back in the woods if we need to. And I think we will need to do that tonight. They’ll shoot you on sight, Butch, so you’ll want to wait behind the tree line while I get some of our things from the house. They were gonna kill you today after you accidentally found their hidden drug stash, but I talked them into letting me take care of you for them. I’d kill you myself before I’d let those butchers have you. Lord have mercy, I almost did!”
Jake hit the mossy ground under the tree with his balled fist in frustration. “Man…I sure wish Mae hadn’t willed her part of our house to her girl! She’d be rollin’ in her grave if she knew how badly Meggie and that varmint Eddie have been treating us ever since they moved in! I always knew there was something wrong with that girl of hers, but Mae never wanted to hear about it from me. At least she stipulated in her will that we could live there as long as we wanted to, regardless of the partial ownership change. But I tell you the truth Butch, never in our wildest dreams did Mae and I ever think Meggie would make it impossible for us to stay in our own home! It is a darn big ole house, ya know. You would think after all this time they could at least try to get along with us.”
Jake stopped his tirade momentarily and wiped the sweat from his leathery forehead, dabbing the remaining beads of perspiration with an old, red handkerchief he kept in his pocket. He stood up and collected the empty sandwich wrappers, thermos bottle and cup, and placed them in his backpack. The movement surprised a blue heron, who had been fishing nearby. The large blue-gray bird let out a disgruntled squawk and moved farther down the waterway to search for his dinner.
Jake groaned as he picked up the backpack, feeling every bit his age. He stuffed the damp red handkerchief into a pocket and picked up the gun. “Come on, Butch. Let’s go get our things.” Butch stood up and quietly followed Jake down the path through the moss-draped oaks that led back to the house he had grown up in. The light was beginning to fade, and it would probably be dusk before they reached the edge of the tree line next to the yard. Butch could see the heaviness of the emotional burden Jake was carrying in his tall frame, and it made him sad.
As they approached the end of the dwindling path, Jake and Butch noticed the stately old house was completely lit up, and colored lights were flashing around the side of the building from the front drive. “Get down and stay here!” Jake whispered. Jake put his gun down close to the path while Butch chose a place to sit in the brush where he could still see most of the house and yard.
Jake walked slowly toward the house and disappeared around the corner. As he stepped into the front yard, he was blinded by the intensity of all the blue and white flashing lights. There were multiple cop cars sitting in his driveway, every one of them with their lights on. He heard some scuffling from inside the house and several people yelling. As he stood transfixed in the front yard, three cops pulled a struggling, swearing, combative Eddie out of the front door and forced him down into the warm grass of the lawn Jake had recently mowed. Eddie was quickly cuffed, hauled to his feet and placed in a waiting police vehicle. He continued to kick, scream and spit nasty epitaphs from behind the window of the locked car. If looks could kill, Eddie would have instantly killed Jake.
A gurney appeared in the front doorway and an ambulance crew somberly angled it down the bumpy brick sidewalk. The body strapped onto the gurney was completely covered with a stark, white sheet. Jake watched as they slid the gurney into the back of an ambulance he had not realized was also sitting in the driveway. Jake felt slightly nauseous as the truth of the situation began to dawn on him. He ran to the ambulance crying out Meggie’s name brokenly. The coroner pulled back the sheet and asked Jake if he could identify the body. It was Meggie alright, and she had obviously been viciously beaten. The coroner also explained they had found her cold, blue and with a needle still stuck in a vein. “They did try to revive her, Jake, but they could never get a pulse or anything related to life from her. The paramedics worked over half an hour with her to bring her back. We won’t know exactly what her cause of death is until the autopsy and lab results come in.”
Jake backed away and was walking through the yard when somebody grabbed his arm from behind. “Who are you?” said the cop as he turned Jake to face him. “I’m Jake Fontaine. I live here.” The cop released Jake and told him that they had busted Eddie and Meggie for running drugs. “We have had them both under surveillance for a while, and we know you were not a part of it,” the cop said reassuringly. “I am, however, terribly sorry to have to tell you that the girl was dreadfully beaten and it appears she may have also overdosed before we got here. It was too late to save her, although the paramedics tried their best to revive her. We are sure sorry, man.”
Jake nodded his head in understanding and looked up at the stars in the night sky. It had been an absolutely horrible day, possibly the worst day of his life, and he choked back waves of hot emotion. He had failed to save Meggie! He had let Mae down. He heard sobbing for the two senseless murders of his family members and realized it was himself.
A single breathless sob escaped as he came to a sudden realization. He and Butch would be able to stay in their home! Jake was incredibly relieved and then felt overwhelmingly guilty. He felt so sad for Meggie. She had been a difficult person to be around, mostly due to her addiction. He would have never wished this kind of death on her though. Mae had loved her only daughter deeply and shared stories with him of a creative, vibrant young Meggie that he had never seen. Meggie was already fairly far into her illness when he had met and fallen in love with Mae. He had promised his wife he would look out for Meggie the best he could, while cradling her in his arms on her deathbed. He would have promised Mae the moon if it would have made her passing more gentle. Wow, he still missed her so.
Jake ran his fingers through his thick, graying hair and sucked in a cleansing breath of the fresh night air. “Hey, mister Jake!” a young cop yelled as he dragged something reluctant into the yard. “Hey, mister Jake, does this guy belong to you?” The policeman had ahold of Butch, who was struggling to stay out of the yard.
“Why yes, he sure does! It is okay, Butch. Come on over here.” Jake wiped his swollen eyes and tried to compose himself.
The policemen conferring with each other in the yard looked up as the young cop released a well groomed large brown and white dog, who bounded silently into Jake’s waiting arms. An approving murmur swirled between the lawmen as Jake closed his waiting arms around his beloved dog. Butch licked Jake’s scruffy face joyfully as Jake hugged him close. “Everybody should have a dog like you, Butchie Boy!” Jake exclaimed as he rubbed Butch’s head affectionately. “We’re going to be okay, bud. Everything will be okay.”
Jake and Butch retrieved the hunting rifle and sat outside on the front porch, waiting for the police to finish their work inside the house. The edge of a rising yellow moon was barely peeking above the tops of the ancient oak trees edging the yard. Occasional fluttering of pale strands of hanging moss revealed the light evening breeze scented with notes of earthy sweetness. A syncopated symphony of night creatures welled up out of the woods and filled the atmosphere surrounding the bereaved old man and his beloved friend. They sat together contentedly as the perpetual love songs of the bayou soothed their souls. Everything was going to be okay. They had each other.
Please visit Lisa on her Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/authorlisacrissgriffin/