Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ghosts, Part 10

The town of Clement was different once, you know. We had businesses, homes, even our own post office. But businesses failed, people moved away, and we lost our post office to Shumark City. Tornadoes, fires, and time itself leveled most of what was left.

But back then, Clement had a thriving Main Street. And more than enough men to form Cotting's "posse." Larry and Ronald collected about twenty men, none of them armed with more than pocket knives. Cotting made sure there were no weapons besides his and the officers. Cotting wanted no one to steal his shot.

You probably find Cotting's eagerness to kill Simon strange. No bad blood existed between them. Cotting had only seen Simon with the Watts family around town a few times, and the two men had never met. But Cotting, you see, had been itching for a chance to kill another man ever since he killed his brother.

That murder happened like this. Devene Cotting had been jealous of his older brother Levi almost from the time Devene could walk. His parents doted on Levi and treated Cotting like the accident he was. Levi got the new clothes, Devene got the hand-me-downs. Levi received A's and B's in school while Devene struggled for every C. Levi had blue eyes, tousled blond hair, and a lean body made even stronger by football and track. Devene had muddy brown eyes, a tangle of black hair, and a body made by excessive sweets and second helpings of everything. Levi gave Devene plenty to be jealous of.

Until one day, when Devene was 13 and Levin was 15, they walked home from school on the old Crimsom Creek bridge, Levi a few steps ahead of his younger brother. It was report card day, and Levi was bragging about his straight A's while Devene walked behind and hated Levi with a purity only seen in madmen. Levi stopped and looked down at the river.

"What's he doing?" Levi said, not really asking his brother because he didn't care what his brother thought one way or another. He didn't hate Devene. He simply held him in contempt.

Levi had seen Terrance Mason on the side of the river. Mason held a black box and was turning in circles. They could hear that Mason was speaking, but they couldn't make out the words. Levi moved closer to the edge.

And suddenly it was all so clear to Devene Cotting what he should do. He stepped forward and pushed. Devene marveled at the simplicity of it.

Levi fell, screaming until he hit the water. He disappeared under the surface. Devene watched calmly as his brother struggled for a few moments, but Levi had apparently broke something in his fall. He vanished under the water finally and didn't come back up.

Devene watched the whole time. Movement caught his eye. Mason had walked to the edge of the river and looked up at Devene. Only then did Devene get scared. What did Mason see?

Mason looked out over the river and back at Devene. Mason waved to the boy. Mason walked away from the river back up a trail, carrying a black box under his arm.

Over the years, Cotting had decided Mason hadn't seen anything, although he didn't know how the barman had missed what happened. But what was Mason doing with that box, anyway? Probably something perverted, Cotting thought, and if Mason had seen anything, he certainly gave no sign of it.

And that was the end of Levi Cotting. Devene had thought his parents would turn to him, their only remaining child, but instead grief hardened their hearts. He would never measure up to Levi, and they let him know plenty about it until they were killed in car wreck outside Weatherford when Devene was twenty-three. With their money, he lived a good life and finally got the mayor, a beer drinking buddy, to appoint him as chief of police, a job where he got some respect and some authority.

Over the years as his boring life ground him down, Cotting had relived Levi's death many times. As he thought about it, Cotting realised something important, something essential had been missing in the murder. Finally one night while nursing a beer at Mason's Bar and Grill, he realized what it was. He hadn't got to see the fear in Levi's face. Levi hadn't suffered enough. It had been too quick.

He had stuffed that terrible thought to the back of his mind, but it had lurked there ever since. Now was his chance. He was finally going to get to kill someone the right way. For the first time in a long time, Police Chief Devene Cotting felt alive.

Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.

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