A Killing in Georgia

It was not that people did not feel the War was real, rather the War was news of far-off battles, exhortations by hotheads in meeting halls and preachers from pulpits, young men now gone to fight; with the elderly, the children and the womenfolk left to carry on. It was hard on everyone, as society seemed to slowly disintegrate. Not a huge collapse, just the realization that today was not so good, not so carefree as yesterday, yet better and more carefree than the morrow. Trips in to town were no longer routine stops for supplies and gossip, but a strenuous search for staples and any kind of hard information. And from the last few such forays in to town there came a single word, a name: Sherman. The Blue Coats were coming.

That suddenly, the War was knocking on the door and the results were near panic. Old men and young boys took up what arms they could and marched out to do battle while the easily deluded pretended this ragtag militia could turn the Union Army aside. Those with more sense prepared to take flight. I mulled taking to the hills, knowing that one way or another I could make myself safe, but there was a small piece of business that needed finishing- just a promise that I had made myself a year earlier. A better opportunity would never come.

Clayton was a nasty, vicious, hateful man. Strong and handsome with a terribly deceiving smile that melted the heart of more than one regretful miss. He was wealthy enough to buy his way out of military service, sending poor men in his stead while he remained at home playing on widows and amusing himself with negro women. I swear you could find him at any time by following the tears of those unfortunate enough to catch his eye. In the modern world he would represent the epitome of everything vile in a man who would own slaves, except that he was, as I noted earlier, devastatingly handsome.

A year before I had interrupted him in the act of assaulting a negro girl no more than fourteen years of age. He had had business at the Manning place and she had the misfortune to wander by when he had an idle moment. To make matters worse there were two others there, watching with amused interest. I was not part of the family, having been hired as a tutor for the Manning’s two youngest daughters, so I had no real standing with those men, but I laid in to them with the utmost indignation, and I must ask you to trust me when I say that I do indignation quite well, thank you. They scattered, all but Clayton, who kept right on with his business until I planted a well-aimed heel in the lower side of his rib cage, being unable to aim where I wanted to most without harming the poor girl.

He was tossed to his side by the blow, but then exploded to his feet, his face twisted with the kind of rage that nearly always precedes murder… except that with his trousers undone he tripped and fell to his face before he took a full step. I danced back and hiked back my skirt; my foot poised for another blow as the terrified girl pulled her shift together, stumbled to her feet and fled. His eyes flicked after her, then back to me, and the hot anger in his face suddenly turned icy cold.

“I’ll not be forgettin’ this, Missy Burns,” he said straightening up.

“I trust you won’t. And I’ll be bringing this up with Mrs. Manning, whom I am certain will not be forgetting this either.”

With that I turned my back on him, but as I stormed off he called after me, “Got a mighty fine leg there, Missy Burns. I’ll be lookin’ you up sometime, you can be sure.”

On that day I vowed that Clayton would not live one day longer than I had to permit. So while all were either preparing to fight or to flee I arrived in town and handed my buggy over to the livery boy.

“Just tie her up here and leave some water- I shan’t be long.”

There were still many people about, mostly women, but the air was electric. I was stopped more than once and forced to engage in the obligatory hand wringing and it was in the midst of just such a conversation that a ripple of gunfire was heard breaking from the northwest. Every conversation stopped. Another volley, carried on the wind, almost ghostly in the way it settled over the landscape and in to nerves already strung taught and rubbed raw. I left my partner in conversation and made my way directly to my destination.

Clayton was loading a packhorse. No one ever accused him of being stupid- he had what looked like two packs full of provisions as well as gear for rough living. Obviously he was intending to strike out cross-country. As I approached a much louder barrage of gunfire rumbled in the distance. Clayton looked up, saw me, and smiled.

“Looks like our boys must’a dug in good up at the bend- Yankees are turnin’ cannon on ?em. Surprised, though- would’a thought they’d only have scouts this far down the road.”

“My, my, all that military know how and here you are fixing to run, rather than out there fighting. I’d heard it, but I had to come and see for myself.”

“Now, Missy, you just keep that sharp tongue in your head- I know you’re no daughter of the South. Makes no nevermind to you if the Bluecoats march on in here, does it?” He finished tying down his pack and stepped closer. His face was open and friendly, but I could sense the tension underneath. Tension, and something else.

“I expect it means even less to you. I wonder what the good ladies here will think when they see you turning tail and galloping south?”

Had he simply brushed me off and mounted his horse that would have been the end of it. Had he shown that much good sense- he knew he was a scoundrel at best and I was not telling him anything he did not freely admit under the right circumstances. But he had his pride, and I had just poked it, hard. He also had a grudge to settle and the sudden change in his eyes told me he had just made the last bad decision of his miserable life.

He moved swiftly, stepping forward and seizing me by the front of my cloak and bodice, hands twisting the fabric to close my throat, silencing any cry I might make as he dragged me back in to the stable, then he held me, my feet dangling a good foot above the floor for he was quite tall. I grabbed at his wrists, struggling to break his iron grip and he laughed.

“I told you I?d be looking you up, Missy. Now you just be quiet and I won’t have to mess up that pretty face.” With that his arms wrenched violently apart, snapping the button of my cloak, tearing open my bodice and blouse, baring my chest as he tugged the garment down my arms, then threw me to my back on the hay strewn floor of the stall. I lay still, apparently stunned in his eyes as he dropped his coat, fell to his knees and began working his suspenders off his shoulders, then reached down to hike up my skirt and begin tearing at my undergarments.

He was not a stupid man. He simply had no idea whom he was dealing with. I thrashed beneath him as if attempting to pull away and he forced me back with one hand, cruelly twisting my left breast. The pain only served to give me focus as I finally freed the slender steel pin from my right sleeve. He descended upon me, his mouth crushing against mine, leaving him open and vulnerable. Time seemed to slow as it always does in these situations: my right arm grazing his left, as if attempting to find purchase to push him off but using the line of his shoulder to find the proper position, rising above his back as the pin turned in my fist, the point aligning with his spine.

With a smooth, swift stroke I jabbed it forward and down, striking his neck in the soft spot where it reaches the skull. I am very strong, and the pin was very, very sharp, puncturing the flesh and gristle, lunging in to the brainpan. Without any sound, or struggle Clayton fell instantly limp, dead weight atop me. I held him like that, twisting my mouth out from under his now flaccid lips, brining my lips to his ear.

“I made a promise to myself, ” I whispered, “because I know that many good people who deserve a better end will die before all this is done. I promised that regardless of events I would send you to Hell if I could. And I would have let you go, I would have, but you are just too violent, too much the slave of your ego and your lust.” I lifted his head with my right hand so I could look in to his eyes, still moist, not yet glazed with death. I smiled at him and touched my lips to his cheek. “Nobody will ever know why this happened, why you died, who killed you. I am unimaginably old, Clayton. I have seen despots, and horrors through the ages. I have lived in chains. I have loved and hated, saved the worthy, abandoned the worthless, and every now and then, just like right now, I have taken a tiny piece of evil and erased it from the world of men. Think of it as my good deed for this day. Goodbye, Clayton.” With that I wrenched the pin first left, then right and his eyes rolled up and back as the last breath wheezed from his chest, then withdrew it and struggled out from beneath him.

The wound was tiny, no blood, hardly noticeable particularly once I straightened his long, dark hair. I stood and pulled my clothes together as best I could, then dragged him fully in to the stall. Using a pitchfork I broke up the hay bail in the stall and covered the corpse. Not a very stealthy burial, but under the circumstances it would suffice. I could hear the rumble of another cannon blast in the distance and when I peered out to the street there was no one to see. In the brief minutes since I had confronted Clayton everyone had fled, or at least moved indoors. I clasped my ruined cloak across my breasts and made a dash for the livery where my buggy was still waiting.

In the buggy I donned my riding cloak then wheeled about and trotted over to Clayton’s building, maneuvering out to the stall in the rear. There I took my bag from the rear and stepped in to the stable to change in to traveling clothes, grateful to finally lose the extra fabric acreage and get in to a pair of trousers and a shirt. Just for a last measure of spite I took Clayton’s hat and tucked my hair up under it, then secured my bag on the packhorse. The buggy would have been more comfortable, but the riding horse and the pack animal were far more versatile. I unhitched my horse from the buggy and left her in the stable, then mounted Clayton’s gelding and struck out to the south, leaving behind the swiftly ebbing reports of the skirmish now drawing to a close to the northwest.

And the oddest thought feeling suffused me: “My, how I hated riding side-saddle!”

3 Responses to “A Killing in Georgia”

  1. Murdering horse thief!

  2. I like your stories.

  3. The above comments were first left on 04/09/2003 and 05/29/2003, respectively, before re-posting here.