Hank Killingly had lived longer than he should have.
I found him on his property, the old professor humming to himself and seemingly oblivious to the world around him. This, I knew, was all an act.
Of the many things the old bastard was, oblivious was not one of them.
I did not hide my approach as he stood with his back to me, examining the beauty of the sky.
“Have you come to kill me, Mr. Blood?” he inquired.
“In a manner of speaking.” I spat my words at him, and I was pleased to see his back stiffen.
My anger was evidenced in every syllable I spoke.
He turned around, revealing the sawed-off shotgun in his hands. Both barrels of the weapon were pointed at my stomach, and I raised an eyebrow. He smiled.
“You’re a tad more difficult to kill than I first imagined, Mr. Blood,” he informed me. “But I’ve no doubt that a belly full of shot will put you down long enough for me to find a way.”
“Hank, you pull those triggers, and you’re going to die in the worst way I can imagine.”
He smiled and shot me.
He pulled the triggers.
The shot tore through my stomach and shredded my innards. I took a step back, glaring at him, but I didn’t fall.
I didn’t even lose my balance.
His look of utter surprise was worth every ounce of pain.
He tried to break the weapon open and reload it, but shock and growing terror caused him to fumble the weapon and drop it. As my stomach struggled to knit itself back together, I moved forward, ignoring the shrieking agony of each step, and struck the man with an open palm.
Hank babbled and begged as I shoved him back against a broad pine tree, and his hands clawed at me as I took hold of them and jerked them backward. By the time my belly was done with its repairs, I had him tied to the tree and naked.
“I learned this in Afghanistan,” I told him, drawing my knife. “And it takes a damned steady hand.”
I made the first incision at his breastbone and whispered, “You shouldn’t have killed the boy, Hank.”
In the stillness of the afternoon, Hank Killingly screamed as I skinned him alive.