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The Last Meal of Laughing Boy Reilly-Fiction by Jason Butkowski
Miss Pearl-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Vegas, Napalm Strike-Fiction by j. brooke
Favorites-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Salton Sea-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
We Must Never Find Out-Fiction by Sam Graham
Collateral Damage-Fiction by Jim Farren
Radiant Night-Fiction byPauline Duchesneau
Late Returns-Fiction by P. K. Augustyn
Bad Influences-Fiction by Marci McKim
Where My Fathers-Fiction by Willie Smith
Nothing I Could Do-Fiction by Brian J. Smith
The Magician-Flash Fiction by Jon Park
Sky Toucher-Falsh Fiction by Jerry Vilhotti
Dark Morning-Flash Fiction by M. G. Allen
What Might Happen in Vegas-Flash Fiction by Bill Baber
San Mateo County Easter Egg Hunt-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Doing Some Resaearch-Poem by Roy Dorman
A Lack of Rain-Poem by Michael Keshigian
In Traffic-Poem by Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal
Distinguished Souls-Poem by J. J. Campbell
The Ghosts of Murdered Children-Poem by J. J. Campbell
Digging Season-Poem by Christopher Hivner
Sometimes the Light is My Enemy-Poem by Christopher Hivner
Char-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Gone Feral-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Rat Tamer-Poem by Robert Beveridge
Imaginary Hedgehogs-Poem by Michelle Hartman
I Knew Him when He was Six-Poem by Michelle Hartman
A Reason for Everything-Poem by Michelle Hartman
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Kevin Duncan © 2018

Salton Sea

A Barry Wilder Short Story

Kenneth James Crist


It’s never a good deal when your dog dies. When you lose one of your all-time best friends and your dog within a month of each other, it totally sucks.

Roland Nesper was a retired Sheriff’s detective from Carbon County in Wyoming. He and Iva Gonzalez had moved down to Wichita with me and Iva had paid for that decision with her life. We had been ambushed right at my own home and it had been our final contact with the cartel and the bloodthirsty bunch of assholes who made up that jolly band.

Commando Cody, the huge Doberman, had been trained initially as a bomb dog for the Carbon County Sheriff’s department. That didn’t work. He was too enthusiastic for bomb work. They cross-trained him for drug work. Again, too much enthusiasm. When it was decided he would be put down, Roland stole him and after that he was Roland’s and Iva’s and mine, too, I guess. We had all loved him and cared for him equally, but after Iva was killed, I began to see him decline. Roland and I worked with two different veterinarians, but they were both of the same opinion. Large breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans, and even dogs in relatively good health eventually die.

My personal opinion was that he died of a broken heart, pining for his mistress. When his time came, he was curled up in his bed and one morning he just didn’t wake up. Roland and I took turns digging his grave in the hard Kansas soil behind my house. We buried him wrapped in Iva’s old leather bomber jacket and we put in a box of dog treats and several of his favorite, chewed up toys. When we were finished, neither of us had much to say. Roland took off his glasses and mopped his face with his bandana. It wasn’t just sweat he wiped away. He walked off toward the house and, when he was out of earshot, I said, “Goodbye, Cody. You were a good dog and a good friend. I’m sure I’ll see you soon. Take care of Iva until I get there.”

There are those who believe that heaven isn’t open to animals. That they have no souls, and they know nothing of God or Jesus or Vishnu, or Yaweh or any deity, so they cannot enter the Kingdom. I believe those folks are full of shit. Commando Cody had been highly trained and highly functional. He had saved lives and taken lives and, since I never knew him as a puppy, I often wondered if he had always been a serious warrior, dedicated to the protection of his people. Dogs who serve as Cody did deserve a place in whatever we call the afterlife. To paraphrase Will Rogers, “If dogs can’t go to heaven, when I die, I want to go wherever they go.”

Roland didn’t have it that easy. He already had two stents in his heart when he came to live in Wichita. We both knocked around my big old house, as content as two old guys can be in each other’s company, both nursing our losses and wishing things had turned out differently.

Commando Cody had been in the ground not quite three weeks, when Roland and I were sitting at the breakfast table, having morning coffee and he suddenly said, “Shit, that hurts!”

I said, “What?” But he wasn’t answering. He keeled over and slid to the floor, managing to break his own fall, barely knocking his glasses off. He was clutching his chest and I snatched up the phone and called 911, getting paramedics started. I found Roland’s nitroglycerine pills and got one under his tongue.

Firefighters from Station 17 arrived and started CPR and the ambulance took him to the emergency room. He survived that heart attack, too. Roland was a tough sumbitch. The following day the cardiologist decided to try and place another stent and during the surgery, Roland coded, and they were unable to get him back. I’m convinced he was halfway over to the other side and heard Cody barking and just said, “Fuck it, I’ve had enough, c’mere, Good Dog!”

I had Roland’s Power of Attorney and he had mine. He wanted to be cremated and I had that done. I drove his ashes up to Natrona County in Wyoming, and had him interred right next to Iva. When it was all over, and I was once again alone, I fell back into my old ways. I took Thumper, my Harley Ultra Classic, to the dealer for a tune up and oil change and while he was in the shop, I cut off the mail, put all the house plants outside and made sure all the utilities were on auto-pay. When Thumper came out of the shop, I packed my shit and hit the road.

As I had done many times before, I looked at the weather forecast and picked the direction in which I would encounter the fewest storms. I headed southwest. In one day’s ride, I was in Pueblo, Colorado and I stopped for the night. The following day, I rode to Taos, New Mexico, one of my favorite old haunts. I visited Kit Carson’s grave and also that of the famous actor, Dennis Hopper. I stayed the night, gambled a little at the tiny Indian casino, then moved on.

Southbound toward Las Cruces, the weather warmed, and I was soon in shirtsleeves and getting baked in the good, dry desert heat. Sometimes, when things have been going shitty, it takes several days and numerous tanks of gas to get my head straightened out. Moving on from the loss of friends is one of the most difficult things for me to deal with. In my imagination, a whole group of friends rode along with me and Commando Cody paced my bike, whenever he wasn’t distracted by a rabbit.

From Las Cruces, I headed further south and west, into the eerie desert country near the Mexican border. The last time I came that way, I had been going the other direction and had been caught by a storm. I had sheltered in an abandoned gas station and had been joined by a Western Diamondback rattlesnake, or perhaps by a woman. It had been a strange episode. I knew the snake was real and I dreamed the woman, but her footprints were there when I awoke. Now, as I travelled west, I watched for the old gas station, but I never saw it. Never even saw any place where it might have been. That in itself was disturbing. It was not the only disturbing episode I’d ever had when riding alone and somehow, I was sure it wouldn’t be the last.

When I reached Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I decided to be a tourist for a while. I still had a National Park senior pass I’d bought at the Grand Canyon years before and the Ranger at the entrance allowed that it was indeed still valid. Best ten bucks I ever spent.

The day had turned exceptionally warm for the time of year, this being October, and I found myself buying extra water at the gift shop before I moved out into the park. I had done the tour and seen all the huge old cactus plants a guy would ever care to see, and I was headed out, when I stopped at a turnout that had restrooms. Figured I’d hit the can one more time before I headed further west.

When I stepped out of the restroom, there sat the most worn-out, bedraggled Jack Russell terrier I’d ever seen. No collar or tags. She just sat in the shade provided by the roofed overhang of the restrooms and panted. I looked her over and I knew she was in trouble. First, there was no one around. Second, there was nothing to drink, and third, she had accumulated several cactus spines in her feet.

I know enough about dogs to know that they cannot sweat. Therefore, they pant, to get rid of excess heat. Without water and shade a dog can sicken and die very quickly. I walked over to the bike to get some water. The Jack stayed right where she was, watching me. When I pulled a bottle of water out of the tour trunk, she saw it and stood up. I saw her tongue flop out and I could see it was swollen.

I walked to the trash barrel nearby and rooted around and found a Styrofoam container and popped it open. There was some dried ketchup in it, but it would have to do. I walked back to the dog and put the container down and poured it half full of water. She set to, lapping it up. As she drank, I walked around the area, looking for anyone else who might be around. I needed to find this little lady some help. There was no one but me.

When I returned, she actually wagged her stump of a tail and looked at the water bottle expectantly. “Okay,” I said, “but if ya make yourself sick, I’m not cleanin’ it up.” I poured the rest of the bottle into the improvised bowl and watched her go after it while I thought about those cactus spines in her feet. I knew that the cactus plants naturally shed a certain number of spines every year. She probably picked them up wandering the park. I supposed I’d never know how she came to be out here abandoned and alone.

I went back to the bike and pulled my tool kit and got out needle-nose pliers. I sat on a bench that was tucked up against the restroom wall in the shade and when the Jack was finished drinking, I gave her a couple minutes. She went around the building sniffing and peeing, but never letting me out of her sight. Finally, she came over and sat at my feet.

I petted her for a few minutes and talked to her, then carefully lifted her up to join me on the bench. I showed her the pliers and told her what I was about to do and that it would probably hurt. I started with the back feet, snatching the cactus spines out quickly. They had been in her feet long enough that none of them bled and several appeared to be infected. They would require more attention later.

My next problem was getting her to ride on a motorcycle. We’ve all seen Jack Russell terriers perform on stage and in circuses. They are one of the smartest and most agile breeds, but training must begin early for almost any dog to be comfortable on a motorcycle.

I walked her over to the bike and let her sniff her way around it. She carefully avoided both tires and I took that as a good sign. She was smart enough to know about the dangers of wheeled vehicles. In a few minutes, I lifted her up and set her on the seat. I figured that would be fine, until I started the motor. That’s when almost any animal will bail—when the machine starts making all those scary noises.

I let her get used to sitting on the seat while I put on helmet and gloves. Then I threw my leg over and sat down with her, putting her on the saddle in front of me. She turned and looked up at me and I didn’t quite know what her expression was telling me. I stood the bike up and flipped up the kickstand. She looked over the side to see what that noise was. I turned on the ignition switch and the fuel pump whined, and the radio came on. I killed the radio. I figured we didn’t need The Eagles right then, doing Witchy Woman.

With my left hand, I steadied the dog and with my right thumb, I reached out and touched the starter. I expected the Jack to bail right then, in a mad scramble to get away from this two-wheeled work of the Devil. I felt her shiver and she looked up at me again. I figured this deal might work out after all. I could feel her tail wagging, catching me right in the crotch. “Well, okay,” I said, “let’s do this.” I clicked the shifter into first and the Harley made its characteristic clang as it went into gear. I eased the clutch out and we rolled off, headed out toward the ranger station. In spite of the heat, I could feel the dog pushing herself back against me.

We rode several miles and when I rolled up to the ranger station, I killed the engine and the ranger tried to wave me through. I stopped and called him over.

“Sir?” He was looking at the dog and speaking to me.

“Has anyone reported losing a dog in the last few days?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but let me check a couple things. Sit tight for a minute.” He went back inside and picked up a phone. Talked for a minute. Hung up and made another call. Talked again. Hung up and made a third. Finally came back out and said, “No reports we’re aware of. Do ya wanna turn her in? We can have animal control come out and get her.”

The Jack turned and looked back up at me again and I knew what the score was then. “Nope. Think I’ll just take her along and we’ll see how that works out. Have a nice day.”

I started the bike again and we moved on out. I spent the first fifteen miles expecting the dog to just go, fuck this! and jump, especially whenever we leaned into a curve, but she hung in there and we soon rolled into a place called Ajo and I decided we’d call it good. I figured my new friend could use some chow, and air conditioning wouldn’t hurt, either.

I picked a small, single-story motel called, predictably, the Cactus Motel and got us a room. The dog waited outside the office and the desk guy asked, “Is yer dog house-broken?”

“Probably better than most of your guests,” I said, grabbed the key and went to the room.

When we got inside, the dog made the rounds, checking everything out. I watched her carefully to see if she was going to do anything she shouldn’t. In a few minutes, she jumped up on the bed, turned around a couple of times and lay down. I headed for the shower.


Thirty minutes later, we headed out to find food. I had no leash, but the dog stuck close and didn’t seem inclined to run off. We walked a couple blocks and found a hamburger joint with outside seating that was in the shade. I went to the window and ordered two double cheeseburgers, one plain and one with everything, a large order of fries, a Coke and a water, easy on the ice. I sat at an old red-painted picnic table that was scarred with many names carved into the wood. The dog ate off the wrapper of her burger and licked the paper clean. I fed her fries while we talked. I knew I was going to have to come up with a name and a collar and vaccination tags, and a leash would probably be a good idea, too. I was sure these were all things she was used to. After we ate, we walked around the town a bit and she got barked at by some Pit Bulls and some junkyard dogs. I was looking to see if there might be a veterinarian’s office, but I never saw one. We wound up back at the motel, watching TV on one of the three channels available until just past ten, when she jumped off the bed and went to the door. I let her out and watched from the door as she made her rounds. When she was ready, we went to bed. As I was drifting off to sleep, it occurred to me that this Jack Russell was getting me trained quite nicely.

In the morning, I knew her name. I don’t know how. I didn’t know then and I still don’t. I just woke up and looked at her, curled up beside me on the hard motel bed and said, “Bonnie, you ready to go out?”

In characteristic Jack Russell fashion, she bounded off the bed and yapped at the door. I said, “Hush now. Let’s not wake everybody up. Go do your business.”

She quieted immediately and went out into the lot, then found some straggly grass. I didn’t watch her. I figured if she was inclined to leave me, she would at some point. Might as well be sooner as later. I left the door open an inch and went to use the can. In a few minutes, I heard the door squeak as she shouldered it open and then her nervous pacing as she looked for me. Heard her sniffing and blowing under the door. Then, she tried to dig her way under. I said, “Hey. Quit that. I’ll be out in a minute.” She stopped digging and blowing and when I came out of the bathroom, she was again curled up on the bed.

We rode on up highway 85 to Gila Bend, where I was able to find a pet supply place and they clued me in on where to find the best vet in town. By noon, we were sitting in the vet’s waiting room. Bonnie was wearing a new collar and was on a leash. A box of liver-flavored doggie treats had been added to the cargo in Thumper’s trunk and we were next up to see the doc.

When the vet came in from lunch, I had a bad moment. She looked so much like Iva, the resemblance was uncanny. She was obviously Hispanic, but her name was Curry. Angelica Curry, DVM.

As she examined Bonnie, I told her how the dog came to be in my possession. “First thing we should do then, is see if she’s microchipped,” she said. She tucked Bonnie under her arm and confidently marched off down the hall somewhere. In a couple minutes, she was back. “Looks like you got yourself a free dog, Mr. Wilder. There’s no sign of a chip. So, I guess we’d better get her current on shots and get a fecal smear to check for parasites. No chip means no records, so we gotta start from scratch.” As soon as the doc said, “scratch,” Bonnie sat down and scratched her right ear with her back foot. The doc and I looked at each other and then we both laughed. Bonnie tilted her head, wondering what the joke was. She looked like the dog ‘Nipper’ in the old RCA ads, his head tilted just the same, listening to “His Master’s Voice.”

A half hour later, I had spent a hundred and eighteen bucks and Bonnie had a rabies tag and we were on our way. We had some ointment to put on her feet to help the cactus spine punctures heal and the doctor assured me that as soon as I put it on, Bonnie would try to lick it off. “Try to keep her occupied for a while after you apply it, so it has time to soak in and do some good.”

The day was hot, and we rode west on Interstate 8 toward Yuma. The heat of the sun and the heat off the Harley’s engine were tough on me and I knew Bonnie had to be suffering. We made frequent stops for water and potty breaks and just to find some shade. We stopped in Yuma and found a Dairy Queen and got ice cream. I figured this would be a novelty for the dog, but once she got started on it, I realized it was not her first rodeo. She worked the waxed cardboard cup all over the sidewalk and reduced it to sloppy shreds in short order. More water and more potty time, then we rolled into California. When we pulled out of Yuma, I tried putting her on the back seat, thinking she’d be further from the engine heat. It didn’t work. Up front was where she wanted to be and she almost fell off once before I could get pulled over into the breakdown lane and move her back in front of me.

Another fifty-seven miles put us in El Centro, and after a break, during which I gave Bonnie a rubdown with bottled water, we went north on state road 86 toward the Salton Sea. This was a huge lake that had been created in1905 by an engineering problem with the Colorado River and it had become quite a booming tourist attraction for a number of years. Since the 1970’s it had been in the process of dying. The salt content of the lake, along with pesticide runoff from farming in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys had killed off most of the marine life and the receding shoreline had killed the hopes and dreams of many entrepreneurs and property owners. I had wanted to see it before it was all gone back to desert and besides, it was on my bucket list. I figured it would be a glimpse into the past and also a good example of environmental disaster. I was right.

Just about everywhere we stopped, the skeletons of dead fish littered the shoreline and the place stank of death. There were whole towns that were abandoned, and they might have been fun to explore, but I figured there might be quite a bit of danger there, too. I didn’t need Bonnie getting attacked and killed by a wild dog or further injured by falling through a floor or something. Her cactus spine injuries were enough for her to deal with at the moment.

I did stop at several places that were just too picturesque to pass up. I took pictures of an old salt-encrusted pier that fell a quarter mile short of reaching the water. An abandoned motel that was now the target of taggers and vandals. An old boat, left high and dry several hundred yards from the water. A ruined aluminum house trailer, half filled with weeds and trash. At each stop Bonnie ran and sniffed and came back for more water. It was at the old trailer where we found the girl.

When she staggered out into the sunlight, Bonnie went right to her. No hesitation at all. But the girl turned away, as though she were afraid. I tried calling Bonnie, but she wasn’t inclined to return. I was also looking around for a car or any other form of transportation. I flashed back to when I found Bonnie, alone and left for dead in the National Monument.

I approached the girl slowly. I could see she’d been beaten and her clothes were torn. She looked to be in her late teens, maybe a little older, but not much. Her eyes were dark, and the wide planes of her face indicated Indio blood. As she saw me, she looked like a deer in headlights. She was ready to bolt, to try and run away. But she kept looking at my hand. I realized I was still carrying a bottle of water. I held it out to her as an offering of peace. She backed up another step. Thinking quickly, I sat the bottle on the ground, called Bonnie and backed away. When I was back fifteen feet, the girl moved forward, picked up the bottle and moved away again. She opened the water and drank greedily, glancing at me from the corner of her dark eyes, making sure I wasn’t moving on her.

When she had finished the water, I said, “You’re in trouble. How can I help?”

“You stay away from me…” Her jeans were ripped up, but I was pretty sure that was just fashion. People seem to have the desire to pay big bucks for torn-up shit nowadays. Her shirt was a feminine-styled T-shirt and it was torn, too. I was quite sure that wasn’t a fashion statement. She was holding herself together, not just the shirt, but her injured psyche, too.

From my back pocket, I pulled something I seldom use. When I retired from the Wichita Police department, I was issued a black leather wallet containing a retirement badge. I opened it to show her the badge and the retirement ID. She was too far away to realize it said I was no longer a cop.

As I tucked the badge wallet back into my pocket, I said, “What happened here?”

Suddenly, it clicked. I was safety. I was The Law. I was the person who would get her out of whatever horror had befallen her. Then, she rushed me, and I caught her as she threw herself in my arms and I held her as she sobbed and wailed and bawled out her pain.

Getting the entire story out of her took a half hour. I needed to get myself and Bonnie into shade, but the girl, Lupé Rodriguez, would not go near the trailer. Her story was a tale of abduction and rape and threats that if she came back and told, she would die.

She knew her abductors. She was from San Bernardino, and she had been working hard to keep her younger brother away from drugs and the local gangs. For her trouble, and as a lesson to her and others, they had abducted her at gunpoint and brought her here. Tortured her and raped her. Beat her and left her for dead.

Between Lupé and Bonnie, they finished off the water, so I knew we needed to move on down the road. I went to the bike and dug out the extra helmet. It’s a shorty helmet that doesn’t take up much room and it was packed full of socks and underwear. I got it out and gave it to Lupé and said, “I’ll take you home or to the nearest police station we can find. Your choice.”

She said, “No. No police. They’ll kill me.” She didn’t mean the cops.

I said, “Not if I find them first.” I dug a clean t-shirt out of my saddlebag and gave it to her. We had no water left, so I could do nothing about the crusted blood around her nose and mouth. She turned her back to me and stripped off the remnants of her own shirt. She wore no bra. Whether that was by choice or she had lost it to the thugs, I never found out. From what I could see, she was well endowed, but seeing the livid bruises on her body turned off any sexual desire I might have had. My t-shirt swallowed her up, being many sizes too large, but it covered her up too, and it, along with the helmet, would make her harder to recognize if we came across her attackers along the way.

I showed her how to mount Thumper’s rear seat and I avoided touching her as she slowly managed to get seated. Bonnie jumped from the ground and landed on the seat in front of me and we headed north, looking for food and water. And maybe some medical attention, too.

We didn’t see anything but desert until we reached Indio, which sits right on Interstate 10. I pulled into the first service station I saw because Thumper was running on fumes and Lupé headed for the ladies’ room. After I filled up, I moved the bike around front and went inside to get water and snacks. Bonnie sat by the door for a minute, and then changed her mind and went around to the shady side of the building, which also happened to be where the restrooms were.

In a few minutes, Lupé came around to the front, with Bonnie trotting happily at her side. Lupe came inside and went straight to a display of sunglasses. She picked out the largest, darkest pair she could find and looked over at me. Raised her eyebrows. I nodded and motioned for her to bring them. They would help hide some of the damage to her face and further disguise her. On the way up, she had told me about the car her attackers were driving. I was keeping my eye peeled for a white Honda with slammed-down suspension and blacked-out windows. Couldn’t be more than a few thousand of those in Southern California.

As we got ready to go, I asked the clerk where the nearest hospital was. He gave me directions, but when we got back out to the bike, Lupé said, “No hospitals, okay?”

“You need medical attention,” I argued, “there’s no telling what they might have damaged, beating on you like that.”

“No. Too many questions. Plus, the hospital would have to call the cops. If I was gonna die, I would have by now.”

We moved on up Interstate 10, headed toward Palm Springs and Beaumont. It was getting late in the day and it was starting to cool down a bit.

It was as we were passing by Palm Desert that Lupé leaned forward and said, “I just saw the car!”


“Back there, at that casino!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. It was Hector’s car, for sure!”

I jumped off at the next exit and circled back. Took some confusing side streets and eventually came up on the Agua Caliente Casino and Spa. We cruised through the lot and she pointed out the car. I parked some distance away, and we got off the bike. I dug out my road atlas and phone and started working to find someplace not too far away that I could lure them to. I needed them away from the Interstate. Somewhere more isolated.

The town of Yucca Valley looked pretty good. It had a population of 20,700 souls and was just up highway 62 about thirty-five miles. I got out a pad of paper and a pen and wrote a note. It said, ‘I have Lupé and I know what you did. Yucca Valley tonight, pussies.’ I said, “Stay here,” and walked over to their car and tucked the note under the wiper on the driver’s side. Walked back and we mounted up and rode out. Found highway 62 and went north. I figured whenever they found the note, they would probably get the security at the casino to review the camera footage of the parking lot and they would see the bike and me and Lupé. They would know I was for real and they would need to find me and try to finish what they’d started and shut me down, too.

When we got to Yucca Valley, I figured we had time to eat. We found a diner and got burgers and fries. We both saved some for Bonnie, who was waiting out front by the bike. When we had finished and fed her, we went and found a motel. Nothing fancy, just a mom and pop that looked clean. I got a room with two queen beds and installed Lupé in the room and told her to keep track of my dog, then took off to find somewhere to ditch Thumper.

Less than a mile back the way we’d come from, there was a U-Store storage place. In fifteen minutes, I’d rented a unit large enough to park Thumper in. I would use it once and then disappear. Eventually, maybe after thirty days, they’d check the unit and find it empty and just rent it again. I parked Thumper inside, backed in, so I could get him out quickly. I broke out weapons. I unloaded my Glock Model 22 and carefully wiped off each of the rounds, then put on gloves and put each round back in the magazine, charged the weapon and tucked it in the waistband of my jeans in the back. I figured I might not have time to pick up any expended brass and I didn’t want to leave any prints.

Took out a new ultra-ceramic folding knife and carefully wiped it, too. It had a blade that was probably at least twice as sharp as any metal blade. I liked it because it wouldn’t set off metal detectors. I put it in my right front pocket.

Dug around in the trunk and found my brass knuckles. They weren’t really brass. Actually, they were made of stainless steel and they had half-inch spikes sticking out of each knuckle. Illegal in every jurisdiction I’d ever had occasion to check. They went into the left front pocket. I looked around in the storage unit and saw that they hadn’t bothered to clean it out very well. In one of the back corners, I picked up a dusty old Dodgers ball cap, a plastic Wal Mart bag, and a four-foot chunk of mop handle. Perfect.

*     *     *     *     *

Hector Lopez, Gene Fuente and Mark Jimenez found the note about an hour after it was placed on their windshield. They didn’t go back into the casino. Instead, they flagged down a casino security officer who was cruising the lot.

Hector talked to the guy. “Hey, Bro, you see anybody fuckin around my car?”

The security guy looked like he might be a retired cop. Gray hair, buzzed off short, red face, overweight. Wearing a tan uniform with epaulettes on the shirt. Probably couldn’t run thirty yards to save his ass. “This about the note?”

“Yeah, man. On the white Honda there.”

“Some guy on a blue Harley. Had a chick on the back and a fuckin little dog with ‘em. I was watchin’ pretty close. They didn’t do anything to the car. Just left the note and split.”

“Thanks, man.” Hector didn’t like this shit. The bitch shoulda been dead by now.

As they walked back to the car, Mark said, “I wanted ta choot her, man. I woulda chot her when you was screwin’ her, but you said no…”

Hector just gave Mark the stink-eye and said, “Get in the fuckin’ car, man. Let’s go find this biker asshole. Teach this gringo fuck to mind his own business.”

They piled into the Honda, the screwed-up suspension creaking and groaning as their weight settled in. Hector fired it up and the loud, expansion-chamber exhaust crackled into a rough idle. He slammed it in gear and spun around in the lot and headed for the exit. They would try very hard to be in Yucca Valley in thirty minutes.

In actuality, it took them more like forty minutes. As they came blasting into town, they never even noticed the old dude in the ball cap and jeans beside the road with a stick and a plastic bag full of aluminum cans. He was such a common sight, he didn’t even register. They drove around town for a half hour and found no sign of a blue Harley. They decided they’d stay the night and have another look in the morning. It was getting dark and they were in strange territory. The motel they decided on was a little nicer than the one Barry and Lupé chose. It was about a half mile further north. When they got their key and went to their room they failed to notice the guy with the stick and the bag of cans for the second time.

*     *     *     *     *

I waited until the three idiots were in their room, then strolled across the lot and wandered around the motel until I found a utility room that was unlocked. I stepped in and swung the door until it was open about an inch. From there, I could look past the ice machine and down the row of rooms right to their front door.

“How we gonna find this biker dude, bro?” Gene was pacing back and forth across the room and around the beds. He always paced when he was nervous or agitated. “This fucker knows all about us and we don’t know shit about him.”

“Relax, Bro,” Hector said, “if we don’t get him here, we’ll get him when he brings the fuckin’ bitch back home. That’s where we got the advantage. He’ll come to us if we miss him here. Either way, we’ll cap his ass. Take care a his dumb ass…”

Mark said, “Hey, you guys want somethin’ ta drink? I’m gonna get some ice and a Pepsi.”

Hector pulled out some money and handed it across and said, “Mountain Dew, man. Thanks.”

Gene just shook his head. He was clearly worried.

It didn’t take long. I figured they’d have to have ice and some sodas, and the smallest of the three guys got elected. He came padding toward me barefoot and went to the ice machine first. Filled his ice bucket, then stepped over to a noisy, clanking beverage machine. As he was putting money in the bill acceptor, I stepped out and started to walk past him. As his head turned, I wiped the blade of my knife across his forehead, opening a six-inch slit that went clear to the bone. In moments his eyes were flooded with his own blood and he was effectively blind. As he spun around, frantically wiping at his eyes and face, I carefully stuck him just above the right kidney at an upward angle, perforating his diaphragm. Now, he couldn’t see, and he couldn’t get enough breath to scream. As he stumbled around, I took one more swipe, catching his left carotid artery. I sidestepped the blood spray and walked away.

“What the fuck? He hafta go ta fuckin’ L.A. ta get ice? Jesus, Man…” Gene was still pacing.

Hector said, “Fuck, Dude, if you’re so goddamn worried, go check on the little fucker. Maybe he got his hand stuck in the machine or some shit.”

Out in the parking lot, I crouched between two cars and waited. I figured fifteen minutes, but it only took ten. I guess they were impatient for their drinks. The second guy was a little taller and heavier, and as soon as he came out the room door, I started for him. I reached him just about the same time he saw his buddy, lying by the soda machine. He was so busy staring at the body there on the bloody concrete, I just walked up and slugged him with the brass knuckles. I caught him a perfect shot right in the temple. I had all my weight behind it, and he went down like a sack of stones. There were four perfectly spaced holes in the side of his head. There wasn’t much blood and in a minute, I checked him for vitals. Found nothing. I checked him for weapons and found a nice little Defender .380. Probably stolen. I took it and dragged him over to join his buddy, then scurried across the lot and hunkered down in the ditch at the edge of the parking lot. I tucked the Defender into the front of my jeans. I had a view of the room door from about twenty-five yards away. I waited.

Inside the motel room, Hector was watching Jeopardy and managing to catch about every third answer. He was smarter than he let on. He had actually done almost two years at USC before he figured out he could make more money cooking and selling meth than he’d ever make in legitimate work. He dropped out and went to making drugs full time.

When the program cut to commercial, he suddenly sat up. He realized Gene had been gone six or seven minutes and Mark ten minutes longer than that. Something was going on. Briefly, he thought about the biker dude. Could he be out there? Was he that good? Could he have already fucked up Mark and Gene?

He got up from the bed and picked up an AMT Hardballer from the nightstand between the beds. It was a typical Colt 1911 knock-off, packing 7 rounds of .45 ACP. It was a brutal weapon and very scary-looking. He stepped to the door and cautiously opened it. He never had time to realize it was a mistake.

Six minutes, this time. The room door opened, and the third guy was there, silhouetted in the doorway. I centered my front sight on his head, which was turning right and left, and squeezed off one shot.

A single gunshot in an urban area will seldom even generate a 911 call. People who hear a single gunshot will first ask themselves if it was a gunshot or a car backfire. Most people who commit violence with guns are so unskilled they tend to completely unload their magazine and fire the weapon dry, hoping to hit something vital. Among cops, that’s called “spray and pray.”

My single .40 caliber round entered through the guy’s right eye and caused his head to snap back as it passed cleanly through. I know it passed through, because I saw the curtain on the far side of the room jump as the round struck it. I got up and walked south toward my motel. In seven minutes, I was in the bathroom, washing off a small amount of blood and gunshot residue. Seven minutes after that, I was in bed, with Bonnie curled against me.

From the other bed, Lupé asked quietly, “Did you find them?”

“Sure did.”

“Are they…taken care of?”

“Listen. You can hear the sirens coming.”

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure…”

In the morning, I walked down to the storage place and retrieved Thumper, then we got breakfast and I took her home. When we got to San Bernardino, she directed me to her neighborhood, but then had me stop a few blocks from her house, at a small park. We took bottled water and walked to a picnic table and sat.

“You understand, you can never say anything about this to anyone, right?”

She looked at me, then took my hand and said, “And you can’t either, Mi Amigo.”

“I have something for you, if you want it.” I took the Defender .380 out of my pocket and laid it on the wood beside her. She looked at it. Didn’t pick it up.

“You took that off Mark, huh?”

“If that was his name…”

“He pointed this at me when they made me get in their car.”

“You can keep it. For protection. But it may be stolen, I don’t know.”

“Okay. I’ll keep it hidden. Maybe I won’t get raped again or killed.” She picked up the gun and shoved it in the back pocket of her jeans.

“I’ll be heading out then. Have a good life, Lupé Rodriguez.”

Vaya Con Dios, Barry.” I looked for tears, but there were none.

I walked back to Thumper and Bonnie jumped up on the saddle. I stroked her head and said, “You ready, girl?”

She looked over to the park, where the battered young woman was walking away and yapped a couple of times, then looked back up at me.

       “Nope,” I said, “we gotta go home now. You gotta new house and yard and neighbor dogs to bark at. Squirrels to chase, too. We’d better head on down the road.” I turned on the ignition and thumbed the starter. Bonnie yapped a couple more times as we got under way. The girl never looked back.

Kenneth James Crist is a tired, broken-down old motorcycle cop from Wichita, Kansas. He began writing a novel in 1994 as keyboard practice and has since written four more novels, several novellas and a butt-load of short stories. His publications have been seen in Bewildering Stories, Tales of the Talisman, A Twist of Noir, A Shot of Ink, Eaten Alive, The New Flesh, The Sink, The Edge, Skin and Bones, and Kudzu Monthly, to name a few. Recently, he appeared in two of John Thompson’s anthologies at Hardboiled. They are Hardboiled, and The Undead War, both available at Dead Guns Press on Amazon.com                                   

He also has four books up in Kindle format, for sale on Amazon.com: Dreaming of Mirages, The Gazing Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for Burial, his latest zombie fiction.

Having turned 73 last June, he still rides his big Harley every day that weather permits and is now officially “retired”. He also operates Fossil Publications, publisher of Black Petals and Yellow Mama.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications © 2018