Monday, April 1, 2024

“He Really Meant It” • by Cameron Cooper

We got the alert on the radio around two that afternoon, that the Hapscombe barn was burning.

It arrived just after they laid Joe Warshowsky to rest. My partner, Eddie, glanced at me, startled.

I agreed with his expression. The Hapscombes were next to Warshowsky Junior’s worn-down house. “Can’t be to do with Joe Junior.” I put the cruiser in gear. “It’s too soon for the next round.” 


The Hapscombe barn was burning. Smoke rose from the hay loft. The drizzle would take care of it. The holes on either side of the barn were the weird bit. One was on the south side, down by the middle of the wall, and the other on the north side, up by the eaves. “Like a Godzilla of a bullet ripped through it,” I said. “In and out.”

“Bullet would explain the burning hay.” Eddie traced the trajectory with his finger. We both turned to where the monster bullet might have come from. Sure enough, there was a six-foot hole in the side of the Warshowsky house, exposing singed insulation. Old pine shakes smouldered on the thin, ailing grass beneath the hole. Drywall dust turned everything nearby a ghostly white.

I could see Joe Junior’s big screen TV through the hole.


We tapped, like always, and went right on in. The TV was running the Razorback game. I don’t know if it could show anything else. It’d never had to try.

Joe Junior’s recliner was tipped over toward the hole in the wall. Rain pooled on the stained floorboards, turning the dust into a white sludge.

Lena sat on the scratched coffee table, her shoulders slumped. Joe’s tablet hung from her fingers. Her narrow cheekbone was swollen. The bruises on her thin neck were old. She never lied about them, but she never complained, which meant we couldn’t do squat about it.

The Hapscombes said plenty, though, whenever they yacked about noise from the neighbours. “He right up and screeched at her, Deputy,” Bill Hapscombe reported, the last time he’d called me. “Kept yelling he really meant it, that he was gonna do it this time.”

I’d heard that before. Joe Junior always did what he wanted.

Lena had a glassy look in her eyes I didn’t like. “Mrs. Warshowsky?” I kept my voice gentle.

She looked up at me. “Deputy Jones. Did you know that the earth spins at a thousand miles an hour?”

“I didn’t. Where’s Joe, Lena?”

“And the whole globe moves through space at nineteen miles a second.” The frail hand holding the tablet twitched. “I looked it up.”

I thought that was brave of her, given it was Joe’s tablet.

She looked up at me, a little more life coming back into her eyes. “It was his father’s funeral. I thought that for his own father, he’d give up the game, but he got so mad when I mentioned it.” She pressed her lips together for a second. “He said he didn’t give a goddam hoot about the old bastard. He was gonna stay right in the goddam spot he was in, and no one and nothin’ would move him out of it.”

We all turned to look at the tipped-over chair, the hole in the wall that dripped rain, and the tunnel drilled through the Hapscombe’s barn. I bent and looked along the trajectory and glimpsed nothing but gray clouds on the other side of the barn. Beyond the clouds would be sun-lit sky, then the dark airlessness of space. The spot where Joe Junior intended to stay, no matter what, would be thousands of miles from here by now.

Eddie and I turned back to Lena.

The corner of her mouth twitched. “I guess when he said he was gonna stay right where he was, he really meant it.”



Cameron Cooper is the author of the Imperial Hammer space opera series, among others, and is the pen name used by best-selling author Tracy Cooper-Posey. As Cameron Cooper, she writes science fiction short stories and novels, including space opera. Her fiction has appeared in Shelter of Daylight, Boundary Shock Quarterly, Blaze Ward Presents, and Space Opera Digest 2021. She came fourth in Hugh Howey’s SPSFC#2 in 2023, with Hammer and Crucible. An Australian Canadian, she lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, a former professional wrestler, where she moved in 1996 after meeting him on-line.