Huckleberry leaned with arms crossed against the tree that tried and failed to provide shade to the cut that the work detail was mired in. The track they laid for the Ox was heavy; even the Irons strained under the weight of the rails and ties as they laid them down along the muddy ditch dug out by their peerage. The Law Dog’s eyes were locked on a particular digger, smaller than the rest, whose slower pace had held the work crew’s progress back from making quota for the last two weeks. Huckleberry had been told the shiftless drudge’s name, but he hadn’t cared enough to commit it to memory. Once he’d seen the dude, the burly Iron had known which way this would go.
The waifish Remnant handled his shovel clumsily. He was too small to leverage it properly, and anyone with sense could see he didn’t belong on this detail. The Commission had been clear that the work would be demanding. The contracts had specified the length of track that would need to be laid daily. Even the conditions The Commision expected had been researched and included in the formal agreement that every one of these miserable fucks had signed or made a mark for. Some of them couldn’t read. Like as not the Breacher was among those. But Huckleberry didn’t care. His pity for them as weren’t capable of looking out for themselves was nonexistent. Their eyes had all been full of currency, and this part, the negligence for their own ability, was a consideration that hadn’t occurred to the idiots.
At some point, the Breacher felt the Blood Hound’s eyes on him. He began to look up from his work periodically , his already abysmal pace lagged even more. The piss-reek of fear wafted in the air and Huckleberry curled his lip into a snarl at the stink of it. When the Breacher saw this, he flinched, as though the expression had reached out to strike him physically. Those toiling around him didn’t seem to take notice, but neither were it they that Huckleberry had his eyes on. In fact, to all but the Breacher, Huckleberry may as well not have existed. The Law Dog let his hand slide down onto the pommel the rifle holstered on his hip and down the length of his leg, and he let the Breacher see him do it.
A few things happened next. The Breacher’s shovel hit at the wrong angle, and the distribution of his weight caused him to slip and stumble into his neighbor; a Retrograde digging at a much more acceptable pace than the Breacher. They both tumbled to the ground, and the second man fell against a third, an Iron who had been struggling in the rear of a line of lifters carrying rail up the cut. He lost his balance and the rest of the dominoes fell, along with the rail. All because of this useless little moron. It was the moment Huckleberry had been waiting for. The one he’d known would come. The moment when the cost in time that the Breacher represented overcame the meager contribution to the project.
Huckleberry’s rifle had cleared the holster before the rail hit the ground, and the deafening crack of the shot split the air. The Breacher’s brains splattered against the mud and the diggers and lifters in the vicinity scrambled to make distance from the fresh corpse. Their eyes turned to Huckleberry as he slid the gun back home, waiting for an explanation, or instruction. Huckleberry let that linger long enough that the cost in time for their gawking wouldn’t outweigh the value of the intended message before he spoke.
“Y’all’s all signed your contracts. Y’all’s all had quota. And y’all’s all had termination agreed to for missin’ it. Get the fuck back to work.”
And so they did.
A Law Dog Vignette by J. Newman