4 As he started to sit back down Willie heard his stepfather’s angry voice coming from the open upstairs window: “You will get your damn money just as soon as I sell the farm!” “Well I better! This aint no charity operation and you are building up a pretty damn big tab!” “You will get your money soon enough.
I have a man coming next week.
We done already agreed on a price.” “It better happen soon cause Big Mike wants your bar bill paid or he’s going to take it out of your worthless hide.” “Everyone will be paid next week.
My buyer is bringing cash money, you’ll see.
Then we can have us some real fun, just you and me, baby.” “What about that new wife you got yourself? She haint going to just up and give you her farm.
She don’t strike me as being that big a fool.” “She won’t be around to be any problem.
I’m pretty sure she and that brat of her’s are going to get bad sick and die sudden like.” “Don’t tell me any more details! I don’t want to know nothing.
You just better have our damn money soon!” “You and Mike will get your money, every last damn nickel! Now how about letting me have one more ride? You can just add it to my bill.” “Make it fast,” Sophie replied, not trying to hide her disgust. “I need a damn drink!” Willie’s mother had always told him that when her time came she wanted laid to rest next to his father.
Now this lazy, drunken bastard was talking about doing away with both the farm, and them.
Willie had to stop that from happening somehow.
He was not certain what to do.
No one would take the word of a kid over an adult.
If he told someone what he had overheard, Jessie could say it was just the whisky talking.
People often say things they don’t mean when under the influence of alcohol.
He could just laugh it off, and Willie would get the beating of his life for causing Jessie any sort of embarrassment.
Still, Willie knew that Jessie meant to kill them both before the man got there to buy the farm.
Willie had to act first and fast.
He would be no match for him sober.
His only hope would be for Jessie to be passed-out drunk.
Once he lost consciousness, Willie could take Jessie’s life before he had the chance to take theirs.
Willie’s stomach tightened into a hard knot, murder was a heady thing for a child to ponder.
Willie sat in the dark waiting and thinking. “Drink up old man; this is going to be your last celebration.” 5 Chapter Two “A Solid Plan” “Barkeep, let’s have a round for the house! Put all their drinks on my damn tab!” He must have nodded off because the sound of Jessie’s voice jerked Willie’s eyes open wide with fear.
It took a second or two to remember his reason for being on the hard ground, there in the dark.
He was not sure how long he had slept, but it was not long enough to have dreamed what he had heard earlier.
The big Irishman said mockingly, “Let’s see some damn money first, Jessie.” “I’ll cover it,” Sophie said as she slid her arm around Willie’s stepfather’s waist and smiled up at him, “Jessie here is my new partner.” “Partner?” the tavern owner asked with a puzzled look. “What kind of no-good you two varmints up to now?” “None of your damn business just pour the whiskey and be quick about it,” she said, as she slapped some coins on the bar.
Big Mike snatched the coins and then placed two small glasses on the bar in front of them. “No, not those little guys!” “This night calls for the big glasses.” Mike did as ordered, and filled two of the large glasses that he kept for special occasions. “Good,” Willie thought. “Get Mr.
That will make what I must do much easier.” As he watched them through the window, Willie’s anger grew as their laughter increased.
He had never seen Jessie show his mother that much affection.
Yet he lavished it on this woman.
He had not heard his mother laugh since his father died.
She seemed to be sad all the time.
Willie knew she grieved deeply for his father, as did he.
Even so, Willie blamed Mr.
Tate for most of her pain.
The last thing his father had said to Willie before he died was for him to take care of his mother.
Willie felt that he would be neglecting his duty if he let Jessie hurt her anymore.
They would not feel the back of his hand ever again.
He would put an end to this nightmare tonight, one way or another.
In order to get rid of Jessie, Willie had to decide on a plan and stick to it.
He could not let his mother down.
He was the only thing between her and certain death.
For all he knew Jessie might be planning to kill them as they slept tonight.
Jessie certainly sounded sincere in his promise to his lady friend that he would take care of the matter before next week.
At twelve-years-old, Willie would be no match for a grown man.
A drunk adult, on the other hand, might be no match for this twelve-year-old, especially if Jessie could be caught off-guard, and Willie was fighting for both his and his mother’s life.
The minutes crawled by slowly, as Willie tried to think of some way to stop Jessie without leaving evidence of the deed.
He concentrated on what he had to work with.
First was the element of surprise; which was definitely in his favor.
He knew what Jessie’s plans were for them, but Jessie was unaware of Willie’s lethal plans for him.
Second on his list was the darkness, an assassin’s best friend.
Jessie’s state of intoxication became a big factor as well.
Now Willie had to think of some way to 6 combine all these things so that Jessie ended up dead before this night was over.
To accomplish his goal, Willie needed some sort of weapon.
Yet he could not chance stealing anything around town to use that might be missed, and the ride in the cool night air back to the farm might sober Jessie.
Willie could not risk losing that distinct advantage.
Jessie’s death needed to look accidental.
Willie would not be much help to his mother or the farm, if he were locked up for murder.
Willie had many things to think about, and not much time left to do the thinking.
The tavern would soon be closing, then Jessie would come staggering out to his horse, to be led back to the farm.
A thought flashed into Willie’s mind, Willow Creek.
It was a small stream between the farm and the tavern.
Although the creek was shallow, a deep hole of water was just below the bridge.
He had fished there many times.
His father had always cautioned him to be mindful, because if he fell in he might drown.
Willie’s plan was to lead their horse to the side of the bridge, push Jessie into the creek, and then wait until he drowned.
Willie would then run back into town screaming for help, hoping that no one would be the wiser as to what had actually taken place.
With a solid plan now in mind, he sneaked another peek into the tavern.
All the other patrons had gone home, this left only Big Mike, the two whores and his stepfather.
These partiers stood at the bar in a small group, drinking and laughing.
Sophie kept slapping down coins on the bar.
The group emptied glass after glass of Mike’s whiskey.
Soon they called it a night.
One woman made it only as far as the poker table, where she slumped into a chair and passed out.
Big Mike and Sophie each took an arm, then helped Jessie outside to his horse, and with some difficulty, got him in the saddle.
Jessie immediately passed out and slumped forward against the horse’s neck.
Big Mike shouted, “You around here somewhere, boy!” He knew Willie would not be far away, waiting to lead the horse and its drunken cargo home. “Yes Sir,” Willie said, slowly rounding the corner of the tavern.
He rubbed his eyes, as if he had been sleeping. “I must have dozed off, sorry,” Willie lied.
He did not want the woman to think that he might have overheard Jessie’s plan. “Get this sack of dung home, boy!” Sophie said demandingly. “Yes, I’ll do just that,” Willie replied over his shoulder, as he untied Bessie from the rail.
Willie’s thoughts, however, were on his own plans for Jessie.
Tate would not be going home this night.
His destination would be straight to Hell.
One quick flip at the bridge, then all their worries would be over.
With a gentle tug on her reins, Bessie obediently followed Willie down the road out of town.
He had to fight the urge to rush to the bridge.
His exit from town had to look normal for his plan to work.
Although the town looked as if everyone had gone to bed, Willie could not take the chance that someone might be watching from a darkened window.
Willie sauntered along at his normal slow pace, with his head turned toward the ground, as he had done so many times before.
To look at him from the outside nothing seemed amiss, just the sad little Miller boy taking his drunken stepfather home again.
Yet his brain was buzzing with activity.
Thoughts rushed about, playing out the upcoming deed.
His heart rate increased with anticipation, and Willie found it getting harder to breathe with each 7 step he took.
Getting to the bridge, less than a quarter mile out of town, seemed to take forever.
Willie’s heart was pounding so hard that he thought he could hear it.
He kept looking back to see if Jessie showed any signs of movement.
Willie was afraid the cool night air might revive Jessie.
Thus far he had not given any indication of regaining consciousness.
As Bessie and Willie walked onto the bridge, the old horse’s hoofs made loud thuds on the weathered wood planks.
Jessie shifted his weight in the saddle slightly and coughed.
Willie thought for a second that Jessie might be waking.
Stopping Bessie, Willie held his breath and prayed for total silence.
Reassured by the resumption of Jessie’s loud snoring, Willie knew his stepfather was still out cold.
Willie led Bessie alongside the rail halfway across the bridge and stopped.
He quickly tied the reins firmly to the rail to keep her from bolting when he made his move.
Willie eased around to the side of the saddle, and gently slid Jessie’s left boot from the stirrup.
Jessie shifted his body slightly and gave a muffled grunt, almost as if Willie’s touching his boot had awakened him.
Then Jessie’s snoring began once more, as he drifted back into his drunken stupor.
The snap of a twig, and a slight movement in the bushes near the bridge caused Willie to quickly turn his head, and stare down the deserted road toward town.
Seeing nothing, he dismissed the movement as nothing more than a passing deer.
Turning all his attention back to Jessie, Willie just stood there looking up at this dark menacing shape; gathering all his will power and strength.
Twice Willie raised his arms to push.
Yet each time his hands trembled so, that he had to lower them.
Willie then remembered the conversation that he had overheard earlier that evening.
Anger boiled once again, deep inside his guts.
His hands clenched tightly into two fists, and he thrust them upward savagely into Jessie’s side.
It took every ounce of strength Willie could muster to topple Jessie from the saddle.
His limp body tumbled into the water beneath.
The splash was deafening.
Willie ran around Bessie to the edge of the bridge and leaned over the rail; hoping to see a lifeless body floating face-down.
To his horror, he heard coughing and sputtering coming from the darkness underneath the bridge as Jessie started to wade toward the bank.
Willie had miscalculated the depth of the water, which would have been more than enough to drown a boy but not a full-grown man.
The shock of the cold stream had sobered Jessie enough to right himself in the neck-deep pool.
Now what was Willie to do? Jessie would never believe that he simply had fallen off the horse.
No matter how drunk he had gotten before, he had always stayed in the saddle with no problem.
Jessie would surely know that Willie was aware of what his plans were for them.
He would just move Willie’s execution up a bit when he got out of the water.
Jessie would know this would be the only way to keep her son quiet until he could murder his new wife as well. “Where you at you little bastard?” he screamed between coughs. “I’m going to break your damn fool neck!” When he neared the creek bank Willie had little choice but to finish what he had started.
As Jessie made his way up, he coughed up what little water that had 8 entered his lungs and continued to make threats as he climbed the muddy creek bank. “You damn, little sneaky son of a bitch! You are a dead man now!” Willie frantically looked around for some sort of weapon, a rock or dead tree limb perhaps.
Yet nothing was nearby and time was running out.
Once Jessie cleared the top of the bank Willie would be a goner for sure.
In an act of desperation Willie ran toward Jessie as he almost topped the creek bank.
Then just before they collided, Willie lowered his head into a ramming position; as he had seen the Billy goats do when they fought.
In the darkness Jessie never saw him coming, and Willie completely caught him off guard.
The top half of Jessie’s body had just cleared bank-level when Willie crashed into him.
The force of their collision made Willie see little flashes of light.
He had hoped to connect with Jessie’s midsection, and at least knock him back down the muddy slope, buying some time to find something to use to defend himself.
Unfortunately the top of Willie’s head and Jessie’s nose were at the same level upon impact.
Willie bounced back onto the grass, dazed.
Jessie fell backward into the water.
Willie was still for a few seconds trying to gather his wits; stunned from their violent encounter.
Willie fully expected Jessie to top the bank in a fit of rage at any moment to finish him.
Willie tried twice to get to his feet, only to fall again.
Then the earth beneath him began to spin, and everything went pitch-black. 9 Chapter Three “Ashamed” When Willie awoke, the sun was coming up.
A low fog blanketed the valley floor and songbirds greeted the new day.
The faint light of dawn hurt his eyes.
Even the cheerful chirping of the birds echoed painfully inside his skull.
Willie was on his back in the damp grass staring up at the trees for some time before his eyes could focus.
Remembering all that had happened; Willie carefully felt his head and discovered a large bump that throbbed painfully.
Withdrawing his hand, fresh blood covered the tips of his fingers.
Willie rolled slowly over, and then pushed up on all fours; this action made his head swim.
Fighting an urge to vomit, he took several long, slow breaths until his stomach settled.
He shook his head and batted his eyelids.
This slight movement sent droplets of blood onto the grass.
Willie was unsure as to the extent of his own injury, but it did not feel life threatening.
He wondered how well his stepfather had survived their collision.
Willie tried to get up, but his body would not cooperate; again he slumped back onto the grass.
It took some time before he could stand.
He then staggered to the bridge and peeked over its side.
There, face down in a pool of water, floated his stepfather.
Willie walked a little farther out on the bridge to make sure that he was dead.
As the pain in his head eased and his mind began to clear, Willie realized that he must tell his mother what he had done.
His earlier plan of going back into town for help would not work now due to the length of time that had passed since he and Jessie had left the tavern.
There may have been some other lie he could have concocted, but his fear and pain would not let his mind work.
All he wanted now was the comfort of home and his mother.
After untying Bessie from the rail, Willie climbed into the saddle and headed straight for home.
Although the ride was short, he nearly fell from the saddle twice.
If old Bessie had not known the way home, he doubted that he could have made it.
Fear kept him unsteadily clinging to the reins.
Willie knew that if he fell he would not have the strength to get back on.
Someone would be crossing the bridge soon, and would no doubt discover Jessie’s body.
For now, he just wanted to be far away from there as fast as Bessie could run.
His mother was standing at the front door when Willie rode up to the house.
She knew that he and Jessie would be back late, but never this late.
Her son returning alone, and in such a rush could only mean bad news.
She ran forward and caught Bessie’s reins, just as they dropped from Willie’s hands.
She pulled Bessie to a sudden stop; Willie fell from the saddle into his mother’s outstretched arms.
He began to cry, as if he was a baby.
She held him tight and let him cry hysterically for several minutes.
When his weeping slowed to sobbing, she used the corner of her apron to wipe the tears from his eyes and then had him blow his nose.
Not since his father had died had Willie cried so hard.
He told his mother what he had heard at the tavern, then what he had done at the bridge.
Willie kept his face turned toward the ground, too ashamed to look at his 10 mother.
He thought for sure that she would be upset with him. “Son, you did what had to be done,” she said softly, kissing him gently on the forehead. “Your paw would be so proud of you son.” Receiving praise for doing such a thing made the tears flow harder, but this time from joy.
He had done the right thing.
He had kept his promise to his father.
Whatever happened to him next would not matter.
He did what needed doing.
Willie would never let anyone hurt his mother.
At least now there was one drunken bastard who would never harm her again.
For a long time they just held onto one another and did not speak.
Willie could tell his mother was thinking hard on how to fix things.
She always got quiet when she was planning something.
He wanted to just close his eyes and stay in her arms forever, but they both knew they could not simply wish this thing away; this matter needed immediate attention.
His mother pressed a damp cloth to his wound, and then explained how they were going to handle things.
Willie sat still and took in every word of her plan.
He was impressed how quickly she had turned certain disaster into something positive.
As he had hoped, she was also happy to have Mr.
Tate out of their life.
Her only concern now was for her son; therefore, their lie had to be believable.
She told Willie how to tell his story, down to the smallest detail.
Knowing they did not have much time, she made Willie repeat it until he told his story the same each time.
Even though his head ached something fierce, he kept at it until she was satisfied that Willie knew exactly what to say. 11 Chapter Four “Fake Tears” Willie’s mother had him remove his muddy clothes.
She then washed the dried mud from his hands and face, had him put on a nightshirt and get into her bed.
She bandaged his head with a strip of cloth torn from an old bed sheet.
She picked up the heavy iron poker from the fireplace and walked to the barn.
Willie heard a loud crack.
When his mother returned, she shoved the bloody end of the poker into the ashes in the fireplace.
That part of her plan he dreaded the most.
Willie hated being the cause of Bessie’s pain.
That old plow-horse had gotten him safely home, and he felt he owed her his life.
However, for his mother’s plan to work, Bessie had to actually be hurt.
It was not long before the sheriff’s deputy rode up to the house.
Willie’s mother met the lawman outside as he dismounted.
He told her that a farmer had found her husband’s body in Willow Creek just after sunup.
He went on to say that it looked as though Jessie had fallen from the bridge and drowned.
He also told her that Sheriff Hall wanted to talk to her and her boy, as soon as the two of them could get into town.
Willie’s mother began to cry hysterically, and put on a credible show of remorse.
She then completed her act with a fake fainting spell, dropping to the ground.
The startled man ran to her side, fanned her with his hat and tried to revive her.
That was Willie’s signal to stumble out of the house, and try to help.
The first part of his mother’s plan had been believable.
No doubt the deputy would give a full report of her reaction to the sheriff.
She then hitched Bessie to their wagon, and went into town for Willie’s report of the night’s activity.
Not what had actually happened, but rather his mother’s made-up version.
Once there, Willie’s mother went into another fit of hysterical crying.
Everyone was so concerned about her that few took the time to hear Willie’s story about a raccoon spooking Bessie at the bridge.
His tale of Bessie rearing up and kicking him in the head went mostly unheard by the bystanders.
Sheriff Hall was proud of his quick assessment of what had happened.
Obviously when Bessie kicked the boy, she must have jerked her head back into Mr.
Tate’s nose, thus knocking him into the creek, unconscious; where he drowned.
The small patch of dried blood over the fresh bump on the back of Bessie’s head made this explanation infallible.
The crowd all looked at one another and nodded their heads in agreement with Sheriff Hall’s conclusion.
By the time the sheriff had finished his little speech; old Doc Johnson walked up and asked if Mrs.
Tate wanted him to examine her son’s wound. “No,” she said quickly, as she pulled Willie close to her side. “He will be fine after some rest.
I will take him home and put him straight to bed.” She wanted her son out of town as soon as possible, before anyone looked closely at his head.
The wound did not look anything akin to a horse kick.
Her oversize bandage had helped conceal this fact.
Doc Johnson informed her that Jessie’s body was at his place, and asked what she wanted done with it.
It was the time of year when folks put the dead in the ground as soon as possible.
It did not take a body long to start to decompose in the 12 summer’s heat.
She used her son’s injury to convince the sheriff to handle all the burial arrangements.
She again lied and said Mr.
Tate had told her he wanted buried in a proper cemetery, next to a church.
She did not want his foul remains anywhere near the farm.
Having been widowed twice in one year and with an injured child to care for, helped the townsfolk to understand her inability to attend Jessie’s funeral.
It was unlikely that very many would be in attendance.
Few of the locals really cared much for Jessie.
As they rode out of town Willie’s mother continued to wail, until she was well out of hearing distance of the concerned citizens of Wilsonville.
She then dried her fake tears, put her arm around Willie and said, “You done just fine, son.” Willie felt good about what he had done, although he actually had little choice in the matter; it was either Jessie or them.
Still, killing lays heavy on one’s heart; even someone as vile as Jessie.
For the moment though, Willie just wanted the pain in his head to go away, he would deal with his heart later.
Sensing her son’s suffering, Willie’s mother pulled him near as the wagon rolled down the dusty road toward home.
Exhausted from the ordeal, Willie closed his eyes, and then just before he drifted off to sleep a single warm tear made its way down his cheek.
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