Cops has been watching Lester from the pine forest out back for days. Maybe weeks. It was hard to remember how long. Seemed like a century he had crouched at this window, watching and waiting. He wouldn’t give the bastards the satisfaction of making the first move. Besides, he had one more cook to finish.
The floor of the trailer sagged and creaked as he tiptoed, barefoot, into the hallway. He paused by the only door that lead outside and checked the shells in his twelve gauge again. It was still loaded.
A chemical vapor permeated the mobile home, and grew stronger as he approached the center. Where the hallway opened into the kitchen, the stench became overpowering. Lester pulled his tee shirt over his nose. He approached the stove and adjusted the flame on a gas burner beneath a stainless steel pot. After a moment, he returned the knob to its original setting and left the room.
Inside the bathroom, an errant eyebrow captured his attention. He stepped closer to the mirror and examined it. Took a pair of tweezers from a shelf and plucked. Another overlong hair appeared above the opposite eye, symmetrically located. He plucked it, too. Now the longest strand was back on the original side, as if they were growing while he watched. He plucked another, and another.
A half hour later–maybe the following day, or within the next few seconds–he found himself staring above the image of his own bare shoulder, lost in the depths of the bathroom behind him. Imperfections in the reflective glass became ocean swells. He leaned to one side, righted, then listed to the other. The motion felt graceful, comforting, a mother’s pendulous solace to a colicky child. Again he swayed to and fro, intentionally this time. But, as he leaned right a third time, his movement stopped abruptly. His eyes shot wide. His teeth clenched, and the muscles in his neck snapped tight like a tow chain engaging a broken down pickup truck.
Both eyebrows were plucked clean.
Lester laid the torch aside and raised his hood. With the hem of his shirt he pushed sweat off his forehead, onto the concrete floor. A tiny mud puddle formed in the dirt beside his boot. The weight of the helmet made his neck hurt, but he hated to take it off. Folks had stared at his eyebrows all morning, and the hood provided a measure of camouflage.
No one had said anything at first. Then the straw boss had wandered by, shooting the shit and picking up time tickets. “Got damn, Lester, who you supposed to be? Alice fuckin’ Cooper? ” The name had stuck. By mid morning, whenever he’d encounter another ironworker at the water cooler or the bathroom, they’d just cut him a sidelong glance, slap leather gloves against denim pants to release a cloud of dust, and mutter, “Alice Cooper. I be damn.” He’d prepared a story about singeing his eyebrows over a campfire, but no one had bothered to come right out and ask.
Damn this bunch, anyway, he decided. Maybe it was time to scramble again. Staying put too long never worked out, anyway. Muscle Shoals had been cool, but then things went south with Amy. She’d started talking about marriage, and babies, and he hadn’t been able to cook dope fast enough to keep her happy. So he’d lit out for Huntsville. That was okay for a while, too, until he’d sensed the cold, steel-mesh grip of a police net encircling. So he’d run out on his apartment’s deposit under cover of a midnight thunderstorm.
Now he was perched atop Sand Mountain in the northeastern corner of the state. One week he drove to Trenton for cold tablets from the pharmacy, then up to Chattanooga for toluene from an industrial supply house, and finally back home to Bryant for a bottle of Red Devil lye and a cook. A few weeks later he would reverse the order, always zigzagging across state lines, scoring different items in different communities in a desperate effort to mask his trail. Trying to confuse the database in each locale that tracked sales of key ingredients. Yeah, the tri-state area had advantages. But maybe it was time to move on from here, too.
Lester wanted to run, to fight, to kill and be killed. To end it all, and take somebody with him. That could only mean he was overdue. He removed his hood and laid it, lens up, on the gear train he’d been attaching to a J box. Wiped his hands on his pants pockets and stalked off to the bathroom.
Locked in a stall, he fished some powder onto the tip of his razor knife. There wasn’t enough left for another good bump, so he dipped again and did it all. What the hell. Licked the baggie clean, laid it on the toilet paper dispenser, and began to piss. He heard the bathroom door open behind him. His nose burned and itched, but he fought the urge to honk it on up. That would be too obvious to whoever had just entered. He’d finish snorting behind his hood.
He zipped his pants, opened the stall door, and left.
Back at his work station, he realized he’d left the baggie laying in plain view on the dispenser in the bathroom. Licked clean, but still, god a mighty, how careless. Maybe this was his last day at work, anyhow. A comfortable ball, like fuzzy cotton muffs in winter, began to form around his ears. Sweat streamed down the back of his neck. Yeah, it was getting time to cut a trail.
He placed his hood upright on his head with his left hand. Jerked his neck to drop it into place, and pulled the trigger on the MIG. He would hide behind his mask for a while. Life was good, inside the cocoon. He’d weld some parts, safe and protected, in the glow of the arc behind which no one else could see. Lester was invisible.
The woods were silent, but he knew they were out there. Knew by the occasional telltale glint of moonlight off a badge, a pistol barrel, the fat bald head of a sheriff’s deputy. Besides, he could sense their presence. Feel their menace. Bring it on, cowboys, he whispered like a prayer. Bring it on.
He stood upright and stretched his back, lost for a moment in the swirls of plaster on the bedroom ceiling. Abandoning his station at the windowsill, he drifted into the hallway and idly checked the shotgun’s load once more. Wandered into the kitchen, not bothering to cover his face, breathing deep of the pungent odor till his eyes watered and he felt dizzy. Until he felt something more than dizzy.
A crack like a bull whip sounded from the woods behind the trailer. Once, twice, then silence again. There was no window nearby to peer out of. The sound had been firecrackers, car doors. Matching shots from a .22 rifle. Lester was out the front door and bounding down the steps within seconds, barehanded and wearing only cutoffs. The time was now. Waiting was full.
He tore across the dark back yard, dodging obstacles by memory, ducking beneath an empty clothesline, around the well’s encasement, and into the blackness of the midnight briar patch. A familiar flash of light shone in the distance, moonlight on a billy club, at the far side of the blackberries. Then darkness again, and silence. Brambles tore at bare legs as Lester dove into the thicket.
As he charged out the far side of the briar patch, eyes wide and head swinging like a gun on a turret, he stepped into a hollow in the earth and turned his ankle. He collapsed and lay still on the damp earth, eyes skyward, chest heaving. When he touched his leg, the fingers came away bloody.
The police were no nearer nor further than they had been before his charge. Come get me, you chicken shit bastards, he screamed, voicelessly. There was only blackness in every direction. The only sound was the pitter patter of the sneaker-clad feet of the agents as they beat a strategic retreat into the distance, where they would regroup and plan their next move.
Don Jennings lives alone in a tiny apartment stuffed with books in Richmond, Kentucky. He apologizes for being a stereotype. His stories have been featured in Wrong Tree Review, A-Minor, Dew on the Kudzu and elsewhere. A complete list of his published stories may be found at: