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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
The contortions in James Marzan’s face suggested he was pushing through some thorny jungle dreamland, searching for the pathway to consciousness. His eyes opened. He was lying in bed with Croukamp sitting on a wooden chair at his side. Marzan took a deep breath and closed his eyes again and laid in calm repose for a moment before speaking.
“What happened?” he asked with his eyes still closed.
“You were very ill.” Croukamp answered. “Do you know where you are?”
Marzan opened his eyes, again. “This is Vaughn’s house?”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No, but we found one. Well, a veterinarian, actually.”
“She examined your side and found your scar. She thought that maybe you had a piece of shrapnel in there that had worked itself into a bad way with all the walking you’ve done. So she performed a little surgery.”
“I remember she put me under with something.”
“Isoflurane is what she called it, I think. She was very efficient.”
Marzan felt his side and found it covered in a bandage. “So it was a success?”
“I believe so. You look much better. By the way, this is what she pulled out of you.” Croukamp held a smooth metallic object, the size of a horse pill, between his thumb and index finger. “Strangest piece of shrapnel I’ve ever seen.”
“Where’s the boy?” Marzan asked.
“He’s outside in the yard with Jess. They’re pulling weeds.”
“Has he spoken?”
“Not a word.”
“Can I have that?”
Croukamp handed him the metal pill. Marzan examined it carefully, taking note of the barely visible digits and lettering etched in its surface.
“I need to be going,” Marzan said.
“I’m sure. Just as soon as you are able.”
“I need to be going today, right now. I don’t want to bring any trouble to you all.” Marzan pushed the covers off and sat himself up in bed with his feet on the floor.
Croukamp walked to the window and looked out. “It looks like trouble may have already come,” he observed.
Marzan heard a truck come down the driveway.
Croukamp pulled the blinds back. A white county pickup rolled down the asphalt. “I’m guessing it’s Hiserman,” Croukamp said. “He works for the banks. He wants the house.”
“Do you have my things?” Marzan asked.
“Everything of yours is there, on the dresser. Sharon washed it all.”
“Can you help me up?”
Croukamp helped Marzan onto his feet. Then Croukamp left to greet the visitor. He found Jess in the drive and stood beside her. She was already pleading her case. Hiserman looked oblivious as he flipped through the papers on his clipboard.
“I have your money,” Jess explained. “Here.” She slid an envelope into the pages of his clipboard.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Hiserman explained as he pulled it loose and tried to hand it back. “It’s too late.”
“No. It’s not my fault. I would have gotten you your money sooner but it took the agency forever.”
Hiserman shook his head, looking exasperated.
“That’s all of it right there. You have your money now,” Jess exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. There’s nothing I can do.”
“What will the government do with this house, anyway? Nobody is moving up here. Nobody’s buying real estate.”
“They don’t pay me to know that, ma’am. I just follow orders.”
Jess’s face morphed from pleading into anger. “How many houses have you taken?”
“That’s not relevant.”
“Were they all empty?”
“I’ve paid it off in full. It’s done. Are you really going to throw us out? I have a five-year-old daughter.”
“You’ll need to be out by Sunday or I’ll have to bring DSF down.”
Jess looked desperately at Croukamp, distress furrowing her face.
Then another voice caused the three of them to turn their heads. “What’s going on here?”
They discovered James Marzan leaning against the gate. Jess and Croukamp looked wary.
“Take her back into the house,” Marzan said to Croukamp. “You two are not going to want to hear a word of this.”
Jess looked to Croukamp for some direction but he did nothing but stare at James Marzan, as if he was trying to glean the level of madness this vagabond had brought into their world. Croukamp’s expression was pleading, Please don’t do something rash.
“And who are you?” Hiserman asked, sounding annoyed.
“Go inside!” Marzan ordered. “And don’t come out until this truck here drives away.”
Croukamp acquiesced, perhaps sensing resistance was futile He gestured for Jess to follow and they left slowly, through the gate, up the porch steps and in through the door.
“Who are you?” Hiserman asked, again.
“You came alone,” Marzan observed. “That was unwise.”
“I sense that you are threatening me,” Hiserman said. “You should know my office knows exactly where I am.”
“How long do you think it’ll take them to get here?”
Hiserman took out his cell but there was no signal. “Who are you?” he asked a third time.
“I might be nobody. Just a drifter. Or I might be someone. A judge and jury. A lot of that depends on you.”
“There’s nothing I can do for them. I’m sorry.”
“Actually, I think there is.”
“No, there really isn’t,” Hiserman replied, brushing his jacket aside to reveal his sidearm. “There’s nothing I can do. Now I have to go. I have more appointments.”
“You’re not going anywhere until we come to an understanding.”
“I don’t have time for this,” Hiserman said, backing towards the door of his truck.
Marzan opened the gate and stepped through.
“There’s nothing that I could do, even if I wanted to.” Hiserman opened the door to the truck.
“Oh, I don’t believe you. In fact, I bet you could go back to your office and discover the check that Mrs. Clayton gave you. You could remember that she had given it to you the last time you were out here. You must have misplaced it or something. You can tell your supervisor that. Then you can move on to the next house on your list. Everyone here would be very appreciative of that and your bankers will get their money. Everyone wins.”
“They don’t want the money. The money’s worthless.”
“It’s not worthless to her. It came at great cost.”
“That’s not my concern.”
“I’m asking you to make it your concern this one time. It’s your chance to do what is right.”
“It looks like I’m going to have to come back here with the DSF.”
Hiserman opened the door to get in but Marzan lunged forward, grabbing hold of it and preventing Hiserman from securing himself in the cab. Marzan grabbed Hiserman by the collar and pulled him out, tossing him onto the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust in the process.
“I’m armed!” Hiserman shouted as he got up off the ground.
“You don’t want to go there,” Marzan replied, as he lifted his shirt to reveal the 9mm tucked into his waistband.
“This is felony assault.”
“I don’t care. But it’s more than that.” Marzan’s tone darkened. “Now you listen very carefully to me…”
“You can’t intimidate me. I’ll have you arrested.”
“Shut up and listen and I’ll let you drive out of here in one piece.”
“The sheriff’s going to—”
“I said listen…” Marzan urged.
Hiserman stood and dusted himself off. Marzan was still barring his way back into the truck. “You’re in deep sh—”
“I don’t want to be a violent person,” Marzan interrupted.
Hiserman stopped protesting.
“Now you are going to take this check with you. You are going to make sure that it is deposited and that the house is paid off, in full.”
“I told you I—”
“You’re going to make it happen. How that is done is up to you.”
“The DSF will—”
“No. Why must I repeat myself? You are going to make it happen or I’m going to make something happen to you. Do you understand? You go and do some asking around before you call your buddies at DSF. Call some sheriff’s deputies. I want you to remember a name for me. Can you do that?”
Hiserman groaned as Marzan waited for his response.
“Can you remember a name?”
Hiserman finally relented and flinched in affirmation.
“The name I want you to remember is Garrity. Got it?”
“Repeat it back to me,” Marzan ordered.
“Garrity,” Hiserman said, rolling his eyes.
Now you go ask a few of your friends about what happened to Garrity when he got sideways with the people around here. You find out about that before you go calling DSF.”
Hiserman shook his head.
“Jess’s late husband, the man whose death was bought with this check, he had friends—professional friends. Friends who know how to get things done. In fact, some of these friends rather enjoy themselves while doing it. Now these friends have access to information. They can find out where you live. They can find out where you work. They can find out what you drive. Where you shop. Your family member’s names and addresses. Everything.”
“You can’t intimidate me.”
“You’re going to make this little problem disappear. Yes, you are. And if there’s any more trouble around here, I’m going to let Vaughn’s friends know about Mrs. Clayton’s troubles with you.” Marzan pointed his finger. “And if you ever come back here with anything, and I mean anything, other than the deed for this house, you just remember that name…Garrity.”
“Can I go, now?” Hiserman asked.
“Do you understand me?”
Marzan stepped aside and let Hiserman get into his truck.
“Here, you dropped this.” Marzan reached down and picked up the envelope with the check and handed it to Hiserman. “Don’t lose it.”
Hiserman put the key in the ignition and started the engine.