The house didn’t aim to impress. Little more than a shack, its bleached slat wood walls slumped in the middle of a dusty plot of land, surrounded by scrub brush and broken fences. A rusty pickup truck with a fresh scrape along the driver’s side was parked like a passed out drunk in the front yard.
A big black Packard pulled up next to the truck and sat, engine idling. The two men inside observed the windows, watching for movement. The house was dead still in the afternoon heat. The windows remained blank, the faded curtains, lank.
Jake Anager shifted in the passenger seat impatiently, but knew better than to ask what they were waiting for. He was a hulking, muscular young man, burdened with a heavy brow and a long jaw. He glanced over at the man behind the wheel who watched the front of the house like it was a movie screen. Mr. Bureau ran a finger over his pencil thin mustache and nodded to himself. His cunning black eyes took in details Jake couldn’t hope to ascertain. Always calculating, this one was. Always figuring how best to go about his next treacherous trick.
Jake preferred a more direct approach. Just beat ‘em till they give in or pass out or die and then get on with your day. But Jake wasn’t in charge. Mr. Bureau was in charge. So they would sit in the driveway with the engine running long enough to make Cain good and nervous before they knocked on his door. Mr. Bureau wasn't concerned about stealth. He wanted Cain to know he was coming. He wanted Cain to be thinking about how much he owed, how much trouble he'd caused and how much Mr. Bureau had a right to take out of his hide.
In Jake’s experience though, there wasn’t much of anything likely to make Cain nervous.
Growing up in Ozona, Jake had seen and heard tales of Cain Carter's exploits his whole life. Cain was a drunk, sure. He preferred to spend his time and money out on the flats drinking in that abandoned adobe mission the mexicans had taken over and turned into some kind of a saloon for their kind. It wasn't a proper place for white men. It was a way station for mexican criminals, which was why Sheriff Cobb liked to go out there and bust heads, clear the place out every so often. And that crazy mescal drink the mexicans made out of cactus and who knew what all–– Jake had tried it once on a dare and damned if it didn't taste like vomit on fire–– was known to induce brain rot.
But Cain wasn't just some drunk. He wasn't even just crazy. He was deep down cunning and driven by a whole different set of wants and needs from your average man. You hadn't seen single minded stubbornness until you came up at cross purposes to Cain.
Jake had learned well that Mr. Bureau didn't employ him to give unasked for advice, however, so he kept his mouth shut and waited. If anybody else had of asked him to go take on Cain, he would have spit in the dirt and said, "No thanks." But what Cain had pulled on Mr. Bureau was an inexcusable offense, a betrayal and an insult as far as Mr. Bureau was concerned. And he had every intention of pulling the trigger himself, after he'd cut Cain down to size.
Jake figured the only reason he'd been brought along was to bear witness to Cain's humiliation at Mr. Bureau's hands. He'd served that purpose before. Mr. Bureau liked to have another pair of eyes to admire his handy work. Jake had no doubt that Cain had written the ticket to his own execution earlier that day.
Mr. Bureau turned off the engine. “Something’s not right here,” he said, as he opened his car door and stepped out. Jake wondered briefly if that pretty girl was in there, and hoped she wasn't as he followed him up the brittle front porch steps. They both stood to the side as he knocked on the door curtly. Nothing moved, inside or out. Mr. Bureau knocked again, listening intently.
“Don’t feel like anybody’s here,” Jake started to say, but he was shushed as Mr. Bureau took hold of the doorknob and slowly opened the door.
They stood in the doorway looking inside with two different kinds of surprise on their faces. Jake peered to make sure what he saw was correctly registering, and then recoiled from the stench that hit him in the face. Mr. Bureau disregarded the smell and stepped inside far enough to get a good look at the blood stained bible splayed open on the floor.
He took in the details of the scene with amused shock, the splay legged body half sitting, half lying at the kitchen table, the broken fragments of something, maybe dishes or glass, and the copious amount of blood and muck spread out all over the table and oozing over its edges, still plenty wet, but not fresh. He turned away abruptly and headed back out with the air of a man who'd been cheated out of some highly anticipated satisfaction.
He shut the door, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and thoroughly wiped the doorknob free of fingerprints. They got back in the car and drove off, Jake doing his best to continue keeping his mouth shut. Two things he didn’t think were possible had happened that day.
Cain Carter had dared to double cross Mr. Bureau. And someone else had managed to beat Cain Carter's brains right out.