Act of Nature by Don Lafferty

“We gotta get outta here, Butler! Fast!” Ralston stood in the open doorway, one foot on the sidewalk, looking like he’d just seen a ghost.

Butler rapped his pistol against the cellar door leaving five fresh dimples in the wood. “Let’s move Bonnie! We gotta vamoose, girl!” He stalked across the room and peeked through the curtains. “Bring the car up in front, dude. We’ll be right behind you.”

In the cellar, Bonnie sat on the dirt floor crying softly.

“You know I’ve been in love with you since Miss Milligan’s class,” she said.

Crane lay on his side, beaten, bloodied, bound, and silent. He knew this was it. He knew nothing he could say would stop what was about to happen.

Miss Milligan had been their sixth grade teacher, and Crane was surprised how easy it was to feel the sweetness of those simpler times. “How about the time Johnny Van beat the shit out of all them boys at Jacob’s playground?” he said. It hurt to smile, and tears of his own stung their way through the nicks and gouges in Crane’s face before soaking into the black dirt floor.

“Van was one tough mother eff-er,” Bonnie said.

Crane knew if they kept talking like this she’d take him in the middle of a sentence. One second he’d be in sixth grade and then click – he’d be hopping off at the next stop.

“How about the first time you kissed me at Lucinda K’s birthday party?” she asked.

“I’m pretty sure you kissed me,” he answered. His cracked ribs stung like a swarm of hornets, but Crane couldn’t help but laugh. They’d had this conversation a thousand times.

“You wish, asshole!” Bonnie smiled.

“Baby, I can’t feel my hands,” Crane said. “Any chance you could let me have ‘em back for just a minute?”
She fished a nail file out of her purse with one hand while she nestled Butler’s forty-five against the back of Crane’s head.

“You know why he’s making me do it, don’t you?” she asked him.

“Don’t you sweat it, honey,” he said. “If somebody’s gotta do this, I’m glad it’s you.”

She sawed at the tape binding Crane’s hands when Butler flung the cellar door open.

“Girl, we gotta go now!” he said.

“What the hell’s going on, Butler?” she stood and swung the pistol in Butler’s direction. “Butler, talk to me!”

“No time! Forget about him!”

“What?” she asked.

Crane freed his hands from the remaining shred of tape, sat up, and threw his arms around Bonnie’s legs, dropping her to her knees.

“Butler!” she yelled, trying to be heard over the sound of the passing freight train.

But he was gone, and the train thundered like it was going right through the house. Bonnie kicked free of Crane’s grip and ran halfway up the stairs to put some distance between them.

“G‘bye, Crane,” she said, leveling the gun on him.

Crane rolled into the hole they’d dug for him and Bonnie’s first shot thudded into the dirt where he’d been. His ears popped and the roar of the train took on a surreal dimension when the house began to shudder and tremble.

Bonnie jumped back down the stairs and took two-handed aim at Crane as he lay facing her from the bottom of the hole. Crane braced for the slug when above them the house seemed to swell for a moment before exploding into a seething cacophony of splintered lumber and shredded humanity. Frozen in the moment by a white-hot web of lightning, he locked eyes with Bonnie for a split second before she was plucked away as if by the hand of The Creator himself. Her second shot was swallowed by the vortex, and spit out, along with the rest of Lewisville, Arkansas, somewhere along a three mile swath of devastation that would change county maps for years to come. Then, like some divine vacuum cleaner, the tornado sucked Crane out of his would-be grave and dropped him in the soft hand of a muddy cornfield a couple of hundred yards away.

Crane patted himself down. “Sweet Jesus Christ on a cross,” he said, in the way of a prayer. He boosted the first pickup he came across and pointed it toward Shreveport. His guy there would know what to do next.

Spare Change by Don Lafferty

Mom was high on Percs or something when she told me about one of my father’s stashes of cash.

“Daddy has two bags of quarters in here,” she motioned to a large Tupperware container in the middle of a stack of identical containers that went from floor to ceiling in their unused bedroom.

“I think he paid over a thousand dollars for each one of those goddamn things,” she said. “That’ll be for you and your brothers after we’re gone.”

Mom didn’t know I hadn’t had heat for months, or that the court was chasing me down for child support payments. That I didn’t have car insurance, and hadn’t been able to keep up with the payments on the kids’ health insurance. And she couldn’t possibly have known, in the throes of her addiction that I had a habit of my own. A chemical mistress that ruled all of my decisions. Kept me squarely behind the eight ball, underemployed, and snatching twenties from her purse wherever I could pull it off.

“If those quarters are ninety percent silver, I’ll give you five grand a bag,” Bunch told me over coffee at his garage.

Five grand a bag. Ten grand just sitting there. A third of it was already mine, technically, and it was unlikely my brothers even knew about it. Ten grand just sitting there for the taking burns a hole in a junkie’s brain. I could get the heat turned back on, catch up on child support and still have plenty left to have a party with Brit.

I turned onto their street knowing Mom and Dad left forty-five minutes early for mass. God forbid they didn’t get their pew. It gave me plenty of time to get in and get out. I wrestled the Tupperware container out of the stack and sure enough, under a couple of Cabbage Patch dolls and an old blanket, I found two pristine mint bags of uncirculated quarters, and an envelope with my name scrawled on it in my father’s blocky style of printing.

 

Butch,

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be dead. Nobody tells you that this life is a constant, painful, disappointing struggle, and that the only light at the end of the tunnel is the glorious day it’s all over. But I’m telling you now, so listen up.

 

His letter went on to detail the location of three quarters of a million dollars in cash tucked away in various places, including the barrels of shotguns, hermetically sealed and buried coffee cans, balled up in socks, and of course, sewn into his mattress. He included an inventory of Hess Trucks, Hummels, antiques and rare books, coins and other collectables that he and Mom had been squirreling away for more than seventy years.

The front door opened downstairs.

“Butchy? Are you here, honey?” my mother called from downstairs.

I looked at my phone. Mass hadn’t even started yet.

“Yeah, ma, I’m up here on the computer,” I said. It would take her a few minutes to hang her coat and make her way up the stairs.

“There was a power failure at church so we’re skipping mass this week. You want a beer or a cuppa coffee?” she asked.

“Yeah, ma, I’ll take that cuppa coffee,” I said, knowing that would give me at least four minutes while she nuked a cup of hot water for instant.

Bunch was waiting for me at Beefseeker’s Pub with the ten grand, and I was supposed to pick Brit up to go to A.C. by seven o’clock. I hefted the heavy bags of coins and weighed my options.

I would have to make it look like a robbery gone wrong, but that wouldn’t be hard because that’s what it was. I felt a twinge of guilt about my mom, although she’d never know what hit her, and my dad, well, I was about to do him a solid and end his struggle.

I gently placed the bags of quarters on the floor, tucked Dad’s letter into my back pocket and headed downstairs to murder my parents.