His eyes were gone, and what was left of his ears was being eaten by something or other. I’m gonna be sick, said Martin, but he wasn’t, he didn’t even really look fazed. I guess it’s just a thing you say. We had to shovel the mud away around the rest of him, more careful now, after the drive that discovered him, that thump, had left half his jaw hanging off. It was bound to happen. Once most of the mud was clear, I got my spade right up under him and leaned on it, so he rolled away from me, on to his stomach, like I was interrupting his sleep. I made sure I got in first, grabbed his boots and tucked the shovel up under my arm. Martin took his wrists and we trudged the hundred yards to the truck. His jaw came too, just barely, and Martin said Jesus, he’s got a gold tooth, Jesus, I’m gonna be sick, all the way. We threw him in the back with the wood, and piled the shovels in after him. Then we stripped down, covered him with our clothes and shoes and pulled on the fresh ones from the truck. I’m driving, I said, and Martin didn’t argue, so I drove. I was his older brother, even if he was bigger, so I guess I was in charge. The plan was to dump him in Richard Crawton’s back yard. Stupid plan really, looking back, any coroner with half a brain would tell that the mud in his veins was from the Okefenokee, and not the nourished soil you get at the estates of people like Crawton. Still, the plan was the plan, bury him with Crawton’s wife’s roses, so that’s what we set out to do. We should wait ‘til dark, Martin said, and he wasn’t wrong. I said, well we’ll need to get out of the sun, the bastard’s starting to stink. Martin suggested we pull over a ways off of Barton Street, so I pulled over a ways off of Riverside Drive and we waited. A time later, when we were both out of cigarettes and it was just starting to get dark, so you could see the steam rise up a little off the swamp and just hang there, a guy with a shotgun came strolling down Riverside Drive, twirling it like it was a stick he’d found. A shotgun was nothing special, he was probably just looking out for alligators, but me and Martin didn’t have a pistol between us. The man stopped to squint at the truck, and the minute he started walking towards us I knew there’d be two bodies in the back real soon, and I prayed neither of them was me. Martin swore, and I started the engine, and I guess if we had just driven away that would have been the end of it. The man had both barrels on his shoulder and walked toward the left headlamp, taking his time, so I waited a little longer and then hit the gas, knocking him down and rolling both left wheels over him before he could argue. It wasn’t ‘til after I got out and went to take a look at him that I saw it was a boy, not much older than fourteen. He went in the back all the same.
Martin really did throw up then, and I watched him, digging my fingernails into my palm so hard it bled. He wiped his mouth and looked at me all terrified, and asked what the fuck do we do. I turned around and punched the passenger window, which sent two long cracks up from the bottom corner, and helped no-one. We got in the car, flicked the headlamps on and drove into the night, and as we drove I told Martin that we had to bury the kid in the swamp, right where we had dug up the other guy. I told him don’t even think about it, said we couldn’t frame Crawton for two murders, not when one of them had tire tracks all up his shattered ribcage. He shuddered, and I regretted saying it like I did, but then he nodded and said Okay. For a long time we drove like that in silence, the fog sending the light from the headlamps right back in our faces. Then Martin asked me, have you ever killed someone before? I said yeah, which wasn’t true, and then I said, a long time ago, to make it sound true. He looked down at his hands and nodded again, like he knew what I was gonna say before I told him. I remembered Dad’s whiskey in the glove box and I reached over Martin’s lap to get it. I put the bottle in his hand, eyes on the bumpy road, and he unscrewed it and gave it back. I swigged it, retched, took a breath and swigged again. Martin took the bottle and went, sip, swallow, sip, swallow, over and over, like he was real thirsty or running out of time.
It was dark when we got back to where we started, under the bridge just south of Fargo on the 441, if you want to go looking. We didn’t have a flashlight, so we parked off the road and put the headlamps on, sending yellow light across the mud. We got back into our dirty clothes and went about digging what we’d just undug. The boy went in face down, sniffing somewhere around the same spot as the last one. I hate to say it, but to this day I can’t say for sure if he was dead before we buried him. I don’t know, it was likely just the whiskey, me seeing him twitch.
From there it was straight on to the estate. Dad wanted Crawton in jail for murder, said he’d killed plenty, even if it was Dad himself who dropped this particular man. We went the long way round – it can get real quiet around here at night, so we didn’t want to drive too near the house. Martin was drunk by the time we parked up on the dirt track around the yard, and I was heading that way. Still, we wanted to get it over and done with, so we took our shovels and Martin took the bottle, and we crept through the mangroves on to Crawton’s property. The hole took an hour to dig, all big rocks and tree roots blocking the path. When it was deep enough, Martin threw the empty bottle into it and we went back for our rotting friend. In the end, it was that bottle that put them on to us, the whiskey that Crawton knew Dad drank, but that wasn’t what got us caught. No, somehow when we heaved him out the back of the truck, and Martin dragged him by the arms while I tried to drunkenly cover the trail his boots left in the dirt, somehow as we piled the soil on top of him, patted it down, made sure it looked freshly done, somehow we didn’t notice his jaw was gone. There it was, in the back with the wood, that gold tooth still sparkling.
We put on our clean clothes, the ones that had only handled one body, and headed to a payphone to make the call. We’re both of us gonna burn forever in hell, I know it, said Martin, but he didn’t really look fazed. I guess it’s just a thing you say.