Franklin: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter


Chapter 1

There was a gun rack in the back window that held his umbrella – you weren’t allowed to display firearms since 9/11. But even before that, because of his past, Larry hadn’t been allowed to own a gun. (…)
The man in the mask shook his head and moved the gun from one hand to the other, both gloves now stained red.
“Die,” he said again.
Okay with Larry.

Chapter 2

While Silas had gone back to his patrols, looking for trespassers on Rutherford land, writing tickets, directing traffic, moving roadkill, French had searched M&M’s house and discerned that somebody, presumably M&M, had been shot there and then moved. Though the place had been carefully wiped down, they`d still found a few blood specks and prized from the wall a .22 bullet, mushroomed so badly from impact that it would likely be of no use. They did not, however, locate the gun.(…)

He hoped not to have to shoot any as he mushed along fanning the air with his hand. Here he was two years as Chabot’s law and he’d never fired his pistol except at targets. Practice. Never for real. Not even a turtle on a log. (…)

“You ever see that other movie Alfred Hitchcock did, Voncille?”
“Which one?”
The Birds?”
“Long time ago.”
“All them buzzards and crows this morning reminded me of it. Seen it at the drive-in, when we was younguns. After it was over my little brother says, ‘You know what? I wish that really would happen. With birds like that. Just going crazy. We could find us some football helmets and a bunch of guns and ammo and go on the road, just killing birds and saving people.’” (…)

In the nearest yard, its grass to their knees, three boys, two crew cuts and a mullet, stood watching. One had a BB gun and another a plastic bow and arrow set.
Silas coasted to a stop and killed his engine, the clogs gathering at his door, one little biddy one that jumped so high it kept appearing in his window.
“Get down,” he said, fingering his Taser, which, like his pistol, he’d never used.

Chapter 3

Then, one Sunday afternoon in late March, (…) Larry set off down the dirt road they lived on, his lockblade knife in his back pants pocket and carrying a Marlin .22 lever action, one of his father’s old guns. Since his tenth birthday, he’d carried a rifle with him in the woods. Some days he shot at birds and squirrels halfheartedly, rarely hitting anything, and if he did, just standing over it a minute, two, staring, and then leaving it lying, his feelings jumbled, somewhere between pride and guilt. But today he kept the safety on and carried the rifle yoked over his shoulder. (…)

At night sometimes in these cold stretches you’d hear noises like gunshots. It wasn’t until he’d come, once, to a tree snapped cleanly in half that he realized the cold would break them. The young ones, the old. A tree enduring another freezing night suddenly explodes at its heart, its top half toppling and swinging down, scratching the land with a horrible creak, broken in half and turning like a hanged man. (…)

Now, as he made his way toward the cabin where Silas and his mother were staying, the woods had begun to thin, and as he came to the edge of the field with his .22, he looked over the frozen turnrows and saw the dark elbow of smoke from the cabin’s stovepipe. (…)

“Hey,” said a voice behind him.
He turned with the rifle. It was Silas, his arms full of limbs. Firewood.
The black boy dropped the wood and raised his hands like a robber. For a moment that was how they stood, Silas in the coat Larry’s mother had given him and one of Larry’s old thermal caps his mother must’ve thought to put in the pocket.
Silas opened his mouth. “You gone shoot me?”
He moved the rifle. “No,” he said. “You scared me is all. Sneaking up like that.”
“I ain’t sneak.” Silas lowered his hands.
“Sorry,” Larry said. He put the .22 against a tree and hesitated, then came forward to shake Silas’s hand. His father’s habit. Silas hesitated, too, then, perhaps because they were alone in the woods, no school around them, they shook, Silas’s fingers again enveloped Larry’s glove. (…)
“What you doing out here?”
“My daddy owns this land.” Larry turned to where the gun stood, barrel up, against the bark of a pine tree. “I was hunting.”
“You kill anything?”
He shook his head.
“Cause I ain’t heard no shots.”
“I’m hunting deer,” Larry said.
“I had me a gun I could kill some of these squirrels. Let Momma fry em.”
Larry reached for the .22.
“You reckon I could borry that one?” Silas said. “I bet your daddy got twenty-five more ain’t he.”
He did, he had several guns. Larry brought this one because it didn’t kick and wasn’t as loud as the others, twelve-and twenty-gauge shotguns or higher-caliber rifles. (…)
They stood. Silas looked toward the cabin then dropped the wood again and turned, pointed to the .22. “Let me shoot it.”
Larry looked toward the house. “Won’t your momma hear?”
“She workin.”
“I thought she worked the early shift. Piggly Wiggly.”
“She do. Then she work the late shift at the diner in Fulsom. Here go,” he said, stepping forward and taking the gun from Larry who never even tried to stop the black boy. “How you do it?” Silas asked.
“It’s already one in the chamber,” Larry said. “All you got to do is cock it and shoot.”
“How you shoot?”
“You ain’t never shot?”
“I ain’t never touch no gun,” Silas said. He held the rifle by its stock and forestock, as if it were a barbell without weights.
Larry raised his arms and mimed how you’d aim the gun.
“Which hand are you?”
“Say what?”
“Right-handed or left. I’m right.”
“So you’re opposite me. See that hammer there?” Larry pointed. “Cock it back.”
Silas did, and Larry watched him raise the rifle to his right cheek. “Lay your face on the wood,” he said.
“Cold,” Silas said.
“Now close your left eye and look with your right down the barrel. See that little sight? Put that on whatever you want to hit.”
Silas aimed at something across the field, closer to the cabin than Larry liked, and then shot and the echo slapped through the trees.
“It ain’t loud,” Silas said. He lowered the rifle and peered toward where he’d fired.
“That’s how come I like it.”
“Can I shoot it again?”
“Go on.”
“How many bullets you got?”
“Cartridges. This one shoots cartridges. Twenty-two longs.”
“It shoot twenty-two times?”
Larry had to smile. “No, this gun’s a .22 caliber. It shoots long or short cartridges. I got longs today.”
“How many you got?”
Silas raised it again and sighted down the barrel and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
“Work the lever,” Larry said, miming.
Silas levered the rifle and his head snapped when the spent hull flew out of the side.
“Now see how it’s cocked? It’s ready to shoot again, so be careful.”
Holding the rifle with a kind of reverence, Silas bent to retrieve the hull.
“It’s hot,” Larry said, but Silas picked it up with his fingers and then cupped it in his palm.
“What you do with these?”
Larry shrugged. “Throw em away.”
Silas put the cartridge to his nose. “It smell good.”
They watched each other.
Then Silas raised the rifle again and panned it over the field, past the house, all the way back around to Larry, and held it on him. For a moment Larry saw into the perfect O of the barrel and followed it to Silas’s opened eye and went numb.
“Now we even,” Silas said.
Then he moved the gun, continued his pan until he stopped on a pine tree and shot. He levered the rifle and this time caught the ejected hull. It clinked against the other in his palm. He put them both in his coat pocket, and it struck Larry with a wave of sadness, a boy saving the hulls as something valuable.
“Go on keep it,” Larry blurted. “The rifle.”
Silas when he smiled displayed an array of handsome teeth. “For real?”
It was the first time Larry had seen him smile. “I got to get it back, though. Pretty soon, okay? Promise?”
“I’ll just shoot me a few these squirrels,” Silas said. He sighted something high in a tree. “You got the bullets? The cartridges?”
Larry unzipped his coat pocket and brought out both of the small white boxes and held them out to the black boy. Silas took them reverently and transferred them to his own coat pocket. Larry showed him how to load it and gave him pointers about aiming and shooting, the same lessons his father had given him. By the time he finished telling Silas how to clean the rifle, the sky outside the woods had reddened and the limbs were darker and the smoke from the cabin had quit.

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

LARRY KNEW SOMETHING was wrong when he walked in the back door, on his way to place the .33 in its green velvet slot in the gun cabinet in the hall.
Carl sidestepped out of the kitchen to face him.
“Come here,” he said.
Larry willed himself to walk toward his father, who seized him by his sleeve and dragged him into the living room. He took the rifle from Larry.
“Where’s my Marlin?” (…)
“Ina Jean, this boy’s subcontracting out my firearms. I want to know who it is. Well?” (…)
“Tomorrow,” Carl told Larry. “Tomorrow first thing you get your ass out there where they’re squatting and get my god dang Marlin back. Is that clear, boy?” (…)
“I need the .22 back,” Larry said.
“How come?”
“I just do. Please, Silas.”
“Tell me how come. You got a lot of em. I ain’t got but one.”
“I told you. I want it back.”
“No. We need it.”
“It’s my daddy’s.”
“It’s my daddy’s,’” Silas mocked. (…)
“Tell me who your daddy is.” He waited. “I ain’t gone ask you again.”
“He dead.”
“Dead! Well, ain’t that sad. And he didn’t leave you no gun? Ain’t that one of a daddy’s duties? Leave his boy a firearm?” (…)
“Looks like you won yourself a rifle, boy,” Carl said.


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