Friday, January 10, 2014

Westbound and Down

Las Vegas burned in my rearview mirror. The last flames of a dying sun setting fire to the haze of dust hanging in the hot, still air above the city. The Strip clawed at the darkening sky, its concrete arms inked with glass and neon; reaching up like a drowning man, searching for the hand of God and begging to be pulled from a sea of corruption. I had never begged and I stopped reaching a long time ago. I still believed in God, although I was pretty sure he had quit believing in me.   

I didn’t have a destination, just a direction; West. All I knew was that I was done with the desert. I needed to see the ocean again, to feel the salt spray on my face one last time. I had wanted more, for both of us, but now that really would be reaching.

“You sure you’re okay, you don’t look so good?”

I glanced over at Katie; her bruises didn’t seem all that bad in the gathering dusk, but if you’d seen them in the cold light of day, then you’d understand.

“I’m fine Pumpkin,” I said and gave her a crooked smile. Crooked was the only kind my swollen face could manage. “You just try to get some sleep, okay.”

“Okay, if you’re sure.” She didn’t look convinced.

I just smiled again, hoping that she wouldn’t see what I hid underneath it. I didn’t think they’d be following us, not yet anyway. Even if The Duke had already found the bodies it would take him a while to figure out exactly what happened and by then it would probably be too late—one way or the other. I pushed down on the gas pedal to make sure and the highway blurred at the edges like some art-house skin flick. I waited until Katie was asleep before reaching inside my jacket. My hand came away wet with blood. It was the big fucker who’d stuck me. I thought the length of rebar I wrapped around his skull had killed him, it did, but it took him a while longer to realize it.

I had searched for two days, trying to find where they were holding Katie and then I wasted most of another one figuring how to get her out. That gave them plenty of time to work her over. Those bruises of hers were all my fault and that hurt more than a K-BAR twisting in my guts ever could. I told The Duke that my luck was running again, that I’d have his money by the end of the week. The Duke told me he thought I needed a little more incentive. That’s when he said they had my girl. The look on his face as I launched myself at him was almost worth the beat-down I got from his boys. They wanted to kill me. He did too; I could see it in his eyes as he wiped the blood off his chin. But it’s kind of hard to get fifty large from a corpse.

I was drifting out of consciousness and out of my lane. The sorrowing horn-blast of an oncoming semi snapped me back into both. I saw the sodium glow of a rest area up ahead and backed off the gas. The click-clack sound of the turn signal confirmed what I already knew. I had been reaching about our trip to the ocean too. That wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to Katie. I had broken every damn promise I ever made her. At least this one would be my last.

I rolled to a stop on the far side of the restrooms and killed the engine. I was shivering in spite of the temperature topping ninety, but it didn’t hurt anymore. I looked at Katie, curled up in the passenger seat. The hard truth of it was she would be better off without me around to fuck things up. I ran my blood-stained fingers along her arm.

“I love you, kiddo,” I said.

She turned towards me, somewhere between awake and asleep. “I love you too, Daddy,” she said.

Maybe God did believe in me a little after all.