He heard the yelping, took the Winchester out of the safe and stood on his back porch, searching. It was a cool night and his breath slipped out in a knife string vapor. There, maybe a hundred yards, the coyotes flitting along the fence. Gray bestial things in the spotlight the ranch had hung to keep them away. The cows were close on the other side. They’d just calved, and the smell of blood and new shaking legs must have stirred up the dogs. He exhaled, sighted in on the larger. Squeezed the trigger just as it gathered itself to leap the wire and his round hit it in the hindquarters, spun it, bounced it whining off a post. Its partner took off along the fence and he sighted, shot, but the coyote kept running, silent, into the Catalinas. He watched until he couldn’t be sure if it was the dog or the shadows leaping under stars that were giving way to the first piercing rays of dawn.
Turned-over scree uneven under his boots. The cold wind slipping through his flannels until he felt naked in the empty desert, unsure. He reached the coyote and it was crawling around on its front legs leaving a trail of blood and brown from the wound. It looked at him, no fear in it, the eyes almost thoughtful and he pulled the bolt and shot it in the head from six feet away and then he thought about burying it. The animal’s jaw was shot loose and the top half of its skull was gone but still its foreleg quivered there and he knew he should bury it.
That was what you did with the goddamned things. You shot them.
The drive down 77 and the sun rose crisp and sharp. Saguaro piercing his window and he parked at the courthouse. On the elevator his hands felt tight and he opened, closed his fingers.
The governor called, Macy told him. She’d curled her hair in case she got on television.
Thank you Macy.
She wants to know your strategy soonest.
Thank you Macy.
He poured a coffee but when he sat down at his desk and turned on his computer he didn’t want it.
The bastard’s mugshot. One eye somehow shadowed, one eye bright and flashing and that scar that dribbled from his lip. Smiling like he would burst for being so happy and no jury who knew what that boy did and saw that picture would think he was sane. What is government if words have no meaning? Psychologists would be falling all over themselves to testify to the boy’s schizophrenia.
He had glossy enlargements of six dead and a dream journal filled with a list of delusions Jared Loughner believed with the strength and savagery of the insane. He had a congresswoman holding on to life by her fingernails. The boy had freckles and he’d shaved his head and wrote the words “I planned ahead”, “My assassination” and “Giffords” on an envelope and that was intent.
Burke will be here in fifteen minutes, the intercom buzzed.
Thank you Macy.
They would want something foolproof, open and shut. This boy could not walk up and kill six people in the state of Arizona and not die for what he did. But when he prosecuted a case he needed to think about strengths and weaknesses and that meant he needed an angle on why.
The boy was raised in a loving Christian household with a mother and father still together. The boy had friends, had a girlfriend, went to college. Wanted the military, wanted a job, wanted to better himself and do everything that American boys did and the minister’s heart in him hurt at the stories of how the boy kicked drugs when everywhere else they seemed to go down like candy.
He wrote down “What failed?” on a notepad and then sat back and remembered the shovel bite into brittle clay and the wind swirling hopeless. He wrote down father, unemployment, teachers, mother, school and he put ink bullets in front of each. The boy thought he could fly. He thought the government controlled its people through grammar. There were some lucid arguments too but the boy wasn’t lucid.
He wrote down the military, drugs, and he put bullets in front of those. He had an affidavit from the boy’s college professor saying that Loughner had challenged him about denying math in his first class, and another from one of the students who started sitting next to the door so she could escape if the boy ever started shooting. Pieces of paper that didn’t really get to the heart of things. Loughner went to the Sportsman’s Warehouse and bought his gun and then he spent two months thinking how to use that power. Open season and our God-given right. The power to kill that part of you that wouldn’t die.
He wrote down the community, the county, the society and then he stopped making marks. The heart, that’s was what it was. It was a sickness, or it was a cruelty, and the judge would decide. This boy broken up and left behind by the great big world and you could feel that anger.
He’d bought fresh 30 ought 6 rounds at the Warehouse yesterday and the clerk couldn’t have been seventeen. A few dozen hairs trying to grow themselves into a beard. He’d slid the box across the counter, swept the receipt from the machine and recognized his customer’s name on it. You’re one of us, right? the clerk had asked. You’ll hang that bastard?
Just a boy, one of us, caught up in everything. In the end we make them or break them.
Burke’s downstairs, Macy said.
Thank you Macy.
You put those animals down is what you do. But they always come back, howling out there like ghosts driven insane in the emptiness. He sat in his chair and felt the cold morning wind, the rasp of dirt and that dog that escaped into the dim tooth mountains bared at the sky. How many, over how many years now?
Macy’s head in the doorway. You coming?
He stood, gathered his coat. Patted his pockets, searching.
I’m coming Macy, I’m coming.
Please note that this is my attempt at reimagining the events that followed the Tuscon shooting. While there is factual information in this piece, it is still a work of fiction.