Bad Bones (Claire Morgan)

BOOK: Bad Bones (Claire Morgan)
10.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Head to Head
(Claire Morgan #1)
Dark Places
(Claire Morgan #2)
Die Smiling
(Claire Morgan #3)
Enter Evil
(Claire Morgan #4)
Remember Murder
(Claire Morgan #5)
Mostly Murder
(Claire Morgan #6)
Bad Bones
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Blood Brothers
Years Ago, When Innocent
His chest heaving with fear, the little boy cowered under his bed and hid his eyes. The crowd of men was outside in his backyard. They were yelling and screaming and guffawing and drinking beer out of red Solo cups, and their chants were getting louder.
. He pressed his palms over his ears and tried to block it out. Scooting farther back into the dark corner, he pressed himself up against the wall. He did not want to go outside, not ever again. He hated what was going on out there.
Trembling, he clamped his eyes shut and didn’t move a muscle. Maybe his pa wouldn’t come looking for him. Maybe this time Pa would forget about returning to the house and dragging him outside. Maybe he was too drunk this time to remember. Maybe Pa was passed out somewhere, and then the boy and his twin brother would be safe until everybody went home. He entwined his fingers tightly to stop them from shaking. He felt sick to his stomach, as if he were going to throw up.
It had to be very late now; he’d been hiding under his bed ever since it started. Maybe even past midnight. His room was full of shadows because he’d switched off his lamp, but he could still see pretty well because all the pickup trucks had their lights on out there. Smoky beams were flooding through his bedroom window so he pushed deeper back. All he wanted was for his mama to come back. He wished she hadn’t gotten cancer and died and been buried down in the ground over in the graveyard on the back hill of her family’s property. That’s where he had lived with her. That’s where he wished he was now.
But after she passed away, his pa came and got him, and then he brought him back to live in this house with all his big brothers. He didn’t know any of them, and he didn’t like any of them. Except for his twin. That one was all right. He had never even met him before that day, didn’t know he had a twin or any brothers, either, until after Mama had flown on angel’s wings up to join the heavenly host. He had been shocked when they had first come face to face because they did look so much alike, not exactly the same, but still a whole, whole lot. In fact, all the brothers looked a lot alike, and they all looked like their pa. It was almost like staring at his own face in a big bunch of mirrors.
One difference was that his twin was a little taller than he was, and had more muscles, too, and sure was plenty braver. Pa said that his twin had gotten that way because of hard knocks and tough training and being around his older brothers who didn’t cut him any slack. He said he trained his sons to be men, just like somebody he called the ancient Spartans did. He said he wanted them all to be great warriors and defeat any enemies they ever came up against. He said that his boys were hard as nails and had been ever since they’d taken their first baby steps.
Thinking about all that made the little boy start sobbing again. He just wasn’t as hard as nails, and he wasn’t as tough as the ancient Spartans, either, whoever they were, because his mama told him that he shouldn’t never fight and hit people because that was a bad thing, a real awful sin. Maybe that’s why Pa didn’t cotton to him as much as his twin and the other bigger boys, who were always hitting him and pushing him down in the mud and spitting on him and stuff like that.
Mama had liked him the best, though, that was for sure. He was the only one she’d taken away when she left Pa’s house and went back to live with her parents. But now she was gone forever and buried deep in the ground far away across the cow pasture on that high hill. Sometimes, when he was really lonely and scared, he ran all the way to the end of his pa’s land where it overlooked the rushing river that fed the lake and tried to see her headstone, but it was way too far off in the distance.
Suddenly, he heard the footsteps coming down the hall, clomping, loud, boot-heavy, heading swiftly toward him. Oh, no, his pa was coming after him! His little muscles grew completely rigid, and pure dread overwhelmed him. He was gonna get hurt again. They were gonna hurt him real bad, just like last time. Then he was gonna cry and beg for them to stop, and then Pa was gonna give him a whupping for being such a sissy, right in front of everybody. But no, wait, oh, thank you, God, it wasn’t his pa. He let out a relieved breath when his new twin brother squirmed in under the bed with him. The other kid wriggled his way back to him and lay down so close in front of him that their noses almost touched. It still shocked the boy sometimes to see another person that looked so much like himself, almost like he was having a dream.
“Pa said you gotta come out there and do your fight. You hear me, bro. You gotta do it, or he’s gonna drag you out there and beat your butt black and blue in fronta all those guys. Then they’s gonna laugh at you and throw rotten tomatoes and slap you around. You know that, don’t ya? That’s what he always does if any of us wimps out and acts like big babies, ’cause then he looks stupid in front of his fightin’ buddies. He’s done it to me, one time, when I lost my fight to this bigger kid, and all the rest of us have got beat up, too. It ain’t fun, let me tell you. Goin’ out there and gettin’ hit on by another kid is better’n that.”
The frightened twin’s throat clogged up. “I don’t wanna fight nobody. I’m scared to. I’m gonna get hurt again and my nose’s gonna start bleedin’. They hit me in the face last time and then my head hurt so bad that I couldn’t even stand up. I just kept fallin’ down.”
“Hey, now, kid, you think I don’t know how it feels to get slugged up the side of the head with a big ol’ fist? You think he ain’t beat me near to death, afore I started winnin’? Tell you one thing, it’s gonna be a lot worse if you hide under here like a little scaredy cat sissy. And he been sayin’ that you can wear my boxin’ gloves this time and we can play it tag team-like since we’re so much littler than the other kids fightin’ tonight.” His twin stopped then, took a deep breath, and listened for a moment to the shouting going on outside. “Okay, now listen up good. All you gotta do is go out there with that other kid and start the fight goin’ and do your best not to fall down as long as you can, and then I’m gonna come in there and take over right after that big kid knocks you down the first time.”
“Please don’t make me,” the frightened twin whispered. “I gotta crack in my skull the last time. That doctor said so, I heard him say it. I had to go to the hospital and everything. Don’t you remember that? When Pa told the doc that I fell off the barn roof. He lied and lied to all of those nurses, and everybody down there.”
“Yeah, but your head got healed up good and fine, now didn’t it? You okay. You fit to fight, and you gotta do it. Pa’s probably not gonna let ’em hit you up the side of your head anymore, anyways. I heard Pa tellin’ ’em they couldn’t punch you in the head. I heard him sayin’ it to that kid waitin’ out there for you.”
“But I still got those bad headaches, so bad I can’t even remember nothin’. I don’t like fightin’ like you do. I hate it! I hate him!”
“That’s just ’cause you be so new at it, and stuff. Ain’t done it much yet, that’s all that is. None of us liked it at first, neither, not when Pa made us start out hittin’ each other. You just get used to beatin’ on other kids after a time, and then someday you’ll get as good at it as me. You thinkin’ that I liked it at first, huh? Damn right, it hurts when they beat you up with their fists, but then I figured out that it hurts them when I hit them, too, just as much. Listen good, bro. What you just gotta do, is hit ’em first and hit ’em so hard that they back down and get scared or fall down and end the round. Then you jump on their bones and beat the holy crap outta them. Got that? That’s all you gotta do. So quit bein’ such a big crybaby and come on out there.”
He just lay there, and then his twin grabbed his arm. “Hey, c’mon now, you gonna get better at this, I swear you will. You gonna get good like me one of these here days. Then you gonna be the one breakin’ kids’ bones and givin’ ’em headaches, not them givin’ ’em to you. You gonna beat ’em up so bad, and all you gonna get is some skinned-up, cut and bloodied-up knuckles. Then you gonna like fightin’ as much as the rest of us do and then Pa’s gonna be proud of you, too.”
“I don’t wanna hurt nobody. Ma said that we shouldn’t never hurt people. She said the Bible says we gotta turn the other cheek.”
“Well, she ain’t here no more. She shouldn’t’ve ever told you that kinda stupid stuff, anyways. She shoulda made you tough like Pa made me and the rest of us. I’m glad Pa kept me here when Ma ran off with you.”
“I’m glad Ma took me. She loved me. She did. Grandma and Grandpa love me, too. I wish they was here. They’d make ’em stop hurtin’ me. They’d take me away from here.” More tears welled up and rolled down his cheeks. He wanted to just lie on his stomach and moan and groan and roll up in a ball for a long, long time, forever, until he died. But he smeared the wetness off his face and tried to stop crying. If his pa saw him crying, he’d put him back in the punishing cage, and for sure.
“C’mon, we gotta go. You hear me, kid? Everybody’s been waitin’ out there for you to show up. If Pa’s gotta come in here and drag you out again, you’ll get what for.”
“No. I ain’t gonna do it.”
That made his newfound twin angry. “You just listen to me, you little punk kid. I’m tellin’ you that if Pa’s gotta come in here and drag your ass out there again in front of his drinkin’ buddies, they gonna laugh him off this farm and call you a sissy boy from here on out. And you know what happens then.”
“I ain’t gonna go out there. You can’t make me.”
“Look, you dumb jerk. I’m on your side. I’m gonna help you, I swear it. Just let that other kid hit you one time, just once, and act like you can’t get up, and then I’ll come in and beat the hell outta him. I know that other kid; he’s the tall one with the skinny legs and big feet. You ’member him from last time, right? The one they like to call Hardnose. I can take him. I’ll beat him up so bad that you won’t never have to come back in the ring. I’ll put him outta commission for a week. That’s what he’s gonna get for puttin’ that crack in your skull.”
“Promise? Really? You promise to God and all his angels?”
“Yeah, sure, I do, I guess. Don’t I always help you out when Pa’s all pissed at you? I ever let you down since you showed up here? We gotta buddy up, just the two of us, like the older boys do. We gotta stick together and then we gonna be okay.”
That was true. His twin hadn’t ever let him down. He had been real nice since they met each other that first day. And he did help him steer clear of Pa, especially when Pa was drinking whiskey and getting all mean and scary and cussin’ up a storm. And he’d taught him what to do and where to hide when his pa got out his punishing whip.
“What if I wet my pants, like last time?”
“Hell, kid, you don’t wanna do that. If those guys out there laugh at you and call you a baby and say stuff ’bout wearin’ diapers, Pa’ll go apeshit. Just do it like I do until I get to come in. You know what I’m a talkin’ about, don’t ya? Stare ’em down. Look like you gonna kill ’em and skin ’em alive and eat their bones, like you can’t wait to hit ’em and knock their teeth out. Like you hate their guts.”
Then his hard-as-nails twin squirmed out and grabbed his legs and jerked him out from under the bed. Desperate now, the little one pulled and struggled against his brother’s tight grip, all the way down the steps and out on the back porch. Then he saw his pa coming. He was striding toward the house to fetch him, looking all big and frightening and pissed off. His face was all red, and his breath smelled like spilled beer.
“You get the hell out here, you little sissy. Good God, your ma made you as soft as a li’l baby girl. Hell, I oughta put you in a dress and parade you around. Quit bein’ such a sniveling little punk. Hell, that’s what I’m gonna call you till you show me some gumption. Punk. Damn right, that’s a helluva good name for you, you little crybaby. You need to be more like your big brothers. They ain’t afraid of nothin’. They all got some guts, by God. So, get your tail out here and show ’em what you’re made of.”
Pa grabbed Punk and pushed him down on the back steps and then he squatted down and shoved some boxing gloves on his hands. He jerked the laces tight. “Now listen up good, boy. You can’t just stand out there and let that other kid beat you bloody, you little turd. You gotta weave around and dance your feet some, like I’ve been tryin’ to teach you every day for a month now. You gotta protect your face with your gloves, and not let him hit you in the head. You gotta fight him like all your brothers do. I got money on you this time. You got that? You better not let me down, you listenin’ to me, boy?”
Punk nodded. He looked out at the cars and pickup trucks, where they were parked in the circle that made up the fight ring way back beside the cow pasture. All the headlights lit it up like it was daytime, but the ground was kind of smoky and foggy and strange. He could see the kid who was standing out there in his underwear and waiting to beat him up. Hardnose was only nine years old, older than Punk and his twin were. But he was bigger and taller, and he still had a black eye from his last bout. Punk looked over at the picnic table where they always put the loser kids. There was a boy lying there on a blanket, and he was groaning and his nose was bleeding all over the place. Nobody was paying any attention to him because he lost his fight. His pa called that picnic table Loser Land.
Punk’s heart began to pound again, but somehow he walked on wobbly legs out into the ring of lights. His pa kept his hand clamped hard on his shoulder, hurting him and pushing him along. He began to quiver all over, and he kept searching everywhere for his twin brother. But he couldn’t see him. Okay, he was gonna have to do it. He had to. He would just have to fall down real quicklike and let his twin come in and save him. He could do that. Maybe. As they neared the ring of cars and pickup trucks, everybody started yelling and jeering like they always did, and the boy in the ring started pounding one fist into the other palm. He was growling and snarling and stamping his bare feet and saying some really bad cuss words that Ma had taught Punk never, ever to say.
BOOK: Bad Bones (Claire Morgan)
10.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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