John felt the floor adhere to the soles of his boots with each step into the bar. It was far enough away that no one would know him from town. It had been their suggestion, they knew the value of a friendly cop and he knew their value.
There was little to connect them to anything solid. It was one of the ongoing conversations when he met up with brother officers that nothing had been made to stick to the Culpepper Boys. Rumours, stories, urban myths orbited them like dead planets but they were spoken of in disgusted whispers.
Garrett sat at a corner booth, sipping at a bottle of domestic beer as he picked at a bowl of salted peanuts with his finger nails grown into yellowing talons, rimmed with a line of compacted black dirt. He offered one to John who shook his head and asked where his brother had gone to.
He was at home. Momma was sick again.
John had an envelope in his jacket pocket but it would stay there until he was sure. He would not admit that he was glad to see that it was Garrett, with his bruised fruit features and the perpetual air of dirt and rot that he exuded.
‘So, this fruity fucker gonna give his butt buddy up?’
John looked at the paperback on the table. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. Garrett smiled, a broken graveyard between his lips as he followed John’s look.
‘I do read. So does my brother. Did you assume we’re, what, vicious white trash?’
John looked down and Garrett gave a dry chuckle.
‘When the lambs is lost in the mountain, he said. They is cry. Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf.”
John shrugged, suddenly keen to get out of here with things in motion and as little to do with these men as possible.
‘Whatever you say, Garrett.’
‘I didn’t. Cormac McCarthy did. So tell me what you want?’
John outlined his plan. A vaudeville show. A little humiliation and then Harlan would know how things went in Ogden. Nothing direct, a no rough stuff affair but handled by people who would know to keep their mouths shut. It seemed so simple, so direct in his head but looking into Garrett’s eyes made him wonder if he had misjudged this.
John handed over the money in the lot, Garrett assured him that it would all be fine. He shook John’s hand a little too long and smiled when he saw that John tried to wipe his fingers on the thigh of his jeans without being seen.
‘Thass the kind of thing my ex wife did.’ Garrett said.
John got in his car, taking deep breaths as he watched Garrett drive out of the lot. He thought about that quote as he drove on, wondering what was meant by that. He knew enough that a lamb who thought it was a wolf opened itself up to all kinds of trouble.
Especially if it cried out for help and did not care who answered.