Fiction by Schuler Benson
All y’all sunuvabitches wanna mean dog. A killer. But don’t none of ya wanna get bit.
When ya sit down ’n go ta talk about a man, how he lived ’n died, there’s gon’ be shit gets lost, caught up. Cain’t catch all of it. Don’t know Halfacre was always a bad man, a evil man, what have ya. Mighta died that way, but, hey … wudn’t no dogs born mean, neither. Ain’t no dog born a killer. This’s as much about Halfacre’s lil girl as it is about Halfacre, but first, y’know, I tell ya. He wudn’t always like’ee ended up, I don’t reckon. That lil girl, though, I cain’t say. Well, I guess I’ll say again, ain’t no dog born mean.
First time I met Halfacre, we was younger. His daddy was the kind always lookin’ fer the next big thang, y’know? Not like a get-rich-quick-type thang, but them change-the-world type thangs. We was green, ’n I was workin’ my first job, cleanin’ up guts at a processin’ shed. Deer, mostly. Sumbitch hauled in a five-foot catfish one time, shitchu not. I didn’t care none. Guts is guts. I ’member Halfacre cuz first time I met ’im ’n his daddy was first time I ever did nothin’ ’round that shop other’n mop up innards. One uh Halfacre’s daddy’s next big thangs was emus. Yeah, them birds. The emus. S’posed ta be good eatin’, all that, but Halfacre’s daddy wanted a dynasty uh goddamn emus, I s’pose, cuz one day the ole man took Halfacre out ta the stretch where he kep’ ’em, ’n he says ta Halfacre, he says, “Son. One day all these emus’re gon’ be yours.”
Way I heard was Halfacre says back, “I don’ want these goddamn emus.” So they end up killin’ thirty, forty-some-odd head uh emus, showed up at our place ta get ’em set up fer cookin’. Ole McHenry run the shop said he didn’t know thang one ’bout cleanin’ a emu. Gave a holler to a ole colored lady him ’n his buddies use’ ta pay ta clean ducks they killt. Long story short, first day I met Halfacre, me ’n him was ridin’ top a johnboat trailer fillt up with dead emus, goin’ one end uh town ta th’other. We wudn’t friends er nothin’. But he knew who I was. And I knew who he was. Didn’t know I’d end up workin’ for ’im, ’course, but I did. And more. Worked for ’im, took care of ’im when he needed, ’n he kep’ a roof over my head more’n once. Guess he ended up with his daddy’s, uh, onter-panoorial spirit, y’know? Public bidness ’n not-so-public bidness alike.
’Fore he got all his ducks in a row with the scrapyard ’n them couple other legal thangs he had coverin’ up fer the gun-runnin’ ’n the dope cookin’, that sumbitch couldn’t put a bottle down fer the life of ’im. I ’member, cuz it was more’n once I hadda haul his ass out The Blue Lady, Crabapple, goddamn parkin’ lots, ever’where else. Sumbitch get mean when he was in it. Sumbitch drink ’imself cross-eyed on damn ole corn shine, what have ya, ’n ya’d know it was ’bout ta get bad when he’d start that pointin’ shit. Sumbitch look up atcha, crossed eyes rollin’ around like they was fightin’ fer which one was gon’ stare a hole in ya, ’n then Halfacre’d stick that ole crooked finger out in yer direction, ’n it always start the same ever’ damn time.
He’d say: “’N then there’s this motherrrr fuckerrrr right here…”
After that, he commence layin’ in, now, sayin’ summuh the most off-color shit he could think up ta say to a person. Name-callin’, shit-talkin’ yer mama, all the reg’lar shit, but then that other, deeper shit that get ta cuttin’ in yer guts ’n bones, curdlin’ down where shit a man says can seep in ’n fester. That shit caught ’im a whooped ass more’n a couple times when he was outta town, but never from me. I fought that drink just as hard, ’n I know what liquor’ll get a man sayin’. In that regard, Halfacre was my cross ta bear, ’n that sumbitch was heavy as hell ’n had splinters stickin’ off ever’ which-a-way. But that was then.
Halfacre gimme charge uh the yard ’round ’Ninety-Two. The county done set up that recyclin’ bullshit ’cross the creek, had a bona fide car-crusher, with that damn magnet thang, whole kitchen sink, so ole Halfacre figgered the scrapyard’s days was numbered ’n started sinkin’ more money elsewheres. While he was seein’ ta what he called his “developin’ properties” — them houses down ’round Bossier where he had his boys cookin’ dope — he gimme the yard ta run. I’d done been with ’im a long time by then, ’n he knew I kep’ my eyes front, ’n he knew I’d do it fer peanuts. Cheap sumbitch, I’ll say that. Sumbitch shit fire ta save a match.
Now I don’t know the back-n-forth on Halfacre’s goin’s on with whoever his boys down in Bossier dealt with, but far’s I could tell, it all run smooth enough cuz Halfacre’d come back up ta town ’n stick around the yard a few days. Put a dent in my action when he was around, as I’d give myself first ups on whatever come through that was worth more’n we’d pay whoever brought it in. Copper, mostly. Salvage’ble car parts. If it was big work, I’d call out two, three dopefiends I’d use on the side ta get ta takin’ shit apart ’n cartin’ it off. Ain’t a man alive can strip cash scrap off a car faster’n a man on that needle. ’Course I’d have ta keep it roped in when Halfacre was in town. Took me a long time ’fore I was willin’ ta skim nothin’ off ’im. Other’n the first time I did, anyway. Tell ya real quick.
Way back, ’fore I dried out, I’d mop up a couple nights a week at Halfacre’s bar. He kep a row uh well bottles ’neath the drafts, ’n I’d get in the bourbon while he, er whoever else, be in the back room countin’ up. Swapped it with water. Filled it right back up ta the line. One night, I get done moppin’, he come out early, wander back behind the bar, tell me siddown, asks me what I’m drankin’. I tell ’im bourbon, ’n he pulls out one uh them well bottles I been nippin’ on fer weeks, sets it next to a glass in front uh me, fills ’er up. I reach fer that glass; he grabs it first, pulls it up to ’is face. Holds it ta the light above the pool table. Says he looks in the liquor sometimes. Holds it ta the light ’n looks into it, like a mirror. Says it shows ’im the future, if he can see through it. Sticks the glass in frunnah me, ’n in that light I see water mix with amber, swirlin’ snakes uh broke, curved brightness, like a mirage er leaked gas in a street puddle. Water ’n liquor. Bullshit ’n the real deal fightin’ fer real estate in a tight spot. That’s when he says ta me, he says, “Cain’t see through muddy water,” ’n broke that goddamn glass across my scalp. I say this cuz after he gimme that beatin’ ’n I didn’t take off, he knew he had me, y’know? So he started givin’ me more ta do. That night with the glass’s when Halfacre figgered he broke me. He broke all of us worked for ’im ’n knew enough about what crooked shit he was into. Once I started at the yard, that’s where I seen how he broke his boys, ’n eventually that lil girl.
When I tell ya ’bout Halfacre’s boys down ’round Bossier, I mean his boys. Sumbitch had four of ’em ’tween two differnt ole girls. He was a blood-is-bond fella, y’know? Rather have sons handlin’ his bidness when he could. Seen too many fellas get in a tight ’n run talkin’ ta the laws. Halfacre wanted his boys hard as cement ’n stuck to ’im the same. How he did it was the same ever’ time. When each uh them boys was ’round nine, ten, Halfacre’d bring ’em ta the scrapyard around evenin’, take ’em back ta the twel-buh-twelve chain-link kennel where them yard dogs stayed durin’ bidness hours. He’d get close ’n go ta pokin’ at ’em with this broke-off mop handle. Jabbin’ through the chain link like shootin’ cues on felt, like stokin’ a fire burnin’ on the body of a man he hated. Get them dogs riled up, madder’n hell. Soon as he’d got ’em ready ta tear ’im in half, Halfacre’d drop the mop handle.
He’d take whichever boy he brought by the shoulders ’n he’d say in the boy’s ear, he’d say: “Every sumbitch in this world wanna bad dog, but don’t none of ’em wanna get bit. Between you and ever’thang worth takin’ is a dog’ll lay you open fer just lookin’ his way. A killer. So how you gon’ get by a killer?”
Then, he’d kneel down between the kid ’n the pen, and he’d put a butcher paper pack uh bloody deer sausage on the gravel, and he’d put a ole pistol next to it. Pistol had one bullet. Meat was fulla poison. ’Fore they even got there, them boys knew they was gon’ hafta take a life. Halfacre didn’t give ’em no choice ’bout that. But he let ’em decide how they was gon’ do it. I seen ’im do this shit with all four boys. All four of ’em picked up that pistol first, then set it down ’n threw the meat over the fence. Then they’d sit ’n wait. Time come that ole dog finally keel over, Halfacre’d open the pen, make ’em drag the carcass out ’n bury it out in the back forty. Hell of a thang. Them boys come up stuckit their daddy like glue after that. The lil girl didn’t come til way later, til all them boys was already growed ’n doin’ Halfacre’s dirty work elsewheres.
His oldest was early twenties, I s’pose, when Halfacre’s daughter come along. Her mama named ’er Juliet, but she didn’t go by it not a day in ’er life. She was a lil girl with brothers, I’ll say that, ’n you could tell. She was buckshot. Lil barnburner like ’er oldest brother’d call ’er. Them boys got ’er, y’know? Halfacre … Halfacre didn’t really know nothin’ ’bout how ta raise a lil girl, I s’pose. It was like them two never spoke as a daddy ’n a lil girl. More like for’ners don’t speak each other’s language, feelin’ each other out ’n not makin’ no sense. Mighta been where he went wrong with ’er. Coulda been somethin’ else. I don’t know; I wudn’t there fer all of it. But I was there when he brought ’er ta the yard ta break ’er like he did them boys.
Even though the dogs was differnt dogs ’n the years was differnt years, it was like them dogs had a way uh learnin’ from the ones came before ’em. Evenin’ Halfacre brought that lil girl ta the yard, they hit that pen fence like they was mad at it soon as he come in sight. Some reason, I couldn’t figger he was gon’ do her like he done his boys. I didn’t know what ta make of ’er bein’ there. Them dogs sure didn’t care. Halfacre get close ’n go ta pokin’ at ’em with that mop handle somethin’ terrible. Them dogs was in it, now, done took off on one. Barkin’, snarlin’ like a sumbitch, hittin’ that chain link over ’n over. Bad dreams. Coupl’a goddamn monsters. Lil girl wudn’t cryin’, nothin’, just had ’er head cocked down, lookin’ through that fence, little hands pent up in fists, ’n I could see ’em just a’shakin’ like she was trynna keep from catchin’ on fire from the inside. Halfacre slid a hand down in his blue jeans hammer pouch, pullt out a butcher paper bundle, still bleedin’ on the corners. He set it on the gravel at his lil girl’s feet, then stuck a hand in the other back pocket ’n pullt out a revolver. Somethin’ snub-nosed, blued. Smaller’n the mag he’d done used with them boys. He flipped open the chamber, wagged the gun in his hand, feelin’ its heft, then snapped it shut ’n laid it on the ground nexta the raw meat.
Even over all them damn dogs’ racket, I could hear ’im talkin’ low, like it was secrets, poison pourin’ in that lil girl’s ear in a scratched-up half-whisper: “Every sumbitch in this world wanna bad dog, but don’t none of ’em wanna get bit. Between you and ever’thang worth takin’ is a dog’ll lay you open fer just lookin’ his way. Goddamn killer. How you gon’ get by a killer?”
This’s what Halfacre give his kids. My mama never gimme nothin’, ’cept ta gimme up. I’s told she passed not too long after they pullt me from ’er, ’n she lit out fer god-knows-where, light one kid she didn’ want ’n ready fer the world. Found out a couple years ago I got a brother lives in one uh them shit towns in the delta. Eudora, somewhere. Ain’t that far. He been there all this time; I been here, neither of us none the wiser. I don’t know ’im, but I know ’im, ya know? He’s a lush. He got buckeyes under the skin in his knuckles from a life spent haulin’ a better man’s rope. Mama didn’t give him er me no part of ’er was the part’d pick up ’n go ’n move on, ready fer the world. Cain’t never say what’s gon’ get passed down ’n what ain’t. Halfacre was the kinda man ta pull a trigger, but not a damn one uh his boys was. Not when they was kids, at least. I ’magine that’s what he was ’spectin’ when he brought ’er downna the yard ta break ’er. She bent over, picked up that pistol, set it back down, just like ’er brothers. But then, she picked it up again, lil hands just a’shakin’. Swung it around at ole Halfacre’s guts ’n took a big step back.
He says, “Now, who you think you are, pointin’ that at me?”
First time I ever heard ’er talk. She says, “A goddamn killer.”
SCHULER BENSON’s work has been featured in Hobart, The Lit Pub, Kudzu House, The Pinch, and elsewhere. His first book, a collection of short fiction titled The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide, was released in 2014 by Alternating Current Press. He currently lives by the ocean with his wife and animals in South Carolina, and is a graduate of the MA Writing program at Coastal Carolina University. He tweets from @schulerbenson.
2015 Luminaire Best Prose Award Finalist
Originally published on The Spark on 11/21/15.