Monday, October 24, 2011

I Couldn't Do It

First published at Apollo's Lyre (2011) - read editor interview

I stood over Virgil waiting for him to stop hyperventilating into my lunch bag. He didn't seem to mind the smell of the Swiss cheese and horseradish sandwich. Or maybe he was too inebriated to notice.

"It wasn't my fault," he said. His eyes were teary, but that could have been the booze. "This raccoon came running out of the shadows and distracted me."

I didn't know if the raccoon was real or not, but the beer puddling on the front passenger seat of Virgil's pickup was. Franklin Forbes' dead body lay a few feet away, his legs and arms splayed on the ground like a prone scarecrow. I'd noticed blood on the front of the grill as I pulled up to where Virgil's truck had collided with Franklin's bicycle. A piece of cloth that looked like the shirt Franklin wore hung from the tip of one of the cattle horns mounted on the front of Virgil's truck. The bicycle lay crippled a few feet away, its wheels twisted, spokes broken. It didn't take much in the way of brains to connect the dots.

"I guess it's just coincidence that the man you hated most in town ended up bouncing off the grill of your pickup," I said.

Everybody knew Virgil had a drinking problem and shouldn't be driving. Everyone except him and his Uncle Walter, the town justice.

I rolled the toothpick from one side of my mouth to the other and stared down at Virgil's slumped body. If Franklin was Virgil's biggest enemy, I was second on the list, ever since he hit my son Jacob and put him in a wheelchair.

Virgil squinted up at me. I'd purposely stood so the morning sun was at my back. Served the bastard right.

"Nasty cut you got on your arm," I said.

Blood dripped from his fingers, and his leg lay in an awkward position. He lifted his hand and his face paled.

"Jesus, you gotta call for help, Bob." His arm fell limp. "My phone's dead." He tried to stand up, but when he put weight on his leg, the bone snapped clean through. He screamed, grabbed his leg with both hands, and plopped back to the ground. I should have felt sorry for him. I didn't.

"Come on, Bob. Make the call."

I stayed where I was, thinking. If I didn't call for help, Virgil would probably bleed out and die, or starve to death. If I did call, and they saved his miserable life, odds were he'd kill someone else, maybe with his daddy's yacht next time, or at least that's what they called the sorry excuse for a boat they owned. I had to make a choice between the churchly thing to do and the fatherly thing. I looked from Virgil to Franklin to the bicycle and the cloth dangling from the horns.

I turned and walked away, ignoring his pleas, opened the door to my Camaro and climbed in. I squeezed the steering wheel with both hands and pounded my head against the leather covering. Jacob's face appeared when I closed my eyes. Remembering what he said about forgiving Virgil, how he'd seen the pain in the boy's eyes at the trial, I grabbed my phone and dialed 911. That bastard Virgil deserved to die, but not like this.

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