Fight at the Scrap Yard
And then Lee signaled it was time to go.
Damn him, and damn technological progress, too!
I guess my mood was obvious, because the first thing Lee said when I joined him at Northwind’s east gate was, “Mighty fine day, Miss Cheerful.”
This made me smile. I still can’t get over the funny way people talk around here. “Oh, I’m okay. It’s just I’d been looking forward to some of that meatloaf.”
“That makes one of us.” He rummaged in his saddlebag. “Here. Enjoy Sabine’s care package.”
I took the paper-wrapped offering. It was a piece of meatloaf between two slices of bread. What a great idea! I ate while we walked our horses down the road toward Patrick’s house. “The only thing this needs,” I said, “Is some green chile. Then it would be perfect.”
Lee made a face and changed the subject. We chatted all the way to Patrick’s house and found him at his family’s small barn, milking a cow. I offered to finish up while he made his excuses to his mother, and Lee snuck his horse out through the back pasture.
Soon we were all on the road together.
I asked Patrick what he had told his parents.
“Just that I’ll be over at Northwind for awhile, helping you study.”
“That was a dumb thing to say. We won’t be back for most of the night.”
“Or maybe not even until tomorrow,” Lee added.
Patrick shrugged. “Don’t matter. Elaine is covering for me, and she’s the best liar in the state.”
“That’s a mean thing to say about your sister,” I said.
“But it’s the truth. And she knows she has to cover for me or I’ll tell Mom and Dad about her sneaking out to see her boyfriend. And I’ll tell about the time she had to go to Doctor Blackwell, too.”
Patrick was about to explain, but Lee made a motion with his hand and silenced him. “Female trouble,” was all he said, but the disapproval on his face and the odd set to his crooked shoulders told me all I needed to know.
When we got to the ring of decayed suburbs outside Lexington, Lee directed us down a side street. In a dilapidated shopping center, we met up with three riders, one of whom was the rude man from earlier in the week. Only this time he wasn’t so bad. He touched the brim of his hat and called me Miss, so I pretended I’d forgotten all about the other day. We were on a mission, after all, and Unitas taught me to put personal stuff aside at times like this.
Our plan was simple enough: go to the scrap yard, confront the dealer, and make him honor his agreement, at gunpoint if necessary. Patrick’s job would be to keep watch from a nearby street corner and signal if he saw trouble.
When Lee, his mysterious friends, and I pounded on the scrap metal dealer’s door, I thought we were going to pull this thing off without a hitch. The man who answered our knock was white-haired and kind-looking, with bright blue eyes. His smile and polite words threw me off guard.
“Evening, folks. How can I help you?”
One of our men spat on the ground and another took a step forward, his hand resting on the gun at his hip. “You know why we’re here, Evans. Honor the deal you made or we’ll make you honor it.”
Evans looked at each of us in what seemed genuine confusion. “Did I make a deal with you? If I did and you’re unhappy—“
“Cut the crap.” One of our men drew his gun.
“Now, gentlemen—“ he looked at me. “--and lady. I’m sure this is all a big misunderstanding.”
Lee and two of our men advanced on the old man, crowding him back inside his dingy shack. Evans stammered and stumbled, looking from one face to another until finally fixing his eyes on mine in such a woeful appeal for mercy that for a moment I was convinced we had made a mistake. This was just a harmless old man. There was no need to threaten violence to get our copper!
That’s when I heard the shots. Patrick’s signal.
I drew my weapon and spun around to see dark shapes advancing on us through the hulking mounds of scrap and mud. At the same time, three dogs appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. The beasts launched themselves at us, snarling, while the men rushed us from the yard.
Shots rang out, I don’t know who fired first. But I didn’t have time to get my bearings. I shot at strangers. I shot at dogs. I ducked behind a rusty washing machine and fired at anything unfamiliar that moved. And when I ran out of bullets and a dog leaped for me, I pulled my big hunting knife and plunged it into his belly.
Above the howls of dogs and shouting of men, I thought I heard something else—a high-pitched shout, then a shot and crashing of wood and metal as something was knocked over. Then the old man’s voice rose above the rest. “Fucking brat!”
I peeked around my washing machine to see Evans swing at Patrick with a club of some sort. The boy let out a yelp and fell to the floor. Where the hell had he come from? We told him not under any circumstances to come in if there was trouble! And now he lay as if dead at the old man’s feet.
“You mother-fucking son of a bitch!” Without thinking I threw myself at Evans, saying even worse things, according to Lee, but I don’t remember it. I only know that one minute I was in hiding, the next I was on top of the old man, stabbing him over and over, Lee’s shouts and the renewed staccato of gunfire somewhere in the background.
And then, as suddenly as it had all begun, it was over. I was a bloody, slippery mess, dark forms lay in every direction, and Lee was bending over me, saying words I couldn’t understand at first. But then I made out the word, “okay.”
Okay? What idiocy! Nothing was okay. I looked around in confusion. Patrick was still lying limp on the floor, but now I could make out the faint rise and fall of his chest. He was alive!
Lee and I bent over him, checking for injuries. My hands were shaking and I finally had to sit back and collect myself. Lee found some water and held it to my lips so I could drink. Then he splashed the rest of it on Patrick, who frowned, mumbled, and sat up, rubbing his head and blinking. He saw me staring and gave a crooked smile. “That was completely nuclear, wasn’t it?”
One of our men was injured, so we tended to him. The man who had been rude to me earlier in the week was dead, and good riddance. The third man helped me and Lee clean up a bit, then he and Lee wandered off to talk, leaving me alone with Patrick.
“That was a dumb thing to do,” I said. “We told you to stay out. When someone gives you an order, you follow it.”
“But I could hear the fighting and thought—“
“You’re not supposed to think. You’re supposed to do as you’re told.”
He turned away with an injured air. “Well if it wasn’t for me, Lee would be dead.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I shot one of those men. He was aiming for Lee, and I—“
“You killed a man?”
“What’s the matter? You killed a man tonight.”
“That’s different. It’s what I was trained to do. But you’re a civilian and you—“
The boy sighed. “It’s okay. I only wounded him. Lee killed him. But I—“
“You’re an idiot,” I said. But I went over to him anyway and gave him a hug.
Lee came back and Patrick squirmed out of my arms.
“Go get our saddlebags,” Lee told him. After he had gone, he said, “We’ll stop by Sam’s on the way out and let him know he can send his people for the copper in the morning.”
I frowned. “Wait a minute. Didn’t Evans have heirs? Won’t the police investigate? We can’t just steal the copper.”
“It’s not stealing. It’s appropriating.”
“Call it whatever you like, but it amounts to the same thing. Aren’t there laws—“
“Of course.” He shifted on his feet and looked at the floor. “And there’s also people who don’t have to follow the laws.”
The man he had been talking to a minute ago was moving around in the shadows, just at the edge of my line of sight. A horrible suspicion struck me. “You aren’t friends with one of the mafias, are you?”
Lee refused to meet my eyes. “Racing is a shady business, and I used to be a jockey,” he reminded me. “I was a good one, too. Some people made a lot of money betting against me, and they still owe me a few favors.”
I didn’t know what to say, and at that moment Patrick returned with our saddle bags and I went into a back room to change into clean clothes.
We stopped at Sam’s on our way out of town and woke him up to give him the news. We said only that he could now get his copper, but he looked at me in a strange way that made me wonder what he suspected.
All the way home, Patrick was excited, talking, bragging, and asking questions until Lee and I both lost our patience and snapped at him. Then he trotted on ahead in silence, sitting his horse with a confidence that under any other circumstances would’ve made me proud.
We got home at dawn and Lee helped me bed Flecha down. We worked without speaking right up until the end, when he said, “You can sleep in this morning. I told Eli and Sabine yesterday that we'd probably be out late.”
“What did you tell them?”
“The truth. Sort of.”
I must’ve sighed or something, because he put an arm around me. It was nice to feel a man’s touch and I leaned into his thin body. “I came here to stop doing this sort of thing, you know. You never said it would turn into something like this. You said—“
His arm tightened around me. “I’m sorry. I really thought. . .”
I nodded. Given what I've been through in my life, I shouldn’t judge. “I know. Things sometimes don’t work out the way we plan.”
He led me to my room. “Get some sleep. I’ll come get you around lunchtime, okay? And we’ll talk some more when we’ve both rested a little.”
He kissed me, and it was a nice gentle kiss, like a butterfly brushing my lips. And then he left, his boots clomping across the wooden floor. I lay down on my cot and closed my eyes but couldn’t sleep. So I figured I might as well write all this down. Now that it’s on paper, I still don’t know if I feel any better or understand what it all means.
I didn’t come to Kentucky to kill anyone. Not over telephones, at any rate.