DARK TRAIL HOME

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

He returned to the house, helping himself to some coffee and a leftover piece of ham in a biscuit. Stepping outside, his boot heel caught on the edge of a broken board. Standing on the porch toeing those rotten boards, he thought they looked a lot like redemption.

There were boards in the loft that he had noticed after the storm. Digging through them, he pulled seven that were acceptable. He dragged them near the sawbucks, and brought tools to the porch, and started ripping the old boards from the porch. He had assumed Malone and Ms. Aileen had gone to town, and would be gone most of the day, but he was wrong. They had only gone to visit with a neighbor.

Ms. Aileen stood over the hole in her porch in stunned silence as Malone came to stand beside her.

“What in heaven’s name have you done?” Tyree’s stomach tightened at the rebuke.

“I’m fixin the porch. Them boards was rotten.”

“I see,” she looked to Malone, and the man shook his head slightly.

“It did need repairing, sure enough. I was going to do it after we did the roof,” pointing up at the porch stoop. “But now you got it all tore up, we might as well get it done.”

We? Tyree watched Malone pick up the tape measure, and stretched in across the porch.

“I already done that,” Tyree said, “I done marked the boards.”

Malone walked with him to the sawbucks, and picked up the saw lying there. Tyree glared at him until Malone’s brows furrowed.

“What? I can cut these in a quickness,” Malone told him, “If you want to hold this board still.” Tyree was seething.

“Go ahead. Cut it, I been waitin’ all damn day for you to come cut these goddamn boards for me,” his words sharp as they sliced the warm air.

There was no mistaking the anger in his tone. Malone’s face darkened, but he handed Tyree the saw, and took hold of the board.

“Sorry, boy. I’ll hold it. You cut.”

“I ain’t a goddamn boy!” He snatched the saw from Malone’s hand.

“You’re enough boy for me to lay my hands on if you keep using that kind of language. Now cut your board before I use it on your backside,” Malone told him.

Malone rolled his eyes as though mildly amused, treating him like a spiteful child. Tyree saw Ms. Aileen cover her mouth, hiding her amusement.

“What’s so damn funny. I killed people for less, you flea-bitten cowpuncher,” Tyree spoke low enough he didn’t think Malone could hear him.

“Watch that lip, Mister Allison.”

Tyree cut the boards, and carried them over to the porch. He set them in place, ignoring Malone.

“I’ll hold the boards in place while you nail them, Mr. Allison,” Malone said in mock seriousness.

“Just hold’ em still. I don’t want em all cattywhumpus,” Tyree growled.

He butted the board up close to one already there, and Malone told him. “You’ll want to leave a little gap. Those boards are seasoned. If you set it in there snug, and they get wet, they’ll swell.”

Tyree nodded. “Thanks.” He moved the board over a hair, grumbling to himself under his breath. “Goddamn sumbitch gonna make me whittle on him.”

He stood back examining his work, searching for mistakes, wanting to correct them before Malone saw them. It irked him that Malone found imperfections, and pointed them out, showing him how to correct something here and there.

“Need to trim the edges here, hit it with some sand paper, smooth it out so it doesn’t catch on a skirt or a boot,” Malone said.

Then after all that Malone patted his shoulder. “Fine job, Mr. Allison.”

Malone squeezed his shoulder, and Tyree shook off his hand, stepping back away from him. Malone pointed to the roof, seeming not to notice the sudden move and his glare.

“You know how to split shingles?”

“No. I ain’t split no shingle, “ he acknowledged, “but I can learn.”

“Well, Next week, if the weather holds, I’ll teach you and Mark to split shingles, and we’ll fix that roof.”

“Sure thing. Maybe you can teach me more about manners too. Or, I could just watch Mark, I’m sure he’s near about housebroke.”

“Hey now. I didn’t do nothing for you to be hacking on me,” Mark protested.

Malone gave him a cross look. “You keep it up. I might have to cut a board down for a paddle after all.”

Tyree snarled, “you think so?”

Mark was right there, adding fuel to the fire that flared up in him. “You best be careful. He doesn’t have much of a temper but once it’s up, he will sure enough swing a belt or a board,” Mark told him.

“I’m getting tired of getting kicked in the teeth,” Tyree said angrily as he glared at Mark.

“Maybe stop showing your damn teeth every time he tries to tell you something,” Mark snapped at him.

Malone carried tools back out to the barn while Tyree cleaned up the nails and trash bits. Ms. Aileen sat down in her rocking chair on the porch. Mark walked out to talk to his brother. Tyree saw Malone shaking his head, and pointing back at the house.

“Very nice,” she said following his sour gaze to Malone. “He’s a good man, Mr. Allison. He could teach you a lot.”

“Don’t matter none to me,” he snapped. He didn’t want to talk about Malone. He looked up in time to see a coyote slink across the yard, nearly forty yards out, but he pulled his pistol, and threw lead at it. It jumped up with a yip, and then fell over and lay still.

“Bold vermin, killing my chickens right and left,” she said.

“Damn good shot,” Mark said, seemingly quite impressed as he ran to it from the barn. He toed the coyote with his boot, ensuring it was dead before flipping it over, and looking closer. “Right in the heart.”

He grabbed it up by a hind leg, and examined it, then slung it behind the barn into the trees.

“Don’t waste that meat. He’ll make a mess of stew,” Tyree snickered.

“Those darn things. I should keep the rifle out here.”

“You need a dog,” Tyree said.

“You want a dog? Davy always wanted a dog. We talked about it several times. If you want one, Joel could find one for you,” she smiled at the thought.

Davy again. And Malone. He was sick of hearing either name.

“I don’t need no goddamn dog. You need one to chase off the damn coyotes out of your yard. Two and four legged. To hell with Malone,” he growled as he carried trash to the burn pile. He regretted it the instant he said it, and turned to Ms. Aileen, but she was already going in the house, and slamming the door behind her. Malone cut him a hot glance, and followed her inside.

As Tyree came back to the porch, he heard their voices raised. Both sounded upset. His stomach twisted, knowing it was his fault.

“He ain’t your Davy, honey. You do see that, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course!” She answered defensively.

Tyree stopped there on the step, and when Malone came out, he homed in on Tyree.

“We need to talk, Mr. Allison,” Malone told him. He saw Mark’s face, wide-eyed, as his brother stepped down, and walked off toward the corral, and waited there. Tyree hesitated, then followed.

“You are rude and uncouth youngster. I don’t know why you feel the need to be vulgar and smart-mouthed around a lady like Missus Lassiter. But you are going to stop or I’m going to take a belt to you.”

“You what?!” Tyree caught himself before the laugh made it out of his mouth. Malone’s eyes narrowed down; his fist doubled up.

“You will show her respect, do you understand me?”

“You can’t tell me wh_” Malone had him by the shirtfront before he was capable of stepping back; he jerked him hard, snatching him up till his toes barely touched the ground. He didn’t expect a man that big to be so quick. He tried to shove Malone’s hand away, but his arm was rock hard.

“Do. You. Understand?”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t hear you.”

“Yes. I understand!” He said. Malone let go of his shirt, and Tyree fell back, trying to maintain some grace, and keep his feet.

Who the hell does he think he is? Anger surged up like venom.

Malone headed for his horse. That was the second time he’d been called down for something. He caught a grin, and head shake from Mark. Fire flashed through him.

“Malone,” Tyree spoke quietly, and Malone turned around.

He hoped Ms. Aileen didn’t hear. “Don’t ever put your hands on me again. Do you understand?”

Tyree’s fingertips brushed his gun grip. The implied threat was too hard to miss. Malone’s face was dark with anger. “Son. You be real careful.”

“Tyree.” Ms. Aileen’s voice was scorching, burning into him as he realized she heard it all. Mark sent a smoldering glance as he walked past.

“I thought we might be friends, but I guess I was wrong. Your kind doesn’t have friends. You might as well move on down the road, we got no use for you,” Mark stated. The words burned into him like a brand.

The house door slammed shut, and Tyree flinched at the sharpness, and slumped into the ashes of the remaining silence.

Mark’s words echoed in the quiet of the barn as he saddled his horse. We got no use for you. His eyes grew hot as he jerked the latigo through the rings, and went to the loft where his blankets were wadded up in a corner. He swallowed hard against a lump that was choking him. These clod busters and their damnable manners. Take off your hat, wash your hands, watch your mouth. He hadn’t taken that much shit off Jace Kettering.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Rolling his blankets tight, he dropped them to the floor below.

“You missed.” A voice called up to him. Mark Malone was back.

“What did you forget?” He asked glumly.

“Nothing. I just decided I’d spend the night over here.”

Mark looked on curiously as Tyree put the saddle-bags and bedroll on behind his saddle.

“Where you going?”

“Lighting a shuck. Like I was told,” he said flatly.

“It’s almost dark already. You might as well stay one more night.”

It was true, the shadows were stretched out and thick. He lit a lantern inside the barn.

“I should have been gone already. I took the time to feed the hors…”

“You should apologize to her.”

“I tried to get her to talk to me, but she won’t open the door. I figured I might as well go.”

“Give her time. It’s been hard on her, these last two months. Joel says she needs time to grieve.”

Mark pulled his saddle off the paint, and turned it into the corral. “Used to spend every weekend over here camping out with Davy. Davy was about our age. He was about your size, dark hair, blue eyes.” Mark said. “David was my best friend, Tyree.”

“Why you telling me this?”

“I’m not sure. You remind me of him, I guess. It’s hard not to see him in you. For her, too. Same age, about the same size, and he was a bit of an ass, too, sometimes.”

“’Cept I ain’t him,” Tyree said with a remote coldness. He followed Mark back inside the barn, and pulled his saddle off his horse. There wasn’t much point in making camp in the dark. Morning was soon enough.

“You can have the bunk,” he said, as Mark moved the lantern over to the corner to examine the straw-covered floor, the dust-laden straw-stuffed mattress on the bunk where a chicken was nested in the corner.

“You don’t sleep there?” Mark asked as he chased the squawking hen out into the corridor.

“No.” Tyree hung the saddle, and turned the horse out into the corral.

“I’ll sleep in the loft, there’s plenty of room up there,” Mark said.

“No.”

Mark looked up and back to Tyree, confused at the short answer. He brushed the bunk off, and curled his nose.

“It’s probably more comfortable up there,” Mark said.

“I’m sleeping up there.”

The way he said it left no doubt that he didn’t intend to share the space above them. The light from the lantern played at the shadows in Mark’s eyes. Tyree glared at Mark, and Mark looked confused and peeved.

“I can’t make you be my friend.”

“You can’t make me do a damn thing. That’s for sure,” Tyree agreed.

“You win.” Mark said softly.

Shaking the hay off the bunk mattress, dust rose around Mark as he spread his blankets. He sat on the edge, pulling off his boots, and hanging his gun belt from the wall peg. He looked miserable.

What did I win? Tyree sighed. Nothing.

“Look, I just… I’m an ass.” He jerked his thumb toward the loft. “You can come up. There’s too much dust down here.”

“You are an ass.” Mark agreed. “I don’t know what your problem is. You don’t have to act like that.”

“Act like what?”

“Like you hate everybody. Like a…”

“An alley bred cur?”

“Yes. An alley bred cur.”

“I reckon that’s what I am.”

They took their blanket, and spread them out on the hay. He pushed the loft door open, letting the moonlight spill in across the space. Mark spread his blankets, and laid sat cross-legged in the soft light. Tyree pulled his boots off, unbuckled the gun belt, and curled it into the corner. The gun he laid on the blankets and stretched out beside it.

“I guess I really am an ass. I didn’t mean to ride rough-shod over you,” Tyree said by way of apology.

“You sleep with that?” Mark asked. “You got a lot of bad habits, Tyree. You should work on that.”

“I needed you to tell me that?”

“No, I guess if you want to be a worm-infested flea-bitten coyote, that’s your choice,” Mark grunted.

Tyree curled around his gun, adjusting his hip into a pocket of hay. He closed his eyes. Mark muttered, “If you want to be respected, act respectable.”

“Shut up, Mark.” He mumbled.

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