This is a preview of my first, full-length novel, Nefas. For additional content or publication interest, please contact at joshua.a.crook@gmail.com or via Twitter.
Nefas

Nefās (Latin)

Noun

Something contrary to divine law, an impious deed, sin, crime; [of a person] A wretch, monster; An impossibility

 

 

 

One Bullet

 

He stared into the barrel of the gun. It stared back and Joe knew it’d spit at him with a mechanical indifference. He pressed the end of the gun against the center of his head hard enough to know he’d become religious. His finger curled around the trigger and it was the kind of hard and resistant trigger that made everything too conscious. His hand was steady. There was a steady hiss of water from a faucet he left on. He focused on the sound. He began to squeeze and the door to the bathroom burst open.

              Joe. Joe, you done shittin? Something’s up, Randy said.

              He didn’t pull hard enough and his trigger finger loosened.

              Joe, something’s up. You done? Pinch it. Then door closed outside of the stall.

              Joe put the gun down on his lap. He still felt the phantom pressure of the gun’s barrel on his head and he touched the spot. He looked at the gun like it’d done him some sort of injustice. He stood and opened the stall door. It wasn’t locked. He stared at himself in the mirror in front of the running faucet and white sink and ignored the bustle of ringing telephones and frantic officers outside. The lights made everything green. Nothing was natural. He was surrounded by squares. Square tiles, square mirrors, square faucet, square face. He stepped out of the bathroom alive somehow.

              The lobby of the department was large with computers and desks everywhere and none of them were separated by any sort of obstruction. It was a fluid space where paperwork went here and there and phones rang in a great chorus of the city’s distress and the place was a sort of funnel for every disaster and death and mild complaint conjured. It became such a regular thing that Joe didn’t hear most of it anymore.

              Randy was in their office and he went in and closed the door behind him. The glass pane rattled inside of the door and everything was falling apart slowly because nothing in the city stopped long enough to make things right again. Randy stared at a computer screen and the dull blue light cast into his face and he looked stupefied.

              What? Joe asked.

              There was a shooting in some trailer park, he said. It’s a nice one. Not one of those redneck, Podunk shitholes.

              Nice?

              The website says they have a gate and lawn codes. That accounts for something.

              Joe shrugged. Where is it? he asked.

              Just outside of the city it looks like, Randy said. He looked up at Joe and said, You alright?

              I’m fine. Are you?

              Randy stood up and didn’t answer. He pulled his coat on.

              Let’s go, Joe said.

 

Joe sat in the car and smoked a cigarette. He kept the tinted windows up and observed the scene. There were people walking over each other and bumping into one of another and each had windbreaker jackets detailing some agency. The cigarette bounced in his mouth as he spoke and he said, This looks like a gaggle fuck. We need to be here?

              Blue and red lights flashed over the windshield. The light bent and dissipated in the darkness of the car.

              This ain’t nice, Joe said.

              There’s a gate, Randy said.

              But that don’t make it nice.

              Nicer, I guess.

              Joe turned the car off and opened the door. You comin? he asked.

              Yeah. I’m comin.

              They both left the car. It was cold outside and it smelled like wood smoke but Joe didn’t see any chimneys. They moved under the long line of yellow caution tape that was flapping and twisting with the wind.

              I hoped for more blood, Joe said. He caught the attention of the sheriff.

              There’s plenty of blood, Joe, the sheriff said. Not here. Then the sheriff pointed to one of the homes.

              This is my partner, Randy. Randy, Sheriff Harris.

              Randy nodded to the sheriff and offered a hand. The sheriff lifted a gloved hand and there was blood all over it. Randy put his hand into his pocket and made nothing else of it.

              What happened? Joe asked. He lit another cigarette.

              We’re trying to figure that out. Pretty sure we know as weird as it all is.

              Well? Joe asked. He watched the sheriff through a cloud of smoke.

              Shit’ll kill you, the sheriff said.

              Joe waved a finger around in a circle. Something else might too, he said. What happened?

              The sheriff pointed to a mobile home and said, A man broke into that house there.

              Joe and Randy’s eyes followed the finger.

              The mobile home was a singlewide home with a dusty skirting around it from having been grounded as long as it had. It was a combination of contrasting colors that someone must have thought was a good idea. It wasn’t. The windows had tin foil in them covering the inside of the glass in some DIY attempt at insulation. Pumpkins of varying sizes and shapes lined a small patio with rotting wooden stairs that led up to the door and were likely Thanksgiving decorations left out.

              That man decided he was gonna rape that lady in there, the sheriff said. He pointed to the police vehicle and to a bald and tattooed man sitting inside with his head down.

              Oh, Randy said.

              Joe looked at Randy and smirked. Did he? Joe asked while the cigarette hung in his mouth.

              He did. Until her boyfriend got home.

              Did he have a while? Joe asked.

              I don’t know, Joe.

              She dead?

              If she weren’t I’d know.

              She’s dead? Randy said.

              If she weren’t he’d know, Joe told Randy.

              Randy crossed his arms.

              Boyfriend dead? Joe asked.

              Yep. Boyfriend’s dead too, the sheriff said.

              Raped her and killed her and killed her boyfriend, Joe summarized.

              I wish that was it but it ain’t, the sheriff said. His finger turned to the mobile home next door.

              No? Joe said. Joe and Randy’s eyes followed the finger.

              Boyfriend ran out of the house when he saw the gun.

              Chivalrous.

              The sheriff coughed to hide a laugh. Yeah well, the sheriff said. The bullet went clear through the boyfriend and into the wall there.

              Joe stepped toward the second home. He looked at the hole in the wall and there was blood all around it. Police officers came in and out of the house and Joe fingered the bullet hole and put his face up near it.

              Through the wall, through the headboard and killed a lady, the sheriff said.

              In here? Joe asked and he tapped on the bloody wall.

              Yeah, in there.

              Joe and Randy said Shit at the same time.

              He shoot the girl he raped? Joe asked.

              Nope. Beat her with clothes iron. Coroner thinks maybe she was dead when he raped her.

              Joe squinted some and scratched his head and looked at Randy. Randy’s face was all white and sick.

              Huh, Joe said. All with one bullet.

              Yeah, the sheriff said. That ain’t it.

              Joe scratched his cheek. He hadn’t shaved and it felt rough.

              The lady that was shot here in this house through the wall? I guess she was the mistress of that guy there, the sheriff said and pointed to a middleaged man near an ambulance. He was covered in blood and had a blanket around him. Them two were fucking, he said.

              Killed his mistress while they were fucking? Joe said. He pulled the cigarette out of his mouth.

              Yeah.

              Shit. Wife know? Joe asked.

              She will.

              Is she here? Randy asked.

              Nope. Was at her sister’s. She’s headin here now.

              Joe threw his cigarette on the ground. The grass was nice and green. He stepped on the cigarette and killed it.

              Rapist fucked a dead girl and chased her boyfriend out and shot straight through him right into this house and killed that man’s mistress while they fucked. Wife’s headed here now and the husband’s still alive.

              Yep, the sheriff said and nodded.

              The fuckin ain’t over, Joe said.

              Joe and the sheriff laughed. Randy didn’t.

              It ain’t that funny. Randy said.

              It’s a little funny, Randy. It’s a little, Joe said.

              It ain’t.

              One bullet. One goddamn bullet.

              Yep, the sheriff said.

 

Four in the morning. Joe had his gun holstered on his right hip and his shirt was tucked in on that side to make the weapon obvious. The attendant’s eyes followed the holstered gun but he didn’t say anything about it. Joe had Wild Turkey, Jose Cuervo, Captain Morgan, and Goose. His basket clanked and projected bellish sounds at varying pitches. He put it down on the counter. The attendant looked then to basket.

              What’s your new scratcher? Joe asked.

              Big one timer, the attendant said with a thick foreign accent.

              Am I allowed to get two? Joe said with a stupid grin.

              The attendant didn’t answer.

              One then.

              The attendant rolled the ticket from under the counter and ripped it off. He placed it on the counter. The ticket was metallic with golden dollar signs and green shiny illustration of cash.

              You got a penny? Joe asked.

              Penny in the jar.

              The jar was next to beef jerky sticks. Take a penny, leave a penny. He took a penny.

              I hope I win, Joe said. He scratched away the winning number. One. If I don’t win, I’m going to drink all this shit and put a bullet in my head, Gregory.

              Joe saw the name tag of the man that was clearly a Ming or a Li. Joe’s comment caused the attendant step back and Joe looked up at him. The attendant’s eyes were as wide as they could be.

              Not right here. I’ll go home. Who wants to die in this shithole? Joe said and scratched away the other side of the ticket. Four. Eight. Six. Three. Another four.

              You pay for all this? the attendant asked.

              Yeah, I’ll pay. One second, Joe said. Three. Seven.

              A beep went off as the door opened.

              Get on the floor mother fucker!

              Joe looked up from his losing ticket to the second barrel he’d seen the inside of that day. A well into oblivion. The attendant went to the ground in a panic and started making incoherent noises into the floor.

              Joe turned fully to the man. He looked him in the eye. You gonna kill me? Joe asked.

              You fuckin serious? Get on the fuckin ground! The man pushed the barrel against Joe’s head and caused it to incline. The rest of Joe’s body stayed rigid and straight.

              Do it mother fucker, Joe said. Shoot me. He pushed his head back against the gun barrel until his neck straightened. He said it again, Shoot me.

              The gunman wore a bandana over his nose and mouth. His eyes narrowed. He had a teardrop tattoo under his left eye. Black strings of tightly wound hair poured from the top of his head. The front of the bandana rose and fell like a ventilated lung.

              You’ve done it before, right? Joe said. Shouldn’t be that hard. Just pull the fucking trigger and blow my bitch ass brains all over this shitty corner store and steal whatever bullshit prize you expected to pull. Spend a little more time in prison. This time for killing a cop.

              The gunman shook his head. You crazy ass mother fucker. I’ll fuckin kill you! You hear me? I’ll fuckin kill you, you bitch ass nigga.

              Joe grabbed a hold of the gun and guided it into his mouth. With his teeth on the metal of the barrel he spit, Fuckin—do it.

              Their eyes locked and the gunman’s hand shook.

              You know what, fuck this, the gunman said. Fuck this shit. This crazy ass mother fuckin nigga.

              The gunman walked backwards toward the door with the gun trained on Joe’s chest. He watched Joe and shook his head. As the man turned and went out the door, Joe pulled his gun and fired at the man. He missed. The gunman jumped into his car. One. Two. Three bullets came through the window of the shop and glass shattered and exploded all around the store. The attendant cried out and jerked with each shot and prayed louder. One bullet sailed into the room and blew the Captain Morgan bottle apart and it rained rum in every direction. The car drove off in a screech of spinning tires and was gone a moment later.

              Joe breathed slowly and watched the disaster of things in front of him. Smoke drifted from the end of his hot weapon. He turned and looked over the counter. He holstered the gun placed his hands down in broken glass and spilled rum.

              Gregory, Joe said. Gregory. He’s gone. He’s gone now.

              The attendant peeked over his shoulder. His body quivered. His face was all red and wet.

              He’s gone, man. He ran off.

              The attendant pushed himself up on his knees and his arms were shaky. He looked around at all the glass on the ground and the wetness from the rum. He said something in some foreign language that seemed like a curse before standing and looking at both Joe and the broken door.

              You don’t have a gun back there, Gregory? Joe asked.

              No. No gun, he said and his voice was unsteady.

              You should have a gun.

              I have no gun.

              Yes, but you should have one is what I’m saying, Gregory. How much? Joe pulled out his wallet.

              The attendant’s eyes widened.

              How much for all this shit? I mean, minus the rum. I don’t like rum anyway, Joe said as he counted his money.

              The attendant shook his head and said, You no pay. You no pay. I call police.

              Don’t fucking call the police until I’m gone, Joe said. Joe put a hundred dollar bill into the sticky rum. It darkened. Keep it, he said. Put it toward a fucking gun.

              Joe took the booze and the plastic basket it was in and went out the door. A chime rang out when he went through the threshold of the broken door. Glass shuffled.

 

Joe sat in front of the television. He held the bottle of Jose in one hand and his gun in the other. The remote sat on his lap.

              The TV report: Two people dead in what may be the most unusual killing reported in years. A rapist broke into the home of Kara Lively.

              Joe laughed and took another swig.

              After assaulting the woman, the rapist shot and killed her boyfriend, but the story becomes especially strange, the reporter said.

              You forgot about the iron. He beat her with an iron, Joe said to the T.V.

              The same bullet that killed Kara’s boyfriend also killed a neighboring woman. The bullet penetrated the man, the reporter said.

              Then penetrated the woman that was being penetrated, Joe said.

              The bullet then went through the wall of the neighboring home and killed the owner’s friend.

              Shit, Joe said. Just you and me, Jose. We know the truth. Joe took another swig.

              Joe sang old songs. The sun was up and cars were noisy outside and he was drunk. There was an infomercial on the television about some device that made teeth whiter using light. People all smiled. The audience robotically clapped. It was all fake. It was all pretend.

              You crazy ass nigga, Joe said. He laughed at the way it sounded. He put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Click. He put the gun down.

              Shit.

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© 2020 Joshua Aaron Crook (I probably don't have the money to sue you.)