When the man with the mustache approached the shed, the lantern in the shed was put out and the sawing noise stopped. He raised the shotgun to where he knew the shed to be in the dark of the night and circled around to the front. By the moonlight he could see the door was ajar and he kept it between the barrels as he walked.
The lantern set alight behind the door and the door pushed open. Behind the door, the small bald man Skrukrel holding the lantern. He said to the man with the mustache not to shoot, it was only him.
Only you? The man with the mustache lowered the shotgun. He wore his pajamas and over the pajamas a heavy coat. He watched the bald man. He said: you coward. He raised the shotgun and centered it on the man. You violate me. Clandestine to me.
You expect forgiveness. The man with the mustache had stopped, but presently his foot crept forward and he began to approach Skrunkrel. What forgiveness have you shown under such circumstances. They only send me cowards.
Oh God. No sir, no no no. Skrunkrel blinded by the lantern. He brought his hand up to see the yellow glow of what could have been Joe's eyes over the man's shoulder. The quality of the glow something out of a sunset to him. He didn't know whether he was crazy or if Joe had after all not left him behind. He closed his eyes. He heard the man with the mustache order him on his knees. He set the lantern there beside him and knelt. Oh, God.
The man with the mustache checked and rechecked the safety and stood there breathing loudly and deliberately. He regarded the bald man: you did place your life in my hands when you violated me. You are consented party to this.
No sir. Oh God.
Are you, or are you not a coward.
Are you, or are you not a coward.
Yes, sir, yes. I'm sorry. Oh God.
The man with the mustache ceased to speak. The silence had made Skrunkrel cry and he asked why had him being a coward made him deserving of death. The man with the mustache said that only children are forgiven. The man stood directly in front of Skrunkrel with the shotgun in his hands and breathed like a diver before a decent. His breathing the only sound in the lonely night and Skrunkrel resigned to allow it to remain as such. He did not mean to think of her, but his aunt's face came to him. Her voice. His father, his step father. His mother. From some corner of his mind he had had no reason or desire to acquaint himself with came relief from what delusions had played puppet master to his creature. His body shivered in the newness of it. His posture loosened and he found his voice. He opened his eyes. The man's eyes wide, his nostrils flared. He breathed like a diver before a descent. Skrunkrel said almost laughingly, we only needed your saw. That's all. That's all we needed. He watched Joe's fingers curl around the hair atop the man's head and the bowie knife drawn across the man's neck. Joe sawed the man's neck down the to bone and stuck the knife in the ground. He grabbed the man's pajamas where a belt buckle would be from between his legs and turned him over. He held the man with the mustache upside down and shook him. His legs jerking stiffly and his blood draining in the grass, his neck flopping open like some wooden ventriloquist dummy. The pajamas tore and the man with the mustache was dropped to the ground, his pale figure resting on its stump and knees and his bare ass there like the back end of some pig bolted into stillness and his genitals hanging dark and ribald.
Joe brought the bald man to the vise and placed the lantern on the table. He placed the saw where he had stopped and said to finish cutting the barrel. After you're done with the barrel find a metal file and take it to the end here. Make sure nothing is protruding. Be careful not to file the rifling.
Joe placed his foot on the chest of the dead man and pried the shotgun from his hands. He checked the barrel and found more shells in the man's coat.
Skrunkrel the painter jerking himself against the metal, alternately crying and laughing, the blood of another browned and viscous on his skin and the copper smell of it mixing with the night air into an ether that was surely a madness you can not hope to return from.
Joe regarded the roofed back porch of the dead man's home. He shouldered the shotgun and placed the sole of his boot against the wood of the pillar. He unlaced his boots and left them there at the bottom of the pillar and climbed onto the porch roof. He crowded his fingers around his face and looked in the window. He pressed his ear against the glass and listened for a while. He wedged the knife under the window. Not much give. He chiseled away the wood of the window frame with the bowie knife until he could reach the latch.
The smell of a house thoroughly lived in. Joe crouched in the bedroom of the man with the mustache. He listened to the creaking of the doors as they swung in the breeze of the opened window. He watched the hallway there through the opened door. The moonlight on the wall pulsing with the movement of the door of the adjacent bedroom.
No bed in the next bedroom. The door swinging against the frame but the lock not catching. In the middle of the room a large wooden desk leaning on the corner missing a leg. Beside it an empty birdcage.
The last bedroom locked. Joe pressed his ear against the door and then crouched and listened underneath the door. A blanket rustling but no sounds such as footsteps or breathing. Joe placed the end of the barrels between the door knob and the wall and cocked both barrels and stood there and listened. He let down both hammers and shouldered the shotgun.
The kitchen table downstairs covered by glass jars and bottles of varying sizes and on the counter a box of lids and caps. Beside the box sections of circular copper pipe of varying diameters. The kitchen floor littered with tin cans half full of food hardened and rotten and in the sink blackened apple cores and potato peelings.
He found a candle in the drawer, and on lighting it, became aware of the cat watching him from across the living room. The cat was large and its coat was tan and spotted and its ears were tufted. It squinted its eyes on his approach. It had mulled over his scent since he entered the window, and having deduced no threat, sat there like a statue of a bob cat as he illuminated it in candle light. Beside the table a copper still in a state of assembly or disassembly.
Joe searched every drawer by candle light and finally found the key to the bedroom in the man's overalls in his closet.
The girl raised herself on her elbows beneath the blanket. Joe placed the candle there beside the mattress, but she hid her face from the light, and he moved the candle and removed the blanket from her face. Her eyes a ghostly blue and her hair dread locked. She was of age to speak but she would not tell him her name or take her eyes from his when he stroked her face. Her stare neither frightened nor curious and her head wavering like a dandelion in the wind. The true stench of the girl's circumstances revealed only when Joe drew her blanket. The girl emaciated and clothed only in her underwear. She lay her head back down and stared at his boots or the floor. Her hand found the blanket and pulled it back over her.
The pet bob cat trotted into the room and went to the girl. It squeezed her to the down of its chest. It rubbed its face and neck into her. It overpowered the girl, its purr resonating in the hollows of her body, in the air. It left the girl and came to Joe. It sniffed his hand and pulled itself along his leg. It leapt onto the window sill. It watched over the world out there that contained its exsanguined master, undisturbed as if forewarned of the night's events by some primitive wisdom, like some detached and privileged witness.
Joe scruffed the cat and cracked its skull with the butt of his knife.