remember no details about him other than he was not wearing a shirt, that his head was shaved and his mouth was ringed with whiskers, that there was blood splatter on his chest and arms, that his boots sounded like they had lugs on them as they struck the wood stairs, that his cargo pants were buttoned under his navel, that his mouth dropped open and his face seemed to turn into a bowl of pudding when Hackberry pulled the trigger on the twelve-gauge and watched him buckle over as though he had swallowed a piece of angle iron.

The man who had been first down the cellar stairs had not suffered in vain. As he clutched himself and stumbled and fell down the stairs, three more men followed, shooting over their comrade’s head, filling the cellar with a deafening roar of gunfire that echoed off the walls, the ejected casings shuddering in the electric light, the ricochets sparking off the stone walls and the bars and iron plating of the cells.

Hackberry worked the pump on his twelve-gauge and got another shell into the chamber and fired a second time at the top of the stairs. He saw the lightbulb hanging from the ceiling explode and buckshot cut a pattern across the wooden door that opened onto the hallway, but his adversaries were already into the cellar, firing blindly, breaking the glass in the far window, hitting the body of a man who lay on the floor by one of the cells, driving him and Pam Tibbs back toward the outside stairwell.

“Hack! The guy behind the post!” Pam shouted. Then she began firing the semiauto AR15 into a dark corner of the cellar, pulling the trigger as fast as she could, ignoring a bullet crease on her cheek and a blood-flecked rip in her shirt at the top of her shoulder.

Hackberry felt a blow strike him just above the hip, hard, a pain that punched through tissue and spread deep into the bone the way a dull headache might. He pressed his palm against the wound and saw blood well through his fingers, then something vital inside him seemed to fold in upon itself and melt into gelatin and cause him to lose balance and topple sideways toward a pile of cardboard boxes. All the while Pam kept firing, advancing toward the dark place in the corner, positioning herself between the shooter and Hackberry, shouting, “Suck on this, you motherfucker! How does it feel? Did you like that? Take it, take it, take it!”

Hackberry could not see the man she was shooting at. When Hackberry fell into the boxes, he saw Anton Ling and Krill and the silhouettes of two men who had made it to the bottom of the stairs without being hit. Mostly, he saw the cellar turning sideways and the cardboard boxes coming up to meet him and his shotgun falling from his grasp as the boxes collapsed on top of him, all of this inside a roar of sound that was like a locomotive engine blowing apart, like an artillery barrage marching across a frozen rice paddy south of the Yalu River.

The shooting stopped as quickly as it had begun. The air was filled with smoke and lint and dust and tiny pieces of fiberboard. In the light from the hallway door, he could see two of Sholokoff’s men standing in the drift of smoke, one with a revolver, the other with a semiautomatic carbine that was fitted with a skeleton stock. He realized that Pam Tibbs was down, somewhere behind several crates of wine bottles that were broken and draining onto the floor. He could not see either Krill or Anton Ling. He found his shotgun among the cardboard boxes and propped the butt against the floor and used it to raise himself to one knee, his side and back on fire.

He saw the silhouette of a small man go across the doorway at the head of the stairs. “Frank?” a voice with a Russian accent said. “What’s happening down there?”

“We nailed the sheriff and his deputy,” Frank said. “I’ve got everything under control.”

“Are they dead?” the man with the Russian accent said.

“I’m not sure, sir.”

“Then be sure. Kill them. I want to see their heads.”

“You want to see their-”

“I want you to bring me their heads,” the man with the Russian accent said.

“Where’s Collins, sir?” Frank asked.

“Somewhere in the house. You finish down there and come around behind him. This is your opportunity to redeem yourself. Do not disappoint me, Frank.”

Frank raised the carbine with the wire stock to his shoulder and began firing at random all over the cellar, the bullets notching the stone walls, whanging off the cell doors, splintering the cases of wine that were bleeding pools of burgundy on the floor. With one knee for support, Hackberry raised the twelve-gauge and fired at the two men who stood at the bottom of the stairs. Most of the pattern struck a wood post, and the rest of the load flattened harmlessly against a wall behind the stairs.

Hackberry tried to work the pump and hold the shotgun with one hand, but instead of ejecting the spent shell, the mechanism jammed, and the spent shell was crimped sideways between the bolt and the chamber. In the gloom, he saw Pam sitting flatly on her buttocks behind a stack of rubber tires, her legs stretched out straight in front of her. There was a bullet wound in her back and what appeared to be an exit wound in the top of her left arm. She was trying to free her. 357 from her holster, but her hand kept fluttering on the grips and the leather strap fastened at the base of the hammer.

“Throw out your piece, Sheriff Holland,” Frank said. “I’ll talk with Mr. Sholokoff. He’s a businessman. This doesn’t have to end badly. Our common enemy up there is that smelly son of a bitch Jack Collins. Why take his weight?”

Hackberry’s side was throbbing, his face breaking with sweat. He could hear glass crunching under the boots of Sholokoff’s men as they began working their way carefully toward the pile of tires behind which Pam Tibbs had taken cover.

“Think about it, Sheriff,” Frank said. “The people you’re trying to rescue down here are killers. They murdered a guy who tried to treat them in a kindly way. Yeah, that’s right. Mike was his name. He was a good guy. He’s lying dead on the floor now, with shoestrings wrapped around his throat. How about it, Sheriff? How many guys get a second chance like this?”

Frank had grown cavalier about Krill and the Asian woman. When Anton Ling gathered herself up from the floor with the Air-weight. 38 five-round Smith amp; Wesson in her hand, Frank’s expression seemed amused, taking her inventory, his eyes sliding over her blood-streaked shift, the bruises on her face and arms and shoulders, the gash in her lower lip.

“I had a Chinese bitch of my own once,” Frank said. “Play your cards right and I might keep you around.”

Her first shot hit him an inch above the groin; the second one entered his mouth and exited an inch above the neatly etched hairline on the back of his neck.

His friend dropped his semiautomatic to the floor and lifted his hands in the air just before Anton Ling shot him in the heart.

Upstairs, the Thompson began firing again without letup, the rounds thudding into walls all over the house, the casings dancing on the floors, as though Jack Collins had declared war on all things that were level or square or plumb or that possessed any degree of geometric integrity.


Nobody could say Preacher Jack Collins wasn’t a fan of Woody Guthrie. “ Adios to you Juan, adios Rosalito, adios mi amigo Jesus and Maria,” he sang above the roar of the Thompson as he burned the entire ammo drum, hosing down the house from one end to the other, the barrel so hot that it scalded his hands when he reloaded.

He hunted down Sholokoff’s men in closets, crawl spaces, and behind and under the furniture and kitchen counters, blowing them apart as they cowered or tried to break and run.

These were the dreaded transplants from Russia and Brighton Beach or their surrogates in Phoenix? What a laugh.

Jack was having a fine time. He even enjoyed the rain blowing through the broken windows. It filled the house with a soft mist and the wet smell of grass and cornstalks and freshly plowed fields. The smell reminded him of rural Oklahoma during a summer rain, when the rivers and buttes were red and the plains green. His mother took him once to an Easter-egg roll behind a church where she had decided to get reborn. For whatever reason, Jack thought, it sure didn’t take. In fact, he’d always had the feeling that his mother had seduced the preacher.

No matter. When Jack’s Thompson was deconstructing the environment and people around him, he was no longer troubled by thoughts of his mother’s cruelty and the strange form of catatonic trance that seemed to take

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