“Look out Mama, there’s a white boat coming up the river!’
Deke came running into the cabin, his eyes wide with fear. Abigail McGowan stopped cutting up the meat for the stew she was making and dried her hands on the apron that she permanently wore. She picked up the rifle that was leaning in the corner of the room and handed it to Deke.
“Your going to have to be the man of the house now Deke.” Abigail said, “Make me proud son.” Abigail had told Deke many times that if the law ever came snooping around they were up to no good and just wanted to drive the family out of their home. She said they were in the pay of some rich landowner who wanted to buy up the homestead at some measly price. Things had gotten hard lately, but they always got through tough times together and they weren’t about to give up their home for nobody.
Deke weighed his Daddy’s rifle in his hand. It felt real heavy. Almost as heavy as the burden of having to think about what to do. Daddy went out hunting 6 months ago and never came back leaving Deke and his two older brothers, John and Caleb to run the farm. John had taken to drink when his sweetheart was swept away by the river and was good for nothing. Caleb did the hunting now and was away in the mountains for days at a stretch. This left Deke in charge. He was 22 and thinking wasn’t his strong suit. His head was already hurting as he ran back out onto the small timber jetty and looked down the Mississippi which meandered like a skinny grey rattler into the distance.
The boat was less than a mile away now, it’s red beacon glowing in the morning mist. Deke recalled something his Daddy once told him. “Red means run, son, numbers add up to nothing!” he said when Deke told him how he couldn’t count out the money to pay for supplies in town. Everyone had laughed at him and he ended up letting Mr Campbell, the storekeeper, take the money he needed and Deke left as quickly as he could.
The boat was nearer now, and Deke could see it was armed. A uniformed man standing at the boat’s rail was waving. Deke looked at the numbers on the side of the boat. They made no sense to him at all. He couldn’t tell the difference between a 6 and a 9 or a 3 and an 8 and thinking about it just made his head hurt some more. He gripped the gun in his hand and knew what he needed to do.
Deke heard a crack and saw smoke billow from the gun on the boat. The round hit the jetty just a few yards away, leaving a scar of splintered wood. Deke, didn’t stop to think but lifted the rifle to his eye and took aim at the man on the rail. He squeezed the trigger and there was an almighty flash as the round exploded in the barrel throwing Deke backwards. His head hit the deck with a sickening thud. Deke lay on his back looking up at the sky. His Mama was standing over him telling him to get up but her voice was echoing and sounded far away, and then everything went black.
When he came to, Deke could hear voices. He opened his eyes and gingerly turned his head to the side. Two uniformed men were standing either side of his Mama and a third in a white stetson was snapping handcuffs onto her wrists. “What’s happening Mama?” Deke called but she didn’t answer as she was led off to the boat. The man in the stetson walked over to where Deke was lying. “Can you get up son?” he asked and held out his hand. Deke ignored the offer of help and got to his feet, though he was still feeling dizzy. “Where are you taking my Mama?” he shouted at the law officer. “I’m real sorry son,” he replied, “ but your Mama’s been arrested for murder and we’re taking her into town to stand trial.”
“Murder? What are you talking about? My Mama never hurt anyone, ever.” Deke replied.
“I don’t really know how to tell you this son, but we’ve found what’s left of two bodies. We think they are your Daddy and a girl called Emmy-Lou Lavery who your brother John was sweet on. Your Mama has more or less confessed to their murders.”
Deke was confused, his head was still spinning. “What d’you mean ‘more or less confessed’?” he asked.
The white stetson replied, “Well. Put it this way. When we asked her about the bodies she said that a mother’s job is to make sure she always puts meat on the table.”