Gina expected a corpse, but the man she found in the trailer was only half-dead. Fresh blood on the mattress. Hair matted to the sweat-damp pillow. Three days ago, Marco sat at death’s door. Now it looked like death had chewed him up and spit him out again.
“I thought you’d left me,” said Marco. “What took so long?”
“It’s easier to buy dope than antibiotics,” she said.
He watched her with graveyard eyes. “Well?”
“I got both.” She unzipped her purse. “And bourbon.”
Marco coughed hard and the cough wouldn’t quit. Veins throbbed in his temples. Beside him sat a reusable shopping bag, brimming with loose cash. He clawed a handful of hundred-dollar bills and wiped blood from his lips, dropped the wad of money in his lap. Gina handed him a bottle of amoxicillin and a fifth of Wild Turkey.
He spun the cap off the bottle and took a hard pull.
The pills came next.
“Let me look,” she said. “Lift your shirt.”
He shook his head. “I don’t want you to see it.”
“Just show me.”
He showed her.
She stepped back, covered her mouth.
They’d just hit the last bank on the list when it happened. The first two went so easy. Like they’d won the lottery. Like the U.S. Treasury had printed their faces on the money from the get-go.
But not the third bank.
Not the Liberty Bank on Highway 9.
That one was a shitshow. A goat fuck rodeo.
When Marco came out with the money, an old man with a shiny bald head and thick drugstore glasses came after him. Probably had a piece on his ankle. Gina thought he looked like an ex-cop, or maybe one of those concealed carry wingnuts who wait their whole lives to be the good guy with a gun. The first shot went wide, the second shot went straight through Marco’s stomach. Marco spun on his heels and fired the pump-action Mossberg, spilling the old man’s breakfast, lunch, and maybe last night’s dinner over the parking lot. He’d always told Gina that’s why he loved shotguns. You could hollow out a man with a single round of buckshot, no maybes about it.
But now Marco faced a truckload of maybes.
“We weren't supposed to stay this long.”
Tears in his eyes -- tears of agony, but also fear.
“We have to get to the Reno house.”
“It’s too far,” she said. “You need to rest.”
She knew he was right. She’d been tailed just that morning. A silver Camry with exempt plates and tinted windows way past legal. It followed her down the highway to the 41st Avenue exit, then to the northbound on-ramp in a loop.
Time was up. She felt them closing in.
“Full moon last night,” he said. “Saw it through the window. It scared me.”
She didn’t know why he was telling her this.
“It scared you?”
“It watched me like an eye, Gina. Like it knew me.”
“Just the infection, baby. The pills will help.”
“I called for you. Over and over again.”
“I’m sorry. It was crazy out there.”
He took another drink from the bottle, struggling. The liquid reddened with blood and fountained off his chin. If any of it went down his throat, she couldn’t tell.
“You said you had dope,” he said.
She rifled in her purse and found the package of suboxone strips. A blue box with a white stripe. He opened his mouth and she placed an eight-milligram square under his tongue. He gagged. Pink foam hung at his lips and she wiped it with one of the bloody bills.
He caught his breath, said: “You remember the wildfires a few years back?”
“When they shut off the power?”
“It was so hot we slept naked on top of the sheets.”
“You need to rest.”
“I’m trying to tell you something.”
“Trying to tell me what, baby?”
“My favorite memory. I’d wake up, candles burning low. I thought you looked so beautiful next to me, naked in the candlelight. So perfect.” His eyes unfocused and slowly dialed back again. Breath rattling in his chest. “It was the happiest I’d ever been. The happiest I’ll ever be.”
Gina set her purse on the floor. She went to the cupboard and found a half-empty bag of tea candles and set them about the room. She lit them one by one with a cheap gas station lighter and stripped off her clothes and curled beside him atop the mattress. With one hand he stroked her hair and with the other he took sloppy pulls from the bottle.
After a few minutes, he stopped.
She studied him very intently.
Maybe he passed out.
Maybe it didn’t matter anymore.
She gathered her clothes and donned each garment slowly, as if each was its own goodbye. The bloody bills checkered the floor and mattress and she collected them all and set them in the bag. With the bottle in one hand and the bag in the other, she leaned in the doorway, drinking and watching him. A few men had told her they loved her, but only Marco had ever meant it. Only Marco.
She went through the hallway to the kitchenette and spun the stove knobs.
The gas emptied with a flameless hiss, just a cold memory of flame.
Marco sat motionless in the candlelight.
A mile down the road, the rearview brightened. She tilted the mirror. An orange fireball low on the horizon. It reminded her of her childhood in Palm Springs, when she and her brother once saw a meteor tear through the desert twilight in a cataclysm of green and golden fire. Momma came running into the backyard. Grandmother too. They watched it burn up the sky, turning night into day.
Everyone had a favorite memory.
Hers had nothing to do with Marco.
C.W. Blackwell was born and raised in Northern California, where he still lives with his wife and two sons. He has been a gas station attendant, a stockbroker, and a crime analyst. His passion is to blend poetic narratives and pulp dialogue to create evocative genre fiction. He writes mostly crime fiction and dark fiction.