This story originally appeared on DeathThroes.net.
The door of the holding cell slammed shut as Scott stood in shock. He came to report a crime, a murder, and didn’t understand how performing his civic duty led to him being at the bad end of jail bars.
“I don’t understand,” he pleaded, his hands holding the cold metal.
“Just stay there and shut the fuck up,” said one of the officers.
Scott shook his head in disbelief. There was no way they couldn’t believe him. There were bloody hand prints on his school bus. They only had to go out to their own parking lot to see for themselves.
He sat on the hard metal bench along the wall in the bare cell and stared at the checker tiled floor with his head in his hands, pressing his palms into his cheeks. The paint on the concrete wells of the cell looked fresh and the bench was so new it glistened. As he thought about the last two hours he dug his fingers into his temples. He had seen the man before.
In afternoons when Scott Hambleson didn’t have graduate classes in between his school bus routes, he volunteered at the food bank downtown. Though his job was only to pack plastic bags with fruits and vegetables, he did come to know some of the patrons and over the months he’d been volunteering he had a rough estimate of how many people depended on the food bank on a weekly basis.
“The economy hasn’t picked up,” he said to Tanya, the volunteer coordinator, a few weeks back.
“It most definitely has not,” she responded. “What’s your point?”
“We have less traffic,” he said.
Tanya tilted her head at him and pouted her lip.
“Fewer people are coming for food, I mean,” he explained.
“Yeah, but it’s the real down-and-outers we haven’t been seeing so much of,” she said as she inventoried the canned food.
“Okay, and what could cause that?”
Tanya looked at him like he should know the answer and said, “They got nowhere permanent to be. They pro’lly just stayin at a different shelter and using a different food pantry. That’s all.”
At the time, Scott agreed that it probably was all.
“Mr. Hambleson,” pounded a sudden voice out of a metal intercom at the top corner of the cell that looked as new as the paint and the bench. “The chief will be in to see you shortly.”
“Why do I have to wait in here?!” he shouted back at the silver box, standing up quickly. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”
After pacing furiously in small circles for what felt like hours, Scott heard movement down the hall. Doors were opening, people were talking. Dress shoes clacked their way towards his cell. A tall broad-shouldered man with a thick brown mustache and a pock-marked face came and stood in front of the bars as they rolled open, programmed remotely by an officer nearby.
“Chief?” asked Scott, timidly, checking his frustration. The man came in and the bars closed behind him.
“Chief Staglione,” he said, sticking a big, meaty hand out for Scott to shake. Scott shook it and noticed the chief’s fancy watch and silver cuff links. “Sit down son,” the chief continued, pointing a hand at the bench. “Tell me what you saw and we’ll figure this whole mess out.”
Scott took a seat on the bench and Chief Staglione sat at the opposite end, pulling out a small pad and a shiny fountain pen from his shirt pocket. He was a large man, out of shape, and Scott could hear his noisy breath constantly.
“I understand you saw something up in the Heights?” asked the chief. The Heights was what people in Wendison Park, New Jersey called the rich part of town.
“Yes sir,” said Scott.
And Scott relayed the following story:
He was early on his bus route – too early to start picking up kids for school, so he went to the edge of the large woods on the outskirts of the Heights, turned off the bus, cracked open the window, and pulled out some notebooks to review his grad school work. When he reached in his bag he noticed he’d forgotten his cell phone. He put the notebooks on the dash board and zippered his bag back up.
As he opened his notes he heard clamoring in the woods. He thought it was deer at first, but whatever it was, running through the woods frantically, was making more noise than a deer. Then he heard the first shot and the first screams of pain. Then he heard the second shot.
He rolled down the manual window on the driver’s side of the old yellow bus and stuck his head out to see if he could tell what was going on. At first, nothing, then he saw two figures running towards him. As they came nearer, he made them out as men, disheveled, dirty, and in old torn clothing. The closer of the two waived his arms frantically as the one lagging behind stumbled along with a limp. They both swatted away the dense thicket of the forest with their hands, running head on into thorns and jagged branches. A third gunshot banged in the air and the limping man fell to the ground and laid still with his face in the dirt. The other man continued to hurry towards Scott’s bus without looking back. Closer now, the look of terror on his face struck a nerve in Scott.
He recognized him. A few weeks before at the food pantry he’d given him a bag of green bananas and still remembered how he smelled of wet cigarettes and vodka. He never knew the man’s name. It had been a little while since he’d seen him.
Scott fumbled his notebooks to the floor of the bus, put his foot on the brake and his hand on the lever to open the passenger doors. The man came hustling around, but before Scott had the doors fully open a young boy with red hair and freckles came running out of the trees and lifted a rifle to his shoulder. He had on a coon skin hat and a red flannel shirt – like he was on a New England hunting trip.
A blast came through the disheveled man’s chest and spewed red on the glass door. In slow motion, Scott watched the man slowly slide down in agony, his hands smearing streaks of blood on the bus. Brown and yellow vomit trickled down his chin and he rested, dead, on the ground. Scott forced the bus into reverse and peeled out of the parking spot, shooting gravel under the tires in every direction.
He heard another shot come from behind him and stuck his head down like a frightened turtle. It clanged off the emergency doors at the back of the bus and Scott saw a ray of light coming through the hole it created. Another shot fired and struck one of the hinges, causing the double doors to fly open. The safety buzzer sang in Scott’s ear and added to the panorama of chaos. Scott pushed on the gas with all the strength he could muster and one of his notebooks slid down the walkway of the bus and flew out the back.
“Oh no!” he screamed, but he dared not stop to retrieve it. As he sped on he looked back at the boy with the rifle.
“His name is Brendon,” said Scott to Chief Staglione, his back starting to hurt from sitting on the hard bench. “He’s on my bus route.”
The chief looked at him with gentle curiosity and put his hand on Scott’s knee. “Can you think of a last name, son?”
Scott lifted a finger in thought, “B something,” he said. “Oh yeah, like the name of the new wing of Wendison General, Beaumont. Brendon Beaumont. Creepy kid.”
Chief Staglione took his hand off Scott’s knee and looked away. “Now you’re sure of that?” he asked, with no more gentleness left in his voice. “That’s a serious allegation you’re making son.”
“Yes, sir, Chief,” said Scott. “I’m certain of it. I wouldn’t fabricate something like that. The image is burned in my brain.”
As Scott watched the chief’s expression turn cold and serious he saw an officer walk past the cell with two red gasoline jugs. Scott felt a pang of pain from his butt to his spine. He stood from the hard bench as Chief Staglione watched him rise. “I’m sorry Chief,” he said. “That seat is hurting my back.”
The chief stood and looked at Scott in the eyes. “I’m going to give you a minute to think over this story, son. You understand?”
“I understand,” answered Scott, “but I’m not going to change anything sir.”
The Chief made a sideways glance at Scott and rubbed a finger on his mustache. He walked over to the bars as they clanged open. Scott walked over to exit but the chief motioned with his hand that he should stay inside the cell.
“I don’t understand,” said Scott. “Why do I have to stay in here?”
The chief shook his head and walked out of the cell without turning around or saying a word.
“This is not okay,” said Scott. He turned up to the metal box at the top of the cell. He had nearly forgotten it was there. “I want a lawyer,” he said.
“He identified Junior,” said the Chief to a man in a pressed suit standing in an office at the front of the station.
“Mmm,” murmured the man. “Well, we are going to have to take care of this then aren’t we?” he said. He was sitting in a leather recliner and smoking a fat cigar. He had red hair slicked back on his head with patches of grey in it. His white nose was patched with gin blossoms. His legs were crossed and Chief Staglione could see his blue argyle socks.
“Mr. Beaumont?” said the Chief, reluctantly.
“Can’t we deal with this some other way?” asked the Chief. “He seems like a decent enough guy, educating himself. Maybe he’ll listen to reason.”
“Look around you,” said Brendon Beaumont Senior in a dry, smoked voice. “The progress we’ve made in this city. Cleaning up… the homeless problem. Bringing in investors, businesses.” He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward in his chair with his elbows on his knees. “None of this has come by…having people, as you say, listen… to reason. Reason, Anthony, is a tool for the feeble minded. I choose instead to eradicate them if they get in the way. Progress shouldn’t have to wait for reason. And I make my son happy in the process.”
“I understand sir,” said Anthony Staglione, getting nervous. “But don’t you think this is getting…I don’t know…a little too unethical.”
Mr. Beaumont sat back in his chair and let out a laugh. “Oh, look at you,” he teased. “Since when did you become the college professor? Listen, you don’t have the job you have because of your meticulous attention to ethics… Chief.”
An officer cracked open the door to the office and stuck in his head. “We’ve retrieved the boy, sir,” he said.
Scott Hambleson was low on hope when he heard multiple pairs of feet walking towards his cell. He looked at an angle and saw, coming towards him, the Chief, a snooty looking man in a suit, and Brendon Beaumont with his hands behind his back.
“Oh thank God,” said Scott. “You got him.”
The three came to the cell door and looked at Scott with pity, like a caged animal at a zoo.
“Scott Hambleson,” said Chief Staglione, “this is Mr. Brendon Beaumont Senior.”
“Mr. Beaumont,” said Scott, looking into the man’s cold grey eyes. “Your son has done something horrible. I witnessed it with my own eyes. He shot two men. They were running, afraid. He shot them both in the back.”
Brendon Beaumont Senior raised a hand to silence Scott. “The Chief tells me you are a graduate student. What is it you’re studying?”
Scott paused. “Uh, Political Science.”
“And what is your focus?” said Mr. Beaumont. Scott just noticed how his red hair matched his son’s and it made him feel sick.
“I’m studying the rule of law and ethics as pillars of modern society,” he answered.
Brendon Junior took his hands away from behind his back and pulled out two uncapped gas cans. He put one on the ground and pulled back the other with both hands.
“What the fuck?!” yelled Scott, as the boy doused his face with gasoline.
Brendon Senior picked up the can from the floor and shook it violently to spray liquid on Scott’s pants and shoes. Scott ran quickly to the back of the cell. “Chief!” he yelled, wiping the wet burning fluid from his eyes.
The chief pulled out a box of matches and opened it, retrieving a single match and striking it. With it lit in his hand, he said, “I’m sorry son.” Brendon Senior had a flicker of terror in his eyes when he saw the young student catch on fire. The shrill screaming hurt in his ears. He had never been so close to his own ruthlessness.
As Scott was entirely engulfed in a mass of red and orange flame, the two Beaumont’s walked down the hall and out of the station. An officer stood by with a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze once Scott was dead.
“That was the last time,” said the older Beaumont. “You got the fire, now that’s enough. I’m letting those other men out of the basement tonight and you will be staying inside. There will be no more hunts, I’m sorry.”