In the end I can’t leave his place, can’t leave his body. It is done and I want it not to be- or to do it again I am not rightly sure to tell the truth. After all that time of thinking and now it is done.
You bastards…bloody cowards. Come out!
A crash as the crockery flew off the table with the sweep of his hand added to the din of Belle’s screams and the dog’s barks, the sound too much to be contained in the low wood walls. Too much for the Woolshed itself. Beneath his feet the red gush of blood spread in footprints around the room as he roamed, cursing them all, unable to think what was the next thing to do except give vent to his own anger, his overwhelming rage that he was here. And it was done. After all his silent preparation, calm Joe was lost in the din.
He could see mouths moving, Dan remonstrating, Mrs Barry wide eyed and screaming silent slow motioned words in his face that made no sense. He couldn’t hear for the noise in his own head, the echoes of gun fire ricocheting inside his skull.
“Where the hell are they?”
They had to be here somewhere. Those coppers never left the shack. Paddy and the lads knew what they had fer breakfast, what time they had a shit, and who snored the loudest. They was here alright. Belle’s glance towards the bedroom door gave him his answer and, propelling Anton Wick in front of his body, he stepped up it. “I know yer in there- you want more blood on these hands? I’ll bloody give it to yer! COME OUT!” His hands beat on the door hard. Jesus that felt good. More, harder, surely he should be in pain too?
“I’ll shoot you bastards through this door!” His hands struggled to reload the Winchester. He’s shoot through the wood sure enough, have them begging for mercy.
“Joe…JOE!” Dan’s petrified eyes stared at him “Let’s go! It’s done let’s go!”
Joe shook his head, trying to recall what had been the plan all those hours ago- leave the coppers to go alert them in Beechworth- the special train- ambush and revolution. Some other life maybe. All the eyes on him again and he shuddered before he slammed out into the night, stepping over Aaron to get a breath of air that didn’t have the smell of blood and fear in it.
Across the clearing behind the shack somebody shifted and a low whisper came from where horses were tethered, their teeth grinding bitter winter growth “Joe, Christ there’s enough of a racket to wake the dead. Had yer better not clear on out of here now? But do us all a favour and shoot that dog before yer do eh?”
“I’m not done yet. I want to see those bastards run. Tell Paddy to hold the Woolshed a bit longer. Only needs one of them to get to Beechworth in any case eh?” The thin smile that shone in the moonlight showed no pleasure.
Indeed the silence spoke of words considered carefully. It might have been a minute or two before a reply came soft and unsure “Ned didn’t say anthin’ about killin’ the traps Joe”
Ned. Not that he’d much left to barter with but Joe considered for a moment that he’d have surrendered anything to have Ned here now, to be able to step back from the spotlight for a moment. But there would be no respite. He was the Beechworth Boy after all; this was his territory, his back yard, his place. And he was master of ceremonies in this little shack in the middle of the Bush. Lofty ambitions.
“Well now, no he didn’t. But then that train from Benalla isn’t going for a day trip now is it? All them coppers in their Sunday finest out to take the air? It is down to us
all to consider eh? What happens to our own souls.”
A rush of sickness roller coastered through empty guts and he turned back to the shack. Pure effort of will pushed the black nausea to the back of his mind and he averted his eyes from the body on the floor to step through the door. Anton Wick’s narrow scared eyes flickered, his head down. “Go home Anton. You’ve done your part. Whether yer wanted to or no. We are even eh?” In other circumstances perhaps the German would have argued the case, debated the terms under which he had been press ganged into this murder, but sense and fear prevailed and with a quick nod to Mrs Barry he scampered through the door and into the moving trees.
“Are yer alright Joe?” Dan’s rigid body, tense from standing guard, turned slowly.
“Grand. Just grand.” He was here now, sharp, cold, hard and moving with renewed determination. There was clarity if you didn’t think too much, aye that was the way. Close the doors Joe. “Belle you’d better get in there and tell those traps to come out with their hands up or help me God I’ll burn this place down with them inside it so I will.” His voice was steady now.
“Have you not done enough for one night?” Mrs Barry was grabbing his sleeve. “Her husband is dead! And her with a child. Fatherless and all on account of you and those bloody Kellys! Have yer no heart Joe Byrne?”
Joe flinched despite himself. Lock that door tight and be quick about it. “I have a heart aye…” He just wondered how it was still beating.
This short piece is a continuation of Dark Brew – some conjecture as to how rather than why Joe shot Aaron. A deal of it was written when I visited Victoria most recently, being in those places is so emotive. Warnings for violence and some language. No offence to anyone is intended…