The sky morphed from fiery orange and hellfire red to dense charcoal as the setting sun dipped below the horizon. Gusts of wind howled across the fields like a pack of prowling wolves baying into the night. Jagged flashes of white-hot lightning tore through the sky and loud booms of thunder destroyed the silence as the dark, heavy scent of rain filled the air. Short seconds later, a few drops began to fall before the brooding black clouds unleashed a furious torrent onto the dusty ground below.
Halogen headlights slashing through the gloom, a black wreck truck hurtled along a deserted stretch of cracked asphalt highway, racing the storm. From the ethereal blue glow cast by its custom underbody lighting to its black paint, dark window tints, and polished chrome metal, the truck epitomized bad intentions. Apart from the hum of its diesel engine, the wrecker was silent as it cleaved through the air like a machete, leaving a roar of whispering death in its wake…
Perched atop a crooked wooden pole, swaying in the fierce wind, a solitary weather-beaten streetlamp projected an oasis of warm, yellow sodium light onto the junkyard entrance. Rusty steel letters welded to a sturdy gate proclaimed it to be the home of ‘evil Auto S.’ Another tarnished sign stated, ‘Used Parts Our Specialty.’ Before years of weathered abuse, back when the town of Killdevil Crossing was a thriving community, the sign once heralded this to be the domain of ‘Killdevil Auto Salvage.’
Behind the entrance, surrounded by rows of stripped-out vehicles, a ramshackle corrugated-steel Quonset hut masqueraded as an office. A dilapidated double-wide trailer with peeling paint and filthy, cracked windows held together with duct tape adjoined the hut. This was the home of Harry Gilbert – a balding, ornery curmudgeon in his late 60s, born with oil in his veins. Gilbert’s father owned Killdevil Auto Salvage before his death, while cousin Will owned a salvage yard in nearby Libertyville before he was killed in a hit-and-run accident in his living room…
After a hard day’s graft stripping cars of anything to make a buck, Gilbert enjoyed nothing more than to relax, take a few libations of bootleg moonshine and spend his time watching Internet porn. A large computer monitor surrounded by empty, grease-stained fast-food containers littered his ancient desk. Stretching out to the screen, his fingers traced the outline of a nubile teenage blonde’s silicon-enhanced breasts. She was on her hands and knees looking deep into his eyes, her face contorted in supposed pleasure. Behind her, a tattooed, muscular man held her hips and thrust in and out causing her pendulous breasts to sway in rhythm.
The old man’s right hand stroked the bulge in his oil-stained work pants, matching the stud beat-for-beat. A lecherous smile formed on his craggy visage as he unzipped. Oblivious to the weather, the girl’s orgasmic moans emanating from the tinny-sounding speakers were his sole focus.
“When he’s done, I’ve got somethin’ right here for ya, baby.”
A loud buzzing sound echoed inside the trailer, dragging him away from his sordid fantasy.
“Oh, shit on it, who the fuck is that?”
Brow furrowed in annoyance at the disturbance, Gilbert hit the video pause button with his free hand.
“Give me a minute. Stay right there and wait for me,” he said, savoring his wit.
He rose from the seedy, stained office chair and tripped over a stack of discarded pizza boxes as he lumbered to the trailer window. A large expanse of pasty-white flesh bulged over the waistband of his unzipped pants forcing the buttons of his way-too-tight plaid work shirt to their limit. The buzzer sounded again. And again. And again. Someone wanted his attention and wanted it in a hurry.
“Son-of-a-bitch, I’m comin’. Wait a goddamned minute,” he said before chugging another mouthful of moonshine.
Darkness gripped the junkyard like a clenched fist, but through the myriad raindrops clinging to the grime-covered window, Gilbert recognized the familiar shape of a tow-truck outside the gate. A dark, shadowy figure leaned out and pressed the button again, sending another loud, grating blast of sound echoing through the trailer. As soon as he pushed the trailer door open, the incessant driving rain blew into his face, soaking his clothes and the threadbare welcome mat.
“Stop pressin’ the fuckin’ button, asshole! I ain’t deaf yet, but I soon will be if ya don’t quit.”
Pulling on a rain cape, Gilbert splashed toward the gate, thunder rumbling overhead, deep and sullen. In the distance, lightning flashed and bathed the yard in harsh white light as the driver waved in acknowledgment and jumped out of the cab to unhitch a wrecked ‘93 Mustang Convertible. A flash of lightning silhouetted him while he worked.
“Who are you? Whatcha think you’re doing?”
“Rough night, huh? A man could catch his death in weather like this.”
The driver wore a heavy black trench coat and a black leather Stetson that dripped a small stream of water from the brim onto his heavy work boots while he studied the flattened vehicle.
“Got an ugly one for you. Broken tie-rod, flipped it like a pancake.”
“You can’t leave that thing here,” Gilbert said as the driver continued to unhitch the wreck.
“Hey asshole, I’m serious. I don’t know who you are, but I’m tellin’ you this ain’t the right place. You leave that and I’ll make sure your ass gets fired.”
The driver climbed into the cab and stared down at Gilbert. The streetlamp’s glow, blocked by the Stetson, put the stranger’s face in shadow.
“By the way, this asshole’s name is Severance. Remember it. We’ll be meeting again.”
“I don’t give a pile of flyin’ horseshit! This wreck ain’t mine. You can’t leave it here!”
“Oh no, this is the right place beyond any shadow of a doubt, my friend.”
Severance slammed the cab door and started the engine. The truck’s wheels spun on the wet surface and showered Gilbert with dirt, pebbles and muddy rainwater. The old man clutched the gate and shook it with exasperation, screaming obscenities into the night as he watched the taillights fade into the distance.
The lure of the almighty dollar overtook Gilbert’s protestations as he trudged to the workshed for a forklift to retrieve the mangled wreck. Maneuvering the vehicle’s forks under the Mustang, he lifted the twisted, metallic devastation off the ground and a cry of pain emanated from within the crumpled remains.
“Shit. Now I’m hearin’ things. I gotta take it easy with the ’shine.”
As the forklift labored on the wet terrain, the old man inched his way to the shed and set the car on the ground. He killed the engine and climbed out to inspect his latest, and questionable, acquisition.
“Okay, let’s see what we’ve got.”
Gilbert walked around the car’s pummeled remains. The shed’s fluorescent lighting illuminated a piece of paper inside a plastic bag taped to the shattered windshield. Inside, he found a hand-written receipt to Severance for a pair of reconditioned Mustang tie-rods from Killdevil Auto Salvage. It had been signed by Gilbert six months earlier.
“Son-of-a-bitch. I thought the name Severance rang a bell.”
The old man spat on the ground and tugged on the driver’s door. The distorted, caved-in metal did not move an inch. He tried the passenger side, but that would not open either. Gilbert walked over to a pegboard wall festooned with tools hanging above an oil-stained workbench. He lifted a large utility knife off a hook and returned to the wreck, stopping mid-stride, convinced another muffled moan of pain came from inside the car.
Using the razor-sharp tool, Gilbert sliced into the flattened convertible’s mud-stained roof. As he cut the fabric, something solid beneath the cloth stopped his momentum. Never one to let a stumbling block get in his way, he muscled through the obstruction. Sweat leaked from his balding head and ran down his neck, now bright red from exertion. Confused at what it may be impeding his progress, he studied the blade – blood, skin, and hair clung to the blade. A large, wet bloodstain spread across the Mustang’s soft-top. He staggered away, dropping the knife on the floor.
“Oh, sweet Jesus.”
The color drained from his face as he vomited a stream of moonshine and half-digested pizza over his work boots.
Sheriff Pádraig “Ace” Mulrooney leaned back, feet on his desk, reading a Jack Reacher novel while listening to the rain assault the station house roof. Eyes fixed on the page, he smiled as Reacher slapped the taste out of a bad guy’s mouth. A barrel-chested, 30-year-veteran cop, Mulrooney had seen it all during the course of his duty. After a lifetime of protecting and serving, nothing shocked or surprised him. His office phone broke the silence. Annoyed at the disturbance, Mulrooney placed a bookmark between the pages, closed the book, lifted his feet from the desk and took the call.
“Ace, it’s Harry Gilbert from Killdevil Auto Salvage.”
“Hey, Harry. Awful night out there. What can I do for you?”
“Some guy left a wreck outside my yard. You gotta get here. Now!”
“Harry, aren’t wrecked cars your livelihood?”
“For fuck’s sake, Ace, listen to me. There’s blood, lots of it. The car has a body inside. I puked all over my boots. You gotta get here. Now!”
“Geez, Harry, take a breath. How can there be a body inside? It’s not possible.”
“Ace, it’s in my workshed and it’s goddamned bleeding I tell ya!”
“Sounds to me as if someone’s screwing with you. Did you forget to pay for the last lot of ’shine you have stashed and piss off Walt McCluskey and his boys?”
“How d’ya know about the ‘shine? Never mind. Something in this car is bleedin’ and you need to get your Irish ass to my yard. Fast. Do ya hear me?”
Mulrooney glanced at his book and gave a forlorn sigh.
“Have you been drinking, Harry?”
“No, goddammit. Well, not much anyway.”
“Alright. Sit tight and don’t touch a thing. I’ll be there in 20.”
“Make it 15. Buzz me when you get here. I’ll be in the trailer. I need a drink to settle my nerves.”
Mulrooney put the phone back in its cradle and placed the book in his desk drawer.
“Of all the nights to ruin my plans,” he said to an empty office.
Reacher said nothing…
Gilbert stared out of the cruddy trailer window, moonshine in hand, tension building within him. A pair of car headlights pierced the darkness of the highway and approached the yard entrance through the gloom. Mulrooney parked the cruiser but left the lights on and the windshield wipers running. He stepped out, covered himself with a police-issue slicker and splashed through the standing water toward the still-closed gate. The smell of rain and used engine oil filled his nostrils as the wind increased, whistling as it blew between the rusted fence panels. As his fingers pressed the buzzer, Gilbert appeared.
“Hang on, Ace. Lemme get that for ya.”
“Hurry up, Harry. I’m getting drenched out here.”
Mulrooney returned to the cruiser to retrieve his flashlight, but before he made it to the car door he froze in mid-stride like a startled rabbit as the dazzling headlights of Severance’s tow-truck blinded him.
“Shit, watch out, Ace,” Gilbert yelled from behind the gate, his voice drowned out by the raucous cacophony of a booming clap of thunder cracking the night air.
Speed unabated, the rig slammed into the cruiser. The Crown Victoria’s bodywork crumpled and buckled as the impact pushed it sideways across the junkyard entrance until a metal fence post stopped it from moving any further. Trapped between the two vehicles, Mulrooney’s face was frozen in a mix of shock and pain. Severance reversed out of the carnage. The cop’s battered, broken body resembled a macabre hood ornament hanging lifeless from the truck’s grille.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” the old man cried.
He stared aghast at the mayhem, his eyes and mouth wide open in an expression of stunned surprise. Crazy, misshapen zigzag patterns of lightning lacerated the sky, giving the scene a grim, stroboscopic overhead light. Severance turned the vehicle to confront the gate and its headlights locked onto Gilbert like laser pointers boring deep into his soul. The old man wanted to run, wanted to flee to safety, but all he could do was stand and stare as Mulrooney’s body slithered from the blood-spattered hood to the muddy ground.
Severance revved the engine again and the rig lunged forward in a wheel-spinning charge, headlights bouncing as he ran over the cop’s dead body. In a shower of sparks and stones, the vehicle demolished the gate’s lock and chain and burst into the yard. Panic-stricken, Gilbert turned and, on stiff legs, ran away, his path lit by the flatbed’s headlights closing the distance between them. As the hard-charging vehicle drew ever closer, he dove to his right, bounced off the fender of a burned-out station wagon and landed in a heap in a narrow channel between a row of gutted cars and stacks of old tires. The truck barreled past and its glaring red taillights disappeared into the bowels of the junkyard.
Shaken, his hands and knees bleeding from the enforced acrobatics, Gilbert inched his way between the wrecked cars and headed for the trailer. Turning the lights off as soon as he slipped inside, the room took on an eerie glow from the computer monitor still frozen with the image of the nubile blonde halted in mid-orgasm. Staying away from the windows, the old man scurried to a hidden locker and pulled out his father’s ancient service revolver. Much like Harry Gilbert, the weapon had not seen any action for many years, despite being cleaned every Sunday.
Moving with caution, he tucked the gun into the waistband of his pants and stepped out of the trailer. A bank of thick, silvery mist had rolled across the yard, haloing the lamps and diffusing their sodium glow. He threaded a cautious path through the piles of cars, searching for the maniac who killed Mulrooney – one of the few people Gilbert could call a friend. He moved from auto to auto, his eyes darting left, darting right. His vigilance was for naught when he found himself bathed in a pool of light courtesy of the flatbed’s headlights. Severance released the brakes and the truck surged toward the yard owner. The old man stood his ground and fired the revolver at the marauding metallic beast.
“If I’m goin’ down, boy, you’re comin’ with me,” Gilbert screamed.
The wrecker’s windshield exploded into a thousand tiny shards of twinkling glass. The truck swerved hard to the right and slammed into the remains of wrecked 1950s Buick Roadmaster. The engine’s roar died and its headlights dimmed to a glow akin to a candle. Jets of red-hot steam and oil smoke billowed from under the hood. A deafening silence befell Gilbert. All he could hear was his heavy, rapid breathing and his heart beating like a bass drum. He peered at the wreckage and let out a loud, whooping victory holler, before punching the air and waving the revolver above his head.
“What d’ya think of me now, asshole? That’s what happens when ya fuck with Harry Gilbert.”
Buzzed with confidence, he rushed to the cab and yanked the driver’s door open.
“I said what d’ya think of me now…” The words faded mid-sentence. His mouth hung open. His eyes as wide as they would stretch failed to believe what confronted them. The cab was empty…
Stepping away from the cab in disbelief, Gilbert detected the sound of clanging metal coming from the workshed where he had left the Mustang. Approaching the noise, gun in hand, he charged into the shed and heard something else – the unmistakable snarling and growling of an angry, pissed-off dog. The old man zeroed in on the convertible’s trunk where the commotion was coming from. He shuffled toward it and fired at the closed trunk until he had emptied the revolver. The frenzied canine continued to growl.
He tried to breathe but no air would enter his lungs. Starved of oxygen, his heart raced. He stood motionless for an eternity, but in reality, it was thirty seconds. The old man backed off and moved to the pegboard wall of tools, his eyes never leaving the wreck. He took the largest, heaviest crowbar he could lay his hands on. After testing its weight, he pounded on the lock until the trunk sprang open. A maimed pit bull terrier was gnawing through the rear seat into the passenger compartment. The dog faced Gilbert, its front legs almost detached from its body, hanging on by minute fibers of sinew. Blood dripped from its jowls as it growled. Horrified, the old man leaped into the air and dropped the crowbar. The dog returned to chewing the seat with renewed vigor, blood and slobber flying every which way.
“What the hell is that?” he asked aloud, as he studied the almost-rabid animal.
Gilbert’s heart leaped from his chest to his throat and back in a nanosecond as a voice spoke behind him.
“I don’t think Lucifer appreciates you doing that.”
“Goddammit, I nearly shit myself. Wh, what d’ya want from me?”
Severance stood in front of the Mustang, his eyes lost in the Stetson’s shadow. He held two halves of a snapped metal rod in his hands and banged them together. Clang. Clang. The old man recognized the rhythmic sound and sensed the hatred staring at him from under the brim of the hat. The driver tossed the broken pieces of metal into the dirt at Gilbert’s feet.
“Broken tie-rod. A replacement part I bought from you. Used parts as good as new, or so you claimed. This wreck is all that remains of my family, my hopes, my dreams, my life.”
A ripping sound diverted Gilbert’s attention from Severance. The color drained from his face as he watched bloody fingers tearing through the soft top from inside the Mustang. The old man reeled backward as a young boy wriggled and squirmed out of the hole. As more and more of the child became visible, Gilbert realized the youngster’s right arm was missing, the protruding white bone stub testimony to a violent amputation, no doubt during the crash.
“Oh, shit on it.”
The hole increased and the blood-soaked body of a woman followed the boy out of the wreck. She wormed her way out of the car, her blond hair matted to her forehead and cheeks with blood. Her legs were missing. Broken bones and muscles dangled from her hacked torso as she pulled herself free of the car and dropped to the dirty ground. She raised her coal-black eyes and gave Gilbert an angry stare.
“Flipped us over.”
Her coarse rasping voice matched the pain that racked her mutilated body.
“Over and over, like we’d never stop. Sky, earth, sky, earth, sky, earth, on and on…We were trapped in a meat grinder.”
The woman dragged herself toward the old man, leaving a glistening, sticky red smear trailing behind her in the dirt. Between painful movements, she moaned the old man’s name like a hungry vampire waiting for its next bloody fix.
A mix of fear, shock, and disbelief ran through Gilbert’ veins, shackling him to the spot. He looked on in abject terror as the woman inched closer and closer until her bloody fingers skimmed his puke-covered work boots.
Severance walked to the wall of tools and lifted an ax from the hooks. The sharp crescent-shaped metal head showed signs of wear, while its rough pine handle carried the stench of wood, sweat, and oil. He tested its weight, practiced a couple of swings to test its balance and slammed it into the wooden workbench. Splintered fragments of timber flew into the air. He freed the tool from its resting place and nodded in satisfaction.
Transfixed, Gilbert’s eyes never left the gory sight of the legless woman straining to touch him. The boy moved from the car to stand next to his mother and the dog’s snarls hit a fever pitch as it burst out of the torn roof and fell to the floor.
Severance stood in front of Gilbert, the ax resting on his shoulder, his mouth the only part of his face visible under the shadow of the Stetson.
“Say hello to what’s left of my family. We had so many dreams, so many plans, so many…It doesn’t matter now, does it? You destroyed them all. You and your shitty spare parts.
“Tell me something, Harry Gilbert. A re you a religious, God-fearing man? Have you read the Holy Bible? I have.”
Gilbert could feel the heat of Severance’s breath on his skin as he pressed closer, seeking a response to his questioning.
“Do you want to know my favorite passage? It’s Exodus 21:24.
“‘But if there is a serious injury, you are to take a life for a life – an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.’
“Do you know it? In my version, I don’t need your eyes. You’ll need them so you can bear witness to my retribution and your suffering.”
The old man tried to move away but found himself trapped in a corner.
“Oh, sweet Jesus, you’re a fuckin’ madman. You’re crazy.”
The driver grinned and tossed the ax from hand-to-hand before lunging at Gilbert.
“Alright, alright! Wh…what do you want from me? Is it money? I have money. I have a couple of hundred in the office. Take it. Take it and leave, please.”
“Keep your pieces of silver, old man. That’s not why we’re here. Used parts as good as new. At least that’s what the sign says,” said Severance as he blocked Gilbert’s escape.
“An arm for my boy. A couple of legs for my wife, that’s what I want.
“Do you dance, old man? My wife loved dancing. She was a line-dancing champion. She won medals. She danced like an angel.”
Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, Gilbert returned Severance’s stare, his eyes pleading for mercy.
“I’m so sorry for what happened. I didn’t know they would break. How could I?”
In a rash and final act of bravery, the old man pulled the revolver from his pants pocket and pointed it at his assailant.
“Stay there, motherfucker. Stay there, I said or I’ll shoot ya, and them, right between the eyes.”
His right index finger squeezed the trigger. Nothing. He squeezed it again and again. Click…click…click. No more bullets. Dread filled his soul and he dropped to his knees in prayer. Gilbert tried to scream but his throat was as dry as desert sand.
“Please, Mr. Severance. Please don’t kill me. We can work something out.”
Dread creeped over his skin like an ice-cold blanket, leaving him frozen to the spot, his feet set in concrete, his brain numb. Tears ran down his ashen face and tremors wracked his body. Standing before the old man, Severance’s mouth formed a sadistic grin, his maniacal laughter an explosion of joyous revenge.
“It’s too late for prayers, Gilbert. Before long you’ll be begging for death’s warm embrace to end your suffering and agony.”
Severance raised the ax high above his head.
“Hand for hand, foot for foot…”
The ax crashed down, chopping and cutting through the old man’s flesh. Gilbert stared with wide, shocked eyes as bloodcurdling screams of agonizing despair echoed around the shed, punctuated by the sound of metal on meat and bone. A smile of retribution played across Severance’s face as he worked.
“God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform…”
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