Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tornado Noir

Phirun was watching the weather report when the kid pulled a .380 that probably hadn’t been cleaned since the Carter administration.

“I want the cash, man! Hand it over!”

He was leprosy thin, with dirty hands, peach fuzz on his chin, lousy teeth, a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. tee. Phirun looked back at the television. The weatherman from Channel Four said something about a reflectivity core and wind shear. A Tornado Warning had been issued for Whoppaloosa County. Phirun tried to find his Chevron on the radar. There was a lot of red and yellow on the way.

“D-did you hear me, dude? Gimme the goddamn money!”

Phirun gave his robber a cursory glance.

“You rob me now?” he said. “Don’t you watch the news?”

He gestured to the television behind the counter. Noticed the kid’s hand was shaking.

“I’ll give you lotto ticket and a pack of Newports,” Phirun offered, not flinching for a second. “You go now. Save yourself.”

A moment later the siren went off, dopplaring to the interstate and back. The rain turned to hail. The sky was a shade of black usually reserved for coffins and frost bite.

“Now!” the kid yelled, pushing the muzzle of the Beretta in Phirun’s face. The gas station owner held up his hands, placating-like, then opened the register. The kid reached over the counter and grabbed as much cash as he could. Almost simultaneously a straight-line wind in advance of the thunderstorm ripped away the canopy.

The kid turned his head. It was quite a sight.

Phirun produced the machete he kept out of view and swung.

The tweaker looked down at his gun hand, no longer part of his arm, laying on the counter as if he’d presented it for purchase. The blood came in spurts.

“Gawdalmighty Jesussssss!” the kid hollered. He slumped to the floor. Phirun nudged the severed hand so the pistol wasn’t pointing at him.

The lights flickered. Anything not tied down outside was tumble-weeding across the parking lot. Someone off-camera handed the weatherman a piece of paper. A Tornado Emergency had been declared across five counties. The Channel Four meteorologists were grim-faced. Phirun found the language fascinating. Hook echo, supercell rotation, updraft.

The kid started moaning.

Phirun sheathed the machete, dropped the hand in a plastic bag, then came around the counter. Helped the kid to his feet.

“The freezer! Only safe place from tornado!”

The kid gasped.

“My h-hand, man? Where’s my h-hand?”

Between the severed appendage and whatever was floating through his bloodstream, the kid probably was feeling pretty strange. Phirun ushered him into the walk-in freezer behind the sandwich shop. He glanced back at his convenience store, wondering if it’d be there in an hour.

The power went out.

Phirun had always been the prepared sort. Had electric lanterns and a weather radio within arm’s length of the freezer for just such an occasion. The kid staggered to a corner. Wrapped the nub in his shirt.

“You g-gook motherfucker!” he said. “Get me an ambulance!”

“I’m Cambodian,” Phirun corrected him.

“Come to our c-country,” the kid stammered, looking semi-conscious. “Take ‘way j-jobs…”

“Most of my family perished in Pol Pot’s killing fields,” Phirun said. “My father and I emigrated to Georgia before you were born. I been in Whoppaloosa County longer than you.”

The kid struggled to stay upright. His eyes rolled back in his head.

“So c-cold in here…”

The voices on the radio reported multiple twisters on the ground. The sound of the proverbial “freight train” grew louder. Phirun removed the kid’s hand from the plastic bag.

“W-what are ye doing?”

Phirun worked the fingers loose of the Beretta’s grip. He bagged the hand again. Released the magazine, then jacked the round from the pipe. He put the pistol in his pocket.

“B-blanket, dude? I’m sooo cold…”

The kid crumpled.

Phirun unsheathed the machete and went to work.

He wrapped the limbs and torso in Visqueen. Decided to keep the head as a souvenir.

The building shook for a minute, followed by a reprieve. The radio voices told him another tornado was imminent. He hustled through a rear exit. Saw a hundred loblollies snapped in half.

Phirun left the kid on the pavement.

Wondering where the pieces might land.

And thinking it’d been the easiest body yet.