Illustration by Andres Garzon
Pete held the bundle of white cloth and in it, the rifle. If someone were looking from far away as he stood knocking at Marta’s door, they might’ve thought he was offering her a bouquet of flowers. Barry, who had been Pete’s best friend until he’d stepped on an IED, had restored the weapon. It was a Ross 1905. Barry’s great-grandfather had carried it at Second Ypres.
Pete and Barry used to glare at it as boys, craning their necks up to where it hung above the fireplace. They’d shot bottles with it back in high school, drunk as hell. Pete once considered that instance as the rifle’s most dangerous action since it’d been pointed at Germans.
That wasn’t true anymore.
Marta opened the door, and didn’t pretend to smile. “Is that it?” Pete nodded to her. “Come in then.”
She sat him down at the kitchen table and Pete laid the rifle against the checkered tablecloth. He didn’t roll it out.
“I thought we were done with everything,” she said.
“We are,” said Pete. “I’m just bringing it back from the station. Investigation determined it wasn’t… you know.” Murder. No one had said the word, even when Pete had gone through the motions of questioning Luke; Marta’s boy. Barry’s boy.
Garrett McCoy was dead; the rifle’s first victim in a hundred years. They all knew it was an accident. Pete was just doing his job by following up.
“I don’t want it,” said Marta. “You take it. Barry would’ve liked that.”
Pete broke eye contact. He looked down at his wrist where the red poppy tattoo poked out from the cuff of his police uniform. It was the only colour work he had in a collection of black and grey. He tugged at the cuff and covered it, but it wouldn’t stay put.
Outside the kitchen window, Ian McCoy sat on the deck. Ian and Luke were so close that seeing Ian alone was jarring. The kid was peculiar, a real dork. He always had some tactile hobby on the go, like magic tricks or winging a yo-yo while other freshly teenaged boys fiddled with electronics. He sat motionless now, with no gimmick in his hands. Ian squinted up at the sun, letting the spring wind rustle his hair. His older brother used to rustle his hair like that.
“I need to speak with him one more time.”
“Ian?” Marta asked. “Go ahead.”
“No,” said Pete. “Luke.” Marta lowered her head like a bull.
“He’s been through enough. They both have.”
“Christ, Marta, I know. He shot someone. I promised his dad I’d look out for him. Accident or not that’s going to—” Pete stopped cold. Marta’s fists clenched at the tablecloth, shifting the rifle gently in her direction. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to say—”
“Go talk to him,” she interrupted. “When you’re done, I think it’s best you don’t come around for a while.”
Luke’s room was on the top floor of the house. Pete went in without knocking. Luke sat over a desk facing a window that looked out on the road. He was fiddling with a model tank. The poison stink of super glue hung heavy in the air.
“You should open a window,” Pete said. Luke remained silent. Pete sat down on the bed near the desk. Beside Luke was a framed picture of soldiers posing in the desert. Pete realized Barry’s face would be among them and so didn’t look at it long enough to pick him out.
“I told you I didn’t do it on purpose,” Luke said as he lowered the turret onto the tank.
“I know, I believe you.”
“Thought he was a deer.”
“I know. I’m here to talk to you, see how you’re doing. Your mum’s worried.”
Luke looked up from his work. Pete couldn’t figure out if the boy’s eyes were red from lack of sleep, crying, or the fumes from the glue. “I don’t care about her,” said Luke.
“Fine,” said Pete, knowing—or hoping —the kid didn’t mean it. “What about Ian? His brother’s gone. He could probably use a friend around now.”
Something cracked in Luke’s hand. He swore and threw the turret at the window. It bounced away onto the floor.
Pete sighed, thinking that maybe this was a bad idea. Best to let him be. He stood up and picked the tank turret up from the floor. As he crouched, he saw another framed picture in the trash bin.
Ian and Luke stood at a creek dangling fish up for the camera. By the look of their faces, the photo was taken maybe four or five years ago. They beamed, big toothed and bright the way only ten-year-olds can. Garrett McCoy stood between them with his big arms draped over their shoulders. He’d been a handsome young man, barely twenty-five. The kind of guy two young boys would look up to.
“Garret was like a brother to you too, wasn’t he?” Pete set the broken turret back on the desk.
Luke spun in his chair and faced Pete. “No. He wasn’t.”
Pete let Luke be and headed back downstairs. He returned to the kitchen to pick up the rifle. As he opened his mouth to say goodbye, he froze in the doorway.
Ian sat on Marta’s lap, his face buried in her chest. Both were weeping.
“I miss him too,” Marta said.
She had held Pete like that once. The night they heard about Barry. Something in Pete’s gut stung. The same feeling as getting insulted when you’re too far in the drink. Like getting mad and knowing you’re taking it the wrong way.
Still, he couldn’t shake it. She’d cried like that for Barry. Didn’t seem right to give the same emotion to Garrett McCoy.
Pete got back in his cruiser and took one last look at the house, realizing he’d forgotten the rifle. He was thinking about going back for it when he caught Luke staring down at him from the top floor window. The boy didn’t return Pete’s wave and so he thought better of going back inside.
That was that. He pulled out of the front yard, the cruiser bobbing over the uneven gravel.
“I don’t know if I’m going to make it back,” Barry had said the last time Pete managed to speak withhim.
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true. We just… things are getting worse.”
“You can handle it.”
The phone signal buzzed through their pause.
“You look after Marta and Luke. If it happens.”
“It won’t come to that.” Pete hadn’t wanted to legitimize Barry’s mood, but he’d figured it was what his friend needed to hear. “You know I’ll take care of them,” he’d said. Barry sighed.
“Thanks.” The last word Barry spoke to him flew up from Kandahar and bounced back down. Pete had heard the smile in it even through the satellite phone.
Pete wrote tickets and handled noise complaints through spring and summer; giving warnings to teenagers partying on the lake, putting Bradley Wilkes into the tank one evening after he’d thrown a pint glass at the bar.
He didn’t go back to the house. When he saw Marta around town, in the supermarket or on the street, he’d nod and pull a smile over his face, but she returned his politeness less and less. Eventually he started ducking her.
He wrote letters but never sent them. One night he stayed up until four writing one for Luke to open on his eighteenth birthday. He threw in stories about Barry and himself, what they got up to as kids. The kind of bullshit they pulled on neighbors and the time they smashed the windows of their school rivals in the next town over. How he and Ian reminded him of Pete and his father. Things happen, he wrote. The letter wound up in the trash the next morning.
He was going off duty when his phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket and saw Marta’s name flashing on the screen.
Her voice was panicked and she was sobbing. Pete tried to calm her down, putting his work voice on. She screamed and he headed to his car, keeping the phone on speaker.
Pete roared down to the house and saw Luke and Ian going at it on the yard. The car was barely stopped as he ran out. Ian’s face was bloody and red. His fist went fast into Luke’s nose. It cracked hard and Luke took his friend down, breathing through his teeth and spraying blood.
Marta shouted from the porch.
Pete grabbed Luke by his shirt and tore him away. Ian lunged but Pete managed to hold him back.
“He knew Garret fished at the creek in the morning!” Ian’s voice was like shattered glass. “He could’ve gone anywhere else but he went there!”
“You’re lying, you’re a liar just like he was!”
They lunged again, thrashing at Pete’s arms as he held them apart. Nails tore into his skin.
“Stop it!” Pete shouted. “Cut it out, now!” He yanked Ian away toward the car like a dog. Luke paced behind them.
“Never come back here,” Luke said. Marta ran down from the porch and wrapped her arms around her son, struggling to keep him in place. Ian began to shudder and Pete loosened his grip on the boy. He turned back to Marta.
“I’ll take him home,” he said to her. She bit her lip and kissed Luke’s neck.
He let Ian ride up front on the way back to town. The boy breathed heavy, fighting to keep himself composed.
“Here,” Pete said, offering him a tissue. Ian wiped clumsily at the blood drying under his nose. “You two shouldn’t fight like that,” Pete said, trying to kill the silence. “But I know good friends can get into it sometimes.” He smiled. “Hell, me and Luke’s dad used to get into all kinds of—”
“Please, shut up,” said Ian.
“Sorry.” They didn’t speak again for several minutes. The sound of tires and the gravel road filled the car with white noise. It made Pete nervous. “I’m just saying,” he said. “You both lost somebody close. You two should be helping each other, not throwing fists.”
“He just couldn’t stand it,” Ian said through a sniffle. “He thinks he got the short end, his dad dying and all. But Barry went to Afghanistan on his own account. Garrett never did nothing…” His eyes twisted close.
“Alright, let’s not talk anymore,” said Pete. He put his hand on the kid’s shoulder. In a few moments, Ian stopped shaking.
Garret’s truck still sat in the driveway when Pete pulled up the McCoy house. A for-sale sign hung in the rear windshield.
“That true what you said?” Pete asked as Ian cracked the door open. “About Luke knowing Garret would be there in the morning?”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Ian.
Pete watched the kid amble up his porch and through the front door. As he drove off, Pete thought about that picture in Luke’s trash and the fish dangling loosely in their hands.
Pete was on his way home but went out to the bar instead. Jenny welcomed him and had a 50 on the counter by the time he sat down. Pete thanked her and took a sip, looking out at the nick knacks on the wall; an old dart board with a crack in it, a map of the county turned yellow by cigarette smoke from back in the day. His eyes stopped on a photo taped to the mirror. Garret McCoy looked back at him, face glowing and arms around a group of friends sitting at the bar.
“Sad thing,” said Jenny.
Karen O’Neill sat three stools down from Pete and gave him a nod. She had a look on her face like she had something to say. Pete waved her over.
Karen was Marta and Luke’s neighbor. The dragon tattoo on her neck slithered as she stretched her way onto the stool beside Pete.
“How you doing?” Pete asked.
Karen shrugged. “Kid got suspended again. Dropped him at my mums to get a breather. How about you?”
“Went down to Marta’s,” said Pete. “Had to stop Luke Coley and Ian McCoy from killing each other.
“Shit,” said Karen. “Those poor kids.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“You ask me,” Karen said as if Pete did, “neither of them had much chance. That Marta, she should be ashamed of herself.”
Pete set his beer down. “What’s that?”
“I ought to keep out of it,” said Karen. “But…”
“But you won’t,” he said, faking a smile. Karen had been that way since they were young. Karen shrugged.
“That one there,” she said, pointing to Garret’s picture. “I don’t much blame him. Young guys, you know how they are. Can’t resist it. When McCoy started pulling his truck up to her house late—and I mean real late—I thought ‘well, here’s a right tool, eh?’ Then when I seen Marta all tarted up, heading down the front steps to Garrett’s truck like James friggin’ Bond, I knew it was really her fault. She’s not that much younger than you and me. Like I said, should know better.”
Pete blinked. “Jesus, Karen.”
Karen tipped her beer to her lips, it bubbled as she nodded. Pete wondered how long ago she’d dropped her kid off. “I’m sorry, Petey. I know you and Barry was real close. You just… you should know.”
“How many times?”
Karen laughed. “Hell, more than a few. Maybe a year’s worth, I think.”
Pete paid for his beer and left Karen alone at the bar. He was meaning to walk home but when he got there he didn’t stop. He kept on down the road, stopping once at a gas station out of town to buy a pack of Viceroys and a lighter.
He choked down two smokes and then threw the pack in a bush. Pete never admitted to himself he was heading to Marta’s, but wound up there all the same. It was well after dark and the air smelled like the wet piles of leaves collecting near the woods. October was almost through, only the second one since Barry’s death. If Garrett was shot in spring and him and Marta had been at it for almost a year by then, that meant Barry had still been alive when they’d started.
Pete stood at the mouth of the driveway looking up at the house. He imagined Garrett’s truck rumbling up through here, sneaking as quiet as a pick-up could. Then he thought of Marta coming down the porch steps, smiling in an old dress so unworn it ought it be called new again.
Pete looked up from the porch to the top window. The light was on and Luke was staring down at him.
CONOR DIVIESTI writes and lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Copyright © 2018 by Conor DiViesti. All rights reserved.