Flint Ranch, 2004 – pt. 3

“Hey, boss,” Matt said when he glanced up from the saddle rack. “We didn’t expect to see you until the new year!”

“I’m sorry to disappoint,” Thatch said.

“Not at all, Doc.” Matt glanced over the saddle he was polishing. The job was patchy and uneven. Despite an unerring enthusiasm for everything he did, the results were sloppy and haphazard. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

To whom, you mean.”

“Huh? To who?”

To whom.”

Matt chuckled. Wiggling his hands, he said mockingly, “To whom, then?”

Thatch took the saddle from the rack and placed it farther away. Matt furrowed his brow with a confused smile.

“To Karyn,” Thatch answered, turning back. Matt’s smile disappeared. “And Joy… and Natalie.”

“I never touched Natalie,” Matt said in a small voice.

“No, it takes a special kind of fucked-up to touch such a small child.”

Matt blanched. He nodded deeply.

“But a well-developed thirteen-year-old…”

“It was Jason!”

Thatch barked a laugh. “You know, he said the exact same thing about you.”

Matt stepped back with his hands raised. He checked the distance to each door. “Doc–Doctor Adams, please believe me, it was a one-time thing. I made a mistake.”

Thatch tilted his head. “And Joy?”

Matt shot toward the back door. Thatch caught him before he could reach the open air and knocked him to the floor. Grabbing the boy’s hair, he slammed the back of his head against the floor.

“No!” Matt screamed. “Help!”

He raised his hands to shield his face. Thatch pulled them down and pinned them to his chest. He punched the boy as hard as he could until he stopped struggling to pull his hands free. Thatch proceeded with both hands until blood obscured Matt’s features and the body underneath him stopped writhing.

Thatch panted, catching his breath, then stood. He grabbed a stiff rope and pulled out the stable’s Clydesdale. Bucky towered over Thatch’s six-foot frame. The man moved around him, murmuring to him like an old friend as he secured his saddle.  Thatch cringed, but he was intentionally sloppy with the job, just as Matt would have been.

Matt lurched, sputtering blood. He flopped his arms, attempting to roll over. Thatch looped the reins around a post. Sitting on the boy’s chest, he turned his head from side-to-side. His skull was crushed in several places. No wonder the boy could not move.

“I know this is going to be uncomfortable,” Thatch said, winding the rope around Matt’s arm, “but there’s nothing else to be done.” He stood and secured the other end of the rope to the saddle. “But trust me,” he assured Bucky, taking the horse’s face in his hands, “he deserves it.”

Thatch kissed Bucky’s nose and walked him to the door. He clicked his tongue loudly. Bucky took off with surprising speed for his size. The rope pulled taut, and the body flew out of the barn, leaving a trail of blood. Bucky and Matt disappeared over a hill. High-pitched screams followed them.

“Well,” Thatch chuckled, “he wasn’t brain-dead after all!”

A smile played on his lips as the screams faded. He felt calmer than he had for several months. He inspected the lesions on his knuckles. At home, he could explain them away with a punching bag. Here, he might be able to get away by wearing gloves. It was, after all, only eight degrees and threatening to snow.

The dapple on his right snorted. Thatch glanced to ensure she was OK, then jerked his head back up. A girl stood by the horse, her arm up, hugging its throat.

“Karyn…” he breathed. He swung his head around, searching for other witnesses, but only horses gazed at him. Horses and Karyn.

“I’m sorry,” she said, sounding more shy than scared. She stroked the horse’s nose, then stepped out of the stall. Her boots and jeans were appropriate for the weather, but her puffy winter jacket was half-zipped, revealing a low-cut shirt struggling to contain her well-developed breasts.

Thatch’s throat tightened. His hands shook. He had never hesitated to kill a witness, but this was a child. Despite her womanly curves, still a child.

“What… what are you doing here?” he asked. “Did Matt know you were here?”

She shook her head and dropped her eyes. She tugged at the seam of her jeans. “I come here sometimes,” she said in a small voice, “to get away. Whe–When Matt caught me, he threatened to tell you. He said you would cut me from the program.”

(Children are so easily manipulated.) “No,” Thatch said, “that would never happen. You don’t have to worry about Matt anymore.”

Karyn sniffled. She eyed the pool of blood on the floor and the trail Bucky had left behind. Thatch took a deep breath. He stepped toward her and placed a hand under her chin. He spoke calmly and evenly.

“Listen, Karyn… it’s very important no one learns of what happened here. I murdered that boy. No matter what he did, I would go to jail for a very long time; You would be your mother’s age by the time I get out.”

Karyn met his eyes and nodded.

“You have to say,” Thatch continued, “that I confronted him–just as I did, exact same words–and when I went to call the police, he stole Bucky and ran. Can you do that for me?”

She nodded again. “I didn’t mean to make any trouble, but Ginny said there would be other girls, and I’m the oldest one in the program…” Her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh…” He hated it when they cried. Putting an arm around her shoulder, he steered her to a bench. “Look at me, Karyn…”

She met his eyes for a moment, then lowered her head until her hair hid her face. Her shoulders shook. “You have no idea what it’s like,” she whimpered.

“Yes, I do,” he said in a low voice. He brushed back her hair, revealing several round burn scars marring the skin along her neck and shoulder, leading under her shirt. She shrugged away, turning to him with hard, skeptical eyes.

“How?” she demanded.

“Look,” he said. Holding up his hand, he held out his fingers. His middle finger would not straighten as much as the others. Her mouth opened slightly. Tears began to stream down her face. Thatch wrapped his arms around her and pulled her head against his chest. “I want you to know,” he whispered the words he had once desperately needed to hear, “that none of this is your fault. You didn’t want it. You didn’t ask for it–or mean it, if you did. Even if”–He choked on his words for a moment–“even if you enjoyed the attention, or if it felt good, those things are still not–your–fault.

When her shoulders stopped shaking and her sobs subsided, Karyn rested her head on his shoulder.

“Dr. Adams,” she asked, “did you know Jason was doing it too? He was… I think he got Matt into it.”

“I’ve already taken care of Jason.”

He was surprised when she smiled. “What did you do to him?”

“Don’t concern yourself with that.”

They sat in silence for several minutes. He felt pressure on his knee. Looking down, he found her small hand drifting up his leg.

“Woah!” He jumped up, shaking her off. “No,” he said, softening his voice. He knelt in front of her and clasped her hands. “I know you’re upset right now, but this is not going to make you forget. It’s not going to make you feel better. It can only make things worse.” She tilted her head skeptically. “I know it doesn’t seem like it, or feel like it, but trust me. Please trust me; I’ve been there.”

Karyn flushed and hung her head again. She slid her hands out of his and between her knees. She wanted contact, so he gave it to her in the least sexual way possible: He stroked her shin reassuringly.

Approaching hooves announced Ginny’s return. She gave him a sharp nod as she guided her horse to its stall. She eyed the pool of blood on the floor, then grabbed a bag of sphag and poured it over the mess.

“I need to go in and call the police. They might want to speak with you,” Thatch said to Karyn. “Do you remember what you should say?”

“Exactly what happened, then when you went to make the call, he stole Bucky.” She glanced at Ginny. A smile played on the woman’s lips, but she busied herself with concealing the mess on the floor. “It’s probably best if you didn’t find out I was here.”

Thatch looked at her with awe. “Yes, that sounds like a good idea.” He patted her hands. “You’re very clever.”

She raised her head with a smug smile. Thatch returned her smile as he rose, then turned to Ginny. “How long will you need.”

Ginny glanced him over. “You need to clean up,” she replied.

Looking down, Thatch discovered his clothes and hands were covered with blood splatter. His face was probably covered at well. He glanced back at Karyn with surprise. How effective could a pep talk be if one is covered in blood? But the girl did not seem phased by it.

“Go,” Ginny said, nodding toward the house. “Clean up, call. This will be gone by the time anyone arrives.”

 

For more, read COLOSSUS, now available as a Kindle eBook on Amazon!

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