“You fucking stinking stupid asshole!” Mike Braimah thundered. “What the fuck were you thinking?” To say that he was angry was to say the least. His face was suffused with unbridled rage, and something else no one had ever seen in him; it was fear, but it was way down in his guts, lying there like a cold block of ice. His hands were balled into fists at his sides, and his eyes never left Rupert Henderson’s face.
Mildred was leaning against the mantelpiece and looked at him with a mixture of unease and excitement. She had always believed her husband was unmovable and unflappable, but now his agitation both fascinated and terrified her. She saw how Rupert Henderson was standing. He was white in the face, due mainly to the torrents of insults he had received from his boss, but Mildred saw how his hands were hovering near his guns. Henderson was scared enough to think that his boss might go for his guns. What caused Mildred fear was the fact that the previously invisible Philip Lee-Chan had been killed by Chris Bawa in Temple Town, the chilling story narrated to them by Rupert Henderson.
Henderson had approached them that morning at Chi Chi Hung’s eatery, looking quite jittery, and told Mike that he had something to tell him about Chris Bawa. They had quickly parted ways with Steve Hollison and his witch and come home. Mildred had been amused because it had been evident that Bawa’s dramatic return to Little Rock had shaken up her husband badly. Rupert Henderson had just hit them with the botched assassination attempt on Chris Bawa, and even Mildred felt her fury mounting. She was however realistic enough to realize that if Henderson and Lee-Chan had succeeded they would’ve been heroes, and for that she could not fault the gunman too much.
With an exasperated sigh Braimah forced himself to relax and turned away from Henderson. Already his mind was racing, seeking avenues and rejecting them. He now understood why Chris had been so brutal on Jonathan Afful. Like many others he had come out of Chi Chi Hung’s eatery to watch the fight between Chris and Jonathan. Mike Braimah had been staggered by the sheer change in Chris. He had seen that the fat had melted from the boy, and he had turned into a mean-looking giant. Secondly the speed and accuracy with which Chris had shot Jonathan’s gun had been uncanny. Sure, Chris had been the fastest hand those days, but for crying out loud, the guy had been in the slammer for a decade! That alone should’ve ensured some damned rustiness. And then Chris had dealt with Afful like he was dishing out a beating to a woman. Hell, the boy still had that fighting prowess that had made him a legend in Little Rock. And now Chris was aware that one of the men who had bushwhacked him worked for Mike Braimah! Chris Bawa would erroneously think that Mike had something to do with that horrendous attempt on his life in Temple Town, and later on the Mezac Waterfalls!
Braimah knew why Chris Bawa was in town. Of course he had known it would happen eventually. Chris was a man who always settled his scores. Not that Braimah was scared of the man, no, but he was uncomfortable. Chris’s return would bring back all those nasty things he had fought so hard to bury. It had taken a hell of a lot to be accepted back into Little Rock, and to achieve that he and Steve Hollison had resorted to the only weapon available at the time: demonized Chris Bawa and made him the fall guy. It had been easy to shift the blame on the boy and act the part of the innocent victims. This had been necessary to make folks forget the fact that their testimonies had put Chris Bawa behind bars.
“Pour me a drink, darling,” he said absentmindedly as he sat down in a hard-backed chair with a little grimace. Neither Rupert Henderson nor Mildred said a thing. The silence stretched as Mildred walked to the dining-room, picked up a half-empty bottle of whisky from the dining-table and then picked up a tall glass. She blew into the glass first, and then uncapped the bottle and poured a generous amount of the drink. She drank a little herself to steady her nerves, and then she filled it up again. Braimah took the glass from her and drank more than half in one swallow, and when he lowered the glass his black eyes settled on Rupert Henderson.
“You started this, Rupert, so finish it,” he said slowly. “I mean tonight. Get Albert Kelly and his pets, and tell him I’ll pay double if he can kill Chris Bawa. I want this done right, and you better not fail again. You and Albert Kelly should finish off Chris. Tonight!”
A nasty little smile played around the lips of Rupert Henderson, and for the first time he appeared to relax a bit.
“Sure, Boss, we’ll get to it right away!” When he left the room Mike stood up, drained his glass and finally looked at his wife. He twirled the glass slowly in his right hand as he looked at her stricken face. She was shocked, he saw, and that made him grin.
“Not Albert,” she whispered fearfully. “Mike, not that nasty man and those nasty things! Surely that’s a terrible death to wish on someone, even your enemy! Don’t tell me you want to set Albert and those evil things on Chris Bawa!”
Mike dropped the glass on a low stool and walked up to her. His eyes were glazed as he reached out and fondled one of her small breasts. He felt the nipple harden under his fingers, and saw the instant flash of lust in her eyes. The thought of Albert Kelly dropping his giant poisonous mambas on Chris Bawa had strangely filled him with desire. He could tell from the way Mildred was breathing that with all her talk of pity, she was also excited by the idea of Chris dying that painful death.
“Chris leaves me no choice, love,” he whispered and then crushed his lips down on hers. She responded feverishly, and then he lifted her up and headed for their bedroom.
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Roy Sampson was in the kitchen when he heard the sounds, and he carefully put down the pan of peeled potatoes he was washing and reached for his walking aids. The front door was open and his three visitors were already in the hall by the time he reached the doorway. His gaze swept coolly over the Reverend Leo Brand and Ruth Bawa before coming to settle finally on Francine Bawa. Roy hadn’t seen Francine for quite a spell, and he was quite shocked to see how she had aged. Her life had been one of a moribund nature, he knew, and she had chosen to confine herself to the Circle T ranch.
There had been times he had craved to be with her, but he had wisely stopped himself from making any approach toward her. Like most people in Little Rock, Roy knew that Ted Bawa was heavy on Stephanie Cane, that pompous aristocrat who had come to Little Rock from Orson City. Roy knew Ted spent a lot of time with Stephanie, his mistress. He had even heard rumours that Stephanie visited the ranch sometimes and stayed overnight…with Francine staying in her upper bedroom. He seethed with fury whenever he heard such tales; to him it was the ultimate insult to Francine, but he had always willed himself to stay out.
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She was dressed in a fetching cream dress, one of those he had loved some many years ago. It had fitted her well once, when she had a little more flesh on her. Today, however, despite the simple bead necklace and matching golden earrings, it made her look a little gaunt. He knew she had done her best to appear presentable to her favourite child, but still Roy was a little taken aback. That didn’t stop his heart from fluttering though, and he was quite sure the love he felt for her was running off his face for everybody to see.
Her eyes, once so lively and filled with fire, now looked at him with sadness and tense intensity. He realized suddenly that she was not quite sure that indeed her son was in Little Rock, and that she was living in the fear of her husband finding out she had left the house. How he longed to stroke the grey hair that was now tied back in a bun from her face. The face was a bit more lined than he remembered, but it was still one hell of a beautiful face. It was her beauty which had made Chris Bawa so handsome, he mused quite unnecessarily, and he shuffled forward to meet them.
“Chris?” Francine ventured, her voice no more than a croak. “Is he here, really?”
“He went out riding,” Roy said quietly. “Said there was something he had to take care of.” Just then hooves sounded outside, and the woman turned round sharply and headed for the front door. Her steps quickened, and she seemed to virtually fly out the door. When Roy got to the door and stopped just behind the reverend and Ruth, he saw that mother and son were in the middle of the compound, and they were in a fierce embrace. Francine could not speak. Her thin arms crushed her son, and tears drenched her face. The big man’s face was buried on top of her grey hair, and he was quite visibly trembling with rare emotion.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, the woman pulled back and looked into the scarred face of the brute that had once been her adored son.
“Chrissie!” she whispered tremulously, and her right hand went up and traced the ugly scar on his face. “My baby!”
“Hello, Mama,” Chris Bawa said, and for once that hard mask cracked, and on that brutal face an expression of pure love reflected, and a fond smile – tinged with a little sadness – softened those hard lips. “Dear Lord be my witness, I have missed you faint, Mama.” Ruth walked slowly forward, and she too was drawn into the great arms of the man.
With the faces of the women turned up to him, he looked down at those dear faces, and his look was earnest.
“There’s a coach in the woods, and Mr. Mike Crankson is waiting in it,” he told them quietly. “I have a ranch at Temple Town, and tonight he will take you and Roy over there to wait for me. I don’t want anybody using you as weapons against me, Mama. You are my only weak links. I will join you there when I’m done here.” The women exchanged looks. The younger woman was suddenly alarmed, but on the older woman’s face was grim determination.
“Chrissy!” Ruth whispered with agony. “You can’t stay here. They will all be after you. This town has nothing but death for you. Let’s leave together! Forget about whatever that you want to do, my dearest brother! Let it go, let it be, it doesn’t matter now! Come with us, please, please!” The older woman put a gentle hand on her daughter’s arm.
“This town owes, Ruthie,” Francine said gently. “For ten years I have taken their poison, and I have only lived for this day. I have prayed that prison will not be able to dim the fire in your brother. Yes, I want to get out of here, and I need you and Chris with me. But first, I want Chris to clear his name. Those who conspired to rob my son of ten years of his life deserve no pity from me!”
How can a mother support such thing from her only son? Share your thoughts with us
Story continues on Monday