The Aucilla Sinks by Julien Dykes Devane

Neither said a word on the drive to the Aucilla Sinks. Marvin drove so fast down the highway, the wind didn’t whirl so much as buzz like static on a 4AM channel. He made sharp turns down dirt roads and stomped the brakes more often than was necessary.

Marvin knew he liked Abbey. Cute. Funny. Quiet.

Two nights ago, she went with him and the boss’ bodyguard, Russell, to meet Juan. The boss gave her one instruction. Pull the trigger when he’s not looking.

     Of course she flinched. Juan pulled from his jacket a gun. He shot Russell in the nose and then the throat. Marvin was halfway over a fence when the body hit the ground. He and Abbey still managed to make it to the pick-up point, though.

That night, the boss gave Marvin three instructions. Go to the woods. Don’t use guns. Toss her in a sinkhole.

Now the dead leaves crackled and crunched under their feet. Wind rattled the bare tree limbs. They spoke very little at first. He asked if she had ever been out this way. She replied with a small no and then returned his question politely.

“When I was little,” he started, “I used to come out here with my dad and hunt squirrel. I always wanted to be a big game hunter, though. Like Hemingway.”

“He did more deep sea fishing,” she replied. “A lot of people make that mistake.”

A sharp nagging smacked the back of his head when she said that.

They walked down the rest of the narrow trail in silence and finally came to the sink of the river, the serene surface a prefect mirror of the sloping embankment. A limestone wall stretched around the water, cupping it like a coarse, jagged hand.

Marvin stood a short distance behind her. Abbey’s voice was small as she spoke. She knew exactly what was going to happen.

“Did you read a lot of Hemingway?” she asked. Her face stayed at the same, steady angle. She dug her hands into her coat pocket, hugging the fabric to her body.

“I read a good bit of him when I was younger,” he replied.

“I always liked the idea that his work was like a river. Calm on the surface, but just beneath it, if you could look hard enough, there was all this activity that left you breathless.”

“I thought his work was like an iceberg,” he started. “You know, th—“

“A lot of people make that mistake.”

Aggravation gripped the back of his neck now and he pulled the garrote from his pocket quietly. He stretched the iron collar tight and raised it in the air as he stepped towards Abbey. She turned and as she looked him in the eye, he felt a sharp pain in his stomach. His breath began leaving his body. She pressed the knife in deeper and then pulled up.

Abbey had her own set of rules. Use a knife. Hunting season had ended the day before. Stab the diaphragm. The sternum was always stubborn. Do it from the front. He’ll never see it coming.

Marvin’s eyes widened. His words were whispered gasps with maybe a letter or two at the end.

“I. Thought.”

“What did you think, Marvin? I was some dumb cooze for your boss to fuck? That I was gonna get passed around? That I would wind up here no matter what I did?

“A lot of people make that mistake.”

He went limp against her. She stepped back and let his body smack against the water. It sank quickly. When the ripples waved themselves out, Abbey heard a small splash just to her right. She saw nothing at first. And when she finally did see them, she had to strain. The school of speckled trout. This seemed like a nice place to fish. She would have to come back as soon as she could, though that might not be for a while. With Marvin and Russell dead, she had easy access to the boss now. And she had a lot of work to do.

The Bleu Saloon by Julien Dykes DeVane

All the tables in the Bleu Saloon were full when the black man opened the door. It creaked loudly. For a brief moment, everyone stopped and focused their attention on him. He waved and slowly everyone resumed their normal commotion. In the corner there stood two or three men playing darts. A group in tattered clothing leaned over an old piano, some trading stories, others pounding or stomping a beat to the bouncy rhythm. Everyone held a glass in their hand, some more full than others.

Along the bar, men sat like gapped teeth. The black man walked over to a free stool and lifted his heels until his ass cleared the seat. He settled his thin frame and waved to the man behind the bar. The bartender grabbed an open bottle and walked over. He set a small glass on the counter, poured the liquid and slid it towards his customer. The black man set a coin on the counter in return and downed his drink in one swallow.

“Got any gin?” he asked.

“We look like the kind of place serves gin?” said the bartender.

He put another coin on the counter. The bartender repeated his previous motions, as did the black man.

The man sitting next to him let out a sharp sigh.

“I don’t want no niggers sittin next to me,” he said.

The black man smiled at him and turned to the bartender.

“Mind if I start a tab?” he asked.

The bartender nodded and asked for his name. He wrote it on a small piece of paper and then poured another drink.

The black man flicked his head back and his drink was gone, a smile on his face for the white man. He pursed his lips at him.

“Can’t you get him out of here?” the white man asked.

The bartender turned to the black man.

“How much money you got?” he asked.
“Enough to buy a couple more drinks,” he replied and pulled out more coins.

The bartender turned to the white man.

“I got no problem. Settle your dispute yourself.”

“Maybe I will,” he said.

He pulled out a Colt six-shooter and pressed the blue gray muzzle to the black man’s head.

“No good nigger,” he said through clinched teeth. He only became aware of the shotgun when he heard the clicking in his ear. It could have been there all night for as much he noticed it. The noise in the bar halted.

“You plan on blowing his brains out, you better plan on scrubbing up the fucking mess,” the bartender said. He pressed the gun harder against the white man’s temple. “After you settle his tab,” he added.

“Got no intention of dirtying up your bar.”

Stiffly, he began walking the black man outside. The only sounds in the bar were the cold, hollow footsteps and the creak of the door opening and closing.

Slowly, the men in the bar began talking again. A few moments later, the piano cranked out another melody. Drinks were ordered. Darts were thrown. The bartender set his gun under the counter and let out a small sigh at the sight of his business returning to normal.

When the shot rang out, all sound and movement in the bar froze once more. The bartender reached for his shotgun.

The door creaked open again and the black man walked in, the barrel of the Colt six-shooter pissing smoke. He walked to the bar and set the gun on the counter.

“What you think that’ll get me?” he asked the bartender.

“Get you told to fuck off,” he replied.

The black man smiled and pulled out a small satchel of coins. It had fresh blood on it. He opened it, pulled out a pinch of coins, and set them on the counter next to the gun.

“That cover the man’s tab?”

“Yeah,” he began. “You know you was real lucky tonight?”

“I know.  I was worried I wasn’t gonna have enough money to pay my tab at the end of the night.”

He winked and smiled. The bartender poured another drink.