In the backyard of a big old, crooked house on a Louisiana bayou a small freckled-faced boy sat on a buckling wood stoop. Scrawny and barefoot, he squinted into the fading sundown of muggy Lafourche Parish. Only the slow, wading birds disturbed the éclat of the fading evening light. Not a breath of air moved in the stagnant gulf heat. Spanish moss from giant cypress trees hung lifeless, just as did the reeds standing motionless in the brackish canal. The sharp cry of a Kingfisher competed with cicadas buzzing in the silky silence of the swamp. This was the boy's home.
A rifle rested across his knobby knees. Sweat beads glistened over the bridge of his spotted nose. He swatted at hovering bugs. The stench of rotting fish, he knew of nothing different.
A man of grave appearance sat at his side. Everything about the man's weatherworn coarsened skin, straw like hair, and nicotine-stained mustache implied dirt-poor breeding. He slouched with a skinning knife carving at a willow branch. A longneck beer held upright between his knees.
The two sat as kin, uncle and nephew.
"You any good with that, boy?"
The kid bit his lip and lifted the gun. He squinted up at his uncle. Then concentrated on aiming, eyebrow raised, finger on the trigger, searching the weed-cluttered undergrowth for movement. The boy was small for his age, with a chock of ginger hair and a gap-toothed grin. He was the kind of kid thuggy school brats picked on.
Uncle Boudreaux lit a Camel, pushed horn-rimmed glasses higher on his nose and studied the boy with his gun.
"Momma don't like you so much." The boy said, wiping his eyes of sweat while he aimed the rifle across the yard. "Do she, Uncle Will?"
Boudreaux wasn't much interested in the boy's opinions. "Let's see how you handle the shooter there, boy."
"What I shoot at, Uncle Will?"
"There," he pointed at broken glass on an abandoned house next door. "There, see if you kin hit what's left a that window glass."
The bb thumped into the gray wall, missing badly.
Willbur Boudreaux wiped sweat from his neck with a filthy handkerchief. "Shit, boy. Try again."
The kid shouldered the stock and leveled the barrel. He lay a finger on the trigger, his nose twitching from a sweat trickle. Lips pursed.
"Whoa...wait up." Boudreaux yanked the boy's shoulder."
"Looky there," whispered Wilbur, pointing up in the cypress branches where a bluebird had landed on a branch not twenty feet above. A cocky little bird with its fluffed red breast and blue wings ruffling. He looked down on them with impunity. Its head cocked. Tweet, tweet. Wilbur pointed. "There, take the shot."
The boy's shot, meant to miss, sailing high and wide. The little bird barely flinched. Boudreaux grabbed the rifle. "Watch this."
The little bird jumped with the bb cracking into its wing. It jerked backward, wobbling in a circle downward, the good wing flapping helplessly as it hit the ground.
"See. See there. That's how it's done, kid."
The boy sat in sudden grief, watching the bird struggle in the weeds. He looked over at Uncle Wilbur for a response, a sign of anguish or regret or conscience. The boy was stunned. Disbelief turning to anger. A cruel and mindless act in his eyes. But the face of the uncle he looked up to wore no sense of anguish or sorrow. Only a plastered-on smile of pride for his marksmanship.
Moisture puddled in the boy's eyes. He cupped his mouth with a shaking hand and walked carefully to the little bird. "He's hurt, Uncle Will. Look, he's scaret."
Before anymore was said, Wilbur's boot crushed the blue feathers, cracking and popping its tiny body.
"There. Not scared anymore, is he? He don't feel nuthin’ now."
The boy dropped the Red Ryder, held his head in his hands, and stared at the kill. "He weren't hurtin' nobody none, Uncle Will. Just sittin' up there singin' by his self."
"That's the way life is, kid. Sometimes you never see it comin.' Jest when you're mindin' yer own business, sittin' round, justa' singin' in a tree… That's when the shit jus splatters' all over ya."
Boudreaux sat down on the stoop and patted the porch beside him. "Come ere n' sit, kid."
The boy did as told while and the sun sank into evening dusk.
"Life ain't all roses and buttercups, kid." He lit up another Camel and sucked down the last swallow from the long neck. "There's two types a people in this ole world, boy." He flicked ashes. "Them's that give it, and them's that takes it."
The boy stared at the mess of feathers, chin quivering, shoulders curled over his chest.
"What's wrong, kid?"
"How do I know which one a them I am, Uncle Will?"
Boudreaux slung the longneck out at a rusted lawn mower in the weeds next to a rotting tool shed. Then he spit at the kid's feet and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. This is how you know. He pulled a nickel-plated .38 from his boot. The boy's eyes widened. He jumped up to run. Boudreaux grabbed his arm and pulled him back down and pinched the boy's cheek. "This is how you fuckin' know."
He leveled the pistol at a PBR bottle next to the shed and fired, missing high. The next hit just short but spun the bottle sideways. The final shot exploded the bottle into a mist of amber chunks and slivers.
"Now you tell me, kid. Which one you gonna be? A busted-up bottle? A squashed bird? Or you gonna be the one which does the bustin' and a squashin'?"
The boy's fists balled into his armpits. A shaking voice yelled, "You're mean, Uncle Will. You shouldn't a killed that little bird. I don't care about no stupid bottle. But that little bird... he was…jus…"
Boudreaux jabbed a finger into the boy's tear-stained cheek. "You just a fuckin' little pussy kid? Or you a man?"
The boy stood up with filthy fists rubbing his crying eyes, "I'm just a kid, Uncle Will."
Wilbur lifted his hands and dropped them in defeat. "Get the fuck outta here, piss ant." He squeezed his eyes shut as the screen door slammed behind the kid. Anguish was Boudreaux's sidekick. He knew it well. He sat and wondered why he was like the way he was. But the Dale Earnhardt ringtone brought him back to reality and the voice calling got his attention.
He straightened up hearing his boss, Anton Mislov, say he was on his way over and to stay put.
Wilbur stuffed the .38 in the back of his waistband and began to plan for his arrival.
Boudreaux had worked for the Bosnian Creep for three years. He got paid good. But he hated Mislov. The feelings were mutual. He'd been thinking of leaving the obese gangster since the last job he did for. him.
Should you run? No. You'd be stupid. Only make it worse.
He rubbed his chin stubble in thought. Pretty sure this is gonna be bad.
Wilbur waited for Mislov while listening to the sounds of the bayou. With his gut going sour, he paced and smoked one after the other. Then he sat on the porch stairs and moped until the old oak floors of the house announced a formidable presence approaching the back door. Ponderous, heavy feet closing in. They stopped at the screen door. Wheezing, cigar smoke, and the fragrance of Aqua Velva announced Mislov's arrival. Throat choking fear almost sent Boudreaux to the weeds to throw up. Instead he just swallowed three times to hold back the vomit.
The screen door squeaked, then slammed shut. The puny porch light glowed just enough to attract flying bugs, but little light.
Wilbur raised up in deference to greet the hulk standing in his shadow at the top of the stairs in a shiny black suit, open-collared shirt, dabbing a handkerchief across his bald head and the back of his neck.
"Wilbur Boudreaux," said the fat man. "How you doin', my boy?"
“Jus fine Mister Mislov.”
"Sit. Sit, my boy. Go ahead, and sit," wheezed the fat man waving a cigar in a pudgy hand for Boudreaux to sit back down on the bottom stair. "How's the leg?"
"Oh. It's fine, Mister Mislov. Jus fine."
The fat man lowered his obese body down to the porch level with shoes on the stairs. He squirmed around to find a comfortable arrangement for his two-ton legs. Again he wiped sweat with the handkerchief.
"Wilbur, my boy, not seen you in a while. No?"
Wilber nodded. Deference on display, defiance undetected.
The fat man nodded while he wiped the underside of his chin and throat. He clicked his tongue, gazed up into the tree, and burped.
"You know that Boudreaux joint, down on Vine Street? That ribs outfit?"
"Yessir, mister Mislov. Great ribs. Yessiree."
"Any relation a yours?"
"No, sir. No, sir. Lotta Boudreaux families round these parts."
"Didn't think so," Mislov nodded and picked his teeth. "Just had me some a that boudin. Mighty good stuff. Blood sausage. Is that right? That's what it is. Blood Sausage?"
"Yessiree. That's boudin, alright."
"That kinda food you folks makes down here is mighty tasty," he purred. "Jest right. Spicy too." He burped with a fist planted to his chest.
Boudreaux nodded. "Yes, sir. Right n' spicy."
The fat man twisted around, looked back over his shoulder at a shadow standing in the doorway behind the screen door. He tossed the toothpick.
"What cha been up to, son?"
"Nuthin’ Mister Mislov. Just nuthin’."
"Word has it you been workin' again, Wilbur."
"Naw. Just hangin', Mister Mislov. Just waitin'."
"Oh? Waitin' on what, boy?"
"Jest a waitin' on a job from you." As he said it, Boudreaux picked up movement behind the screen door. A tall man in a black suit and city hat.
The fat man wiped at his neck again. "Remember, Geno?" Mislov smiled. "Go ahead. Say hello to Geno."
Wilbur nodded up at the tall man behind the screen.
"Oh. Wilbur. You can do better than that. Say hello to ole Geno."
"Now, you know Geno don't hear too well after... You know. After you..." Mislov stopped, squinted at a mess of bird feathers on the ground. Then continued. "Well, as you can see, ole Geno made it. Survived." Mislov waved up at his bodyguard behind the screen. "Look at him. See. He's right back as good as ever he was. Well almost. He don't hear too good now, though. So you gotta kinda yell at ole Geno. Go ahead."
"Hi, Geno," muttered Wilbur again.
The fat man cocked his head, put a finger to his ear. "Gezus fuckin keryst, Wilbur boy. He don't hear so good, I say."
This time Boudreaux blurted out, "Hello, Geno."
The fat man lit the long black cigar and blew smoke into the sultry bayou evening. The chorus of cicadas had turned quiet and gave way to the halting staccato sounds of katydids and crickets.
"Now. What I hear it don't sound like you jest been hanging' out. Folks say you been a workin'. What you been workin' on redneck? Who you kilt lately?"
"Well, maybe I been workin' jest a little. Ain't killed no body, though."
"What?" shouted Mislov. "Thought you say you jest been hanging out and not workin'. Which it be, boy?"
Wilbur mumbled something.
Mislov nicked ashes from his cigar. "What makes you think I don't know what's goin' on? Huh?"
Wilbur stuttered. "I I I didn't say......"
"You didn't what? You low-life redneck, dick-sucking, motherfucker."
Boudreaux started again…. "I… I"
"Shut the fuck up, redneck. You work for me, you shit-house turd. Always will. You can't move anywhere without me knowin' it. You think you can hide?" Mislov laughed. "You think I wouldn't find you down here in this piss-ass swamp? You sorry piece a Cajun rat puss."
Boudreaux sat embarrassed but feeling his temper grow. The pistol in the back of his waistband reminded him he had options. He glanced at Geno. The options probably weren't very good. The fat man relit his cigar, rolled it through wet, fleshy lips. "You ain't exactly high on my list right now, redneck."
"Yessir. I know that."
Mislov motioned over his shoulder. Big Geno pushed through the screen door and stood at the top of the stairs.
Mislov asked Geno. "What did we say, on the ride out here to find this coonass?"
Geno smiled." Cut off his nuts?"
"Well, no. Not exactly." Mislov tapped ashes from the cigar. "Close. But that's not exactly what we said."
Geno squinted in thought, "Only one?"
"Right. Thas right. Only one. Jest one."
Geno cocked his head. "Why only one, boss?"
"Insurance, brother. Insurance. As long as he does like he's told, he gets to keep one of his boys so he can produce more little Willies with his trailer trash bimbos."
Boudreaux's face, now slick with sweat, felt the edge of the .38 in the back waistband of his jeans.
"So," Mislov leaned over to Boudreaux. "Sound like a deal? Losing one nut for what you did to Geno? And working out here without me knowing it. That seem fair enough? "Without waiting for a reply, the fat man pulled a knife, clicked it open. "So…"
Wilbur lost it. He went for the .38. Not fast enough. Geno grabbed Wilbur's gun hand, knocking the .38 to the dirt. Two of Boudreaux's teeth cracked and broke off with the barrel of Geno's gun slamming into his mouth.
Boudreaux gagged and froze, rolling his eyes up at the bodyguard.
Geno grinned. "Now whatcha gonna do, redneck?"
Boudreaux uttered an almost indecipherable plea with the gun in his mouth. A pathetic appeal. Useless.
Geno had a score to settle. And it was time. The big Italian was in control. He hesitated for seconds so the moment could sink in. To let this event end too quickly would be pleasure lost. Geno's face registered delirium, thrill, frenzy. The past-due retribution for Boudreaux almost killing him was about to take place. The verdict was at hand.
The seconds that Wilbur stared eye-to-eye with Geno felt timeless. The cold steel in his mouth against his teeth, the taste of Remington gun oil, the smell of a sweaty hand tightening on the trigger was an eternity. But the wait didn't last long.
The blast blew a spray of muscle, blood, teeth, and slobber into the backyard, over the blue feathers. Stunned, numb, ear ringing, Wilbur fell sideways, wide-eyed with a hole in his cheek, with the taste of gunpowder and blood. He couldn't hear for what the roar of the .44 did to his hearing. He couldn't hear what the two men were saying or their laughing at him.
"Well. Didn't expect that." Mislov rolled the cigar through his lips and then blew a long spew of smoke. "What do you think? Geno. Think he's gotten his just reward? Think he gets to keep those onions for now?"
Geno shrugged and threw Wilbur's .38 out into the weeds beyond the big tree. The fat man lifted himself with considerable effort. "You work for me, redneck. You got that?"
Wilbur lay in shock. Even though he couldn't hear him, he understood the message and nodded.
Mislov mumbled. "Now. Get that hole in your ugly mug cleaned up and wait for my call tomorrow." He turned to make his way to the screen door. "Got a contract for ya. A New Orleans coonass who's late on his payment needs some remindin'."
Geno standing over Boudreaux, held the door for Mislov to leave. Geno sneered down one last time with a repulsive gape and spat into Boudreaux face. He walked in the house, holstered his gun back inside his jacket and turned to his boss. They spoke for seconds before Geno heard boots clomping over the rotting porch. He looked back over his shoulder to the bloody face coming through the screen door bearing down on him with the flash of a blade.
"Oh fuck!" Geno fumbled for his gun. Too late. Wilbur ran the four-inch blade precisely up into Geno's brain stem that regulates life support: breathing, swallowing, heart rate—life. The medulla oblongata. Geno was dead before he hit the floor.
Mislov stared blankly at his bodyguard's lifeless body on the floor. Then at the face of anger bearing down on him, rolling his neck back and forth, side-to-side. Blood dripping from a wadded handkerchief against the ragged hole in his face.
"Well. Well." Mislov said, pulling at his ear. "Gotta hand it to you, Boudreaux. Didn't know if you still had it in you. That blade thing... still your tool a choice, I see."
Boudreaux stood with an eerie composure. Calm resolution. He sucked in deep, satisfying breaths and held the bloody blade aimed at his boss. The big man retreated backward, hands raised. Boudreaux followed, dripping blood and slobber, closing in, unable to hear clearly.
"Fuck you, redneck. You don't scare me." Mislov dropped his hands and turned to leave before hesitating. He turned back with a look of understood defeat. "I guess this is the end of our relationship. Huh, son?"
Boudreaux smiled a crazy mad grin. He attempted to spit a wad of blood, but only drizzle puffed through the hole in his cheek.
Mislov snapped a match, rolled it slowly under the cigar and puffed. His face glowed as he drew on the burning tobacco, building a thick curl of smoke rolling up over his face. He smiled. "I'm not getting out of here alive. Am I?"
"Drop em fat ass," Boudreaux slurred.
Mislov showed his first glimpse of terror.
Boudreaux moved in. "Lesss see how you get a..long without em little nuts a yours."
"Mislov curled his lip, took a long draw off the cigar, eyes cold and repulsive. He spit at Boudreaux.
A shadow crossed the floor coming from upstairs. Boudreaux glanced up to see his nephew, peeking down between little hands gripping the stair balusters. Boudreaux cracked a smile. Then ran headfirst into Mislov's big belly, knocking him through a floor lamp and landing on a coffee table, collapsing, flipping Mislov face down onto the filthy rug. Boudreaux straightened his glasses, looked up into the kid's round eyes before jumping on the back of the fat man who was coughing, wheezing, and gasping for air. He placed the point of the shiv precisely at the base of the mobster's skull and called out to the boy upstairs. "Come ere, boy. Come down ere n help me with this. Show you how bustin' n squashin' is done."
But the boy was gone.
"Shit. Gotta do everythin' m' self," Boudreaux mumbled as his Dale Earnhardt ringtone began to vibrate. He ignored it, puckered his lips, inhaled once, and then slowly pushed the knife deep through the fat and muscle before driving harder through skull bone into the brain stem. Only one or two violent kicks. Done.
Boudreaux sat on the body, sweating, breathing hard, dabbing at his face wound with the blood-soaked handkerchief. Earnhardt's voice ring tone again. By now, some hearing had returned. "What?" He muttered.
"Hey, brother. How's my kid doin? He ain't no trouble is he?"
"No. We gettin' along okay," he said looking up at the kid. "Learnin' the lil man a few things."