Sanctuary: Three

“Is this Emmett Mausberg, animal control services?” 

“Something like that, yes. How can I help you?”

“Hi there, Emmett, it’s Charles DuBois. I got a k’yot out here that’s looking real funny. I was wondering if you could come out and take a look?”

Setting the knife on his front passenger seat, after sweeping innumerable wrappers and receipts off, he regarded the tool. Though it wouldn’t be the first time he put down an animal, Emmett wasn’t very keen on using the knife the first moment he got it. He couldn’t be sure how well-honed the blade was after likely many years of disuse. In truth, he’d much rather not use the blade. Though Emmett couldn’t think he was doing Dee-Dee justice by withholding the heirloom and refusing to give it purpose. Charles’s voice cut in again through the phone, “Are you there, Emmett?”

“Yeah. Where about are you?”

“My house, you know it, right. Big red farmhouse with the horse statues in the driveway.”

“I know it. I’ll be there shortly. Don’t approach the thing if you don’t have to. Rabies has been more prevalent around here lately than ever.”

The immense plantation-style house sitting at the opposite end of town as Emmett’s was impossible to miss. From the hilly drive down into town, anyone could see the vast eye soar in the dead of winter when the glare from fields of solar panels was less intense. In regards to the farm of green energy, Emmett couldn’t quite understand why Charles might sweat a coyote. There was nothing really left to attract a predatory animal to his farm now that his cattle were gone, the horses sold off, and all that remained of his livestock ventures being a small fenced-in chicken coop just outside his back door. Even the myriad of wildlife, deer, rabbit, and squirrels that would have crept among his rows of corn or soybean were long gone from the area, leaving nothing for the coyote to stalk. But, with a rash of rabies running its course through the county, Emmett couldn’t choose to ignore the call.

He pulled up to the house but backed in across the street where a field driveway would grant access to a portion of the solar panel farm were it not surrounded by twelve-foot fences topped with razor wire. Emmett regarded the intimidating fortification, aware too keenly of the reason for it. Even in a sleepy farming town, domestic terrorism could sprout up, and an attack on a power grid would be a devastating blow to everyone in the area. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder why such a concern was not paid to the far more finite resources of the area; its watershed, the fauna, and of course, wildlife.

Making his way over to the farm while fixing the knife to his belt, Emmett noticed five tall four-by-four trucks parked in the driveway. All of them looked familiar enough with the absurd modifications to their exhaust systems and tires that would be made better use of on a monster truck in a demolition derby. The various bumper stickers promoting political candidates who were far from closeted racists, homophobes, and misogynistic, as well as the slew of slogans and logos ranging from ‘Git R’ Done’ and the image of Calvin urinating on some less fortunate automotive brand signaled the owners as being from the area better than anything else. 

The thought of a rabid animal of any sort, domestic or otherwise, should have demanded fewer visitors on the property and not more. Emmett knew something was amiss from the gathered locals, if not from the copper scent on the wind. As he penetrated the outer bounds of the yard and past the row of trucks, he found a knot of men huddled in a circle. It was impossible to say what they discussed; each one was either jeering or laughing. As they turned to face Emmett, he could see just enough of what sat just before the porch to know their purpose. 

He could see the bloody pulp across the rock bed where Missus DuBois had planted a series of non-native plans that failed to prosper even in summer. Feigning ignorance, Emmett carried on, “Gentleman. Charles.”

“Well, look who it is, the pest man. Think you’re a few moments too late, though,” leered one of the locals. Emmett thought his name was Gus. 

Charles took a drag off his cigar, “Apologies Mausberg, you are just a few minutes too late. We got it all handled on our end.”

“I see that. Was anyone scratched, bitten, anything like that?”

“Nothing but a barn cat, and she’s laying behind the barn with what can be said for the litter.”

“I see. Well, I’ll just be taking the body then. I’m sorry I couldn’t get here much quicker,” Emmett attempted to press past the men, only for them to again form a wall of humanity. 

Charles’s round belly jiggled with a low, heavy laugh, “Not so fast, Mausberg. I didn’t say nothin’ about you taking that body. We need something for target practice later, and that cat ain’t going to be worth more than a few rounds at best.”

“I’m sorry, Mister DuBois, but if the animal had rabies, it must be disposed of properly.”

“Okay, you got me. That’s all well and correct for animal control, but come to think of it, I don’t recall you ever being licensed for that kind of work,” the crackling of the flame eating away the paper became audible in his pause, “But I’ll tell you what, simple deal between friends like we are. I hear through the grapevine they’re eyeing up your old homestead and all that land for a solar farm. Far be it from me to meddle in anyone’s affairs, but since you want to meddle in ours, let’s call it even. You call them up; I know you got their number if not, I got it in the house, and you take their offer. Do that, and you can have the little bastard.” 

Emmett stood quiet for a minute, analyzing the broken body of a once respectable creature. There wasn’t any way they could have shot the poor thing just moments prior. Blood was coagulated around the back legs where bone stuck out. The intestines had been pulled out to make a pillow for the skull devoid of eyes. A loose handful of teeth lay scattered around the body, and when Emmett looked for the tail, he found that it had been nailed to a porch post. For all Emmett might care, the coyote could have attacked the family cat, but there was no call for such brutality. Finally, Emmett sighed, “I spoke with their representative this morning. I gave them my price, and I’m waiting to hear back. Now if you don’t mind.”

Again Emmett tried to pass the men but, this time, found himself in the grips of two of them. At first, he didn’t strain, expecting it to be warning enough to stay back, but as a third man stepped between him and Charles, Emmett found his world spinning. The only one among them not sporting a beer belly had taken a few cracks at him, and already Emmett could taste blood. Glaring up through one eye, he saw Charles near him. Before he could ask why, the property owner put his cigar out against Emmett’s left temple. After a hard slap across the face, the two men let Emmett drop to his knees, his body pulsing with the myriad of pains.

Charles leaned in close, “You’re a bullshitter just like your old man. We all got a stake in this deal. You don’t think Todd Kerry and I talk? I know they were up there, and I know you told them the same shit as usual. This town don’t need some pansy taking in every rat and possum that gets a thorn up its ass; it needs that new solar farm. Do you have any idea how life-changing that’s going to be for folks like us with kids?”

“Just let me take the body; I’ll be on my way.”

“Grab the fucking dog, Matt. You want that k’yot, we want you to be a team player for once, Mausberg,” the cold, wet, reeking body slapped against Emmett’s shoulders, “Hell, we’ll throw a grand down between the five of us right now if you call them this minute.”

“Today. You’re worried about today, and you can’t see tomorrow. I know all of you like to hunt, and damn sure you’re not going out of the county to hunt. Come next year, if I sell my land, you won’t have a single buck or doe. Where do they all go when you don’t have corn and soybeans for them to pick over? They go away, and those that don’t get struck dead on the road will be in a state park in another county.”

A boot, not a full-on kick but the suggestion of one, sent Emmett onto his back with the torn open belly of the coyote as a pillow. Without glancing up, he could feel the encroaching gang of men looking to stomp the life out of him. He wouldn’t be able to pick himself up and run if he tried, and Emmett couldn’t see a point when they outnumbered him so thoroughly. However, Charles’ voice caused pause, “Get up, get your ass up and off my property. You ain’t got nothing for brains, never did. You won’t hold out, not much longer. Get!”

On shaking legs, Emmett pulled himself up and, shouldering his burden, trying to make his exit. Before he was more than a foot from where he fell, hands slammed against his back and sent him tumbling to the gravel drive of Charles’ yard. The bloodied sack of broken bones fell from his shoulder and limply slapped on the rocky path. As he reached for the sad bundle of wilderness, a boot clamped down on his arm. Regardless, Emmett strained further to try and get at the coyote that was pulled just out of reach. A wet, tearing sound bounced across the yard as a hail of moist and sticky interior parts cascaded down onto him. The slightly lighter mass was again flopped onto him and left to continue its slowly trickling flow of blood down his back. Before Emmett could crawl his way to the end of the driveway, he heard Charles call out, “You think about your options ’cause there are a lot of coyotes around here, and sure enough, there is just one Mausberg.”

By the time Emmett returned to his truck, first at a crawl and then a limp, the other men had retreated into Charles’s house. The intestines of the poor animal were strewn from a bloody splotch in the gravel, across the road, around his shoulders, with a scant handful still coiled in the body. There were a lot of things Emmett may not have respected, but wild animals were foremost of those he did. Taking the time to retrace his steps, Emmett rolled the organs back into a bundle, loose and likely amassed incorrectly, before trying his best to cram them in the gash. He had even wiped away dust and small bits of rock before doing so. The empty sockets looked up at him with some semblance of appreciation, or at least Emmett thought. Glancing back, he considered taking the tail from the deck but reconsidered as a squad car pulled up. Thinking his luck couldn’t get any worse, Emmett began loading the body into his truck until the flash of red light illuminated his vehicle. Sheriff Kerry grinned from the driver’s seat. 

It took next to no time for Emmett to find a ticket for trespassing and attempted burglary in his hands. His story, to Kerry, didn’t matter, nor would any amount of bruising and busted open flesh. The insinuation that he had started the brawl was enough for the sheriff, and if he were coated in coyote blood, it was because he had tried to pilfer someone else’s kill from the front lawn. Worse still was the suspended allegation that his purpose for taking the animal was of the most uncouth variety. Despite himself, Emmett felt the urge to take a swing at Kerry or try to appeal to him, but the words and the tension in his fist died only at the thought of what little it could do. The ordeal couldn’t go on much longer or deepen the hole Emmett felt in his heart for his neighbors until Kerry popped open his passenger door.

With a grin that would make the devil look a saint, he condemned, “Littering, we don’t take kindly to it in the community. You know we’re all quite ‘green.’ That’ll be another fifty on your fine, for your record, but maybe I can cut some slack for you. You take this roadkill and shove it in the bag in the trunk. I need it for evidence.” 

“It might have rabies.”

“All the more reason I should be taking it. You’re not animal control. Doesn’t matter what your job is; this isn’t it. As a matter of fact, maybe you should consider hanging up the whole charade you got going on out there. I don’t know or care what the state says. You ain’t fit to run no animal rescue, not even for a damned goldfish.”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll just let them all go, burn the barns to the ground. It’d make it much easier, wouldn’t it, for them to plug some panels in up there,” Emmett finally hissed as he stowed the coyote away in the body bag in the trunk. He had placed the animal inside gingerly before shutting the flaccid lids the best he could despite their nature to hang inside the empty cavities. Without realizing he did so, he left an opening in the zipper as though the corpse would need air. With the deed done, Emmett climbed back in his truck, ignoring the gaze Kerry fixed him with. 

As the engine turned over, the sheriff leaned in the window one last time, “You’re a goddamn disgrace, boy. If your parents could see you now. No, better yet, go down to Jeffery’s and hear what everyone else has to say about you. It’s close enough to what your pa would have said. You’re screwing the whole town for some wannabe roadkill, and damn well, you should count yourself among them. I hear what they say, what they’d do to you if I weren’t around. Be damn lucky they haven’t yet, and maybe think about getting out of this town, out of this state, just out of sight and out of mind. You hear?”

Without another word, Emmett revved the engine once and headed for home.

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