Friday, November 18, 2011

The First Chance You Get

Present day

      I had been dreaming. It was the summer of sixty-eight. That was the summer I worked for Mr. Olveras mowing yards. It had been my first real job. I was twelve. We started before sun-up, and went until dark, six days a week. He had a beat up old truck with a trailer hooked on the back. Me and the rest of the yard crew rode in the back of the pickup. He kept the mowers, edgers, and trash cans in the trailer. Each trash can had a rake, broom, and shovel in it. Mr. Olveras would pull up to a house, hop out of the cab of the truck, and unload the equipment. Whichever one of us that was “up” would jump out of the back of the truck and pull our equipment out of the street and up onto the curb as the truck pulled away in a wheeze of smoke. One hour later he’d be back. Load you and your stuff up, then on to the next one. We averaged fourteen houses a day.. Each. Two dollars a house. Hard fucking work; but it made you appreciate the value of a dollar. You wanted to buy something, that little equation went into your head: How many yards does this cost? Taught me not to waste my money. Not to take things for granted. Bought my first pair of Levis that summer. No more Zody’s jeans with iron on patches for me after that.  

I was still waking up. My face was bouncing lightly on a cool piece of sheet metal. At first I thought I thought I was still in the back of Mr. Olveras’ truck. I could smell fresh cut grass, dirt, gasoline, and the pungent aroma of fresh fertilizer. Plus, I was rocking and bouncing to the movement of a big truck on the road. But, as I continued to come out of it, I knew I wasn’t back in sixty-eight. Or, in a dream. The first clue was the black nylon bag that was tied around my head. Not good. The second was the bite of the plastic flex cuffs into the skin of my wrists and ankles. Really not good. I tried to sit up, and went right back down. Too soon. Too groggy still. OK. Time to figure out what the fuck’s going on.  

The last thing I remember is pulling into the driveway of the RV Park, and pulling up next to our motor home. It was late, there were no other people around, and no sound but the nearby Pacific Ocean. The sound of the waves breaking across the road at the beach usually soothed me, but not tonight. I had failed. We all had. I got out of the car and stood next to it. I was debating what to tell my wife Annie, and then…lights out. Somebody got me right there. Right next to my own fucking motor home. Talk about being H-U-A. Fuck.    

What about Annie? Was she OK? Think you idiot, think. You got nabbed outside. Would’ve been safer to take you inside, but that would have required dealing with Annie, so…she’s probably all right. For whatever reason, whoever grabbed me up probably left her alone. Thank God for that. Although that means she’ll die alone. She doesn’t have much time left. Two, three months max. Would have liked to been there for her. Hold her. Wipe the tears away. Not going to happen now. I’m pretty sure I’m dead tonight. Maybe tomorrow, if they want to fuck with me for a while first. That’s a pleasant thought. Oh well.  

      OK. Where am I now? Back of a truck. Medium sized commercial, from the feel of it. Fifteen, twenty foot bob tail. Split axle; I can hear it when the driver shifts. Should be two by fours running up the sides as braces for the walls and roof. I scoot over until I hit a wall with my face. Inch along until I feel the wood. Yeah. Almost like a mid-sized rental truck for moving your shit around town. But, not a rental. The smells…this was somebody’s landscape truck until not that long ago. Bad guys probably stole it out of…wait, wait… 

Well, fuck me in the ass with no please or thank you. I saw the fuckin’ truck on my way into the park. It was sitting next to the mobile taqueria in the parking lot across the street. Juan’s Lawns, I think it said. Juan’s Lawns. Shit.  I guess I was totally Head Up Ass tonight. Sure, it was a Mexican yard truck next to a Mexican food truck. Still, it was out of place. That taqueria has been there for years. Hardly ever moves. Never been anything next to it. Should have been on guard. Too distracted. Too much cryin’ in my beer. Boo hoo motherfucker. Look where that shit got you. Now, Annie’ll die alone. Just ‘cause I forgot one of my most important rules.  

I went on the LA County Sheriff’s Department thirty years ago. Went through a bunch of fucked up shit, right from the get go. Made a lot of rules for myself. Right towards the top of the list was this: No one was going to get me because I’d gotten fat and happy. No one was going to get me because I was walking around with a cup of coffee in one hand and my dick in the other one. I mean, look, if some smart fucker wants to set you up; I mean really set you up good, there’s nothing you can do about it. You get a 459 silent call at some warehouse at O dark thirty; a killer’s waiting in there somewhere, well hidden, with an infrared scope and Teflon coated bullets, you can just kiss your ass goodbye. But, too many guys, good guys, get popped because they turn into slaps. They start playing the odds game. Not me. Never. Not in my few years on the job. Not in the many years since as a high level bodyguard and PI. Oh, they’d gotten to me when I was on the job, way back when. Twice. Almost died. But, not because I was spankin’ frank.  Shit. Picked a hell of a time to fuck up.  

Maybe there was still hope. Maybe whoever had snatched me hadn’t gotten to the others. Not all of them. Certainly not the Count. Nobody could get to him. Maybe I was the first. Maybe the others were looking for me right now. No reason to give up yet. Hang in there. Keep thinking. The others, in their own ways, were almost as capable as the Count. Except the writer. Well, OK, he could write. That wasn’t going to help much right now. Had to give him his props though. He’d shown a lot more balls lately than I’d given him credit for having. Circumstances had a lot to do with that, but hey…most people under pressure just fold up and quit. He hadn’t. Yeah, no reason to hang my head yet. They might still be out there. Might be coming. 

      I was jostled out of my little pity party when the truck turned off of the paved road we’d been on, onto gravel. The chunks of rock kicked up by the tires clanged against the metal under carriage of the truck. We swerved a bit at first; the driver hadn’t anticipated the weight shifting in the back would rock the vehicle the way it did. I slammed against the sheet metal wall hard, then bounced back onto the floor. That’s when I realized I wasn’t alone. 

      "Ki gogot sa?"

I’d know that deep baritone Creole voice anywhere. Any other time, I’d be happy to hear it. Not now. Second worst voice I could hear. The first would have been Annie’s. This was almost as bad. 

“What the fuck is right.” 

“Jay? That you?” 

“Yeah, Bela, it’s me. You alright?” 

There was a short pause before he answered. Taking the same kind of inventory I had not long ago. I knew he wasn’t going to like what he found, any more than I had. Just had to hope he wasn’t badly injured on top of everything else.  

“Fuck no, I’m not alright. I got a bag over my head, and I’m trussed up like a Christmas goose.” 

“Me too. You hurt?” 

Another short pause. Counting body parts, probably.  

“Just my pride. Where the fuck are we?” 

“Back of a truck. Out in the desert, I think. Just turned off onto a gravel road. Probably heading out to the boonies.” 

“Ki le li ye?” 

“I’ve got no fucking idea what time it is. Gotta be night time though. Maybe early morning. No light leaking through the truck. Even with this bag over my head, I’d be able to see sunlight, if it was comin’ in. Plus, still pretty cool. Too cool for daytime in the desert, this time of year.” 

“How you know we in the desert?” 

“Grew up in the desert. You know that. I can smell it. Feel it.”

Both of us silent for a bit. Trying to figure shit out. Right now they had two out of five of us, if you count the writer. Probably should count him, he was in it now passed his eyeballs. OK. Two out of five. That still left the writer and…

 “You hear that Jay?”  

Cocked my head to one side. Listened hard. Somebody was groaning. Low, deep in their throat. More deep breaths from somewhere else in the back with us. Couldn’t tell how many.  

“How many you hear, Bela?” 

“At least two…maybe more. To?” 

“The same. More of us?”

“Probably. Merde.” 

The truck swung again, the turn much tighter. I slid from one wall of the truck to the other, my face banging into a knee. The truck started bouncing more now. No more gravel clanging underneath. Dust started to seep in through the seams. A dirt road now. Fuck. Every bounce of the truck in the ruts made my face slam back into the knee. Hurt like hell. 

“Bela…get your fuckin’ knee outta my face.” 

“Not mine.” 


I tried to time my movements with the rhythm of the road. Bad jazz. Got it on the third try. Rolled over twice, then made my way to the far wall. Scooted like an inch worm until I was back up in a sitting position. Pushed down with my heels to keep my back pressed against the wall of the truck. Someone was moving my way.  

“Over here, Bela.” 

He found me with his head. Worked his way up, using my body for leverage. We pushed against each other to stay up. The road was rough. It felt like a really bad Carney ride. Then the music started. Coming from the cab of the truck.  Piano. Low, slowly building in intensity and volume. Now it’s joined by a guitar. Electric guitar. I know this song.  

“What the fuck?” 

“Locomotive Breath. Jethro Tull. This is not good, Bela. “ 


“Somebody’s getting themselves psyched up.” 

“For what?” 

The song built to its crescendo, then slowly faded, the final lyrics repeating over and over. There was a short pause; three or four seconds, and then it started over again. A little louder this time. 

“What? What is so terrible about this song? Why are those soaks playing it again?” 

“You don’t know the song, Bela?” 


“It’s a song about judgment. Death. Killing the unrighteous.”  

We sat in silence, the song building again. A sort pause at the end again. Then it started over.  

“Why is it repeating, Jay?” 

“They’re getting pumped up to kill us…and they want to make sure we know it.” 

“Bagami-as pula in mortii matii.” 

I hadn’t heard that one in a long time. Bela could swear in more languages than there are loony fanatics at a Pentecostal snake handler’s convention. His swearing just got worse, and more diverse, as the song repeated five more times. Finally, there was blessed silence. 

“Now what?” 

“No idea, Bela. Maybe we’re getting close to wherever their taking us. Maybe they’re already pumped enough to get the job done, and don’t need the music anymore. Maybe…”

I was cut off by the start of another song. Two hard guitar riffs, followed by some drums. Fuck me if I didn’t know this song too. The lyrics hit quick and hard.  

“Now I know we’re fucked, Bela.” 

“Why? What are those sei ham ga chan, sei puk gai trying to do?” 

“Those fucking sons of bitches, as you so elegantly put it, are trying to send us a message…and they’ve got a sick sense of humor.”


“This is a song about a child molester…they’re making sure we know why we’re getting whacked…as if there was any doubt.” 

“Hijos de mil putas.” 

“Pretty much, yeah.” 

“So, what’s the song?” 

“Aqualung. Jethro Tull. Same band as the last song.” 

“Sa me fut.” 
“Yeah…fuck me too.”
      We huddled together, the bouncy ride rocking us all over the wall of the truck. I was saying a silent prayer that this song wouldn’t be repeated. The implications of that didn’t sit well with me. We’d been going after a pedophile. An extremely powerful, high ranking, well protected piece of shit. Vicious and insatiable. He was part of a network of other child molesters. We knew if we could bring him down, we’d be able to put a dent in their organization. Maybe get some names out of him. We’d lain in wait for him, after months of chasing…and we’d failed. I’d seen what he, and those other miserable cowards, were capable of doing to children. Torture beyond your ability to believe. God only knew how many of them were in on this. How long they might keep us alive while they fucked with us. And then, I knew. My prayers hadn’t been answered.  

The song started over again. 

Aqualung is a long song. Six, seven minutes. I lost count of how many times it played. Ten, eleven, I don’t know. Louder every time. That meant we were on that rutted dirt road for well over an hour. Must be going to the middle of butt fuck nowhere. The music was so loud, we couldn’t even talk anymore. No time to try and plan anything. Of course, when your hands and feet are flex-cuffed, there’s not much you can do. The road seemed to smooth out a little bit finally, then we came to a stop.  

The truck settled in on its springs. Dust hung in the air, making it hard to breath. I could hear the hiss and clatter of the engine as it died. Then, nothing. Silence. Silence as absolute as a tomb. I kept waiting to hear other cars pull up. There had to be more than just a couple of guys in the cab, right? Taking down any of us, let alone all of us, should have required some heavy manpower. Still, there was nothing. My mind was racing, trying to put the pieces together. Maybe the others were already here. They could have come earlier. Just be out there waiting. Finally, there was movement inside the cab of the truck. Another song started. Jesus H. Christ, wasn’t this shit ever going to end? What was it this time? 

Bela obviously was thinking the same thing. 

“What the fuck now, Jay?” 


“You think we’re all the way in Kansas?” 

“No, Bela. Kansas. The band. ‘Dust in the Wind’ is what’s playing now. Whoever it is thinks they’re funny.”

There was movement in the cab. A door opened and closed. I waited for the other one. It didn’t. OK, we only had a driver. The rest must already be here. I could hear the footsteps come around the back of the truck as the song played out its mournful lyrics. There was a click, then the door slammed up. Another rattle, then a sliding sound: metal on metal. The driver was pulling out and lowering a ramp fixed onto the back of the truck. Footsteps padded up the ramp, the truck swaying slightly from the movement. There were shuffling and sliding sounds as things, and bodies, were moved around. Something else; rope, being untied. Rolling wheels. Must have had a dolly tied to the wall. I could hear something being lifted and dropped, the floor reverberating with each thud. The wheels moving now, out of the truck and down the ramp. I didn’t know then what else had been in the back with all of us, but it took whoever was moving it eight trips. A short pause now. I could hear a lighter, then smell the smoke from a cigarette. Break time, I guess. 

There was more movement and sound coming from the others back there with me and Bela. Sounds of stirring, maybe coming to. I heard a heel grinding on the floor of the truck. Smoke being put out. I guess break time was over. More movement. Sounded like somebody being moved; lifted. What was that? Tape? Yeah…from the sound it made when he tore it, probably duct tape…maybe packing. The wheels of the dolly rolling again down the ramp. One, maybe two minutes of nothing, then the dolly was coming back up and in. Same procedure two more times. I was wondering if he was going to try and do Bela and me like that. We could try and kick at him, I suppose, but kicking blind is about as useless as an open bar at a Mormon wedding reception. Now, the dragging sound again. Obviously a body being pulled to the back. A split second of silence, then a loud thud and groan. Fuck. Whichever one of us that was, just got dumped rather unceremoniously on the ground. Gotta hurt. Probably what’s in store for me and Bela because we’re awake. Gone longer this time. I decide to try and whisper to Bela. 

“Got any ideas?” 


“Well? You gonna let me in on’m, or just kepp’m to yourself?” 

“You won’t like it.” 

“Try me.” 


“What the fuck do you think I’ve been doing this whole time?” 

“Pray harder.” 

“Thanks. That’s just fuckin’ great. You’re a big help. Some ramrod you are.” 

Somebody coming back now. I heard Bela grunt, and the sound of him being lifted in the air. Another grunt, and the footsteps went away down the ramp. I listened, but no thud. Well, at least Bela hadn’t got dumped on the ground. A minute, then the person was back. I felt hands grab my shoulders and pull me to my feet. I tried to head butt whoever it was, and missed badly. I was lifted, thrown over a shoulder, and marched down the ramp. I’m just average size; five eleven and a buck sixty-five. But, Bela’s a decent size man. Six-two, six-three, and almost two hundred. Somebody’s pretty strong, or at least used to working with body weight. Funny though; it didn’t feel like I’d been lifted very high, and the shoulder didn’t feel all that wide.  

Who the fuck was this guy? 

I bounced up and down on the guy’s shoulder. Went about forty, fifty feet. He squatted and set me down on the ground. I didn’t even try and head butt him this time. No use. Then things got weird. Felt him move around behind me. Pulled me to my feet. Cut my hands loose. I was wobbly, trying to get my balance. Hard to do when you can’t see and your feet are tied close together. Then, the bag came off of my head. His voice behind me: 

“Be smart. Get your bearings first. Then do what I tell you to.” 

There was a round, wooden railing in front of me. I grabbed it to hold myself up. It was cold and rough. Weather beaten. I looked around. I had been right about the desert. And about the butt fuck nowhere part. But everything else had a surreal quality to it. Like a dream. A really fucked up dream. Maybe I was still high on whatever he’d knocked me out with. I gripped the railing harder. Felt the rough, splintered, dry wood. Nope, no dream.  

I was holding onto a hitching rail. I was standing in the middle of what had once been a small, old west town. Five, maybe six buildings total. They were all in various stages of decay, crumbling to the ground. Mounds of sand had blown into piles along the walls of each one. Tumbleweeds dotted the street, or at least what had once been the main drag of the town. Now it was just dust and sand, with old ruts worn into the earth where wagons once rolled. Most of the buildings, or what remained of them, lined the street up and to my right. There was one directly across from me. It was down a slight incline, maybe fifty or so feet away. There was a faint light coming from it, and shadows danced in and out of the gaps between the decaying wooden slats that had once been its walls. It looked like someone was inside of it. Couldn’t be sure. 

What I could be sure of was this: I'd been here before. Many times. My Dad brought me here as a boy. Taught me to shoot. I came here as a young man. When I was on the job. And after. To continue that practice...and other things. Coincidence?


I looked up and to my right again, following the line of the hitching rail. It was over twenty feet long. The wood was gnarled and grey in the pale light. There were old, rusted iron rings embedded onto the top of the rail. Each one was spaced about eighteen inches apart. There were three people tied by flex-cuffs to the rings, starting at the end farthest away from me. Their heads hung down, covered by black bags, just like I’d been wearing. Must still be out. A couple of feet closer to me, Bela was sitting, his hands still fixed behind his back. A black bag was still on his head too, but he was turning, leaning towards us, trying to hear what was going on. The voice from behind me again. Soft. Slow, but steady.  

“I’m going to cut your friend’s hands loose. There are three flex-cuffs by his feet. I want you to hook his hands up through the ring, just like I’ve done the others. Understood?” 

I just nodded. Felt him move from behind me over toward Bela. Then I saw him for the first time. About my size. That shocked me. Figured him to be bigger. Dressed all in black. Pants, shoes, and a hooded sweatshirt. The hood shielded his face from me. He pulled something from his pocket. A flick of the rest, and a blade glinted in the night. A butterfly knife. And he was good with it. Real good. He cut through Bela’s bonds and stepped back behind both of us.  

“Go ahead.” 

I hopped over to Bela, trying not to fall right on top of him. Hard to do, even with the railing for support. Harder still to squat down by his feet and pick up the three strands of plastic. My body is beat to shit. I was crippled on the job, long, long ago. The years haven’t been kind either. Artificial knee. Degenerating discs. Busted shoulders. Nerve damage. The long, cramped ride hadn’t exactly left me refreshed either. I was stiff and sore. Bela looked at me questioningly, and I tried to nod “No” as imperceptibly as I could. Nothing we could try right now had an ice cube’s chance in hell of working. Better to be patient. I looked down the line at the other three to see how they were hooked up. Each one had a flex-cuff around each wrist, with the third one looping through the iron ring above them holding the wrists to the rail. I did the same thing to Bela’s, trying to leave just a hint of slack. No luck. 

“Tighter, please.” 

I pulled the cuffs tighter around each of his wrists, and started to turn back to our captor. He stopped me with the blade at my shoulder. Handed me two cuffs.  

“Put them on, please…good. Now, sit down, and put your hands up next to the hitching ring.” 

I did as I was told. I wanted to try and put up a fight right then. Figured I might not get many more shots at him. But, there was really nothing to try. Besides, he could get to Bela, or any of the others, before I could do much. Patience may be a virtue, but it sure as shit ain’t mine. Eating me alive to wait. He was still behind me. Threaded the remaining flex-cuff through the ring and the ones on my wrists. Pulled them tight…but not as tight as I would have. I would have done it so the circulation started to shut off. Make my opponent’s hands go numb. Less of a threat. It wasn’t like they were loose enough for me to do anything, mind you, it just seemed…fuck, I don’t know. Just seemed wrong.  

He walked down the line behind the five of us. Stopped by the one closest to Bela. Took off the hood. It was Big Mar. Shit. Our soon to be executioner put his fingers at Big Mar’s neck. Took his pulse. Lifted the massive head. Pulled up the eye lids. Looked carefully. Lowered the head gently. Repeated the operation on the last two: the writer, and Chance. Smart placement. Put the biggest, strongest guy in the middle. Less likely to pull an end up out of the ground. Put somebody weak between Big Mar and Chance. What I would have done. Guy was prudent. Planned ahead. Good for him. Not for us. 

He was standing in front of me now. The blade flashed in his hand as he squatted down in front of me. Looking me straight in the eyes. His face was mostly in shadow created by the hood. But, I could see his eyes. Intense would be an understatement. Seemed to be looking right through me. The hint of a smile in his eyes as he spoke.  

“Your other friends should come around soon. You’ve all come this far. Wouldn’t want them to miss out on the rest of the evening’s activities, would we? Wouldn’t be right. Anyway, time to do work.” 

He got up. Started to turn away. My mind was racing. His last comment about ‘doing work’. Old Crip slang from back in the day. Meant it was time to kill. He wasn’t black. Couldn’t have been a banger. Ex-cop, maybe? But, how did he know about me? My past? Only a couple of living people knew about what I’d done, undercover, back in the early eighties. Was he sending me a message?  

All of those thoughts went through my mind in a nano second. They stopped when he did. He turned back to me. Squatted down again. His eyes like coals of fire burning out of the shadows. 


Just that one word. He held my gaze for what seemed an eternity. The blade flashed between my feet. He’d cut the flex-cuff holding my feet together. My legs were free. Then he was back up again, heading down toward the decrepit shack across the road. I watched him, more confused and apprehensive than ever. Bela was watching him as well. When he got down to the shack, he bent over something lying next to the door. Seemed to fiddle with it. Then he was up, opening the decayed door. I could see, just before he pulled it shut behind him, a figure inside the shack. There appeared to be a rope holding whoever it was up. The figure’s head was hanging, as if in sleep. The door shut quickly, hiding him from view. Music started to drift up from the outside of the shack. Same hard guitar riffs as when we were riding in the truck. ‘Aqualung’ again. Not too loud. Just enough to keep us from hearing any conversation that might go on inside.  

Bela turned to look at our three companions, then back at me.  

“What the fuck, Jay.” 

“Yeah. What the fuck.” 

You could make out the killer moving in the flickering shadows from within. Couldn’t tell what he was doing. Then it looked like he sat down on something close to the victim hanging inside.  

“What did he say to you, that last time?” 


“What the fuck does that mean?” 

“Last thing Jesus said on the Cross.” 

“’It is finished’? That shit ain’t good, Jay.” 

“That’s how it’s translated. Not exactly what it really means.” 

“Well? You gonna tell me?” 

“It was the Greek word that they used to write on bills of sale…it means the debt is paid in full.” 

“What the fuck? Why say that? Whose debt?” 

“Ours, I guess. Maybe a debt he owes to the dirt bags that want us dead. I don’t know.” 




“Oipho, not gamo.” 

“What the fuck are you talking about, Jay?” 

“Never mind.” 

We were both watching the figures in the shack as we spoke. The killer got up. Moved to the hanging victim. Grabbed something off of the ground. Started swing it. We could hear the pounding. Metal on metal. Into wood. Hammer and nails. From the killer’s body position, it was pretty obvious where he was hammering into the vic. The sound echoed in the stillness.   

“You think he’s?” 


We waited. No screams. The vic must still be out. Thank God. Having nails hammered into your dick or balls couldn’t be too pleasant. We seemed to have a lot to look forward to. Silence for a bit between us. The song ended. Started over again.  

“Who you figure it is?” 

“I don’t know. One of Big Mar’s bois? Maybe the clerk for the other Supreme court Justice? The one that tried to help?” 


“It’s not her, Bela.” 

“You sure?” 

“Yeah…he’d want me to know. Squirm.” 

“Yeah. OK.” 

“What the fuck?” 

That was Big Mar. He’d just come to. Not very happy either. Chance was stirring next to the writer, who still looked to be out cold. Chance started shaking his head, like a dog with a chew toy. He spoke next. 

“Where the fuck are we Jay?” 

“Middle of the desert.” 


“I was hoping you’d tell me. See anything before you went down?” 

“Nothin’. Me and Big Mar were just getting out of the car. Felt something, like a sting, in my neck. That’s it. Then here. Mar?” 


It looked like we all had the same experience. This guy was good. The best I’d ever seen. Or, never seen, I guess. Something was nagging at the back of my mind. Bits and pieces from the past, trying to make a picture for me. The word ‘Jukebox’ was bouncing around in my head like a stray bullet. Other things that I’d heard or seen over the years. They were close, but still in the background. Couldn’t quite pull them up. I looked down the row at everybody. 

“You might want to start trying to wake that scribe up, Chance.” 

Chance pulled his weight up on his wrists and turned his body. Used his legs to start bumping our resident Boswell. It took a few, but he finally started to wake up. Looked around. Panic way deep in his eyes. I don’t think this was anything he had ever anticipated. Lot different than one of his books, where the hero always has some hidden tool, or people coming to rescue him. No tools for us…and no cavalry charging in either. Just us. And, an executioner. 

The music was on its third go round when we heard the screams coming from the shack. They went on for a minute or so, then nothing we could hear. A few more minutes, and the door opened. A snapshot of the inside before it swung close: Looked like a man inside; no more rope holding him up, his hands tied behind his back, his pants at his ankles. Looked like blood on his legs. Couldn’t see his face. There was a wooden pole that he was standing next to. It went from the ground up to the ceiling. My bet was that his package was nailed into that pole. Fuck me, that didn’t sound good. At all. 

The killer walked over to what I now knew was some kind of music player. Bent over and fiddled with it. Straightened up. Walked over to the side of the shack. Came back around with a five gallon can. Started pouring the contents over the outside of the shack. Then the music started. Bela was first. 

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I know that one. Used to play it in ‘Nam. Right before we were going out on a bad one. Into the jungle rivers in our PBR. Fuck. That’s bad mojo, Jay. Really bad Mojo.” 

Chance and Big Mar just looked at us. It was the writer who spoke then. 

“What’s the song? And, what’s a PBR?” 

“Don’t worry about PBRs right now. The song is ‘Fire’. ‘Bout burning down some fool’s wasted life.” 

The killer opened the door. Splashed the remaining liquid around. On the vic inside as well. More screams. He pulled the door shut again. Walked around to the side of the shack again. Came back with an axe in one hand, and a short stick with rags tied to one end in the other hand. Set the axe down. Took a lighter out of his pocket. Lit the torch. Walked over and touched it repeatedly to the dry walls of the shack. It went up in flames in less time than it takes me to go from zero to asshole. Burning hard and fast. The screams from inside were louder now. The killer picked up his boom box, or whatever the fuck it was, and moved it away from the flames. Squatted down on his haunches. Waiting.  

A new version of the song started. Ozzy’s cover. Louder. Slower. The flames engulfed the small building, tongues of it hungrily licking at the roof. The sky was filling with smoke. Hot ash rained from above, the wind pushing it our way. We all started to pull on the railing, trying to break free. Nothing doing. One of the buildings behind us caught too. Tendrils of fire crept up and out of one window. Everything looked and smelled like hell. 

The door to the shack burst open. The man was smoking, his clothes and head burning. He stumbled a few feet, his pants bunched at his ankles making him fall. He rolled over and over trying to put out the flames on his head, back and arms. The fire behind him was so bright, it backlit his face. Between that and the burns, couldn’t make out who he was. His voice sounded strangled; rasping and hoarse from the smoke, the heat, and his own screams of pain. He was trying to crawl away from the fire toward us.

The killer rose out of his squat. Carried the axe with him. We could all here what was said next, the voices carried over by the blast furnace wind: 

“You, you swore you’d let me go…if I tore my balls off, you swore you’d let me go…you swore it…you promised…” 

The killer stood over him now, the axe rising slowly over his head. 

“I lied.” 

He brought the axe down in a vicious arc, severing a foot. Blood watered the desert beneath him. The killer reached over for the torch. Pushed it hard against the stump. The flesh sizzled. The blood flow stopped. The man’s screams rose into the heavens. The killer turned from him and headed up the slight rise toward us. He stopped in front of me. The axe rested on his shoulder.  

“Well Jay…it’s your turn now…” 

And, with that, he swung the axe down at me…     


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Christopher Blake is a loving husband...devoted father...minister...crippled more than a little rough around the edges...