"You take care, M'z Brumfield," Randy grinned. "I just got a little bit of business to attend to an' then I'll be back here as soon as I can, 'kay?"
"You take care, too, Randy. We wouldn't want any bad hombres from below the border hurting you, now, would we?" Mrs Brumfield seemed at ease with Barken's top sentry departing for the border. It was an easy enough wait, he'd be there and back in a couple of days. Nobody had thought to ask him why, but then again, Kempe's tight-lippedness was all part of his resilience. Some folks thought he'd been brought up in the desert by coyotes, because he was that tough. Nobody dared to attempt what he did every week: go out on Monday with a forty-four gallon drum of water, a ton of baked beans and a shotgun, come back on Friday with an empty drum, lots of empty cans and likely another story to tell. He was a survivor, first and foremost. Nothing less.
"You tell Davis I'll be back as fast as this truck can carry my ass back home on Sunday, okay?" Mrs Brumfield nodded and smiled briefly, nervousness showing. Randy briefly huffed, the way any large dog huffs, and turned the key in the ignition. He briefly cast his mind back to the note he'd received, the large sum of money he'd been promised, then dashed it from his mind. It was all to come, none of it was certain. He was just letting go of the clutch when he remembered something else at the last minute.
"If Jones comes lookin' for me, tell him to lay off 'till I'm back, 'kay?"
"Who's Jones?" Mrs Brumfield said, cocking her head.
"Aww...." Randy considered explaining who Jones was, but thought better of it. "Don't.. uh... don't worry about that, just tell Davis that's what I said; he'll take care of it. G'bye!" He blew the widow a kiss and drove off, leaving a mild cloud of dust in his wake. The old lady stood and watched him disappear off down the road, and sighed to herself, hoping for the best while he was away.
Mrs Brumfield trotted inside, a little wiggle ensuing at her rump as she started to the phone to call Sheriff Davis.
"Sheriff? Hi, it's me, Rhonda.. yes, he just left, he said to tell you he said for Mr Jones to.. uhh.. 'lay off until he gets back'... yes, that's right.. Jones.. Sheriff, might I ask whom this Jones character is?.. oh, I see.. yes... oh, my, that does sound serious... you think-.. oh, dear me..."
"..now, don't you worry yourself, Mrs Brumfield, Randy'll be back as soon as he can be, okay?" Davis sweet-talked the old lady on the other end. He knew better than to believe his own story, though. Jones was easily Kempe's match for stealth, and had been planning something big for a long time. "Don't you be worryin' yourself, y'hear? It's probably nothing..." He chuckled shallowly to himself. "O-.. okay, Rhonda, thanks for passing on the message, I 'ppreciate it... oh, you can be sure I'll come around tonight if you're serving your caramel 'n dumplings.. I'll be there... g'bye."
He slowly leaned over to replace the receiver, then sighed, pressing his fingers against his temples. His expression turned to one of concern for his people. He had to protect them somehow. Jones was almost legendary for his amount of kills in Cherry lore, and every skin he bought back from Barken allegedly hung in his out-of-town shack. Among dogs, he also had a knack for killing any other animals that strayed within his sight. Always with that rifle, too. Wolves, coyotes, skunks.. they'd all fallen prey. Davis knew Jones to be a truly despicable and evil character, even more so because he was doing it all for 'the Lord'. He shook his head and got out of his chair, walking to the systems operation desk. The attractive young bitch working there smiled at him as he wandered over.
"Jenny, Randy thinks Jones is planning to come in and do some shootin' sometime while he's gone. Has he talked to about this at all? Mentioned it or something?"
Jenny thought for a second. "No, I don't think so. Not recently, at least. How come?" She looked around her desk, lifting up paper and looking for a pen. "You think he might come visiting?"
"Randy seems to think so," Pierre sighed, handing her a pen from his shirt pocket. "I think maybe we should keep twice as many eyes open, keep a real good eye out for Jones these next couple of days."
"You want me to rustle up some volunteers?" Jenny asked. "I could probably do some cajolin' and get Bill Budd and his crew.."
Davis thought on it. "Good idea. Bill isn't our best, but he has a lot goin' for him. Him and Joe'll be willin' to help if it's where Jones is involved."
"If you can stop them from all-out slaughterin' the bastard, you'll be doin' well," Jenny grinned.
"Too true.." Davis murmured, casting his mind's eye back to the night Barken lost Mac because Jones lost his mind. He could still remember the scent of the gunpowder, the look on Joe's face - one of utter despair but powerlessness as his friend was turned into chopped meat. He sighed, remembering the sound of Joe's voice screaming at Jones, even as his life was under the eye of Jones' shotgun. The sound of Joe's tears when he got wind that Catherine had been ostracised and eventually murdered by the 'well-meaning' Cherry folk for doing the unthinkable - sleeping with a 'devil'. Some said it was Jones himself who hung the poor girl. Others said she did it to vow revenge on her father.
"Maybe I won't stop them, Jenny. Maybe that is what he deserves." Davis walked over to the coffee urn and fished a mug out from under the sink.
Randy's head hit the steering wheel in a frenzy of brakes. He brought it up as soon as he could, aided by whiplash, and growled audibly at the obstruction in the road. He rolled down the window, muttering dark oaths to himself.
"If'n it ain't bad enough you jumping out on the road in front of me, you have to jus' stand there like some dumb animal!" he yelled at the coyote. "You know what you are? Asshole! That's what!" He brought his hand up to his head and put it down in front of his eyes. He was bleeding. "Shiiit.."
Randy guessed he was another few hours from Brownsville. He found a towel and wet it, putting it to his head. He scowled at the coyote on the road up ahead, maybe a few feet from his bumper. The coyote looked back at him, seeming amused by the antics of the driver. It gently padded up to the window and looked up at Kempe's fuming face as he turned the motor off.
"And a cheeky asshole you are, Mr Too-Much-Of-A-Runt-To-Be-A-Wolf Coyote," he said, chuckling as the obviously insane animal reared up and placed its paws on the side of his car. The coyote was hungry, without a doubt. It licked its lips at the scent of food. Randy recognised this immediately for what it was.
"Heh, it ain't bad enough that you stop my car, now you're hungry too.." Randy leaned over and offered a beef jerky to the coyote. It snapped its jaws over the food and wandered off, seeming to bow its head in thanks.
"Any time, amigo," he said, a little weirded out. Randy didn't quite know what to make of this, but resolved to starting the engine up and putting it down to one of these weird things that just happens. Letting the clutch out, he sped off into the dusky skies, down the road and further towards the border.
"Joe, Bill, I want you on the North Patrol. In between if it'll help you catch the bastard in the dark; I'll give you two special rifles that have been modified to work with fur, 'kay? Rich, Jimmy - you two take the north road. I know you two are new-ish at this, so I'm leaving you out of the action for the time being. Joe and Bill have experience at this kind of thing. I'll keep an eye on you guys and organise patrols around the township. I've told everyone around that there might be some action tonight, and warned them about Jones as well. It may be that he tries to sneak in from the South; if that's so, Tom and Mark can take him. I don't think he will, but that's all the more reason for him to try something like that. I hope you've all got means of staying awake for the night. You'll need to, likely. And if you see anything move out there, I mean anything, fire a shot into the air. If it's anything but Jones, it'll run for it..."
"A serve of steak with a side-order of fries, coming right up," the waitress crooned. Kempe had stopped at this roadhouse before, and it was one of the best. He hated journeying on an empty stomach more than many things, and steak with fries and lots of ketchup was his favourite road meal. He cast his mind back to Barken momentarily; as his food was served to him, he wondered if a phone call would be such a bad idea. He figured not, and fished in his pocket for a quarter. He found one, by sheer luck, and strolled over to the phone.
Dialling the Sheriff's office, he was waiting for about ten rings before Jenny finally picked up. "Hello, Barken Sheriff's Office, Jenny speaking. How can I be of service?"
"Hi, sweetcakes, 'sme," Randy grinned into the phone. "How's everyone going?"
"Randy? Hurry back, honeybuns, we miss you heaps," Jenny smiled back. "It's a slight madhouse here; Davis got the whole town on stand-by cuz of what you said to Mrs Brumfield."
"Really?!" Kempe nearly choked. "Shit, that ain't good... Is he around? I gotta talk to him, pronto."
Jenny hesitated. "I'll see if he's around. Hold on a second." Jenny left the phone for a second, dropping it on the desk with a thud. Randy strained to hear what she was up to. He made out a knock on the door, a quick conversation, and chuckled. Why she didn't patch the call through was beyond him. Then again, Jenny was a good worker - her quirks weren't a weakness. He heard footsteps approaching the phone, and it being picked up, and..
"Kempe? Is there something you wanted to tell me?"
"Yeah, there is." Randy breathed out. "If you put everyone on stand-by, Jones will not only know you're out to start a war, but he'll start one for you as well. Keep the guns down to a bare minimum and definitely, above all, don't have anyone on remote patrol tonight. That would be badder 'n a spark at a fartin' contest." Davis sighed. "You're sure he won't get into town?"
"No, in fact I know he will get into town, but that don't matter compared to something else I've been noticing." Randy knew his foe well. "Out there on single patrol, those sentries don't stand a chance against this thing. Just.. trust me, please."
Davis was baffled. "What thing?"
"You really... REALLY don't want to know," Randy said. "But keep your distance from anything you see out there at night." He paused. "Remember those kids, how one of them got out to take a leak and wasn't ever seen again? I think I know what did it. But I know it hates coming near the town. Oftentimes it'll just sit there and stare at Barken from a distance..."
"What are you talkin' about?" Pierre snapped, irritated.
There was a long pause, after which Randy sighed and said, "I wish I knew. But it is dangerous, Sheriff Davis. Make sure the only people to go out tonight are those who can operate heavy firearms and operate them well. I don't know how much it'd take to bring it down, but it'd take more 'n harsh language, if you get my drift."
Davis conceded. "Okay. I'm trusting you on this one. We'll cross the bridge of dealing with Jones as we come to it, then."
"Sure thing." Randy smiled. "Shit, I have to go; my food is gettin' cold. Seeya."
He hung the phone up and went to sit back down. An overweight truckie had taken his seat. He sighed and tapped the guy on the shoulder.
"What do you want?" the truckie said, turning around to gaze at Randy.
"You're sitting in my seat. I'd like it back, if you don't mind." Randy looked the man up and down.
"Oh, yeah?" The man got off the seat, and stood to the side of it. "You can take it, mutt-features."
If Kempe's ears had been canine at that point, they would have turned flat back against his head, and his teeth would have been bared, and his throat would have been rumbling with a Rottweiler's growl. As it was, he looked miffed for a second or two, then sat down to chug his dinner. Eating fast gave him gas, but he didn't care. Pissed off people didn't care. He tucked into his chips, tipped the waitress, shot the truckie a dirty look, and left with more than a bulge at the back of his pants where his tail had crept out. He collected himself in the car and continued to make his way down to Brownsville. If he made good time, he'd be in and out of there, back home by midday tomorrow.
The lights had gone on in Barken. Bill kept a close eye on the road, and the surrounding desert facing the highway, whilst Joe and the others were off doing neighbourhood walks. Davis wandered out to Bill and handed him a mug of coffee. A small wind was picking up, and it ruffled their hair as they exchanged words in the half-dusk, half-artificial light.
"Quiet, isn't it?" Bill remarked. He looked out with the night goggles, across the desert.
"Indeed it is." The Sheriff sighed. "Looks like I was just jumpy about this whole Jones thing." They kept watch for a few minutes silently, occasionally sighing a lung-full of air. Surveillance was important work, but damned if it wasn't tedious.
The phone rang, breaking the silence. Davis walked in to answer it, will Bill half-paying attention to his conversation.
"H'lo, Sheriff's office. Davis speaking... No.. no, Mrs Brumfield, it's okay. We're taking care of it. No.. you'll be quite safe, Rhonda. No need for guns."
Bill's ears perked up. Was that an engine he could hear? It was revving in high gear, and sounded like it was approaching fast.
"No, I don't think you'll need to evacuate your guests, either, Rhonda. They'll be fine."
Bill's finger reached for his gun. If he wasn't mistaken, that engine was a Mercedes. "Sheriff?" he said, loud enough for Davis to hear him.
"Excuse me, Rhonda..." Davis poked his head out the door, with a curious "What is it?"
"I think I hear a car, coming very fast, from 45 north." Bill indicated in the rough direction. The engine was faint but audible enough so they could both hear it. They tried not to make any sound themselves. It was plain that the car had reached top speed, and was cruising in the vicinity of a hundred miles an hour. That had to be some expensive car.
"It's Jones, isn't it?" Bill asked, looking up at Davis.
Davis just nodded, getting back onto the phone. "Rhonda, keep everyone inside. Don't panic." He hung it up, pulling out his gun and making sure it was loaded. "Whoever that is, I'll teach them to speed on my jurisdiction of road."
The engine slowly got louder. Then the volume increased sharply, as the lights came into view. Definitely a Mercedes, black like Jones's. Davis raised the night goggles to his eyes and set to magnify.
"It checks out - it's Jones's wheels." Davis got around to his car and started it up. He drove it across the road and turned the cop lights on. As ineffective a roadblock as it was, he had to do something. Just for curiosity's sake, he radar-gunned the car speeding towards him. it returned a figure of 120mph.
The car slowed noticeably as it approached the makeshift roadblock, then drew to a halt. Davis got out of the car, and tapped on the heavily tinted window. A mechanical whirring sound ensued, revealing the face of a woman.
"May I see your license and registration, please?" Davis said, a little taken aback by the woman at the wheel.
"Certainly, officer." It was obvious who this woman was. Mrs Jones. She presented her license, which Davis checked thoroughly.
"Mrs Jones, are you aware that you were doing about 120 back there?"
"Yes.. I suppose I was going a little fast." She shrugged. "I'm in a hurry."
"And why would that be?"
"My husband is in Brownsville; it's imperative that I see him as soon as possible. Now, please do what you have to and-"
"Wait, wait.. Brownsville? As in on the border?" Davis was momentarily confused. Randy was going to Brownsville too. Why was this place so popular all of a sudden? He thought for a second. "Any idea why?"
"I believe he is going to try to take his life there," Mrs Jones said, a tremor in his voice. "I can't allow that to happen."
"Take his life?" Davis chuckled to himself. "How do you figure that?"
"He left this on the dressing table on Thursday
before he left." She reached into her purse and brought out a neatly handwritten
note, which she presented to Pierre. It read simply:
Have gone to face my demons on the border. Don't know if I'll make it back. I love you.
"Eddie, huh?" Davis chuckled. "Well, ma'am, as much as I hate to stall you, I'm going to have to write you a ticket for speeding." He flipped open his ticketbook and swiftly presented a half-scribbled ticket to Mrs Jones. "Sorry to have kept you, Mrs Jones."
Mrs Jones looked at Davis one last time, and without warning, spat in his face. The spittle dripped off his nose languidly, hitting the dust underneath his feet. The window went up, the motor revved, and the Mercedes slowly manoeuvred around the roadblock and onto the road again, then tore off at an incredible speed, easily exceeding 120.
Pierre stood there for a second, a little stunned by what had just happened, and sniffed.
"Hm. Strawberry icecream for desert, huh?"
He wiped his face clean, and went back inside to clean up. Bill shrugged and went back to keeping guard. Far away, he saw a coyote running along the prairie at a distance.
Randy got out of the car, rifle and torch at the ready. It was after sunset, and everything was becoming dark. He was maybe a few miles from the border, in a prearranged meeting-place, though by whom and for what purpose was unknown to him. It was a minute's drive to the border and a few minutes more to Brownsville. If any trouble ensued though, he could always shift and leg it - he was well-versed in the science of survival.
As lonesome as the place looked, he could feel another presence with him there; the note had told him to come alone. He couldn't tell where it was, this presence, but he felt it wanting to reach out. He could feel pain, conflict, mental friction. Partly from fear, he let the dog slip out enough to grant him better hearing and smell; he at once scented urine somewhere close by, and he could hear strained, frightened breathing coming from somewhere to his right.
"I--..." came a crackly, half-human voice. Randy shone his torch in the general direction of the sound, aiming his rifle along with it, ears pricked to every sound he could pick up, muzzle primed to detect any smell he could find. He was overwhelmed with the scent of mortal fear, and as he stepped forward, he could see a naked, half-furred figure close-by. He suddenly recognised who it was, shivering under the fur. Of all people...
"Jones!?" he gasped. He could hardly believe the irony of the whole situation. Before him stood a creature becoming that which he used to take such pleasure in slaughtering in his God's name. Where was his God now, Randy wondered.
"It's.. been so long since my feet..." he coughed as his body partly erupted in fur. He started again, simpler this time. "The c-curse... upon you all.. it has.. taken.. me too." He looked at his hands, which were changing into gnarled paws in front of his eyes. Obviously in a great deal of pain, Jones started to whimper all-too caninely. Randy recoiled to himself thinking he had -this- in common with his arch-rival.
"Jones, it's not too late for you, you know.." He started to edge toward the frightened creature. Suddenly, Jones whipped out a hand-gun and aimed it square at Randy's head.
"You think I'm going to fall in with you demons? Ha! You must be out of your fuckin' MIND, Kempe. I'd rather... RRRRGHHHHH!!" Jones buckled over in pain as his guts started to twist inside him, and his humanity started to drain. The gun dropped onto the ground beside him. It wasn't a dog he was changing into, though, at least no dog that Randy had ever seen. This one had a coat of almost spiky long black fur, and twisted, horrible features that evoked Randy's worst nightmares from childhood. "The demon... it's... taking me... over.....!" Kempe stood in amazement, gaping and watching as Jones's rump started to embone and part to allow a thick, whiplike tail to grow from his spine.
Jones's face started to change, and this part was the hardest to take. The sound of meat and bone being ripped apart ensued as his muzzle began to slide out, taking his teeth and causing a long, pained cry of agony. Jones bent over and curled his legs up, getting onto all fours and allowing the transformation to run smoother. Anything to stop the pain.. his ears started to fold over and spike up, folding to the top of his head where they lay flat against it. A fearful black mane of fur grew around his shoulders and head, and even Randy couldn't ignore the huge, leathery sheath dangling from Jones' nether-regions. He pitied the bitch who'd be on the receiving end of that.
Jones' mind and body had completely disappeared, leaving something out of a horror film standing before Randy that resembled a huge black wolf, perverted out of shape. The dripping, bared fangs; the low, steady growl; the expression of killing lust in its eyes, and Jones' scent of fear being replaced by an insatiable rage. If ever there was such thing as a werewolf, Jones was definitely it. Randy just hoped the silver bullets bit was bullshit.
He raised his gun up... and waited. Nearly inert, his finger would only have to flinch and Jones would be gone.
It was about midday Sunday when Randy Kempe's car pulled into the carpark of the Sheriff's office. It was not hard to see that there was something vaguely corpse-like in the back seat. Bystanders watched Kempe get out of the car, then go into the office, then bring the Sheriff out with him, then take the body back into the building. Some people rumoured that the body was Eddie Jones himself, shot dead by Kempe. Nobody knew for sure.
Some went so far as to hypothesise that Eddie Jones had spent so long hunting the Barken population, spent so much time on that land, that the curse had got him, and turned him into a warped, cruel version of man's best friend. Eventually he arranged for someone to come along and put him out of his misery. Again, without proof, it was another rumour.
But from that day onward, Jones was never to be seen stalking around the limits of Barken again. Sentries sometimes hear his ghost whooshing across their faces in the wind, or catch a glimpse of him in the shadows at night. But that is all. Kempe was often asked about what transpired that night, and the reply was always cryptic:
"For one night, his life turned the tables on him, and he became the very image of his fear, that same thing he'd seen in us and tried to kill off. And that was what he couldn't take. The irony is kinda poetic, don't you think?"