Reunion At The Yellow Barn: Crime Short Fiction By Nicky Tomsko
Nicky Tomsko, author of Reunion At The Yellow Barn, is a writer and elementary teacher from Pennsylvania. His stories have previously appeared at Shotgun Honey and Mystery Tribune.
In “Reunion At The Yellow Barn,” three childhood friends are tied to a tragic night of their youth. When the guilt becomes too much, the three are reunited, destined to see each other to the end.
Tommy kneeled before the glass case filled with eclectic jewelry. His neck jerked as he was violently seized by the collar of his black leather jacket. He tried to break free to attend to the dying old man.
Eddie forced him to his feet and spun him around. “What the fuck are you doing? Lower your mask. I found it. Let’s go.” His words spewed vehemently.
“He’s still alive. We can’t leave him like this. Come on…it’s Old Tucker,” Tommy pleaded.
Eddie’s empty eyes pierced through the openings of the ski mask. “James is waiting. You either come right now, or you can join Old Tuck.” He grasped the gun in his waistband.
Tommy looked down once more in helplessness. He then followed Eddie through the doors of the pawn shop–into the overwhelming darkness…
Panic and the crisp night air greeted Tommy as he reached behind to feel a thick layer of sweat on his back as slick as ice. Through blurry eyes, the clock on the nightstand read 3:45. Gasps turned to sighs of relief, acknowledging that it was just a dream. However, the relief was always fleeting. His reality had become a never-ending nightmare.
“He’s still alive. We can’t leave him like this…”
The events from the dream did happen, and no matter how many changes and improvements he made in life, it was never enough. He knew there was only one way to acquire permanent relief–it was time he went back to the Yellow Barn. He pulled himself from the bed and trudged to the shower. There would be no more sleep this night.
“Is everything alright, Honey?” Holly asked from the kitchen sink. Her hands were busy scraping last night’s casserole dish.
At the table, Eddie held an envelope in his hands. He pushed the remaining mail to the side and adjusted his facial expression. Angry with himself for the weak display of vulnerability, he firmly replied, “I’m fine.” He deflected the attention to his daughter who sat across from him. She hummed a tune and made words with alphabetical shaped cereal. “Janie, go get your things ready for school; you’re going to be late for the bus.”
Janie left the table without saying a word and ran upstairs.
Eddie tore open the envelope and removed a single sheet of printing paper. It read, “Meet at the Yellow Barn tonight at 9.” He quickly pocketed the sheet with the envelope and winced. “Don’t wait up tonight. Some important business came up at the office. I need to take care of it immediately.”
Holly did not question the lie. The truth was, she was terrified of her husband…and rightfully so.
Across town, James sat at his desk ready to tackle some emails. He moaned at the endless queue in his inbox.
There was a light tap at the office door, and a pretty, blonde head poked into the doorway. “Principal Smith. Your mail came.”
“Please, come in. Thank you, Denise.” He took the bundle of mail from his dutiful secretary.
James began to quickly flip through the stack. About five envelopes in, his fingers halted. The sloppy handwriting with no return address, caused an uneasy look to appear on his face. He stared a few moments before he got up and quietly closed the office door.
Feeling comfortable with the level of privacy, he proceeded to carefully open the envelope with a letter opener. He laid the single sheet of white paper on his desk, and read, “Meet at the Yellow Barn tonight at 9.” Both pieces of paper were quickly ran through the confidential shredder. He put his head in his hands and sighed–always knowing this day would come.
The Yellow Barn sat, concealed among a valley of pine trees, about two hours from their hometown, the nearest sign of civilization being a little college town at the foothills of one of the mountains.
At the age of thirteen, James showed up in the neighborhood with an old jalopy he hotwired out of the junkyard. The boys took off on a joyride to Mountain Country and stumbled upon the abandoned structure while exploring the valley. The three troublemakers quickly became enamored with their secluded discovery, and throughout the years, they made their way to it every chance they could get.
Most trips were spent drinking beer and making up stories of its origin while laying in its hayloft gazing at the stars. The last time they visited, the mysterious barn was used as a getaway the night they stole the diamond.
At the age of thirteen, James showed up in the neighborhood with an old jalopy he hotwired out of the junkyard.
Presently, thirty years past its finding, the place still possessed a majestic, timeless quality. The remote pine valley remained untouched. Cellular towers were nowhere to be seen. The surrounding land lay undeveloped. It was as if the mountains kept the pocket of land a secret from the outside world.
The yellow luster of the paint showed little signs of abuse from the seasonal weather. Entering the inside felt like visiting a boarded-up attic. The only creatures that seemed to have passed through since their last visit were the unseen rats. Familiar, rugged cross-beams split and drooped. Rusty farm tools stood frozen in space. An overturned trough, once serving as a bench, remained in its previous location.
At the center of the barn, the three former comrades stood in a triangle around a small, circular table. Upended buckets offered seats, but the uneasiness of the gathering left them vacant. Despite living in close proximity and knowing each other’s location, none of the three had attempted any form of communication since their last visitation to the barn.
Eddie looked glaringly at his former cohorts. His sleek physique, slicked-back hair, and pointy facial features were eerily preserved.
James breathed on the face of his pocket watch and polished it with a handkerchief.
Tommy looked around in bewilderment, as if it was his first time setting foot in the barn. Time had saddened and deteriorated his already meek features. With a sagging bald head and slumping shoulders, he managed to begin, “Hi, Guys.”
Eddie gave no response and continued his deadpan stare.
James gave a genuine smile, and gently replied, “Boys.”
It was easy to like James at an instance. His appearance was not deceptive either; he truly was a great guy. There was no violence in him. His former vice was simply auto theft and joyriding. Besides personal satisfaction, he never profited from lifting a car. His current distinguished, older gentlemanly look only enhanced his charm.
Tommy continued, “I wanted to talk to you guys.”
Eddie interrupted, “Let’s make this quick. I know why we are here. You want to confess…and it isn’t going to happen.”
James intervened, “Just let him speak.”
“Well…yes…in a way I do. However, I don’t want to implicate either of you. I just thought I should tell you first, see where your heads are at,” Tommy said. His hands had not yet left the pockets of his jacket. Outside, the crisp October air was on the brink of turning bitter.
“Do you take the police for fools? They will twist you in minutes. There’s no way it wouldn’t get traced back to me and James also,” Eddie sharply replied. He ran a hand through his dark hair.
“All James did was drive the car. He didn’t even take a cut from the diamond profit. Besides, what happened inside was an accident,” Tommy sheepishly answered. His feet shuffled some loose dirt.
“You must be losing your mind, or maybe you are on some new religious wave? James is an accessory to murder. Accident or not, we killed a man and stole a hundred thousand dollar diamond,” Eddie said. His face showed disbelief at Tommy’s naivety.
James cleared his throat and spoke, “I have to agree with Eddie, Tommy. I don’t believe the police will be so understanding.”
“I can’t sleep at night. That was Old Tucker. He used to give us candy when we were kids. Don’t you care?” Tommy’s outburst momentarily startled the others.
“Look, that old fool shouldn’t have had that type of merchandise moving through his shop. If he hadn’t got drunk and passed out in the back, we would never have run into him. He was going to take us out with that shotgun. I had to fight him off. It was unfortunate the gun went off,” Eddie snapped.
“You must be losing your mind, or maybe you are on some new religious wave? James is an accessory to murder…”
“I cared about Old Tucker too. I wish things didn’t go down the way they did, but what can you do?” James interjected.
“We can do the right thing. We can confess.” Tommy was becoming desperate. “Don’t you want to get that guilt off of your chest? I can’t live with it anymore. I need to be rid of it.”
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that terrible day. I can’t do it though. I got a life now. I’m not that same punk that likes to boost cars. I’m the principal at our elementary school. Old Tucker’s great grandchildren go to my school. I’m trying for redemption in my own way. I’m sorry, Tommy; I just don’t think it’s an option,” James said. His tone was soothing but firm.
Eddie showed no signs of softening. “There’s no chance I’m confessing. I have a wife and a kid. Hell, I liked Old Tuck enough. I wish it didn’t happen, but what’s done is done. I have no problem sleeping at night. We’ve moved on. I think it’s time you do the same.”
“Then I guess there is nothing left to say.” Tommy took a step.
Eddie stood between Tommy and the doors to the Yellow Barn. He met Tommy with a firm shove to the shoulder, bouncing him back a few paces. “You don’t think you are leaving here and going to the police, do you?”
James became undecidedly tense, unsure of which person to favor toward. He shifted his weight back and forth between legs.
Tommy clenched his muscles and took a powerful step.
From inside his suit jacket, Eddie pulled a handgun and pointed it at Tommy, stopping him before his next step. “There’s no way I’m letting you do that. How did you think this little reunion was going to end?”
James stepped back, his palms turned outward. “Guys, let’s take it easy. How about we sit for a little and talk this over again.”
Eddie kicked the nearest bucket. It picked up dust and clanged off of a broken down wheelbarrow. “We’ve talked enough. There’s no getting through to him. I’m giving you one last chance to rethink this. Don’t make me do this, Tommy.”
Tommy’s hands finally left their pockets, flinging loose dirt into Eddie’s face. Eddie cringed and rubbed his eyes. Tommy lunged and latched onto Eddie’s wrist with both hands. Eddie grabbed Tommy in a bear hug from behind. Tommy backpedaled as he tried to pull the gun away.
As they neared the wall next to the door, Eddie tripped over a pallet, bringing Tommy down with him. As they fell, the gun went off, and the back of Eddie’s head slammed into a protruding spike of an old wagon wheel propped against the wall, instantly killing him.
James looked over at Eddie, frozen atop the pallet and fastened to the wheel, and realized there was no hope. His eyes moved to Tommy, who was crawling away. After a few yards, he finally collapsed. James cautiously approached him.
Tommy lay writhing in pain, leaking blood like a faucet from his chest. He barely let out, “James…James.” He never let out the next thought. There were no more thoughts. He was free from the prison inside his mind. Perhaps, he always knew how it was going to end.
James gazed down at his former buddy, remembering how truly fond he was of Tommy. He knew Tommy did not fit in, was not made up of bones to be doing what they were doing–he just wanted a friend, to be a part of something. He slowly blinked, gathering a past lifetime, and whispered, “I’m sorry, My Friend.”
He turned to leave Tommy to his permanent relief. On his way out, he destroyed his footprints and did what he was best at–fleeing the scene of a crime in a car…never again to return to the Yellow Barn.
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