They say revenge is a dish best served cold. I waited until I was as cold as the stone over Todd’s grave. As cold as the January night air that stung my skin and stole my breath while I waited by the train tracks.
If I’d acted sooner—if I’d let grief and rage take over in those first days, first weeks after Todd’s death—I might have been careless, might not have even gone through with it.
Instead I smothered the fury. Stifled it. Compressed it into a diamond-hard knot in the pit of my stomach, a simmering storm in the back of my mind.
I waited. For months.
Todd died in early summer. We got the news on the Fourth of July. Fireworks tore up the night like bombs destroying our world. Deb was inconsolable—she’d always held out hope that he’d clean himself up and come home, make something of himself.
I guess I knew better—that we’d lost him long before his overdose.
His landlord found him after getting an anonymous phone tip. There was a police investigation, we were questioned, but in the end, to them he was just another junkie who lived too fast. No foul play—at least not beyond a stupid kid shooting black tar between his toes.
I kept my suspicions to myself. If Deb shared them, she never told me. But they were confirmed when Chet showed up at the funeral. Bastard came with liquor on his breath, teetered alone in the back of the viewing, and had the gall to tell me, right then, that he’d been with Todd on the night of his OD. That he had some of Todd’s things to give to me. That’s all I needed to hear to know Chet had been responsible.
The wound was too fresh, too raw, not yet buried under a mound of scar tissue. I lost it, screamed at him to get out. I got some looks, but who could fault a grieving father for his emotions boiling over on the day his son went into the ground?
Deb and I kept living, going through the motions the best we knew how. By the time Chet worked up the courage to contact me again, I’d distilled my anguish into a single, focused task. And nothing was going to stop me.
I was watching my breath stream into the night when a car turned a corner and approached. Gravel crunched under bald tires as Chet’s rust bucket crept to a stop a safe distance from the nearby train tracks. Decades-old engine cut out, door squealed open, shocks groaned in relief. Chet stepped out of the car, opened the rear door, and lifted a box from the back seat. He walked up to me with a smile that faltered as soon as our eyes met. I kept my hands jammed in my coat pockets, so he set the box down on the gravel next to him.
“Thanks for meetin’ me,” he said. He reeked of cheap cigarettes, but for once there was no booze on his breath. “You and Deb, you guys doin’ okay?”
What do you care?
I nodded at the box. “That Todd’s things?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he sighed. “That’s everything.”
I bored into his eyes with my own. “Why did you take it?”
“I, uh… well, the cops, you know? Just wanted to make sure the important stuff made it to you.”
I said nothing in return, just stared at him in the scant light until he squirmed from the pressure. “All right, look, I wasn’t exactly in my right mind myself, you know? Just figured he weren’t gonna need the stuff anymore, and rather’n let it go to waste as ‘evidence’ and get scrapped…”
“You’d pawn it and make some money.”
“Christ, cut me some slack, okay? Business ain’t what it used to be, and Todd couldn’t pay me—”
“You gave him the junk that killed him!”
“He weren’t gonna survive another night! He was hurtin’! I just… I just wanted to make him comfortable. I stayed with him until—”
The wail of a train horn cut him off. He turned to look down the tracks just as an engine rounded a distant bend, its headlight forcing me to see my brother’s face clearly for the first time in months.
For the last time.
I drove my gloved knuckles into his cheek, sent him reeling backward, stumbling over the tracks. He lost his footing, went down, might have cracked his head on the far rail, I wasn’t sure. Another blare from the approaching train spurred me forward. I crouched over him, yanked his cursing, sputtering head off the ground by his open jacket collar and punched him again. The first strike had stunned him; the second pissed him off. His hands shot up, trying to push me off of him. He kneed my backside repeatedly but he had no leverage to cause any real pain. His flailing only annoyed me—until I spotted a glint of metal under his flapping jacket, at the waistband of his jeans.
I pinned him to the tracks with one hand and grabbed the gun, then sprang to my feet and backed away from him, barrel aimed at his chest. His wide eyes shone like jittery saucers in the uneven light from the train. He struggled to his feet, scrambled forward—
The train horn’s blast nearly deafened me.
I pulled the trigger. Chet jerked and fell to the tracks, writhing in pain. I threw the gun toward him, just out of his reach.
Then I turned around.
The screech of the train wheels nearly drowned out his frantic screams. I’ll never know if his last howls were born of pain, wrath, or dread—only that, as I stooped to pick up the box he’d brought, the train brought an abrupt end to his cries.
I don’t know if the freight train came to a stop. Don’t much remember the walk home. The first clear memory I have after turning my back on the rails was sitting with Deb in our living room, my face on fire, my hands frozen. Todd’s belongings were spread out on the floor and coffee table. Deb’s sobs racked my body as badly as the night we got the call.
But me? I was finally calm. At peace. Some say revenge is a hollow pursuit, will leave you empty and hurting even worse than the original pain. Not for me. Will I get caught someday? Did my best to make it look like a messy suicide, but I’m no forensics expert. So, maybe. But it doesn’t bother me.
Because every day I wake up knowing I did right by my son.
This story was written for a flash fiction prompt at Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com and inspired by lyrics from the Fun Lovin’ Criminals song “Southside.” A lyric from Metallica’s “Fuel” also snuck its way in.
Train photo by Andrew Gray.