This is where Markus has spent most of his adult life. He never knew his parents—although he thinks he’s met them in dreams. There was an older man he traveled with from the time he was five until about eight. “About” eight because he isn’t sure how old he is—too much of a hassle to keep track of. That man, Salizar, was not someone Markus enjoyed being around, but the partnership was mutually beneficial for the years they worked together.
Saying they “worked” together is, well...Can you say thieves work? They do ply a trade, they do make a living, but it’d be hard to say that stealing from others is “earning your keep”. The nature of what Sal taught Markus is what drove Markus away. Markus never liked stealing. But Sal’s argument to the child’s complaints were always the same, “If they needed this stuff they should have been more careful with it,” usually followed by a half cackle, half chuckle. A sound Markus grew to detest.
“What was it like? His laugh,” Elleen asks and continues to polish glasses behind the bar.
“Always made me think of a dog being punched in the throat. Not really what it sounded like...I don’t think...maybe? Gosh, I’ve never heard that—never want to.” Markus takes a sip of his cider, pretty tart. Rolls his lips together. “This is way better than last year’s.”
Elleen smirks, “What do you mean? How so?”
“Has more of a bite to it, I like it.”
“Not a fan of sweet, huh?”
“When it comes to ciders? No, not really. A hint, but not much more.”
“We have other kinds too, but you said you wanted—”
“I’m not complaining, it’s great. I prefer them this way.”
After his drink, Markus leaves the Blue Moth bar. The sounds of innumerable insects fill the air. His skin is already sweating in the humidity. The sweat never really stops until winter. A passerby nods, Markus nods back and wipes his damp brow on his sleeve. Pulls the folded piece of paper from his pocket. Smooths it out, looks at the face. Below the image is the name “Clay Banks”. Markus grins at the name, the last one more than the first. Finds it amusing that the guy he’s been thinking about collecting a bounty on has the name of Banks. Reminds him of a time Salizar thought they could rob one in Lafayette.
--- --- ---
“But that isn’t our money,” the child, Markus, says, shaking his head.
“You didn’t say anything yesterday when we stole that food.”
“Yes I did. I told you I don’t like stealing. I’ve been saying that. I’m not going to—”
Salizar drops to a knee, pinches Markus’s ear between the nails of his thumb and first finger. “Listen to me...Hey, look at me.”
“You’re hurting me.” Markus fights back tears.
“I hope I am. If we don’t take this money, we can’t eat and if we can’t eat,” Sal shakes his head, let’s the ear go. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that, you know I’m your friend.”
Markus sniffles, nods because that seems like the best thing to do. But he thinks that Sal is not his friend. In fact, he doesn’t like Sal one little bit. “Alright. I’ll do it.”
“Good, good,” Sal grins, rubs his hands together, scans the area. “Right when they open.”
Fifteen minutes later, the bank’s front door is unlocked. A man wearing a nice vest steps outside with a feather duster. Goes to the windows, dusts the sills, then tugs on his vest as he heads back inside. Markus follows.
A bell on the door rings as Markus enters the bank. The man behind the counter looks up, smiles. He’s wearing a visor now. He waves to the boy.
“How can I help you, son?”
Markus waits until he’s right up at the counter to speak. “There’s a guy outside that wants to rob you.” The man’s eyes widen. “He wants me to tell you he needs help getting inside, then I’m supposed to take whatever money I can find.”
“Sounds like he wants you to do the robbing.”
“Yeah. I always do it for him, but I don’t want to anymore. I don’t like him and I don’t want to steal.”
“Okay. Would you help me then?”
“Maybe. What do you want me to do?”
“Head out the back door, I’ll show you. Go to the sheriff’s office, you know where that is?” he asks, Markus nods. “Okay, good. I’ll go help your friend—that man.”
“Right, okay. I’ll help him in, then you tell the sheriff what you told me and he’ll come and handle it.”
Markus nods, feels his insides spin. He does as the bank man asked and, after a whirlwind of activity, Salizar is being led to a cell in the sheriff's office. Salizar scans, scowling, looking for the boy that betrayed him. Markus watches from a distance, hidden behind a water trough where a horse sips and pays the boy no mind.
--- --- ---
The sound of boots on wood walkways shakes Markus from his daydream. Coming his way is Norin. Works with his uncle at the butcher shop, mid-twenties and a little slow, but a real sweetheart.
“Hi, Markus. You go huntin’?”
“Hey, Norin. Not for a couple of days. How’re you?”
“Could use...Oh, I’m good. We’re running a little low on stock. Unc’ says we might have another two days. Sure could use some more game if you’d like to make some money.”
Markus nods, smiles, folds the picture of Clay up and shoves it into his pocket. Two hours later, he’s walking up to the pre-Fall school he’s called home for the past fifteen-odd years. He sits on his bed and opens the latest book he’s been reading. This one is about the second world war. In the back of his mind the wanted poster tickles his thoughts. He knows he’ll be heading out to find one Clay Banks in the very near future.