SURVIVOR - TOM LARSEN
There’s this guy, lives in Siberia, or the Sahara, some godforsaken place, pick one. And he’s been there for years, good and bad, and he’s made do and has no interest in the bigger picture.
One day, a pair of soldiers stop him. A border tax has been imposed.
“I know nothing of your borders.”
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” The thin soldier smirks. The fat one eyes the guy’s pelts or whatnot.
“And if I don’t pay?”
“We have no choice but to confiscate your goods.”
The guy knows what this means. He came from far away to escape things like taxes and soldiers. He’s a man who’s learned how to keep what’s his.
“I pay you, I suppose.” He studies them.
“Of course.” Thin one smirks. “As representative of the regime.”
“And how much is your tax?”
Thin one quotes some exorbitant sum, more than the guy’s whatnots are worth. They are deep in the jungle or desert, miles from any outpost. The soldiers are armed but careless.
“In that case, I’ll not cross your border,” he tells them.
“But you already have.”
“Then I will go back.”
The soldiers look at each other and laugh.
“Too late, my friend.” Thin one fires a thin cigar. “You’re here, that means you owe.”
The guy says nothing. He’s been robbed before and talk gives the thief advantage. He watches fat one move for his pack mule.
“What’s in these bags, pilgrim?” He sets his rifle aside.
“Nothing of value.” The guy’s fingers find the grip hidden in his horse’s mane.
Fat one cuts the straps and flips the bags open. He reaches into the first pouch, pulls out a sack of coins or gems.
“Nothing of value, eh?” He tosses the sack to thin one and reaches in the second pouch. Thin one works the drawstring cackling madly.
“It will take a few minutes.” The guy kicks the gun away and scoops the viper out of the sand.
“Dear God, I’m poisoned.” Fat one holds his hand, wheezing from his knees.
“Not to worry,” the guy steps over the dead one to retrieve his mace, “you’ll bleed to death before the venom takes effect.”
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago