Dead Reckoning

By: Dawn Lee McKenna

For Plutes

who is without peer among his species, whichever species that might be

&

In loving memory of Vi Hartigan

Dawn Lee

For Jo, the light of my life

Axel





ONE

PEOPLE WHO DREAM about quiet country nights have never been in the country after dark.

Even after their dogs had shut up, Mooney White and Grant Woodburn were surrounded by nothing but noise. The crickets and the frogs were screaming at each other, and there was a decent summer breeze moving through the trees that had been bothersome to the men before they’d finally bagged their fill.

It was just past three in the morning, and dark-dark. The men were in the ass end of Gulf County, FL, in the woods just north of Wewahitchka and near the Dead Lakes Recreation Area. The low, thick cloud cover made the moon pointless.

Mooney was a black man in his late forties. He was dressed in an old pair of his blue work pants and a navy windbreaker. The many spots of white in his close-cropped hair looked like a little patch of fireflies in the night. He used his flashlight to guide their steps over rocks and fallen limbs. His .22 rifle was slung over his shoulder, and he held his dog’s leash in the other hand.

Grant Woodburn, a redheaded man just a bit younger than his best friend, held his dog’s leash in one hand, and a .410 single shot in the other. Their bag of coons was slung around his neck.

The men’s boots crunched softly atop the thick carpet of pine needles. Ahead of them, the two dogs were almost soundless in their passage.

It was Mooney who first spotted the dim lights. They rounded a thick copse of shrubs and old cypress, and the two circles of light were just visible through the trees, about a hundred yards ahead.

“Hey, Woodburn,” he said. “You left the lights on in my truck, I’m gonna kill you.”

Woodburn stopped and looked at the lights. “Man, I didn’t leave your lights on,” he said. There was a high-pitched buzzing near his right ear, and he brushed at it with the sleeve of his Carharrt jacket. “We ain’t even over there.” He lifted his arm again and pointed off to the right. “We’re over there.”

Mooney’s dog, a fawn-colored Ladner Black Mouth cur, went to tugging on his leash. Mooney tensed up on the leash and made a sound almost like he was getting something out of his teeth. The dog stopped, and the leash got some slack to it again. Mooney stopped, too.

“Those lights is about out,” he said. “Somebody’s gonna be pissed when they get back to their vehicle.”

Woodburn looked over at him as he jerked slightly on his own leash. His brown and white Beagle stood stiffly where he was, looking toward the truck.

“Reckon we should go shut his lights off for him?” Woodburn asked.

“If the fool left his doors unlocked,” Mooney answered.

“Man, this is right around where we heard that shot a while back,” Woodburn said, his voice slightly hushed.

Mooney stopped walking. His dog and then his friend followed suit.

“That don’t necessarily mean nothin’,” Mooney said quietly.

“Maybe we should just go to your truck and call the police or somethin’,” Woodburn whispered.

“Man, we got two guns,” Mooney said. “Besides, what are we gonna tell ’em? Haul y’all asses out here to shut this fool’s lights off? You watch too much TV.”

He made a clicking noise with his tongue, and men and dogs veered off their intended path and headed for the lights. When they were about fifty feet out, Mooney squinted at the pickup that sat silently in the clearing. From where they were standing, they were looking at the truck head on. The driver’s side door was standing open. The interior light either didn’t work or had already burned out.

“I know that truck,” Mooney said quietly.

It was a black Ford F-150, which in Gulf County was like saying its name was John. But the Gators antenna topper was ringing a bell for Mooney.

“Whose is it?” Woodburn asked.

“Hold on, I’m thinking,” Mooney answered. He was quiet for a moment. “That’s Sheriff Hutchins’ truck.”

“Are you sure?” his friend asked him.

“Yeah, man, I put a new tranny in it last year,” Mooney answered.

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