The third day on the run, they ditched a stolen pickup truck in the sprawling parking lot and then waited outside the doors of Nordstrom’s. Less than an hour later, they were turning out of Springtown Mall in a black Escalade.
He had picked out a well-dressed woman that was alone and it had paid off in spades. Mid-thirties at the most, looked twenty five, and she was from money.
It was a clear blue sky, sunny day but Meredith Browning turned on the windshield wipers when she used her turn signal.
“What’re you doin’ woman?” Arlen Watson was holding the gun low, resting it on the console between them. “Easy.”
“Sorry…I — I’m scared.” She fumbled with the control. The wipers went faster and the washer fluid misted before she finally got everything stopped.
In the backseat, Georgia was pawing through two shopping bags. “Oh, baby,” she said softly pulling out a scarf.
Arlen looked back at her, caught a look down Georgia’s loose fitting top and then drug his eyes back over to the driver. “There ain’t nothin’ to be scared about ma’am. Just need the car. We get out of town a ways and we’ll drop you off. Do what I tell you and everything’ll be fine.”
“Okay. Okay. Don’t hurt me.”
“Get over. Left lane, jump onto 20 west.” He looked into the side rear view, then straight ahead. “It’s comin’ up here now, 20 west.”
“Please. I’ll do whatever you say, take whatever you want,” Meredith’s voice was shaking as she took the interstate ramp. She started to cry. “Just let me go.”
“I will, I swear. Just keep driving.”
“Arlen, how far we goin’ before we drop her whiny ass off?” Georgia asked as she pulled out a sweater next and held it up. “Oh my, I do love this color.”
“Hush up back there girl” Arlen said while looking at the woman driving. His eyes traveled slow. Up and down, then up again. The sun dress, which was short to begin and had gotten his attention in the parking lot, was riding even higher now. A lot to look at there. Long, tanned legs.
Feeling his stare, Meredith glanced across the console to him. “She’s so young. Whatever has happened, or whatever you two have done, it's not too late.”
“You’re doing like eighty. Take her down a notch.” Arlen's look was straight ahead now.
“Oh, I’m old enough darlin’ and listen up, don’t you go talkin’ about me like I’m not even here.” Georgia’s voice from the back was now close, almost in Meredith’s ear.
“Let me help you both. I’ve been in trouble before myself.” Meredith's eyes in the rear view mirror went cold and blank, but for only a moment.
“Trouble?” A wild little giggle came from the rear as Georgia leaned back and shoved her feet into the driver seat. “Really? Like what hon’, staying up past your bedtime? Drank too much beer on prom night?” Another laugh. “You’re just a little princess. Have been all your life.”
“Don’t you go hushing me again Arlen Watson. Fair warnin’.”
He turned in his seat again and stared at his girlfriend. His jaw muscles were working overtime now. He'd had just about enough of this mouthy little whore.
Georgia went right back at it though, meeting Meredith’s eyes that were now big and soft again, in the mirror. “I bet your daddy had money and then you married into even more. Bet your husband is twenty years older’n you too. Ain’t that right, princess?”
Georgia got no answer, so she began to rifle through the expensive purse lying next to the shopping bags.
“Hey now…I just found cash money Arlen. Couple two, three hundred…wait now. Shit, close to four.”
And then, just like somebody threw a switch, the car fell into silence. Like it does sometimes when the mind takes over and the words stop coming. It was like that until for about forty five minutes.
After passing an old Dodge Ram pulling a flatbed full of everything that family owned, Arlen finally broke that silence. He pointed up ahead, “Comin' up here, about two miles more or so, take exit 18. There’s a closed Denny’s but pull in the lot anyway.”
Meredith did as she was told and started slowing to a stop in front of the deserted restaurant. Across the way, on the eastbound side, there was only a gas station and rest area. Nothing else.
“No, no, go on around back.”
“It’s gonna be fine ma’am. Pull around back, I just can’t let you out right here. Go on now.”
She circled around the building. Her hand was shaking as she put the car in park. “I have two young daughters.”
Arlen leaned over and pulled the keys out of the ignition. His hand brushed Meredith’s leg and stopped. He rubbed her knee and then slid slowly upward. “It's gonna be okay.” There was no time and he knew it, but damn.
Instead of giving in to it, he reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a roll of gray tape. Same tape he’d used on the stolen truck’s owner, but it was all for show this time. “Now, all I’m gonna do is tape you up.” He held the tape up to her as proof. “So, get out real slow and walk to the loading door over there.”
“Arlen, let me do her up. Nice and tight.” Georgia’s voice had gone hard and wicked. “Let me cinch that princess up good.”
“Hush, dammit. Stay put back there.”
Meredith got out slow, walked to the building and turned. Arlen had already stopped, about ten feet away with the gun raised.
“On your knees darlin'.” He motioned at the ground with the barrel.
She melted down, covered her mouth with one hand, the other held out to him.
“Please,” She said. “Oh please…don’t.” Her voice was just a whisper now.
Two quick shots cracked. Then a third. First one hit him square in the back and he barked a yell out. The next, hit him in the side as he turned. He staggered a step, his open mouth showing surprise. The gun slipped out of his hand and he went down hard. His body only jerked after the third shot hit him.
“I told that son of a bitch not to hush me again. Gave him fair warning.” Georgia said, walking past the body.
Meredith looked at the motionless Arlen and couldn't believe she was still alive. The shock was short lived though, her eyes that had been big and round with panic, narrowed. A hard look. She didn’t speak.
“‘Sides, he was fixin’ to kill you, not tape you. I ain’t no murderer like him. Least not some dang execution like that.” Georgia looked at the Lady Smith .38 special in her hand. “Lucky for you, I found this pretty little gun in your purse. Didn't even know they made a girls gun like this. My last name is Smith too. Guess it was just meant to be.”
Behind Georgia, the sky in the west had started to darken up and a low, far off rumble of thunder rolled over them. Not a spit of wind. Calm. She turned and then looked back at Meredith. “I do like a good storm. I like that tense kinda feeling you know. Something badass coming. All that.”
They stared at each other for a moment more and then Georgia Smith put her hands on her hips. She grinned big and said, “Well hell, ain’t you gonna thank me or nothin’?”
Meredith stood up slow, her eyes clicked over to where Arlen was laying in a small but growing pool of dark blood. She still didn’t speak but her mind was working.
“Cat got your tongue, sugar? I'll admit, that was a close call.”
“I…thank…” The words just weren't coming out right and all Meredith could do was shake her head. Her eyes teared up.
“All right then, its okay. Let’s go sis, we gotta put some miles in between us and ol’ Arlen here. We’ll head south now instead of west. Hell, maybe even Mexico huh? You and me. We can have us some girl talk as we go, plus I can’t drive without insurance right?” Georgia's smile looked forced now and her eyes were just a little too bright, too jumpy.
Meredith stared at that young face and saw madness. She grinned weakly and nodded back at the girl.
Lightning zigzagged in the distance. A breeze picked up out of nowhere with the scent of rain strong. Much cooler air, cold almost, signaled the oncoming storm. Meredith hadn’t felt like this for a long time. Not since Riley Lloyd, not since that moonless night, on a bank of the Big Sandy. It seemed a long, long time ago but it really wasn't. Not long at all.
As they walked back to the car with Georgia leading the way, Meredith smoothly reached down and swept up Arlen's gun with a practiced hand. She closed the space between them and two steps from the car she stopped and aimed.
Georgia sensed something then, firming her grip on the Lady Smith. She started to turn but it was far too late. There was only a split second to realize her final and fatal mistake, in a short bitter life that had been full of them.
Meredith Browning was no princess.
Jim Wilsky is a crime fiction writer. He is the co-author of a three book series; Blood on Blood, Queen of Diamonds and Closing the Circle. He’s finishing up a new book that will be coming out soon, as well as searching for a publisher for a collection of his short stories.
His short story work has appeared in some of the most respected online magazines such as: Shotgun Honey, Beat To A Pulp, All Due Respect, Yellow Mama, The Big Adiós, A Twist of Noir, Rose & Thorn Journal, Pulp Metal, Thrillers Killers & Chillers, Plots With Guns, Flash Bang Mysteries, A Twist of Noir and others. He has contributed stories in several published anthologies, including All Due Respect, Kwik Krimes and Both Barrels. He resides in Texas, supported and strengthened by a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters.