Half-Life, fiction by Kurt Taylor

The dent­ed front fend­er of Dan­ny Mather’s gold ’89 Cadil­lac Eldo­ra­do and the dead armadil­lo cracked and steam­ing along the road­side a half mile back were not unre­lat­ed. Dan­ny was tap­ping the steer­ing wheel, say­ing the issue was pre­med­i­ta­tion.

I see a ‘dil­lo cross­ing the road, I don’t try and hit ‘em. If you’re tryin’ to do some­thing, that’s pre­med­i­ta­tion.” The gas gauge was slip­ping under a half tank, the air con­di­tion­er scream­ing against triple dig­it heat shim­mer­ing on the asphalt run­ning out in front of us straight as an arrow.

Old man Stryk­er,” Dan­ny said, “now there’s a pre-his­toric ani­mal. Anoth­er mat­ter alto­geth­er.” Dan­ny swerved the Eldo­ra­do back and forth, tires squeal­ing, beer cans rat­tling in the back seat.

He knew what he was doing. He planned it. Hard to fig­ure what’s inside a man’s head. That’s what courts are for, right?” Dan­ny slapped the steer­ing wheel and let out a whoop, re-adjust­ed his cap.

Get me anoth­er beer, pard.” I hand­ed him a warm can of Tur­bo. Popped one for myself.

Stryk­er?” I said. That old dude’s done, man.”

Ain’t old when he owes me four hun­dred large.”

From what, that union pic­nic fund? Your lit­tle scam?”

You can’t even count to four hun­dred.”

Four hun­dred sound­ed big, and my mind start­ed to drift. It was the heat, the long ride and the creaky leaf springs in the Caddy’s chas­sis. Made me think some­times about weird stuff, strange smells and things, try­ing to be fun­ny. My way of pass­ing time. The warm Tur­bo made me think of one.

This beer tastes like warm goat piss,” I said. I want­ed Dan­ny to laugh.

How do you know what warm goat piss tastes like?” he said.

I thought it was kind of fun­ny. The beer, it’s warm, that’s all.” I took anoth­er swal­low.

Seri­ous­ly, four hun­dred grand?” I said.

I ain’t wait­in’ twen­ty years for him to get out and shov­el some old rock pile and pull up a suit­case full of cash. He ain’t gonna last twen­ty years, nei­ther, and ain’t no one else talkin.”

Dan­ny brought me along for the ride, he said, keep him com­pa­ny while he had some busi­ness to tend to. I was the nav­i­ga­tor, the map read­er, and a bit of a mind read­er too.

I unfold­ed the map of Texas, a criss-cross of col­ored lines and a big patch of blue, the Gulf of Mex­i­co and a bunch of bor­der towns hang­ing on the Rio Grande. Boyd State Prison was a click west of Fair­field, halfway between Hous­ton and Dal­las if you were com­ing up that way. Four hun­dred miles south­west of Shreve­port, by way of Dal­las, the way we were com­ing, and we still had to fight through Big D, almost a hun­dred miles away. My thumb was on Fair­field, or close enough, my mid­dle fin­ger plant­ed on where I thought we were.

I looked up. Into the fat bar­rel of Danny’s .45 Colt 1911. He ain’t going to try dri­ving and shoot­ing dri­ving sev­en­ty five miles an hour with an armadil­lo feet up two miles back.

Just seein’ if you were awake there.” Dan­ny laugh­ing, his teeth yel­low, lips crack­ing. “No big ideas now, hear?” he said.

Ideas, I had plen­ty. Ideas of what to do with the mon­ey. Ideas that Dan­ny Math­er knew noth­ing about.

I know a car wash in Dal­las,” I said. “Biki­ni Girls rub your car nice and smooth and you dri­ve off smelling all good. Stop and get some beer, clean this trap.”

Clean car’s a sign of a sick mind,” Dan­ny said.

God con­jured up ‘sick mind’ when he took a look at us, I thought. We were cre­at­ed long after God thought it all up. I knew that.

Dal­las com­ing up soon?”

Uh huh.”

You ever shoot a guy in the back?” Dan­ny pulled his cap down low when he said it.

In the back? You mean, like when he’s walk­ing away from you?”

No, shit face, in the fuckin’ back yard. The back room. Jesus Christ.”

No. Not any­thing alive.” Dan­ny start­ed a rant that last­ed all the way around Dal­las on I-635 north, around the tip of town through Mesquite, out­skirts of Gar­land and Uni­ver­si­ty Park and Richard­son and Car­roll­ton where we stopped for gas and filled up with lead­ed high octane. When we got back in the car Dan­ny weighed in again, shift­ing gears.

Not count­ing road kill, name your best shot, ever. Num­ber one, dead to rights kill.”

A big Buck. Up in Mon­tana. 30–06 car­tridge ripped the gut, put him down on the spot.”

Yeah? How far out?”

Two hun­dred, two hun­dred fifty yards.”


I hunt alone.”

You hunt alone.”

Used to think no one want­ed to go with me ‘cause I get up around 2:00 AM, long before I’m up in the short grass hills and into the woods. I fig­ured no one want­ed to go with me because I’m always tak­ing the shots, get­ting there first and stuff.”

You fig­ure Stryker’s got any­body on the inside?”

I told you.”

Tell me again.” The Cad­dy had a lit­tle shake in the pas­sen­ger door pan­el down where the win­dow was rat­tling.

The way I remem­ber it, he’s got a cou­ple lif­ers in his cir­cle. They know guys on the out­side who know guys, that kind of stuff. He’s got enough to pay off any­one he thinks a threat.”

And you heard that from who?”

You know, I’m not real good with names.”

You’re not real good at a whole lot, are you?”

Crack a bull’s hide at two hun­dred yards.”

Yeah, you be good at that. Might be good at drinkin’ beer. Screwin’ low life Mex­i­can chicks. Good things come in small pack­ages and you most def­i­nite­ly might prob­a­bly have a very small pack­age.”

Texas Hold ‘Em, I walked away with thir­ty sev­en hun­dred after an hour and half. I flopped a pair of kings, best hand I had and that was that. And don’t talk that way about Mex­i­can girls.”

Squeal and deal.”

About that time we were ten miles from Boyd State. Bar­be­cue joints and body shops lined the high­way off the Inter­state and when I asked Dan­ny if we want­ed to stop for some ribs he said ‘We?’ like some kind of sar­casm was in order. He gave the Cad­dy more gas and my stom­ach growled, my blood sug­ar low. The smell of mesquite and roast­ing pork lin­gered and I popped some chew­ing gum but didn’t offer any to Dan­ny. Stryk­er. That dude was leg­endary in these parts. For­mer minor league pitch­er and an orig­i­nal investor in the poul­try pack­ing plant that employed close to sev­en hun­dred folks, when it was going full steam, and then, some­how, the sto­ry went, the mon­ey van­ished. Stryk­er was found laid up in a motel with a cou­ple of guys he said were his accoun­tants and when police checked, they weren’t on anybody’s pay­roll. Stryk­er went down on three counts of embez­zle­ment, and I nev­er could fig­ure how you could be caught for embez­zling mon­ey from your own com­pa­ny. The mon­ey is yours in the first place, no? Stryk­er plead not guilty, six mil­lion in com­pa­ny funds dis­ap­peared, and Stryk­er was in for twen­ty. He was sev­en­ty three years old now. That gave him anoth­er 18 years to go and he’d be an even 90 years old. (My math’s not too good) That left a cou­ple of still unan­swered ques­tions, in my mind. We were three miles from the prison.

How come you’re the only one who thinks Stryk­er owes you mon­ey?” I said. “I mean, the com­pa­ny 401k stock I know went south, but what about the oth­er work­ers?”

Dan­ny looked at me for a moment, and turned back to the road. A bill­board flew by adver­tised the upcom­ing Texas Rangers sea­son tick­et plan if you liked base­ball in the bak­ing oven of Texas sum­mer. I didn’t.

Because,” Dan­ny said, “tech­ni­cal­ly, Stryk­er nev­er declared bank­rupt­cy. Which means he stills has lia­bil­i­ties. They don’t go away. The union nego­ti­at­ed a fixed amount of the con­tri­bu­tion, and just because he’s in prison, he’s not absolved of those debts.”

Absolved meant some­thing I wasn’t real­ly up on. But I knew mon­ey laun­der­ing. Done a lit­tle myself, when I had trans­ac­tions need­ing to be hid­den. Small time stuff. Pho­ny auto­graphed base­balls. Coun­ter­feit foot­ball jer­seys signed by me, ‘Emmit Smith’, ‘Troy Aik­man’, swap-meet shit guys hung in their game rooms, sold out of the back of a pick­up.

Like the Swiss bank account thing?” I said.

Or laun­dered through a big ranch in Mon­tana with one of his fat-cat cat­tle baron bud­dies. Throw a few mil­lion at a fic­ti­tious ranch nobody checks on, you got your­self a safe haven. Bank­ing, dude. It’s how the rich get rich­er.”

The sign into the prison looked as non­de­script as an announce­ment for a bake sale or a com­pa­ny Christ­mas par­ty, only a lot more fine print. A low paint­ed white brick bor­der and chap­ar­ral bush­es marked the entrance.

We parked behind the bas­ket­ball court in a fenced tar­mac pen guard­ed by three barbed wire fences and a tow­er with a bull in a wide-brim hat hold­ing a scat­ter gun. Inmates were shoot­ing hoops, wear­ing dark blue pants and lighter blue long sleeved shirts, sleeves rolled up to expose mas­sive iron-pumped arms and prison tats with a fresh shine from the lotion they applied to keep the skin moist and lubed. The iron hoop clanked, the boink-boink of the ball bounc­ing off rough asphalt. A cou­ple of men were smok­ing and watch­ing. They all saw us get­ting out of the Cad­dy and straight­en­ing our shirts that were wrin­kled and sweat-soaked and messy. I won­dered if twen­ty years in the joint was worth it to get out at 90, or 80 for good behav­ior or what­ev­er they call it when you wash dish­es real good or swab the men’s room floor like you mean it.

Going through security—first a ques­tion­naire ask­ing for names, address­es and that kind of thing, two brief inter­views with burly guards with fat auto­mat­ic pis­tols strapped to Sam Browne belts and cuffs, pep­per spray and batons pok­ing down across their butts like tails—I con­sid­ered the trade-off again. Twen­ty years in a medi­um secu­ri­ty state facil­i­ty for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of get­ting out with a few mil­lion. Bet­ter than work­ing as a grave yard shift poul­try pack­er wear­ing plas­tic gloves and a show­er cap for a few years like I did. Dan­ny was a lead, not doing much on that mid­night-to-eight shift except flirt with Mex­i­can girls and order take-out from an all night Thai place. I was in charge of dis­pos­ing scrap. That’s what they called the head and feet and the entrails. Scrap. Crap with an ‘S’. They went in a bin that cooked in a broth of veg­etable juices and went out in a truck that emp­tied the con­tents at a cou­ple of cat food plants up the road. Gro­cery shop­ping one day, I was exam­in­ing the con­tents of can of Kit­ty Pride, try­ing to find out if maybe this par­tic­u­lar can had any­thing I’d had a hand in.

I end­ed up los­ing almost $6000.00 in my 401k pro­gram and I didn’t qual­i­fy for the match­ing grant, they’d said, even for a sup­posed valu­able employ­ee like me. That was what they called the guys who went a year with­out an acci­dent. A valu­able employ­ee. If you chopped your fin­ger off or got a nose bleed in the vat you were some­what less valu­able. But the six grand was gone. And Dan­ny said we’d get it all back. And it was about to start, right now.

The vis­it­ing room was emp­ty, the glass par­ti­tion smudged with fin­ger­prints where peo­ple put their hands up and imag­ine they’re touch­ing their loved ones and read­ing for­lorn mes­sages through a six inch Plex­i­glas plate that dis­tort­ed the light and made the per­son on the oth­er side look pale. I wait­ed, sit­ting in the fold­ing met­al chair next to Dan­ny Wade, won­der­ing how this was going to play. Stryk­er, I’d remem­bered, had a daugh­ter, who must be in her six­ties now, and a deceased wife. He was tall and thin with gray hair, not much though. That’s what I remem­bered.

The door opened on the oth­er side of the glass par­ti­tion and an arm motioned through the open­ing. The bel­ly pro­trud­ing on the hugest black man I’d ever seen was the first thing I noticed. Then his tat­toos, fad­ing blue and black against his dark smooth skin that stretched over a pair of thick hard­ened arms. He sat. Look­ing at us. Then he spoke.

You the guy who sends the let­ters?”

Dan­ny nod­ded. He motioned to me. “My friend, Mack Gant. I’m Fred Solomon. You’re the Bat Boy, right?”

The huge man nod­ded his head and light glint­ed off his fore­head and dome, shaved smooth and shiny as a bowl­ing ball.

We passed on all those rib joints com­ing in here, didn’t we Mack?” Dan­ny. Act­ing like he was some guy named Fred, call­ing me Mack, a name of a guy I knew who stole a crate of Dal­las Cow­boys jer­seys and got bust­ed not a mile from the sta­di­um and didn’t even know who Michael Irvin was.

Dan­ny went on. “See, we real sen­si­tive to com­ing in here drip­ping with sauce and lick­ing our fin­gers. Wouldn’t be right. How’s the food in the joint? You said you worked in the com­mis­ary.”

Pete frowned with his eyes, ran thick fin­gers over his dome, brought his hands togeth­er on the formi­ca counter.

Since you ain’t kin,” Bat Boy said, “you got about five min­utes. Cin­co min­u­tos. Food prep talk ain’t gonna cut it, you know what I mean.”

Christ­mas comes once a year.” Dan­ny sound­ed like he had come kind of code going, some­thing I couldn’t ful­ly appre­ci­ate. “This hol­i­day sea­son, you all set to do your shop­ping? And how ‘bout them Cow­boys?”

Fuckin’ Cow­boys. Give me those old boys, Dandy Don, Staubach. Men. Know what I’m sayin’?”

It looked like Dan­ny did know what he was sayin’. They stared at each oth­er, Dan­ny work­ing his hands into a knot, Bat Boy mov­ing his lips around teeth that need­ed work, and when Dan­ny leaned towards the Plex­i­glas his breath fogged it a lit­tle bit and he drew a cir­cle in the frost with his fin­ger and put an X through it and wiped it off with his sleeve.

Push­ing his fold­ing met­al chair away from the counter, the huge black man stood up, sig­nal­ing that the vis­it was con­clud­ed. The door swung open, he walked out and the door clanked shut. The light on the oth­er side of the Plex­i­glas shut off, leav­ing us look­ing at a dark­ened slot of well-guard­ed prison space as if the huge pres­ence of the Bat Boy, now gone, left a void of mat­ter, a black hole of no spe­cif­ic grav­i­ty at all.

Dude, you got me in the mood for some of that road bar­be­cue,” I said.

Did I?” In the thin flu­o­res­cent light there were lit­tle hairs stick­ing out every which way on his eye­brows. “Let’s get out of here.”

On the way out the guards were grim faced, nobody say­ing ‘Have a nice day’, or ‘Y’all come back and see us’, the pho­ny, folksy say­ings peo­ple in the south laid on you when you were leav­ing. They looked at their watch­es, check­ing the time, count­ing min­utes and hours until their shifts were over and they could go home. We were in the Cadil­lac on our way out through the entrance with the white paint­ed brick bor­der, Dan­ny men­tioned that Bat Boy had a thir­ty year sen­tence for armed rob­bery, his fourth con­vic­tion, and he wasn’t going home any­time soon.


Ten miles out­side of town, there weren’t any free­ways or major state high­ways, and Dan­ny stopped at a one sto­ry motel that eased back about a hun­dred yards from the road in two long rows of pale green rooms sep­a­rat­ed by a lawn and a pool, a neon sign out front say­ing the place was called the Loco Road and we checked in. Two rooms. Dan­ny want­ed to take a show­er so I went out to the pool and count­ed dead crick­ets float­ing on the water.

An hour lat­er it was still over 95 F and we sat out­side at pic­nic tables behind a take-out stand and ate com­bo plates of pork spare ribs and brisket and wiped up the sweet brown sauce with white bread that came wrapped in foil, piled up the plas­tic forks and knives over the bones and cov­ered it all with paper nap­kins to keep the flies off. Our paper cups were half-full of Lone Star beer and we stared at the sun set­ting out over the Texas plain in a nice soft, orange glow, that meant heat would hold up until mid­night, at least. Dan­ny start­ed talk­ing.

It’s the myth of the Amer­i­can west,” he said, tak­ing a swal­low of beer and putting the cup down. “White men set­tling this coun­try, cow­boys and Indi­ans, that John Wayne thing, guns going off and shoot-outs. Not so much told about the peo­ple get­ting robbed, towns get­ting loot­ed, what hap­pens to folks in those towns who get left behind with no mon­ey.”

I just lis­tened.

Dan­ny said “So Stryk­er goes to prison, but what hap­pens to the peo­ple he ripped off?”

The Bat Boy. You cor­re­spond­ed with him?”

If I tell you, then you know some­thing, right?”

The cir­cle on the win­dow with the X. Your sig­nal?”

He nod­ded out towards the emp­ty Texas plain.

When that big elk went down I was talk­ing about,” I said, “no one saw it but me. That was it, the last one I ever took.” I point­ed to the front of the take-out shack. “You want some cob­bler or some­thing?” Dan­ny shook his head, so I kept talk­ing. “Big old Buck prob­a­bly had good years out there on his land. Fight off a few stags, a Buck gets his way with his herd.”

I love it when you try to make sense.”

That feel­ing I had to do it again? It nev­er hap­pened like I thought it would. One time, that was all.”

One for you, one for the boo­gie man.”

No. Not like that. I don’t believe there’s a big score­board up there, keep­ing track of what’s going on down here. Don’t believe it hap­pens like that.”

That’s why you’re a Bap­tist and not Catholic. Every­thing mat­ters. Every­thing you do. Why’d they invent con­fes­sion? ‘Father I shot an elk but I won’t do it again. Say five Hail Mary’s and don’t let the door hit you in the ass’.” Dan­ny laughed. He fin­ished his Lone Star and spit out of the cor­ner of his mouth. “I’m going to turn in. Pick up a paper in the morn­ing. Tell me the head­lines.” Dan­ny got up.

Every­thing mat­ters?” I said

Danny’s hands were on his hips, his back to me.

When you were shop stew­ard.” I said. “Did that mat­ter?”

They vot­ed me in for that.”

But did it mat­ter. What you did, or what you didn’t do, did it mat­ter? To you? To any­body?”

She was Mex­i­can, man. In a fuck­ing poul­try plant.”

I looked at Dan­ny, wait­ing as long as I could before I was going to have to ask him again. He raised his eyes. He had his chin up like he was strik­ing a pose.

You like Mex­i­can girls,” he said. “Don’t you? No big deal, a one night stand’s as good as anoth­er.”

You were the shop stew­ard, vot­ed in as shop stew­ard to look after things. Some­one peo­ple depend on. It was the grave­yard shift.”

He was right in front of me now, close enough I could smell Lone Star and see sticky sauce hold­ing on his lip. I stood right up to him.

Why do you think we’re here?” he said. “Why do you think we’re doing this?”

You’re doing it. And I think you’re doing it for your­self.”

Yeah, you got what they call great vision­ary per­spec­tive.”


Lat­er, he’d turned the lights off in his room and I went out­side to the dark pool reflect­ing head­light glare from a car crunch­ing into the grav­el lot. Light from the ‘Loco Road’ sign flick­ered and buzzed with the crick­ets and mos­qui­toes with a ner­vous hov­er­ing ener­gy. I tried to think.

What­ev­er Danny’s plan was, it was going on in a prison, and that, I knew, made it sub­ject to all kinds of unknown ele­ments and forces. And to me, Dan­ny had a $400,000 prob­lem with his myth­ic view and his hero­ic place in the his­to­ry.

I went to my room and pulled out the portable police scan­ner radio, closed the door and went back to the met­al lawn chair by the pool. I put it on low, plugged in an ear­phone and lis­tened to a dis­patch­er and a cou­ple of offi­cers in squad cars in the park­ing lot of an all night donut shop. I put the radio on my stom­ach and leaned back in the chair and watched the reflec­tion of the Loco Road sign in the pool. Dan­ny had insist­ed on pay­ing for one only night. The scan­ner was qui­et, the air set­tling, and then a siren sound­ed in the dis­tance, a low wail­ing horn for ten sec­onds, fol­lowed by coy­otes yip­ping and scream­ing. The scan­ner crack­led and the dis­patch­er was call­ing all units, prob­a­bly a half dozen patrol cars on the all-night shift and they were being sum­moned, called, told to report one-by-one and get over to the prison fast and wait for fur­ther instruc­tions. The night world was in motion.

The top draw­er of the night­stand in my room slid open and I turned the night light on at the same time, feel­ing the Glock 19, check­ing the mag­a­zine and slip­ping the gun inside my waist­band, went out and closed the door.

Dan­ny answered after a half minute of knock­ing and call­ing out his name as low as I could. He stood in the dark door­way, noth­ing but his under­wear.

What the fuck do you want?” His hair was all over the place and when he saw I had a gun he pulled back from the door. I went in, closed the door and clicked on the ceil­ing light from the switch next to the door. I set the chain.

Dan­ny, sit down.

The fuck you doin, man?

Give me your cell phone.”

I asked you a ques­tion.” He had his hands spread out halfway like maybe he was think­ing he could make a move and stop what was hap­pen­ing.

I said give me the phone.”

Use the desk phone.”

And the keys to the Cad­dy.”

Oh, you’re not seri­ous, dude. This ain’t going down like this. You think I don’t have back­up?”

Not here you don’t. You give me the phone and the keys or it gets messy, right now. I’m just along for the ride, right? Cou­ple of days in Texas, doing a lit­tle job? That’s what you said. Lit­tle job with an accom­plice you can pin the whole thing on if it goes down wrong.”

I’m rep­re­sent­ing the union’s mon­ey that was stolen. It gets paid back this way, that’s what this is. Put the gun down. We’ll go over the details again, you dumb shit.” He start­ed to move his hands a bit. The Colt was most like­ly pret­ty near him, like he was some kind of real pro with right­eous plans to save people’s mon­ey, some­thing that would sound good in a state­ment if we’d get caught. Two dumb red­necks try­ing to do the right thing. If he’d just laughed once, twice, instead of say­ing things to me that made me think he thought I was a crack­er along for a joy ride with noth­ing to offer except hand­ing him beer. Sit there while he drew fog­gy Xs on Plex­i­glas and talk­ing in pre-arranged code so I wouldn’t know the whole deal, enough to sound like it might have been my idea.

Put your hands down,” I said. “Lace your fin­gers togeth­er and put your hands in your lap where I can see them. My fin­gers moved along the trig­ger. NOWDO IT NOW.” He did, his hands fold­ed on his navy blue box­ers like he was pray­ing, shoul­ders slumped and his chin fell a bit, his eyes still on mine.

Clean tow­els were piled up on the chrome rack out­side the bath­room and I walked back­wards with the gun on Dan­ny, pulled some tow­els down. I slid them with my feet until they were next to the bed. I grabbed the chair at the small desk into posi­tion where I could sit, pull the tow­els up and still hold the gun. The tele­vi­sion was behind me too and I punched on the pow­er until a chan­nel came on with an infomer­cial for liq­uid clean­er that worked on your car and even your dog and the guy was laugh­ing and the girl gave an 800 num­ber. Order Now!

The tow­el knot tight­ened up okay, I cinched it real well and told Dan­ny to hold his hands above his head. Dan­ny protest­ed and the girl on the tele­vi­sion was ask­ing the fel­la if he’d actu­al­ly washed a dog and he said ‘He loved it! You’ll love it too!, sound­ing like he and the girl had that tele­vi­sion ban­ter just on the edge of late night good taste. I tied Danny’s his hands with the tow­els and used the long left­over cloth to wrap around his mouth. The tow­el didn’t real­ly have any way to tie over his eyes so I left it dan­gling behind his head. I start­ed with the bed­side draw­ers, both sides, look­ing for the Colt. I searched his overnight bag and I was think­ing I was going to have to turn my back on him, and it was there, in the dress­er, under a pair of socks that he’d tak­en off that had that damp­ness that stays until you wash them. I checked the receiv­er and there was a bul­let in the cham­ber. The mag­a­zine was full, eight rounds of .45 cal­iber.

Cell phone’s in the car.” He had a smirk on his face.

The Colt was well-bal­anced and I put it in my front right pock­et.

Get up slow,” I said, “and stand right there.”

It was after mid­night, sirens wail­ing all over town and it was a chance, sure, but the car was only thir­ty yards away. All we need­ed to do was get to the car. The phone was the only way I fig­ured he’d have to get any infor­ma­tion, and if I was right, it would make a lot of my wast­ed years kind of fade to the back­ground.

Wait there,” I said. I cut off the plug from the floor lamp, then I cut the cord at the base of the lamp. It wrapped tight around his wrists, par­tial­ly hid­den by the tow­els.

We made it to the car with­out any­one see­ing us that I noticed. I told him to get in the car and he did. The Glock pressed to his ear, Dan­ny point­ed his chin at the glove box and I thought at first, why would he keep the phone there? If he’d be get­ting a mes­sage from some­one, he’d want the phone close to him. I nev­er checked the glove box. I closed the Cad­dy door and went to his room and gave myself five min­utes to search for the phone. Then I had an idea. The desk phone. Danny’s phone would ring if I called the num­ber from the desk phone and then I’d know where it was if it rang in the room. But desk phones keep records of num­bers that are called.

Five min­utes. I didn’t have the phone. Out­side, the Loco Road sign was off and the pool was smooth like a black slab of Onyx. The Cad­dy door was open, and Dan­ny was gone. The keys were in my pock­et. The sirens were still wail­ing and I put the scan­ner ear piece in and heard the dis­patch­ers chat­ter­ing with the patrol cars, voic­es chirp­ing in, Ten Four, Ten Eight, Ten Sev­en, snap­ping off radio codes, check­ing in and out of the police fre­quen­cy.

Offi­cers in route…SWAT team engaged… ETA—— ten min­utes!

Anoth­er voice checked in, right behind me.

Give me that gun.” Danny’s voice. Before I turned around, there was a thought of whether he’d been able to get the tow­el untied, make it look like he’d just got­ten out of the pool, or maybe he was stand­ing with his hands tied behind his back with white tow­els drag­ging behind his ass like a fuck­ing Sheikh look­ing for his camel. And then it came to me, where the phone was, before I turned around and played right into his hands. Because he had the phone. He had to.

Think I didn’t bring a back­up gun?” he said. “The laser dot’s on your skull.”

With an ear­ful of 10–7 10–8 dis­patch-speak radio ten­sion build­ing on what had to be a prison riot to get mon­ey from a con­vict­ed man who nev­er said Damn, I’m real­ly sor­ry y’all, I fucked up, here’s all your mon­ey back, Danny’s phone rang. No fan­cy ring tone, Danny’s phone tin­kled with a tonal qual­i­ty that belied coy­otes and ten codes and the wail­ing honk­ing siren. The phone con­tin­ued to jin­gle and I didn’t move.

His voice was soft. “Yeah?”

Drop and roll, that’s what they teach you for a rea­son. The grass was dry and soft to absorb my body when I hit and when I turned with the Glock point­ed, Dan­ny was run­ning away and I knew he didn’t have any back­up gun. The phone was my only chance. Dan­ny would rat me out the moment any heat came his way and talk­ing my way out of things wasn’t my spe­cial­ty. With sirens wail­ing and the prison going into lock­down, the phone would be his only way of get­ting infor­ma­tion. Text, a code, a voice mes­sage, some­thing on that smart phone had the loca­tion of what Dan­ny was look­ing for. Stryker’s mon­ey. Crouch­ing behind a line of shrubs along­side the cement pool apron in the dark­ness, I swung the Glock on a low arc. A man wear­ing under­wear and his hands tied couldn’t get far, but if he’d got­ten his hands free or thrown on a shirt, he might move around the motel grounds with­out attract­ing much atten­tion. I had the key to his room, so he couldn’t go back there. So I wait­ed, and lis­tened, track­ing the motel lot with the gun at full arm’s length, think­ing Dan­ny had to make a phys­i­cal move, some­time. The air had hit bot­tom, the tem­per­a­ture at its low point and the dawn­ing day would heat up soon. I got com­fort­able in a crouch track­ing the gun in a 180 degree arc, turn­ing to check my back. No oth­er move­ment, no sounds, sirens off. With the ear­piece stuck in my ear I lis­tened to a dis­patch­er squawk­ing offi­cers loca­tions, bark­ing mes­sages and codes to squad cars and back­up teams, a SWAT team stand­ing by for a ‘Go’ com­mand and I imag­ined auto­mat­ic rifles trained on unknown tar­gets, squint­ing through night vision scopes for shim­mer­ing puls­ing ghosts, green­ish and grainy. The infrared glare of human body heat.

My mem­o­ry drift­ed, back to grim grave­yard shifts pack­ing poul­try.

Stryk­er took a tour of the plant at night one time just after mid­night. His hair grey and jelled, he kept look­ing at his watch, and I’d thought he want­ed to get home and catch a late movie or wake up his wife, but I hat­ed to attribute that qual­i­ty to the old man, that he might be like the rest of us and want a quick­ie before turn­ing in. He was on parade that night, smil­ing at the Lati­nas on the con­vey­er belt—Stryker prid­ed him­self on the fact that it was a clean, san­i­tary place for chick­ens to come to rest—and in the can­ning depart­ment, where steam guns went full blast dur­ing break and cleansed the place like a germ war­fare lab­o­ra­to­ry, he found, the sto­ry went, a dead rat under a young woman’s purse. What he was doing look­ing under a woman’s purse? He’s said his assis­tant spot­ted it, but I hadn’t seen any­one with him. A san­i­ta­tion vio­la­tion, Stryk­er claimed. He took the woman into his office and offered her a sim­ple solu­tion. A blow job was the only sen­si­ble thing, he’d been said to say, or she’d not only be fired, he’d have her removed from the union. She’d nev­er work in the indus­try again. A ‘rules vio­la­tion’. Can­nery Work­ers Local 62 shop stew­ard Dan­ny Math­er stood by and said noth­ing. That’s what the woman had told some co-work­ers, that Dan­ny had a smile on his face when she went to her knees and did what she was told to keep her damn job. She filed a griev­ance. It was dis­missed before it even got to the union griev­ance com­mit­tee. I’d men­tioned it to Dan­ny once. I asked him if what was being said was true, that he stood by and watched the woman lick Styker’s balls in order to feed her chil­dren. Dan­ny said I had some awak­en­ing to go through. An awak­en­ing, he said, to bet­ter under­stand the way the world worked, in all its man­i­fes­ta­tions, and a bunch of gob­bledy-bull­shit that I told him I was ashamed to hear him say. After lunch break, I was out on the park­ing lot when the woman came out who’d been sum­moned to Stryker’s office, going out to her car, her shift half done, but her career fin­ished, and I tried to talk to her. She kept on walk­ing, and I heard her cry­ing and talk­ing qui­et­ly on her cell phone. I felt so bad for her I tried to call her lat­er that day but her phone nev­er picked up and she was gone. Dan­ny won anoth­er vote for shop stew­ard the next month or so and the issue nev­er got dis­cussed. I felt like I was car­ry­ing some kind of bur­den I couldn’t shake.

Pur­ple bloomed on the hori­zon now and twen­ty yards away on the grass, I saw some­thing. It was the white tow­el, and I flexed and stretched my legs, dis­patch qui­et near five min­utes by then. The light switched on at the motel office. Two fig­ures, one at the counter, the clerk wip­ing his eyes and point­ing to the hall­way. Dan­ny walked out under the shad­ows of the over­hang towards the room. In his box­er shorts, hold­ing some­thing in his hand. He passed the red white and blue light of the Pep­si machine, stop­ping fur­ther down the walk way at the door. He turned a key, went into the room.

I made it to the machine and had a Pep­si clunk­ing down the chute into my hands in under thir­ty sec­onds. I cut a hole about an inch square on the bot­tom with my knife and poured a lit­tle bit out, and held the can so it wouldn’t leak any more Pep­si. I need­ed what was left.

Dan­ny would be get­ting some clothes, won­der­ing how he’d get the Cad­dy going, but I had a moment, a moment of sur­prise, and a most­ly full can of Pep­si. The door to his room unlocked and I held the door closed, lis­ten­ing, and when I heard the show­er, it was time to move in. He was hum­ming, some­thing bluesy, and then the show­er went off and the slid­ing door opened, and I moved on him, hold­ing the Pep­si can so I could plug the end with the Colt and when he saw me he smirked and dropped the tow­el like I was sup­posed to get hor­ri­fied that a wet man would be stand­ing naked in front of me with a wicked grin.

You remem­ber her name?” I said.

You talkin’ shit, man. Way over your head.”

Keep your hands in front of you.”

I’ll cut you in. You think I’m not gonna take care of you?”

There’s two ques­tions. Do you remem­ber her name?”

This about you and the Mex­i­can girl?”

These are my ques­tions. I’m along for the ride, remem­ber?”

Who’s name?”

Wrong answer. Next ques­tion. You can say you’re sor­ry. Say you have some regrets, remorse.”

That’s not even a ques­tion.”

It’s close enough for you to suck your last chick­en wing.”

I don’t look back man, nev­er have. How much are we talk­ing about here? Ten grand? Make it twen­ty.”

Her name was Juani­ta Ben­itez.”

She don’t mean noth­in.”

Yes, she does. She means this.” The .45 burped through the Pep­si with a wet pop, not much more than a truck drop­ping a down­shift on the high­way. Dan­ny had a hole in his fore­head and a sil­ly grin on his face, cher­ry-col­ored mist and a whole bunch of cordite-blast­ed Pep­si slid­ing down the glass show­er door and after I wiped the gun down I laid the Colt on the bath­room tile, turned and went out the door and clicked it shut with the ‘Do Not Dis­turb’ plac­ard swing­ing on the knob. The cell phone had an orange glow, like a palm-sized night light.

Wip­ing down my room didn’t take much time, and the Cad­dy let out a groan at first when I fired it up, but its pow­er fed off high octane and ran like hell out onto the pave­ment and out past the prison where blink­ing lights and bea­cons and spot­lights were danc­ing around the grounds like a fire-dance luau on Waiki­ki. Danny’s cell phone was wink­ing again. The first mes­sage I’d picked up just after I turned on the Cad­dy was the one I’d expect­ed. Some­thing about ‘the to-go order ready for pickup…need deliv­ery instruc­tions’, some­thing to that affect, and I’d keyed in my phone num­ber, clicked a hap­py face on the text menu and this was the reply. The open road was flat, smooth and emp­ty, a rosy dawn ris­ing behind me, and I flipped open the cell phone to read the text.

Update account sta­tus; ready for deliv­ery. It’s hot in the kitchen.’ An over­pass was com­ing up and I pulled under the con­crete and stopped the Cad­dy so I could punch in a response. Link him up with a web­site I used some­times for trans­ac­tions I didn’t need peo­ple nos­ing around in. Pay-Pal, Visa, off the books stuff. Col­lectibles, a pass­port pho­to, things that could be done with­out a prob­lem, if you could get the mon­ey.

Bat Boy had to have a posi­tion in this whole thing, a kick­back, a pay­off, some­thing that had to be pre-arranged. Best place to get up on all that was about a hun­dred miles from where I was, so I drove out and up onto an old coun­ty two-lane road past graz­ing Angus cat­tle and hay bales like stacks of pink gold in ear­ly morn­ing light. The coun­try radio sta­tion was play­ing Way­lon Jen­nings, and then real sud­den the DJ broke in and said there was more break­ing news com­ing in, sent it over to a reporter on a phone say­ing he was live at the prison with an update.

The Cadil­lac had adjustable pow­er seats with a bunch of switch­es on the driver’s side so I angled the seat back and turned off the radio. Into the mar­velous Texas prairie I drove, where I wasn’t going to see anoth­er town for at least an hour.

A great day to dri­ve. It was going to be a hot one.


Kurt’s first nov­el, Split Deci­sion, details a des­per­ate hunt for an injured and miss­ing pro­fes­sion­al box­er, and is cur­rent­ly in agent-query mode. He’s a stu­dent in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia River­side MFA pro­gram in cre­ative writ­ing.

His work has appeared in NoHo>LA, Urban Liv­ing Mag­a­zine, Fried Chick­en and Cof­fee, and Sad​doBox​.com.

Kurt worked on-air as co-host for Inside Dodgers Base­ball seen on tele­vi­sion out­lets through­out South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Neva­da.

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