Someone was coming up the trail.
Garrison hadn’t seen another human being in weeks, not since Mr. Marco had sent him up to the cabin in the hills. As of now, the figure was nothing more than a dot in the distance, but he was moving steadily forward; that much was for certain. During his time here, Garrison had gotten in the habit of checking the trail periodically with his binoculars, diligently guarding himself against any unwanted intrusion. The trail stretched for nearly a half a mile down the hill before being swallowed up by the forest. Not even wide enough for a car, it was the only way to reach the cabin. If you wanted in, you’d have to hike in. Mr. Marco had built it that way special, the perfect hide out.
Garrison continued to watch the man through his binoculars. By now, he was still only a spec in the distance. At first, Garrison had been excited, watching to see if the man was wearing the telltale red stocking cap that Mr. Marco had told him to be on the lookout for. But even at this distance, Garrison could see that the man’s stocking cap was not red. It was florescent orange, the kind used often by hunters. He’d been afraid of this. Ordinarily, the cabin was hidden so well that it was unlikely that anyone would stumble across it accidentally. A hunter, on the other hand, could find it easily enough if he were willing to hike this deep into the hilly country.
Garrison continued to watch, hoping that the guy would turn around and head back into the woods.
But the figure kept coming.
Maybe he was lost. Maybe he saw the cabin situated on the hill and was heading up to use the phone or to get out of the cold for a while. Either way, Garrison couldn’t allow it. He couldn’t risk being found.
Quickly, he got geared up for the cold, putting on his boots, his gloves, his coat. Next to the door sat a Remington 30/06. He grabbed it up, worked the bolt action to make sure that a round was chambered, and made his way outside.
- - - -
“You took care of me. Now I’ll take care of you.”
“Thanks, Mr. Marco.”
“I’m going to send you out to my cabin in the hills. You can stay there until this thing blows over.”
“Are you sure it’s safe?”
“Don’t worry. No one will find you there. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. Completely off the grid. It’s got a coal burning stove with enough reserves for two winters. Plenty of canned food. There’s one of those old fashioned hand pumps in the kitchen for fresh water. There’s even a couple of solar panels on the roof, put enough juice in the batteries for a space heater and maybe the radio. No TV but plenty of books. You can catch up on your reading. Think of it as a little vacation in the country.”
“Thanks, Mr. Marko.”
“Don’t mention it. Like I said, I take care of my own. Just remember, stay there until this thing dies down. When the coast is clear, I’ll send one of my boys to come and get you. He’ll be wearing a red stocking cap. There’s a 30/06 in the gun cabinet. If anyone else comes snooping around…well, you know what to do.”
- - - -
Garrison crouched next to a thick pine tree, propped the 30/06 on a branch, and stared down the scope at the man who was walking up the trail. Garrison was no professional sniper, but he was pretty sure that he could easily kill anyone at 500 yards with a rifle like this. The guy on the trail was just about in range. Poor bastard has no idea what he’s walking into. The scope on the 30/06 worked much better than the binoculars. Using it, Garrison could see the man clearly now. He was bundled from head to toe: orange stocking cap, scarf, thick coat, gloves, brush pants, boots, with a rifle slung over his shoulder. It was cool out today and the clouds were gray and heavy, threatening snow.
Garrison kept the guy in his crosshairs, biding his time, waiting to see if the poor sucker might turn back and save his own life. Right now, the only thing the guy has seen was a cabin on a hill. He couldn’t yet know if anyone was there. But if he got much closer…
For a moment, Garrison toyed with the idea of letting the guy come up: tell him there’s no phone (which there wasn’t), let him use the bathroom, make him a cup of coffee, give him a few minutes to warm himself by the stove and then send him on his way.
The thought passed as quickly as it had come. Garrison wished he could be merciful, but he couldn’t afford to be.
The radio had stopped running stories about the gas station shooting. Four weeks and it was already yesterday’s news. The only witness left alive was too traumatized to offer anything but a vague description of the shooter. The only thing the cops had was a crude composite sketch that didn’t look much like Garrison at all. Just like Mr. Marko said, with the radio and TV stations no longer talking about it, and people no longer on the lookout for him, he’d be able to return to the city soon enough.
But it was still too soon after the shooting to let this hunter go free. He couldn’t risk having any contact with the guy. Even if he stood behind the door and told him to go away, the guy might see the composite drawing up at the post office, put two and two together, and drop a dime to the cops that he saw some lone weirdo hiding out in a cabin deep in the hills. He couldn’t take that chance.
The hunter was in range now.
Garrison took aim.
- - - -
He debated on whether to aim for the chest or go for a head shot. Either would be just as deadly. In the end, he decided to go for the chest. The head would be harder to hit. If he missed, the guy would most likely duck and run. The last thing Garrison needed was to spend the afternoon chasing some dumbass hunter through the woods. A chest shot would do just fine.
Feeling generous, he decided to give the guy a few more minutes to turn back.
While he waited, a light snow started to fall, and Garrison sighed, wondering what he was doing out here in the middle of nowhere, freezing his ass off, getting ready to blow a hole through some guy he didn’t know. He’d spent some time in the Army, so he knew a thing or two about wilderness survival, but he much preferred the city to this desolate place. He was likely to go stir crazy if he stayed here much longer. Here, the days were starting to blend together. Here, he had to deal with the boredom of nothing to do combined with the paranoia of having to constantly watch the trail for intruders, all of it mixed together into one confusing package.
There were times when Garrison asked himself how it came to this.
The answer was simple. You have no brains, he told himself. He wasn’t smart, wasn’t educated or well read. All he’d ever been good for was muscle work. If only he’d had some brains he wouldn’t have ended up working for bosses like Mr. Marko. But you have to play the hand you’re dealt, he told himself.
It didn’t matter anymore, he decided.
In a way, he had managed to do something important with his life. His son, Paul, was about to graduate from college. Paul had brains. Paul was going to go into business. Paul was going to make something out of his life. The mere fact that Garrison had managed to keep Paul out of the life and steer him onto a better path was the one thing in his life that Garrison took pride in.
It hadn’t been easy. As a boy, Paul had always been pestering him, wanting to learn more about what he did for a living. He asked a lot of questions, questions that were often difficult to answer. He couldn’t shield the boy from his work completely. Mr. Marco was the type who wanted to be involved in the lives of the men he had working for him. That meant getting to know their families, spending time with them. On more than one occasion, he’d caught Mr. Marco giving Paul gifts: candy, money. It might have seemed innocent at the time, but Garrison knew what that was. That’s how young boys are recruited into the life. That’s how he had been recruited, and he was determined to see that it didn’t happen to Little Paul.
Now he could rest easy. Paul was a man now, soon to be out of college and on his way to a legit life, not stuck on some hill out in the cold ready to kill an innocent man just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The hunter kept walking toward the cabin.
Garrison sighed, setting the crosshairs on the man’s chest.
“Sorry, pal,” he said as he pulled the trigger.
- - - -
Garrison dragged the body back up to the cabin. The ground was too frozen to dig a proper grave. A shallow one in the snow would have to do. With any luck, it would keep until the spring thaw and be carried off by some animal. He’d be long gone by then.
He finished digging the hole and shoved the body in. Hell of a way to spend a Saturday. Or was it Sunday? God, life in isolation could get confusing at times.
Before covering the body with snow, Garrison decided that it would be a good idea to find out who his victim was, just in case something came of it later. Rolling the body over, he routed around through the man’s pockets until he found the wallet. Thumbing through it, he found the man’s driver’s license and read the name.
At first, Garrison was confused. How could this guy have the same name as his son? What were the odds of that? Then…
“No,” he said. “It can’t be.”
Paul? My Paul? No. It’s impossible. He couldn’t possibly know where I am. Not unless Mr. Marco sent him. But that’s not possible! He doesn’t work for Mr. Marco! He’s graduating college! He’s going to have a legit job! And what about the stocking cap? Mr. Marco said to look for a red stocking cap. Didn’t he?
Just remember, stay there until this thing dies down. When the coast is clear, I’ll send one of my boys to come and get you. He’ll be wearing a … stocking cap.
Red? Orange? Was I confused about that detail also?
It doesn’t matter because this isn’t Paul!
Garrison jumped in the hole, tearing at the scarf and the cap until the man’s face was revealed.
He screamed until his throat began to bleed.
- - - -
“Hey, Little Paul, come here. I have something for you.”
Little Paul did as the big man asked.
Leaning over, the big man reached behind Paul’s ear and produced a shiny new silver dollar.
“Don’t tell your daddy. Okay? This will be our little secret. Just between you and me. I don’t think your daddy would like it much if he knew about it. But we’re friends, right?”
The boy nodded.
“And friends help each other, right?”
“Yes, Mr. Marko.”
“Good. Very good. Maybe someday you can come and do some work for me. Would like that?”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Marko.”
“Okay. Here, and remember, don’t tell your daddy that I gave it to you.”
“I won’t,” Little Paul said as he took the silver dollar.
- George Ebey is the author of Broken Clock; Dimensions: Tales of Suspense; The Red Bag and Widowfield. He is a graduate of The University of Akron with a bachelor's degree in History, as well as from Kent State University with a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in writing. George is a contributing editor to the International Thriller Writer's webzine, the Big Thrill. He lives with his wife, Gail, in Northeast Ohio.
Visit George's website at www.georgeebey.com
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