It was easier to buy bourbon than toilet paper, so Carl bought bourbon. A handle of bourbon. Only the top shelf stuff was left. Peggy would enjoy complaining about that, so he bought her a box of red wine and a box of white wine, paying as little as he could for them. He’d go out again tomorrow for food and tp, early, see if the shelves might be stocked.
Early. He chuckled at that thought as he drove through the lowering dusk and the streetlights flickered into life. He couldn’t get up early to save his own life. Sure as heck he wasn’t going to do it for the tp. They’d have to make do.
The sneaky swig he had in the parking lot, and its brother, and the one for the road, made a warm bath for his thoughts to roll around in. They were mainly about repairs around the place. “You’re a handyman,” Peggy would say, often, “why don’t you get handy around here?” Because no-one was paying him. The little pissant jobs weren’t worth doing, the cracked siding, the rotten timbers in the corner of the porch. The slumping barn he couldn’t afford to start on. He dodged the thoughts about money, splashed them away into the far corners.
Before he knew it, he was on the road out of town, its long curve sweeping away the strip of clustered lights and the orange glow that leached into the sky, ushering in the empty night and the dark hills.
The rattle of the bridge over Carrion Creek was behind him, so he was close to home when a waving figure appeared in the road up ahead. He slowed down and came to a stop next to the guy, who had a dark smear of blood under his nose that he kept wiping at.
“Ran off the damn road, didn’t I? Can’t find my damn phone and it’s going to take a crane to get the effin car out. Deepest damn ditch I ever saw. Can I get a lift, boss? My place’s just a little ways up the road.”
Carl shifted the wine boxes to behind the seat, then the guy said he could use a drink and held the bourbon on his lap. They made formal introductions before opening it, but Carl already knew who he was, Samuel Dorrance, where he lived, and that the vehicle out of sight in the ditch was a yellow Mercedes AMG sports car. The only one in the state.
They passed the heavy bottle back and forth a couple of times while bugs spiralled in the headlights. No other cars came by.
“Hoo-boy,” said Carl. He could feel the bourbon hooking into his heart. Riling it up. It made him yearn for some cold, wet Coke to mix with it. “Better get us all home while I still can.” He passed the bottle back to Sam and got the car moving along the road.
It wasn’t long before they passed the turn-off for his own place, marked by a patch of gravel running between a pair of T-posts that were all the fence he had raised.
“I know your place.”
The bottle rose and fell in the corner of his eye.
It was funny how fast the land changed. Follow the road past a scrubby hollow pale in the night, skirt the foot of the low ridge hemming it in, and then round that into a dark vale lush with trees drooping where a creek ran and fronting it all was a drystone wall with two broad, capped pillars marking the entrance.
“There it is,” said Sam.
“Sure is,” said Carl.
“The house is a bit of a way in.”
The whole damn way was paved, like an endless driveway. He followed it up, crested a hill, and down below, between black patches that were shade trees, were the lights of the big house that Carl had seen once in a magazine.
He pulled up next to the front steps. Like the gate pillars they were made from great slabs of stone. Sam handed him the open bottle. Carl took a drink and handed it back. Sam didn’t make a move to leave the car, but he did take another drink and hand it straight back to Carl.
“What do you do, Carl?”
“No shit? Looking for work?”
Sam laughed. The bottle went back and forth. Then they were inside, in a room with a pool table and fancy bar with beer taps and a soda gun. At some point Carl drank down a big glass of Coke and it was like dipping his throat in a mountain stream.
There were cigars and heavy tumblers, wide enough to fill a man’s hand, brimming with bourbon.
“So you say.”
The moon was climbing and Carl was following Sam along a wide track through trees to a clearing. A backhoe was there, an old one. Sam hung off the seat, directing Carl. The digging might have taken five minutes, maybe less. Just a short trench with straight sides that went down a long way.
There was a game of pool where neither of them could sink a ball. They laughed and threw the cues on the table. Sam pulled them beers and then he wasn’t there and Carl’s beer was almost gone and Sam was back.
“Can you work a backhoe?”
“You know it.”
Sam grabbed a flat bottle of bourbon off the shelf behind the bar and Carl followed him again up to the clearing. The moon was heading down and Sam was hanging off the seat telling him to fill in the hole and then he was sliding the backhoe around the clearing, trees spinning past, drinking from the bottle, Sam hollering and shaking the seat, like they were kids in a Walmart parking lot.
He was pretty sure they rode that backhoe down to the house. There was more beer. He was sure of that. Then he was outside his own garage, throwing up and pushing the dog away.
Peggy was angry. All the banging and the swearing made it perfectly clear. It seemed there wasn’t a pillow or blanket made that could keep out the light and the noise. On top of that he was dying of thirst and couldn’t move to get water.
The blanket disappeared, ripped off him. Through the slit of one eye he watched Peggy glare at him.
“Get up,” she hissed.
“Can’t,” he said.
“Yes you can, because there’s two police on the porch and they want a word with you about Mrs Dorrance.”
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