Episode twelve of the popular America the Dead series: The survivors go out looking for vehicles and find death instead. During the destruction death was loose and causing its own destruction to people who may have survived if someone had not decided their time was through…
Episode sixteen of the popular America the Dead series: He lay for a few minutes thinking about how much he loved Candace, wondering how funny it was that he had lost so much yet gained so much, something he had never had and had been in no hurry to go out and find. He wondered how he had ever managed to live his life without her in it. He wondered over how deep his love was in such a short period. It seemed like it was just yesterday when he had first met her. He had remembered how he had never really found tattoos attractive on a woman, but she had this tribal thing that started on her left hand, wrapped around that wrist and then sleeved her arm, disappearing under her shirt sleeve. It was one of the first things he had noticed, and when she had been reaching for something he had seen another piece of the same work that came down across her flat stomach and slipped below the waist band of her jeans. While he had been wondering if it was a second piece or part of the same piece, she had caught him looking. Her eyes had settled on his own and the next thing he knew he was thinking about her in an entirely different way. Thinking about making love to her, about being with her. Thinking that could never happen, Tom was obviously interested. And then she had walked over and changed his entire life. He couldn’t be without her now. The man he was becoming had a lot to do with her, probably would have never existed without her, and he had never even known she existed, never even known that love could be like that. The entire world was destroyed, but he had found himself. And she loved him too. He could feel it, see it. It was every bit as strong as what he felt for her. Not clingy, just real. Total. “Hey,” Candace said. His eyes had slipped closed; he opened them to see her standing over him, a cup of coffee in one hand. “Coffee,” He said. “Good,” she said. “It’s alive. Were you going to sleep the day away?” She handed him the coffee carefully as he sat up. “Something wore me out,” He grinned. “You okay?” “More than okay,” She answered. She leaned over and kissed him.
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
David pulled the zipper and recoiled from the smell that came from the bag. April leaned close to see what was in the bag and then recoiled herself from the smell.
“What the fuck?” she asked.
David opened the bag wider, but saw nothing except crumpled up newspapers. Tentatively he pushed aside the newspapers and a pair of dead, dusty eyes stared up at him through the newspapers. He flung the bag away from him, reacting simply on impulse. The bag hit the wall and the head, along with a pair of hands, rolled out onto the floor.
“Oh, God,” April said. “Put it back in the bag, David, put it back in the bag and get it out of here!” She jumped off the other side of the bed and pressed into the wall as far away from the bag and she could get. David looked at her and then grabbed one of the shirts that had been in the other duffel bag; he lunged forward quickly, picked up the head so he wouldn’t have to think about it too long and tried to jam it back into the bag. It wouldn’t go. The shirt, or the head, or both kept catching the side of the bag and collapsing it. Finally he laid the bag down on one side and managed to hold one side of it open and kind of scooped the head back into the bag. Once it was in he quickly zipped up the bag. He stood quickly and started to walk from the room.
“David, where are you going?” April asked.
He stopped. He had been heading for the door, but he had no idea where he would go from there.
“David… The hands… David,” she pointed…
David Cross sat watching his television: An old war movie, boring, but it was three A.M. and there were only the local stations that he could get, plus the one from Canada when the weather was right, or what-ever-the-fuck had to be right for an antenna to work. Tonight it wasn’t working. Excuse me, he corrected himself, this morning. Whatever needed to be right wasn’t. It had looked like a foreign film with all kinds of nudity too, but the goddamn thing had kept fading in and out so much that he had gotten a headache trying to watch it. He’d finally settled for the old war movie on one of the local stations.
He was trying to nurse his last beer. He’d been sure that there was one more left, but he’d been wrong. Somehow he had miscounted and that was unlike him. He always knew how many beers he had to the can, but somehow he’d messed up the count tonight. There were no more. He’d even moved the green loaf of bread, which he had hated to do, but he had moved it only to find nothing behind it. He had hoped the one remaining can had rolled behind it, but it had not been behind the moldy bread. He had been wrong.
It hadn’t occurred to him to throw out the moldy loaf of bread while he was at it. Instead he had gotten one of the spatulas from the silverware drawer, levered it under the bread and then pushed it to the side only to find no beer can hiding there. He had then levered the loaf of bread back into the original position it had been in.
So he was nursing his last beer: Last beer and no money for beer. And it was Friday: That meant the rest of Friday, Friday night, and the whole weekend loomed ahead dry. It was too depressing to think about. He tried to focus on the movie.
His trailer was located at the end of Lott road, a dirt road on the outskirts of the city two miles beyond the county dump. Nobody really wanted to live on Lott road it seemed, except David, and if he were honest with himself he didn’t really want to live here either, he simply had no choice. His crappy job only paid him enough for a crappy place to live. This was it: The crappiest of the crappiest. In fact the morning before the cops had taken the body of a young girl out of the ditch just down the road. Found by someone driving by. She hadn’t been there very long either. Someone had killed her and dumped her there. It was definitely a crappy place to live. He knew that for a fact because he had gone looking. There were no crappier places. Except maybe the trailer park down the road, he thought, but that was part of Lott road too so it didn’t count.
He owned neither the trailer nor the lot. He did own the furniture, which had been easy. He had simply cruised every street in the city on garbage day: A chair here; another one there. The mattress and box springs he’d gotten from the Salvation Army. Thirty bucks and only pee stained on one side, well mostly only the one side. There was some other stain on the other side, but he wasn’t sure what that stain was. It didn’t exactly look like pee. Anyway, it was barely noticeable and the guy in the store had sworn that they weren’t really pee stains, but water stains. David wasn’t too sure about that. His own brother had wet the bed until he was ten and they had slept in the same bed. He knew what a pee stain looked like and this looked like a pee stain. Still it had been a good deal and stains couldn’t hurt him. After all when his brother had been wetting the bed he had peed on him too. If he could live with that he could live with a little pee stain: If it was a pee stain. And if they were pee stains, they were on the other side of the mattress, he added optimistically. Besides, they disinfected those things. The guy said so: Sprayed them down with something that killed everything on them. He grinned, tipped his beer, nearly took a large swallow, took a small sip instead and then lowered the can depressed all over again about the long, dry weekend ahead of him.
Five or six garbage runs and one trip to the city dump, where they didn’t mind if you took half the dump away with you, and he had been furnished. It was amazing the things people threw away. He sipped carefully at his beer, pulled a crumpled cigarette from his pack and lit it with a long, wooden kitchen match.
There was an old fashioned wood stove store in town and he stopped there once or twice a week for kitchen matches. Not that they gave them away for free, but they used them for the stoves so there was always a box or two laying around that he could help himself to.
Day old bread and doughnuts at the bakery twice a week: Those cheap ten pound bags of chicken and what they had called Crack Head soups in Jail, noodle soups to the rest of the world, and there was his weekly food budget. The only other things he needed were gas and of course beer and cigarettes.
The rest of his paycheck went for the rent and utilities. Sometimes it was close, but he always made it somehow. The real bummer this morning was that he had today off and the whole weekend too and he’d have to stay here watching the crappy T.V. … Sober…
His job Monday through Thursday was cleaning for a maintenance company. They only required that you showed up. They ran you all over the city to clean supermarkets; banks; mall shops that were closed. He worked the nights away pretty quickly. Go to work at five P.M. Next thing you knew it was one thirty in the morning and they were through for another night. He kept telling himself that he would have to get a better job if he ever wanted to be better off in the world. A job that paid more than minimum wage had to be in his future. He was sure there were plenty of them out there he just didn’t know where to look. Some day, he told himself, some day.
He took a deep drag off his cigarette and then sipped carefully at his beer. He thought about the girl’s body and realized she could have been killed while he had been sleeping. He shuddered. He hated this place.
He set the beer down carefully on the coffee table. It was scared with cigarette burns and missing the tip of one leg, but it had been free and an old paperback novel held up that corner of the table well enough. As he looked back up from the coffee table lights swept across the living room wall, bouncing up and down and back and forth. Because his was the last place on the road, every car that came down the road lit up his living room. These headlights however seemed a little frantic, bobbing, darting across the wall and then a second set shot up onto the wall too, jittering and jumping across the cheap paneling.
Twice now cars had come down the road, shot right across the bare dirt of his front yard and into the woods before they had been stopped by the trees. David had a fear about some car, some day, hitting the bedroom wall while he slept. So far it had just been the woods, but you could never tell. He got up quickly and walked to the window.
It was immediately obvious that this was something different than just some drunk not realizing that the road was about to end. The lead car was flat out. He could hear the whine of the engine now as it came. The car behind was trying to stay close, tapping the back bumper of the lead car, causing it to slew all over the dirt road. Apparently that wasn’t good enough because a second later the passenger leaned out of the car’s window and opened up on the lead car with what looked to be some sort of a hand held machine pistol. David let out a startled squawk, ducked below the window and then popped right back up.
The shots had taken out the rear window, traveled through the car and taken out part of the front windshield too. And from the large red stain on the spider webbed remains of that window David guessed it had taken out the driver too. Maybe even the passenger had there been one. There was a lot of red.
Shit, David thought. That meant that the lead car was not going to be able to stop. David calculated quickly and realized the car would miss the trailer. At the same time the driver of the rear car locked up his brakes, suddenly realizing that he was on a dead end road, and the car began to slide in the dirt. David’s eyes shifted back to the front car which hit the end of the road, jumped up over the drainage ditch and roared through the front yard just missing the edge of the trailer, shaking the thin walls; engine still screaming. It was out of sight for a split second before he heard the crash. The big oak in the back yard, he thought.
His eyes came back to the second car long enough to see it slide down into the drainage ditch at full speed, catch its nose on the opposite edge and then flip end over end across an empty lot before it crashed down on the edge of a cement slab that was trailer-less and had been since he, David, had moved out here. David crouched down quickly to the floor, grabbed his boots and wedged his feet into them. He ran to the kitchen, grabbed a flashlight off the counter and headed out the front door at a run…
The smell of hot metal filled the air. David looked to the car on the cement pad first: The trunk had popped and all manner of stuff that had been inside now lay scattered across the ground. Hot oil and antifreeze dripped from under the hood and onto the concrete. The front roof line was smashed flat to the top of the driver’s seats. The backseat area seemed untouched.
He slipped around the end of the trailer and looked at the other car. A newer Ford: He could see the badge on the rear deck. The front end of the car was wrapped around the oak in the backyard just as he had thought and steam was rising up into the air. The Ford first, he decided. The car across the road would have to wait.
The Ford had hit the tree and climbed it a few feet before it came to a complete stop. David had to stand on tip toe to peer into it. The driver had no head left, which explained the huge stain on the windshield. He was past dead, he was dead bad. There was no passenger. Looking out from the inside it was not just red, but gray and black too: Bone, hair and brain matter. His stomach did a quick flip and he began to close his eyes as he turned away.
As he turned his eyes caught on the floorboard and a blue duffel bag that was jammed into the space with the drivers legs. There was no way that the door was going to open, but the glass was gone from the window. He balanced over the edge of the door trying to stay as far away as he could from the dead man as he did, leaned in and tried to snag the duffel bag. His fingers brushed the two plastic handles, but he could not get a grip on them.
David levered himself further over the window sill and nearly came down into the dead man’s lap as he lost his balance and his feet left the ground. His hand shot down quickly, bounced off the dead man’s thigh and hit the seat, stopping him just a few inches above the man’s lap and a small splattering of bone and blood that was there. His hand slipped, but he pressed down harder and held himself.
He could feel the slick blood and splinters of bone under his hand, but he pushed the knowledge out of his mind, took a deep breath, braced himself and then reached down with his free hand and snatched the handles pulling the heavy bag free.
He pulled back, but the bag was so heavy that he had to hold on tight and push off the seat with his other hand. For one alarming second it seemed he would fall forward into the man’s lap. After a second of indecision his body dropped back down to the ground, the bag in his hand. He thought about the trunk as he started to turn away, reached back in, shut off the dead ignition, pulled the keys free and hurried around to the trunk.
The trunk held nothing but a black suitcase. He debated briefly, then reached in and took it. He went back, put the keys back into the ignition, and turned it back to the ON position. What else! What else! His mind asked.
His heart felt like it was beating a mile a minute, skipping beats, and his breath was tearing in and out of his lungs so quickly that it was painful. He could think of nothing he had forgotten. He told himself there was nothing else, and then immediately he thought of the glove compartment. He ran back around the passenger’s side of the car, dropped the bags and pushed the button on the glove box. A small paper bag and a dull, black pistol rested inside.
He took a deep breath, thought for a moment and then took both, slammed the glove box shut, picked up the bags and ran for the trailer. He booted the door open, threw the bags inside, slammed the door and then started for the other car down the road. He stopped mid stride, bent double, and nearly threw up. He caught himself, forced himself to take several slow breaths and stood experimentally. It seemed as though his stomach had decided the remains of the beer could stay for now and so he trotted off down the road to the other car.
This was an old Toyota, not one of the small ones though, one of the ones that seemed almost as big as an American car. He stopped thirty feet away. Two large plastic garbage bags had fallen from the popped trunk. They were both crisscrossed with gray duct tape, bound tightly. Two black duffel bags were jumbled in a heap nearby, along with what looked like a cheap foam, ice-chest. The ice-chest had ruptured and splintered when it hit the ground spilling beer, soda, and packages of lunch meat and cheese out onto the ground. Mixed in, and what had really caught his attention, were small brick sized packages, also bound with duct tape.
His heart was still racing hard. There was no one anywhere yet. No sirens. The nearest neighbors were nearly a mile back down the road… No car lights… Nothing at all.
He tried to carry both bales, but they were too heavy. He had to make two trips. The duct taped bricks, which could only mean one thing to his way of thinking, both duffel bags and two six packs of the beer that hadn’t ruptured went next. He had debated about the beer, but decided he could not leave it. He came back one more time, looked at a few more cans of beer and the packages of bologna and cheese and decided what the hell. He quickly picked them up and took them too. It would be something to put into the ‘fridge except the moldy loaf of bread he told himself.
He walked back to the car down the road once more. He reached the car where it lay flipped onto its roof and had just started around the hood when he heard a soft pop. He stopped as the hood suddenly burst into flames. The sharp smell of gasoline hit his nose and he jumped backwards just that fast. The car didn’t blow, but he stayed clear watching as it began to burn, allowing his thoughts and breathing to begin to slow down. It had seemed like a log-jamb of thoughts all trying to be expressed at the same time. He thought back as he watched the flames begin to build from under the hood.
Not long ago a car had plowed into that same oak in his back yard where the other car was now. It was just the way that oak lined up with the road. That driver had not hit as hard. He had jumped from the car and run for the woods that began in back of the trailer at a dead run. David had come out to look over the wreck a little closer. The jimmied ignition told him the story. The car had been stolen. He had heard sirens in the distance and said to hell with it, reached into the car and grabbed a cheap 22. caliber pistol from the front seat, and an unopened, and miraculously unbroken bottle of whiskey from the floorboards. He had barely stashed them before the cops had shown up.
He had stood on the sidelines and watched as the cops had popped the trunk to expose a large collection of electronic gear. Flat screen televisions, game consoles, DVD players, a shotgun and several more bottles of whiskey too. He had kicked himself over that one and vowed not to let something like that happen again should providence ever grace him with a second chance: Here was that second chance.
He had no phone, but the way the flames were leaping into the air he was sure someone farther down the road would be calling the fire department soon. The heat was already intense.
He squatted down, shaded his eyes against the glare of the flames, and tried to see into the back seat: No one. If there was anyone else in the car he couldn’t see them, but he did see a large suitcase resting on the roof of the car just inside the shattered rear door glass. He debated for a split second and then ran forward and grabbed for the bag, pulling it from inside the wreck. It was heavy and hot to the touch: The imitation brown leather sticky on one corner and melting. Whatever was in it, he told himself, would not have lasted much longer. He was headed back up the road from the wreck when he spotted a grocery bag spilled into the ditch. It was mainly intact so he picked that up too and ran for the trailer.
Behind him he could hear the sirens now. They were on their way and that meant there would probably be neighbors on the way too… Any minute, he told himself. He got the trailer door opened, jumped inside and closed it. He set the grocery bag on the counter. His heart was beginning to slam in his chest once more. He picked up the suitcases and duffel bags and hurried them back to the bedroom. He came back, threw the grocery bag and the packages of lunch meat and cheese into the refrigerator, debated briefly about the loaf of moldy bread, but decided to leave it. He looked back into the fridge. It looked crowded: Beer, lunch meat, cheese, bread. It was the most he could ever recall seeing in there at one time before.
He stepped back letting the door swing shut and looked around the kitchen-living room area. Nothing looked out of place. He could not imagine that the cops would want to come in here for any reason, but if they did they wouldn’t find anything.
He looked down at his hands, grimaced at the blood and specks of bone. A smear of drying blood decorated one shirtsleeve. He looked down at the front of the shirt and saw it was streaked with blood and gore. He turned and ran to the bathroom stripping off the shirt as he went. As he looked down at his jeans he noticed they were gore spattered to. He peeled them off just as quickly, kicking his boots aside. He left the bathroom and went quickly to the bedroom where he dug a wrinkled pair of jeans from the basket there, a clean shirt from the dresser, and quickly got re-dressed. He sat back on the bed, pulled the jeans up and shoved his left foot into one of his sneakers lying next to the bed where he had left them the night before. He stood, jammed his right foot into the other sneaker, danced around unbalanced for a moment as he tugged the zipper home, buttoned the top and threw himself back down onto the tangle of sheets to work the sneakers on the rest of the way and lace them.
His heart had become a racing engine once again, all high speed and flat out, and he tried to calm down as he walked down the short hall, opened the door and stepped down the rickety steps and into the bare-dirt front yard.
He could not see the fire engines or police cars, whichever it was that were coming. Both eventually, he told himself, but the sirens were loud and a half dozen people were walking down the road towards his place and the car that was burning. They were still a quarter of a mile away. He forced his breathing to slow down for the second time, and sat down on the top step waiting. The smoke from the fire was thick and black, spiraling up into the air. The smells of cooking meat and burning plastic hung in the air, competing with each other, causing his stomach to flip once more. The smoke seemed to catch in the trees, unable to rise further: Pools of it snaked along the ground, drifting slowly.
The lights came into view within a few seconds. They were far down the road, but closing fast. Within a few seconds a City Police car skidded to a shuddering stop on the dirt road, followed by two Sheriff Cars. Two Fire engines came next, coasting to a stop behind the Sheriff Cars, then swung around them angling down toward the burning car. David Cross rose from the steps and began walking to the road to meet them.
All of the cops were calling on their radios at once it seemed to David. He broke into a run and the city cop looked his way.
“There’s another one in my back yard with a dead guy too,” he yelled.
The cop looked amazed for a moment and then went back to talking on his radio once more. He finished, threw the radio back into his car, and glancing once more at the burning car, he turned and followed David into his back yard.
“Jesus,” the young cop said. “That happened when he hit the tree? No way!”
“The other car was shooting at them,” David said. He immediately wished he had kept his mouth shut.
“You saw that?” the cop asked.
Providence again, David thought. “Well, no, I didn’t. I heard shots… I didn’t see ’em,” he lied.
“So there are people in that other car?” the cop asked.
“I think so,” David answered. He took a few moments to formulate a lie. He didn’t need a complicated lie: Something simple. Something close to the truth so he could remember it, but something that wouldn’t make him an eye witness. “When I got out I saw the car lying on its top. I didn’t know about the other one. I had to get dressed. Once I got out of the house and headed down the road the car made this little popping sound and flames shot out of the engine compartment. When I turned away I saw the other one in the back yard. I knew something had crashed, because a few months back another car crashed into that same tree, and this sounded the same to me,” David said.
The cop nodded. “You go near either car?” he asked.
“The one out back; I leaned through the window to see if the guy was okay… Had to catch my hand on the seat… It was gross… I realized the guy was dead and got away from the car as quick as I could… Waited for you guys,” David said.
The cop nodded, pulled a small notebook from his shirt pocket and wrote in it. He asked David for his name and the address and wrote that down too.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, David thought. He hadn’t wanted to link himself to anything, but he had been afraid that they would find the hand print on the seat: An area of the seat that had been covered with blood and splatter and was now noticeably cleaner in the shape of a hand. What else could he do?
“You okay?” the cop asked.
“Not really,” David admitted.
“Go sit down… I’ll have somebody talk to you.” He looked intently at David for a moment. “How much you had to drink, David?”
“Uh… About a six pack… It’s my night off,” David explained.
“Easy, David… I’m not here to bust your balls. They’ll want to know… Impairs your judgment: It will determine whether they will take what you say or look for other witnesses, you see?” the cop asked.
“Yeah,” David agreed. “I do see.”
“So?” The cop asked.
“Oh… Right. I had about a twelve pack,” David said. He shrugged.
“Night off,” the young cop said.
“Night off,” David agreed.
“All right, David. Go have a seat and when the detectives get here I’ll send them over,” he told him.
David went and sat down on his front steps and waited for the rest of the cops to show up. He watched the lead fire truck drown the burning car in foam, and in just a few seconds the fire was out. The car sat smoking: Steam rising into the air; the smell of burned meat thick and heavy.
The cops were brief:
“I understand you had quite a lot to drink during the evening,” the big, blonde haired one said to him.
“Well, yes,” David admitted. “But it’s my day off,” he added.
“Easy, son. Nobody’s blaming you. You’re home. Day off. No reason why you shouldn’t have a few drinks. It’s not like you knew a car was going to crash into your back yard.” He smiled to put David more at ease. And although David knew that was why he smiled he felt more at ease anyway.
“You look familiar to me,” The shorter dark haired cop said.
“Did a little county time a few years back,” David admitted.
He looked at him.
“Possession with intent,” David added. “Eighteen months.”
“Out in a year with the good time though right?” the blonde haired cop said.
“Still fucking around with pot, David?” The dark haired one asked.
“No… Not no more,” David told him.
“So we could check the house and find nothing,” the shorter, dark haired detective said.
“Sure… Sure…. Go ahead,” David said. “There’s nothing there at all.”
“But we aren’t going to do that,” The blonde said. “Your past is your past, David. I said I am not here to bust your balls and I meant that.” He turned and looked over at the Toyota which had been lifted into the air. The roof had been cut away and two bodies had been taken out as they talked. They had set the car back down and were now winching it over onto its wheels so they could pull it up onto the flatbed wrecker that waited. He glanced back to the backyard. They were still working to pry the car in the back yard away from the tree. The body was long gone. They were using metal saws to cut the car away. Once enough had been cut away to move the car, it would go on a flat bed too. The cop’s eyes came back to David.
“You think of anything else that might help us?” he asked.
“The gunshots,” David said and shrugged.
The detective nodded. “We have an eyewitness to that. Says she was walking down the road when she saw the two cars coming: She jumped in the woods. Saw the passenger lean out the window and fire at the car ahead… The dude in the car in your back yard, David. That’s how he got dead.”
To David it felt as though his eyes had bugged out of his head, but he struggled to maintain his composure. She? Who was she? He had seen no one at all, but whoever she was she had described exactly what he had seen himself. So she must have been there. What else did she see?
“You okay?” the blonde asked.
“Tired… Sickened too, to be honest,” David said.
“Yeah… Pauls-that’s the name of the officer that spoke to you, Jay Pauls-said you leaned into the car to check the guy… Found a hand print there…. I assume it’s yours. I guess if I had found that I wouldn’t be feeling too good either.” He sighed. “We’ll be out of here in a few minutes,” he added.
He closed his own little notebook that he had pulled from his pocket and looked at the other cop. He shook his head.
“I guess we have nothing else, David. Like I said, if you think of anything else,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. He handed the card to David. “Give me a call, okay?”
David nodded, looked over the card and then shoved it into his pocket.
They all stood and watched as the Toyota flipped back over onto its wheels: Metal screeching, the car lurching from side to side on its ruined suspension as it slammed down. The men began hooking up the cables to winch the car up onto the flat bed truck. A few seconds later a second flat bed truck drove around the first and then backed down David’s driveway to the back yard: A steady Beep, Beep, Beep sounding as it backed up. They watched in silence as two men hooked up the remains of the Ford and then winched it backwards and up onto the flat bed.
A second later the two cops walked away without another word. David sat back down on his wooden steps and watched them get into their car and drive away. The trucks followed, and a few seconds later the silence descended once more on Lott road. David sat and watched the dust settle back down to the dirt lane.
Fourteen million dollars in a burned suitcase. Parts of a dead man in a duffel bag. Two hired killers, a drug dealer, and two organized crime kingpins; all chasing two white trash kids from New York into the Deep South as they head for what they think will be safety in Mexico. Adult orientated. Sex, language and Graphic Violence… 18+ No preview is available due to the Adult Content. Drug Use…
W. W. Watson 2018 all rights reserved foreign and domestic.
is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are
products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons
places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
This material is NOT edited for content
A DRESS FOR JANEY
rode slowly watching the trail side. There wasn’t much to see in the moonlight,
but enough to follow if you knew where to look, and I did.
thing was, this fella was not no kind of careful anyways. And he was not no
horse man neither.
rubbed my geldings rump, patted a time, and silently promised him a little
extra rest time once we caught up to this fool sometime later in the night.
Johnson was a good horse. More used to plow than saddle, but circumstances
dictate those positions more’n I do. And this man I was trackin’ had dictated
tonight’s circumstances clear and straight.
turned Mister Johnson down a short chute of a canyon, keeping him to the side
so as not to mark the trail, and to keep his iron shoes from ringing out on the
stone. We come to a little stream that cut the canyon and I stopped, rolled
myself a smoke. I sat, hand cupped and smoked. Listening to the surrounding
this was a smart fella, no way would I have lit no smoke. But this was no smart
man at all. This, from what I could see, was a desperate man. Desperate or
dumb. Or, possibly, both. I’d know for sure before dawn.
finished the smoke, flipped it into the crik and went on my way again,
following the trail of my own other horse, Mizz Johnson.
had, had her as long as I had, had Mister Johnson. Truth be told I thought
Mister Johnson might be even more pissed off about the situation that I was. He
just didn’t know how to use a rope, if so I’m sure he’d a been out for a
worked my way sideways down a gully, leaving the actual trail behind me where
it out and did a loop back onto itself. The direction was clear enough, and he
was far enough ahead that I wouldn’t come up on him, and the shortcut would
save me time considerable.
had me a farm, a good woman and two boys old enough to help a little already. A
girl child who made me feel like crying ever time I looked at her. I don’t
figure how that is: That a girl child can do that, ‘cept I can see she will
have to live her life, and it’s a hard one, and I wisht better than what I got
to give her.
is men. The boys will grow up rough and tumble. That’s boys. That’s boys comin’
to be a man. But a girl child, seems to me, looks out at the world all pretty
and hope, and then the world sort of breaks her down. Sometimes fast, sometimes
seen that truth in the eyes of a whore down in Dodge several years back. A
young pretty whore, but resigned to be a whore. I’d paid my dollar and stayed
for a little conversation as it was a slow night. I don’t never want to see
that look in my Melissa’s eyes. But I can’t see that my Janey would ever let
her go down that path. We learn from our mistakes, we do: If we don’t we don’t
last long in this world.
made the trail and walked Mister Johnson on the up-slope at a steady pace. He
didn’t need much help or pointin’: I figured he could smell ol’ Mizz Johnson at
that point, and he was, as I said, a might upset himself.
was two days out from home. Me out from home meant that Janey had to do it all
with no help from no man. Plow what she could with that goddamn, son-of-a-bitch
mule we had. Be lucky if it didn’t kick her bad is what I’d be.
life don’t slow down for no horse thief. The kids got to be fed. The chicks fed
too. The cows milked. The other things a woman’s got to do. Cook, and clean,
what all. But she’s got to do all the things a man’s got to do as well. All
piled in there. No break at all. That was this life out here, how it had to be.
How it was.
caught the smell of fire and meat roastin’ on the air. Fresh, green wood. Not
much of a woodsman either, I opinioned. But, considering the horsemanship, the
theft itself and all of the rest of it, I’d say I was not too surprised. I
stopped, rolled another smoke, kept it cupped to hide the flame, didn’t worry
about the odor even though I was close now. The wind was at me after all, and
his own, smokey fire would hide all other smells if the wind did shift. Chances
were he had no idea of smells on the wind anyways.
let my eyes travel the sky, lookin’ and I spotted a few stray sparks as they
rose into the night sky not far away. All kinds of dumb. But I bet he
considered himself some sort of woodsman just because he could light that fire.
figure if they can build a fire they’s a woodsman. I laugh at that. I have
slept in snow banks and stayed warm. I tracked snowshoes in dead winter and got
them. I have been lived in the wild with just a knife for two months while I
was working out of the back country and my first horse dropped a leg in a
chuck-hole and I had to shoot him.
was green then. Used up one of my last four bullets on the horse, when I
could’a used the knife and saved that bullet. Packed some out with me, dried
over the fire, and et better those two months. I was young, dumb and life to
come. And for me I was goddamn lucky to have lived through it that time. But,
as I done said the one time, you learn or you die. Life, it don’t forgive a lot
finished the smoke, crushed it out between my thumb and forefinger, then angled
Mister Johnson down toward the fire I’d seen. I could be, maybe, cocky and ride
right up on him, but I don’t like to misjudge. I tied Mister Johnson to a tree
to keep him out of it in case there was gun-play, which I intended there might
be. I’d just have to hope there were none that got Mister Johnson. But he’d
fare better hidden away. A man will always try in shoot a man’s horse at first
sight if he can.
walked the last hundred or so yards into his camp. My old sprung boots was so
mushy and soft they was like walkin’ in Indian mocs anyhow. He never heard me
had a chuck spitted over the fire, and probably ever cat, wolf, bear and wild
dog for two miles around was sniffing on the air. He was stupid alright. I’d
seen some green eyes, and two sets of red eyes as I had made my way into his
sat before the fire. A fat man: I’d knowed that from the depth of the hoof
print though. And a stupid man just as I had guessed, as he had allowed me to
walk right up to him, too busy tryin’ to twist the cap off’n a store bought
bottle of whiskey he’d got from somewhere.
decided on the spot to save the bullet: Put my gun away and pulled the rope
that I had bought with me free from my shoulder. If a man ever works with
cattle, branding, he don’t forget how to rope. And, as a younger man, I done my
share of that. I had him in on one toss, and cinched it tight as I walked up on
him face to face like.
he says, but me, I go about my business. I got me a limb picked out. We wrestle
a little while I drag him to the limb, shift that rope quick like to his neck,
and haul him up. He don’t say nothin’ after ‘Hey’, he tries to though.
think hanging a man is easy. And, it can at times be easy, but this wasn’t no
easy time: This was one a them hard times. A fat man, a thick neck, and me
being plain tired out. He kicked and thrashed for all of ten minutes before he
slowed. Me hanging on the end of that rope to keep him stretched, but I could
not get him to swinging. And then, me being tired as I was, I looped that rope
around Mizz Johnson’s saddle horn, the dumb bastard didn’t know enough to take
a saddle off’n a horse, and walked her a bit to get him swinging free. Goddamn
if he didn’t kick some more at that. I waited ten more minutes, ticked ’em off
on my Elgin. I seen men come back if they neck ain’t broke, and I was sure it
let him down after that time, rope don’t come cheap to me, and left him laying
there for the coyotes, wolves, bear and cats the damn fool had called down. Fat
man might not be their favorite, but when times is tough it will do I’d bet.
gathered up Mizz Johnson, went back and got Mister Johnson. They was happy to
see each other. Blowing and touching noses to necks.
fat man had two pair a saddle bags. The first had a food store, no surprise
there, except why he’d been about to eat chuck when he had bacon. The second
was a surprise: Gold, and not a little. I will tell you it was enough to sit me
right down there by the fire to look it over.
can count, but there’s a limit. What I knowed, I did, and then I had reached
the limit and there was a long ways to go yet. A very long ways. And the
trouble was I did not know for absolute what each piece was worth. Coin,
stamped, but I could not read none. I could only say there was five times
of counting to one hundred and a way to
go after that.
could read and write too. And she could cypher figures a sight farther than I
could when it come to that. Whoring had taught her that. No whore could afford
to get cheated.
looked at it there in the moonlight for a piece, then put it all back in the
saddlebags except a few pieces I kept for my pocket. Janey could count it;
whatever it was we were a huge sight better off than we had been. It almost
made me want to thank the fat man. I didn’t though. He stole my horse and he
got what a horse thief is supposed to get.
tied Mizz Johnson to the saddle horn of old Mister Johnson’s saddle by a longish
lead and we rode out of there. I did put that fire out before we left. I left
the chuck where it was, dug me out a piece of jerky my own Janey had made. I
chewed thoughtful, thinking about the money as I rode. I was gonna stop at
Abilene, which was on the way, and buy Janey a dress. She’d always had such
pretty dresses when I’d met her, but times being as they was there weren’t no
money for pretty dresses.
smiled to myself thinkin’ about Janey’s eyes when she saw a new dress or two
and then a saddlebag full a gold pieces. It made me feel good inside. I looked
up at the moon, sent a prayer to God above up there somewhere, turned Mister
Johnson for the next ridge and headed towards Abilene.
Books One through five were published, book six was not published for the series and the epilogue was also withheld. It would have come at a much later date in the series. Bear and Beth. Billy and Pearl. Donita, Mike and Candace, and all the other characters are here. The saga begins and continues until the Outrunners face off against the dead and those that raise them in one final battle. They have only suspicions to guide them and nothing else. Book One: Candace and Mike Meet and struggle to survive during and just after the apocalypse. Book Two: The small group heads out in search of the Nation and a place to live without fear. Book Three: The resupply trip that introduces Bear’s group and Mike’s group. Book Four: The Story of Bear and Donita. Book Five: The story of Billy and Beth Book Six: The end of the line. The Outrunners face the dead one last time… Over 450,00 words in total, six complete books and bonus material. Take a look at a free preview right now…
Alabama Island is a new society that rises from the ashes of the old… These are the people who build it… … Joel came awake with sunlight streaming in through the windshield of the small car. He looked around at the road. Stalled cars for as far as he could see in any direction He was somewhere outside of Rochester, but where, he wondered. He thought back to Rochester. The drive into the city in the early morning had seemed uneventful right up until the attack had come. Afterward he had berated himself, cursed himself for not taking the events of the night before more seriously, but he knew that the truth was that none of them had. None of them had, and now he was the only one left. The only one left, and he was alone because of that decision. They had just passed a large mansion, or what had once been a large mansion on East avenue: Nearly into downtown when the attack had come. The last Jeep, Ed… Terry, Gina? He couldn’t remember for sure, but it didn’t matter, they were only the first to go. The Jeep had blown up behind them. One second it was morning silent; birds whistling from the tree lined street, and the next a roaring fireball had erupted from the Jeep. The Jeep had lifted into the air engulfed with flame, and had come back down a split-second later a twisted, shattered wreck. The roof ripped open crudely as if a giant can opener had done the job: Glass gone, body twisted. Blackened shapes, still moving, clearly seen through the flames. They had all panicked. Joel had hit the brakes, somehow convinced they had driven over something in the road. Landmines. The word leapt into his mind and kept repeating. The second Jeep had rammed into them, Scott, Lilly, Jan, and that had distracted him further. As he had lifted his eyes he had seen the men squatting beside the once elegant mansion. A rocket launcher on one man’s shoulder, and he had known the truth. His foot had seemed to leap forward of its own accord and slam into the gas pedal, but it was too late. His eyes swiveled back, and he saw the rocket leap from the launcher. A second later a black curtain had descended. He had come to hours later. The vehicles’ nothing but twisted husks, still burning in the black night. He could feel the heat from the fires. He had lain for what seemed like a long time trying to orient himself, make sense of what he last remembered, and what he now saw. Time did nothing to sort it out. It still made no sense some time later when he had first tried to sit up. Pain had flared everywhere and the black curtain had descended once more. The second time the fires had been out. Heat still came from the blackened shells, but the fires were dead. The moon was high in the sky, bloated, bright silver. He had moved slower, and while it had been close he had managed to fight past the first pain when he had moved. His left leg was bad. Not broken, but cut badly, maybe sprung, after all he had lain with it twisted to one side for what he assumed was a very long time. He used part of his shirt to wrap his leg as he let his head clear. His head was worse. Pain inside every time he tried to move too fast. It felt like liquid sloshing around inside his head, his brain shifting with it, slamming into the bone cage of his skull, and he wondered if it were true, or just something his mind provided in explanation of the pain. As he sat the pain eased enough for him to stand. Standing helped to ease it even more, and he began to search. What was left was hard to understand at first. Pieces. An arm here, a leg there, bones blackened in the wreckage. A pool of blood where his head had lain. No other blood anywhere, and more than enough pieces and bones to make him sick. Vomiting had pulled the pain back full force and he had found himself exiting into the black curtain once again. It was dawn when he had found his way back and a sense of urgency to be moving had set in…
Just outside of Fort Drum; in Jefferson County New York, on the old Jeffery’s farm; buried under four feet of loose earth in a freshly dug grave. Joe Miller suddenly awoke, and began to claw his way out towards the surface. He no longer needed to breathe, he realized, as he clawed at the loose earth to free himself, and he really didn’t seem to care.
In a long tunnel, under the city of Watertown New York, hemmed in by large military trucks, Frank Morgan wondered over the luck he’d had at getting himself into the Army facility.
He had flashed his press pass, half afraid they would open fire or something, and instead the young guard at the booth had just waved him in.
He could not have known that just that day an open, though somewhat restricted, invitation had been given to a reporter who was on good terms with the new facility’s commander.
The plan, cooked up by the reporter and the base commander, was to write a carefully worded article about the storage facilities, to dispel the rumors that were circulating.
The young guard had simply waved Frank through at the entrance, when he had seen the press pass, not knowing he had allowed the wrong man into the tunnel. They had only told him to expect a reporter. If he had looked at Franks pass closely, he would have noticed that he was not from the Watertown paper, and he would not have allowed him to enter.
Willie LeFray sat slumped against a wall in an alley off Beechwood Avenue, in Seattle’s red light district. He had been dead for over six hours. The money he had stolen, had allowed him to indulge in his habit for over forty six hours with no sleep. The last injection had killed him.
The Cocaine he had purchased had been cut with rat poison, among other things, so that the hype who had sold it to him could stretch it a little further.
The constant hours of indulging in his habit would have killed him anyway, but the addition of the rat poison was all his overworked heart could stand, and it had simply stopped beating in protest.
Willie’s eyelids flickered, and his hand shot up to bat at a fly that had been examining his nose.
Twenty feet away on Beechwood Avenue, the prostitutes were just beginning to show up in force, and the descending darkness hid the white trails that sped across the sky.
Ira paused, and slowly set the checker that had been in his hand, to one side.
“It’s time, ain’t it,” he stated.
“Yes, I’m afraid it is,” the older man replied, getting up from the small table.
“Come on then,” the older man continued, “we have a lot to accomplish.”
They had discovered earlier that though none of their cell phones worked, some phone lines were still working. Well, sort of, she thought. You could call out, but all you got was static or a busy signal. Mike had tried for over two hours, calling every emergency number in the telephone book. He had finally given up about ten minutes ago, and had ambled over to sit beside her on the bench…
Just outside of Fort Drum; in Jefferson County New York, on the old Jeffery’s farm; buried under four feet of loose earth in a freshly dug grave. Joe Miller suddenly awoke, and began to claw his way out towards the surface. He no longer needed to breathe, he realized, as he clawed at the loose earth to free himself, and he really didn’t seem to care.
In a long tunnel, under the city of Watertown New York, hemmed in by large military trucks, Frank Morgan wondered over the luck he’d had at getting himself into the Army facility. He had flashed his press pass, half afraid they would open fire or something, and instead the young guard at the booth had just waved him in. He could not have known that just that day an open, though somewhat restricted, invitation had been given to a reporter who was on good terms with the new facility’s commander. The plan, cooked up by the reporter and the base commander, was to write a carefully worded article about the storage facilities, to dispel the rumors that were circulating. The young guard had simply waved Frank through at the entrance, when he had seen the press pass, not knowing he had allowed the wrong man into the tunnel. They had only told him to expect a reporter. If he had looked at Franks pass closely, he would have noticed that he was not from the Watertown paper, and he would not have allowed him to enter.
Willie LeFray sat slumped against a wall in an alley off Beechwood Avenue, in Seattle’s red light district. He had been dead for over six hours. The money he had stolen, had allowed him to indulge in his habit for over forty six hours with no sleep. The last injection had killed him. The Cocaine he had purchased had been cut with rat poison, among other things, so that the hype who had sold it to him could stretch it a little further. The constant hours of indulging in his habit would have killed him anyway, but the addition of the rat poison was all his overworked heart could stand, and it had simply stopped beating in protest. Willie’s eyelids flickered, and his hand shot up to bat at a fly that had been examining his nose. Twenty feet away on Beechwood Avenue, the prostitutes were just beginning to show up in force, and the descending darkness hid the white trails that sped across the sky.
Ira paused, and slowly set the checker that had been in his hand, to one side. “It’s time, ain’t it,” he stated. “Yes, I’m afraid it is,” the older man replied, getting up from the small table. “Come on then,” the older man continued, “we have a lot to accomplish.” Ira blinked…
Copyright 2009-2020 Wendell G Sweet. This material is protected by copyright laws both foreign and domestic. All rights are reserved. You may not use this material for any purpose without written permission from Wendell G Sweet.
I buried the Mexican just after sundown. I can’t say much about the sort of man he was in life, but I can say he was a strong man in death.
The Moon has led my way and I’m on my way across the desert into Mexico of all places. What did they say, hide in plain sight? There I’m going to be. Probably already passed the border, and once I’m across the border I’ll find a small town to buy gasoline enough so I can reach South America.
I’ve played the events of yesterday over and over in my head as I’ve driven. It still makes no sense to me at all. They say shit happens, we’ll sometimes it does, and I tell myself that’s exactly what happened here. Some shit decided to happen and I just happened to be there.
It was early. I had nothing better to do so I took a walk downtown just to take a look at the buildings. Thinking, as I walked, how just a few short years ago I had spent almost all of my time down there. Chasing a high. Drunk or both. And sometimes a third thing: Taking a little comfort with the ladies. It all came back to me as I walked the streets.
About three years of my life had been spent like that. From the day Lilly told me goodbye, until the day I woke up in the alley that runs down the back of West Broad, behind the Chinese restaurant. The back of my head had been lumped up with something or by someone.
Some one, I decided as I had begun to blink the cobwebs away and feel carefully with my fingers. A lump only, no blood. Probably a closed fist…
Two feet away from me was a dead rat. A big dead rat, and a few even larger rats were breakfasting on him. And, suddenly, just like that, I was done. That gave me a clear message about the world. And I heard it.
Of course that didn’t mean I got off Scot free. There were many little things I’d done during my long, long slide. And it took time to fix those things. Rehab, jail for some bad checks I couldn’t remember. Bad teeth, health, ideas, depression, suicide, and finally a night where I felt strong enough to take a walk through the worst of my nightmares and see if I was truly over the drugs, the life, the weaknesses that had led me there in the first place.
So that’s how I came to be there yesterday evening: Getting my feet wet. Seeing how strong I was… Or wasn’t. And it turns out I was strong enough for the temptation of the streets, but not over the bad habits I had picked up there. And that’s what got me… I cannot believe it was only yesterday when all this started.
I walked by the mouth of the alley twice. Both times I saw the old Ford sitting there in the deep shadows. Heard the soft murmur of its engine running. Some guy and some girl, I thought, or some guy with some guy, or boy who knows what. It was downtown. Shit like that happened all the time. But, I thought after the second time, this guy must be trying to set a record. He’d been there for 15 minutes by my watch, not that it was my business. All the same, fifteen minutes is a long time for a trick. Or to shoot up. Fifteen minutes could bring a cop. In the street world it was just too long for almost anything. In fifteen minutes you could get your thing on, your drug of choice, and be a half mile away and have forgotten all about that last little space of time. So why was this guy still there?
And that was the street part of me that was not gone. The street part of me that was still looking for trouble. And I found it.
The third time by, which was just a few minutes later, I was too curious. My evening had bought me some excitement. The drugs, I could see the flow all over the avenue. Easy to see if you knew what to look for. The ladies were calling too. I knew what that was about. I didn’t look at them like they were whores, or something less than human. It was a line I couldn’t draw, had confused many times, so I came back fast to see what this was. That Ford was calling.
I had stopped at the mouth of the alley. Same Ford. An old one. Like a classic. Nice shape too. Maybe somewhere in the sixties, but I wasn’t good with cars like that. I only knew old, classic, nice looking.
Nobody around. Of course that didn’t mean there was no one in the car. I hesitated for only a second, and then walked quietly down the alley, staying in the shadows as I went.
I found the Mexican slumped over behind the wheel. Blood dripping down the side of his head. A gun on the seat beside him. Another guy was slumped over into the floorboards on the passenger side. That one was dead for sure. A large, bloodless hole on one side of his chest. A larger hole behind that shoulder I saw when I reached over to move him.
And why are you still here? A little voice in my head whispered. Why are you touching him? What are you doing? But I pushed those warning voices away and continued to look.
There was blood and gore all over the seat on that side. The coppery stench of blood was thick and nauseating. Something else mixed in with it, tugging at my brain. Blood and… Fear? Something. That was when the Mexican spoke in all that silence and nearly made me jump out of my skin.
“Don’t call the cops!” and… “No Policia.” His head came away from wheel. He shook it and drops of blood went flying. I felt it hit my face, but I was still too stunned to move.
“Hey! … You hear me, Blanquito? Habla English? … No Policia?” He muttered under his breath “Dios Christos,” he focused his eyes on me once more. “What’s the matter with you?”
“I thought you were dead,” I managed. I should’ve run. I chose to talk.
“Yeah… I get that a lot. But I ain’t dead.” He picked up the gun from the seat and before I knew it was in my face. “Come around the side, Blanquito. Get Lopez out of the car.” He waved the pistol and I moved.
Lopez pretty much helped himself out of the car. When I opened the door he spilled out into the alley, leaving the mess on the seat and a large smear of blood on the seat back and the door panel as he went.
“Good… Good,” the Mexican said. “Now get in the fuckin’ car… No… No… This side. Come back around to this side. I can’t drive no car, Blanquito… Dios!” He waved the gun once more and I moved. Racing around the hood of the car to the door.
The Mexican did a fair job of getting himself over into the passenger seat. I was glad it was him sitting in Lopez’s blood and not me, although I had been about to sit in it.
I slid into the driver’s seat.
“You got some kind of car… Truck… Something like that?” The Mexican asked.
I didn’t have a vehicle, but my grandfather had, had a truck. It was sitting in the garage in back of my house. That house had also been my grandfather’s. They were the only two things, the house and the truck, that had survived those three years on the streets.
“Sort of?” He looked around “Get this car moving. That’s the first thing… You got a place?… Close by? How does anybody sort of own a fuckin’ car anyway?”
“Yeah, I got a place” I said. I was afraid to answer, but more afraid of not answering fast enough.
“Let’s get there, Amigo.” He slumped back against the seat. I shifted into drive, worried I might drive over Lopez as I went, and drove us out of the alley.
The house was dark. I had thought to leave a light on, but I had forgotten. I drove the Ford right into the garage, pulled the garage door back down, and helped the Mexican out. He looked over at my grandfather’s truck.
“That your sort of truck? Looks fine to me, man. Doesn’t it run?”
The thing is it did run. I had been working on it here and there. I like to tinker with things. And I had a lot of spare time to fill when I quit drugging so I had turned it to the truck.
It was an old truck. But I had in the back of my mind to fix it up and drive it. So I had started with an oil change, then installed a new headlight on the driver’s side, that sort of stuff, when I had time.
I nodded. “No plates though.”
The Mexican nodded. “Don’t worry about that… Got gas in it?”
“Some… Enough to get you away.”
“Ha, Amigo.” He laughed and then clutched the side of his head where the blood still drizzled and spilled down the side of his face, spat some blood from his mouth, and looked back at me. “Us,” he said. “Us.”
I saw an amazing thing as he spoke. The Mexican had a small blue hole just above the stream of blood. A hole from a bullet. In his head. The blood just pulsed out of it as I watched. I wondered how he could even be alive.
I switched the plates to the truck and left the Ford sitting in the garage. I unloaded four big suitcases from the trunk of the Ford into the bed of the pickup truck. The Mexican had me stretch a tarp over the bed of the pickup and tie it off, and we were on the road. Heading for the Mexican border.
On The Road
I drove as he gave me directions.
We stopped just before dawn at a gas station in the middle of a small desert border town. The Mexican directed me past the dimly lit islands and over toward the side of the station, and the shadowy side lot.
There was a big hound sleeping in an open bay doorway on one side of the garage. On the other side a thin man with long, greasy-black hair was turning wrenches on an old Plymouth. He glanced up, nodded, and I nodded back as we pulled around the side of the station and parked in the shadows.
There were payphones bolted to the side wall, just past the Men’s room door. I had thought that payphones were a thing of the past. But I had also thought gas stations were a thing of the past too, come to think of it.
I helped the Mexican to the phone. He ran about $6.00 worth of change into the phone and then he just stood there, leaned against the wall, panting hard, for what seemed like ten minutes.
Finally he began to speak in a stream of Spanish so heavily accented and fast that I could make no sense of anything he said. Not even the gist of it, and I was usually pretty good when it came to Spanish.
He sprayed blood from his mouth as he talked. And he leaked blood from the bullet wound in his lower chest all over the wall he was leaning against.
The conversation wound down. I could tell because he spoke less and less. He finally went on a long coughing spasm, spat a few more quick streams of Spanish into the phone and then just dropped the handset. He came staggering off the wall and back to the truck. I rushed to help him back in.
He was breathing hard. “We got to kill some time. Find a place.”
I nodded. I was tempted to clean off the wall, pick up the handset and put it back on the phone. Someone might see that. But instead I wheeled out of the parking lot and found a small campground just outside of the town.
The place was deserted so I drove down into the dirt parking area and parked by what was advertised as a lake, but looked more like a swampy pond. The roof line of a rusted Chevy rose just above the foul smelling the water. It was near dawn. The sun a red line on the horizon. I wore no watch, but the Mexican kept track of time on his.
The Mexican was bad off, coughing and spitting blood out of the window every few minutes, but he said nothing. Never complained.
We sat and watched the sunrise in silence. Listened as the birds woke in the trees and began to call back and forth to each other. Finally, he looked at his wrist one last time, just as morning was coming on full, and told me to drive back to the gas station.
Along The Border
I had thought the place would be crowded with cops, but I was wrong. The hound dog still slept in the open garage bay doorway, and the thin man with the greasy-black hair was still wrenching on the Plymouth. The hanging phone handset, the blood, now dried to a maroon smear on the handset and the wall was still there. Untouched.
“Hang that fuckin’ phone up,” the Mexican said. I got out and hung up the phone and it immediately rang in my hand.
“Well answer the thing… Dios,” the Mexican spat. He went into a coughing spasm. I picked up the phone, and an unintelligible string of Spanish launched itself into my ear. I held it away. “For you,” I said.
He groaned and levered himself from the truck, stumbled, and then made his way to the pay phone. He took the gun with him. He spoke calmly into the phone for a short time. No rushed spate of Spanish this time, but a low murmur that I could not make any more sense of than I had the rushed torrent. After a time he took the headset from his ear, pressed it against his chest and spoke to me in a near whisper.
“Take this fuckin’ gun, Amigo.” He handed me the gun that was all splattered with gore and he pulled a second one, equally messy, from his coat pocket. “Watch our backs, blanquito” he told me.
I suppose I could have shot the Mexican and gone free, but I never had the time to do it. I didn’t even have the time to think about doing it until later on.
As I stood there I heard the suck of rubber against the asphalt, the way it will when the road is really hot. And the morning was hot, the road hotter, the way it will sometimes get in the desert.
The car slowed and pulled into the station. I saw none of that, but only perceived it from what my ears told me. A short conversation in Spanish between someone in the car and probably the thin man with the greasy-black hair wrenching on the Plymouth, and I knew that someone would be coming around the side of the gas station in a matter of seconds.
The Mexican heard the same things. He hung up the phone and put one finger to his lips, lurched his way back over to the truck and leaned against the front of the grill for support. His gun pointed over the hood. Not knowing what else to do I slipped back behind the passenger door and followed suit.
“We should be good… Don’t just start killing… But you be ready, ’cause you never know, muchacho.”
Three of them came around the corner. Two men I hadn’t seen, and the greasy-haired thin man. He stopped short when he saw the guns aimed at him.
“Dios Mio,” he stuttered.
“Vamos,” the Mexican said. The greasy-haired thin man slipped backwards and then disappeared around the corner. The other two, hard eyed older men, stood their ground. No weapons in their hands. Silence held for what seemed a long while.
“Well, you got it,” one of the oldsters asked. It came with such a thick accent that I had to take the time to figure out what he’d said… “Chew gat et?”
The conversation switched to a quick spate of Spanish then. That went back and forth between the two men and the Mexican for a few minutes and then silence came back so hard I could hear a bird calling in the distance: The sound of a big rig on the highway, and that was a few miles away. One of the oldsters nodded, turned, and walked away. He came back around the corner of the building a few minutes later with two large duffel bags and tossed them on the ground between us. They slid a couple of feet towards us and then stopped in front of the truck.
“Get them bags, amigo,” the Mexican told me.
I looked at him like he was crazy, but of course he was crazy, and there was nothing I could do except come around the hood, a pistol in one hand, eyes on those two older men.
I stopped by the hood when I suddenly realized that I had a problem. I could not pick up both duffel bags without putting the gun away. I debated briefly, stuffed the gun into the waistband of my pants and picked up the bags.
“In the cab,” the Mexican said. I Levered the door of the cab open and set them inside. “Strip off that tarp.”
The tarp came off and the two men came forward and lifted out the suitcases. The Mexican and the two others stared at each other for a few moments, then the oldsters walked away. I watched them turn the corner and they were gone.
I started to get back into the truck when the Mexican wagged his head and put one finger to his lips. I pulled my gun back out, scared to death. It was maybe a second after I got the gun back in my hand that the two came back around the corner ready to take us out.
I shot first. Unintended. Pure reaction. The gun was in my hand and happened to be pointed in that direction and I fired out of reflex. One of the oldsters heads exploded. Something tugged at my collar, and then the Mexican dropped the other guy. A second… Less than a second and it was over. The silence didn’t come again, this time there were sounds in the silence. The hound dog up and baying. Excited voices in Spanish somewhere close by.
“Now we go,” the Mexican said. “Now we go, Amigo.”
I needed no coaching. I was in the truck and backing out of the gas station fast. The rear tires hopping and screeching on the pavement. A black Caddy sat on the tarmac, just past the pumps, engine idling. The doors hung open.
“Stop!… Stop!” The Mexican yelled. “Get them bags back!”
I stalled the truck stopping without pushing the clutch in, ran to the Caddy and got the bags along with two others from the back seat. I threw them all into the back of the truck and I had started back to the driver side when the Mexican shot.
I didn’t think I just hit the ground and I didn’t come back up until the Mexican began cursing at me to get back in the truck. I looked back at the gas station when I did. The man with the greasy-black hair lay sprawled in the open stall. A shot gun off to one side. The hound dog stood stiffly, head in the air, howling. Blood ran from the man’s body toward a floor drain. Voices raised in Spanish, loud, somewhere close by. And the Mexican yelling at me. I threw myself into the cab, got the truck started and got out of there fast. And here I am now running across the desert heading to Mexico.
The rest of the time has been fast driving. I kept expecting the cops at any moment, but they never showed up. I didn’t even know the Mexican had been shot again until later on when I realized he was coughing up less blood and sounded as though we were drowning instead. I could not even say when it was that he died, but sometime late afternoon if I had to guess. He had not spoken in some time and when I looked over at him his lips had turned blue.
When I pulled him out to bury him in a little dry wash off the highway I saw a new hole in the upper part of his chest: Right through the shirt and into the lung on that side, I guessed. Two lung shots, and a head shot, and he had still been going. I couldn’t see how he lived so I wasn’t surprised that he had died.
He died well. As well as can be expected considering it’s dead after all. He didn’t cry or beg, or curse. He just died. Slipped away.
After I buried the Mexican I checked the suitcases and duffel bags. After all, they were mine now. And I wanted to know what everybody was in such a hurry to die for.
The duffel bags were no surprise. They were stuffed full of money and guns. They were big duffel bags. They held a lot. An awful lot.
Two of the suitcases were surprises. I thought drugs, what else do people get killed for? But, no.
Of the others, one held more money, clothes and passports. I.D. That sort of stuff. All with the Mexican’s picture. Then the other two suitcases that shocked me. One contained the body of a dead dog. Shot full of holes and stuffed in there.
The other held the head and hands of someone I was sure wished that he had them back. The last two suitcases did contain drugs. More than I’d ever seen in one place before.
I took out the money and added it to the duffel bags. I buried the Cocaine and the dog along with the Mexican. I had no idea what the suitcases were all about. I still don’t. And I don’t want to know. I do know there was a fortune in Cocaine and I did not want to tempt myself with it.
Later, I got the truck cleaned up at one of those self-wash car washes on the other side of the border, turned off the highway with a full tank of gas a few miles up the road from there, and I’m running in the moonlight. I’ve got a map of South America. I hope to find a road before I run out of gas. I figure I’ll work my way down into South America as far as I can go. I don’t know where I’ll go from there, there hasn’t been time to think about where…
From the short story collection Mister Bob, available below…