Completely flustered, Holden walks halfway down the block before noticing that he’s stumbled into some sort of ridiculous old-fashioned flea market.
A flea market in the middle of historic Charleston? What the fuck? He looks at the street sign directly over his head.
Well fuck you. Fuck me, and fuck you. He pauses. You’ve got to get a grip, man. You are actually cursing at yourself, to yourself.
Feeling a tiny tickle of sweat snake slowly down his back, he wanders into the first tent-like little alcove he sees, and then immediately back out into the blazing sun. Enough with the salt-water taffy already – who eats this stuff?
Into the next one. He thinks he sees Susan and his teeth clench before he realizes there is no baby on her hip – no baby, no Susan. He feels his whole body exhale. Thank you Jesus! Daddy just needs a few fucking minutes to himself. Is that too much to ask?
Yes. When you are Daddy, even a brand new one, especially a brand new one, that actually is too much to ask. Not caring too much at the moment about that niggling little truth, Holden wanders deeper into the stall, or whatever it is.
“Help you?” the craggy gearbox voice comes out of nowhere and Holden nearly leaps out of his skin before seeing the old man in the shadows at the very back. The coolest spot, no doubt. Squinting into the darkness Holden takes a couple of hesitant steps toward the man before his eyes adjust and the ancient, lined face comes into focus. Jesus – now that guy is old.
“Help you?” he asks again.
“Err, no, I’m just looking.” Holden looks down and picks up the first thing he sees on the nearest card table, something that he initially takes for a rock, but quickly realizes was fashioned by man, although probably a long time ago. Turning the object over in his hands, for a moment he forgets himself as he tries to figure out –
“What is this?”
“That,” says the bushy haired artifact, “Is the hammer mechanism from a double barrel pistol used in the War of Northern Aggression.”
Holden turns the rusted hunk of metal over in his hand again, and now he sees the thing for what it is. He pulls the hammer back and is surprised to hear it click into place.
The unmistakable click of the hammer being drawn back freezes Alain in his boots, his hand closing stealthily on the long-handled pig-sticker on his belt.
“Turn around, Rebel.”
Alain slowly turns and as he does so lets his cloak slip over the spot where his fingers still grasp his father’s knife. The Union soldier has him dead to rights; he has no chance in this fight, if it comes to that. He forces himself to breathe slowly, and shows both his hands to the man now, since it doesn’t matter anyway. “Sir, we have surrendered Savannah, and I ain’t in this fight no more – I laid down my arms with all the rest.”
Union just looks at him, and then cocks the other hammer on his slightly unusual double barrel pistol. Alain had seen such a thing only once, in a book that his dead brother had shown him long before either one of them had put on the uniform, and answered the call for Old Dixie. The wind is whistling softly through the Spanish Moss, a ghostly noise not helping Alain to breathe easy.
“Please, sir, I have a brand new baby daughter I ain’t never seen, six months old, she is, and the fight’s gone outta me,” Alain pleads quietly. “I just want to see my daughter, sir. We made a good run, but this war is over for me, you got my word.”
Union just stares, his eyes seem to Alain to be somewhere else a long way off, and for a split moment in that cold stare the panicky little rabbit in his stomach almost causes him to grab again for his futile knife, but reason gets the better of him and he just cowers.
“What’s your name, Rebel?” Union rasps, looking over the top of his large weapon.
“Alain,” his voice quivers. “Alain Shackelford, sir. Please, sir, my daughter…”
The gun lowers slowly but the eyes never move. “Leave off your beggin’, boy. And get outta my sight before I change my mind,” the bluecoat says in a voice that’s full of gravel. Alain turns to go and that’s when the ball catches him in the back and slams him into the ground and he thinks oh so that’s what it feels like to be shot.
Next thing Union is leaning down right up next to his face, his whisky breath filling his nose, his hard voice rasping in his ear, “You Rebs kilt all three of my brothers at Shiloh, Alain Shackelford. And you can rest hard knowing that I will be looking up your daughter. And your wife, too.” With that Union stands and lets the second hammer fall, and puts a ball right through the back of Alain’s head.
“Holden, are you even hearing me? Are you drunk or something?” Susan’s voice cuts through the confused fog of Holden’s brain. He just stares at the thing in his hand and sucks in his breath.
“Holden?” she asks again, and now Mary is starting to cry on her hip, just tiny little whimpers now, but it’s coming for sure.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” Holden says, dropping the hunk of metal back on the table.
“Are you gonna buy that?” the old man rasps, sending a shiver down Holden’s spine as he reaches for his daughter, suddenly needing to hold her. His voice catches in his throat.
“What’s that, boy?” the man asks.
“Holden?” Susan says, a look of worry flying across her face.
“Yes,” Holden says, holding Mary tightly. “Yes, I need it.”