Mr. Judd adjusted his circular glasses, and after thinking about it for a moment, took them off and fogged the lenses with his mouth. He wiped them on his flannel shirt and bent down to where his son, Nate, was observing the gun, a German Mauser rifle the farmer had acquired in the war. The sun was just reaching its apex, and the farmer’s brow had begun to perspire.
Mr. Judd didn’t remember much from the war, and didn’t try to. He remembered the mud and that was just about it. He was glad he had found the rifle, buried in mud, in some forgotten trench, which had at one point been German territory, then no man’s land, until his unit had nestled itself into it. Within a few days, they had left that trench, either pushing East or retreating West, he couldn’t recall. He probably didn’t know at the time. The other men had laughed at him for carrying the extra, waterlogged rifle that couldn’t be fired on account of the mud.
Mr. Judd remembered thinking he could use it back on his farm, and he was right. He could shoot at the crows that came near his corn, in case the dead bird he nailed to a post didn’t scare them enough. Less frequently, he got to shoot at a stray coyote that got too close to the modest chicken coop near the barn. One Thanksgiving, he even felled a goose flying south, and his wife roasted and subsequently burned it, before they ate the bird on their one set of china, consisting of three plates (one had shattered) and a large serving tray. Most of the time, though, the gun sat above the hearth, on the two hooks Mr. Judd had driven into the wall himself, the day his father died and the farm had become his own. His father had no use for guns, even in the small capacity Mr. Judd did.
Nate held the gun, and it was just as heavy in his own hands as he had worried. It rarely left its hanging place, and when it did, it was only used for “nuisances,” as his father would say.
Nate turned the rifle over in his hands. He had never held it before, and began to inspect. On the left side of the stock, the part of the gun that rested against his father’s cheek when he fired at crows, was an undecipherable phrase, carved into the wood with a knife. It read: Erlöse uns von dem Bösen.
“What’s it say?” he asked his father.
“It’s from the Lord’s Prayer,” Mr. Judd said. “In German. It says ‘deliver us from evil.’”
Nate looked back to the gun. His hands began to shake as he envisioned the long-faced villain his father had pried the weapon from. He had never seen the words before. That side of the rifle was either up against the wall or on his father’s cheek.
His father did not notice his hesitations. Mr. Judd pointed across the small field they were standing on to an island of clearing amidst the corn. Perched on a rock at the edge of a clearing was a dilapidated can. The can had once held either motor oil for the tractor or cream of mushroom soup. Now it was rusted through, and blotched with orange ringed holes. Nate raised the gun.
The eleven-year-old was small for his age. His father and mother were both shorter than average, but carried themselves with enough plain dignity that their stature was hard to notice. His father had mentioned this to him many times. The way Nate carried himself made him seem even smaller, with his shoulders hunched forward, and his head down.
He wasn’t afraid of hurtling a bullet across the field at the can. He was afraid of the recoil the shot would produce. He was afraid of the mechanical shudder the rifle would send through his body. But he was even more afraid of the inscription scraped into the wood. Would the recoil stamp his face with the German words?
He glanced over to his father, who nodded, and then at the can.
Nate lined the sight up with the can and after his initial pull wasn’t enough to fire the gun, mustered just enough strength to pull the trigger. In an instance, the can collapsed into a cloud of dust, and the mangled remains fell off of the rock it perched on.
“Good.” His father said quietly. He marched over to the rock, and returned the now drooping can to its original place.
“I already put a hole in it,” Nate whimpered. “I need something else now.”
“You don’t need to put a hole in it,” his father said. “You just need to hit it. I’ll see it move.”
Nate placed the gun on the ground and knelt before it, as he carefully replaced the spent casing with a new shell. His father always stood when he reloaded.
Just as Nate placed the bullet in the chamber, they heard a loud bang from the corn field behind them, in the direction of the highway that bisected the farm. Nate thought that he had somehow loaded the rifle incorrectly, and immediately removed his hands from the gun, already imagining burns on his fingers.
At first they saw the dust cloud, a line of brown following the Ford V8 down the road. Their eyes followed the black car come to a stop at the side of the road. The corn was still low, and they could see smoke pouring out of the engine compartment. A single figure quickly exited the vehicle, and opened the hood. Black smoke engulfed him, and he fell back on the dusty roadside. As he got up, he noticed the farmer and son watching him. He hustled over to them.
Mr. Judd and Nate could see the stress and exertion on the man’s brow, as it dripped onto the dirt. Yellow stains were showing on the pits of his white shirt. One of the belts on his suspenders had come undone and one of his shoes’ soles was peeling from the leather, flapping as he walked. He had gone without pomade for a few days, and his long, middle parted bangs, hung greasily on his face. Mr. Judd could tell he normally slicked them back. He gave the impression of a man once well put together, even glamorous, if it is possible for a man to be glamorous. Any fashionable dignity he once had, however, was now gone. He tried to speak, but could only cough. He spit in the dirt and regained his composure.
He removed his tattered hat, placed it over his chest, and addressed Mr. Judd.
“Excuse me, sir. I have recently come into some bad luck, and I was wondering if I could use your telephone. I would be more than grateful.”
Mr. Judd stared at the strange figure.
“We don’t have a telephone,” he said.
The newcomer realized his mistake. “That would make sense. I’m not in Chicago anymore.”
“We’re certainly a lot different from Chicago out here. Would you like something to drink, mister?”
“Your hospitable sensibilities truly set you apart from the people of Chicago, sir. I would very much like something to drink, thank you. My name is Nathaniel Driggs. I don’t know if you were the type of people who were comfortable giving strange men who crash in their cornfields drink without first inquiring who they are.”
“My boy here is named Nathaniel too,” Mr. Judd said. “And we can recognize good folk.” He turned towards the house.
Nate hadn’t said a word to Driggs, but had not taken his eyes off of him since he stumbled up to them. The man gave a wide smile. Nate had been scratching at his arm since Driggs stumbled up to them.
“Your daddy teaching you to shoot?” He asked. Nate nodded. He was glad for the break from holding the rifle, but was not fully at ease yet. The man before him smelled of stale tobacco and sweat.
“I used to be quiet too,” Driggs said. “My daddy would beat me every time he was drunk and had the chance. Knocked the talk right out of me until I was 14.”
Nate said nothing. His scratching became harder, and his arm was getting raw.
“That was the year I shot him. That was the year he got real quiet.”
Nate stopped scratching. As he was speaking to a now frightened boy, Driggs had turned his back to him and checked his car, still stalled on the dirt highway. Nate could see a pistol tucked into the back of his pants. Driggs saw something at the edge of the horizon and put his hands on the gun for a second, before catching himself and turning back to Nate. Mr. Judd had returned with a metal tray with a dented pitcher of lemonade and three glasses. He offered a glass to Driggs.
“I appreciate your kindness,” he said. “Kindness is not something I have come to encounter often.” He sat on the dirt and drank his entire glass in one gulp. Nate took a glass and slowly sipped on it, savoring its sweetness and feeling his mouth clench from the sourness. He looked off into the distance and saw what had alarmed Driggs. A second black car was driving down the road towards them. Driggs had been watching it in the corner of his eye since he had first spotted it. Mr. Judd noticed it too. It was not a busy road.
“We should flag him down and see if he can notify the service station down the road in town about your situation. Maybe he can help,” Mr. Judd asked.
“I suppose,” Driggs replied. Nate could see that the approaching sedan meant more than just repairs for his car.
The car pulled up behind the stranded Ford and a man wearing tall leather boots and suspenders climbed out. His short hair was combed meticulously to the side. His immaculate white shirt was freshly pressed. He methodically opened the trunk and pulled out a large shotgun, and approached the three and yelled, his gun aimed at Driggs.
“Nathaniel Wyatt Driggs, I, United States Marshall James Stevens, am here to place you under arrest with the power vested in me by the Supreme Court of Illinois, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, our Lord God, and LaSalle County for the robbery of the Second National Bank of Illinois, the murder of bank teller John Entworth, the assault of five City of Chicago deputies…” he said, pausing. “…and the theft of my car.”
Driggs stood up slowly, and walked towards the officer. Stevens adjusted his suspenders, flattening out a crease in his shirt caused by his yelling.
“I didn’t think you’d come so quietly after that incident back in Chicago, Driggs.”
“You say that as if I have a choice in the matter, marshall.” Even as he said this, Driggs was eyeing the cornfields.
“The boys back in the city sure liked to talk about your skills in making speeches and your ability to make noise.” He turned to Mr. Judd and Nate. ”Seems this boy can talk. I was expecting some sort of Soc-cra-tees.” Stevens let a grin slip out, and then smoothed his hair down. Driggs matched Stevens with a smirk.
“I have-uh realized-uh the errors-uh in my ways-uh, officer,” Driggs said, dragging out his syllables out like a evangelizing preacher.
Stevens was no longer amused. He raised his gun to the sky and fired off a blast. He yelled. ”I did not drag my ass all the way out here to LaSalle County to hear you mock me, Driggs! Now, and I’m sure this fine gentleman and his boy would agree, I would like to hear a speech. Now talk, Driggs.” He tugged at his shirt collar and pointed his gun at the criminal.
Driggs spread his arms, and let his hands and head go limp. “Seems you’ve knocked the talk out of me,” replied Driggs. He spat at the Marshall’s feet.
Stevens immediately shot the bank robber in the left side of the chest, spinning him and knocking him face down into the dirt. The federal marshall walked up to Driggs and kicked him, making sure he was dead. He turned to Mr. Judd.
“Sir, a man from the city will come by soon to bring the body back to Chicago. I notified them in advance. You do not need to move him or anything. He doesn’t deserve the respect.” He paused. ”I’m sorry your boy had to see this.” He turned and left.
Mr. Judd and Nate buried Nathaniel Driggs in the clearing. Nate watched his father, stone faced, digging the earth with the worn shovel that had been on the farm since as long as Nate could remember. When they finished a few hours later, Nate placed the rusted can in the ground to mark the spot. Mr. Judd shook his head. He replaced the grave marker with another can and fetched the gun, dropping it into Nate’s hands. He placed the original can on the rock and pointed, just as a black city van pulled up to the farm. An old, plump man with glasses similar to Mr. Judd’s with a clipboard got out and walked towards the two. He smelled strongly of formaldehyde.
“Teaching your boy how to shoot?” He smiled at Nate.
Mr. Judd faced the man. “I’m teaching my boy how to kill.”