Trouble in Paradise: The Debt Collector (full story 12k words/44 minutes)

The Debt Collector (full story 12k words/44 minutes)

Chapter 1: The ice melts


The first heat marks the beginning of spring. It’s the day that the body feels heavy and tired at one in the afternoon, even though you might not have done that much for the day. It’s when the sun is so unmitigated that it doesn’t give us endless energies, but instead it leaves us to struggle to stay cool. 
The heat isn’t the worst though, it comes in gusts, like an engine that sputters after it hasn’t been in use for a good while. Maybe the oil should have been drained and instead it has turned into this black tar that’s only good as the filling of a sink hole. You can rev the engine and it might help a bit, but there’s no guarantee that the idle will run smooth.
The reason for the gusts of heat must have something to do with the fact that the undercurrents of the ocean change slowly and in such a subtle way that it can’t directly be measured, except for the species of fish that seem to come and go. There’s one thing that can be measured: the appearance of objects that must have come from somewhere deep below. 
Fuck-wad, you’re making this shit up,” Tommie-Lee says.
Give me one reason,” Bradley says, “Or give me the proof that I’m wrong.”
I’m working on it,” Tommie-Lee says, “Believe me.”

Tommie-Lee and for that matter, also Bobby and Brandon never much believed in those stories about the ocean changing its lay and spitting things out that had disappeared in its depth somewhere in the past. It wasn’t that they knew of a better theory or that they expected to come up with a better theory of their own, but it was just that they weren’t much for explanations of this or that. In that respect they were already like most folks that had lived in close proximity of the ocean for an extended period of time: it was just there and that in itself meant that there wasn’t much to marvel about. It should be treated with caution though.
In a way it was like telling a cowboy why and when he should worry about the vastness and the harshness of the desert or to tell an ancient hunter when to worry about the potential threats that lurk behind every tree in the jungle. Now cowboys were the ones to always keep their cool and even when facing death they tend to remain stoic, which was basically just one way of dealing with reality. The ancient hunter might have opted for a similar approach as Tommie-Lee, Bobby and Brandon. 
The simple fact is this,” Bradley says, “Things wash ashore.” 
Now that’s something that we can agree on,” Tommie-Lee says, “Logically speaking.”

Still they were good friends: there were enough good times between them and they had a certain understanding. Bradley wouldn’t talk too much and the others would do their best to keep an open mind, which in practical terms meant that they met somewhere in the middle. 
I see something drifting in the water,” Brandon says, “Close to the rock.”
Barely adrift is a better way of putting it,” Tommie-lee says, “What do you guys figure it is?”
It looks like a chest,” Bradley says, “Like what pirates used to bury their treasures in.”

Possibly,” Bobby says, “But if it is, then it means that it’s empty.”
It’s definitely some piece of furniture,” Tommie-lee says, “What about a totem pole?”
Or a part of it,” Brandon says.
For lack of anything better to do,” Bradley says, “We should check it out.”

*

The waves were too high to go out on the water in the small boat that they would use to go on the water with on calm days. For a rough day like today they had brought a surf-plank that they would use as a paddle boat. They didn’t go without any precaution, since this part of the sea was known to be very treacherous: every few months people would loose their lives, either when swimming, when a small boat capsized, or when rookie divers came up too fast from on deep. The treachery was a strong rip current that would pull you to the deep and it couldn’t be seen from the surface.
Brandon was usually the one to go out on the plank. Among them he was the toughest, but also the most experienced out on the water. He was secured with a short line on the plank, and the plank itself was secured with a line to the shore. The plan was simple enough: Brandon would carry a second line and attach it to whatever was floating out there.
The tricky part was attaching the line to the object: if it was wood, it was usually slippery, because of algae. If it was large, it was hard to throw a lasso around it and if it was deeply emerged it was hard to see what was sticking below the surface. Now a wooden object like what they saw from the shore was usually smooth, but if it had been in the water for a long time, it might have some sea urchins growing on it, or large fish such as stingrays or sharks might use it as an object under which they could hover and come closer to prey without easily being detected. 
Between the urchins, sharks and stingrays – the sea urchins were the most treacherous, because the long tips of those charcoal black spikes tended to break off and cause the worst pain and inflammations imaginable. Stingrays and sharks were more scary though, but the most they would do was show some teeth and then they would be gone to the wide depth of the ocean floor. 

*

Bradley, Tommie-lee and Bobby were watching how Brandon was struggling to attach the line to the large emerged object off shore. 
I still don’t get how you don’t get out there and do that stuff, with your old man being a fisher man and all,” Tommie-lee says. 
You gotta do what you’re good at,” Bradley says coolly, then he turns the attention on his friend, “Maybe that’s something that you ought to figure out….”
What are you getting at?”
He’s struggling,” Bobby says, “I bet it has those urchins and all kinds of nastiness.”
Maybe it’s bigger than it seems from here,” Bradley says, “But I still have this feeling that it’s not just driftwood.”

They see Brandon raise up his hand. This is the sign for them that the line is attached and for them to reel him in. 
Any news on what it is?” Tommie-lee asks when helps him out of the water.
Old and made out of wood,” Brandon says, “I would like to see underneath though.”

Now Bradley, Tommie-lee and Bobby’s turn to do their part: they pull the object to shore. 
I doubt this one is worth much,” Brandon yells towards the rest while he drinks some water, “I figure that the most we can do is sell it to someone to put it as an object in their yard.”
It’s just driftwood?” Tommie-lee asks.
You can see for yourself,” Brandon says and he points at the object that now washes ashore by itself with the last big wave. It looks one of those ancient boats that the native Indians used back in the days: it’s basically a tree trunk that has been cut in half lengthwise and spooned out. With modern equipment that would be a job of a few hours, but with ancient tools it might have taken a few weeks. Unless they had tools that we never heard of. 

Is it really an ancient boat?” Bobby asks, “I mean, not just the design, but also how old it actually is?”
How could it have survived in the deep for so long?” Bradley asks, “How can anything survive the salt water for so long?” 
Air bubble?” Tommie-lee offers. 
I think it’s just a replica,” Brandon says, “It’s hardwood and all, but even that decays at some point.”

What if it doesn’t….” Bradley says, still thinking, “What if it’s just like that ancient type of concrete that gets harder and stronger the longer it’s exposed to the sea.”
Then how would that work?” Brandon asks, “How come we don’t see trees turning into concrete?”
Salt,” Bradley says, “Water and low concentrations of oxygen.”
Then it needs to have been under water for an extended time,” Bobby says, “Hypothetically speaking.”
Yes and yes,” Bradley says.
If we can prove that it’s really old, it will be worth a whole lot more….” Brandon says. 
I will take a sample and analyze it in the school lab,” Bradley says, “We need to keep it quiet though, because if the word comes out, I’m sure that it will be expected of us to just hand it over to the museum.”
I’ll ask my uncle,” Bobby says, “He might know someone.”

*

In the distance they hear an old car passing. It’s an old rackety black Mercedes. There aren’t that many people driving that kind of car in Martossa, because an old car like that are usually owned by criminals or construction workers. There are even less that would drive a car like that down this road: it leads outback through the jungle and for those who are persistent it ends up in the small towns in the jungle that are days aways, and days after that there’s the desert and finally Moac, the big capital. 
Many years ago the government had pulled together to connect the capital to Martossa by train. It’s used to transport cargo back and forth, including cars and trucks. And it’s cheap, much cheaper than actually driving down. The only reason that a person might have to travel down by himself is when there’s something shady that would be better to stay hidden from the authorities. 

What’s that guy up to?” Tommie-Lee asks, when they all look up from the beach.
Hunting,” Brandon says, “But then it makes more sense to go by truck instead of a regular car.”

I saw that car somewhere,” Tommie-Lee says.
I don’t think it’s a local,” Bobby says, “The number plate is a different color.”
Let’s finish up here,” Bradley says, “Either way it might mean trouble.”


2

The man in the car wasn’t a local, but he wasn’t a stranger. He was bad news though. This man went by the name of Victor Vaughn and he was as shady as they come: he made his money as a private contractor that was hired to strong arm people into paying their debts. 
In other places this would be a way that the mob went about their business, possibly the local drug dealer or a casino that let people run a tab. In Martossa this was all very different. In a small sea-side town with just over a 1000 inhabitants it’s sometimes hard to be straight and for that very reason it wasn’t just the mob that hired the services of Victor Vaughn, but his biggest client was the local government that was always short on cash and they took it as their only option to go about their business as such. The public secret was that the Debt Collector was send by the federal government and that everyone, including the local government, was suffering because of that. The myth served its purpose, since Martossa was the far end of the country and in some way an insignificant outpost.
The reality was different though. The Debt Collector wasn’t hired by the city council, but it was more of a one man action of a man who saw it as his duty in the sense that he thought that it was the right thing to do. Or maybe it was more accurate to call it a two man action, since the council man always came up with ideas, but he was rarely the one to execute any of them. The man that had hired the services of Victor Vaughn was in fact the council man’s private attorney who was with him at all times. This attorney conducted most deals and he made sure that nothing could be pinned on the council man himself. 
All of this was also much of the reason why Victor Vaughn travelled the jungle instead of the train. In the trunk of his car he had three 5 gallon gas cans and to the back of that he kept certain tools that he tended to use to convince people to co-operate. His basic mode of operation was that he went down to people’s houses and presented what needed to be settled. In most of the cases people were either embarrassed about what the neighbors might think, or what happened more often was that Victor Vaughn’s reputation had preceded him and they complied out of fear. 
The ten percent was where the work came in. They told him to go fuck himself, they send the dog after him (which he usually neutralized with a simple cattle prong, after which Victor Vaughn sliced its throat with a swift movement). When Victor Vaughn returned the next day, most had the money ready out of fear for the terror that he might instill next. 
The last five percent was harder to reach and this is where stake-outs and the more intense convincing came in. He called these his private sessions, because Victor Vaughn never much cared for the word kidnapping. In his eyes it was just a simple business transaction that required a little convincing. He always saw himself as a regular Joe, doing a simple job, after which he retired to his home and he guzzled beer for a few hours.
On these stake-outs Victor Vaughn usually waited until he could get to the person when they were alone and when he was in a position to sneak up from behind. In came the rag with chloroform to bring the person under, dragging the client to the car, tying the client up and putting the client on the back seat. Then the client was driven to a secluded location and Victor Vaughn started to get to work. He always told himself that this was the kind of work that had to be done and that no one was willing to do. During he always wore his headphones and he listened to classical music. It helped him relax and focus, but what was more was that it made him feel like it linked him back to the ancients: back to a time when life was more violent and for that reason more pure.

*

Victor Vaughn had already booked a room for a month at the Martossa Inn. It was a rackety cheap motel in a back street not too far from the beach. It attracted the kind of clientele that were mostly involved with their own lives, some escaping elsewhere, but what united most of them was that they were either poor as dirt or they were involved in certain business. There was a lot whoring, dealing, every few weeks a client overdosed and in all fairness most of them were junkies who had it coming for a long time. On a few occasions it involved students in their early twenties that all had bright futures ahead of them, but who for the moment didn’t have much cash to their name. The coke was cheap, but it also had impurities from time to time, which was linked again to being poor as dirt. It was the simple reality that isn’t that much different in Martossa, compared to Moac, Rokset Island or any other place: to be poor was to get the lesser on everything: food, health and life.
Victor Vaughn had always felt good between these lost souls: if they disappeared they would never be missed. He was never quite sure whether he applied that whole idea to himself, or that it gave him this feeling that he could balance on that delicate edge between civility and rampage. It gave him the edge that he needed to carry through and it made him feel in touch with his brutal self. 

*

Victor Vaughn hadn’t seen the boys on the beach. It had been a long drive already and his clients were usually much older. One of the boys had crossed his path though: he was alone at home with his mother when Victor Vaughn came around. This was the only time in his career that Victor Vaughn had left a loose end. 
When he came at the door, the mother instantly turned white and it was as if she froze to the ground. Next the boy came around the house, carrying his father’s shotgun. 
Get lost, asshole,” Bradley yelled.
What are you gonna do with that thing, boy?” Victor Vaughn asked, “You’re gonna shoot me?”
I suggest you step away,” he said, coming closer.
I don’t believe you got it in you, kiddo.”

Bradley aimed the shotgun at Victor Vaughn’s briefcase. It blew up, all papers and rags. Victor Vaughn started to instantly boil inside and his fight or flight kicked in. He had been enough delicate situations before to know that this was one where he should recede.
You better have the cash tomorrow….”

The boy aimed the end of the barrel at Victor Vaughn’s face. This was his cue to start walking. 


3

Bradley went to the school to do the carbon dating: a percentage of carbon in carbon mono-oxide has been pretty constant for thousands of years. Trees absorb the carbon dioxide and store it in their wood. By determining the amount of radioactive carbon, it’s possible to make an accurate estimate of the age of the wood.
It took a few days to confirm the age of the wood, but they had a certificate stating that the boat was actually 800 years old, which in turn quadrupled the value of their finding. The boys ended up selling the ancient boat for a price of 500 dollar to one of the rich folks who lived on the edge of town. 

*

After delivering the old boat, the guys stroll back to town.
Not bad for an old piece of wood,” Tommie-Lee says, “It’s less than a half day’s work, split four ways.”
We should get some drinks and celebrate,” Brandon says, “Maybe go back to the beach, build a fire, invite some girls.”
Which girls do you know that are gonna hang out with the likes of us?” Bobby asks, “Besides, what if they want some of our money?”
Why would they want that?” Bradley asks.
They’re not literally going to take it, but they’re gonna make us pay for all the drinks and stuff….”
So….?” the other guys say, “It’s for the greater good.”
Women are trouble,” Bobby says, “That’s what my old man always tells me.”

Seen as to how your mother is,” Tommie-Lee says, “I can understandthat.”
Wooow,” they all go. 
At least my mother can cook,” Bobby says.
What is that supposed to mean?” Tommie-Lee asks. 
You’re kind of skinny, dude,” Brandon says. 
The other guys laugh.

You are kind of skinny man….” Bradley says, and when he turns his head, his eyes meet someone that he didn’t see for a good long time: Victor Vaughn. He also sees that the Sheriff is having his eye on Victor Vaughn, and he knows it. 
He kiddo,” Victor Vaughn says, not feigning any emotion. 
The boys don’t say anything and they keep walking their way. 

When they’re safe around the corner, Tommie-Lee is the first to speak. 
Why did that fucker look at you like that?”
You guys forgot?” Bradley asks, “He met with the barrel of my dads shotgun the other year.”
You think he remembers?” Bobby asks. 
Are you for real?” Brandon asks, “Of course, he remembers, that’s why he looked at him like that.”
Yeah,” Bradley says, “I heard that he killed a person in some other town and that’s why he can’t stay in any one place for too long.”
The question is this though,” Brandon says, “Does he want revenge?”
He had enough opportunity that last time,” Bradley says, “Maybe he doesn’t kill kids….”
Let’s hope not,” Bobby says, “What should we do?”
Only one thing,” Brandon says, “Keep our eyes open.”

*

Victor Vaughn wasn’t sure why he had left that loose end those two years ago. It wasn’t that he was a kid, if anything, it always gave him a certain satisfaction to scare the shit out of some kids. It was something else, something that he thought he wasn’t capable of: it wasn’t that saw himself in that kid, but he saw the moxie that too many people lacked these days. Besides, if it was his mother, and if he was that age, 12/13, he would have done exactly the same thing. He needed to decide though whether he would allow the loose end to stay loose. For now it was ok though.


4

The boys continue their walk and they go for ice-cream parlor at the foot of the board walk. There are many tourists and if there’s any place where Victor Vaughn wouldn’t want to try his revenge, then it was here. 
There are a number of parlors around town, but this one is their favorite. The ice-cream is good in itself, but what gets them to keep coming back is that they always get more ice-cream than they paid for. The owner is a fat guy that was nicknamed The Italian, even though the guy was just a local, but the ice-cream truly was great.
What can we do when that guy comes after us?” Tommie-Lee asks.
You mean after Bradley?” Bobby asks.
Friends stick together,” Brandon says, and in a scary voice, “Besides, he saw all of us together.”
What does that mean?” Bobby asks in a scared voice.
That guy is the most vicious man that anyone has ever known,” Tommie-Lee says, “If he wants to do something bad, he will do it to all of us.”
Maybe if we just keep to ourselves,” Bradley says, “It’s not the kind of evil that kids can see: I saw how the Sheriff was looking at that guy.”
Why can’t he just put him in jail?” Bobby asks, “He did bad things, right?”

He did,” Brandon says, “Why isn’t he in jail?”
My dad says that people are afraid to talk,” Bradley says.
But everyone fears him,” Tommie-Lee says, “But I guess people don’ttalktalk.”

They reached the far end of the pier and they climb up the tower to the level where the light house is for the bay area. Martossa has four light houses, because the coast isn’t a straight or curved line, but it’s very rocky and it has a few areas where boats can’t make land. 
What exactly can we do when this guy comes after us?” Tommie-Lee asks, “Except to hide or run….”
Take your dads shot gun,” Bradley says.
Or scream like a little girl,” Brandon says, directed at Tommie-Lee, “How do you scream again?”
Haha,” Tommie-Lee says.

I may have something though,” Bradley says, “You guys heard of the Blue Lady?”
“….”
Some years ago there was a group of homeless kids living on the streets in some big city,” Bradley says, “No parents or family to care for them. To keep it all together they started to come up with all kinds of stories – one of them was about the Blue Lady. You know how water is stronger than anything else, right?”
All too well,” Bobby says painfully, and the other boys pad his shoulder. The house of Bobby’s family was almost destroyed in the most recent flooding: some fifty years ago the natural water ways for torrents from the mountains when there was heavy rainfall had been redirected. The men-made redirections wasn’t good by far and on more than one occasion it turned the streets into gushing torrents that just went straight where streets tended to make corners. Bobby’s house was on one of those corners and since it wasn’t build sturdy it didn’t stand much against the water.
The story went that if they summoned the Blue Lady, it would gush everything bad away: in a shoot-out it would cause flying bullets to drop out of the sky, in an attack it would wash away all the strength of the attacker and if a person is particularly angry it would wash away all anger and bad thoughts.”
That stuff really works?” Tommie-Lee asks.
It’s just a story, man,” Brandon says, “But that’s not the point.”
What exactly is the point?” Bobby asks.
That’s not important,” Bradley asks, “What if this story gives you more guts.”
How did they summon this lady?” Tommie-Lee asks.
It didn’t say,” Bradley says, “But I guess they just called her name….”

Maybe we can use it as a code word,” Brandon says, “Code blue means one of us is in trouble.”
We should all keep our walkie-talkies with us at all times,” Tommie-Lee says. 
We need to net let this guy get to us,” Brandon says, “You’re all with me?” 
Aight,” they all say.


5


Victor Vaughn makes his first house-call: Karla Doyle. This lady is what’s called a Fish Wife: she has a loud screechy voice and she has the kind of unpleasantness that makes it hard to be around her for more than an hour; even for her husband and kids (or maybe, especially for them). She was poor as dirt, four scrawny kids and house and a yard that looked like a cross between the local dump and an abandoned place with junkies.
Victor Vaughn hears the lady screaming, even before he steps out of his shabby ride. He thinks: I do what must be done.

*

Something went wrong. Or maybe it’s more accurate to call it sideways. Victor Vaughn had been on a stake-out for three days and it looked like there wouldn’t be any opportunity for him to take the lady on a trip without anyone knowing anything. They didn’t own a car, she send her kids out for groceries and during those three days she hadn’t left the house even once. 
Then on the third night Victor Vaughn saw the light come on in the house at four in the morning and he quickly ran to take position behind the back door. Sure enough the lady came out, but it was a struggle to keep her quiet. The chloroform took a long time to work and Victor Vaughn ended up strangling her until she lost consciousness. It wasn’t what ultimately killed her though. 
He took the lady to a deserted cabin in the woods that he had spotted the other day. He had tied the lady up on a chair while she was still unconscious and he had gone outside to take a nap. He fell asleep and when he returned to the cabin the lady had died: she must have swallowed her own tongue and suffocated. 
Victor Vaughn had put stones in her pockets and he tied a few large rocks around her feet. There was a nearby lake where he dragged the body to the end of the jetty and dumped her in the lake. 
Victor Vaughn returned to the shabby motel and he slept for a full 12 hours.



Chapter 2: The Side Hustle


In Martossa the time was gone when a man could just work for a few hours and guzzle beer and fart in front of the tv at night. Jobs have become scarce these days and more often than not, a number of jobs are needed to stay afloat. 
Victor Vaughn was struggling to make ends meet and it had forced him to be creative.


1

It took three days for the kids of Karla Doyle to notice that she was gone. This in itself was a very sad fact, because it meant that a woman had died and that at first she was sorely missed. Victor Vaughn didn’t know much more about her than the impression that she had given during those three days on stake-out: cold, screaming, mean, vindictive, lazy, no ambition, no talent and a burden on those around her and the system. 
Karla Doyle hadn’t invested in her kids to begin with and to Victor Vaughn it seemed that they were destined to repeat the cycle. He wouldn’t be surprised that the youngest daughter that was now 13 would become the same kind of screaming fish wife a few years from now. If Victor Vaughn wasn’t a man that was principled to stick to his job, he might have taken matters into his own hands for the greater good. Victor Vaughn was certain: what had happened was no accident on his part, it was fate and most likely pre-ordained. 
There were three more visits on the list for the week and all of them had been easy. Patrick Peterson had been the first. A debt of 3000 dollar. He told Victor Vaughn that he would come up with the money the next day and he did. He struck Victor Vaughn as someone that had some savings, since the house and his kids hadn’t looked unkempt.
Mellissa Torres was a single mother and she owed 1200 dollar. She lived in a small house. A rental, most likely and it looked to Victor Vaughn like she didn’t have a dollar to her name. The lady almost fainted and Victor Vaughn thought that he would let this one go if the same kind of kid with moxie and a shotgun showed up. Instead the neighbor came over, an elderly lady who seemed much better off and who wrote a check on the spot. 
The last on the list was Sherri Craig and she was one of the ten percent. She send the dog out for him as soon as he had entered her yard. The cattle prong took only a few seconds before the dog was paralyzed. He asked if she was ready to pay the 2000 dollars. She said she would the next day, and she did. 

*

The commission of Victor Vaughn was 20 percent and with a total collection of 30.000 dollars in under two weeks he had earned a grand total of 6000 dollars. It wasn’t too bad, all things considered, but he had his expenses, not to mention that he needed to travel to start collecting. Victor Vaughn visited ten towns like Martossa each year, but he recently discovered that he himself started to struggle to make ends meet. 
That’s when he started looking for a side-hustle.


2

Bradley and his gang weren’t in the mood to play computer games until they would reach that point that their eyes started hurting. Something was off and they all knew what it was: Victor Vaughn was back in town. 
When they were younger they might have gone fishing, but the thing was that none of them owned a rod anymore, let alone that they knew how to catch a good deal of fish. Instead they sat around in the car junk yard at the edge of town. There were a few junked cars that they used to hang around with a fire pit in the middle. When they were younger they used to climb behind the steering wheels and pretended to drive out of Martossa. The last few years they just sat in its shade and at night they would build a fire in the pit.
They were bored in the way that only young boys can be bored: they didn’t know what to do, but at the same time they were playing games to pass the time and cracking jokes about this and that. Today was a day just like that, maybe minus the jokes.

So none of you guys were visited, huh?” Bradley asks, while flinging a small stone at the empty cans that they had lined up at a distance of three meters. He misses, but he also didn’t put in any effort.
Nope,” they all go. The other boys are chewing on pieces of straw.
Family?”
Nope,” they all go again.
Any of your families have debts?”
Money is tight,” Brandon says.
Your momma is too busy making babies,” Tommie-Lee says.

Bobby jumps up and starts wagging like Brandon’s mother. “Oe-la-la,” he goes.
Give me some of that sugar, hun,” Bradley goes in a bass voice.
At least my momma has some sugar to give,” Brandon says.
Eight to be exact,” Bobby says, “That’s a lotof sugar.”They start laughing and rolling on the ground.

You guys think it’s fun to live with so many people in a tiny house,” Brandon asks when they have all quieted down, “I love my brothers and sisters, but man…it’s too cramped sometimes….

We need to do something guys,” Bradley says, “To take our mind off of all of this.”
Like what?” Brandon asks.
How about we go and practice our aim,” Bradley says, “Like the Indians.”

Like slingshots and bows and arrows?” Brandon asks.
Like, exactly like that,” Bradley says. 
How come you guys never wanted to do that before?” Bobby asks, and the disappointment sounds through.
My dad always says that a man needs the proper motivation,” Bradley says. 
As in some bad element to fight off….”

They pool their resources (Bradley and Tommie-Lee each chip in 1 dollar, Bobby 50 cents and Brandon 10 cents) and they go off to the store to buy thick rubber bands. They can only find the ones that are used by the mail man and for two dollars they are able to buy fifty. The sixty cents they spend on a bottle of juice that they split four ways. 

*

Bradley and Brandon always walk with their Swiss army knife. They sharpen the blade on a stone and this is what they use to sharpen the tip of thin straight twigs. They pass by Bobby’s and Bradley’s to pick up some more tools to make a bow and a slingshot. Bradley’s father tells them that they need to use twine for a bow and this is what they take from there.
They spend most of the afternoon building four bows and four slingshots. By the time they are finished with these it’s already getting dark.
After dinner they all radio in: coast clear.


3

Victor Vaughn’s budget had gotten tight, just over two years ago. This was also the time that he started looking for a side-hustle. A few years prior a faction that was related to digital currencies had dabbled in tweaking democracies and matters of state. It soon proved to be one of those idealistic projects without any foothold, since it’s a big challenge to get people to root for politics and other abstract matters that don’t directly involve family members and others close of kin. It has something to do with this idea that things would be different in a perfect world.The idea itself has some appeal, since it gives people this feeling that they are better than the average citizen, or at least their neighbors, but when it comes down to it it’s all vanity and thin air. In the end, having a nice house, a nice car and not too many traffic jams is more important than more abstract matters. 
It doesn’t hurt to try though and that’s pretty much what that faction did: they had tried to reinvent democracy and matters of state for the digital age, but they ultimately hadn’t succeeded. One of the remnants of that ideology was that of the bounty hunter as they saw fit. They must have figured that instead of having civil servants doing the policing, it could be privatized by setting up bounties for known bad guys and to simply execute the law as such. The goal that they kept in mind was to make things as cheap as possible. It quickly became very clear that things weren’t as simple though: those with money were effectively controlling law and order. 
This made very clear that the job of a bounty hunter wasn’t a replacement of the police force, but an addition. They had already set up the framework though for anonymously submitting bounty’s. Victor Vaughn had become one of the bounty hunters and pretty much anyone who had a bone to pick with anyone could order his services – no questions asked. There must have been some faction that pulled the strings that saw some benefit in this type of operation. 

Victor Vaughn checks online, but there are no bounties in Martossa. He figures that the community is too small to have an outsider solve their problems. Then again, his work as a debt collector wasn’t that much different from working for bounties.

*

That night Victor Vaughn is in need to liquor up and he opts to visit the most crummy bar in Martossa: the Tittle Tattle Room. It’s an unlikely name, especially for a bar that attracts the most questionable characters that are in shady business of all kinds. Victor Vaughn takes a seat on the bar. There’s an old hooker on the far end, or by the looks of it, she might be the madam. The bar is sticky, the beer cheap and old school music plays all night: it reminds Victor Vaughn of a time when men were men, women were women and bad guys were just bad. In a way, this past as a state of mind was a complete fabrication: a mix between the 1980s as in music and culture, but also the 1880s when times were much simpler and all a man needed was a gun, a horse and woman from time to time. 
Mr. Ed enters the bar at midnight and takes a seat next to Victor Vaughn. Mr. Ed immediately sees him for what he is: bad news(much like himself). They share a few whiskeys and it turns out that they both needed a break from their line of work. Mr. Ed has been in Martossa for ten weeks, Victor Vaughn for ten days.
Why did you stay here that long?” Victor Vaughn asks. 

Mr. Ed sizes him up, “What’s it to you?” 
You don’t seem the type to just sit around and abide your time in a sleepy little town by the sea.” 

Mr. Ed takes a sip of his drink, “Let’s just say that I needed a change of scenery.” 
In my experience there’s only one of two reasons why a person feels the need to skip town for an extended period of time,” Victor Vaughn says, leaning in, “Money problems or they have some rattling skeletons someplace.” 
And you’re telling me that I don’t strike you as the kind of guy who’s short on cash.” 
Your words, not mine.” 

Mr. Ed thinks: this ain’t your business.
You know what they say, right?” Mr. Ed says, attempting to get a response, “It takes one to know one.” 

Victor Vaughn doesn’t show his cards that easily and he thinks: I got you cornered, fucker!
I have business here,” he says. 
As have I,” Mr. Ed says. Maybe Mr. Ed is more bored than he realized, or maybe he’s in need of something to make him feel alive, like the rush of adrenaline when he lets go of all his inhibitions, like he does when he needs to come on strong in his business. 

Mr. Ed can’t keep himself from prying, even though he realizes that it will probably backfire sooner rather than later. 
What would it take?” Mr. Ed asks, while studying Victor Vaughn, “What do you like to use(name your poison)?” 

Mr. Ed is fully aware that he can’t ask him directly. Mr. Ed realizes that they’re are more alike than either of them likes to admit: if it was him though, he would deny everything, at any level, but he has this feeling that he will be able to manipulate and control Victor Vaughn. 
You mean my poison?” Victor Vaughn asks. 
Every man has at least one,” Mr. Ed says, “Unless you’re the kind of man who’s going to tell me that a poison is just a poison.” 

Victor Vaughn thinks: my trunk.
I like to carry it around with me,” Victor Vaughn says after a few moments, “Or at least carry it in some sort of proximity.” 
Is that a fact?”

Victor Vaughn’s pupils narrow microscopically. It’s too little of an effect to really notice, but Mr. Ed has this feeling that Victor Vaughn told him more than he wanted: what he’s getting at is too big to carry in a pocket. 
A briefcase?” Mr. Ed asks and he thinks: a kill kit.
I do like to travel light,” Victor Vaughn says and it’s at that moment that Victor Vaughn sees Mr. Ed as a potential threat. Usually he isn’t the kind of guy who scares away from things too easily, but there’s something about this Mr. Ed guy that seems off. For one, Victor Vaughn told him things, although indirectly, that he wouldn’t disclose under ordinary circumstances (even though there still isn’t anything that he could be pinned on). 

*

That night they are among the last ones to leave the bar. Both of them are pretty liquored up, but it did little to soften the subtle mistrust that there was between the two of them from the start. 

Outside they shake hands. Mr. Ed walks off around the corner. From there it’s easy to keep an eye on Victor Vaughn: his old Mercedes has trouble starting and by the way the car bends through it’s back axes it’s obvious to Mr. Ed that it’s more than just a briefcase that’s in there. Mr. Ed writes down the number plate.

Mr. Ed tells himself that he shouldn’t pry in another man’s business when it doesn’t concern him or when there’s not money or leverage to be gained. The crickets and tree frogs are all Mr. Ed hears while he thinks about it. 
The two tail lights of the Mercedes disappear into the night, along with the sound of the struggling engine. The oil must be as black as tar, or more grim than a fistful of black holes at the darkest hour of the night. If that means anything, then it’s this: better back off.


4

The next day the boys are bored and they bike around town. After a good half hour they are still bored and go for drinks in a store that’s close to the Martossa Inn. 

*

Mr. Ed rents a car that same day, determined to get to the bottom of things. In his own way Mr. Ed feels like he’s doing the right thing and that he almost is a changed man. He travels around town looking for the crummy Mercedes. It wasn’t as easy as he expected, since it turned out that there were a lot of crappy cars.
Mr. Ed finally found the Mercedes of Victor Vaughn in a back street close to the Martossa Inn. That guy might be strapped for cash, Mr. Ed thinks. He throws a burner phone through the cracked back window to track the car later that night, just in case.

*

What’s with that guy in that car over there?” Tommie-Lee asks. 
Yeah,” Brandon says, “Something is going on there.”
Maybe it’s a stake-out just like we guys are doing,” Tommie-Lee says.
That stuff isn’t illegal?” Bobby asks.
Well, technically,” Bradley says, “Just like your mother, technically.”
Wooow,” the other boys go and they start laughing.
That one was too easy,” Bradley says, still laughing.
It doesn’t even make sense,” Bobby says, “My mother is a very sweet woman.”
Aha.”
How can you talk bad about my mother?”

Wait a minute,” Bradley says, “That’s the shrink that I talked with for the last few weeks.”

They knew about the therapy, but still it isn’t something they regularly talk about. 
He doesn’t look the part,” Brandon says.
I thought the exact same thing,” Bradley says, “But that guy is different though: he’s more street smart than any other kind of smart.”
Then what is that guy doing over here?” Bobby asks, “The Debt Collector has it out for him?”
Looks more like the other way round,” Brandon says, “The car that he’s keeping tabs on: it’s that old Mercedes.”
I thought that guy was some kind of vigilante,” Tommie-Lee says, “What is your shrink up to?”
No idea,” Bradley says, “No friggin’ idea.”

*

Victor Vaughn is sleeping off the whiskey of the night before. Unlike Mr. Ed, he doesn’t drink whiskey on a daily basis and when he does it really kicks in. He had a dull headache that wouldn’t budge, a dry throat and he felt like he literally couldn’t move. He ordered room service: scrambled eggs for two and a jug of coffee. 

*

Mr. Ed stayed in his car on stake out for a few hours. When it’s pitch dark, he sneaks out to crank the trunk of the Mercedes. He figures that by that hour he will not be disturbed by nosy neighbors or Victor Vaughn. It takes a while since he had last picked a lock and that’s most of the reason why he didn’t see someone walk down the street. 
It wasn’t Victor Vaughn though, but some skinny guy that walks his shitty little dog. This guy keeps ranting that it’s not right to break into cars and that it seems to him that all that’s bad has finally descended to Martossa. He tells Mr. Ed a few times that he will call the police in his high self-righteous voice. Mr. Ed realizes that this guy might actually cause him some very real problems. 

You will not,” Mr. Ed says in his most threatening voice, where all his fury is concentrated in a hushed whisper. Mr. Ed realizes that this will only make this kind of guy more likely to make a phone call. If this guy was a chicken he would go cackling until its head was positioned on the cutting board.
You gonna stop me?” the guy rants, “You gonna stop me?”

You do what you got to do,” Mr. Ed says, while looking the guy down.

*

Mr. Ed follows the guy into a dark alley. It’s there that we see the true colors of Mr. Ed: he beats the guy to a pulp while he hums some classical melody. Mr. Ed ties him up and throws him on the back seat of the rental car. 
Mr. Ed drives out of town, smoking cigars and guzzling whiskey, his vision narrowing, not sure what to do with the poor sap. 

Roughing up and intimidating had always been part of his game, but what was required here, was something else in its entirety: this guy might need to be iced. Mr. Ed remembers his old man telling him one day when he was 12 years old that a man needs to be ready to make the tough choice when needed. 

*

What if you don’t?” he can still hear himself asking.
If you don’t it’s the same shit in perpetuity.” 
What does that mean?” 
Jesus, how can I explain this one to a 12 year old kid?” 

The words fade into those of his daughter begging him to change his life. She had always been the goodness of this earth and it was because of her that Mr. Ed had gone to Martossa to chronicle his wisdom: he spoke with the down and lowly, those that had strayed of their path and were in need of the words of a mentor – the kind of man that had succeeded in life and needed what needed to be done. The reason why he couldn’t do all this at home had to do with the fact that it helped him to stay away from temptation: in Moac he had gotten away with too many bad things.

Mr. Ed was contemplating to skip town altogether, but he might also want to be able to come back some day. There was something about Martossa that he intensely liked. Then there was his credo to never leave loose ends. It didn’t come more loose than a guy who was beat up and who would be sure to call the police once Mr. Ed turned his back on him.

*

That night Bradley had one of those nightmares: he was all alone in the middle of the jungle and he had this feeling that some presence very close to him. Usually some scary creature would show up and he would wake up in a sweat. This time it didn’t go quite like that: this time the wicked voice entered his dream: warmer, Warmer, WARMER!


5

Mr. Ed spend the night deep in the jungle and he felt sure that he would not be disturbed. He still had the guy tied up on the back seat, but he didn’t feel too good about keeping the guy tied up in there. He carried him outside and tied him to a tree. 
In a few hours the sun would come back up and Mr. Ed tried to get a little shut eye. He usually had a few men to take care of this kind of business, but over here it seemed that he knew no one. He was mentally preparing himself to do the dirty work himself.
When the sun finally came up he saw a lone figure walking up to him through the side-view mirror. He looked kind of familiar and when he was closer Mr. Ed saw who it was: Victor Vaughn. 

Mr. Ed cracks the window.
That’s some co-incidence,” Victor Vaughn says, “There’s me taking a nice stroll out in the woods and then to run into my friend from the other night.”
What do you want?” Mr. Ed asks, sizing up Victor Vaughn. 

Victor Vaughn keeps a cool grin.
It looks to me that you might be in some sort of predicament,” Victor Vaughn says.
How so?”
You’re out here in a rental with no gear,” Victor Vaughn says, “And you got a man tied to a tree.”

What man?” Mr. Ed asks, realizing that Victor Vaughn must have seen the guy when walking up, or he might have already been exploring the grounds for a few hours.
Let’s just say that I have a healthy dose of distrust,” Victor Vaughn says. 
Aha.”
I have everything on tape,” Victor Vaughn says.
“….”
If you refuse my help, then I will send your little encounterwith this guy out.” 

Define everything.”
The trunk, the discussion, the beating in the alley,” Victor Vaughn says, “Camera with night vision, very handy.”
What do you want?”
I would like to help you out,” Victor Vaughn says, “As one visitor to another.”
And if I do let you help me, then I will be an accomplish, because I was in a position to prevent whatever will have happened.” 

Victor Vaughn nods.
This is a real Fuck Me Charlie.”
As I see it, these are the only two options.” 

I told you my credo when it comes to business,” Mr. Ed says, “Never come clean.”

*

It was all Victor Vaughn needed to hear.


Chapter 3: The Purge


Mr. Ed instinctively knew that it would be a bad idea for him to be seen with Victor Vaughn from here on. 
You do what you see fit,” Mr. Ed said when he stepped into the rental, “Have a good one.”
Likewise,” Victor Vaughn said. If it wasn’t for the guy tied up to the tree it might have seemed like a conversation between two old friends that had gone hunting at night.

Mr. Ed looked in the back mirror when he drove off and he saw that Victor Vaughn was bent over the trunk of his car, probably taking out some tools. 


1

Mr. Ed was surprised to find out that the road back to Martossa was blocked by the deputy.
Just a random check,” the deputy says, while checking the rental papers, “What were you doing out of town?”
I went for an early morning stroll,” Mr. Ed says, prying if the guy was already reported missing, “No law against that, right?”
The deputy hands his papers back and waves him through, without saying so much as a single word. 

*

That same morning the boys didn’t have anything better to do and they biked down to the store close to the Martossa Inn. The soft chewy candy that they used to munch on was 10 cents cheaper than in the other stores. Besides, they didn’t have much else to do that day. 
Not much was going on though: the old Mercedes was still gone and Mr. Ed was not in sight either. After an hour they were about to go home to play video games, but somehow they got this feeling that they should stick around just a little longer. Brandon was the one to stay back and observe the inn, while the others biked off in different directions. 

*

After thirty minutes the last of them returned to the tree across from the Martossa Inn. There was no sight of the Debt Collector in town.
Maybe he skipped town already?” Brandon says.
My mom says that he always stays for three to four weeks,” Bobby says.
That is strange,” Bradley says, “And usually there are these extreme rumors about this or that, but this time: nothing.”
Video games,” Tommie-Lee says.
Just hang on,” Brandon says.

It’s then that they see the crummy Mercedes turn around the corner. The Debt Collector gets out -- it looks like he had rolled around in the dirt. 
Like he dug someones grave,” Tommie-Lee says softly. If it was any other person that would probably be the way to crack a joke about it, but in this case chances were that he actually did kill someone.


2

The next day the disappearance of the guy was all over the news and it turned out that he also had a name: Felipe Owen. He turned out to have been some office worker without too much of a social or family life. The Sheriff stated that he was most likely one of those lost souls who had looked too deep in the bottle and had gone off to kill himself at the darkest hour of the night. There was one woman who stated that he might have been struggling to cope with modern life, like so many men that were build to be cowboys and more apt at dealing with horses and guns than the softer skills that are needed for our day and age.
Felipe Owen definitely hadn’t been one of those men though: if he had lived in the 19thcentury he might have become a telegrapher or worked the post office. The reporter asked if the guy didn’t have any family in town. The Sheriff said that there was and the family had stated that there hadn’t been any contact for months. The police had gone through the apartment and it had seemed like this guy had just gotten up and headed out: there were no indications of foul play.

*

Mr. Ed realized that things had gotten out of hand, but at least there were no leads pointing towards him or Victor Vaughn. Mr. Ed wasn’t sure though how to control a guy like that. If he was back in Moac it would be simple: he would get a few guys to talk some sense into this guy. He could get a few of those guys over to Martossa, but that would draw too much attention. Mr. Ed thinks: this one needs some ingenuity.


3

Felipe Owen was the uncle of Bobby. When the word had gotten out the boys stayed in contact via walkie-talkies. The other boys assumed that Bobby would be so struck with grief that his walkie-talkie would be off. 
They were all surprised when they heard Bobby’s voice: “Let’s just meet at the usual,” Bobby said, “The junk yard with the cars.”
He bobbie-man,” Bradley said, “You alright.”
I’m okay, I guess,” he said, “I just need to get out of the house.”

*

For the boys things had gotten very real over night, since it weren’t just stories about bad things that happened to other people that they didn’t know too well. They didn’t know Felipe Owen and Bobby also didn’t care too much for the man, but that wasn’t the point. 
The point was that it was as if the Debt Collector was closing in on them. In a way it was as if circling around them and this was the last victim that had been close, but not close enough to paralyze them with fear. 

My family doesn’t seem to believe a word of it that my uncle killed himself,” Bobby says, “He mostly kept to himself, but he just wasn’t the type to do something like that.” 
Then what do they think has happened here?” Bradley asks.
The Debt Collector,” Bobby says, “When we were on that stake-out yesterday, it really looked like he had just dug someones grave.”
That was a weird co-incidence….” Tommie-Lee says.
That guy just has something to do with it,” Brandon says, “Your uncle goes missing the same night that this scary creature doesn’t go back to his hotel for the night.”

What if it’s true?” Bradley asks. 
What do you mean: what if,” Tommie-Lee says all agitated.
The question is: how can we find out?” Brandon asks. 

We can look for traces,” Bradley says, “Inspect the outside of that dude’s car.” 
Looking for what?” Bobby asks, and he turns all pale, “Blood? Pieces of clothing?” 

Bradley nods, realizing that that might actually be a very painful experience for him. He also thought something else because he had his share with heavy stuff and muddling through: Painful, yes, but it will help you process what has happened in the long run.


4

Victor Vaughn wasn’t worried: this hadn’t been the first time that he iced someone and it sure wouldn’t be the last. The circumstances were worrisome though. He usually acted out of duty or towards some greater good. This one had been different though, since there was no need for any involvement on his part, other than the fact that he didn’t trust that Mr. Ed guy. 
It was all the reason to keep this guy close, but he just hadn’t expected that he would go quite this far to establish and maintain this kind of proximity. The whole idea of leverage hadn’t come to mind, but it might come when he would find himself cornered or strapped for cash. 
Victor Vaughn needed to catch some air and that’s why he got in his car and he drove to the edge of town. At the end of the road there was the lot with the junked-up cars. 

*

Look who just turned onto the lot,” Brandon whispers, “This is like a sign, guys: we need to investigate this guy’s car.”
I guess it wouldn’t hurt to just walk over and check it out a little,” Tommie-Lee says.
What do you guys think?” Brandon asks.
I guess just looking couldn’t hurt,” Bradley says, “You in?”
I don’t know,” Bobby says, “What if I like see blood or pieces of clothing…. I think I will freak out for real….”
Stay back, it’s ok,” Brandon says, “Then you can be the lookout.”

*

The car was battered and beat up. They looked around all they could, but except for dirt and more dirt, they couldn’t find much of anything.
I think I can pry the lock of the door, you know,” Tommie-Lee says, “Then we can open the trunk from there.”
I don’t know,” Bradley says, “It’s kind of risky.”
You’re going to tell me that you’re not the least curious?” Brandon asks. 
Okay, I admit to that….”

Tommie-Lee used his army knife and a paperclip; cracking a lock wasn’t as easy as they made it seem in the movies and it took him a good fifteen minutes. He quickly opened the door and pulled the release for the trunk. 
O man,” Tommie-Lee says, “It feels like that guy is watching or something.”
What are we looking for exactly?” Brandon asks. 

Inside the trunk they saw two barrels of gasoline, a large collection of all kinds of knives and a whole lot of guns. There were also what looked like ancient devices of torture, but before they had a chance to study everything in there they hear someone yell in the distance:“What the hell!”
O, shit,” they all say and all of them run back to the cars where they usually hang out, “Grab your gears, guys.”

Victor Vaughn ran towards his car and pulled a shotgun out the back of his trunk. By luck the guys had their bows and arrows ready.
You kids made a huge mistake,” Victor Vaughn yells, “A huge….”
The guys didn’t wait for them to be shot at. The first arrow came from Bobby and it pierced Victor Vaughn’s shoulder. The second pierced his other shoulder. The third hit was a rock from the slingshot that hit him right in the head. The fourth hit was another rock that hit him on the knee. The fifth was an arrow that pierced his hand. 
I’ll be back,” Victor Vaughn yells, while retreating, “You better believe it.” 

The boys grab all the stones they can and they drive him back to his car. They don’t stop there and by the time he’s about to drive off all of his windows are shattered, except a small one in the back. 

You guys think this was smart?” Brandon asks, while they are still trying to catch their breath.
My dad says that bad guys respect strength,” Bradley says.
Even when it comes from a bunch of kids?” Brandon asks. 
I don’t know,” Bradley says. 
We’re fried,” Bobby says in a scared voice, “I know it.”
Don’t move ahead of yourself now, son,” Brandon says, “That guy had it coming for a long time.”

*

What the boys didn’t know was that Mr. Ed was still plotting his revenge and it so turned out to be that he came across the site of the agency that employed Victor Vaughn as a bounty hunter. They have a listing of all active bounty hunters in the area and Mr. Ed hires a guy by the name of Malcolm Thompson.

Mr. Ed puts out a $10.000 reward for a dead or alive on Victor Vaughn a.k.a. The Debt Collector.


5

Malcolm Thompson was very interested in the 10k that Mr. Ed had offered for Victor Vaughn. Malcolm Thompson once served as mayor in Martossa, but he was so bad to the bone until there was one night in July that it was so hot and miserable that something just needed to give. That night it had rained slightly and then it stopped, but by that time people were so riled up that a whole posse formed out of thin air. The Sheriff and his two deputies couldn’t do much to stop what the posse had on their mind (and secretly they might have been of the same mind). 
When Malcolm Thompson had been elected to office it had been by a majority of 74 percent. It had much to do with the fact that he had been a decorated war hero and that he didn’t come from town seemed much less important. If he had been, then the people of Martossa might have had an idea of what would have been coming for them: tyranny.
Much like anywhere else, or come to think of it, maybe even more than anywhere else people were accustomed of politicians lying wherever they could, while taking bribes left and right. What Malcolm Thompson had established in just a few months wasn’t a whole lot of lies, but he had turned the government of Martossa into a de facto military regime. The kind that tended to be headed by a man with absolute power. 
How he had gotten away with it, no one really knew, but he had managed to instill a culture of fear with his subordinates. They in turn demanded absolute loyalty of all citizens. There was one thing though that Malcolm Thompson couldn’t control and that was the warm, hot and miserable weather of July that seemed to drag on longer than during other years during that faithful year. 
In a way, this heat wave was like a cloak or wall between him and his subordinates. Malcolm Thompson saw that he lost his grip by the day. When there was one day that was even worse than all the others, his subordinates simply deserted him, all of them. 
It was during that night that the posse rounded up after heavy rain of just 15 minutes that did little to cool the people down, but it gave them clarity of mind as to what they needed at that time. There were no words spoken between any of the people, but they had one thing on their mind: the lynching of Malcolm Thompson. 

Much like any man of his caliber, Malcolm Thompson somehow picked up on the angry mob that was after him. He grabbed the escape bag that he always kept by the front door and he skipped town. By the time the posse had reached his house they found it empty and it was the mother of Bobby who said: “The weasel must be gone.”
By that time it started to pour and it lasted for one night and one day. The people took it as a sign that that had been the end of it. 

*

It would be an understatement to say that Malcolm Thompson didn’t feel much like going back to Martossa. He was sure that they wouldn’t be too happy to see him, but on the other hand, if he brought their new tormentor to them in a cage – he figured that it might ease their judgement. The other reason was that he could sure use the 10k. 


6

Connie Moore was among the first to spot Malcolm Thompson driving around town. He had gained some pounds, lost some hair, but she was sure it was him. The rumor spread and the Sheriff got air of it: he summoned Malcolm Thompson to the edge of town and told him not to come back. His deputy escorted him to the edge of town. 
Malcolm Thompson waited until the deputy was out of sight, then he turned his car around. 
This time Malcolm Thompson had more luck and he spotted the guy that fitted the description. The person was just getting out of his car. Malcolm Thompson had half a mind to gun this guy down then and there, the catching alive seemed more of a challenge. He wrote a note and slipped it under the windscreen: payback 5 pm car junk yard, edge of town, signed MT.

*

Victor Vaughn figured that the note came from the boys that he had it out with the other day. He figured that MT stood for something like Mighty Teens. 
Victor Vaughn went down there at five, this time wearing two revolvers on a belt. The guns were for backup though, he brought his own bow and arrow, because he wanted this one to last. 


7

When Victor Vaughn turned on the lot at five, he was genuinely surprised that the boys weren’t there. He thought: those little punks chickened out.
Who the hell are you?” he brisks at the guy who’s at the far end.
I’m your 5 pm.”

You?” Victor Vaughn asks, “You’re a dad of one of those punks?”
I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sure you don’t,” Victor Vaughn says, and he’s getting vexed, “So how you want to do this?”
Man to man,” Malcolm Thompson says, “Just like they did in the Wild West.”
Turn at 3.”

*

They both turned at two, but Malcolm Thompson did it a fraction of a second before Victor Vaughn. He managed to shoot him in the knee. Next he shot him in the hand when he went for his gun. 
Where on earth did you learn to shoot like that?” Victor Vaughn cries out in pain.
What do you think?”

The boys were there the whole time and somehow Malcolm Thompson registers it when when Brandon said “We better split.” 
Victor Vaughn managed to shoot Malcolm Thompson in the belly (he aimed for the heart). He turned around and shot Victor Vaughn in the head. The blood was already coming up from Malcolm Thompson’s mouth and he thinks: off all the places this dump is where I end.

The boys saw what happened and they saw Malcolm Thompson collapse across from Victor Vaughn. 
They killed each other….” Tommie-Lee says.
No shit….” Brandon says.
We better split still,” Bradley says, “What if one of their friends shows up and think it’s us….”

*

The boys alerted the Sherif and he immediately came down with his two deputies following in separate cars. 
Malcolm Thompson,” the Sheriff says, when he turns the fella over with his foot, “To see the light of day.”
I think he’s dead, Sheriff,” the deputy says.
It’s an expression, you idiot,” the Sheriff says, “If he was any more dead he would nothing more than a pile of dust.”
What do you figure this guy did here?” the other deputy asks. 
I have no idea,” the Sheriff says, “Making amends?”
Neither of them will be missed, that’s for sure,” the first deputy says, “So what should we do with them?”

Call the coroner,” the Sheriff says, “I assume that neither of them has any relatives that give two bits that these two are gone.”
People might want to see these two for themselves,” the second deputy says, “You know, to keep rumors from spreading that these two are still around.”
Sharp thinking,” the Sheriff says, “We give the town five days, until Friday. Then at a town meeting we can celebrate that Martossa has finally been set free.”

*

The next day Mr. Ed heard the news. He hadn’t withdrawn the 10k yet and he hadn’t met in person with Malcolm Thompson. As far as anyone knew they never had any business. Mr. Ed ordered one of his men to erase all digital traces that he had ever dealt with any bounty hunter. 

Mr. Ed was fully aware that the luck that he had just had tendency of not coming back twice. He was playing with the idea of donating the 10k to the local church. It was just that there was no way for him to do that without people finding out about it. 
He needed a third man to do this for him. The 10k would clear his conscience.

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