The first 1800 words or so
The man in the house on the hill narrowed his eyes as the car rumbled up the gravel. It was tan-metal colored and rounded, unfamiliar. He couldn’t see the license plate at this distance, not through the dust on it, but he’d bet it was out of state. Or a rental.
The dog by his side, a brown-gray waist-height mongrel, lunged to its feet and started emitting deep, booming barks.
“Get in your place,” he shouted into the house as he forced himself to his feet, knees cracking, back protesting. He slipped one broad hand into his pocket, the pants-fabric pulled tight by his girth, and struggled out his keys. The dog scrambled down the steps, toenails clicking, and stood vigil, still barking. The car wasn’t moving fast, so the homeowner had time to get to the cabinet, unlock it, and get his shotgun before the interloper was in range. The gun was double-barreled and he broke it open, instinctively checking the load as he went back out. Double-ought. Should do.
“No trespassin’!” he bellowed as the car’s brakelights went off. Whoever was in it had parked right in front of the house, pulled around so the car was parallel to the stoop. The steering wheel was on the far side. Once the car stopped, the dog circled around it and started jumping, its spittle flecking the glass. The driver cracked the window a bit and shouted out of it.
“Hey, sir, hey! Can you call off your dog?”
“Did you hear me?” the gunman shouted. He noticed that the car was still running and narrowed his eyes.
“I’m not trespassing! I’m a lawyer!”
The man from the house drew back the hammers.
“You’ve inherited money! Or, or Loretta has! This is where Loretta Wyatt lives?”
The man on the porch didn’t withdraw his finger from the trigger guard, but his posture relaxed just a little. “Spotty! Getcher ass back here!”
The dog complied, and the driver emerged, hands in the air. He was short and lean, clean-shaven with greying sandy hair and a wary expression.
“Are you Mr. Wyatt?” the stranger asked.
“Mebbe,” the man said, his tone making it an unstated ‘yes.’
“I’m Rick Nolan. Could you…? I’m just going to get my briefcase and turn off the engine.”
Wyatt reached a decision and pointed his gun to the sky. “C’mon in. I’ll put on a coffee. Spotty, stay.” But he didn’t take his eyes off his guest as the latter gingerly pulled out a leather attaché case and preceded him into the house.
# # #
Far away, in the tall grass, a third man watched it all. When they went inside, he very slowly, very carefully shifted his position.
# # #
Ten minutes later, Spotty suspiciously sniffed the newcomer as he sat at the kitchen table. Mr. Wyatt had gradually made the shotgun safer—putting his fingers outside the trigger guard, and then breaking it open—as he put on a blue-enamel coffee pot and lit a cigarette off the flame. He did not offer one to Rick.
“Just give him a shove if he goes for the crotch,” Wyatt offered. “He’s a big fairy.”
The visitor sat on the very edge of the wooden chair, his briefcase in his lap, looking out of place in his tiny, pointed, glossy brown shoes with matching belt. His left hand straightened an elaborately-flowered tie with a Psi Chi bar as he split his attention between his host and the dog teeth slobbering inches away from his hip. At no point did Wyatt turn his back or put down his weapon.
“I guess you’re used to a… different reception,” Wyatt said.
“When I’m bringing inheritance news, um, yeah. Usually.”
“Kept the motor running though.”
“Heh. Well, I did some process serving for a while up in Pennsylvania.” He shrugged, glancing from man to dog. “People get squirrelly.”
Wyatt picked up a coffee cup left-handed and put it on the table by the briefcase. “I’ll let you sugar it yourself,” he said, backing up for his own mug. “No cream, I’m afraid.”
“I don’t take cream anyhow.”
The older man carefully placed the firearm on the table between them, closest to himself, and sat.
“You mind?” Rick gestured to his attaché case.
“Go ‘head.” Wyatt rested one hand on his gun, almost as if he was idly caressing a pet. Seeing his master sit, Spotty went over by the left side and settled, panting, staring up until Wyatt’s left hand came to his ears.
“Right… um, I really hate to ask this, but can I see some ID? I’m sure you’re Andrew Wyatt, but… you know, if I disclosed confidential information to the wrong person…”
Wyatt narrowed his eyes. Rick spread his hands.
“It’s a formality. A driver’s license is fine.”
With a grunt, Wyatt slouched forward and reached his left hand into a back pocket. His right hand was still on the shotgun, but it wasn’t a tight grip.
“Who’s leaving my Lala money, anyhow?”
The other man didn’t respond until he’d taken the license from Wyatt’s wallet and squinted at it. “A man named Jonathan Gebbler,” he said, pushing the billfold across the table with the plastic card on top. His fine-boned hands had perfect nails. Wyatt left it there.
“Gebbler.” There was an hour’s worth of heavy feeling in that one word, and none of it was pleasant.
“I knew that pervy little fuck would end up dead,” Wyatt said.
Rick blinked. “Um… he did,” he said at last.
“Runnin’ around playin’ at soldiers. ‘Security consulting.’ What is that?” Andrew asked, rhetorically and full of contempt.
“I’m sure I couldn’t say,” the other man said, burrowing in his case. “But he left your daughter… um, after taxes and currency conversion… about seventy-seven thousand dollars.”
“Jeziz Christ! Greasy little fuck knew where the money was, I guess!” Andrew laughed out loud, accompanied by a rhythmic thud as Spotty started to wag his tail.
“So, when do you expect Ms. Wyatt to return?”
The laughter stopped. “I speak for her,” Andrew said.
“…my instructions were, or are, to have Ms. Wyatt sign and acknowledge,” Rick said, glancing at the dog.
“I got that what-you-call,” Andrew said. “Power of attorney.”
“Your daughter signed a durable power-of-attorney?”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
Rick had a question in his eyes, but instead he said, “I’m not sure that’s legally binding under Australian commonwealth law.”
“Mr. Gebbler was residing in Australia, did his banking there and filed his will in…”
“Be damned if he ain’t crossing me from beyond the grave,” Andrew said. “Australia? That where he died?”
“Um,” Rick said. “I believe he was… declared legally dead after an absence of some years…”
“Legally dead. What a pile of bullshit. It’s like their ‘common law marriage’,” Andrew said, lip curling. “He talks Lala into shacking up for a couple years and it’s as good as vows in the house of God? I ask you.”
“I can’t speak to that,” Rick said, “But if Loretta is still alive and able to sign the papers, I think the quickest thing…”
“How would the money be transferred?” Andrew asked.
“I have a check in her name.”
For a moment, the two men locked eyes and neither spoke. The hound wasn’t wagging his tail any more.
“Right,” Andrew said, standing. “You wait here. Spotty! Stay!”
He heaved himself to his feet and backed out of the room, gun in hand.
Rick sat for a moment, fiddled with his briefcase, then reached out a hand to let Spotty get his scent.
“Whoosa good dog?” he asked.
Spotty sniffed his hand and growled, and Rick slowly pulled it back. They sat, and Rick swore to himself, once, in a low voice. Then the door through which Andrew had exited opened, framing a skinny blonde woman. She was hugely pregnant, with a black eye and an uneasy expression.
When she entered the kitchen, her father behind her with his shotgun at port arms, Rick gave her a very brief, very subtle head-shake. She ignored it though.
“What’re yew doing here?” she asked.
“You know this man?” Andrew demanded, gun starting to fall into firing position. Spotty, hearing his master’s tone, rose and started barking.
Then everything was noise and movement.
Rick, small and quick, ducked under the table, his chair crashing back. Spotty lunged forward and then howled, as an acrid pepper scent cut through the kitchen’s coffee aroma. The dog tried to spin and flee, flopping on its side in its haste. The table rose as Rick pushed it up and forward, aiming at Andrew. Lala screamed and staggered to the side. Andrew tried to fire, but the barrel was too long to point at the suddenly-close wooden surface. He reeled back into the wall, squashed for a moment before he resisted. The table shifted and Andrew tried to bring the gun barrel around, over it, but the younger man was right there, only wooden planks separating them. Those tiny hands moved with a smooth certainty, reaching over, one grabbing a fistful of Andrew’s neck-fat, squeezing and shoving while the other probed for the gun.
“STOP IT STOP IT STOP!” Lala screamed.
Andrew had both hands on the gun and tried to bring it to bear, but Rick was leaning on it, pressing the barrel away while his left hand clenched and twisted in the older man’s flesh. Andrew dropped his chin to protect his throat, only to have Rick’s thumb climb up into his eye.
The little man’s hands were strong and calloused, for all their neat appearance.
Andrew Wyatt was bigger, and despite his age he had the strength of a life of farm-work. Moreover, he was was pissed. He felt his back and knees scream in protest as he shoved with all his might… just as his enemy stopped leaning on him and yanked back at the gun.
The wooden table between them was belly height and Andrew heard something in his lower back pop as he dropped unexpectedly forward. Wyatt hadn’t touched his toes in years, but trying to hold on to the shotgun as Rick pulled, he folded over the table and just barely stayed on his feet.
Both barrels discharged, deafening in the enclosed space. But each of the men had been trying to aim it away from himself, more than towards the other. Neither got hit, it just starred the glass of the gun cabinet and shattered a kitchen window, twitching in Rick’s hands but not escaping them.
The younger man lurched back with the gun and accidentally kicked the blindly-stumbling dog, then staggered himself, treading on the hound’s back leg with a sickening bone-crunch.
“SPOTTY!” the girl screamed.
“Uggh!” Wyatt winced and shoved the table out of his way, took two steps forward with no real thought but to catch the other man.
The door opened hard and Wyatt glanced over at it just in time for Rick to step in and slam the shotgun butt into Wyatt’s cheek.
The last thing Wyatt saw as he sagged, vision blurring, was his pregnant daughter rushing to hold his crippled dog.
seconds to go
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