Tara stands in the corner while Ben stomps on the kid’s neck, the heel of his boot digging into the soft skin of his throat.

“How’d you find us?” Ben screams at the kid. “How the fuck did you find us?”

From the corner, she sees the look the kid gives. Terrified but defiant. She sees how young he looks, even with his broken mouth. Barely old enough to buy a beer. Barely older than her. His lips pull back. Blood coats his teeth and she watches as it bubbles then pops when he tries to breathe.

She goes to Ben. Pulls at his arm. “Stop,” she says.

He jumps at her touch, as though he’d forgotten she were there, but doesn’t stop. The heel digs deeper into the kid’s neck while the kid reaches for the gun, too far out of reach underneath the formica table, until some necessary vein bursts and blood blooms across his chest and blossoms over the carpet.

His body rattles in spasms, then stills.

Tara pulls Ben harder this time, until he steps off the kid’s throat.

She steps away. Breathes deep. Feels the beat of blood beneath her own skin, hot against her cheeks. Feels the capillaries flutter open beneath the flesh. Holds the air deep in her chest, it’s presence an animating force. She takes these breaths, long, deep, until her hands stop shaking. “He wasn’t going to say anything anyway.”

“I just needed to know.”

She inhales again, drowning herself in life, ignoring the smell of iron on the air. “There was nothing to tell.”

They check him for a knife or a phone but find nothing, then remove the kid’s Cut, his black and white PROSPECT badge now coated crimson, before using one of Ben’s aunt’s rugs from the living room to wrap the body.

“There’s a river not far,” Ben says. “I could toss him in. Maybe he’ll come out in the Missouri. Wash up somewhere south. Keep them from getting an idea where we’re at.”

“No,” she says. “We should bury him here.”

“But it could throw them off.” He is standing over the rug, the kid wrapped up inside. His chest puffed out. Eyes bloodshot. The wear, of the kid, of the hiding, of all the miles since Texas now finally seeping through. She can tell he’s hurt – that he’s worried she’s given up. That he wants her to say something. To reassure him.


She steps out of the kitchen. Through of the wreckage strewn living room, where Ben and the kid had struggled for the gun. Through the front door — glass laying a glittering trail beneath her boots — then onto the porch.

Night has dropped over the house and the fields that sleep around it, the black perforated only by the frost-dried husks of untended crop. She watches the dirt road leading to the house, but nothing moves. It’s as though the entire land has given way to death, and she marvels at his Aunt, the resilience she must have carried in her, to live in such a place, night after night, the darkness growing ever more thick.

She takes a deep breath. Feels the weight of life in her chest again. The weight of it. A physical thing. Like dirt on a body, or a duffel bag filled with cash slung across your shoulders on the ride from from Galveston to Nebraska.

Ben steps onto the porch. “Tara, you okay?”

“We shouldn’t have taken it.”

“They’re never gonna find us. He didn’t even have a phone on him. He didn’t call them.”

“But how’d he find us?”

Ben reaches out, then. Takes her hand. She lets him hold it. Cold skin against cold skin. He starts talking, saying how clean their escape was, but she isn’t paying attention. It’s a story she knows. Instead, she stares into the fields of rotting crops and up at the dull dusting of stars and the invisible horizon where they meet and thinks of the kid in the carpet and all the death that surrounds her.

She takes a breath and waits to feel the life spread in her blood, but nothing comes.

Dropping Ben’s hand, Tara steps off the porch, her ears straining for the sound of engines she knows are somewhere out there, rushing to meet her.

~ fin ~


Paul J. Garth is a Best American Mystery and Suspense distinguished story author who has been published in Thuglit, Tough, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Plots with Guns, Crime Factory, Rock and a Hard Place, and several others magazines. He lives and writes in Nebraska with his family, where he eats too many tacos, listens to too much heavy metal, and enjoys just the right amount of bourbon. An editor at Rock and a Hard Place and Shotgun Honey, he is at work on his first novel, and can be found online by following @pauljgarth