A new episode of The Retribution Serial appears below after The Hummingbird
by Stephen Baily
Somebody tapped me on the shoulder.
Knuckles, not fingertips, were used for the job, so I wasn’t surprised, in turning around, to find myself confronted with a uniform.
—Come with me.
Obediently, I stepped out of the long line at customs and dragged my valise after him into a windowless room not much bigger than a closet.
—Open your bag.
The thing was so heavy I had trouble hoisting it up onto the table.
—Can I ask you something first?
He shut the door behind us.
—Do you really think I’d be stupid enough to try and sneak contraband past you?
He took a moment to consider my hair and beard, neither of which had been in the vicinity of a scissors in over a year.
—Maybe you’re hoping we’ll figure no smuggler would go out of his way to excite suspicion.
—I’m not into reverse psychology.
—Besides, who’s to say you wouldn’t look even more suspicious with a haircut?
—So I ask you again. Open the bag.
He was unprepared, when I popped the rusty clasps, for the sight of so many paperbacks.
—What are you—a used-book salesman?
—I like to read.
Indifferent to their titles, he subjected several of the fatter volumes to a vigorous shaking, but, except for a few loose pages, nothing fell out of the bindings.
—If this is the only bag you have, where are your clothes?
—On my back.
—Don’t get wise with me, kid.
—It’s the truth. The rest were in such bad shape I left them behind.
His frown expressed doubt that rags could exist in worse shape than my buttonless corduroy jacket, stained T-shirt, and threadbare jeans—not to mention my filthy desert boots, which, since I’d been wearing the same socks for a month, he immediately regretted ordering me to take off.
—What’s in that ridiculous pouch?
—What do you think?
—Give it here.
So I unslung the liter-sized souvenir-shop bota from my shoulder and, tilting his head back, he fired a thin stream from it off the roof of his mouth.
—This isn’t wine!
—I like something stronger when I travel.
He flung the bota down on the table.
—Turn out your pockets.
Apart from my passport and my disintegrating wallet, these yielded a few pesetas in change, a pack of Celtas cortos, and a tiny matchbox adorned with a watercolor of a hummingbird.
The hummingbird’s wings beat up to seventy times a second.
Or so it said on the matchbox, into which he poked his nose to no purpose.
—Are we finished?
—After you unzip.
—You heard me.
—Okay—but it’s only fair to warn you I can’t remember the last time I changed my underwear.
Say this for him—he conducted the ensuing search with consummate professionalism and, when it uncovered nothing—or at least nothing he could arrest me for possessing—he grudgingly returned my passport.
—It appears I’m left with no choice but to welcome you home.
—I fear for my country.
—And I for mine.
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Stephen Baily has published short fiction in numerous journals. His novel “Markus Klyner, MD, FBI” is available as a Kindle e-book.
A Serial in Eight Parts
retribution: deserved punishment for evil done.
Previous Retribution Episodes 1 2 3 4 5 6
Retribution Episode 7
“I finally decided that if I wanted justice, I would have to get it on my own.”
There was a silence in the car as I considered Levi’s statement.
“So when Allens disappeared,” I finally said, “it was you? Jesus. How did you get rid of the body?”
“Allens isn’t dead,” he said as we pulled into the driveway.
“Come out to the barn.” He led the way out to the barn where long ago his mother had kept horses and had taught a small boy to ride in the corral beside it. He unlocked the door and we went inside. He went to the old tack room where there was a new lock on the door. When he opened it, the tack room was not there, but instead there was another locked door set into a cement block wall which was built inside the old wood framed one.
When he opened this one, I could see a hospital bed with a body on it. The harsh fluorescent light showed a body without arms or legs. An IV tube ran in and other tubes ran out. I recognized it as Allens from the pictures that were in the papers at the time of the trial.
“I removed his vocal chords,” Levi continued calmly, “and he is now blind and deaf.” I stared at the thing on the bed. The head turned restlessly from side to side.
“When I approached him that night, he didn’t even know who I was. I told him I wanted to buy some heroin and we went over to my car. When he turned his back, I stuck him with a hypodermic filled with a strong tranquillizer and brought him back here. I operated on him—actually several times—to remove his arms and legs. I kept him doped up so that his mental state would not interfere with his physical recovery.
It was only after he had healed that I brought him out from under the drugs and told him who I was. After he understood what he had done to earn what was going to happen to him, I did the final operation to take his sight and hearing. I’ve kept him here since.”
Levi’s voice was calm and matter of fact. He might have been discussing how he had remodeled a house. I stared at the thing on the bed, and the head turned silently from side to side.
To be continued
One thought on “The Hummingbird”
I like this story a lot. Smart and subtle humor through-out. Very believable characters and dialogue. Intriguing title kept me interested as to how it would tie in to the story. I also liked your ‘no quote marks’ dialogue. One of the best I’ve read here.