And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Revelations 20:10
Dan, Killer, and I are in the Kum & Go snagging some breakfast before heading off to roustabout on the Shoshone oil field. My name’s Jimmy, Jimmy Shalinsky, but most people call me Clit. I got the name because I’m good with the ladies. You know, smooth. Dan may have the looks, and Killer may have the size, but I got the talk. I always was a little on the small side, wiry though. Tough, you know—but I can make it with the ladies.
Killer is putting together some nachos. He mounds the chips, ladles hot nacho cheese, and then uses the tongs to try to fish out some jalapenos, but he gets tired of it so he grabs them with his fingers and plops them on top. Then he slurps his fingers.
Dan appraises the bowl and says, “I think you can fit some more on there.”
Killer looks at the bowl and then at Dan and grins. “Fire in the hole,” Killer says.
“I’ll show you fire in the hole,” Dan says, glancing over at the fat lady with the gigantic tits behind the counter.
They always have been a pair. They played football at Last Chance High School and took us to the Wyoming state finals in Division 4A. Dan was the quarterback, of course, and Killer was a lineman. Dan really knew how to motivate the team, so I heard—I was a couple of years behind them—and Killer was just that, a killer on the line. He broke both legs of this guy from Torrington. The people from Torrington got all hot and bothered because they said it was a dirty hit—he was nowhere near the ball, they said—but the ref didn’t see it, so, hey, it might as well not’ve happened.
Dan’s still good looking, just like he was in high school. Fit. Blonde hair that makes him look like a surfer. You wouldn’t think he was almost thirty. I don’t know how he does it—his clothes are always neat and clean, even when we’re working a rig. Killer, though, has let himself go. He has this red beard that bushes out above his considerable gut, and he shaves his head but then wears one of the black Nazi hats with the gold braid on the brim and the eagle on the top.
I take my twenty-ounce coffee to the counter to pay. The fat lady taps the register keys with her cocaine nails and says, “A little go juice?” She’s got a ring on her finger, and I wonder what ugly bastard would marry her.
“Yeah—I mean, no,” I say, pushing my glasses up my nose. “What I mean is, I don’t need no go juice. I’m all go.” I count out two dollar bills and flip them on the counter.
“A runt like you?” Big Tits eyes me up and down.
“Ain’t no correlation,” I say. “Some guys got third legs, you know.”
She fingers coins out of the drawer and drops them on the counter in front of me. Two pennies roll off and away.
I don’t move to get them.
“Little shits like you are all hat and no cattle,” she says, “and I’ve had more than my share of no cattle.” She turns like she’s got something to do.
I don’t know quite what to say, and just as I’m coming up with something, Dan and Killer come up to the counter. In addition to nachos, Killer’s got a sausage with mustard and catsup and a cup of coffee. Dan has a bottle of water.
Dan smiles at Big Tits as he lays a twenty on the counter for Killer’s food. “The lady ain’t interested in what you’re selling, Clit.”
“She would be if she knew what she’s missing.” I try to make it sound all happy, like an invitation instead of the lame comeback it is.
Big Tits smiles at Dan. “Ain’t you Dan McCoy?” she asks. He nods and slaps her with what I call his knock-em-dead, a smile that would make the avenging angel himself offer him Lifesavers. Then she launches into this long thing about her dad taking her to all his football games. “My dad was a huge fan,” she says.
“That’s great,” Dan says. “So, what’s your name?”
“I’m Betsy, but everyone calls me Bet.”
“That’s sure a pretty name, Bet.”
She smiles as she gives Dan his change.
Dan nods just a little as he glances at her hands—he’s thought of something. “You know what, Bet? We’re having a party later, a kegger. Want to come?”
First I’m hearing of it, but that don’t mean anything.
Her eyes widen and then narrow. She looks at Dan without saying anything.
“Don’t be like that. There’s a bunch of us—some people your age, too, I think. What are you? Twenty?” Dan plays it well, as he always does. She’s probably at least twenty-two, and he doesn’t insult her by saying she’s eighteen because when you’re young you always want to be older, but she probably just starting to want to be flattered as younger, so he runs it down the middle.
“Well, I’m married,” Big Tits says, holding her left hand and splaying out her fingers to show her ring. Then her fleshy shoulders pop up and down, but her eyes stay fixed on his face.
Killer’s standing there. He grunts and takes his food and goes out to the truck.
Dan leans forward with his elbows on the counter. He lowers his voice to a growly whisper. “Well, pretty Bet, don’t you deserve a night out with the girls?”
Her smile tips up at the corners.
Dan continues, “You just tell your husband you need a night out. What he don’t know, won’t hurt him.”
She shakes her head. “Tom—that’s my husband—ain’t too keen on me going out.” She hesitates and there’s silence as she considers, but then her shoulders relax. “But I have my ways to convince him.” She leans forward too, her face cutting into the usual comfort distance between two people.
I wonder whether she’ll play the bitch card or she’ll have sex with her husband to put him in a good mood. Then I get an image of those huge tits flopping up and down and up and down and my dick perks up.
Dan’s smile goes from dazzling to fixed—he’s gotten what he wants, and so he loses interest in her. “You tell your dad that Dan McCoy says hi,” he says as we turn to leave.
“I get off at seven,” she says, her head craning around the tall jerky jar.
Dan doesn’t reply. We head out to the Dan’s brand new duely. It’s fire-engine red with a shiny roll-bar and growl pipes. In the gun rack, Dan keeps what he calls his fuck-stick—just hefty and long enough to fuck some bastard up—and a twenty-two semi-auto for hunting coyotes.
Sitting on the open tailgate is Killer, and he’s got his hand out to a magpie perched on the side. The bird’s black-and-white-tuxedoed body poses then jerks as it eyes Killer and then pecks at his fingers. Killer’s small pig eyes are round and open. When he sees us, he pulls back his hand and his face closes in. The bird launches into the air. Killer pushes himself off the tailgate and grabs his nachos.
“Looks like Adam’s in the garden,” Dan says as he walks past him.
Killer doesn’t say anything. He walks around to my side. As I’m climbing into the cab, he says, “Clit calls the bitch seat.” What he always says every time.
“Better a bitch than a fucking asshole.” What I say every time. Gayboy, I add silently.
Dan and Killer get in. Dan starts the engine and the radio blares. It’s the news. I reach to turn it down and Dan slaps my hand. “Leave it.” He shifts, backs out, and rods it onto the street while a woman with a deep monotone reports a one car rollover that killed a husband and wife from Colorado and that the rig count is up. Then the program switches to a slow-talking cattle report.
I glance over at Killer and he’s looking past me at Dan. Killer shakes his head.
Dan looks at Killer from the corner of his eye and says, “They don’t report, uh, overenthusiastic sex. Due to the sensitive nature of the subject.” He flashes a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Lucky for me,” Killer says.
“Besides, it’s old news by now,” Dan says.
“What’re you guys talking about?” I say.
“Mind your own,” Killer says in a deep voice.
So I do.
We’re in the second week of our two weeks on. Twelve-hour days. Mostly we work our asses off moving equipment and supplies, cleaning up garbage and spills, painting—shit like that. It stinks to high heaven, and grit gets into my every crack and cranny. If my fingers ain’t black from oil, they’re black from getting whacked. Sometimes it’s so hot you could fry an egg. Sometimes it snows so hard it’s all you can do to keep your balls from freezing. Dan’s almost charmed his way from roustabout to roughneck, and he’ll take Killer with him. I’m hoping he takes me along too.
It’s before seven, so we’ve got time to make it from Last Chance to the pad before our shift starts. The blacktop skirts along the wide shallow reaches of the Big Sulfur—named for the hotsprings that feeds into it—and in and out of stands of cottonwoods and fields of sugar beets and alfalfa. This time of year, the vegetation’s turned from bright green to deep green, and soon it’ll be shading to brown where it’s not irrigated. Or everywhere if we have the drought like last year. Dan downshifts and turns onto the gravel county road. We thread up a ravine and onto the dry sagebrush benches that line the river valley. The air changes. You can feel it coming through Dan’s cracked window—what was cool and moist turns hot, pungent, and dusty. The radio says it’ll get up to a hundred and three. The patchy sagebrush is interspersed with sand dunes. The drought’s killed off enough of the vegetation that the wind scoops sand out of one place and deposits it in another. It’s like the earth’s trying reclaim the whole countryside.
“Maybe next year, they’ll hire us on as roughnecks,” I say with an eye toward Dan. “That way, I can buy my own transportation, not have to hitch with you.” Can’t hurt to give Dan a little more incentive. What I really want is to save up enough to get my mama into one of those programs where they dry out. It don’t work to have her in A.A. She just gets tanked before she attends the meetings till they kick her out.
“Skinny shit like you? No fucking way,” Killer says as he pushes in the cigarette lighter. He pokes his finger and thumb into his pack of cigarettes and fishes one out, zips the window down, and when the lighter pops he presses the glowing rings to the tip of his cigarette and sucks in the air. Then he sticks the lighter back into the ashtray.
“Don’t worry about it,” Dan says. “World’s going to end this year.”
“What?” I say.
“Yeah, those crackpots are saying 2010’s the end of the world.”
I don’t like telling Dan he’s wrong, but I say, “That’s 2012. The end of the Mayan calendar.” My mama digs things like that, so I know.
“Well, I’m saying it’s 2010.” He lets out a burst of air.
We pop up over a hill, the gravel crunching under our tires, and two deer, does, stand broadside in the middle of the road. Dan stamps down on the brakes and the truck slides to a halt. Billowing dust engulfs us from behind and veils the sun. The doe in front stumbles forward and then high-steps off the gravel. Once she reaches the borrow ditch, she bounds across the unmown grass and leaps the barbed wire fence on Dan’s side of the truck. The other smaller doe continues to stand broadside looking at us, like she can’t quite figure out what we are.
I glance at Dan and Killer. Dan’s head is cocked to one side, but Killer’s eyes have opened up again and he’s leaning forward, his beard detached from his chest. Dan turns off the radio. Then he twists sideways toward me, his arms reaching over my left shoulder, and I lean forward to give him room. He’s pulling the twenty-two out of the gun rack.
“Hey, Killer,” Dan says, “ever had venison backstrap?”
“Yeah,” is all Killer says. He ducks as Dan tips the rifle over our heads and points the muzzle to the floorboards.
“What do you think?”
“We’re going to be late,” Killer says. I’m sure he knows how lame this sounds.
“A clean kill, and we can be in and out in five minutes,” Dan says. He lifts the rifle across my lap toward Killer.
“We don’t need no backstrap.”
“Ah, come on, Killer.”
“Dan, we don’t need no venison.”
“Sure we do.”
“Well, if we need it so goddamn bad, you shoot it.” Killer’s face is turning red. He’s always had a quick temper. I lean away from him toward Dan.
“You’re the killer, Killer. What’s the matter? You chickenshit?”
“I ain’t chickenshit.”
“Bwock, bwock, bwo-ock,” Dan says. Holding the stock with his left hand, he reaches past me with his right and slaps Killer on the chest with his palm.
“He don’t want to shoot it,” I say.
“Shut the fuck up,” Killer says to me. He says to Dan, “You want me to fucking poach a deer?”
“Killer’s decided to go all Greenie treehugger on us, Clit. He’s a sensitive new-age guy.”
Killer doesn’t say anything for a minute, and Dan doesn’t either, just leans forward holding the gun and staring at Killer.
Eyes on the dash, Killer moves his head back and forth slightly. “Just give me the gun,” Killer says. Dan smiles, showing his teeth, and hands the gun to Killer. Killer takes it, pushes open the door, steps to the hood, chambers a round, and leans forward, propping the stock to his shoulder and his elbows on the hood.
The bigger doe is long gone, but the smaller doe is in the borrow ditch bounding back and forth along the fenceline trying to get up the courage to jump. Killer doesn’t wait for her to stop. One report, then two more in quick succession. The doe leaps like a rabbit and then falls down onto her front knees and collapses forward then onto her side, her head bent back over her shoulder.
Dan pulls open the glove box and retrieves a big Buck knife. He pushes open the door and gets out, glances both ways down the road, and then walks quickly over to the kicking doe. I stay in the truck. Killer doesn’t even glance Dan’s way. He clears the cartridge and uses his thumb to keep the next round from entering the chamber. He comes back to the cab. He’s careful as he lifts the gun over my head and places it back in the rack. He gets in and shuts the door. Dan’s over at the animal. He doesn’t bleed her out or anything. He just slices through the hide on the back, peels it away, and then cuts along the backbone and ribs on each side to remove the backstrap, laying the first one on the grass while he cuts the second. He flips the knife shut, picks up the meat, and comes to the truck. He opens an empty gunny sack on the tailgate and wraps up the meat and tucks it up next to the cab. He wipes his hands on his jeans and then comes up and gets in the truck.
“We’ll start a fire out at the pad,” he says. “Roast them for lunch.” He starts the truck, glances in his rearview, and then peels out, his bloody palm twirling the steering wheel and his head bobbing like he’s listening to his own inner music. Killer just stares forward.
We spend the morning cleaning up the pad. That’s our job for the day. Our boss—his name is Rick but we call him Rick the Dick—told us to do what’s necessary. He thinks the inspectors’ll be out next week. We pick up the sandwich wrappers and soda cans. We slop paint over rusty metal. We dump empty fifty-five gallon drums all into one big pile. We smooth out places where oil has spilled and cover them over with more dirt and sand from the reserve pile—they shouldn’t soak through till after the inspectors have come and gone.
Late in the morning while Killer rolls drums and I slop paint, Dan gathers dead sagebrush limbs and some larger pieces of driftwood washed by spring storms into the gully that skirts the pad. He starts a fire. Then he continues to work but stops every once in a while to pile wood on the fire, so that it all burns down to orange and white coals. Around noon, he pours water over the backstraps and lays them over the bed of coals. Soon the smell of cooking meat makes my stomach growl.
“You bastards ready to eat?” Dan says.
Killer and I go over to the tailgate where he’s cutting off chunks of meat. We stand around and eat with our fingers. It’s a bit gritty, but the char of the sagebrush adds to the flavor. Killer seems to have forgotten where the meat came from, as he doesn’t even hesitate. Between the three of us, we polish off both hunks. Killer sits down on the tailgate and licks his fingers.
“This is the best venison I’ve ever had,” I say to no one in particular.
“Clit’s a venison virgin?” Dan says with a buggy look on his face.
I have to think for a minute. Then I say, “No, I said it was the best, not the first.”
“Yeah? So Clit’s had venison, but has he had a woman?”
“I’m thinking not,” Killer says.
“I have too,” I say. It’s none of their fucking business if I have or haven’t.
“So Clit’s not only a virgin, but he’s a liar,” Dan says.
“You guys are so full of shit,” I say.
“Admit it,” Dan says and takes a step toward me. “Come on, say ‘I’m a lying virgin.’ Come on, say it.”
I take a step backwards. Killer hops down from where he’s sitting on the tailgate.
“Say it, Clit,” Dan says. “‘I’m a lying virgin.’” He takes another step toward me and Killer walks up beside him.
There’s no way I’m going to say it. No fucking way. But Dan’s gone squirrely and Killer’s backing him up—they’re not going to stop until they make me say it. I’ve seen it before—they’re like a couple of wild dogs once they fix on something.
I glance through the back window at the rifle, but I can’t get to the front of the truck, jerk open the door, pull out the rifle, and jack a shell before they’re on me. I glance around.
“Say it,” Dan says. “Say it.” He and Killer are walking forward and I’m stepping backwards.
“You’re going to fucking say it,” Dan says.
I turn and take off running. I don’t look back—I know they’re right behind me. Killer’s enough out of shape I’m not worried about him, but Dan’s got stick and the stamina to back it up.
Ahead of me I see the fire, and poking up from it is a good-sized branch. As I run past, I lean down and snag it and then take a quick jog right. Then I spin and huck it hard as I can at Dan’s head. Dan ducks sideways and the branch sails past him. I turn to run but then Dan’s on me. I trip and land on my face and he’s on my back grabbing for my arms. It knocks the wind out of me and my glasses go flying, but I’m struggling to keep my arms free and pushing against the ground, trying to get to my hands and knees. He manages to wrench my left arm behind me and up to my shoulder blade. The pain shoots through it and into my shoulder. I try to twist sideways to release the pressure, but his weight on my butt keeps me pinned.
“You’re nothing but empty talk, Jimmy,” Dan says, “and the only woman you’ve had is your drunk-ass mother.”
“Fuck you,” I say and jerk hard as I can.
“You’re a worthless piece of shit. I want you to say it. Say it, you fuckhead.”
I’m not going to say it. There’s no way I’m going to say it. If I say it, they’ll let me go, sure. Yesterday, I would’ve. But not today. Today, my mama made me eggs for breakfast. She got herself out of bed and made me eggs. That ought to be worth something.
My arm is released, and I think, okay, but then his grip wraps around my throat. His hands are warm and moist and the pads of his fingers dig into the soft parts of my neck. My adam's apple jams flat. I have to cough but I can’t. At first it’s like when you hold your breath. Not too bad. I pull my arm from my back, try to push myself up. Dan’s weight’s in the middle of my back, though, can’t do a pushup with that monkey on my back. He rattles me, and my head snaps back and forward, back and forward. There, a smidgen of breath, but then he clamps down again. My lungs strain, try to pull in air. My heart thumps, thumps, thumps. Try to muscle it and then wildly squirm and push. Almost. He’s leaning forward and I knock him off balance, my body halfway out from under. But air, air, air. Fwoop, the senses shut down.
“You kill him?” It’s Killer’s voice coming from above and to the left.
My throat. It hurts. I cough. I cough again.
I push myself onto my back. My arms ache and my neck and my back where I twisted it. I crack open my eyes but it’s so bright. I slam them shut and pull my arm over my face.
Killer: “You fucking lost it, man.” His voice is more urgent, higher, than I’ve ever heard it.
Dan: “Shut up.” He’s to my right.
Killer: “I’ve never seen you that pissed off.”
Dan: “Just shut the fuck up.”
Killer: “No, you really lost it. You were going to kill him.”
I feel Dan loom over me and I curl to protect my stomach, but he doesn’t touch me and instead I hear the scuffle of dirt as Killer steps back.
“You let that piss-ant get to you,” Killer says softly.
Dan steps over me and I hear an oomph. I crack my eyes in time to see Killer on his ass in the dirt and Dan standing over him.
This has never happened before. Something’s been broke. Killer’s always been the hands to Dan’s body.
From beyond us, there’s a distinct whooomp! I don’t know what it is. I hear Dan say, “Shit,” and then after a bit he and then Killer walk over toward the sound.
I carefully stretch to see if I’ve busted anything. Don’t seem to. I cautiously push myself up and teeter to my feet. I don’t even look for my glasses—I can see how it is well enough without them. I walk up behind Dan and Killer but keep my distance. Dan’s shoulders are back, his head cocked. Killer’s off to one side and hunkered a bit, his arm across his stomach.
They’re standing in front of the pile of barrels, which is engulfed in flame. The flames aren’t just orange. They flare up in patches of blue and then green. They flick and weave. We stand and watch, but the heat rises and soon we’re forced to take a step back. The flames continue to climb higher, straighter now, more frantic, grasping up to heaven like the northern lights.
Then, a weird thing. The barrels start to bulge. The sides warp and round outwards. There’s a creaking, metal stress. I have a split second to think, get the fuck out of here, and then the whole thing explodes. I see flames engulf Dan and Killer and then they’re on me. I’m surrounded by flames, I feel the pressure of their blast, but there’s nothing, no pain. I marvel at this. I back away, and still the flames cocoon me. It feels like all the air’s been sucked away—I can’t breathe, I pull and pull but there’s no air, my shirt is burning and my pants are burning and the acrid odor of burned hair reaches my nostrils and something else, like cooked venison, I glance down, my right hand is black but still in the shape of a hand, large pieces of skin hang from my left hand, I wonder what my face looks like, I should be in pain, but I don’t feel anything, I think, you know what, I’m going to die, yep, that’s it, it’s the end people don’t survive something like this wait that fireman who lived but then nobody could look at him not just because his flesh was shapeless like a potato but because he carried himself all stiff and twisted like the flames deformed his insides that house fire in Last Chance where the kid burned to death I’m waiting for the pain to come what happened to his mama? no pain what does that mean? the flames surround me I’m the kid not the fireman fall to knees we’re all gonna
Having grown up on a ranch, Tamara Linse appreciates indoor plumbing. She lives in Wyoming, where she writes short stories and novels. To support her writing habit, she also edits, freelances, and occasionally teaches. Her website is http://www.tamaralinse.com.