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Friday, November 8, 2013

A Sky of Dimmer Stars

By Steve Bartholomew

Then Willard twisted around and levered his torso over the front seat, a laborious and ungraceful maneuver accompanied by the groans and nostril grunts that pre-empted what he'd been saying. I could tell by the surface tension of his polo shirt he'd been gaining weight. His size was already a scandal of the scene, a matter of comment among the earnestly gaunt. He tried to seem untouched by the opinion of others, part of the act he had to perform as a dealer.

He heaved himself back behind the wheel, a box of Red Vines in his fist. He gnawed one end open and with an expert jostle the first vine began its climb, a snakely burrowing into his mouth. He pulled away from the curb, small sounds escaping his throat on the tail of each breath. He had a way of eating mournfully, a second language in which he could lament the theft of his other car, one of the two things on the planet that mattered to him. I knew he also harbored a deeper grief, a dark swirl of doubt and possible betrayal surrounding the incident and its authorship.

I had commandeered the passenger side mirror, through which I stared into the city behind us, although nothing moved. These were the sketching hours, the long exhale between the last bar closers and the stirring of the first sleepers to their alarm clocks and coffee, those symbols marking the birth of a new day. Or so I distantly remembered. For me, a day lasted from sleep to sleep, which right now was a week away in either direction, more or less.

"Let's check Terry's," Willard said between cudlike chews, the wet snicks of plastic suction placing commas every two words or so. "She knows that bitch. They got like a thing."

"You looking for the girl then. Not the car," I said. "You plan on talking nice-like to her in front of, say, ten witnesses? Otherwise I'm out."

"No. I only care about finding the car. It's just, we been everywhere. And I heard--"

"We chasing rumors? Or you wanna stick to how I do this? If you got rumors, I got other things."

"I just keep thinking," he assured me and then drifted vacant.

"It won't be where you think to look."

"How do you know?"

"This is why I‘m here. Why you're not trying this solo. These are things you have to consider, fact versus rumor."

"Where would you of tooken it?"

"Somewhere you'd never find it. That's why I know it ain‘t there," I said. He had a chirp-laugh that surfaced in tense times, like a politician being asked about an allegation, and he spaghetti'd in another vine and laughed around it. I let him chew my stated fact also.  "Then again, they are not me. Swing by anyway, if you want. But take Greenwood, will you?"

I indulged his ideas for the same reason I let him drive, even though I worked better alone. If he was to save any face after being outwitted by a girl known for her electroshock impersonations, it would be by taking an active role in finding his own car, whether or not we ever actually found it. Locating the car was one thing, retrieving it another altogether, and both happened to be among my dismayingly few talents.

Make no mistake. I am an outlaw. I prefer this word to its synonyms, the romantic way it rolls off the tongue, the longstood tradition of misread capering. What you call yourself has a curious effect on the distance between you and your vocation. The matter of maintaining a self-conscious barrier, like a costume held at arm's length, even though you are only dressing up as yourself. Words like criminal and thief and junkie fit too snugly.

What's in a name, indeed. I could relate on some level with Willard's name shuffling in the past. Years before, he had gone by Bill. This became Fat Bill because in our world last names are rarely used, but you still have to differentiate between all the Bills, most of whom seemed to peddle something. Since he would not call himself Fat Bill, confusion ensued over the phonelines as to which Bill exactly was calling. He then started calling himself Will, an accident of cruel self-mockery, given that his last name was Powers. It took some months for him to recognize his own name as the punchline for a missing joke. Willard it is, then.

A few sleeps back, he had asked me to meet him at Jeannie's, the girl he tried to charm with all the subtlety of a mime. Willard was something between friend and connection to me, suitor and stalker to her. Jeannie and I stood in the kitchen comparing days long gone, which always seem simpler and less disquieting with distance. I liked listening to her because she risked the searing ordinariness of honesty. She was well-keeled of spirit and frame, a long-haul composure that made her attractive once you knew her, but in an investigation, you might tell the sketch artist to draw a dissatisfied girl. I could not often spot her motives among the weary drifts of her face, the downward shadows around her mouth making me fall for her dry humor, something she took fleeting glee in. We half-monitored the assembly in her living room, which had been transformed into Willard‘s waiting room. Narrow faces drawn from the wrong sides of tan lines, eight sets of incurious eyes twitchily watching the door for him and his miniature ziplocs of sleep deprivation.

Jeannie had a sister who had a sporadic lover who had a problem. Dominique was bent on her own unweaving, but within minutes of doing a line--only if it was good, she said--she would corkscrew into a panic fit, a rigid tantrum that felt to me like watching an inverted orgasm. A rapture of dark revelations, hallucinatory subplots both extravagant and centering entirely around her peril, because paranoia is mostly ego stretched thin. Episodes exhausting in their duration and which begged certain open-ended questions regarding recreational drug use. 

I had tried once to ease Dominique's crisis with my company, sitting beside her and speaking in a reassuring way, avoiding provocative words during her throes. But when I offered what was meant to be a comforting arm around her shoulders, she bit me above the wrist, which made me, as they say, twice shy. Otherwise Dominique had about her a layered pathos, a barefoot allure splattered with pity.

This night she sat perched on the arm of Jeannie's love seat but would share it with no one, a token statement that struck me as thematic when I thought about it. If not for her skivvy skin tone she could have been a model for no-nonsense American products like anti-depressants. The fact that my brand of genitalia made her unattainable lent her brooding a mysterious air.

Eventually Willard arrived and transacted with everyone except Jeannie, who never had to pay. Before I could spot a polite exit, Dominique had helped herself, apparently, to a good enough line. She was potato-bugged in a corner, keening into her fists and eyeing the roomful of sudden suspects in the ongoing plot against her. Nothing makes you so conscious of your own trajectory as watching the disintegration of someone more or less in the same orbit.

I edged toward the door, looking anywhere but the corner. I knew that acknowledging her with direct eye contact would only cinch my role in the conspiracy. I watched people contemplate leaving even though rain shimmered against the rattling windows. Departure flies in the face of tweaker logic, which says that if you prematurely evacuate wherever you got high, you might just leave your high there too. I could see Jeannie pondering the ambience of a room emptied of all but Willard, Dominique and herself. She turned toward Willard, placing him squarely in the crosshairs of her cleavage.

"Can she sit in your car for a minute?" she asked, trailing her hand across Willard's knee, a ritual gesture sure to conjure her desired answer. "She will only be like this maybe a half hour. Annie's supposed to come get her anytime. It's pouring out there, and I can't have her in here ruining everyone‘s high like this."

Unwilling to risk her further displeasure, Willard nodded, hunching over to one side and digging from his pocket his keys. He placed them in her other palm in a manner not unlike the first half of a transaction.

Jeannie got up, crossed the room and squatted beside the trembling girl. She held the keys by the proper one, thumb and forefinger. "Dominique? Hey, Willard is letting you sit in his car, where it's safe. Alright? Just go chill in his backseat and get yourself together. Don't touch nothing, okay?"
Dominique nodded, took the keys carefully, and with a great snuffly inhale looked from Jeannie to Willard and back again. She stood and sidled out the door without turning her back on anyone.

Hours passed. The weather had cried itself to sleep in time for me to go see what the storm had washed open. Willard was on the couch, rubbing the feet laid across his lap with the singular focus of someone who believes that sometimes the lamp pops out of the Jeannie. As I began my see-ya-laters, his head tilted, hands gone still, his expression folded into one of sudden realization. He went to the window and pulled back the drapes. His car was gone. Everyone present knew this because he shouted as much at the glass. We all ran outside and stood around the empty parking spot, seemingly looking it over for clues while Willard vented off vendetta rhetoric.

He ran back inside and seconds later began bellowing at great volume. Someone, evidently Dominique, had taken the title to the car from the small desk safe Willard had left in Jeannie's bedroom either for safekeeping or as an excuse to gain entry, depending on who you asked. How likely it was that Dominique could have done this without help was something we did not talk about.

She called Jeannie the next day and said she had fallen asleep in the backseat, the ignition left on for the radio, and awoken to someone stealing the car and her with it. This brazenly alleged car thief had, she said, dropped her off a few blocks away but she was too frightened to come back and not be believed. Tweakers have perfected the diet story, which typically contains less than half the truth of chronicles of actual events. But this one tasted especially watery with no witness but her, and when you considered the title had been transferred the day before into some other person's name. Willard could not report the car stolen even if he'd wanted to--something not done, as a rule, in our world because it involves the police. Word was, it had been sold in the meantime for a few thousand to someone either unwitting or foolish.

We were creeping southward, Willard and I, on Greenwood Avenue, a main artery in North Seattle. The night air was cold and smeared with fog. I thought about why I felt compelled to spend precious chunks of crimetime hours every night hunting Willard‘s car, when I knew he would never do the same for me. It wasn't out of a sense of loyalty to him as either dealer or friend, neither of which he was very good at. I would accept nothing in trade from him because I did not like the implied obligation.

Darkened structures slipped past and I let my eyes graze across car after car without really seeing them. The novelty had long faded in this, the tracking down of various items taken from tweakers by tweakers, something that--shockingly--happens from time to time. Oh, the indignation of the thief whose stolen property comes up missing. What I do requires less Scooby Dooing than one might imagine, since people with habits are people of habit, travelling in circuits dismally narrow and unimaginative. It really comes down to having a shameless level of familiarity with places that, for our society, have replaced the world. Our networks are self-referring and convoluted, a social origami folded into meaningless shapes. We cling to tenuous connections and tasteless alliances because we are unwelcome and inaccessible to outsiders. To the sleeper-world, we are the secrets no one wants to keep.

My past repo exploits had led me to believe I had either a knack or someone else's misplaced luck. I wondered if I could square my willingness to risk greatly with some supreme effort to swing the karmic scale my way a couple degrees, this righting of wrongs, a mild west notion of justice outside the law. Detergent for the soul. But the less noble and more likely truth was that these were the rare moments when I got to be what we all want to be: needed.

I peered out the window and into the mirror. Ours was the only moving vehicle in sight.

"Willard," I said, holding my hand up in a caution gesture, "don't swerve or hit the brakes. We just passed it. Your car."

"Oh, jeez. Are you sure? I mean, I didn't even see it. Are you--could you see the plate? Oh God, what is it? PWH something. Shit." His speech came whispered with the full-bladder urgency of a tardy salesman. "Shit. What are we gonna do? I mean, how you wanna do it? Want me to help?"

"First, I'm pretty sure we don't need to whisper. I don't think they can't hear us. Second, relax. If you go all asthmatic on me, you are no help at all. I checked the plate," I recited it correctly for his benefit. "Just pull over up here. Calmly. Turn the car off. Take the key off your ring. Give it to me." It seemed important to give him instructions in the proper order.

He parked drunkardly a block farther down, jumping the curb before tremoring the key from his ring. He was sucking air and furiously stroking his mustache, which he tended avidly, its distance above his lip particular to movie villains. I urged him to just breathe and listen carefully, worrying that the emotional racketry of zero hour would put him in a state.

I held the key in my teeth and thugged up, black gloves and hoodie. I told him what to expect, how I hoped this would go. I did not tell him the other way it could go. Then I pushed open the door and in one motion became the silent piece of night that moves things without asking.

It is in these coiled moments, the prior stillness, that I wonder how far the inertia of resolve might carry me. Once you commit to such an act, once you put your word and the threshold behind you, your reputation says turning back is no option. Arrested panic takes lodging beneath your heart muscle, the multiplied self-awareness that means even your toes are living this. Because this is not some smoke-inflated living room full of torn-apart computers and knotted jaw muscles, where slick-skinned afficionados stew in their stillborn plans, their borrowed fictions swashing about, masquerading as actual deeds.

There are no retakes on this stage, where if you are not good enough to cope with randomness on the fly, you get shot or stomped out, you get stabbed. You only get arrested if you're lucky. The flimsy plan coating my mind was really just improvised hope. If only there were no difference between unflinching courage and living up to an expectation. If only I were as brave as they assume I am.

I took the last drag of my cigarette and flicked it. My exhale joined the fog and was lost. But for the ruckus in my ribcage, silence. A toenail moon cast a nicotine glow. Night graphics, the visible world illustrated in sodium yellows and black, streetlamps halo'd in the murk. I sank into the shadow of a low-slung evergreen where I might be mistaken for an inkblot, because I know how to be still. I waited for my eyes to pull apart the mosaic darkness.

It was an ex-police LTD, a midsized car with an oversized motor, an interceptor into which he had funneled a great deal of illicit funds. Willard believed money laundering meant investing three times what something was actually worth. The LTD was still cop-white, and I remembered it to be cop-fast.

I could see it nosed in halfway beneath the apartment building. The type where the lowest balconies are just above the parking area, as if the building has its skirt pulled up. The first floor curtains above the car were all lit up. I figured whoever was moving around behind them was, too.

Willard's parting words had been: "Dude, I don't know who lives there. Be careful. That car ain‘t worth getting hurt over." He said this emphatically as if he thought my plan was to yell a hearty Neener Neener before taking the car they believed was theirs. I knew the occupants remotely, second or third order acquaintances. A couple in their thirties and passionate only about their disputes, endlessly indulgent providing their visitors were providing, so to speak. No telling who else could be in there. Or how many. Silhouettes are never as clear and easy to count as in the movies.

I saw myself being spotted during my approach and how that could play out, either a short foot chase in which I would have the advantage, or they wait until I am in the car to act. I saw myself gain the driver seat only to discover that someone had installed a killswitch, a failsafe I always install in my own cars, a spendthrift precaution against these very moments.

I saw myself succeed in starting the car only to have them call the police, who can descend upon Greenwood Ave with staggering quickness. I tried to imagine success without incident, but could not. Somewhere a cat yowled like an infant cursing.

I slunk along the neighboring building's wall, where streetlamps wouldn't reach me. I never took my eyes from those windows, and in this manner I ran heel and toe across the dark parking lot. A sodium lamp flickered on as I passed beneath it and I felt suddenly out of context, like a ninja evicted at noon. No one saw me reach the driver-side of the car.
I unlocked the door and pulled it open. From its hinges came the squawk of some fabled metallic night bird. Your entry-level tweaker car alarm. I cringed and slipped behind the wheel, praying it had only been that loud to my nerved-up ears.

The stagnant spice of someone else's brand of cigarettes and another smell--a scent whose nature I marked as feminine and expensive, making it twice as out of place in Willard‘s car.

I shoved the key into the ignition. It would not turn. The spare key was cut only on one side, and true to form I had inverted a thing of great moment. I pulled it out and a glitch in my fingers made me drop it. As I ran my fingertips in frantic search patterns on the filthy carpet I heard, coming from beyond my own set of breathed profanities and thief-sized noises, the indistinct sounds of movement. Finally I found the key, lifted it to the light, turned it the correct way, jammed it in and turned it.

The ignition switch is the car thief's line of scrimmage.

The starter clawed and howled, a dim memory surfacing of this car being coldblooded and ticklish to start in general. Some performance quirk in the tricked-out fuel injection. Shadows waved across the top of the windshield. I wiped the fog away with my left hand. Lower extremities descending from the balcony. They were lowering onto the hood.

They seemed a mob to my odds-making instinct, those three sets of feet dangling and dropping the short distance. They were in hightops and skater shoes, they were in boots. They were attached to howling fury. The impact made the car curtsy. A sticker on the dashboard read: I'll sleep when I'm dead. I pumped the accelerator and then questioned the mechanical reasonableness of doing that. One of the hightop sneakers was untied, a safety issue in these scenarios. Everything, every thought, occurred at the same time.

Two of the men crouched like gargoyles on the hood. So much murder scrunched into two faces. The starter whelped and yipped, a plaintive tone matching my idiot prayers. I made sweeping deals with gods, anyone listening, just in case one was real. I apologized to the car for ever calling it a bacon-bucket.

Eyes black as bullet holes glared from one of their faces a foot away. He flailed his bony fists at the windshield and it cracked. A noodle of snot hung into his chin beard, flecks of spittle sprayed from his mouth as he roared, an animal display of injured rage. His teeth could have been gravestones for hamsters. He seemed the most emotionally invested in what was happening, so I pegged him as the one who figured he owned the car.

The second one was checking door handles. For the first time in 28 years, I hoped a stranger had locked their doors. Another one was on the trunk, bouncing the car's suspension, a mildly distracting squander of energy that missed entirely the spirit of the encounter.

I realized that my life dangled from spark plug wires. They say death rides a white horse, but this night it might ride a faulty distributor cap or one of a thousand parts made in factories by sweaty people whose names I will never know.

The engine caught, stumbled, misfired, caught again. And it screamed the thunder of four hundred agitated horses.

The suspected owner leapt off the hood and ran to my side of the car, punching glass and howling uncreative threats. A knife blade protruded from his fist. He must not have had the presence of mind to slash his own tires, something sure to be on his list of should'ves to be reviewed later.

More figures were dropping from the balcony.

I slipped it into reverse. Floored it. A shrieking mess of tire smoke dragged the car across the lot and onto Greenwood, where I spun the front end around and aimed it south. Speed may indeed kill, but it doesn't beat you to death, which seemed the intent of the six or eight men running across the lot and jumping into cars. I would take my chances with speed.

Mr. Ford designed this LTD to outspeed speeders, in a word, to intercept. This function had only been improved since the factory. Its acceleration was mechanical violence. Half a block in a breath, and I must get off this road, this thoroughfare, where I am visible to them and to the cops who lurk along here like spiders. Behind the wheel I am not so ill-equipped to face the world. When eluding police becomes a occasional part of your reality, you become intimate with limits--the vehicle's and your own--or you go to jail. I'd only ever been arrested on foot.

A nudge of the e-brake to set a proper drift and I unbent the first right turn, threading the parked cars lining both sides of the street. Through the radio speakers, Jonathan Davis chanted that he could see, he could see he was going blind. Three blocks in a blur and another right turn. Twinkle of lights on chrome behind me.

I fed as much fuel as traction would permit, piling speed upon speed. Listening for a telltale knock or shimmy, a part fatiguing, the checkered flag thrown. Listening for sirens, my heart bucking like an escape artist. Exhaust howl, the dominant note in an ascending chord.

A northbound flight on a two lane road, velocity befitting a takeoff. That road, though curveless, undulates as if it were laid upon the back of some great sea beast. Toward the mythical end of the speedometer, the tires beneath me were all but airborne at each crest. The rebodying squash of exaggerated gravity at each belly.

Lights off, the rule of evasion. My eyes were sacs of turmoil, the blur of trees, houses and power poles, the micro-glances sideways at intersections cleared at the speed of felonies. Vision sucked raw from the socket and spat upon the cascading darkness, scanning for cops, for pursuers, and for Willard. I'd told him to keep flashing his high beams in bursts of three so that I would know if he was behind me. Otherwise I'd assume anyone behind me was a hostile.

Road scan, side-road glance, rearview check. Repeat non-stop, a neurotic bobblehead. Stop signs fluttered past, emerging suggestions to be ignored. I tried to find the you-are-here dot on my mental map, where and now this road would peter out. Road scan, side-road glance. This time the rearview was filled with the pale eyes of the girl in the backseat.

I clamped down on my startle before it became a swerve.

"Who are you?" she asked in a conversational tone I might expect if the wrong roommate answered the phone.

It seemed too deep-seated a moment for an alias, so I answered honestly.

"Who are you?" '

"I'm Jessica." She said this as if it should clear everything up.

I slowed to a thoughtful, and more social, ninety. I thought about how this event had evolved from a repo ,which was technically a theft of a motor vehicle into what was now a kidnapping of some degree. My criminal calculus subtracted no awkwardness whatsoever from the air.

"Look, Jessica, I‘m not actually stealing this car. You're in no danger from me."

"You don't seem dangerous to me anyway."

I took mild offense at this. What kind of a priss seems a harmless stranger to a girl in the dark, even when hooded up and gloved sinisterly while committing a dramatic series of illegal acts at obscene speeds? "It actually belongs to a guy named Willard. Sort of a friend of mine. Somebody peeled it, with the title."

She climbed catlike over the seat. A willowy girl, runway legs in runaway jeans. She leaned forward and swept her hair behind her so she could see, an unrehearsable poise in her movements. "Is he the fat one?"

"Yeah."

"I‘ve heard of him."

She arranged herself facing me, one leg folded beneath her, a prim half lotus at a hundred miles an hour. She had finespun skin, the angles of her face following a pert symmetry, a confident mouth she held just open as if about to say something. The kind of pretty that seemed determined to endure whatever she was subjecting herself to. Dirty-blonde hair that might actually have been dirty.

"I really don't know nothing about this car," she offered, and yawned. She checked her nails by the streetlights strobing past. "I mean, my boyfriend bought it like a week ago. He is gonna be pissed."

"Let me guess. With the long chin beard?"

"God, I hate that thing. He won't even trim it. It's like a squirrel tail hanging in your face, all wagging around, know what I mean?"

I did not, and then I did, and I was not grateful.

"I think he already is," I said. "Pissed, I mean."

"Why do you got the headlights off?"

So we cannot be seen by the ones looking for you. "So I can see. Oncoming crosstraffic, their lights."

"I wish they were on."

"Your eyes'll get used to it."

"Okay. Where are we going?"

"Why the hell were you in the backseat?"

"I was crashed out. Better than festering in that apartment. Him and his buddies taking car stereos apart all night. Or I thought it was. Whatever, right?"

"Sorry." There seemed to be nothing more worth saying, in terms of etiquette.

A dismissive shrug. I wondered when she'd woken up and how she could have slept through any of it. I reflected on Dominique's claim of being sleepjacked, and how alleged I would sound to anyone not living this story.

"We‘re going to meet up with Willard soon, and I’ll have him take you back there, to the apartment," I said, "but my cut in these deals is whatever I find in the car. You tell me what's yours, and you can keep it. But your boyfriend‘s stuff... you can tell him I'm sorry about that, if you want."

"I just got like a backpack in the trunk."

"You got it. Soon as we stop."
I watched the rearview. Headlights creating a rise a mile, maybe two, behind us. I could not gauge their speed but they seemed too fast to be coincidental. And not flashing. If I were her boyfriend, I would unleash all manner of krakens in coming after her, but I did have his car. He could be back there in someone else's, because I would be. I would have followed Willard, who knew my general route.

"So..." she let the syllable trail off. When she continued, she spoke as if to the windshield. "What about me?"

"I told you."

"Well. I mean, technically, you did find me in the car."

I eyed her profile in studious intervals before answering, because oftentimes what a girl says out loud has little to do with what she means. The depths of a stately pose, and all that it concealed was lost on me.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't really want to go back there. He's an asshole. And he‘ll probably blame me for this, for not doing nothing. His gun‘s on the floor behind you. I guess I sleep heavy, so."

"I guess. Where do you want to go?"

"How about wherever you're going?"

She looked at me then. She looked, and I saw what she meant. I jerked my face forward and we were in the wrong lane.

"Jessica. How old are you?"

"Old enough."

This is one of those phrases that calls itself into question by its very utterance.

"I kind of need a number."

"Seventeen."

I slowed to a conflicted eighty.

"Listen, You‘re a very pretty girl, no doubt about that. But I'm about a decade older than you. And if I go back to the joint for any of what happened tonight, your name will not be on my paperwork. I better take you back where I found you."

"I'm almost eighteen."
"And I‘m almost out of judgment for the night, so we should probably table this at least until your birthday."

A deep sigh then, that expulsion of female exasperation with which I am familiar.

In the rear distance highbeams flashed three times, then again. Willard. I slowed to a speed I felt was more appropriate for transporting an underage girl in a stolen car. Turned right and then left and parked on a side street. Willard pulled up beside us, his little Pontiac smoking and ticking. His passenger window whirred down and he leaned into the opening,

"Dude, that was so awesome. You should've seen--"

His face went still and hovered like an onion on a stick. He stared at Jessica, who already had about her an air of tolerant disenchantment, an affect not uncommonly observed in the girls I date. I could see him processing the event and its aftermath, the admiration dawning thickly. Because in order for me to have had time to stop and pick up a girl in the middle of fleeing the scene--well, I must really be as fast as they say I am.

I got out and popped the trunk, lifted out Jessica's backpack, a vastly- zippered titan festooned with witty pins and trinkets, the heft of much clothing inside. I handed it to her and opened Willard's passenger door. She got in silently and did not directly look my way even as the car pulled away.

I sat behind the wheel for some time, waiting for the small tide of accomplishment from an account settled, the glow common to the afterward hush. But it never came. I watched the night thin in silence, a condition in accord with my own sense of solitariness, the feeling I kept outside myself. I‘d learned to stop noticing the soured hollowness, the mental aftertaste from a life baked with mislabeled ingredients. I thought about this thing I was doing, the way you can sneak up on certain articles of self-knowledge when your circumstance seems borrowed. I listened for something besides the sandbag pulse behind my eyes.

I reached behind the driver-seat, felt the pistol on the floor, closed my hand carefully around the grip. A Chinese .380, unremarkable and unmistakably chambered with the safety set to exciting. How differently this could have gone. I rolled down the window before lighting a cigarette, a dumbly conscientious reflex because this was once again Willard's car and he did not smoke. A gray scatter of traffical murmurs on the scrubbed air, the collective scratch and yawn of a city going about the business of daybreak. I was inclined to stop reflecting on Jessica's semi-sound return to whatever awaited, her own autobiography of dentally ramshackle men with ownership eyes, backpacks and draggle apartments. A bleak forecast I wanted to blame on my own lack of imagination. I was not quite fool enough to mistake my own mental makeup for the noble, damsel-savior sort, but even outlaws can turn wistful when sealed off and durably alone. At least her story had been witnessed, at least she would be believed.

A woman in a maroon Camry slowed while driving past and I could read in her face that she thought I looked dangerous. I took small satisfaction in this before starting the engine and turning on the headlights even though I did not need them.


Steve Bartholomew 978300
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777

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