Published on Tuesday, May 27, 2014
By Lela Marie De La Garza
Carson finished his breakfast of eggs, ham, biscuits and his grandmother's good coffee. "That was great," he told her.
"Thank you, m'love." And she whirled, a ball of energy, clearing the table and stacking the dishes. Grand was almost eighty and no bigger than a minute, but she was quick and strong, and her cheerful calm had brightened what could have been a sad and lonely time for Carson.
His father had been shot in a range war by John Jacobson —known mostly as "J.J." Soon after his mother had killed herself, though not with a rope or a knife. She'd simply lain down, closed her eyes and refused to eat, no matter what Carson or the doctor or the minister could say. When Carson saw how she was wasting away, he'd wired his grandmother to come. But St. Marble and Richton were far apart, and Grand got there only in time to see her daughter die. Carson was sixteen years old.
He sank into deep gloom after that, but Grand didn't try to talk him out of it. "It's right and proper than you should grieve," she said. "But mourning doesn't last forever."
"J.J. killed my ma, just as surely as he killed my father," Carson told her. "One day I'll catch up with him, and when I do, I'll put a bullet through him."
"It's natural you should feel that way," Grand told him. "But sometimes revenge doesn't turn out the way you think it will."
He didn't know what that meant, but it didn't matter; Carson was just glad to have her there. She'd stayed with him for six years and never talked about going back to St. Marble.
Carson was good with a rifle, but he'd never used a pistol. He got one and started practicing in the woods till he could single out a leaf and bring it down with one shot. He set up a makeshift target and was able to pierce the center nine times out of ten. Now Carson was ready.
He'd heard that J.J. was back in Richton. It was time for payback. Grand had been right —mourning hadn't lasted forever. But his thirst for revenge was as strong as ever.
Carson didn't tell Grand what he was planning to do. But as he was going out the door, he heard her say "I hope you find him." Not "I hope you kill him."
Well, he would find J.J. And kill him. Carson remembered his father's strong arms as he swung the little boy to his shoulder. He remembered his mother's voice, singing as she worked. She'd been a lot like Grand. Anger swelled in Carson like a wave. His fingers dropped to his holster, caressing the leather.
Suddenly he saw J.J. — or what looked like him — leaning against a building, propped up by crutches. As he drew closer, he saw that one of J.J.'s legs was gone below the knee. He wore a black patch over one eye, and a deep red scar ran across the middle of his forehead. This wasn't at all what Carson had expected. In a voice that did not quite tremble, he announced "You killed my father."
One bleary eye looked at him. "Maybe I did. Seems like I killed a lot of people. I don't remember too good any more. I was on the old Dixie Southbound when the boiler blew up, and she went off the rails. I lost my left leg and my right eye, and most of my brains." He chuckled. "I can't draw down on you no more, but I can stand here and let you shoot me, if you've a mind to."
Carson's anger was gone. There was nothing to turn it against any more. He took out his gun and looked at it and thought about just dropping it in the dust. But he changed his mind. He might need a gun some day; just... not now.
"I don't remember killing your pa," J.J. said. "But if I did, I'm sorry." There was nothing for Carson to say. He turned and walk away from what was left of the man who used to be John Jacobson.
As Carson opened the door and stepped inside, Grand said "You found him." He nodded. "But you didn't kill him." Carson didn't know how she'd known that all along, but she had.
"No," he said slowly. "I was going to give him what he deserved, but... I found out he had it already."