Jute was throwing his shoulder into the door as the two Forrest children rounded the corner. He was breathing heavy already and smelled like sweat and sour mash in equal parts. One bash split the wood near the lock and a second one sent the door swinging in with splinters flying.
Without releasing the doctor, Kemper turned to find a big son of a bitch had busted in the door. He looked a little familiar, even with a big black eye, but he couldn’t place him. Behind the man, two youngsters looked around his approaching body.
“Where are they?” Kemper howled one last time just as the big fellow snatched Kemper’s gown at the shoulders and hauled him back, nearly off his feet.
Kemper tried to keep his grip, but he could feel his fingers slipping. He leaned forward, his face now inches from the doctor’s. With all his strength, he shoved his leg straight back, planting his foot directly in the big man’s gut. With a grunt and a wheeze, the man stumbled back, arms swinging wildly for purchase on anything. He kept stumbling back, gaining momentum until his back slammed into the medicine cabinet, smashing the glass doors and toppling the contents over his shoulders and down his chest. Several bottles crashed to the floor, releasing an acrid cloud of vapor.
Jute was still alert, though stunned by the impact and the fumes. He shook his head and struggled to get his feet beneath him.
Myra finally found her voice and shrieked.
Jackson jumped in surprise at her outburst, but threw himself in the melee. He dove onto Kemper’s back and flung his arms around his throat. Jute came from behind and lifted Jackson off, putting him down to the side.
“Boy, just stay out of this. He done got lucky on me twice, but he ain’t gonna surprise me again—“ Jute said as he was charged from behind, his breath stolen.
Kemper rushed them toward the wall and rammed Jute’s head into it. He snatched Jute’s thinning hair and forced his head into the wall another time for good measure. Jute slumped, leaving a trail of blood on the polished wood wall, but he was already turning his frame as he hit the ground.
Kemper spied the scalpel among the doctor’s supplies on the counter. He snatched it up and swiped it once at Jackson as he stepped through the broken glass, returning to the doctor. He did not even notice the shards cutting into his soles as he crossed.
The doctor scrambled backward, still on the bed, but Kemper grabbed his belt and dragged him, bed and all back toward him. Doctor Holloway raised his hands up to protect himself from the glinting blade, but Kemper casually slashed at his palms.
As the doctor howled, Kemper asked him the same question, only this time in a hiss. “Where are they? You tell me now or I will not only kill you, I will tie you down, like you did me, and I will make you watch as I bleed these other three dry. You will see them go and know you could do nothing to save them.”
He twisted the scalpel in the air to emphasize his promised torture.
Doctor Holloway glanced to Jute, who was shaking his head, trying to push himself up to sitting. He looked at Jackson and Myra and “I am sorry.”
“No, Doc!” Jackson spouted
The doctor curled his fingers closed and turned his hands in toward himself, resembling a bloody, pitiful praying mantis. “They are at the Forrest Farm, due south,” he sobbed.
Myra took in the doctor’s words, their depth like a solid blow. Dread and fear drained her as she swooned. Jackson did his best to catch her, but she was larger than him and he staggered under her weight.
Kemper ignored the children and loomed closer to the doctor, scalpel dripping with his blood.
He tried to roll away but was brought back by Kemper.
“I told you what you wanted! Don’t kill me!”
Kemper laughed dryly as he pushed the blade closer to the doctor’s face. “You are a fool for trusting me.”
Jute rushed from behind, pushing Kemper down onto the doctor. The blade sliced along the doctor’s cheek and hacked off a small chunk of his earlobe then was buried in the mattress beneath, but Kemper did not let go of the knife.
The weight from the attack and the shock of the injury was too much for the medicine man and he passed out beneath the pile. Kemper grunted and wriggled beneath the big fellow, Jute landing blows into his back and neck.
He looked back to the children. “God damn it, Y’all! Run! Go tell your people what happened!”
“Jackson, we need to get help!” Myra said, eyes wild, clearly beside herself. “We need to get the sheriff!”
Still pounding away but losing steam, Jute yelled. “Damn it! Go!”
Jackson snatched Myra’s hand and before she could protest, he yanked her hard and dragged her out of Doctor Holloway’s office.
The Forrest children burst from the office, nearly making the distance of the long ramp in one bound. They hurried out towards the park when Jackson planted both feet and skidded to a stop.
He looked back at the doctor’s office, imagining the battle waging inside, then looked off to toward home, imagining the one to come.
He ran back to the house, leaving Myra in a confused muddle. “What are you doing, Jackson? You can’t get in that fight. You might be hurt.”
Jackson ran around the ramp and found his rifle and checked the powder pouch about his neck. “You run home. Find Poppa and Silas and Hercules and you tell ’em this maniac here is looking for ’em.” He swept up his hat and stamped onto his head.
Myra came running to him with wet face and puzzled eyes. “But what are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know yet, but you gotta warn the men! Go, dang it!” He leaned the rifle back against the porch, turned her in the direction of the farm and gave her a shove.
She ran off, looking back over her shoulder every few strides at her brave little brother.
Jackson could not bear that look in her eyes. It did not convey doubt at his ability, but a fear she may not see him alive again.
Jute had reached his limit and blown himself out. Kemper pushed himself up, with Jute laying on him and threw the man aside. He swung the blade at him, catching only air as Jute stumbled backward. Jute put his foot down on a bottle and it rolled out from under him sending him hard on his ass.
Kemper rushed up and gritted his teeth hard as he threw his bare foot into Jute’s side again and again. He felt the man’s ribs give under the barrage and Jute passed clean out.
Kemper dashed about, catching his breath and looking through the medicines to find his laudanum. His familiar bottles were nowhere to be found. He hurriedly dressed himself in his old clothing. He wrapped his wrists with a good length of bandages, cutting the ends with the scalpel and tucking them under.
He paced to and fro, wrapping the knife in cotton batting and stowing it in his coat pocket. He walked up to Jute’s motionless body and gave him one more good kick. He went to the doctor and thought of finishing him off, but he was certain that if he killed the man, a posse or some such would be dispatched, making his hunt that much harder.
He stepped into the doctor’s office beyond and spied his laudanum sitting in a row on the doctor’s desk. He ran to them, snatched one up, tore the cork out and downed nearly the whole bottle. He stashed the first bottle then filled his pockets with a fresh store of his elixir. He was truly back on track.
His wheels calmly turned.
He noted how much he loved his laudanum and the blissful insight it bestowed upon him. Equipped with plenty of juice and a shiny new knife, he strode towards the front door.
Outside, dread and panic sloshed inside Jackson as he saw the front door knob turn. Jackson dove beneath the porch, scampering on all fours until the shadows embraced him. The aromas of dank, musty earth filled his nostrils.
Overhead, footsteps clomped away down the ramp. A single shadow rippled across the blazing green grass. Jackson had no way to know if it was Jute, the doctor or the maniac, only that it was one man. He held his breath and his position until the hollow clacking footsteps ended as whoever it was stepped onto the brick sidewalk.
Jackson felt his ammunition pouch digging into his chest as he pressed himself to the dank earth. He peered out from his hiding and realized he had left his rifle leaning against the porch.
Adrenalin poured into his limbs as he scrambled toward the weapon. He reached out and snagged the stock. He pulled the rifle under the house just as he saw the shadow move to the side of the ramp and onto the lawn.
Jackson saw the baggy trousers down and ridiculously large shoes. It was neither Jute or the doctor, he was certain. He forced himself to not think about the other men’s fates. Jackson reached the rifle out before him as he lay on his stomach. As quietly as he could (though he was sure it was loud as hell) he cocked back the hammer of his fine long rifle. The wooden stock against his cheek and the cool iron in his hand reassured him, until he remembered he had not loaded his weapon.
His father had always warned him against running around with a primed rifle. “Boy, you ain’t at war, so you ain’t gonna need to shoot nothing that cannot wait for you to load. Otherwise, the only thing you gonna be pullin’ a bullet out of is yourself.”
Edgar’s words echoed in his mind, mocking him as he hunkered on the cool loam.
The man turned in place on the lawn, looking perhaps for Jackson and his sister, who had escaped him only moments before.
Jackson stayed put. When he was about to pass out from holding his breath so long, the maniac strode off making for the park across the street.
Mister Elkins, the haberdasher, had returned to the park and was sitting on a bench in the shade, admiring an apple he was about to eat. The madman stopped and asked a question of Dinsmore, who had to pull the apple away from his mouth to answer.
He spoke, but Jackson was too far away to make it out. Dinsmore pointed with the apple in hand toward the northeast.
Toward Jackson’s home.
All sorts of terrible images of his slaughtered family crowded in on his young mind. He pushed out the horrible notions, but it was a Herculean effort. After all, this man clearly displayed that he did not care much about pain he inflicted on others.
Jackson saw the madman move off, crossing the park and then headed down Magnolia Avenue toward the bluffs. Jackson slipped out from under the house. He contemplated going inside, but the fear he harbored for his family forced him away, toward home.
Whatever happened to the doc and Jute, it was too late to help them, but he prayed he could get to his family before . . .
As he came toward Dinsmore, he was already yelling, “What did he want? What did you say to him?”
Dinsmore blinked hard to focus on the next nuisance interruption. “Why, Jackson, he was askin’ after you all’s farm. Ain’t that a coincidence? I told him you all was just over there at Doc’s, climbin’ under the porch.”
Jackson took ammunition from the pouch and loaded it into his rifle. “Mister Elkins, go and find the Sheriff.”
“Now why would I want to go and do something as silly as all that?” he asked as he finally took a bite of the apple.
Jackson slapped the apple out of Dinsmore’s hand, juice splashing the man’s face.
“Hey . . .” he said as he watched his lunch go flying off into the grass. “That weren’t nice . . .”
“I’m sorry, but please go find the Sheriff and tell him what I say!” Jackson said as he stomped off. “Tell him there is a murderer on the loose and he is headed toward our farm!”
Dinsmore did grudgingly rise to go after the Sheriff, but he grumbled plainly, “When did you go and get so mean, Jackson? I reckon it was just yesterday when you was a sweet—”
“Go! Now!” Jackson bellowed over his shoulder.
“But what are you off to do?” Dinsmore asked, his steps starting tentatively.
Bolting across the open expanse Jackson hollered, “I’m gonna follow that sumbitch!”
Dinsmore shook his head as he skulked away in search of Sheriff Dobbs. “Such language. Why, I reckon it was just yesterday . . .”