Cooper Ross rolled off the old sagging couch and onto the floor. Quick and quiet. He closed his eyes again and listened to the ringing silence.
Nothing…but he’d heard something though, he was sure of it.
His chin rested on a thread bare carpet that still carried the stale smell of all the wild ass parties, back in the day. Russell, his older brother, had always called this trailer the house of the rising sun. The ruin of many a poor boy and all that, he thought absently. Oh yeah, it had been all of that and more.
The booze, drugs and girls were long gone now. The blaring music and smoke so thick it was like a London fog. All of that, was just a memory. What was left was this, but Ross would tell you himself that this is pretty much how he expected his life to roll. Live hard and fast for as long as you can, then cash out.
He stared straight ahead through the blackness of the narrow kitchen and down the tight little hallway leading to the bedroom. The only light in the whole trailer was the low flicker of the small t.v. back there.
Reaching up to the top of the scarred coffee table, his hand moved slow and blind until he felt the familiar matte grip. Bringing the gun down, he fingered the safety off and leveled it on the door.
And there it was. Very faint. A slow, careful step on the loose boards of the rotting wood deck.
“Coop?” A quiet muffled voice came from the other side of the door.
His gun dropped an inch. It couldn’t be him, but it was. Shit, what was he doing? Coop’s mind raced to keep up with his heart. He didn’t answer.
The locked door knob protested with a small squeak. “Coop,” the whisper came again. “It’s me…its Lester.”
Ross pushed himself up to his feet in one quick motion and moved to the side of the front window. He hadn’t seen or heard from Lester Albritton for a week now.
Not since the meth deal went to shit and he’d shot that fucker Billy Hundley right between his weasel ass eyes. Over in Angelina County. Six long days ago.
Lester had just been along for the ride that night but he saw the whole thing go down. Saw Hundley raise his gun, saw Ross raise his quicker and fire three shots. Three shots that didn’t miss. Hundley managed only one wild shot and it had zipped into the dirt about five feet in front of Lester.
With eyes and mouth wide open, Les had frozen like a statue and he’d still be standing there if Ross wouldn’t have drug his crazy ass out of there that night.
Peeking through a ratty drape Cooper saw nothing but darkness and deep shadows. The piney woods were pitch black except for a little light of a quarter moon that filtered in through the trees.
Dropping down under the window, he crab-walked along the wall to the door.
“You alone right?” His voice was low and threatening.
“Course I’m alone Coop.”
Ross reached for the deadbolt but his hand froze. “Lester…you listen to me now. You’ll be the first I put down if you ain’t alone. Swear I will.”
“Well, I been alone my whole life Coop.” He thought Lester’s face probably had the same loopy grin he always wore but the heavy sadness in his voice was clear as a Sunday morning.
Cooper Ross was all out of heart and compassion. That cupboard had been empty a long, long time. Nothing and no one meant anything to him. Except for that is, the goofy grinning fool on the porch right now. For as bad as he treated Les, there was always something else there that he couldn’t explain. Something half-ass decent.
So he stared at the floor and turned the deadbolt lever, while his inner voice screamed no. Backing away, he kept the gun up. “C’mon then.”
The thin door squeaked open and the dark form of Lester rose up from a crouch. He was five foot nothing and probably went about one-twenty.
“Hey Coop... he raised a hand in greeting but didn’t walk forward.”
“Get in here dammit and shut the door.”
Lester did as he was told. “I thought you was in the bedrr…bedroom watchin’ the t.v. so I tapped on that winder back there a few times.”
“I couldn’t sleep in there, too hot.”
“You didn’t…you didn’t come to the bedroom winder though.”
Coop sighed and shook his head. “Nope, I was in the living room.”
Ross had always thought of Albritton as an idiot, but a damn useful one. He’d always been slow mentally but the way Les had of shuffling when he walked and the stammering, garbled talk made people turn away. At the end of the day though, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for Cooper Ross.
Probably as a way to belong and survive, Les had started tagging along behind Cooper way back in junior high. Tagging along from a distance too, because even as a ninth grader, Ross had a dangerous way about him.
Cooper soon recognized the worship and loyalty. Took him awhile to see the real value of that, but he finally did. So he took advantage of it, like he did with everything and everyone else in his life.
In return, through the years, Ross only had to put up with conversations like this and occasionally protect the stupid fuck from the rest of east Texas.
“Look Les, Dean and Justin Hundley are coming here for me sooner or later.”
“Yessir, I expect so.”
“They want my ass for shooting that cheatin’, dumbass nephew of theirs. But they want the money I took that night just as bad. We talked about this already.”
Ross could almost hear the gears of Lester’s mind rehashing all of this.
“You being here is dangerous. Soon as they find about this old trailer, they’ll be here. That’s why I told you to stay put until I called you.”
“I gotcha, I see what you mean. You was always a sharp tack Coop.”
“They want payback and the killing is gonna happen Les. Only a matter of time. If I’m lucky, I’ll be the one doing the killin’.”
“I’ll help you Coop, you kn-know I will.”
“Now you listen up Lester. I don’t want you hanging around here. You’re going against what we agreed on.”
“We’re layin’ low. I said that I’d contact you, not the other way around.”
There was silence from the dark form of Lester as he processed that too.
“Right. That’s what we said.” Lester’s voice held some confusion and a little fear.
“A plan is a plan, remember Les?”
“Yessir. A plan is a plan.”
Stop agreeing with me you little fuck.” Cooper hissed. “What’re you doing here?”
“Well, I’m, I’m scared about all a this…but I came anyway.”
“Les, you got to get back to your Grandpa’s place.” Ross went to the side of the window again and peeked through the drape. “I’ll call you. Promise.”
“I don’t much like anybody ‘cause they don’t like me. I always liked you though Coop. Hangin’ around with you is the best there is. You always did right by me.”
“Les, you can’t stay here man.”
“Oh no sir, I wouldn’t bother you with stayin’ here an all. But when you called, well, I was g-gonna come no matter what.” Les grinned big. “Scared or not.”
“Les, you gotta go. Right the fuck now and …wait. What’d you say?”
“Scared or not I was gonna come.” Les frowned and his eyebrows came together. “You mean me saying that?”
“No, no, did you say I called you?” Ross took a step closer to Les.
“Yessir, around noonday. You said to come see you tonight. Said you needed me. Said to walk it.” He smiled again and Ross could see his teeth, even in the dark.
Ross looked back out through the drapes. “Shit.”
“You ‘member calling me don’t you Coop?”
“Shit. Did you park where we used to? Down in the ravine?”
“No sir, I walked it in like you said. All, all the way. Took me forever and a day. Not much moon neither. Nobody followed me.” He shook his head. “Made sure a that.”
“Les, that wasn’t me that called you. And you did get followed.”
Ross went back to the couch, dropped to a knee and reached under it. He clunked an old Remington double barreled twelve gauge down on the coffee table and headed for the front door.
“I’m gonna give you that shotgun. You’re bound to hit something. Only time I ever saw you shoot a pistol, the beer can didn’t have anything to worry about.”
“Coop, what did I do?” Les was confused and his voice was shaky. He sat down on the old couch and started to reach for the shotgun then drew his hand back.
Ross bolted the door and snuck another look outside. “Not your fault man, they just tricked you is all. Wished I still had my truck, we could try to make a run.” He peeked between the drapes once more.
“I just wanted to help you Coop. Don’t know what I’d do without you around.”
“I know Les.” Ross was sure he’d seen at least two shadows moving out there just now. “It’ll be alright now. Don’t you worry.”
Ross came over to the coffee table, opened the breach and felt for the two shells in the dark even though he knew it was loaded. He handed it to Les. It wasn’t going to be alright, but there wasn’t any sense in scaring Les more than he was already.
“You keep that thing pointed square at the door. Pull the trigger when I tell you.”
Ross went to the tiny kitchen and sat on a folding chair. Pistol in hand he looked at the door and then back over at Les. It was then that he smelled it and thought he could even see a thin wisp of smoke curling up the wall, from behind the couch.
He got up slow and walked behind the couch. Les watched him with big round eyes and his left foot was tapping a quick beat. He put a hand on the thin shoulder of Les and felt the shake. Ross gave him a soft pat. The heat was already coming through the wall.
“You’re not going to leave are you Coop?”
“No, no. I ain’t goin’ nowhere. It’s you and me Les, we’re partnered up. You keep watchin’ that door now Les. We’ll see this thing through to the other side”
Outside the two Hundley brothers along with Kevin Lees who they had brought with them, were hunkered down and waiting. The fire they’d set in the back of the old trailer was already snaking up the rotting wood wall and licking the roof.
A moment later, the first gunshot split the quiet night and made them jump. Lees, who was by himself watching the two windows in the back, almost fired on reflex.
The three kept watching and waiting, eager for Ross and the little crazy fuck to come stumbling out. The fire grew, reaching for the dark sky.
Ten more minutes passed and the small trailer was almost fully engulfed.
“Your money is burning real good boys!” From inside the trailer, the yell from Ross was defiant and taunting… “And fuck y’all too.”
A second shot from inside the flames came a half minute later.