And it will be tiny, Mister Nichols, you can bet on that. She had started for the kitchen when she stopped in the doorway between the living room and kitchen, thinking she'd heard a noise outside. She listened. Heard it again. A squeaking of the porch swing chain? "Did you hear that?" she called into the living room. "Hear what? Didn't hear nothin', Ethel." "I'm not sure. Sounded like... oh, I'm sure it's nothing. The wind." Hearing nothing further, but still wearing the same uneasy frown on her face, she continued on to the kitchen. She was reaching into the drawer for a knife to cut the pie with when she heard the noise again. She looked in the direction of the sound and that's when she saw the grinning face in the window. Her heart lurched painfully but before she could cry out, something crashed against the back door. It burst open and three men strode into her kitchen, big as life. Three men she had never seen before. Strangers. "Who are...? The one who appeared to be in charge, the nicest looking of the three if you could get past the smarmy smile, said, "Ah, ma'am, we could surely take to a slice of that fine pie on your table there. And maybe some coffee. Oh, by the way, this here is Tattoo," he said, gesturing to the man beside him. "He's got a real name but no need for you to know that. Better in fact, if you don't." The big man he referred to was dark and swarthy with a hook nose and beady eyes, like a hawk. He wore a dark jacket over a plaid shirt. The neck was open and she could see the snake coiling up and around his neck and on upward to where its menacing purple-brown head covered one side of his hard face, fangs bared. Ethel had seen a similar spectacle in a circus side-show once. She tried to calm her heart which was beating a mile a minute. "Dog here right behind me. Odd name, I guess, but you've gotta admit, Dog kinda does look like a mutt, doesn't he? Hair flopping over his forehead the way it does. And those sad eyes. Don't you think so, ma'am?" As frightened as Ethel was, and she was indeed frightened, she didn't think his eyes looked sad as much as they looked stupid. And dangerous because of that. A follower. He was the shortest of the three and his foolish grin showed a mouth full of bad teeth. There was a collective stink of wet cloth, body odor and something else that wafted off them like a cloud of evil, contaminating her kitchen. She heard the squeak of Hartley's chair as he lowered the footrest. Oh, dear. The man who had been doing the talking glanced away from the one he called Dog and raised an eyebrow at Hartley who came hobbling into the kitchen just then, his face flushed with anger. "You busted in my damn door. What do you fellas want? Get the hell out of..." No, Hartley, no, Ethel begged silently, but before he could even finish his sentence, the biggest man, the one called Tattoo, back-handed him across the face, slamming Hartley into the kitchen wall, sending one of the pots flying off its hook and clanging across the floor. Ethel cried out, feeling as if she'd been struck, too. Her arms reached out instinctively to her husband, and it was then that she realized she still held the knife in her hand. She had taken it out of the drawer to slice the pie. The big man was about to strike Hartley again, and she tried to drive the blade into his back. The blade barely pierced the skin, causing only a superficial wound, but still managed to raise a holler from Hartley's attacker. The other man grabbed her by both arms and tried to force her into a chair, yelling into her to face sit down. In his day Hartley could have given either one of them a run for his money. Hartley always could handle himself. Even now he was struggling to get to his feet and fight back, but the man hit him again, with his closed fist this time. When Hartley went down again the man followed up with a vicious kick to his bad hip. Hartley groaned. Ethel was out of the chair and screaming for the man to stop, falling to her knees beside her husband, tears streaming down her face. The man who had asked for the pie, who had forced her into the chair, the apparent leader of this pack of thugs, said, "Sorry about old Tattoo, there, Ma'am." Ethel was crying so hard she could hardly see him. "He can get pretty nasty when riled," the man continued. "Your husband shouldn't have been so inhospitable." He took the knife from her hand. (with a spot of Tattoo's blood on it) "Poor old fella doesn't look too good, does he. It's his own fault, you know that's true. Now if you'll just muster up that coffee, maybe I can get my friend to calm down." "He's not breathing," she cried. "I have to call an ambulance. Oh, Hartley." She dashed for the phone in the living room, but Tattoo's arm shot out and he grabbed her by her thin, white hair and yanked her back. Ethel turned and began to beat at him with her small arthritic fists, screaming her rage at him as she did. Tattoo struck her hard in the face and she fell silent to the floor. Then he picked her up and threw her bodily across the room. Donnie Leaman (Dog) looked away, while Ken Roach looked on helplessly at the railing madman in the kitchen. They shouldn’t have come here, Ken Roach thought. It was a mistake. But too late now for regrets. What's done is done."/> The Deepest Dark