As the day continued to drift towards darkness, the Englishman had told Hunter of the link between Helland and this house. The then Sergeant had arranged the petition for the release of a convicted murderer and rapist, a horror of humankind in his image, and fed him instruction to travel to this house to commit a grave crime upon an innocent woman and child. It was providence that had saved the lives of the two innocents: a fellow convict, released by pardon, had arrived in time to disrupt the attack. The convict, Two Cell, had promised to deliver a message from the wronged woman’s husband that he was alive, illegally stolen from his life by The Law. On that night of terror, the Englishman told him, Two Cell had murdered the sergeant’s stooge before he could do his bidding. And for that he was now incarcerated on death row, the reason why the Englishman had remained in the state of Mississippi.
‘An’ all that happened here in this house, huh?’ Hunter asked, sitting across the breakfast table from the Englishman.
The Englishman nodded. ‘Which is why I am certain that this is where Helland is headed. He is the most hateful of men. He will not ever cede to anything but evil. Revenge is his byword.’
‘That don’t sound much like revenge to me,’ Hunter said, spitting tobacco into his hand and then disposing of it in a flowerpot, next the dried-out plant. The Englishman watched each movement. ‘I’ve seen revenge. Hell, it keeps me in work. If they was just innocents, sounds nothin’ but coldblooded to me.’
‘Helland has a sick mind –’
‘I’ve seen it myself,’ Hunter said.
‘Indeed you have. In the wildness of his diabolical judgement, he wanted to hurt my friend in compensation of his own sins.’ The Englishman unlinked his hands and closed them into fists. ‘He wanted to punish my friend for his association to my father.’
The lights were not on in the kitchen; the waning light through the window almost too weak to create shadow. Hunter looked down at his pistol, sitting next to the flowerpot on the table. When he looked up, the Englishman was staring out of the window. ‘Why’d Helland kill your ol’ man?’ Hunter asked. ‘What was that revenge for?’
‘A disagreement over the project that my father was working on.’ The Englishman was now looking at his thumb as it smoothed over the nail of his unadorned ring finger. ‘An excuse for disagreement. And it is pertinent to this situation; to my reasons for wishing the man rid of this world.’ Through the semi-darkness, he looked up. His finger continued its movement. ‘On the night that he murdered my father, somehow Helland had raised a mob to rally with him.’
Maintaining eye contact, Hunter leaned back in his chair. ‘The more I hear of Helland, and from what I seen, I couldn’t agree more; that he needs to extinguished.’ That same feeling that had plagued his guts when leaving the meet in the barn stabbed again at Hunter’s insides. He knew it for what it was. He noticed that he was grinding his teeth together. In attempting to make a fist, his strength felt beneath its custom. ‘Most of the time this is just a way to earn a livin’, for me. Nothin’ personal. Just bein’ paid to do a job. But with this man? After I first saw him I wished that I’d killed him cold, soon as I knew who he was. I had that chance. After I hesitated I saw the worst of man that I ever seen.’
‘You’ll have your chance this night,’ the Englishman replied. ‘He will come.’
The Englishman stood and walked to the window. Lifting the drawn lace curtains, he peered into the street. It was quiet, still, grey in the dusk. Lights showed in the windows of opposite houses along the street. A cat took his attention, darting in front of the house, beneath the chinaberry tree, and down the far side of the house next door.
Turning to face back down the street, a vehicle was travelling at low speed. The Englishman stood back from the window; a single finger lifting the thin material. With another finger, he signalled to Hunter to make no movement. The Englishman watched through the slither of a gap. There were two figures in the car, the passenger much smaller than the other. The windows of the vehicle were narrow; at this distance hard to glean anything of those inside. The figure that was driving was half-hidden, yet revealed enough for the Englishman to discern that he was wearing a hat. He narrowed his eyes, trying to gain better sight in the dying light.
The car was nearing the house; the pace consistent. On the street nothing else moved.
‘Is it him?’ Hunter whispered. The Englishman ignored him. A wave of the finger.
The car was now passing the house next door, down the street. The beam of the headlamps breezed through the curtains, speckled dots dancing over the walls. The noise of the engine rattled the windows. The Englishman pushed his head against the wall, biting his lips together. He could see enough of the passengers to discern that the passenger was also wearing a hat. The silhouette showed a bob of hair beneath it. And then he recognised her as a woman, little and old. Next to her, the driver was peering intently through the windshield, focused on the road ahead. The Englishman stepped back from the window.
‘It’s no one,’ he said. Picking up his cup from the table, he poured himself water from a jug. ‘We should get into position,’ he said. ‘Night is upon us.’
With Hunter waiting in the front room, the Englishman sat on the bed in the room at the back of the house. He had first turned the mattress to obscure the blackened stains. He looked at the heavy blanket that they had hung over the curtain rail. They had agreed that the only room that should have light, to show that someone was in, should be the bedroom, where he would stay hidden. Helland would approach through the front door, where Hunter lay in wait for his arrival.
The Englishman put the cup down on the floor by his feet. The bedroom door was open ajar, allowing the yellow light from the lamp to escape into the hallway. That he had never before seen Helland, had only had pictures of the man painted for him by description, that he would only ever see the man in death, didn’t concern him. By all, the portrayal of him had been of an unearthly spirit. Back home they said the same of the Führer, the antichrist, yet he was just a man. And he, too, would be defeated; of that the Englishman was sure.
It had been more than an hour since he had come through to this room alone. He looked around, to see if there was a book, anything to read to pass the waiting time. The house had been mostly left in the way that it had been vacated; only clothes and belongings that could be carried had been taken. In this room, other than the bed and the mattress, all that remained was a wardrobe, dresser, and the small side table that the lamp was standing upon. With his hands between his thighs, all that the Englishman could do was sit, watch the door, and listen to the steady rhythm of his breathing in time to the ticking of his pocket watch.
Soon, through the silence he heard a dull pop, a tinkling of falling glass as if broken by a stone. Standing, he adjusted his waistcoat. He opened his mouth to call out to Hunter. Held his words. He heard the front door open. Another muffled report, a little louder than the first. He heard footsteps. Heading towards the bedroom. He lifted his chin; hand in one pocket. A shadow filled the gap, lighting upon beige trousers. The door began to open towards him. The Englishman looked into the face of the man that he knew so much about. The man who had never left his thoughts since he had learned his name and his crimes.
The two men stared at each other. Beneath his leather hat, Helland’s head tilted to one side. He rubbed his chin; the sound of rats scratching behind a wall. His head tilted to the other side. The light of the lamp in what could be seen of his eyes, petals on oil. The pockmarks in his cheeks corrugated as a smile began to rise. He pointed his pistol at the Englishman.
‘I see you now,’ Helland said, nodding; punctuating the words with small gestures of the weapon. The light breathed shadow into the contours beneath his cheekbones. ‘You’re the son.’ He looked up to his right. ‘Wilmington,’ he said, smiling and nodding again, stabbing the pistol towards the Englishman. ‘That’s the name. Never do forget one. You never know when you might need it again.’
‘And I have never forgotten you,’ the Englishman replied. ‘I knew that there would be a day when we would meet.’
‘Bein’ truthful, I did too,’ said Helland. ‘Always thought you’d want to put some revengin’ on me some day. Don’t matter who you are, revenge is the most beautiful thing. Stronger than forgiveness; more inspirational than just hatin’.’
‘Not if revenge is inspired by justice, not hate.’
‘It’s interestin’ you say that,’ Helland said, the gun moving up from his side again, waving with his words. ‘It was for justice that we went to see your daddy that day. He was just so arrogant about not hearin’ what we all had to say that we had to give him some of our southern justice. I’d warned him first.’
‘You used violence to get your own way,’ the Englishman replied, the tone of his voice rising. A flush had risen high up on his cheeks. He glanced at the open doorway behind Helland. ‘You weren’t going to get your way so you murdered a good man. That is the stigma of this country. Even the state uses execution as punishment.’
Helland shrugged. He tapped the pistol against his leg. Again the two men stared at each other. Again Helland smiled. ‘So you’re just the same, then,’ he said. ‘That man layin’ dead out there?’ Helland gestured to the doorway with a tip of his head. ‘I knew that someone would be headin’ out for me before long. When I met with this small town crew an’ there was another new face suddenly shows up from outta town, no one knows his name, just that he’s on a hunt of some kind? You’d have to be some kind of stupid to not keep some vigilance about ya.’
Helland slipped his arms from the sleeves of his jacket. He stared at the Englishman, standing like a royal. The lamplight glistened on his teeth. ‘What a treat it is to find such a prize as you here, too,’ he said. ‘Just like your daddy. Don’t know where you’ve hidden that big nigger away what I come here for. But I’ll find him. That can wait for another night.’ He stood looking at the pistol for a moment, and then placed it on the floor. ‘Nah. This here’s a bare-hand job,’ he said.