Deadlands Noir Extinct in the Big Easy

Flashback: 14 years ago, late summer, Eskilstuna, Sweden

4

Sven wasn’t sure what had woken him, at first. He thought it might be a creaking shutter, but the air in the hayloft, where he’d gone to escape the stifling closeness of the house on this unusually hot night, was still; even the dust motes in the moonlight seemed to hang motionless. It took a while before his sleep-fogged brain registered the noise for what it was: someone crying, and trying desperately to do it quietly.

He surprised her when he came down the ladder; he wasn’t trying to, but he moved surprisingly quietly for such a large boy—the family’s house was small, his mother’s dishes fragile, and being careful of where all his outsized parts were at all times was deeply ingrained in him, now. Anna, his sister, at 17 older then Sven by three years, was huddled in the corner, and one look told Sven everything. The torn dress (her prettiest), the bruises—she had sneaked out to go to the dance in town that their parents had forbidden her to go to, and something had happened to her. No, not something. Some_one_. The cut on her right cheek where a ring had cut into her once-flawless skin; only one person in the district wore a ring that would do such damage and would use it on a woman: the mayor’s handsome, entitled, selfish, spoiled son, Lief.

Sven reached out and gently turned her face to let the moon light the cut and asked, “Snellgren?” He could tell by the way her eyes widened that he’d guessed right. And by the way she never denied it was him all the while she begged Sven not to do anything stupid. For his part, Sven was very careful not to make any actual promises while he fetched Anna a washbasin and cloth and a clean night dress and—when it proved walking was painful to her, and the first gasp threatened to turn into fresh sobbing as the pain brought back the memory of what had just happened to her—carried her to bed. He even waited until she fell asleep before he slipped out, himself.

Lief Snellgren wasn’t sure what had woken him, either—Sven, as previously mentioned, moved surprisingly quietly for such a large boy. By the time Lief’s brain swam out of the fog of sleep and alcohol enough to register the fact that he wasn’t alone in the room, it was far, far too late to reach for the pistol in the nightstand. And by the time the pounding on the door began, it was clear that Lief’s face would never charm anyone again, and whatever slurred words he managed to utter through his shattered jaw for the rest of his life would be unlikely to charm anyone, either. It would be three days before the ring that had cut the eldest Jansen child’s cheek would finally clink its way into the bedpan.

The Jansen family farm was 5 miles west of Eskilstuna. When Sven dropped from Lief’s window in the Snellgren’s back garden, to the sounds of splintering wood above as the staff finally battered the door down, he went east. Three days later he was in Stockholm, and the next morning found him on a ship bound for New York.

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