Killing Victor wasn’t my idea, but I went along with the other guys because I didn’t have anything better to do that night.
We drove to his family’s three-bedroom brick ranch house at the end of East Elm, where the pavement ended at a dry creek bed. A flood three springs earlier had decimated the wooden bridge that had stood there for generations and had washed most of it into the next county. Rather than spend money on a new bridge, the town had renamed the bisected road East Elm and West Elm. The people in town were like that, taking the easy way out every time they were confronted with a problem.
Eddie parked his Bondo-patched Grand Prix in the gravel drive and the four of us walked across the scraggly lawn to the house. The front porch, little more than a bit of concrete painted barn red, was only large enough for one, so Sam stepped up and rang the bell.
Victor’s mother answered. She’d birthed Victor late in life and was substantially older than our parents, nearly old enough to be our grandmother. As soon as she opened the door and saw the four of us gathered on the front walk, she called over her shoulder. “Victor! Your friends are here.”
Victor made his way to the door from somewhere in the back of the house and stood inside the screen staring at us. “What do you want?”
“We want you to come out,” Eddie said.
“I have homework.”
“So what? We all do.”
“Your homework can wait,” Victor’s mother told him. “Go with your friends.”
She handed him a dirty pair of sneakers and he slipped them on before joining us on the front walk.
Sam clapped him on the back. “Let’s go for a ride.”
Victor glanced over his shoulder. His mother was still standing in the open doorway. She said, “I’ll bake cookies for later.”
“Chocolate chip,” he told her.
Then he followed us to the car and climbed in the back seat. Sam sat on one side of Victor, Dave sat on the other, Eddie drove, and I sat in the front passenger seat toying with the radio until I finally found a station we could all tolerate.
We were still listening to that station when we reached Carson’s Field south of town. The five of us piled out of the Grand Prix, and Dave broke open a pack of unfiltered Camel’s. We smoked then, and I tried not to contemplate what was about to happen. Before long we stood in a loose circle around Victor.
“We seen you with Edna Walsh the other night,” Eddie said after a bit.
“Yeah?” Victor shrugged. “So?”
“So she’s with Johnny Redmond.”
“He don’t like nobody messing with his girl.”
Victor looked around. “So why don’t he tell me his own self?”
“He’s up to the hospital with her right now,” Sam explained. “We know what you done to her.”
Victor dropped the butt of his Camel and ground it into the dirt with the toe of his sneaker. “What’d I do?”
Somebody had made Edna a woman against her will, and she’d been busted up good in the doing. Maybe Victor knew; maybe he didn’t.
Eddie swung first, clipping Victor’s jaw and snapping his head to the side.
He tried to fight back but he was outnumbered. By the time Eddie took a Louisville Slugger from the trunk of his car, Victor had stopped defending himself. We left him lying in the field and drove away.
Victor never made it home to his mother’s chocolate chip cookies. He only made it as far as the road. Some eighth-grader bicycling into town found him the next morning.
Two days later the sheriff arrested Johnny Redmond for what had been done to Edna Walsh. After searching Eddie’s car and finding the Louisville Slugger, he arrested the four of us for what had been done to Victor.
I never hit Victor. Not once. Maybe I could have stopped the other guys, maybe I could have built the bridge, but I didn’t.
Michael Bracken has written several novels, but is better known as the author of more than 1,100 short stories published in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and many other anthologies and periodicals. He lives and writes in Texas.
Copyright © 2015 Michael Bracken. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.