“Hey, babe. Is Brandy there?”
There was a sigh on the other end of the line. “Steven, I’ve asked you not to call me that. You don’t get to call me babe anymore.”
“Oh…sorry. You’re right. I’ll—“
“Why do you need to talk to Brandy? Calling to tell her that you’re breaking another promise? Did you forget that you’re picking her up from school this Friday?”
There were other voices in the background, but muffled.
“No, not a promise, exactly. I just wanted to tell her that I probably can’t fish this weekend with her like we’d planned. One of the machines at work fell on my foot today. I was—“
“Psssh…are you ok?” She said, flippantly.
“Yes…Amber…I’m fine. I went to the hospital, they said I have a couple broken toe bones. The doc prescribed me some meds. Darrel sent me home for the rest of the week.”
“You…you mean you’re come…I mean, going home? Now? In the middle of the day?”
“What’s it to you?” I snapped. “And, no…not yet. I have some errands to run, then I’m going to the pharmacy at three, when my pills are ready.”
“Oh, ok. Good. Well, are you getting paid? Brandy’s birthday is next month and she—“
I blew out a large breath and switched the phone to my other ear.
“Yes, Amber. I’m still getting paid. Don’t worry, I’ll get your monthly check to you.”
“You’re an asshole, Steven. Don’t forget Brandy at school Friday.”
The line clicked, and I looked at the screen to confirm what I already knew.
“Dammit!” I tossed the phone heavily onto the dashboard and held my head. One hand on my temple, the other on the steering wheel. I glanced at the fuel gauge, then at the .45 automatic in the passenger seat, to get my mind off…everything. Riding in the back, I had a tv, some tools I hadn’t used in a while, and a few more guns.
“Screw it, I AM going home. I’ll go to the pawn shop tomorrow.” I flashed a look at the pistol, as if making it a promise. “Right now, I need to sit in the cool air and have a drink. And, the pharmacy will still be there in the morning too.” I thought out loud.
The fields on either side of the road were baking in the summer heat. The a/c in my old ’96 Ford Isuzu pickup had been laid to rest long ago. Amber kept nagging me to fix it, saying it wasn’t good for Brandy to be riding around in a hot truck on the weekends I had her. But, priorities…and a/c wasn’t one of them.
I blew out another sigh and adjusted my driving position. Using my left foot wasn’t as easy as I thought it was gonna be. Before Darrel wrote my—
The truck made a chugging, lurching motion, and I was instantly wide awake and alert.
“C’mon buddy, just get me home. I’ll get you some mower gas when we get there. Just—“
Another burp…and another.
“No, No, NO!”
The engine lurched, then it went silent. I shifted into neutral, then gently steered to the side of the road.
“It’s ok, buddy. I know you tried.” I calmly patted the steering wheel. “I’ll…I’ll get you some gas.”
My reflection in the mirror looked back at me…hot, sweaty…hair all disheveled.
I tucked the pistol in the back of my pants, grabbed my cell phone, my keys, and…barely refrained from slamming the door. It wasn’t the truck’s fault. I took a moment to mentally inventory all the stuff in the back seat of the cab.
I was only standing outside for a few seconds before the direct sunlight began violently oppressing me. Out of pure disbelief, I looked at the sun and shielded my eyes with my hand. I shook my head as I commence the walk home. It was about two miles from there.
Salty sweat beads formed on my forehead and ran into my eyes and even my mouth. More sweat ran down my back. Hot gusts brought in clouds of dust and bits of dry grass from the hay fields along the road.
“Fu…” I blew air out of my cheeks and wiped my brow.
I walked…and I walked some more. I tried calling several people, whenever I had service, but had no luck. Finding a cell phone signal was like witching a well. I knew I’d get decent reception at my house though.
By the time I turned up my gravel driveway almost an hour later, I was nearly delirious. The heat and the humidity had roasted my wits. Like a corpse, I staggered towards my home. I finally saw it…dirty white, with a dead cedar tree in front of it. I envisioned a sip of…of anything really. So thirsty. So dammed hot!
As I approached, passing a large tree along the driveway, I saw there was a strange pickup in my yard. It was hooked to a long red trailer.
The rig was parked in front of my small sheet-metal shop building, and the door to the shop was opened. Without thinking, I walked up and touched the rusted blue paint on the fender. I heard voices…and the sound of rummaging coming from the shop. But, I was so thirsty. Inside the cab of the pickup was a two liter of Mountain Dew. I squinted, as if that will help me be any quieter, while opening the door. The USN tattoo on my forearm was coated with sweat as I reached in, opened the bottle, and chugged. I looked around inside the truck and took a few more things, then I opened the glove box and looked around.
I took in a deep breath and enjoyed a moment in the shade of that dead cedar tree, fanning myself with the vehicle registration paper and insurance card.
More rummaging, more talking from the shop building. I walked along the trailer, carefully examining it.
“Shure as hell IS mine!” I whispered to myself.
The trailer was stacked with stuff…my black roll-away tool box, my motorcycle, my freezer full of deer meat, some guns, my welder…and my recliner…from my house.
I frowned as I looked at my single-wide mobile home and noticed the door was swinging freely.
A short woman, probably late twenties, with dirty hair and cut-off jeans walked out of my shop and came to a sudden stop at the back of the trailer. Her eyes were wide and wild. She was holding my great-grandfather’s 20-gauge shotgun. She seemed frozen as I slowly ambled closer to her. I took another swig of pop. She slowly beamed a smile, revealing a hideous maw of blackened and decayed teeth. Her smile turned to a sneer as she lowered the barrel.
“Where you going with that?” I smirked.
“You’re still an asshole.” She hissed with her face pinched into a glare.
I spewed Mountain Dew on her, pulled the pistol from my pants, and clubbed her on the side of the head. She let out a small whimper as she fell to the ground like a sack of flour.
Then I heard more rummaging, followed by something glass breaking, then garbled laughter. I dragged the woman’s body to the truck and roughly heaved her into the pickup bed, which was a chaotic mess of empty beer cans and trash.
A voice from the shop called out, “Hey! What the hell’s taking you so long?”
I took my phone out and snapped a few pictures. All the while, trying to breathe. I stalked my way to the shop door. There, I could see two men, one tall, the other quite short. The tall man was shirtless, heavily tattooed, and rifling through my workbench. The other was wearing a green t-shirt, and was walking back and forth, placing random tools into a box. The box used to hold all my divorce paperwork, but that was all now dumped on the floor.
I stepped inside, and pulled the door shut with a loud click. They both turned and froze.
“Gentlemen, it seems like we have a problem here.” I beamed at them with a wide grin.
Both frantically looked from me, then to the other door in the room…a sliding barn door.
“That one’s no use.” I told them, pointing to it. “It latches from the other side, and I have the air compressor blocking it anyway.” I couldn’t help but laugh.
Still, they said nothing. Their hands twitched and they held their mouths tight.
“My name is Stephen.” I said, “And this is my assistant, Colton.” I held up the .45 and ratcheted the slide.
“We…we’ll leave. Jess let us go. We’ll ne’er come back…swear.”
“Oh, I know you won’t ever come back. Listen, Carl…can I call you Carl? Carl, I’m going to kill one of you. The other, I’m going to beat to within an inch of their life, then let them go. Now, Colton and I have a lot of work to do, so I’m going to let you two decide how we do it. Which one of you wants to be dead?”
I raised an eyebrow and they looked at each other with darting eyes.
“How…how you know my name?”
“I know lots of things Carl. I know you aren’t leaving with any of my stuff today. I know one of you is leaving in an ambulance, the other in a body bag. Your girlfriend will probably leave in the back of a squad car. Maybe she’ll get some quality dental care in prison…if she ever wakes up.”
His eyes popped open even wider. “What did you DO to her?”
“Relax, Carl. I only knocked out a few of her teeth. They were barely hanging onto her gums anyway.”
“Look, Mister. We’re really sorry. Juss let uz go. Please let uz go.” The other man said.
He gestured with his arms in a way that lead me to look at what he was holding.
I lowered my head and glare at him. “Those are pictures of my baby girl you have there.” I growled.
He looked at his hand, then at me, and tried his hardest not to smile. I fired three shots into his chest. He careened backward into a stack of Christmas decoration boxes. Before the other man could move, I pointed the .45 at him.
“Well…I looks like you just won the lottery. You get to have your ass kicked instead of being shot. Lucky you.” I hissed out the words through my clenched teeth.
I took a deliberate and forceful step towards him. I almost felt like I was becoming an animal…a predator.
“Look, buddy…we can…we can work somepin’ out. You don’t have to. I mean, we can…”
“Carl, Carl.” I say, consoling him. “We already HAVE worked out a deal. Let me give you a final piece of advice. Dump that cheating bitch outside you’re dating. You’ll thank me.” I gesture to the pickup outside.
I took another step towards him and looked at the gun in my hands. I ejected the magazine, slid the lever, and laid it all on the work bench next to me. I took a moment to crack my knuckles and loosen up my neck. My dammed toe was really starting to hurt.
I took another step towards him and inhaled loudly. The stale oily air of my workshop seemed to give me energy. We were only five or six feet apart. I bored into his skull with my glare. As chicken shit as that thief was, he still met my gaze. Then he glanced over my shoulder.
Without even thinking, I dove to the side just as a shotgun blast ripped through Carl’s chest.
“NOO!!!” A woman’s voice screamed.
I winced as I got to my feet. Carl’s eyes had already glazed over, and blood was pumping out of his mangled torso. The woman was just inside the door to the workshop, holding that shotgun again. She was shaking as she looked at me with frantic and furious eyes. She began turning the weapon to and fro, sliding her hands all over it.
“It’s a single shot…babe.” I licked my lips as I took a labored step towards her.
She dropped it, turned, and blasted out of there.
I lumbered to Carl’s body and studied him.
“Poor bastard. Well, let’s see what you’ve got.”
I rummaged through his and the other man’s pockets and found several hundred dollars. Carl even had a nice silver money clip and some jewelry. I laid it all on the work bench and picked up my .45.
Just then, I heard angry screams coming from outside the door, followed by several bangs…then a honking horn. I put the loose round back into the magazine, slid it into the piece, and ratcheted the top.
I opened the door and went outside into the blazing heat again. She was in the driver’s seat of the pickup.
“I moved the keys…dropped them into that Styrofoam cup full of dip spit. Sorry ‘bout that!” I called out to her, followed with a chuckle to myself.
The pickup whined and chugged as it lumbered to life. She looked back at me in the mirror, then she turned and looked at the trailer of ill-gotten goods. She flashed a sick smile before speeding off, throwing grass and gravel everywhere. However, the trailer didn’t move. I limped to the hitch and smiled at my handiwork.
The rumble of the pickup going down the driveway didn’t last long, and I forced myself to walk faster. The blue truck was stopped in the road, as the driver cranked and cranked the ignition. She caught my motion in the mirror and her eyes popped open. She cranked and cranked some more. I walked closer. The wind had died down completely, making the air stifling and miserable. Dust covered everything. Again, she cranked the ignition. The battery showed signs of fatigue. I walked closer. I could hear her panicked grunts and groans. She started slapping the dashboard and the steering wheel. Still, she cranked the ignition, but the cranking slowed. It slowed to a whimper as the battery died.
I stepped up to the driver’s side door and faced her. Her entire frame was twisted with rage.
“I cut the fuel line.” I said with a smile.
“You’re pathetic. Brandy will never—“
The bullet went completely through her skull. Blood and gore splattered nearly the entire surface of the pickup’s interior.
“You won’t be getting that check this month…babe.”
I pulled out my cell phone, selected Amber’s landline phone number and pressed ‘send’.
“Hello daddy!” A sweet little voice answered.
“Dad, have you seen mom? She took off with Carl this morning and left me home. I’ve called her a few times, but she hasn’t answered. I didn’t even go to school today.”
“Actually, I just spoke with her. We finally worked some things out.” I breathed in deep and looked at the picture in my hand. “Hey, do you wanna go fishing?”
Artwork c/o Mike Theuer