Linus steered the boat through the narrow canals until he found the main channel and turned the boat upstream. As he entered the main channel of the river, he twisted the throttle open and the boat came up onto plane smoothly. Leaning back, he put a foot up and got comfortable for the ride back to the house.
Just west of Little Turkey Island the Suwannee twists back and forth in a couple of sharp switchbacks. One of these is particularly tight and it was here, rounding the point of the sharp bend in the river, Linus sat up abruptly. There were two boats ahead, one sitting on either side of the river and he recognized one of them from this morning.
When the men in the boats saw Linus, their boats began to move as a member of each vessel rose to their feet, shouldering their long guns. Linus looked around and found a flaw in the ambush these rednecks had planned. There was small creek dumping into the river on the south side. Linus jerked the tiller on the outboard and the boat swung around to face it. He opened the throttle as the first shot was fired.
Linus raced the boat into the small drainage pouring into the river. He could hear the motors of the boats behind him and the men shouting to one another. He pushed the small boat as fast as it would go up the ever-narrowing channel. Once the gunnels of the boat were rubbing on either side, Linus killed the outboard and bailed over the side of the boat, carbine in hand.
The water wasn’t deep, but the muck, well, that was a different story. Linus sank to his waist in the thick foul mud. Thick as pudding and with the odor of decay only something that’s spent too long in a colon can create, the muck sucked at his legs as he tried to cover to the couple of feet to a cypress tree. The other two boats were coming down the small channel, one in line with the other.
Gripping a submerged cypress knee, Linus pulled himself to the trunk of the tree and brought the rifle up. The lead boat held the same two men he’d seen earlier that morning. He could see the face of the man with the shotgun, his eyes still red and angry looking. He held onto a small rope tied to the bow of the boat to steady himself.
Linus licked his lips, flipped the selector to fire and took aim. He fired one shot. It looked like the man lost his balance and simply fell backwards into the boat. The man driving looked down at his partner, confusion painted on his face. Linus switched his attention to the driver, his head turned slightly down and looking into the bottom of the boat. Squeezing the trigger, the round hit the man in the forehead where it met his hairline. It looked like the top of skull simply popped off in response to excessive internal pressure and the man fell backwards over the stern and into the black water.
With no hand holding the throttle open, the boat lurched as speed bled away from it. It coasted slowly to bump into the stern of Linus’s boat. The second boat had stopped and was sitting in the narrow, confining channel. There was no way they could turn their boat around. The only way to get the boats out was to reverse them back towards the main channel where it opened up wide enough to conduct the maneuver.
Linus could see the two men, both standing in the boat trying to figure out what in the hell was going on. Linus took aim at the man in the rear. He had one hand on the tiller as the boat bobbed in its own wake. They were farther away, and he didn’t attempt a head shot. Instead, he settled on center mass and squeezed a shot off.
The bullet struck the man in the chest. But he didn’t go over. All he did was jump a little and look down. Then he fell back onto his seat as he said something to the other man, who looked back and immediately started to fire wildly. His shooting was panicked and un-aimed. Linus took a moment to get a good sight picture before squeezing the trigger again just as the boat started to slowly move backwards.
The shot he fired found its mark. The man dropped the rifle, a Marlin Camp Carbine from the looks of it, and it splashed into the river. The man immediately fell onto his ass as he clawed at this abdomen. Linus watched the men, holding fire as the boat slowly reversed out towards the river. He watched the boat until he could no longer see it from his position in the water behind the tree.
Linus looked nervously at the other side of the creek. If it was him, he’d have pulled back, flanked and closed in to kill him. The sound of the outboard idling just out of his line of vision told him they hadn’t gone far. Cautiously he reached out and pulled his boat over.
He ended up having to climb onto some of the submerged knees to finally flop into the boat. “Shit!” he shouted as he rolled over and sat up, looking down the channel. Seeing nothing, he took stock of himself.
“I smell like the last shithouse at Bonnaroo!” He shouted as he stood up and tried to wipe some of the putrid mud from his legs. But the stench was powerful, and he had to straighten up to get an uncontaminated breath. “Fuck!”
But there was still business at hand. He started the outboard back up and eased it into reverse. Twisting the throttle, the small motor raced, but the boat didn’t move. Linus looked down into the boil of exhaust coming from the small engine and cursed. “Son of a bitch!”
He reached back and levered the motor out of the water and leaned out to give the prop a spin. It turned freely, and he cursed again, “Mother fuckin’ broke dick piece of shit!” He shouted at the realization the sheer pin on the motor’s prop had indeed, sheered.
Bitching loudly, he began kicking and tossing things around in the boat until he came to a small plastic tool box. Opening it, he took out a ratchet with a socket already attached and short metal pin of stainless steel. He looked at the pin and the ratchet, then at the water. “Son of a bitch,” he moaned as the realization hit him that he was going to have to go back into that rotting stew.
Shoulders slumping, he shook his head and put the little pin in his mouth. Gripping the ratchet with white knuckles, he hopped over the side, once again sinking to his hips. Instead of trying to walk back to the foot of the motor, he pushed the boat along until it was right in front of him and went to work changing the small pin.
Years on the river had taught him a valuable lesson about outboards and sheer pins. Mainly, to always, always have a spare. Or two. In the boat. In the Before, a sheered pin meant waiting in embarrassment until another boat happened along and could tow you out of your spot. On one occasion, Linus had helped another man out when he’d done the same thing. Fortunately, the two men were running the same model, just different years of make, and the pin had fit. Today, waiting for help was a risky proposition as Linus now knew all too well.
It only took a few minutes to change the part and he was soon heaving himself out of the stinking filth and back into his boat. He didn’t waste time bitching about it this time around. Opting instead to get the boat started and reversing out of the channel. He had to push the other boat along as he went. There simply wasn’t room to get past it. Being so close, he studied the dead man lying splayed out on its deck.
He took the sight in, thinking how long it’d been since he’d seen it. A dead man, laid out before him. He’d seen it plenty of times before. But it was generally in some hellish desert and the man was Taliban, or some poor farmer threatened by the Taliban to take up a rifle. But this man wasn’t Taliban. He was just an asshole that made poor life decisions.
Linus snorted and spit into the river. “Some lessons got to be learned the hard way,” he said. Adding, “Bet this one sticks.”
As soon as he’d moved only a short distance, he saw the other boat as well. It sat idling in the center of the channel. Here, the narrow waterway was just wide enough that he was able to push the first boat out to the side and slip past it. As he came along side of the second one, he paused to look in. Both men were dead and the bottom of the boat sloshed blood back and forth as he made his way past it.
The first man he’d shot, the driver, still sat on the small bench seat. He’d slumped forward and was held up by his ample beer belly. Blood covered the front of his shirt and long sticky tentacles of dark red matter swung from his mouth. The other man, in the front of the boat, had fell off his seat and was lying in the sloshing gore mixed with river water and floating beer cans in the bottom of the boat.
The man’s eyes were open, looking up into a clear sky and his mouth hung open as well. Thick froths of blood had accumulated around his mouth and it was obvious the lung shot he’d suffered had done its job. Linus thought about that for a moment as he passed the boat and tried to turn it around, just how like killing a man is much the same as killing a deer.
He left the boats idling in the small creek. Their gray exhaust creating a cloud that drifted over the surface of the water in the early morning. The little outboards would run until the gas ran out and then sit there. Buzzards and other animals that preyed on carrion would see to them.
Linus pictured what the boats would like in a couple of days. They’d be covered in buzzard shit. The birds would roost on the cowl of the motor and coat it with their droppings. Other animals would be drawn to the smell and he wondered if a gator would manage to succeed at getting into one of them. That caused a morbid smile to cut his face, thinking of a gator rolling in the bottom of the boat ripping off chunks small enough to swallow.
Coming out to the main channel of the river once again, Linus looked around. He was alone, and it was quiet. He couldn’t hear the two outboards back in the creek now. It was quiet, and the river looked like a sheet of glass laid out before him. The fetid smell wafting off him was the only thing to disturb the moment. Linus loved being on the river. But right now, he had to get moving or he was going to puke.
Linus sat back and kept the boat moving ahead with full throttle. He wasn’t going to be stopping at the cabin this time. He wanted to get home and take a shower. His days of having to live in filth were over and if there was any way to get clean at the end of the day, he was going to exercise it.
The boat bumped into the dock behind his house as the sun began to set. Linus hauled his tired ass out of the boat and onto it. He removed the supplies he’d gone after and set them on the dock before going up to the house for the cart. Everything was unceremoniously piled into it and hauled up to the house where he pushed the cart into the garage. He made a quick check of the home’s perimeter to insure it hadn’t been tampered with before unlocking the door and going in.
Linus stood in the laundry room and stripped down. He emptied the pockets of the filthy clothes and dumped them directly into the washer before closing the lid and turning it on. Carrying his rifle and thermos into the house, he deposited them on the kitchen table before walking to the shower naked.
After a long hot shower Linus toweled off and wrapped it around his waist. He walked back to the kitchen and took a beer from the fridge. He sipped the beer as he opened a can of beef stew, he was just too damn tired to cook. Leaving the stew to heat, he carried the beer to the bedroom and reemerged in shorts and a t-shirt with the screaming eagle of the 101st on it. His thin legs practically glowed in the dark hallway as he made his way back to the kitchen on bare feet.
Not bothering to pour the stew into a bowl, he dropped a spoon into it, grabbed another beer and headed for the comm shack. Linus spent the evening listening to broadcasts from around the world. Propagation was good, and he was able to pick up a wide variety of conversations. Some were domestic, some international. And nearly all the news was bad.
After finishing the stew, and returning to the fridge for another beer, he sat down to clean his weapons. The rifle had been fired. The pistol had taken a swim with him in that putrid soup on the river. The pistol was the worse in his mind. He held it at arm’s length, giving it a disapproving, almost suspect look. It stunk, and he hoped Hoppe’s Number Nine would mask it. Otherwise, he’d have to pick a new favorite from the safe. And he really liked the 1911.