Gotta stop picking up strippers, you think to yourself. Not for the first time, and probably not for the last.
But that Louisville business worked out, so you’re flush with cash and driving south when you see the sign for Fantasyland Lounge off the interstate and decide what the hell.
She comes out on stage to “The Gambler”—not rap or ancient hair metal—and that gets your attention. She works the song’s slow tempo to her advantage, with every movement a seduction.
You slip a twenty in her garter and she trains the glimmer in her eye on you as she goes off stage. She’s draped a silk kimono over an outfit of straps and rhinestones before finding you in your corner booth. She plants a hand on your thigh and a kiss on your cheek.
“Buy me a drink,” she says, applying pressure with rocket science precision. It’s not a request.
You give the bartender a credit card and open a tab. Might as well, it’s not your credit card, anyway.
She hits a vape pen and exhales a white cloud that smells like gummy bears. She tells you her name’s Ruby.
“Haven’t seen you here before.”
“Passing through on business.”
“What’s your business?”
“Like I said, my business.”
When the DJ calls her back on stage, her intro song is “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).” She is entrancing, and when she’s finished, you know you’re finished too.
Back at the table, she takes another vape hit. This one like breakfast cereal. She’s got a smile that shouldn’t be trusted. The smile you’re a sucker for.
“I like you,” she says.
“Bet you say that to all the boys.”
“The girls too. Do a line with me.”
You do it right off the tabletop, in full view of everyone, not that anyone pays attention. The coke’s an accelerant, making the flames of everything that follow burn faster and brighter.
You buy bottles of champagne. Other dancers join the party. There’s more coke. Ruby and another girl dance to “Islands in the Stream.” You tell Ruby about Louisville and the money.
You wake up at a motel. Ruby brushing her teeth, asking if you were serious.
Your brain has been reduced to wet newspaper and sand, and you don’t remember what promises you’ve made.
“Me coming with you.”
You’ve done this before, and it never ends well. But in the warm morning light, last night’s manufactured sexy has faded to a soft vulnerability on Ruby that you find irresistible.
She needs to pick up her things and tell her man she’s leaving. There won’t be any trouble, she promises.
You pull into the trailer park and she asks to get her stuff from the trunk, then heads into the rusted-out double-wide.
“Coward of the County” comes on the satellite radio as you wait. You notice the dashboard trunk light and get out to close the trunk when you see the messenger bag is gone.
The messenger bag of money from Louisville.
The guy who steps out onto the double-wide front porch looks like a museum exhibit, an ancient ancestor of man. The shotgun could be a toy in his hands, but you know it’s not.
He doesn’t say anything. Why should he? He’s got a shotgun. The barrel drops slightly and he fires, burying buckshot into the ground right by your feet, dust and pebbles stinging your legs as they blow up onto you.
The shotgun barrel watches you as you get back into the car. Ruby comes out behind the man. Smiling, the way people do when they get away with something.
You reach toward the glove compartment for your gun. The shotgun barks again, and this time it shatters your passenger side window, and pebbles of glass rain down over you.
You squeal tires to get the hell out of there and think, You gotta know when to walk away, and know when to run.