Armed with his revolver, Augustus headed downstairs to the morgue and fetched a gurney. Ramming through the receiving doors, he wheeled the gurney into the unloading lot. It was easier going than he had thought it would be pushing the gurney with a bad leg up the hill along the narrow drive around the backside of the chapel. Little light reached this corner of the property, though, making it difficult to see the curb which he kept banging into due to the angle of the roadway. Dark as ever, the woods breathed fog over the road.
On level ground, he nearly rode the gurney wheeling through the main parking lot. Bouncing onto the walk, the gurney veered into the grass where it stopped suddenly causing Augustus to lose his footing, spin about, and tumble over planting his rear end hard on the ground. He climbed onto his feet, pulled the gurney out of the grass, and backed up the walk to the office door. Spotting his cane in the grass, he hobbled after it.
A gunshot rang in the woods, and the report howled into the night.
Somewhere beyond the trees, red pulsated in the fog, the heartbeat of the forest dragon.
Augustus snatched his cane and scurried, opened the door, and pulled the gurney inside crashing against the desk. The skinny corpse fell out of its chair and released enough gas to kill a mouse. Pulling his shirt up over his face, Augustus held his breath and hurried to the door. He did a quick survey of the parking lot finding a wall of fog hiding the far end along with the trees. He pulled the door closed and set the lock.
Sneaking the corner of the curtain aside, he put is face to the window. Something on the glass blurred his view sending the lamp post into a twisting shape. Pulling back, he found a round dome flowing outward, a bullet hole in the glass.
“Holy smokes,” said Augustus. Backpedaling, he pushed the gurney against the corpse on the floor, and he stumbled against the desk. Villenueve’s corpse slumped over onto the desk, papers sliding loose onto the floor.
A gunshot, and wood snapped nearby.
Trapped between the gurney and the desk, Augustus didn’t know which way to run. He reached for his revolver, but found the holster empty.
“I returned your mess, asshole.”
The voice outside belonged to the bartender from Pine Mountain Tavern.
Augustus shouted, “I thought you were dead.”
The bartender guffawed. “I don’t check out that easy, Augustus Thyme!”
Crouching down low, Augustus took cover beside the desk. He glanced around the floor, but he didn’t see the revolver. It had likely fallen outside in the grass.
“I read all about your lost child, Augustus Thyme.”
The bartender sounded closer, but Augustus couldn’t tell if it was due to the fear of being trapped, or if the man outside was quietly strolling closer. Sweat streamed into his eyes, and he felt hot as ever.
“I wished I could have been there,” said the bartender. His voice grew louder if not closer. “I would have loved to have seen your face after your kid was swiped right out from under your nose!”
The boisterous laugh grated against Augustus, and he cringed as his head pounded.
“Now I know why you came asking about that old ranch. You know what I found, Augustus? You and that old coot there—he and you—share the same goddamn name! I mean holy shit on fire, Thyme. ‘Family matters.’ Isn’t that what you had said?”
Go away, Augustus thought. He glanced at the antique Peacemaker resting on the desk and the broken finger pointing at the gun. The bartender seemed insane enough to toy with him by arranging the corpse in such a fashion, but the message had not been from the bartender.