Charlie Miner wakes up looking down at his body on a gurney at the LA County morgue. When he moves closer to the body, it pulls him in and he is able to make it get up and walk around. Charlie, a down-on-his-luck, heroin-addicted insurance fraud investigator, leaves the morgue with two priorities: to get a fix and to find out who killed him. The trouble is, there’s a bullet in his brain and his memory is full of holes. Down Solo borrows from Stephen King only to the extent that, generally, people don’t reanimate their bodies and continue daily life. He also has the ability to leave his body and “roam.” Otherwise, the novel is more or less a straightforward (well, slightly convoluted) Chandleresque mystery. -Earl Javorsky
I’ve got the Z doing eighty down the toll road, past Ensenada. I should be coming up to San Vicente, the last town on the map before I go off the grid and onto dirt roads into the mountains. I want to crank it up to a hundred and climb on the roof and howl at the moon, but there is no moon and the Z coughs and stutters in the darkness. It loses speed, and flooring the pedal doesn’t help. The gas gauge says I have half a tank, so something is seriously wrong. Now we’re chugging along at about twenty. There’s smoke billowing out behind me. The Z is a perfect metaphor for my life, lurching forward into barely illuminated gloom, the rear view a murky nothingness. A metallic bang signals the end and I’m coasting, the sudden silence as big as the pitch-black sky.
The Z rolls to a stop on the side of the toll road. I turn the key off and kill the lights. Ensenada is at least thirty miles behind me. I haven’t seen a car or an electric light in almost half an hour.
My phone’s down to one bar, but it’s got GPS and I’m thirty-eight miles south of Ensenada, with eight miles to go before I get to San Vicente. If I had a plan, it’s changed, but it never included sitting in a dead car until something happened.
I grab Mo’s gun from under my seat, along with DeShaun’s. It’s a Ruger .380 semi-auto, actually a pretty handy backup piece, if I need one. I step out of the Z and tuck the Ruger under my belt up against the small of my back. Mo’s nine goes in front, enough to the side that my jacket covers it. I pocket all three cell phones and say goodbye to the Z. No way will it be there in the morning.
The Z was my divorce present to myself. Actually, it was all I could afford after turning in the Lexus I could no longer make payments on. It was a red 1978 Datsun 280Z, the last of its kind, and it’s been my friend for the past three years. Now it’s roadkill, carrion for scavengers who at best will leave a wheel-less frame on the side of the road.
I start walking in the dark.
My mind wanders.
There’s something wrong with the whole picture from the start. Tanya used me as an intermediary in a blackmail scheme. She wanted to recover her husband’s investment and keep it for herself. Jason Hamel wanted to destroy a report that would demolish his dream of a huge gold discovery and the Christian ministry that it would finance. The Caffeys were just about to publish their drilling results and were “very excited,” according to James Caffey’s widow. So why did they produce a report saying the mine has no value? And how did Tanya get both reports?
My first experience with heroin. I was at my physical therapy session. Two Hydrocodone tabs usually made PT tolerable, but this time they were useless. I sat in the waiting room with my head in my hands; I knew I couldn’t go through with the session. I must have groaned or something, because this huge guy in the seat across from me said, “That bad, huh?”
I shook my head and said, “It gets like this once in a while.”
He said, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I was eating Vicodin like candy.”
And we were off and running, swapping stories about how we got hurt, how bad it was, how you can’t crap on Vicodin and how not crapping gives you killer headaches. Finally, he said, “Yeah, it got to where I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
His use of the past tense got my attention. I asked him what he meant and he nodded toward the door. We got up and went out to the hallway to the men’s room.
At this point, my new friend Jimmy Ortiz changed my life. I would get pain management at the cost of being tethered to heroin maintenance like a dog on a choke-chain: try to pull away, feel the pain.
Jimmy reached in his coat pocket and pulled out an amber vial with a black screw-on cap. From his jeans pocket he produced a mini Swiss Army knife. I watched, mesmerized, as he unscrewed the cap, dipped the tip of his blade into the vial, pulled out a tiny mound of white powder, and brought it to his nostril. A discreet whiff and the white powder disappeared.
Then it was my turn.
I wonder what would happen if I left the body and just roamed into the night, as far from here as possible. What limit is there? Is it like there’s an elastic cord that stretches thinner and thinner until it snaps? And then what? Didn’t Daniel tell me not to leave my body for too long? What’s too long? I think I’ve pushed the limit a couple of times, and I didn’t like the feeling.
A sound from behind. I keep walking. Now I’m casting a shadow and the highway becomes visible as I trudge toward nowhere. A dirty, rusted pickup pulls up next to me.
“Hey, that your 280 back there?” It’s a guy, long dirty hair, American. There’s a blonde in the car with him. I show some teeth to signal that I’m friendly.
“Yeah. So far, anyway.” I don’t know how long I’ve been walking. The only reason the car is still there is that no one has seen it yet. Until now.
“Where’ya headed?” The blonde’s teeth aren’t so great, but she shows them all anyway. Signaling that she’s friendly too, I suppose.
“Reservations at the Hilton?” They both start cackling. I don’t like it.
I shrug my shoulders.
“Well hey,” the guy says, “you’re fucked out here, so hop in.” The blonde opens the door and slides toward the driver. I slide in and shut the door.
“Your car’ll be gone in the morning.” The guy’s chewing gum like his life depends on it. The index finger of his left hand is wrapped in gauze and duct tape. He has a beer between his legs and now he takes a swig from it and offers it to the blonde.
“Not much I can do about it.”
“I don’t know what your plans are in San Vicente, but you might be better off staying with us for the night. The town’s shut down for the evening and there’s nothin’ there anyway. We got a place right up here a ways . . .” He gestures off into the darkness.
The blonde is tapping heavy metal rhythms with her fingers on her knee and bobbing her head like a pigeon. I consider my options, a speedy operation, like dividing a number by zero on a calculator: the answer is always “error.”
“I’d appreciate that,” I hear myself saying. But I know crazy when I see it.
The driver says, “Right on,” and fishes a joint out of his pocket. He fires it up and passes it to me, sputtering, “Name’s Herbie. This is Melinda. We got a place not far from here. It’s your lucky night, pardner.”
I take a hit off the joint just to be friendly and say, “Charlie Miner.”
Herbie and Melinda laugh their cackling laugh and Herbie stomps on the accelerator. The pickup lurches forward with astonishing power and veers left onto a dirt road that I didn’t even see coming. Herbie turns off his headlights and we hurtle into oblivion with a roar, shaking and bouncing and kicking up rocks that hammer the undercarriage like a hailstorm.
Melinda takes the joint from me and pulls on it like it’s going to save her life. We hit something soft and then bump over it, then a rise that sends us airborne. Herbie yells, “That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, Motherfucker!” He finally slows down and turns the headlights back on. We turn left again, this time onto a narrow track between clusters of bushes that scrape the side of the truck. The path snakes around and uphill for a few minutes and we come to a stop at a gate. It’s a crude contraption of two-by-fours and chicken wire, with barbed wire on top. In the glare of the headlights I can see a level clearing butting up to the side of a cliff. There’s a wooden shack on the left and, maybe twenty yards away, an RV on the right. In between, there’s a recent-model Saturn with California plates.
Herbie gets out of the truck, saying, “Home sweet home,” and opens the gate. He reaches in the back of the truck and pulls out a backpack, which he slings over his shoulder. Melinda scoots over and drives the truck in. She parks and gets out, taking a big flashlight from the glove box.
Herbie catches up with us and, guided by the beam of the flashlight, we go to the back of the shack. Herbie opens the door to a shed and starts the generator inside; it’s a new, expensive-looking one that purrs as the lights go on in the shack. He goes back to the truck and gets a plastic cooler out of the back.
We go into home-sweet-home. Two lamps with ridiculous dried spiny blowfish shades show me a room about twenty feet square. It’s got a concrete floor, but there’s a sofa and a table with three chairs. To the left, there’s a doorway to a dark hall. Straight ahead, there’s a workbench with a laptop and a printer. An ice chest, a hot plate, and a microwave define the kitchen area to the right. Next to the ice chest, there’s a rusted U-bolt sticking out of the concrete.
I’m standing looking at the room when suddenly there’s an arm around my neck. I arch my back so Herbie won’t feel the Ruger. Melinda pats me down and finds Mo’s 9.
“Hey, whatcha got here? Well lookie lookie.” She checks the slide like a pro and puts the gun to my head. She’s working her lips over her teeth in a weird way and her eyes have the demented look of a kid about to set a cat on fire. I know she’d love to shoot me, but Herbie says, “Hey, stay cool,” and she backs off.
Herbie takes the gun from her and says, “Check it out! A P38-K. Always wanted one of these. Why, thank you, Charlie Miner.” He winks at me. He’s got a three-day beard and a soul-patch and teeth as bad as his girlfriend’s.
Melinda takes the phones out of my pockets and puts them on the table. She opens a drawer under the table and pulls out a pair of handcuffs. Herbie puts the barrel of the gun up to my right nostril and pushes me backward toward the ice chest.
“Have a seat Charlie. It’s gonna be a long night.” Now he’s got the gun pointed down at the top of my head. Melinda slaps one ring of the cuffs onto my left wrist and attaches the other to the U-bolt. I lean back against the wall, the Ruger safe behind me. I wonder how this is going to play out.
Herbie takes the flashlight and steps outside while Melinda disappears through into the hallway. I check out of the body and follow Herbie to the trailer. Inside is the meth lab from hell, a jungle of glassware and vats of solvents and reagents, open pizza boxes with half-eaten pizza slices, empty bottles of Jack Daniels, a fire extinguisher, and a Tec-9 semi-auto pistol. Next to the Tec-9 is a manual for conversion to full auto.
Herbie shines his beam on a six-inch glass tube half-full of shiny white crystals. He grabs the tube and heads back to the main house.
“Hey, wake up!” Melinda slaps me in the face just as I re-enter the body. I want to break her wrist but now’s not the time. My ex-wife was a slapper, my mother had a right hand like a cobra, and I feel a fury in my gut every time I see a slap in a movie.
Herbie comes back in and empties the contents of the plastic cooler—ice and cans of Coke and bottles of beer—into the ice chest. He looks down at me and laughs while he does it. He tosses the cooler aside and goes to the table. There’s a glass pipe and a butane torch there, and Melinda’s pacing around the table and chewing on the inside of her cheek.
“Sit the fuck down, Mel,” Herbie commands, and she does, staring at the pipe like a dog waiting to be fed. Herbie pulls the rubber stopper off the vial and shakes some of the crystal into the bowl of the pipe. He fires up the butane torch and it looks like Melinda’s going to bark.
Somewhere within thirty miles of where I’m sitting, my daughter is being held captive by a psychotic untethered from any of the restraints that bind us to the social contract. The only thing on my side is that he’s expecting his father to arrive. I notice that none of the cell phones has rung; for once it’s helpful to be out of service range.
I expect the meth to get Herbie and Melinda even more agitated, but instead it seems to calm them down. Herbie comes over to me and kneels. “It’s gonna be ok,” he says. “We got a plan for you.” He opens the ice chest next to me and pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels. “So what’s with the gun, matey?”
So now he’s a pirate. Close to the truth seems as good as any story I could make up, so I tell him, “My daughter got kidnapped by her psycho boyfriend. I’m here to get her back. That’s what the gun is for.” Herbie’s face is inches from mine, his breath an unpleasant mix of gum rot, cigarettes, and something metallic. It’s the olfactory equivalent of chewing on tin foil.
“So how are you gonna find her down here?”
“She’s at a mine. It’s called Santa Clarita. Should be right near here.”
“Yep. If we’d kept going instead of turning left we’d ’a wound up there. Place is a fuckin’ dump.”
We’re nose to nose now. I wonder if I could get the gun out and shoot them both, but I’m not feeling it. Instead, I say, “I’ll pay you to let me go. Really. I’m desperate.”
“Well, bum trip, Lone Ranger, your mission’s gonna have to wait.” I’ve seen the look in his eyes before, the glint of madness barely restrained, a hint of delight at the mayhem to come. He gets up and disappears into wherever the dark hallway goes.
When he comes back, he’s got a four-foot rod with a white sheet furled around it. He opens the backpack and pulls out a digital camera. Melinda’s fondling Mo’s gun but puts it down when Herbie hands her the rod with the sheet. She unrolls it and tells me to lean forward, then she hangs it on the wall behind me.
Herbie’s crouching in front of me now, aiming the camera at me. “Okay, smile,” he says, and when I don’t he says, “Okay don’t, whatever,” and clicks away. The flash goes off five times. After each flash he looks at the back of the camera and shakes his head. “You look like shit, dude,” he says, and he gets up and takes the memory card out of the camera before putting it back in the pack.
Now Herbie goes to the workbench and fires up the printer and the laptop. He inserts the memory card into the laptop’s port and uploads the photos. I watch as Photoshop loads and he sizes the images, then saves them and hits Print.
“That Blackberry on the table’s got Global Positioning. The guys I hired to help me are within ten miles of here, and pretty soon they’ll find me.” It’s worth a try.
Herbie steps over to where I’m sitting and his boot lashes out between my legs, catching me square in the huevos. I clamp my knees together and trap his foot, then I roll to my side. Herbie goes down and Melinda’s got the gun in my face in a heartbeat.
Herbie gets up and brushes himself off. “You’ll fuckin’ pay for that, that’s a fuckin’ promise. But first you’re gonna make a delivery.” He hobbles over to the workbench and says, “Fuck! I think I got a sprained ankle.”
I look up at Melinda. She wants to shoot me. There’s something in her that wants to take this all the way, commit an irrevocable act, and seal the deal with her demons. Maybe she’s done it before, but I don’t think so; there’s a war going on in Melinda’s head. I tell her, “Hey, I’ve got a delivery to make,” and she backs off and sits at the table. I watch her chew on her cheeks and fidget. The adrenaline must be messing with her high. She tilts the bottle of Jack and drains about a quarter of it and then smacks me in the head with the butt of the gun.
It’s a good excuse to zone out. I play unconscious for a while, but all I hear is the butane torch hissing, the crackling of the meth in the bowl of the pipe, a cough, a long exhalation and what sounds strangely like a sob.
I leave the body and roam over to where Herbie’s working. He has two photos of me, an Exacto blade, a US passport, and a California driver’s license. He’s done this before; his hands are steady and his work is pretty good. I’m beginning to get a sense of his plan for me, but still don’t know how it works. I go back to my body.
“Didn’t need to hit him like that,” Herbie says.
“It won’t show, so what’s your problem?” Melinda’s got her high back. I hear the bottle of Jack thump down on the table.
“I just decided,” Herbie says, “to kill two birds with one stone.” I hear a match flare and smell weed burning.
“After delivery, I’m gonna send him to Mario’s. When Mario opens his front door, Ka-Boom! Goodbye fuckin’ deadbeat. He’ll never pay us anyway.”
I discover that I can watch without leaving the body and without opening its eyes. My roaming body can just sit there and watch and listen. Being dead is just full of surprises.
Herbie crosses to behind Melinda and takes her hair in his hand. She turns her head and accepts a lungful of smoke; their lips lock in a lingering kiss—tweaker love at its most poignant. Herbie sits down and starts with the pipe and torch again.
I roam through the hallway into the back room. There’s a mattress on the floor and a single lamp next to it on a board supported by two cinderblocks. Next to the lamp is a framed photo of Herbie and Melinda in better days. They’re standing in the sand by a pier, Herbie in board shorts, tan and muscular, and Melinda looking hot in a skimpy bathing suit. They look happy.
There’s a pile of clothes at the end of the bed, otherwise nothing in the room tells me anything useful. I go back to the body.
Junkies and tweakers are different breeds. They’re looking for opposite effects: one wants to feel less and the other wants to feel more. They both wind up numb to everything except for the desperate need to continue staying numb. And so, they’re different but the same. After all, addiction is addiction.
Herbie starts unwrapping the bandaging on his finger. Melinda says, “Christ, Herbie, you gotta stop that,” but he ignores her. Now he reaches in his backpack and pulls out a magnifying glass on a metal base, the kind hobbyists use for close-up work, and sets it on the table. Next, he finds a scalpel, a needle, a bottle of alcohol, and a small amber vial.
“Herbie, the doctor said there’s no glass in the cut. You gotta let it heal.”
“Fuckin’ beaner doctors don’t know shit.” Herbie uses the torch to sterilize the scalpel and the needle, then puts his hand under the magnifying glass. He pours a drop of Jack Daniels on the injured finger and shakes some powder out of the vial onto the cut.
“At least give me some of that,” Melinda says. She takes the vial and empties half of it onto the top of her fist, then snorts the whole pile. “You’re fuckin’ wasting good coke.”
“Shut up Mel. Just stop fuckin’ ragging at me for five fuckin’ minutes.” Now he positions the flashlight so the beam is on his finger. He bends to the magnifier and goes to work with the needle. “How ’bout you set him up with the cuff.”
“Fuckin’ great.” Melinda digs in the drawer and pulls out a shiny black plastic device. It looks like the lower half of a hinged knee brace, but with some modifications. There’s a pocket inside, and a metal hasp on the outside. Melinda inserts a duct-taped package into the pocket; it’s got an LED peeking out the top and a wire—probably an antenna—wrapped around it. Then she hikes my left pant leg up to my knee and puts the device on my ankle. She closes the hasp and secures it with a small three-ring combination lock. She goes to the table and pulls a transmitter out of the drawer; when she pushes a switch the LED turns on. She puts the transmitter down and starts with the pipe and butane torch again.
It’s getting light outside. Herbie and Melinda have been getting high and arguing about his hand and the glass that is or isn’t still in it. They’ve been talking about politics and their parents and which band is better, Metallica or AC/DC. They’ve been jabbering about getting clean and going to the Big Island. I can’t stand it anymore so I decide to stir, making like I’m groggy and just coming to, which isn’t far from the truth as roaming seems to take more out of me each time I try it.
“Hey, hey, the Lone Ranger’s waking up.” Herbie’s smoking another joint and drinking a can of Coke, probably to keep his blood sugar up enough to fool his body into thinking it’s being fed. “You messed up my ankle, dude, but I forgive you. I shouldn’t have kicked you like that. My bad.” He’s hobbling around the table, circling it over and over, gesticulating with his arms spread wide. Melinda has her elbow on the table and her head propped up, cheek to hand.
“So what’s the plan, Herbie?” He’s squinting against the sunlight filtering through the dusty window.
“Charlie wants to know what the plan is. Melinda, why don’t you lay it on him?”
Melinda’s crashing. She looks at me without moving; her lips are chapped and the first two times she opens her mouth nothing comes out. I notice that the glass tube on the table is empty. She speaks in a monotone: “You’ve got a packet of C-4 explosive locked onto your leg. It’s armed and ready to blow if I hit this button on the transmitter.” Now she picks up the transmitter and shows it to me.
“It’s got a range of two miles. If you get out of range, the loss of contact will detonate the explosive. If you try to take it off, it’ll blow. If you detour from the plan, I hit the button and you’re beef jerky.”
“Okay, I got it. But what’s the plan?” I’m guessing that I’m going to be a drug mule, but I want it spelled out by one of these bozos.
“You’re just gonna get in the car and drive back to the States. As soon as you’re across the border in San Ysidro, you’re pulling into the Denny’s on your right and swapping cars with Herbie. You’ll have one more quick job to do and we’ll disarm the detonator and text you the combination to the lock.” The right corner of her lip edges up in a weird parody of a smile.
“What about my daughter?”
Herbie says, “Not our problem, man. Maybe the team you’re supposed meet up with will save the day.” He laughs as he opens the door and goes outside, putting on sunglasses as he goes.
“He’s actually a really good guy,” says Melinda. “This is our last run and then we’re moving to Kona. We’re gonna get clean and just grow weed.”
“That’s good, Melinda. That’s really good. Maybe I can visit someday.”
She looks almost sad for a moment. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen, Charlie.”
Herbie comes back in with a backpack. He puts it on the table and pulls out three packages. Each one is about the size of a brick and is wrapped securely with duct tape. Where the tape isn’t covering it, I can see a brick of white powder wrapped in clear plastic. Herbie’s been a very busy little cook.
“Okay Charlie, from now until we meet up north, you’re Paul Cleary.” He tosses the passport and driver’s license on the floor in front of me. He turns to Melinda and says, “I’m gonna go into town and gas up the car. Then I’ll take care of the plates and put the product in the doors.”
Melinda doesn’t look happy. She’s got shades on too; she’s fidgety and the Jack Daniels is empty. “Aren’t you gonna leave me a little something?”
She’s whining now, and Herbie doesn’t like it. “Stay focused, Mel. When I’m back I’ll fix you up. It’s just fuckin’ town and back, twenty minutes, fuckin’ live with it.”
And he leaves.
I watch Melinda deteriorate over the next five minutes. She gets up and paces, sits down and drums her fingers on the table, chews on her cheek and keeps a separate drum beat with her left knee vibrating the table.
For fun, I say, “Hey, can I get up and go to the bathroom? I’ve been sitting here for hours.”
She jumps up like a startled rabbit and yells, “Shut the fuck up.” She has the transmitter in her hand and thrusts it at me like a knife fighter. She puts it on the table and circles it, staring at the bricks of meth. Finally, she pulls a knife out of the drawer and opens a corner of one of the bricks. She pulls a chunk of the powder out and drops it in the glass pipe and sits down and starts the butane torch.
She’s staring at the bowl of the pipe as the heat hits the powder and it starts turning into a gas when I pull out DeShaun’s Ruger. I shoot her in the left knee. The pipe flies out of her hand and the torch drops to the table, hissing as it spits a thin blue flame. I aim the Ruger at Melinda’s face. “Hands up. Very slowly, I want you to give me the key to the handcuffs.”
Her hands go up. The transmitter is right in front of her. “I don’t have them. They’re in the other room. I can’t walk.”
I aim at her other knee and say, “Counting, one, two . . .”
She says, “Okay, okay, they’re right here.” She reaches into the drawer. If she pulls out a gun, I’m in trouble, since I’ll have to shoot her and start all over again with Herbie. I aim at her face again and repeat, “Slow, Melinda, really slow and careful.”
Her hand comes out with the key. I tell her, “Good. Now, lean toward me and toss the key right here.” I gesture to the floor in front of me. She’s only five feet away, but she’s messed up, and the key could fly like the pipe did.
The key lands on the concrete at me feet.
I keep the gun pointed right between her eyes. “Hey, Melinda . . .”
“What?” She’s in shock, which is useful because it’s keeping her calm.
“Hands behind your head . . . that’s good. Now, use your right foot, push yourself away from the table . . . good, farther. Okay, stay like that.” She’s far enough from the transmitter that she can’t get to it. I have a feeling there’s enough C-4 on me to blow us both up and she knows it, but she could be crazy enough to take us both out.
I keep the gun on her while I open the cuff on my wrist. I get up and take Melinda by the elbow and help her up.
“What are you doing? I can’t walk.”
I pull on her elbow and she starts to keel over. She’s about five-eight but couldn’t weigh more than ninety pounds. I lower her to a sitting position and drag her to where I had been all night and bang the cuff on her wrist. It goes to its smallest diameter before it’s snug enough to keep her from slipping her hand out.
The butane torch is starting to scorch the table. I turn it off and sit in the chair Melinda was just in. There’s blood on the floor. I scoot over so that I’m right in front of her and say, “Okay, now, stay with me. If you get this right, I’ll bring you the pipe and the torch and a whole damned brick, okay?”
She nods, wild-eyed, starting to shiver. She’s holding her leg with her free hand and rocking back and forth.
“The combination, Mel. I need the combination.”
“3-8-6,” she says in a croaking stammer.
I slide the chair back to the table and pick up the transmitter. I lift my pant leg up to expose the device; the red LED is visible. I flick off the “Arm” switch on the transmitter and the LED winks out. The combination is good and the whole thing comes off.
On a hunch I take it outside and go into the trailer. There’s a ten-gallon drum of Benzene on the workbench. I take the C-4 packet out of the ankle cuff and put it behind the drum.
Melinda’s shaking now. I retrieve the pipe from the floor; it’s broken and useless. I hold it up to show her and she nods toward the table. I open the drawer—it’s deep and compartmentalized—and find another pipe. I hand it to Melinda, along with the torch and the already-opened brick.
I go outside again. The gate is closed and the dirt road extends downhill through about a mile of brush. I can see the juncture to the main road that leads to the highway. The truck is parked right next to the house; the trailer is about fifty feet away. Behind it, the hills rise steeply, sparse and rocky.
Back in the house, Melinda’s lying on one side, propped on her elbow so she can use her cuffed hand to hold the pipe while she aims the torch with her right. Blood is drying, dark brown and stiff, on her jeans. She lets out a cloud of smoke.
“So what are you gonna do when Herbie gets back?”
“Guess I’m going to have to shoot him. Got any better ideas?”
“You could make a deal with him. You can take the car and leave. No problem. Just don’t shoot him.”
I think about the photo of them in the other room. Somewhere in their feeble minds they still think of themselves as the couple in the picture.
“He’s planning on killing me after I finish my delivery.”
Melinda goes wide-eyed on me. “No, man, that’s not true, he wouldn’t do that.”
“Two birds with one stone. Mario. Ka-Boom. I heard the whole plan.”
“He was just high. He talks out of his ass when he’s like that, for real.”
I go back to the drawer and rummage through it. There’s a plastic shopping bag in one of the compartments. It’s got an extra pack of C-4 and a remote. There’s a high-intensity flashlight, and a pair of binoculars. I’m thinking if I get out of here and actually make it up the hill to the mine, this stuff could be useful. I wrap the pack of C-4 in a rag and put everything in the backpack.
I crack the door and see the Saturn stop at the gate. Herbie gets out and swings it open. I back into the house and crouch in the hallway to the bedroom, aiming the Ruger at the door. Melinda sits up and stares at the door, the torch in her free hand spitting its flame into the air.
The door starts to open and I’m ready to fire. Melinda yells, “Herbie, run!” and throws the torch at me. My shot goes wild as the torch bounces off my shoulder.
I sprint for the door and catch Herbie running toward the trailer. I fire at him from behind the truck but miss as he goes up the steps into the trailer. He turns and fires twice with Mo’s gun; the rounds slam into the side of the truck as he opens the door and disappears inside.
I wait and watch. The Saturn is parked down the driveway, washed-out blue as the bright and cloudless sky; crows circle overhead, flapping and cawing in the morning sun. The trailer’s door starts to open. I put two bullets in it and it closes again.
Melinda’s voice screams, “You’re gonna die, motherfucker,” and a barrel pokes through the louvered windows on the side of the trailer. More bullets slam into the truck and fly past me in a swarm. I guess he got the Tec-9 converted to full auto. I fire at the windows and duck back into the house.
Melinda’s staring at me triumphantly. “You’re so fucked!”
I go straight to the table, pick up the transmitter and push the “Arm” switch. I tell Melinda, “Say goodbye to the Big Island.” A clatter from the Tec-9 sends bullets through the thin wood wall of the house and out the other side. I push the red button.
Melinda screams an endless “Noooo . . .” that is drowned out by the explosion. Debris clatters against the wall of the shack; seconds later more lands on the roof. After a few minutes the crows return and Melinda’s scream subsides to a convulsive sobbing.
The trailer’s not looking too good. I hope the keys are in the Saturn, or I’m in for Freddy Krueger’s Easter egg hunt. I duck back into the shack for the backpack. I sweep up the three cell phones and put them into the pack. For some reason I feel thirsty so I grab a Coke out of the cooler. Melinda looks up at me and says, “What about me?”
“What about you, Melinda? Just a minute ago you were all excited about me getting killed, and now you want my sympathy?”
“You can’t just leave me here like this.”
“Well, yes I can. There’s a cloud of black smoke a quarter mile high coming off the trailer. I’m sure somebody’s going to be dropping by soon.” I retrieve the torch and toss it to her. “Here, this’ll keep you entertained.” The flame is out.
“It needs butane.” She’s pathetic now, eyes pleading. She looks to the drawer.
I pull out a new can of butane and hand it to her.
“Bye, Melinda. It’s been swell.”
Earl Javorsky is the author of Down Solo and its sequel, Down to No Good, as well as the novel Trust Me. He was born in Berlin and immigrated to the US when he was two. He grew up in Los Angeles and attended the local community college and UCLA. He then went to Emerson College, a teacher training school in England. Besides having written two published novels, he has created strategically optimized content (blogs, feature articles, and web pages) for treatment centers throughout the country, taught music at Pepperdine University (Malibu campus), worked in technical sales and marketing, and been employed as a writer for several Hollywood entertainment periodicals. Additionally, he has worked as an editor and/or proofreader for several publishers, including The Story Plant,BelleBooks, and The Learning Company, as well as (on the technical side) The Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. Find him on Twitter at @earljavorsky.