Had an idea and started scribbling it today. Here's a taste.
“Ma! Ma! They’re comin’!” I grabbed little Letty as I scooted across the dusty yard toward the house. “They’re coming’!” Letty squirmed in my arms, her dirty pink shoes kicking at my thigh. She was almost too big to carry and her legs hung down because she was too mad to wrap them around my hips. “Ma!”
Ma Deuce strolled onto the porch, her whip sword wrapped around her waist, the pommel under her right hand. She was such a little woman, sort of squat and dark, grey streaks in her braided black hair, but she always seemed bigger than me. Behind her, taller but so slight she practically faded, Kelly Ann looked out. She had another baby on her hips and she looked scared.
"Get the little 'uns inside, Amber, and see to the Mister." Ma's voice didn't match her appearance, either. The Tamil she'd talked as a baby was paved over with the clips and stretches of the mountain people's speech. My own speech had taken on that flavor, too, since I'd found refuge here in the old mountains. I snagged Hunter's arm and pulled him with me, and Tag followed without being pushed or told. We hurried into the house behind Ma's shadow.
"How many?" Ma asked, voice low, as I scuttled passed her.
"Two trucks. Maybe five or six." I dropped Letty to the floor and pushed her toward Kelly Ann. "Tailor saw 'em first and took off to the blind."
She nodded once, sharp and definite. "Good. Where're Tony and Skye?"
I shook my head as I untwisted Hunter's hand from his grip on my jeans leg. "Didn't see 'em."
She nodded again, just once, and I pushed the two little boys in front of me before they could stop being scared and start being curious.
Kelly Ann gave me her wide eyed stare and slowly backed into the shade of the house. "Amber, " she whispered, "Was Prentiss Waine there?"
I shrugged, herding the little ones toward the kitchen. "I didn't see. Check the back door and the windows. Get Lilly to help you." She stared at me for a few more breaths and my impatience got the better of me. "Kelly Ann! Move it!" Shaken, she hitched up the baby on her hip and moved down the hall toward the kitchen.
I turned the other way to the big bedroom. The Mister lay sprawled on the bed, a sheet carefully laid over him so that only his face showed in the lamp light. It hard looked like a human face, it had been beaten so hard. Swollen eyes, swollen nose, swollen lips, little bloody lines of cuts every which way, and some of his hair shaved off so Ma could stitch his scalp. I wasn't sure he could see me when I crept in to secure the window and put the wooden shades in place.
"Whus habbnin?" he murmured at me, making me jump just a little. He'd crawled his way to the back door late last night, scaring Kelly Ann near to death. Tailor and I had carried him inside. He'd left us yesterday morning, saying he intended to get what he was owed, and we'd all slunk around the whole day wondering if he'd ever come back. Except Ma. Ma told us that the Mister would do what he said he would do, no matter.
"Two pick up trucks comin'. " I didn't have to tell him who was in those trucks. He knew better than I did.
I carefully lifted the cold pack against his jaw and examined the red and blue bruises underneath it. "On the porch." I reached for the clean rag resting in a bowl of water and squeezed a few drops into his mouth.
"Good." He moved one hand under the sheet, the one that wasn't wrapped in tight bandages. He was hurt, but not near killed. They wanted to teach a lesson, not murder a useful man. Still, it hurt me to see his big muscled body so battered and broken. "'Ey won find it."
"You be still, Mister. Ma will skin us both if you mess up her work." He chuckled soft in his throat and I turned down the lamp so it barely flickered and put it on the floor between the table and the wall. I didn't want anything to hit it and catch the house on fire. At least the house was cinder block. I closed the door behind me, knowing full well that the Mister wouldn't be resting even in the dark, not until this was over.