I stared into the woman’s eyes and saw the madness there. Sheila was Darling McCraw’s mother. I flashed on the boy as I knew him, hiring him from library on my old teacher’s recommendation, chasing him after he confessed to Ava’s murder, watching him die not a month before on the floor of the library.
“He killed himself,” I said.
She slapped me across the face. The slap hurt more than the punches had because they were backed by a righteous fury. She slapped my face again. And again. And again until the man behind me came around and held her.
Sheila McCraw gripped onto her son Babe and stared at me with tears in her eyes. Babe looked down on me, too, his eyes violent and his lips causing his moustache to rise in a snarl.
They were going to kill me and I almost felt I had deserved it.
“I’m sorry-” I said, but she broke from her son’s grip and wheeled on me.
“Don’t you dare. You pushed my baby into that. You and and your family and that library, all high and mighty up there in the center of town. I told Darlin not to go there. I told him when he went to that school to be one of you that you would never accept him. Then he started talking about bringing you down, joining up with you folk and turning things around. Then you killed him. You killed my baby cause he wanted you to change, you threw him away like trash.”
“No, that wasn’t it,” I said, “The Board of Directors, they pushed him-”
She did not slap me again, just held up her hand. My own mother had made the same motion a thousand times. She had said her peace and that was that. She walked out the door.
Babe followed her and started to close the door, but a hand held it open. The big man nodded and Hoodie AKA Billy McCraw limped into the room.
In his hand Billy held a large pipe with black electrical tape wrapped around one end. The small man limped over to me, each half step punctuated by the slap of metal against his skin. He stood in front of me and stared, his chest puffed out with a smile on his face.
“Don’t look so badass, does he?” Billy asked.
Babe sniffed, “Don’t smell like it. Think he pissed himself.”
I had peed in my pants. My dignity had gone. Fear of what was to happen to me, to Cassidy and Natalie, fear ruled everything and I did not care.
“If he were a dog, I’d rub his face in it. Teach him to do his business outside. Break him in good until he knew when it was time,” Billy said, “Time to do what we say now. No more running. Now, choose which girl gets it, librarian.”
My voice sounded hoarse and I guess I was crying a little. I did not know what was happening anymore, but I would not give them the satisfaction of making that sadistic choice.
“I heard all this from your mama,” I said, “I already said I didn’t kill Darling-”
Billy swung the pipe in an arch that landed half on my leg and half on the chair leg it was tied to. The sound of wood and metal rang out in the small room and i saw Cassidy wince. She was waking up.
“You didn’t do it? Didn’t put a knife to his throat? No, no, I know. He did that. Told me he would if he had to because of those people, your people, your library. Damn people fighting over that damn library, so dumb. But that’s why we gonna burn it down, huh, Babe?” Billy turned to the taller man and Babe nodded.
:”Gonna make you watch and take out the whole town, Mr. Banned,” Babe tapped the barrels around the room.
The smell of oil. I thought the smell was just a garage, but... There were barrels of oil everywhere.
“Look, I don’t know... I don’t know about the fighting, what the board had planned. I just know they talked Darling into it, they tried to kill me and her, too. They talked your brother into killing two of my staff last year.”
“One,” Billy said.
“One. Darling only killed the whore, the girl on the floor. Said he needed to do it. I killed the old lady, and don’t you forget it. She had to go and I did it.”
My mind broke for a bit. My head fell slack in my need to turn away from Betty’s killer. I heard Babe cross the room and Billy cried out. I looked up and Babe was standing over Billy. Babe had pushed the smaller man down and taken the pipe from him.
“You dumb... Mama said just to watch the old lady, not kill her,” Babe said.
“Darling said she had something. So we went there and she fought back and-”
Babe hit his brother in the chest with the fist closed around the pipe. I could hear a rib crack as the piston slammed into the small man.
“You let everybody think Darling killed that poor old lady, you sick bastard. Wait until Mama hears about this.”
Babe stepped over his brother and walked toward the door, dropping the pipe. The metal clattered on the concrete.
“No, please, don’t tell mama. Babe, you can’t-” Billy tried to rise but Babe pushed him back down.
“Babe, mama won’t understand...” Billy gripped the pipe as his brother opened the door, “Babe, stop goddamnit.”
Babe did not stop. Sunlight fell into the room as Billy crushed the back of his brother’s head with the lead pipe.