About The Ones Outside: A Short Story
The Ones Outside: A Short Story (Part One Full)
Two crescent moons of sweat were fully formed underneath his armpits, soaking through a prison undershirt and the old button-up and sport jacket he’d gotten back from his personal effects. The clothes were out of style and too tight, but shopping wasn’t first on his to-do’s. He rang the doorbell again—three times now. He checked under the mat using the toes of his snakeskin cowboy boots to turn up the corners, trying to look casual. Finding nothing, he flashed a peek up and down the street and weighed the merits of going around to the back. The neighborhood was different than he remembered. Saggy. Ten years of gravity could make a place something it wasn’t. Slowly caving roofs, cracked and sunken sidewalks—chain fences leaning over—yards yellow with dead grass, green only with weeds. It wasn’t all that dramatic. It’d be years before the drug dealers and true miscreants planted their flags, and he’d know, having patrolled enough lost sections of the city back in the day. This was different. As if everything had fallen victim to a general lack of interest. A decade had transmuted this place from the meat of middle class to the gristle.
He silently called on himself not to be discouraged and realized that discouraging was the perfect word for it. He’d built up this moment to be a lonely positive in a long string of bad luck and self-induced hellscapes. God, he’d built up a lot of things, little dots of light from shore making their way through the constant battering of the storm. Not an uncommon thought practice, considering where he’d been.
The wooden steps leading up to the backdoor creaked under his weight. “Wes,” he called out, rapping three times against the glass paneling. A quick look inside gave up very little; it was as if he was peering into a tomb. “Wes. You in there buddy?”
He’d figured on trying back later. Maybe a respite at a local watering hole with some decent air conditioning. He started down the rickety steps when a strained female voice cried out, “Who the hell are you?”
He turned awkwardly and answered, “It’s Cooper. Looking for Wes Billet.”
“He told me to come by when I got to town.”
For a moment there was no answer. He decided to plod on, though every indication told him to tread light. “Is he in there?”
The door cracked open just wide enough for two barrels of an over-under shotgun to sneak through. “If you knew Wes, you’d know he’s not around anymore.”
His hands shot up as he stumbled down the steps, almost falling on his backside into the high grass. “I’m sorry. Not looking for trouble. I’ll be off.”
“Don’t you move.”
“Alright.” Instincts said to take off, but he was too close. If the woman on the other end of the shotgun decided to fire, there’d be no outrunning the spread. “Just take it easy.”
“Orders generally come from the one holding the gun, Cooper.”
“You got me there.”
“Look up and let me see your face,” said the woman.
Cooper did as bid, sweating through every inch of his clothes with his hands raised high. The door opened a little more, revealing a pretty little thing, not much more than a girl. Pretty, except for the big bruise on her cheek and a recently-mended gash running across her forehead. “You gonna shoot me, ma’am?”
“It’d be within my rights. You’re sneaking around my property. Sounds like self-defense. You know you’re in Texas, don’t ya?”
“Okay. But involving the cops can get tricky, especially considering I’m unarmed and making no threats. Why complicate things when I can just go?”
“What do you know about cops?”
“A little. Used to be one. Was Wes’ partner on the job for years. Long time back now.”
“I’m not inclined to believe you.”
“Yeah, you don’t strike me as trusting.”
“I ain’t laughing.”
“No you ain’t. And guessing by that face I reckon you got your reasons for being suspicious. All I can say is I don’t mean you any harm. Like I said. I come around just looking to see Wes.”
“Wes is dead, mister.”
The door opened to the stop and the woman stepped halfway into the light. He could see bruises on her arms in addition to the wounds on her face. “I think I’d know if I buried my father or not.”
Cooper tried to see past the brutality she was wearing to look her straight in the eyes. “You’re Loretta, ain’t you?”
She didn’t answer. He could tell she was piecing it together, even if she didn’t want to.
“I don’t blame you for not recognizing me. Been over ten years since I’ve seen you. All grown up.”
“Coop Edmond?” she asked. Her tone softened but the scatter gun was still stiff in her little hands.
“I knew we’d get there eventually.”
“We used to play catch.” It was a question as much as statement.
“Yes, we did. I’d go watch you play softball with your daddy down at Brigham Field. You weren’t never big, but you sure had grit.”
“Yeah, well. That was another life.”
Cooper let his hands fall without realizing it. A sickness started brewing up from his insides. His best friend—his only friend. Dead. Another dot of light snuffed out by the storm. “Another life,” he muttered, trying his best not to go limp all over.
“Supposing you’re still wanting to come in?” Loretta asked. The threat had morphed into a sad old man over the course of a few words. “You’re looking a little pale.”
Tears started leaking down the lines on his face. “It’s probably not a good idea, Loretta. If you know who I am then you know where I’ve been. I’m not aiming to put you out or make you feel on edge.”
“Let me see your ID,” she said.
He looked up at the blaring sun and thought about sitting down with a glass of water in Wes’ old house. It was a bleak and heavenly thought, all mixed up. “Sure, darling,” he said, wiping his face. “But I’ll have to reach in my back pocket.”
“Go on then.”
Cooper felt around and tossed his prison-issue ID at her bare feet. “That’s all I’ve got right now. Be a bit before I get something more civilian.”
Loretta lowered the shotgun and looked it over. “Cooper Edmond. Come here and let me frisk you.” As she set the shotgun against the inside of the doorway, she pulled out a small revolver from the waistline of her jeans. She held the pistol with one hand as her other thoroughly searched his person. “Alright then. Stay there a sec.” Grabbing the shotgun and still holding the revolver, she backed up and motioned him in. “It’s good to see you, Coop.”