Jack took a drag on his cigarette. “A killer on the loose? Haven’t heard of anything in the news.”
“You wouldn’t.” The stranger said. “It happened five years ago.”
“Five years?” Jack cried in astonishment. “They haven’t caught him yet.”
“Not even close.” The man replied.
Amazed at the answer, Jack continued to voice his thoughts. “What makes them think he’s still around? That’s a long time to get away.”
The stranger’s smile sent a chill down Jack’s spine. “Oh, he’s here alright. Come spring time, tourist will call the police and tell them that their cabin was broken into over the winter. Done smartly, too. A jimmied lock here, a pried window frame there, all done neat and clean. No bashed in doors. No shattered glass. Real professional.”
“Sounds like you admire him.” Jack said, his mouth suddenly dry.
“Lots of folk around here do.” The stranger boasted. “The man’s a legend in these parts.”
“They admire a murderer?”
The stranger’s eyes flashed dark. “They admire a man that pushes back when pushed.”
Jack fell silent and stared at the fire for a moment. The glow had grown brighter under the night sky.
“You sure you don’t want any coffee?” Jack asked.
“Nah. I’ll take another smoke though.” The man answered.
Jack tossed over the pack before reaching for enamel coated tin cup. “What was your name again?”
“Joe.” Came the man’s reply as he started to hand the pack back. “Don’t think I caught yours either.”
“Just set them between us.” Jack said as he poured the hot coffee into his mug. “Jack. My name’s Jack.”
“Nice to meet ya, Jack.” Joe said as he took a deep drag on the fresh cigarette. “Been a while since I talked to someone.”
“Nice to meet you too.” Jack responded. “It’s rare to find a straight talker nowdays.”
“Damn straight!” Joe agreed. “People chat like hens but have nothin’ to say. God I hate them.”
Jack swallowed some coffee and shrugged his shoulders. “City life. It’s bred into them.”
Joe spat on the ground. “Yeah. Damn lemmings. And they think they’re better than everyone.”
“That why Rambo killed that guy?”
Joe’s eyes narrowed at the question. “Yeah. That’s what they say. Someone snubbed him, so he snubbed that guy out in response.”
“A little over board, don’t you think?” Jack asked, taking another drink of coffee.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Jack answered as he shifted on the ground. “It sounds to me like it went a little far. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little re-educatin’ when needed. If someone deserves a punch in the nose, than they should get a punch in the nose. But killin’ someone for a snub. That ain’t necessary.”
“Seems to me it served its purpose.” Joe challenged.
“Did it?” Jack asked.
Joe’s body tensed and coiled. “You questioning me?”
“Not at all.” Jack declared. “I’m just wondering if it was worth the price.”
“What price?” Joe asked as he puffed heavily.
Jack answered, “His freedom.”
Jack watched as Joe’s body relaxed. “Hah. He’s free. They haven’t been able to touch him for five years now. He comes and goes as he pleases. No one can stop him from doin’ what he wants. That sounds free to me.”
“Does it?” Jack pondered. “Hiding out in the woods; Can’t get a job; Can’t go to the city; Can’t get a burger; And stuck in the same area, year after year.”
“Don’t care for any of that.” Joe stated. “Besides, maybe he likes the area.”
“I wouldn’t blame him if he did.” Jack agreed. “It’s a beautiful area.”
“So why would he leave?” Joe asked, tossing the spent remains of his cigarette into the fire.
“Because, eventually the people will get tired of him.” Jack said. “More tourists will move in with their kids and dogs, and they’re gonna want to not have to worry about them runnin’ around playin’ and such.”
Jack drank the last of his coffee. “Wanted killers and kids just don’t mix.”
Joe’s voice hissed like a steel blade being unsheathed. “Maybe if he kills a few more, people be scared away instead. Then nobody will mess with him.”
“That would just do the opposite.” Jack said as he set down his cup. “Killing the people that like him will turn the whole place against him. They’ll be man hunts and crowds like never before.”
Joe leaned in a little. “Well, maybe he’ll just kill you. Just to shut you up.”
Jack shook his head. “Nah. He’s smarter than that. He knows that this late in the year, any bear in the area would be hibernatin’. There’s no big cats around here, and damn few dogs. My not comin’ home would alert the sheriff’s department that something’s wrong. My wife would call up right away. They’d be searching all over for me. Goin’ house to house. Checkin’ all the cabins and such. And it ain’t like the guy can hide out in the woods right now. The trees are bare, makin’ it hard to hide, and the cold air demands a fire for survival.”
Joe sat still and let the words sink in deep.
“Besides,” Jack continued. “As I said earlier. I ain’t no threat. Why risk everything over something so little as me. He’s much smarter than that.”
“Yeah.” Joe said, calculating. “No threat.”
Jack looked directly at Joe. “Yep.”
Joe looked back at the man for a moment and then said, “Well, I’m gonna go. It’s late and unlike you, I got a bed callin’. Been a good talk.”
Jack looked up at the man as he stood up. “Yep.”
“Mind if I take these?” Joe asked as he took the pack of cigarettes.
“Help yourself.” Jack replied.
Joe stood straight and looked out into the countryside. “A week, huh? Well, be careful. Rambo’s out there and he’ll be watchin’.”
Jack took a stick and started to poke at the waning fire. “Thanks. I will.”