I have spent years chasing the tail of my darkness. Trying to atone for the sins of my past. Doing whatever I can to not be remembered only for the worst thing I’d ever done.
I had never been what was known as a ‘good boy’ growing up. I always had a fascination with books and learning, but when you come from a family of outlaws there is a tendency to become one yourself.
Mother was a harsh and exacting woman, and for that reason my siblings and I stayed as far from that house as possible growing up. This was probably the only good example ever set by my father, Patton; who left the woman when I was still quite young and did not return to her even after several stints in prison.
Now I do not mean to paint a negative picture of my father, he is not an inherently bad man. Like myself, he was born into this life of crime. The Grady clan has been living, and doing the family’s business, in the mountains of Appalachia in central West Virginia for more generations than any can now recall. And for all that time the family has never been on the right side of the law. But even if my father is a violent, gun-toting, drug runner, who demands payments for ‘protection’, and has a taste for illegal whiskey and women of the night; he is also a man of his word.
Funny as it may sound, but in this overly litigious world we now find ourselves, the word of a man like my father is still as strong as oak. So maybe you will understand that my father could not simply let it pass when Harlowe Bennet set up his little poker house in our very own town of Cowen, and forgot to cut my father in for a piece of the action.
Now this was no mere oversight on Harlowe’s behalf, the Bennet’s had long been a member of our little community and they knew to whom the tolls must be paid. However, with my father finding himself once again as a guest of the great state of West Virginia’s correctional department, and the responsibility for the running of the family business having fallen to my older brother Bo; it was I, who had just come of age, that was sent to remind Mr. Bennet of his obligations.
There was a look of surprise on Harlowe’s face, a look that was shared by the faces of the three men still playing poker in that early morning hour,as I kicked the door in, and held them at gunpoint. They handed over the money quickly enough, and with no objections. The three men at the table sat speechless, from the looks of them they were coal miners, probably just looking for entertainment on a Saturday night. Harlowe was a hard man though, much like my father, and objected to my presence in his house; even going so far as to tell me there would be retribution no matter the cost.
I could not tell you why my trigger finger began to itch the way it did; maybe it was Harlowe’s impertinent attitude, or maybe it was just some darkness that had always been in me. When my anger finally subsided the three men at the table along with Harlowe Bennet all laid dead at my feet; their blood pooling on the battered wooden floors, the thick smoke from the shots, and the smell of burnt gunpowder clinging to the air. The silence that now filled the small room in the back of the beaten down old house on the outskirts of town was matched only by the calmness that filled me. Never in my life had I felt that kind of peace, right down to my very core.
In the past I’ve wondered if it was a mistake to leave the boy who hid behind those dingy yellow curtains alive. I find myself wondering that same thing now, as I stand outside the same house all these years later. For now, it is Harley Bennet who has taken it upon himself to resume his father’s weekly poker game, and even though cleaning up this kind of mess is no longer something that falls to me, I cannot help but feel the deep burning desire to finish what I started.
written for: The Speakeasy – 145