Murder Scene Blogfest: Blackout

Anne Riley is hosting a Murder Scene Blogfest. I thought I’d share a poignant little scene from Blackout: A Just Cause Novel, where 12-year-old psychopath Harlan Washington takes the next step in his long, bloody career.

Excerpt from Blackout: A Just Cause Novel

By Ian Thomas Healy

His pocket full of half a dozen blade-wands, Harlan collected what he’d begun to refer to as his magnetic crossbow and slipped out of the Parts Room. Gonsalvo had his entire torso buried in the Datsun’s engine compartment as he tried to loosen a recalcitrant spark plug. Harlan didn’t disturb him and instead headed out to the vacant lot behind the shop. At various times over the years, the lot had been used as a dump, a vagrants’ campground, a garden, and a burial ground for dead pets. Gonsalvo didn’t own the land, but a lot of larger pieces which he didn’t have space for in the Parts Room sat out in the dry weeds, slowly rusting into oblivion.

Harlan didn’t go into the back lot very often. The parts there were largely ruined and useless to him compared to the treasure trove of the Parts Room. He wouldn’t touch the twisted, stunted vegetables which grew wild amid the weeds and oil slicks, and the corner with its little pet headstones freaked him out. The back lot was bordered on one side by a pawnshop and the other by a taquería which Harlan had never felt brave enough to try. The high fence around most of the lot should give him ample privacy for his work.

He scouted around the terrain until he found the best angle to hit the nearby overhead power lines. The crossbow had a small kick when it fired, so he sought a spot where he could brace himself. A rusting hulk from the front end of a De Soto proved to be a suitable location. He hunched down, laid the barrel across the hood, and took careful aim.

Harlan’s first shot whistled high, arcing up and out until he couldn’t see it sparkling in the mid-afternoon sun any longer. He wondered mildly where it would come down and what it might do when it did, but not enough to care who it might hit. He reloaded the weapon and aimed once more, taking into account the blade-wands’ tendency to waver mid-flight. With the next press of the trigger, he was rewarded with a blue flash as the wand severed one of the overhead lines.

Harlan crowed his success. He’d hit the first line with his second shot, which left him four tries to hit the second. Perhaps he’d have a couple left over to rework with vertical stabilizers. He ignored the spitting wire as it twisted among the dirt and weeds of the back lot and took aim once again.

He missed with his third and fourth shots, and began to think he’d had beginner’s luck. The problem with the gun’s effectiveness was that he couldn’t pick up missed shots to reuse them. As aerodynamic as the blade-wands were, they could fly as far as several blocks and he’d have no way to find them again. He considered ways to track down misses as he squinted along the barrel, trying to place the sight right over the power line.

“Harlan, what the hell are you doing?”

Harlan whirled, ready to berate someone for interrupting his work. Gonsalvo stood by the shop door, gaping at him, his mouth moving soundlessly. He braced himself with one hand against the door frame and with the other felt at the length of copper welding wire which emerged from his throat.

Harlan gasped and looked down at his magnetic crossbow. There was no blade-wand in the tube. He didn’t even remember pulling the trigger but he must have. Blood sluiced from the neat four-inch-wide cut across Gonsalvo’s throat. The old mechanic sank to his knees, making unintelligible grunting sounds. He looked terribly confused as to what happened. His eyes met Harlan’s, and then he pitched forward into the dust. The bloody mouth of the blade-wand pushed higher out of Gonsalvo’s neck when the man’s face hit the ground, like some bizarre monster being born.

Harlan shoved his fist into his mouth and screamed against it. Gonsalvo had surprised him. He should have seen what Harlan was doing and not interrupted. If the old man had been a little more patient and a little cooler, he’d still be alive right now. Instead, he’d gotten himself killed, and that threatened to ruin all of Harlan’s carefully-constructed plans.

“Old fool,” grunted Harlan. Now he’d have to hurry. He loaded his last blade-wand and shot it, missing by a country mile because his hands were shaking. He’d have to hurry and make more so he could sever that second line and cut power once more.

Wait. There was one more he could use.

Harlan reached for the blade-wand poking from Gonsalvo’s neck. It was streaked with gore and sinew, but he needed it.

One good yank and the blade-wand came free. Harlan brushed the blade dry against Gonsalvo’s shirt and checked it for imperfections. There was one notch, probably from when the crescent-shaped airfoil had cut through the man’s spine. Harlan didn’t think it would interfere with the missile’s flight. He loaded it into the magnetic crossbow and sighted down the barrel once more. This was his last chance. He inhaled slowly, held his breath, and pulled the trigger.

With a shower of sparks, the second power line parted. Over the sound of passing traffic, Harlan could hear the groans and shouts of the locals as their power flow was interrupted for the second time that day. He smiled; his luck was holding. But now he had to really hustle to clean up the mess Gonsalvo had made.

Grunting and sweating in the heat of the shop, Harlan dragged Gonsalvo’s body back to the Parts Room, where he hid it under a pile of burlap bags. He looked critically at the bloody trail he’d left. An idea struck him, and he grabbed a couple quarts of automatic transmission fluid from Gonsalvo’s supplies. He poured the reddish fluid all along the bloodstains, and then sprinkled the mess with absorbent clay cat litter. He swept up the resultant slurry and deposited it all into a trash bin.

Then he took up a sledgehammer and carefully shattered his magnetic crossbow. He didn’t need the prototype any longer; he could rebuild a better one later when he had more time and materials to work with. Satisfied that he’d covered his tracks sufficiently until he could disappear into the morass of Harlem with Gretchen, he picked up the phone and dialed the operator to report a downed power line in the back lot of his friend’s building.

Harlan set the two Just Cause passes on the workbench and then sat to wait patiently.

He couldn’t stop grinning.