Authors: Matt Manochio
Tags: #horror;zombies;voodoo;supernatural;Civil War;Jay Bonansinga
These are no ordinary killers.
They don't distinguish between good and evil. They just kill. South Carolina's a ruthless place after the Civil War. And when Sheriff's Deputy Noah Chandler finds seven Ku Klux Klansmen and two Northern soldiers massacred along a road, he cannot imagine who would murder these two diametrically opposed forces.
When a surviving Klansman babbles about wraiths, and is later murdered inside a heavily guarded jail cell, Noah realizes something sinister stalks his town. He believes a freed slave who's trying to protect his farm from a merciless land baron can help unmask the killers. Soon Noah will have to personally confront the things good men must do to protect their loved ones from evil.
This book is dedicated to Tehani Schneider, who has always been my friend and so much more.
The three menâconfident they outwitted the soldiersâcrept by lantern flame and moonlight through the horizontal wooden fence slats outlining Toby Jenkins's one-thousand-acre farmland. Lyle, the leader and last one in, snuffed the fire after sneaking under a “No Trespassers” sign nailed on a post.
“Think he saw us?” Franklin said as the assassins squatted behind a towering weeping willow to catch their breaths and adjust their eyes to the moonlit darkness.
“Ain't sure,” Lyle whispered, hoping his two compatriots would follow his lead. “Even if he did, from this point on, no light, gentlemen.”
Brendan, the last of the former Confederate soldiers turned hired killers, peeked from behind the tree to see pinpricks of orange candlelight illuminating the farmhouse windows almost half a mile downhill. Cornfields blanketed most of the land, save for the manicured stretch the three hoped to traverse.
“If he saw us, we'd look like fireflies,” Brendan said.
Despite it being past midnight, sweat trickled into their eyes as the August heatwave smothered upcountry South Carolina. Perspiration soaked the men's dark pants and black short-sleeved shirts. Only their hats distinguished them. Franklin wore a black bowler while Lyle donned a black felt Stetson. Brendan sported a brown one.
“Horses can't get free, right?” Lyle said to Franklin. “We're gonna need to beat it quick. I don't want no one seeing us. I don't care if it
“I hitched them to a tree back yonder. Nobody's riding these parts at night. Soldiers are too busy rounding up Klansmen to be worrying about us.”
“Good. Here's another reason God's calling on us to do this: can you believe those niggers'll be able to vote for
of the United States in a few months?” Lyle said. “And we're
allowed to vote? Why should I, a white man, not be allowed to vote in the state where I grew up but some savage can?”
“Well, I think it's because the Yankees figured us for traitors for insurrection against the United States government,” Franklin said. “So why would Yankees allow us to vote forâ”
“I didn't mean it literally, shithead!” Lyle caught himself and looked around to make sure nobody had heard him. He felt his heart thumping and waited for it to slow a bit before continuing. “Christ, I know goddamn well why
ain't allowed to voteâ
can't get over it, though. I would've kept fighting. I mean, talk about indignity: first Charlie Stanhope dies and wills his property to Toby Jenkins and his wife, and now those animals can vote to keep Grant and those Radical Republicans in office? Mark my words, the goddamn Republicans have the black vote locked up for eternity.”
“Why'd Charlie give them his land?” Franklin asked like a child and not a twenty-eight-year-old Civil War veteran. “I don't get it.”
“What can I say? He's a goddamn scalawag,” Lyle said. “He loved those freedmen, bought 'em when they was just teenage kids fresh off the boat in Charleston. Educated them, evenâhired a tutor right after he bought them. Figured it best to Americanize them. Never whipped them, never touched them. Hell, he even married the two, and then Charlieâa
man, mind youâoffered them their freedom before the War
but they stayed.”
“I still don't get it.”
“It's like this.” Brendan, a year older than Franklin, chimed in. “Charlie never took a wife. Had no kids. All he asked of them was to help him plant and harvest the corn. And he treated them like family. Hell, Toby and Sarah
his family. And when the old guy kicked, he left them everything to get around the Black Codes. I'll be goddamned if some black man's gonna own more property than me.”
“Well, that's why Mister Diggs hired us today,” Lyle said of Thomas Diggs, the land baron who wanted Toby and Sarah Jenkins out of the picture, and who coveted their property. “A thousand bucks each buys two-hundred acres easy. All we gotta do is force Toby to sign over his property to Mister Diggs, then pop him and his wife and kid.”
“And Sheriff Cole's okay with this?” Franklin said.
“Don't worry about him,” Lyle said. “You think anyone in this county's gonna give two shits about three dead niggers who have no earthly right to that land when white veterans are homeless?”
“I don't know, Lyle. The woman had a baby not but a month ago. We gonna kill the baby, too?”
“Yes, Franklin, we are.” Lyle drew his nine-cylinder LeMat. “Check your guns, make sure you don't have to mess with them when we're right on top of them.”
“But, Lyle. A
“If you're gonna chicken out, then walk away, Franklin,” Lyle hissed. “I didn't
to ask you and Brendan if you wanted in on this. I figured we're buddies and we can use the money. Or do you want to keep sleeping in that shit-stinking shack of yours?”
“Course I don't.”
“Then shut up and let's do this.”
Brendan carried a Colt revolver with an ivory handle. Franklin loaded his Springfield rifle.
“So what are we doing?” Franklin said.
Lyle stood. Brendan and Franklin followed his lead.
“Well, we surround the house and work our way toward it,” Lyle said. “If someone comes running at youâopen fire.”
“But there are only three of us,” Franklin said.
“You can't surround a house with three people. What if they make a break for it on the side we're not covering?”
The three reasoned in silence.
“I can't believe I'm saying this, but Franklin's got a point,” Brendan said.
“Shit, yeah, I guess he does.” Lyle reached under his grimy Stetson and scratched through matted black hair. “All right, here's what we do. We surround it triangular-like. Brendan, keep your distance while running to the side of the house on your right, enough so that you can keep an eye on its front
side, just in case someone tries sneakin' out the window. I'll do likewise on my left. Franklin, you circle around to the back. Hide in the cornfield if you have to. I'll signal with a bird call, three times.” Lyle blew three short, sharp whistles. “Just like that. When you hear it, start convergingâFranklin, that means you move toward the back door.”
what it means.”
“All right, we don't want to kill Toby Jenkins right awayâonly if he's about to fire on you. It looks better if he signs over the deed to Mister Diggs.”
“He ain't gonna just hand it over,” Brendan said.
when we hold a gun to his baby's head.”
Brendan and Franklin kept quiet. Lyle continued after a few seconds of silence.
“Don't kill Sarah, neither, not if you don't have to. We need the wife and the kid as leverage. Once we get that nigger's signature, then we blow them all to hell, and we're all one-thousand dollars richer. And don't forget to drop the hoods on the way back.”
Lyle patted a white cloth hood with two eyeholes that he had tied to his belt. Brendan and Franklin had knotted hoods to their belts and checked to make sure they hadn't fallen during their journey.
“If those northerners demand an investigation, they'll find the hoods, think a struggle took place, and blame the Klan. That's all they care about stopping these days.”
“But shooting a woman like thatâ”
“Shut it, Franklin,” Lyle cut him off. “Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't your little brother fall at Fort Wagner?”
Franklin stiffened his six-foot, eight-inch frame when Lyle invoked the memory of his brother, Clayton. “Yeah, he did.”
“If I recall correctly, one of those nigger Yankees from Massachusetts fired a bullet right in his gut and he screamed for dear life in that tent as the doctors tried pulling it out of him, right?”
“They couldn't get it in time. He bled out,” Franklin grumbled to himself.
“That's right.” Lyle violently jabbed toward the house. “And it's all because of
that your brother's dead. So don't you get soft now. You owe it to your family, to your
, to make sure those filthy animals know their place.”
“Fine, I get what you're saying. But you said Mister Diggs hired David Pruitt last week to do what we're about to do. Nobody's seen him since.”
“Probably tried attacking Toby while he was drunk,” Brendan said from behind Franklin.
“No. I lent him my Derringer right before he left,” Franklin said. “He didn't say why. Only that he wanted something small for his pocket in case he dropped his sidearm. Derringer's too small for my hand, anyway. But he was plenty sober when I gave it to him. The idea of two-thousand dollars would sober me up right quick, 'cause that's what Diggs was gonna pay him. Pruitt's reliable. I served with him. Now he's gone.”
“Well, that's why there's three of us,” Lyle said. “Maybe Toby's good with a rifle. I don't know, but it's all the more reason to keep wise. Franklin, you get going. You've got the greatest distance to cover.”
“I might not be able to hear your bird call,” Franklin said as he lumbered away.
“Listen real close and you
,” Lyle spat back.
A full moon in a cloudless sky attuned their eyes to the darkness. Brendan departed counter-clockwise, cocking his Colt as he walked. Lyle focused on the distant two-story farmhouse, believing Toby knew something was upâ
Why else would he keep his place all alight with candles?
Then, one by one, the top-floor windows darkened and the house slowly disappeared, but not completely. The windows flanking the front door remained illuminated.
“Mother and child are asleep,” Lyle said. “It's just you and me now, boy.”
Brendan, lest he become hopelessly lost, dared not enter the cornfield that grew one-hundred feet from the left side of the farmhouse, reaching across hundreds of unseen acres. The sea of maize wrapped around the property's rear where Franklin would take cover. Brendan hugged the line, weaving into and out of the stalks in case he heard something. He'd killed menâUnion soldiersâbut that was seven years ago. Never had executing a potentially unarmed man crossed his mind.
Let Lyle pull the trigger
, he thought.
The War turned him into a lunatic. He'll kill that baby, I don't doubt it.
Brendan repeatedly scampered twelve steps at a time before stopping to listen, until standing one-hundred-and-fifty feet from the left-hand corner of the house. One large window provided a side exit. He crouched into the cornfield, looking through the stalks, waiting for Lyle's signal to charge. The house glowed silver under the ghostly moonlight.
Franklin ambled along the property's manicured side. He figured Toby could see anyone and anything coming down the dirt road leading to his front doorstep, but the maze of pine trees flanking his house provided privacy. Franklin hid behind the trees, keeping his grunts down as the pine needles stuck him. Pretty soon, a wide, two-tiered barn came into view. The red-shingled structure housed Toby's hayloft, tools, rig and three stallions when they weren't out grazing in the fenced-in swath next to the barn. Franklin bounded from the trees and took refuge behind it, skulked to a corner, and peeked around to see the house sideways. Franklin gripped his rifle. He'd get only one shot, but he could run fast for his size.
Toby ain't that big. I can get him,
Shoot to injure, especially if it's the woman. I pray she ain't carrying no baby.
Franklin would scoot to the back door and kick it in once Lyle signaled. If need be he could cover his side of the house should someone try escaping through its window, deliberately left open with closed shutters, to allow for rare cool breezes.
A loud, lengthy creak cut the night's silence.
Franklin froze with his back against the barn. He knew that noise. Anyone raised on a farm could identify it. He felt it as his body made contact with the building: a slow wind had caught an unlocked barn door and eased it open. The barn had two sets of double-doors; the second pair, similar in size to the front, stood locked in the rear. Toby could lead his rig straight through the barn when both sets were open. Franklin, pressing himself against the rear door, saw its secured latch.
Franklin then heard through the wood the horses stirring, exhaling sputtered breaths.
Goddamn door woke them up!
Shit, if the lights are still on in the house, then Toby's likely heard it, too. He'll hear them for sure if they whinny. Maybe that means we can get him without a fuss when he goes to check on them and close the door. I hope so.
Franklin breathed louder as he pressed his ear to the wood. Soon the horses settled and all quieted except the lone door swaying on squealing hinges. Franklin felt no wind.
Lyle aimed his LeMat as the barn door shimmied. He glanced at the house to check for Toby's response. The leader, and the youngest of the trio at twenty-four, inched closer and hid behind the trees that checkerboarded that side of the property. The nearer he got to the home the taller and wider the trees grew. Charlie built the house where the biggest trees stood to avail himself of their shade for summer. Lyle, his nerves tingling in anticipation of battle, hid behind a wide oak tree standing one-hundred feet from both the house and the barn. Five minutes passed before he summoned the courage. He thrice whistled before emerging from behind the tree. He trained his firearm on the home's front door, glancing occasionally at the candle-lit windows to see if someone might push open the shutters to look outside. Nothing moved except for Lyle and his creeping compatriots.