The Colonel, fiction by Kurt Taylor

A hun­dred times the Colonel had walked into Rip’s bar­ber shop and nobody had ever stared at him until now. The Colonel felt the tat­tooed kid’s eyes track­ing him as he walked to the chair wear­ing his Army uniform.the

Rip sat the Colonel in the chair and fas­tened the cape over the medals and pressed blue cloth.

Haven’t seen you in uni­form in a while,” Rip said. He ruf­fled the Colonel’s hair with his fin­gers, tak­ing scis­sors and a comb from the counter under the mirror.

Reserves. Guys try­ing to remem­ber their best days,” the Colonel said.
Rip pulled the comb up the left side and worked the scis­sors around the Colonel’s ear.

Your best day, you weren’t even in uni­form,” Rip said, nudg­ing the Colonel’s head to the right.

These days,” the Colonel said, “Reserves is like a social club. Old roost­ers drink­ing cof­fee and for­get­ting the pain.”

The punk kid said some­thing into his cell phone, talk­ing about some mil­i­tary freak just walk­ing in. The Colonel didn’t like that tone, sneer­ing as he said it while he looked the Colonel in the eye.

The Colonel rose and faced the tat­tooed kid. The ink was dark and fresh on the winged ser­pents and snakes coil­ing from his arms to his neck.

Keep your mouth shut when I’m in the shop,” the Colonel said. The kid had no reac­tion. “Respect the uni­form.” The Colonel thought the kid had the dead eyes of a boy who didn’t care much about anything.

The Army fought for your free­dom and men died in far­away jun­gle swamps and drowned and sank in the mid­dle of the Pacific.”

The kid didn’t blink, star­ing at the Colonel. Drugs, the Colonel fig­ured. Some kind of indif­fer­ence that sep­a­rat­ed youth from the tor­tu­ous process of grow­ing up, and he fought the urge to slap the kid but final­ly got back in the chair.

Rip put the cape back on, trimmed the sides and lay­ered a lit­tle on the top even though there wasn’t much hair up there. Rip put the scis­sors away and switched on the elec­tric clippers.

Trim up that neck, and a lit­tle men­thol after shave.” Rip buzzed the Colonel’s neck and fin­ished up with the comb and some tonic.

The Colonel rose and slipped a twen­ty into Rip’s hands and wait­ed for the kid to go sit in the chair. The kid lin­gered but the Colonel stood there. The punk kid climbed into the chair. The Colonel stood to the side of the kid.

You want to talk about wars?” the punk said. “What kind? Gang wars?” One side of his mouth curled into an ugly sneer. The Colonel thought about hit­ting him in the face, knuck­les on chin.

Don’t ever com­pare a gang to the Unit­ed States Army,” the Colonel said.
The kid rose and moved toward the Colonel, stand­ing right in front of him.
“Get near me again, I fuck­ing blast you,” the kid said. “Come up when you’re not look­ing. Pop your crack­er ass.”

The Colonel didn’t respond well to threats, nev­er had, and he said, “Come on, you scum,” and grabbed a pair of scis­sors from the blue jar of alco­hol and pressed the sharp point against the punk’s tat­tooed neck until Rip yelled and grabbed his arm and made him drop the scissors.

For days after­ward the con­fronta­tion kept the Colonel up at night replay­ing how the argu­ment went beyond any­thing he’d imag­ined it would be.

Two weeks lat­er the Colonel sat in the bar­ber chair under the cape ask­ing Rip for a new hair style, Rip clank­ing scis­sors in the ster­il­iz­ing bath.

Rip thumbed through a men’s mag­a­zine, found a pho­to and showed it to the Colonel.

The fuck is that?” the Colonel said, stab­bing a fat fin­ger at the picture.

Some­thin’ new.”

Dude’s twen­ty years old.”

Ain’t a lot­ta choic­es with hair like you got.”

One time I’m try­ing for a dif­fer­ent look and you flash some punk with a fade and a tat.”

Come on,” Rip said. “Let’s go with the usu­al. Lit­tle talc and ton­ic, you as good as a sailor in Hong Kong.”

Scan­ning the mag­a­zine pho­tos, con­tour fades and too much pomade wasn’t what the Colonel had in mind. He need­ed a nod and a word from Rip that every­thing was cool, his hair wasn’t thin­ning out too much. Not too bad Colonel, it ain’t that thin, seen less hair on thir­ty year olds. If he said some­thing like that, it would be good, the Colonel thought.

The Colonel watched Rip in the mir­ror look­ing him over, Rip say­ing, “Relax, just ease on down, nice trim and some men­thol, go down to Freddy’s and have a cold beer around five and I’ll meet you for a drink.”

You remind me of a bar­ber I had in the Philip­pines,” the Colonel said,

thought slap­ping men­thol on a dude solved everything.”

Rip didn’t say any­thing, just smoothed the Colonels hair with his hand like he was pet­ting a cat.

The Colonel said, “Ah, man. Didn’t mean to sound like I don’t respect you and your place. Come in, get a good cut, you lis­ten to all my war sto­ries and bullshit.”

The Colonel looked at him­self in the mir­ror. Age comes quietly.

You guys use pomade back in those days?” the Colonel said.

Any­thing greasy, we used it.”

Shit, back then it was 57 Chevys and girls, tak­ing it all down­town. Dean Mar­tin on the box singing Sway I’d be danc­ing and get­ting lucky. It’s dif­fer­ent now.”

I’m dif­fer­ent now. You don’t want to notice the lit­tle things that are hap­pen­ing to you. It was hard for him to think that way, and he didn’t want to say it out loud. He knew Rip knew it too. But Rip’s job was to make men feel good with­out lying to them, with­out expos­ing too much about what he knew, gen­tly let­ting on where the thin patch­es were and if you had a big mole on the back of the neck or some­thing ugly grow­ing where it shouldn’t be.

The door swung open and street sounds flood­ed in, horns and engines and the punk kid came in and walked past the chair, ear­phones plugged in and he hummed and stared at the Colonel in the mirror.

Rip clicked on the trim­mer and the low buzz whined around the Colonels’ ear. The Colonel felt the tick­le of the clip­pers shear­ing off his lit­tle hairs, and the stare of the punk in the mirror.

Get you look­ing real good there, Colonel,” Rip said. He put the mir­ror in the Colonel’s hand. In the mir­ror the Colonel saw the punk mea­sur­ing him. He told Rip to swing the chair around. Rip took a bot­tle of ton­ic off the counter and opened it, spread it through his hair with his fin­gers, but he didn’t swing the chair around. The kid, reflect­ed in the big mir­ror on the wall, was scratch­ing his side, stand­ing, watch­ing the Colonel. Rip rubbed some more ton­ic through the Colonel’s gray hair and the back of his neck.

The punk shift­ed his weight and the Colonel caught a flash of some­thing, a knife maybe, along his belt line. The Colonel put his thumb through a lock of hair and smelled the tart cit­rus of the hair product.

Nice head of hair.” Rip drew the comb through the Colonel’s hair. “Some of this juice make it grow a lit­tle faster.”

The Colonel felt Rip’s hand touch the top of his fin­gers of his left hand.
“You want,” Rip said, “I’ll call Vicky. Have her come over and do a man­i­cure. These fin­gers look a lit­tle rough.”

Maybe some oth­er time.”

The punk turned and walked out.

The Colonel paid Rip twen­ty and went out­side. He didn’t see the kid any­where, like he dis­ap­peared down the drain into the sew­er and out to sea. See­ing the kid set off the mech­a­nism the Colonel still hadn’t got­ten rid of, trig­ger­ing his defens­es, set­ting him on high alert.

The air was thick with fumes from cars and bus­es pass­ing on the street. A church bell chimed as the Colonel set­tled into his Chrysler and start­ed the igni­tion, checked around the car and in the mirrors.

The Chrysler’s tank was almost full but the Colonel want­ed to park under the gas sta­tion over­hang in the shade next to the pumps so he could watch the inter­sec­tion. Two bus­es and a motor­cy­cle with a rid­er wear­ing a red hel­met and leather jack­et roared past him. It was some­thing he did, inspect­ing the mov­ing traf­fic as if he had a duty to do so.

Inside the trunk, the Colonel found the small can­vas pouch, unsnapped the fas­ten­ers and found a squeeze bot­tle of per­ox­ide and some ban­dages. He got the key from the atten­dant and unlocked the restroom out back. The cold water hurt the cuti­cles of his fin­gers, blood­ied and curled from the Colonel pulling the skin from the nails, his ner­vous habit. The per­ox­ide burned. He stood with his back to the mir­ror and attached small ban­dages to the tips of two fin­gers on his left hand. His ring fin­ger, where he used to wear the wed­ding ring, was bad­ly chewed and he poured more per­ox­ide on that one until the bleed­ing stopped. He’d put the ring away five years ago, six years after the divorce.

A cou­ple of years ago he’d go to the bar­ber shop and talk to Rip and oth­er men even when he didn’t get his hair cut. His sto­ries seemed from anoth­er era, and he sensed when oth­er men tuned him out, read­ing their news­pa­pers or chang­ing the sub­ject. The Colonel want­ed some place to go and talk with oth­er men, noth­ing fan­cy or any­thing, just a place to go and be with peo­ple. Dri­ving around occu­pied his days now but it gave him too much time to think and be alone. The kid had got­ten under his skin and made him uneasy, the way he felt when clothes didn’t fit right or he’d for­got­ten to do something.

 

Freddy’s place was dark. Two fel­lows sat at the bar. Two years ago, Fred­dy slumped behind the bar and stopped breath­ing just as the Colonel was fin­ish­ing a beer, about to order anoth­er. The Colonel thumped on Freddy’s chest for five min­utes like he knew CPR or some­thing but he got him tick­ing again. When he came back to work Fred­dy said he didn’t want to talk about it so they shared long silent glances at each oth­er. The Colonel had seen blank stares like that in the war, when boys saw things they shouldn’t have to see and looked for answers that nev­er came.
The Colonel took a seat and Fred­dy gave a nod and poured a beer and set it down. After a few moments Fred­dy was back with a tow­el to wipe down the wood­en bar. He asked the Colonel how things were.

Like they always are, Fred­dy.” They talked, say­ing noth­ing, back and forth, the weath­er, the heat, the slump of all the estab­lish­ments along the street. If Fred­dy couldn’t stand talk­ing about his health, how he was feel­ing and get­ting along, the Colonel couldn’t see bring­ing up the punk kid and the threat he was feel­ing. You didn’t go places with some men when they sig­nal off lim­its to cer­tain things in the past. The con­ver­sa­tion fad­ed after they con­clud­ed that the neigh­bor­hood joints were los­ing to the nation­al brands and base­ball sea­son was just too long.

Fred­dy nod­ded and turned away to ser­vice some cus­tomers. Bar­tenders did that, the Colonel knew, indulging in small talk until it seemed appro­pri­ate to move on down the bar. There were always things to do behind the bar, and the Colonel was relieved when Fred­dy moved away. The Colonel took a seat in a back booth, fin­ished his beer and went out the door to the alley where a man stood hunched over with his hand down inside of a shop­ping cart.

It was almost five o’clock. Rip might be com­ing by soon.

Too much think­ing, that was the Colonel’s prob­lem. He knew it but he couldn’t stop watch­ing for signs of the kid walk­ing past the thrift shop, the taco joints, the used musi­cal instru­ment store and the oth­er cheap store­front busi­ness­es. Like a com­pass nee­dle swing­ing north, his thoughts veered back to the kid.

He’d turn and look down the brick alley; the kid’s image filled his brain. Look out toward the street with the pop­ping and the siren fad­ing now in the dis­tance; there was the kid in his mind com­mit­ting a crime, a bur­glary, rob­bing a con­ve­nience store and the cops chas­ing his ass into an alley with a slice of blue sky over­head where an old man sat with his cart and a used up old war vet­er­an stood immo­bi­lized think­ing too much about what things should have been like and nev­er hav­ing the courage or des­per­ate self-real­iza­tion to tell some­one that he was alone and he’d be alone and he want­ed to be alone but he knew it was pulling him into a dark, dark place where he’d fade away and nobody would know and nobody would care.

When Bet­ty left him, he tried to come to terms with his demons and she lis­tened for an hour but it was too late, she said, too late and she’d grown weary of his self-imposed soli­tude that gnawed the guts of their marriage.
Hair­cuts now and once in a while a beer and a word or two with some­one paid to wait on him or cut his hair and, hell, the stare-down with a punk while he was grip­ping a pair of scis­sors was the strongest human inter­ac­tion he’d had all year and he hat­ed it, but he need­ed it.

The sky was going grey. The Colonel wait­ed on the cor­ner watch­ing lights go green-yel­low-red and the cross­walks fill­ing with peo­ple fil­ing through glass doors onto side­walks laugh­ing and chat­ting soft­ly in low dull noise, blind to the Colonel’s vigil.

A woman with two can­vas tote bags hold­ing a cell phone got off the bus and stepped around the kiosk and faced the Colonel, look­ing down at the phone and back at the Colonel.

Is this the place to get the good chur­ros?” she said, point­ing at the cell phone screen. Her red head scarf was tied off in the back. Her hands were thick and dark.

The Colonel didn’t know any­thing about chur­ros, what they were or where to get some­thing like that, some Mex­i­can dish he’d nev­er heard of.

Is that Mex­i­can food?” he said.

Hablas Espanol?” the woman said.

No.”

Yes, it’s at the bak­ery. La panaderia.”

La panade­ria.” The Colonel repeat­ed the word, try­ing to say it the way the woman had said it.

Tu ves? Tu hablas Espanol.” She laughed. “My daugh­ter is home now and she ask for los chur­ros. Only los chur­ros, Mama.”

The only bak­ery I know is around the cor­ner.” He point­ed to the right where the bus turned down the boulevard.

Would you mind, por favor,” the woman said, “walk­ing with me. No se este barrio.”

They walked togeth­er toward the bakery.

The woman asked the Colonel about the neigh­bor­hood. “Is it safe at night?”

Most of the time.”

Every place has prob­lems,” she said.

Keep an eye out for your sur­round­ings. Do you have a good flashlight?”

The woman didn’t know the word.

A light. Some­thing to use in the dark.”

Oh, la luz. No, I don’t have one.”

They have them at hard­ware stores,” the Colonel said. “Get a good one. Twen­ty or thir­ty dol­lars but worth the money.”

It is impor­tant to feel safe.”

Yes, the Colonel thought, it is impor­tant to be safe. Giv­ing the woman some help­ful advice felt good to him.

Peo­ple didn’t ask him things like that any­more. He’d be in the uni­form and peo­ple would say, ‘Thank you for your ser­vice’ some­times, but no one ever asked him in a store, for instance, what you need to have in an emer­gency, or how to pro­tect a home from bur­glars. A whole day in uni­form, walk­ing around, eat­ing in a café, drink­ing at Freddy’s and not once would a stranger engage in con­ver­sa­tion about a first aid kit.

The woman walked next to him with long strides, point­ing at pink and white blos­soms in the wood­en planter in front of a dress shop, tug­ging on his arm as they stopped to look in the store win­dow dis­play filled with beau­ty prod­ucts, crème rinse bot­tles and plas­tic combs and she sighed as a woman inside primped in front of the large mir­ror. The woman was star­ing now at the beau­ti­ful woman inside spray­ing her sleek black hair and the styl­ist behind her smooth­ing the shoul­ders of her blue shirt.
Inside the panade­ria cas­es were filled with pas­tries, cakes and cook­ies. Women and men swarmed around eat­ing and drink­ing cof­fee, laugh­ing and chat­ting in Span­ish. It smelled the way it did when his wife, Bet­ty, used to bake oat­meal raisin cook­ies and apple pies. Cin­na­mon, fresh cof­fee and warm frosting.

The women took the Colonel’s arm and point­ed to the chur­ros, dust­ed with pow­dered sug­ar and said she would like to buy him some­thing for help­ing her find the bakery.

That’s not nec­es­sary,” the Colonel said, thank­ing the woman. “My pleasure.”

She ordered chur­ros and sug­ar cook­ies. The counter man wrapped the baked goods in waxed paper. They went out­side to the cool air. It was dark. The woman opened the bag and took out a length of chur­ro wrapped in paper and hand­ed it to the Colonel, who took it and thanked her.

I can walk you back to the bus stop,” he said, “and then I have to go.”

They start­ed down the block, walk­ing slow­ly, step­ping aside as men and women passed them on the side­walk in the ear­ly evening. It had been a long time since he’d walked with a woman, maybe years, but he couldn’t remem­ber exact­ly how long. He’d called Bet­ty a few years after they’d divorced to ask her if she’d meet for cof­fee, take a walk around town, just to see how each oth­er was doing, noth­ing inti­mate or lead­ing. She’d agreed, and they set a time and place. When the time came the Colonel dressed in a new white shirt and blue sport coat and wait­ed at the muse­um where they were sup­posed to meet. He wait­ed two hours before he got in his car and went home.

The tat­tooed kid and the threat was in the back of the Colonel’s mind now, still there, but not so pronounced.

The Colonel stopped and said, “There’s a Sur­plus Store around the cor­ner a cou­ple of blocks. We can get you a good flashlight.”

I don’t have much money.”

Come on, I’ll buy you one.”

She agreed, say­ing over and over she didn’t want to take char­i­ty. She used anoth­er word, some­thing in Span­ish. The Colonel looked at her as she was talk­ing. She was smil­ing and nod­ding the whole time.

The Colonel found her a small pen­light that would be per­fect for a purse. Not too big. Small enough to con­ceal in her hand but enough light to stop a man from see­ing any­thing when the light was shined into the eyes. He pur­chased the light for thir­ty-five dol­lars and unboxed the light and insert­ed bat­ter­ies. They went out­side. The Colonel clicked the light and showed the woman it had three lev­els of bright­ness. He had her click on the light a few times. Peo­ple were com­ing down the side­walk, so he hand­ed it to her and told her to use it when­ev­er she need­ed to.

The woman slowed down as they approached the bus stop, rear­rang­ing the bag under her arm. The Colonel want­ed to ask if she need­ed a ride, and he almost said it but he didn’t and the bus came and the woman thanked him. He watched her go up the steps into the bus and wave at him as the bus began to move. He knew there wasn’t a way that he could have made the short encounter with the woman mean any­thing more than what it was, but he wished it had last­ed a lit­tle longer. He had han­dled him­self with dig­ni­ty, he told him­self, and he felt a lit­tle fool­ish think­ing that he want­ed to make some­thing more, when the woman only want­ed some pro­tec­tion when she didn’t know the neighborhood.

The amber street lamps threw a soft glow on the side­walk cast­ing shad­ows behind trash cans out­side the stores and reflec­tions of gold­en light sparkled in win­dows and the eyes of peo­ple and off of their shiny shoes. The Colonel walked in the direc­tion of the park­ing lot where his Chrysler was under a tree in the third row. It was a few blocks away.

The chur­ro she’d giv­en him felt warm in the bag. He peeled back the wax paper and took a bite of the soft doughy bread. He could have been a crim­i­nal on the street, but the woman had trust­ed him and had cho­sen him from the peo­ple stand­ing at the bus stop.

He drove home and entered his apart­ment, closed and locked the door and wait­ed in the dark for a moment before turn­ing on the light. Lis­ten­ing for any unusu­al sounds, he found every­thing qui­et and amused him­self when he real­ized the only sound he heard was his breath­ing. He turned on the light, went to his small record col­lec­tion and pulled out Dean Martin’s Great­est Hits and set the vinyl disc on the turntable.

 

Two days went by. The Colonel drove his Chrysler around, watch­ing, wait­ing. On the third day he made cof­fee and cleaned up and dressed and went out to the car port to the Chrysler, not know­ing where he would go. There was no place in par­tic­u­lar he had to be, or any­one he had to meet with. The met­al cov­er­ing on the car port was heat­ing up with morn­ing sun­light and a dog barked on the oth­er side of the fence of an old two-sto­ry manor house where kids played in the back yard some­times, but not now, not on this weekday.

The dog growled and barked again, near the fence, and the Colonel heard him rustling around, dig­ging pos­si­bly, dig­ging for his bone or try­ing to make a tun­nel under the fence and get out of the back­yard and face the neigh­bor­hood and see the sights and be a dog who once in a while escaped his con­fines and made his way out for a walk among the won­der­ful crea­tures of the world.

The Colonel heard a scrape of shoe behind him just before he took his keys out of his pock­et. He turned around. Two punks behind him, and he heard a third in front of him now. They’d con­verged as he’d lis­tened to the dog till­ing the soil at the fence. He could only see the two at one time, or look at the one who’d appeared from the oth­er angle. He was sur­round­ed on two sides, and on the oth­er side were the Chrysler and the fence. It wasn’t the same punk kid from the bar­ber shop. None of them were famil­iar to him. Both kids were com­ing straight at him and the Colonel turned just enough to see the third kid step­ping toward him.

They closed in and stood a few feet from the Colonel at the back of the Chrysler. The dog was bark­ing very loud. The Colonel didn’t say any­thing, look­ing at the two who stood togeth­er to his right. On his left, he could feel the cold stare of the third boy in his sleeve­less white t‑shirt and shaved head. The Colonel had his right hand in his pock­et and acti­vat­ed his phone to call 911.

Don’t turn around now,” the Colonel said. “See that cam­era up there?” He point­ed over his shoul­der at the upper eaves of the apart­ment build­ing. “And you hear that dog?”

White T‑shirt sniffed but the Colonel focused on the boys on his right. They both looked up at the eave.

The fat one on his right wore a red hood­ie and pulled the hood over his head and tight­ened the string. The oth­er stood still. White T‑shirt stepped in front of the Colonel as if he thought he could hide from the cam­era. The cam­eras were just for effect. They weren’t func­tion­al. The Colonel had the phone in his hand now, out from his pocket.

A female dis­patch­er respond­ed. “911…what is your emergency?”

What the fuck is that?” White T‑shirt said, whip­ping a small switch­blade out and up in front of the Colonel’s nose.

The Colonel respond­ed. “Three men assault­ing a cit­i­zen at 866 Alvara­do Drive.”

Are you in dan­ger?” The dis­patch­er kept calm.

The Colonel held the phone out in front of him and the fat one in the hood­ie said, “Drop the phone. Now.”

Send­ing a patrol car,” the dis­patch­er said. The Colonel dropped the phone on the pave­ment at the foot of Hoodie.

Two min­utes to kill me. Is that enough time?” The Colonel stared at Hood­ies eyes, black and shad­ed under the hood.

Edward fuck­ing Scis­sorHands. You like that old bar­ber shop, get that scis­sor cut, yeah?”

These were the goons, the Colonel knew now, homies assigned to the kill squad by the punk in the bar­ber shop. He only had a few moments now to twist things a lit­tle to see if the boys were ready to do the job. Make them exam­ine their qual­i­fi­ca­tions and get them to think about what was going to hap­pen. Oth­er thoughts came to mind too, the same ones he thought about at home at night, the famil­iar cycle of soli­tude, being alone, and new ones that just appeared as if from nowhere. Would there be a news arti­cle? What page would it be on? Where they were going to bury him?

Let’s talk about death,” the Colonel said.

Talk about yours.” Hood­ie pulled out a knife and flipped open the blade, four inch­es of ser­rat­ed steel.

The Colonel said, “You know what a judge tells you when he sends you up?”

Hood­ie said, “Been there, old man.”

The Colonel looked at White T‑Shirt. “You’re gonna have a lot of friends in the joint. Real close per­son­al friends.”

Just do it,” White T‑shirt said to Hoodie.

Slow­ly the Colonel moved his right hand, show­ing his hands to the thugs. “Take my wal­let, the cash, you’re gonna do it any­way. Take the bills.” He con­tin­ued, mov­ing his hand to his wallet.

He pulled his wal­let out and hand­ed it to the kid next to Hood­ie. “Take the cash. Go to the Panade­ria on Sec­ond Street. Buy all the chur­ros and give ‘em to kids. Think you can do that?” Sirens howled a few blocks away and the dog barked and slammed against the fence. “Kill me now, buy some treats.”

Hood­ie was sweat­ing and his eyes shined and White T‑Shirt twitched and the third kid walked in tight lit­tle cir­cles pound­ing a fist in his palm.
Hood­ie showed the gun, a shiny large cal­iber pistol.

And one more thing,” the Colonel said, look­ing down the bar­rel of the .45 semi-auto.

Hood­ie sneered, “You had your last meal.”

I’m not hun­gry,” the Colonel said.

They’re com­ing,” Red Hood­ie said.

The Colonel said, “My last song.”

Shoot him, Ese,” White T‑shirt said. His words had force, the dog barked and slammed the fence.

Sirens get­ting clos­er, the Colonel turned slow­ly toward the cam­era mount­ed on the eave and began to sing.

When marim­ba rhythms start to play, dance with me, make me sway.” Voice crack­ing, trem­bling, he kept singing with his eyes to the cam­era, the cam­era that wasn’t record­ing any­thing but the Colonel hoped its blind eye would see and hear his spirit.

White T‑shirt was scream­ing in Span­ish and Hood­ie cocked his pis­tol and put it to the Colonel’s ear as sirens whooped and rose in pitch, near now.

Hold me close, sway me more…”

The Colonel felt the steel bar­rel in his ear.

When we dance you have a way with me…Stay with me, sway…”

The blast was very loud and it silenced the dog and the Colonel slumped to the pave­ment with a thick crunch of skull on asphalt. Hood­ie slipped the gun in his sweat­shirt pouch and shout­ed some­thing and they ran down the park­ing lot and found a locked gate at the end.

Patrol cars round­ed the cor­ner down the alley along­side the cov­ered park­ing area and screeched to a stop, sirens rag­ing up and down and car doors opened, both patrol cars, and the offi­cers rushed out guns up and heard the sin­gle bark of the dog. Two offi­cers ran toward the bangers who had jumped the fence, call­ing in for backup.

All units, shut Alvara­do between 2nd and 3rd, all units.

The first offi­cer to get to the Colonel touched his neck and shook his head. The oth­er one radioed for the coro­ner and a crime scene unit. The first offi­cer, a lean man in his ear­ly thir­ties, reached into the Colonel’s pock­ets for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, but found noth­ing except a fold­ed piece of paper.

He unfold­ed the paper and glanced at it and hand­ed it to the lead offi­cer in charge.

The lead offi­cer read out loud.

To Rip, many thanks, safe trav­els. Fred­dy, I should’ve said more. The woman at the bus stop, I’ll see you some­day. Sway with me. And Bet­ty, Bet­ty, Oh, Betty…I could have done bet­ter. For all the rest of you, I’m nobody. Nobody then, nobody now. God bless the soldiers.”
Blood leaked out of the hole in his head and the Colonel’s mouth was open as if his teeth were gnaw­ing the ground. The pave­ment was get­ting hot and the blood dried and smelled of iron fil­ings like an auto shop garage.

The tall offi­cer spoke first. “Sway with me. What’s that?”

The lead offi­cer said, “It’s an old Dean Mar­tin song.”

The shit you know.”

My mom’s a fan.”

For sure I’ll put that in the report. John Doe Dean Mar­tin fan killed in a park­ing lot.

The two pur­suit offi­cers jogged back from the locked gate at the end of the park­ing lot, breath­ing heav­i­ly and wet with per­spi­ra­tion. They removed their hats when the approached the body and said they lost pur­suit at the gate and nei­ther got a look at the assailants.

They all stood in the hot sun and the dog let out a howl and scraped along the back side of the wood­en fence.

Know a Rip, or Fred­die?” the lean offi­cer in charge asked.

The offi­cer looked at his watch. “I’ll check around.”

The lead offi­cer scanned the note again. “Bet­ty. Sounds like some old business.”

The pur­suit offi­cers squint­ed in the sun. The tall offi­cer turned and walked to the patrol car, opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat, leav­ing the door open. He keyed the radio and spoke. The blue and red lights on top of the cruis­er stopped flash­ing and he sat look­ing out the front win­dow before he closed the door.

Kurt Tay­lor has an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side, and spends his time search­ing for Mojave Desert vis­tas to pho­to­graph and enjoy. His writ­ing has appeared in NOHO>LA, his blog Indi­an Hill, and he wrote and appeared on numer­ous tele­vi­sion shows in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia includ­ing Inside Dodgers Base­ball, and Inter­ac­tive LA.

Kurt lives in South­ern California.

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