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 it would likely 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 swiping papers 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.
The message in his head had felt otherworldly. From Hell, the message had scorched a path into his mind, and now the intent was clear: kill the bartender.
“By the way, I found a police officer,” said the bartender. “Dead, wouldn’t you know it?”
The red strobe, the police cruiser on the road. Picturing Sergeant Wilcox’s dead face, Augustus cringed.
“The way I see it, Augustus Thyme,” said the voice, “upset with the useless dicks, you went on a rampage.”
Augustus didn’t bother shouting. He felt certain the bartender stood close enough. Calmly, he said, “You gab too much. How about we get this over and done with?”
In the silence, all he could hear was his thumping heart. He counted to eight.
“Then step outside, Augustus Thyme,” said the man, “and let’s have ourselves a little showdown.”
Closing his eyes, Augustus prayed to God for the strength to survive this night. The bartender was right. More police officers would soon be on their way, if they weren’t already, leaving very little time to dump all the bodies in the furnace. And what about the automobiles? Once the detectives started connecting the dots, found his fingerprints and shell casings at the tavern, it would be over. He’d be no good to Samuel in prison. God couldn’t help him with this one.
“Augustus Thyme, you got that peashooter with ya?”
Looking at the corpse sitting behind the desk, at the man he had murdered, Augustus shook his head in defeat. He glanced at the antique Colt Peacemaker and looked around the room.
“Old Thyme, you devil” he said, quietly. The old vampire had to be hiding somewhere.
Then it came to him, a sliver of a chance.
“My gun,” Augustus said. “I think I dropped it outside along the walk.”
Speaking louder, Augustus said, “I’m unarmed!”
Reaching out, Augustus quietly lifted the big Colt revolver. Keeping low, he slowly crept out from between the gurney and the desk, listening carefully. It was quiet outside, but he thought he could hear footsteps approaching.
“Holy shit, Augustus. The lawn is no place to leave your gun where some passerby is apt to find it.”
Centering himself before the door, Augustus squatted. Picturing the walk outside, he aimed down the length to about where the gurney had veered into the grass.
“Come outside and grab your gun, Augustus Thyme. I’ll wait.”
Augustus held his breath and hoped the man outside was foolish enough to pick up the revolver.
Shoe scuffed cement, closer.
Augustus counted to three and squeezed the trigger. A hole appeared in the door, and the gun kicked hard. He pulled the barrel down and fired again, another hole exploding beside the first. Shots fired back, smaller holes dotted the door above the two. Augustus fired off two more rounds.
A piercing ring filled his ears.
Blue smoke wafted from the end of the old Colt revolver.
Without his cane, he hopped and shuffled to the front. He threw the door open, and pointed the big handgun outside taking aim on the bartender sprawled face-up on the walk just three meters from the door.
Pulling his head off the ground, the bartender peered down the length of his blood-soaked torso. He spit blood and said, “Damn that stings.”
In one hand, the bartender held a hunting rifle. In the other, the lost revolver.
“Stupid son-of-a-bitch hick,” said Augustus. He fired a round, and the bartender’s head flung back smacking the cement.
Dragging his leg, he lunged his way to the body. The mouth hung open like a fish caught on a line, and he saw them plain as the thick fog: fangs. The size of the hole at the base of the hairline on one side left little doubt in his mind, the creature was dead this time.
Augustus glanced about. “Old Thyme, where you at?” he asked.