Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Coal Dust On My Feet ~ part 9

As the convoy of miners on their way to work passed the striker’s headquarters in the pouring rain, a blaze of rifle and shotgun fire hit the lead car. Next to Odie, Jennings Roscoe Bail fired his .35 caliber steel jacketed rifle. In the dull gray light of the cook shack, Jennings’ complexion was pitted and pocked like an old bone. Odie’s stomach soured and bile came up in his throat. He swallowed it back down and tucked his Colt Pistol back under his belt.

            “You hit him!” Odie backed up and glued himself to the wall.

            “Son of a bitch! I sure did! Maybe I can get me another …” Jennings shot again. “Hey, where you goin’? This’s jus’ like ol’ times, shootin’ at the Germans! Stay and have some fun!”

            “You’re crazy!”

Jennings crouched by an open window, his coat flapping, his face pinched, mouth a tight, thin line. “Don’t stand there like a damn idiot, Odie. You’re a union man, don’t tell me you’re goin’ scared on us! Here.” He held up another rifle, his knuckles white, and pushed it at Odie. “Use one of mine!”

            It was on Odie’s tongue to say that he was a coal miner, and miners didn’t shoot at people, but the words never made it out of his mouth. He’d done plenty of shooting the past few months, and every time he used his gun, he could’ve easily killed somebody he knew … old friends … family.

            “I think I hit me another comp’ny bastard! Don’t run off, Odie. This’s what we been waitin’ for!”

Odie tossed Jennings’s rifle to the floor of the cook shack and ran in the direction of the gully. Panic engulfed him. Shouting and chaos echoed in his ears. His gut hurt. The killing wasn’t what he wanted. Not really. He’d talked a big talk but when it came down to it, he ran—a coward. Smoke filled the gully like fog, blinding him. He heard the men bolting for cover. It wasn’t until the smoke cleared that he glimpsed the lead car. It belonged to Charles Frame, a miner he shot a few games of pool with at the Grille only last year. The car had plowed head-on into the deep ravine. Odie charged down the hill, tripping over tree roots and sticker bushes. Taking cover behind a thicket of pines, he hid as close as he could to Charlie’s car.

A bullet hit the chrome bumper with a sharp clang, making his pulse leap and his breath catch in his throat. Odie steadied his hand deliberately and shot back. He’d left the shelter of the cook shack knowing ricocheting bullets could accidentally hit him from his own men, who were firing rapidly again. He had about ten feet to go. Another shot whizzed past and hit the pine tree beside him. He tripped and half fell just short of the car. Looking up he saw blood on the broken windshield. He crawled the last yard.

            “It’s all right,” he said urgently. “I’ll get you to Doc’s.” From his crouched position, he had no idea whether Charles could hear him. Odie glanced up—Charles’ face was pasty white and his eyes were closed. He looked about thirty. Odie knew he had three kids, remembering Savina had babysat for his wife last year. There was blood on his mouth. “You’ll be all right,” he said again, more to himself than anyone else. He opened the car door but shots rang out above him again, shouting ensued, then more shots fired in the distance from the road and the cook shack. He remained hunkered down beside the car until the shooting stopped.

Finally, Odie stood and felt Charles’ pulse. The miner’s thick, dark brown hair, matted with blood, stuck to Odie's fingers. Charles was dead at the wheel. More blood dripped to the floor. A single shot ended his life. Fired into the back of his skull, it emerged at the front destroying the left side of his face. The right side still intact, Odie recalled Charles had been a handsome man. There was no expression left but the leftovers of surprise.

            Odie surmised the only decent thing about Charlie’s death was that it must have been instant. Still, he felt his stomach tighten and he swallowed to keep from getting sick. Please God, let it not be one of my bullets that has done this.

Another volley of shots rang out from the road above, cracking and ricocheting above his head, embedding bullets in the trees around him. Odie felt a stunning sense of failure. Ignoring the gunfire he shivered staring down at the dead man—a miner just trying to get to work. Odie only looked back once as he climbed out of the ravine.


Rain drummed down in opaque sheets. Savina squinted to see beyond the steady sweep of windshield wipers that barely kept up with the downpour. The Widen road ran alongside the creek, as crooked as a snake’s back. She had to keep reminding herself to use the clutch. She would catch hell if the car slid down the muddy bank into the water. Herald Wingate’s words of warning rung loud in her ears, propelling her forward. 

Taking the next turn slow, Savina slammed on her brakes so not to hit the man standing in the middle of the road. The car jerked and stalled. His imaged blurred from the pounding rain pushed off the car’s windows by inadequate blades. Time stood still with the click, click, click, click of the wipers.

A gun went off in time with the next click … into the radiator, killing the car. She screamed—then threw open the car door. Standing in the mud, the rain soaking her, she found herself looking down the barrel of a shotgun. “What are you doing!”

“That you, Savina?”

“Good God, yes! What are you doing, Cole Farlow? Why d’you shoot my car?”

“I just came from the shootin’ at the cook shack, I thought ya was a scab. What, ya gonna arrest me?”

“Who got shot, Cole? Who?”

“Don’t know. Don’t rightly care.”

He staggered a step or two and swayed, staring at Savina like a starved dog after a hunk of meat. The car hissed. Steam shot out of the grill and from under the hood.

Alcohol clouded Cole Farlow’s eyes. Savina could smell it through the rain. Staggering toward her, dragging his rifle behind him in the mud, a chew of tobacco swelled his lower lip like a bee sting. “Well, well, well. If it ain’t the purty little whore belongin’ to James Curtis Nettles,” he slurred. Cole smiled and swung his gun over his shoulder. “I heard ya been spendin’ some time up in Nigger Holler. Y’ain’t been cheatin’ on James with some old nigger man, have ya? Ain’t you and James sup’osed to be gettin’ hitched soon?”

“What I do in my spare time is none of your business, and you know I’m engaged to James Curtis!” She had to yell above the roar of the rain.

“Too bad. Every man in Widen’s got a hard-on for ya. Maybe ya need to spread it around some, ‘fore ya give it all away to young Mr. Nettles.”

“Stop it. Enough of your foul mouth. Who got shot? Have you seen my daddy?”

“Seen a couple fellers with bullet holes through their damn heads. Must’ve scared the piss right outa their peckers too.” Cole laughed and pulled a whiskey bottle from his pocket. “So what the hell ya doin’ out here?” He unscrewed the cap and took two long gulps.

“Better question is, what are you doing here? What’d you do at the cook shack? You runnin’ from somethin’? Did you shoot somebody, Cole? Tell me. Why you been drinkin’?”

He slid in the mud another step closer. His clothes were torn and his unshaved face bled from deep scratches, like he had run through a patch of briars surrounded by barbed wire. “My, you’re an awful nosy little gal.” He took a quick step forward and jabbed the gun barrel into Savina’s chest.

Fear spread through her belly like a spray of ice water. His finger twitched on the trigger. “You need to go home, Cole. Go home and sleep this off.”

“I think I’d like a little taste of what James Curtis has been chewin’ on.” He yanked the gun back and jabbed it again, hard this time. Savina stared down the sleek black barrel of an old hunting rifle, used for small game and shooting cans off fence posts. He leaned toward her over the gun that connected them like an iron bridge.

“Why don’t you and me get in the back seat of that dead car?”

Savina put the tips of her fingers against his cold hard chest. “Stay away from me, Cole, you hear? My daddy’ll skin your hide while you’re still alive. I’m gonna turn around and walk back to town. You can crawl in Daddy’s car and sleep.” She pulled away slowly and turned her back to walk in the direction she had come from. Fear seized her by the throat in the chilling rain cutting her breath in two. Frightened, she slid in the mud and fell hard on her hip, but stood quickly and continued moving, cold mud covering the right side of her body.

The gun went off. Savina’s head snapped sideways, her body turned just enough to see Cole lurch, stagger, and then lean against the car, having shot his gun up in the air. “Get back here. Ya always was a tattle tale little bitch.” His eyes glowed a bloodshot red through the downpour.

Savina turned her back and continued walking.

“I said get back here!” Another shot blasted into the air.

She kept walking.

Cole Farlow was a better shot drunk than sober. At the moment of impact, the third bullet burrowed through Savina’s back and bull’s-eyed into her heart. She was dead before she fell into the mud on the Widen road.

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