Fiction: Fever Pitch
By M.E. Proctor
The man barged into the trailer, reeking of whiskey, his face coated with the sweat of alcohol. The gun in his hand bobbed like a jug line with something at the end of it. Poppa, who stood by the back door to let Camo in to feed him, grabbed Lou by the arm and they both tumbled outside, too fast for the bullet that came after them. Jake wasn’t close to a door. If he’d been a squirrel he could have jumped through the kitchen window, but he was a rangy twelve-year-old and his legs were too long. He did the best he could in the circumstances, and dropped to his knees.
“Get back here, Garner!” the man screamed.
That struck Jake as a stupid thing to say. No way Poppa was coming back to get plugged.
The man swayed side to side toward the back door like he was on a shifting floating dock. He looked outside, called Poppa gain. Jake hoped he hadn’t been seen, tucked as he was in the corner by the sink, but the man turned to him. He was drunk, not blind.
“Get up,” he said, waving the gun. “You Garner’s kid?”
Jake shook his head. He wasn’t even a foster kid. Just a stray, like Camo. And Lou, even if she slept with Poppa. He wasn’t going to tell that to a stranger who pointed a shaky gun at him.
“What the hell you doing here then?”
The man’s laughter sounded wet, a soaked rag at the bottom of a bucket. “Where does that rat keep the dough, kid?” The question ended in a cough. The man wiped his mouth with the hand holding the gun.
“I have no fucking idea!” Jake screamed in anger, to hide the fear that was creeping up from his tailbone. “He throws me a quarter when he thinks of it.”
Through the fog of liquor, the man must have seen the logic in that. “Figures.” He grabbed a kitchen chair. His big ass spilled over the plastic seat. Until then, Jake hadn’t realized how massive the man was.
“We wait. Garner’ll come for his stash.”
That was fine by Jake. The guy hadn’t shot him yet, it was unlikely he would put a slug in him now. Poppa wasn’t far. The money buried under the trailer was his fortune. He wasn’t going to leave it behind. And the intruder was full of booze; he would get sleepy. All Jake had to do was stay calm and wait him out.
The man closed both doors, leaving the front one unlocked, and moved from the kitchen chair to the lumpy sofa. He kept the gun in his lap. American Ninja Warrior was on TV, with the sound low.
“Can I sit in the recliner?” Jake said. “I like that show.” He didn’t give a shit about Ninja.
The man shook his head the same as Camo did when the sound of the fridge door woke him up. He grunted a rough consent and Jake moved from the kitchen floor to the chair. The gun was in the man’s hand. It pointed at the threadbare carpet. If he fired now, Jake thought, the bullet would go in the dirt right where Poppa buried his savings.
The show ended. The man hadn’t moved. His eyes were still open but appeared glassy in the blue light from the TV. The gun was no longer visible. It must have slipped between his meaty thighs. The flush of alcohol was gone, replaced by a greenish shine like varnish. He was sweating heavily, taking short labored breaths.
The news came on and Jake was distracted from his observation of the man by the graphic on screen, a red puffy ball like a Christmas ornament. The scrolling text under the image told about a deadly virus and hospitals being overloaded. Footage showed stretchers and doctors in masks, ambulances lined up in the streets. Jake wondered where that was happening. A big city with tall buildings. He turned his attention to the man again, calculated the distance to the front door. How long before the intruder fell asleep?
As Jake watched, the man tilted to the side and fell off the sofa. The gun rebounded on the ratty mat and came to rest with its muzzle toward Jake. He jumped out of the recliner, grabbed the gun, and ran to the door.
The man didn’t make a move.
“Jake, you okay?”
Poppa’s soft voice came from the side of the small porch, behind Lou’s big flower pots. Jake was crouched at the bottom of the stairs.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Where is he?” Poppa said.
“In there. I think he fainted or something. I have the gun.”
“Gimme. Go wait with Lou and Camo by the shed.”
Jake shook his head. “I’d rather stay here.”
Poppa went in and Jake braced for a gunshot. Nothing came, not a sound, then Poppa was back at the door.
“He still out?” Jake said.
“For good. His ticker stopped. Couldn’t be deader.” Poppa pulled out his phone. “Haveta call the sheriff.”
“What we gonna tell him?”
Poppa thought for a moment. “He came while I was away with Lou and Camo. He said he’d wait. You kept him company. Tell the cops how he fell, the way it happened.” He gave the gun to Jake. “Go throw that in the lake. There was never a gun. Got it?”
Jake nodded. “Who was he, Poppa?”
“You live for a while, you collect grudges, kid. Nothing you can do about it.”
“I think he was very sick,” Jake said.
Poppa took a deep breath of the cool night air. “Might well be. Seems there’s something nasty doing the rounds.”
M.E. Proctor is currently writing a series of contemporary detective novels. The first book STREET SONG comes out from TouchPoint Press in 2023. Her short stories have been published in Vautrin, Bristol Noir, Pulp Modern, Mystery Tribune, Reckon Review, Shotgun Honey and others. She lives in Livingston, Texas.
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