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Jason Duke
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forget.jpg
Art by Paul Dick 2011

FORGET

 

 

Jason Duke

 

 

 

 

The shed sat nestled between a giant mesquite and a junked, faded red ’75 Ford truck at the back of the derelict property. The corrugated aluminum was pockmarked with several golf ball sized holes, from corrosion or hail, or both. Dirt and tumbleweeds carpeted the roof. It had sat there neglected for longer than the Davis’s owned the property, surprising John Krieger that it still held together after all these years. He looked to the run-down trailer home at the front of the property, but didn’t see Miss Davis or the twerp from the bank, Jackson.

Mesquite and dead, dried-up grass and desert bushes overran the rusty horse pen and three acres of land between the trailer and the shed. The mesquite next to the shed was barren and gnarled, dwarfing all the others. The truck had a camper shell on the back and the tailgate was down. A dozen or so pieces of sun-bleached two-by-fours poked out of the bed. The grey clouds on the horizon quickly rolled in, with purpose, blotting out the bright sun and cheerful day. He looked to the trailer again, but there was still no sign of Miss Davis or Jackson.

John stood to the side of the shed door. He unlatched the door, tugging on it. The door wouldn’t budge, sealed by dirt and grime. John started yanking the latch and the shed rattled. The door screeched open a little. Some of the debris from the roof shook loose. A clump of dirt dislodged, narrowly missing his head. He pushed on the latch from the other side. More dirt fell loose, hitting him this time, as the shed door screeched open the rest of the way. Stale, dusty air rushed from the shed like a long-sealed tomb, strangling him. The air somehow had a sweet smell to it, tasted bitter. John waved it off, tried to choke it down, but couldn’t.

The inside of the shed was littered with saddles, tack and harness, old trunks and suitcases. A few metal utility shelves fitted with two-by-four slats lined the walls, cluttered with old Army gear from World War II through Vietnam, tin coffee cans filled with loose change, bull whips. Everything was caked in dirt and cobwebs. John poked around at all the junk. One of the coffee cans had some glossy pages tucked under it that looked torn from a magazine, but had faded and dulled with the long years. The pages depicted photographs of naked women from the waist down. The rest of their bodies were covered up by the coffee can.

He tugged the pages out from under the coffee can far enough to see that the bodies belonged to teenage girls. Long diagonal slashes ran the length of each page, like someone had taken a knife to them. He pulled the pages out all the way and the can slid off the shelf along with the pages, clattering into the trunks and suitcases. The loose change spilled across the ground. He reached over a stack of suitcases to where the change had spilled, pushing aside a trunk to get at the change. Under the corner of the trunk was a yellowed business envelope and a bunch of old color Polaroids – family photos, mostly of a mother and daughter with beautiful matching blonde hair. The mother looked mid-thirties, and the daughter looked seventeen.

John gathered up some of the photos. He started flipping through them, stopping at a photo of the mother and daughter lying naked on a bed. They grinned mischievously at the camera, sitting Indian-style to each side of a naked man lying in the middle of the bed. The daughter held the man’s erect penis in her slender, delicate hand. The end of the photo was torn away, along with the man’s head. Written near the top was Forget Me, Forget Me Not, then just the word Forget where the rest had been torn away with the man’s head. John flipped through more of the photos and noticed there were other nude shots of the mother and daughter. He reached for the envelope, fingering it into his grasp. Inside the envelope were a few aged ten and twenty dollar bills.

Miss Davis called from near the trailer as she walked toward the shed, “Mr. Krieger?”

His heart jumped, skipping a beat. He pocketed the photo as evidence, cramming the other photos and the torn pages back under the corner of the trunk.

“Mr. Krieger, you out there?”

She said with a slight country twang, sounding like poor white redneck trash. John hated the accent.

He walked outside, “Back here, Miss Davis.”

He gave the shed door a couple good shoves to get it shut. The door screeched in protest, like a screaming kid that didn’t get his way. Jackson followed behind Miss Davis. They walked back to the shed as John finished wrenching shut the door. Jackson wore an alligator smile. The kid was well-dressed, well-groomed, but the smile freaked John out.

John said, “I was just looking around. I hope you don’t mind, Miss Davis.”

“What were you doing in there, Mr. Krieger?”

“Nothing. That’s quite a collection of saddles in there.”

“I wouldn’t know. All that shit belonged to my husband. That shed ain’t been opened since he passed.”

“What do you plan to do with it?”

“I don’t plan to do nothin’ with it, Mr. Krieger. This mess ain’t my problem no more since Chase foreclosed on me.”

Jackson said, “There’s no need for your company to worry, Mr. Krieger. The bank will make sure it’s cleaned up before the sale, if that’s what you want.”

John nervously glanced at Miss Davis, then said to Jackson, “That’s okay.”

Jackson paused briefly, “Well, if there’s nothing else, let’s sign the papers and make this official.”

“Sounds good,” John said.

Miss Davis fixed a stern look on John, folding her arms over her bony chest.

*****

The roads transitioned from dirt, to gravel, to paved asphalt on the drive back to Phoenix, as John left the old New River for the new. His cell phone vibrated on the passenger seat of his Lexus. The name on the caller ID was Pennies on the Dollar, the name of the real estate company he brokered for. He answered the phone and his boss, Roger, bellowed on the other end.

“John, you close the deal?”

John looked around. The homes had changed from trailers and ranches, to townhouses and condos. He remembered when New River was known as a place in the middle of the desert where people would move to escape the heat, the frantic pace of city life. Properties like the Davis’s were some of the last remnants of the old New River. 

John said, “Yeah, Rog. No sweat.”

Roger laughed, “John, you brilliant sonofabitch. Good fucking job, man. That’s great news. I know this was important to you. Talk at you soon, buddy.”

“Yeah, okay.”

He drove by a sign that read Shangri-la, marking the old nudist colony that had been out there short of forever. With all the new homes going up, John wondered how much longer the colony could hold out before they needed to uproot and move to a more secluded location. He remembered when everything in New River used to be spaced out – when everything had breathing room. The land filled only with ranches, trailers, horses, full-sized farms, similar to the Davis’s. Now there were condos, strip malls. The Walmarts, the McDonalds, the Walgreens, am/pm mini-marts, had all moved in. John knew the urban sprawl had caught up when he couldn’t drive more than a mile without seeing another Starbucks.

He pulled into the dirt and gravel parking lot of a restaurant called Poor Red’s. The restaurant was a country saw dust joint, outside and in, and looked like a saloon culled from an old spaghetti western. Instead of horses tethered to a hitching rail, there were a row of choppers parked out front. The thick stained red oak door at the front was propped open. John parked next to a beaten Ford F-150 with an empty flatbed trailer hitched to the back. Pieces of straw littered the bed of the trailer. The sun was setting, and the overcast sky looked a hazy reddish-orange in the Phoenix smog. The whir of traffic from the nearby I-17 freeway carried on the wind. 

Most of the interior of Poor Red’s consisted of a rustic dining area, that John ignored and bypassed, heading straight for the long bar in back. He noticed a lone family sitting sullenly at a table in the dining area – father, mother, daughter. They were dressed in their country Sunday finest, quietly picking at their complimentary bread or sipping on ice water as they waited for their meals. The daughter wasn’t older than twelve, in a pretty little white dress embroidered with pink flowers. She looked at John, suddenly locking eyes with him.

The bar was dimly lit, dark and ominous. It was empty, abandoned looking. The bar top was stained red oak, with complimentary bowls of beer nuts and pretzels. An unusually large selection of whisky lined the glass shelves. John sat at a tall bar stool, glancing over his shoulder through the swinging glass door behind him, where a group of bikers horse played at some tables on a covered patio outside. They noticed him, his dark business suit, but paid him no mind, kept laughing and horse playing. He looked to the complimentary bowls, wondering how many bikers had touched the beer nuts and pretzels with their filthy hands. He slipped the photo halfway from his pocket and studied it.

“Whatcha got there, hun?”

The aging bartender in the halter-top strutted over to him, wiping out a glass. She was a brunette cougar and milf rolled into one. John quickly slipped the photo back into his pocket. She waited for an answer, then said, “What can I get you, sugar?”

“Whisky sour, please.”

“Sure thing, hun.” 

John stared into the long Budweiser mirror behind the bar. She set the drink down. A little skinny straw poked up out of the glass. He stirred the drink, took out the straw and set it on a napkin, sipped the drink. John stared back at the mirror.

He dismounted the bar stool, strolled into the bathroom, taking the whisky sour with him. There was a urinal trough on the wall. The single stall had a broken door with a missing latch, and dangled open ajar. The air stunk of urinal cakes and piss. He unzipped at the trough, concentrating to get a flow of urine started. He felt it coming, almost there.

The swivel door swung open and a biker stomped in, up to the trough next to John. The man was grotesquely hairy and sweaty; had long silvered black hair tied in a ponytail. He had a huge barrel gut that reminded John of a bear. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses – the kind with the reflective silver lenses that motorcycle cops liked to wear. John tensed up, the flow shriveling back up in him along with his dick. The biker let out a long grunt, looked to John and grinned, pissing what sounded like pitchers. The biker kept grinning, “Howdy, partner.” He let out another long grunt; the pitchers kept pouring.

John looked straight ahead, though he could see the biker in his peripheral grinning at him. John looked down at his hand, and suddenly the photo was there in his hand, appearing magically. He looked back up, but the biker was gone. John was in the bathroom alone. He shoved the photo back in his pocket, looked up again, and he was on the bar stool sitting at the bar like he had never left.

The bartender set another whisky sour in front of him, “This one’s on the house, hun,” she winked.

He glanced over his shoulder, at the bikers still horse playing at the tables outside.

*****

John got in his Lexus after finishing the second drink. He got back on the freeway, heading for Phoenix. The grey clouds had cleared from the moonless night sky, opening a starless path into the ether. The black expanse loomed over John, the world, like a monstrous maw of a hungry beast poised to bite down, engulf him and the world in oblivion. He suddenly felt insignificant – compared to this, everything was.

There was a steady flow of traffic north and south along the I-17 freeway. In the pitch darkness, the freeway appeared as a river of light. Tiny specks of light dotted the desert, giving way to a circuit board of winking light the closer John drove toward the city. The freeway materialized on the outskirts of the city, made bright in the tall, giant light poles that lined the freeway, like night into day.

          His cell phone vibrated on the passenger seat. The name on the caller ID was Jackson, the kid from the Chase bank. John wondered why Jackson was calling. He put the phone on speaker and answered, “John Krieger speaking.”

“Hello Mr. Krieger, it’s Mr. Jackson.”

Jackson waited for a reply, then said, “Did I call at a bad time?”

“What can I do for you, Mr. Jackson? Something else you wanted to discuss about the Davis property?”

There was a brief pause, “Sort of, Mr. Krieger.”

Jackson paused briefly again.

John chuckled, “Well what is it? Don’t keep me in suspense, Jackson. Spit it out.”

“I know about the photos,” Jackson said.

“Photos? What are you talking about?”

“Mr. Krieger, I know about the photos.”

John chuckled some more, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jackson.”

“I know about the fucking photos!”

John stared blankly ahead, in surprise.

After a few seconds, Jackson finally said, “I think we should meet.”

Two hours later, John was pulling into a truck stop, thinking about the photo in his pocket, the ones in the shed on the Davis’s property. His mind had wandered since Jackson called, consumed by the nature of the photos. He was on edge since the strange incident at Poor Red’s, and was beginning to think he was losing his mind. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. He knew he needed to nip this thing before Jackson got the wrong idea and did something rash that they would both regret. As he parked, John wondered if Jackson had confronted Miss Davis yet.

The truck stop was a Pilot, located at an off-ramp midway along the freeway. The lot was massive, scattered with dozens of big rigs. Long rows of big rigs were lined up at the diesel pumps. Desert landscape mixed with islands of well-manicured grass, bushes, trees, surrounded the perimeter of the truck stop, boxed in by a low, waist-high wall. There was a parking lot that served the large diner and mini-mart, the regular gas pumps out front. The diner looked overcrowded. Every seat looked filled. John circled the parking lot for a space, lucking out as someone got in their car and left. He parked his Lexus in with the rest of the crammed-in cars.

Jackson waved John over to a booth near the windows overlooking the parking lot. The din of chatter inside was unnerving, less like a diner, and more like an after hours singles bar. Most of the customers were truckers, mingled with families, lone travelers. The layout of the diner looked painfully ordinary, the way all the Denny’s, Ihop’s, Wafflehouses of the world were unoriginal, mimicking each other like shapes and patterns stamped from a cookie-cutter mold. Grease mottled the ceiling, and the smell of greasy meat poured from the fryers behind the take-out counter. There was enough grease in the air to clog arteries. John walked to the table Jackson sat at, noticing a trucker wedged into a booth with a whore. Her skin was taut, jaundiced, and scabbed in speed bumps. Her teeth were grimy and rotted. She hung on the truckers shoulder, licking at his round, bearded face. She picked at her arm and a thin line of blood trickled from the scab. She was a skeleton wearing a suit of skin-tight skin. She hung on the truckers arm and cackled, leaning back, looking at John as he walked by. Jackson still wore his business suit and alligator smile.

Jackson said, “I told you an hour. Sit the fuck down, asshole.”

He pointed at the seat, like he would to a disobedient dog.

“Excuse me?”

“I said sit the fuck down!”

John slowly sat down, in disbelief, “Look, I don’t know what you think you know, but let me set the record straight…”

“Set the record straight? We’re way past setting the record straight, Krieger.”

“I don’t follow. What’s this all about, Jackson?”

“You know what the fuck this is about.”

John stared, deeper in disbelief. His mouth hung open, trying to find the words. He threw his arms up in frustration.

“You know what? Fuck this, and fuck you! I’m out of here!”

“Where the fuck do you think you’re going, Krieger? Come back here!”

Jackson followed John outside, hot on his heels.

“Come back here, Krieger!” He followed John to the Lexus, “Krieger, you cocksucker. Hey, I’m talking to you,” John stopped, and Jackson made like he was going to throw a punch, “Hey asshole, unless you want me going to the cops, I want money… fifty thousand.”

John couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” He paced back and forth, shaking his head, stared at Jackson in disbelief again. “You really think?...” John shook his head some more.

He stared long and hard at Jackson standing there with that smug, alligator smile.

“I guess you think, you know, with all the people in the diner, you’re safe out here, huh?”

“What?”

John pulled a Beretta from his suit and Jackson reeled back, nearly tripping over his feet. He punched Jackson in the gut with the gun. Jackson keeled over, gasping for air. John opened the trunk of his Lexus and it was lined with plastic. He took out a plastic zip-loc bag from inside his suit, securing it snugly over the gun and his hand.

Jackson pleaded between breaths, “Krieger, wait, no, please don’t, oh god, please.”

John scanned the parking lot, but it was empty. The gas pumps were vacant. He carefully aimed, firing into Jackson’s face. A few people inside the diner looked around when they heard the gunshot, but quickly dismissed it, delving back into their noisy chatter. John waited a few seconds for the blood to finish gushing out of Jackson’s head, then hefted the body into the trunk, got in the Lexus and calmly drove away.

He drove to Scottsdale – to his condo that he had bought for a steal at rock bottom price. There were condos and townhouses as far as the eye could see – a Starbucks on every corner. The garage door automatically opened and he parked the Lexus. He would deal with Jackson later, after he prepped the bathtub and had a few more whisky sours. He grabbed up a hack saw, a hand axe, other choice tools, on his way through the garage.

The entire condo was an Ikea showroom – spotless and in pristine order. It looked more like a floor model for an open house, but that was how John preferred it after more than thirty years of brokering. He had brokered millions of dollars worth of real estate, he only wished it hadn’t taken Chase twenty years to foreclose on the Davis’s property.

John carried the tools into the living room. He walked to a flight of stairs lined with family portraits and photos. He started up the stairs, past family portraits of his wife and step-daughter with beautiful matching blonde hair. The portraits showed them at different ages through a progression of years – the same mother and daughter with matching blonde hair in the old color Polaroids. John looked at the photos, tipped the hack saw to them, and smiled.

 

burgerface.jpg
Art by Paul Dick 2012

The Burger Face and Eddy G

 

by Jason Duke

 

 

Eddy Georges rolls a cigarette again from his handy tobacco pouch. His lungs feel blackened and shriveled because he’s been a chain smoker since twelve, but it doesn’t stop Eddy G and he lights the cigarette with his trusty Zippo that reads: Eat a Dick, on one side, and has a topless big-titted lady on the other. He thinks this is cigarette twenty in as many minutes, he isn’t sure. He lost count.

 

The smoke licks at his sultry windows, then it curls up thick and white and stinking to a domed ceiling, stuccoed in Venetian plaster, with a cheap Cumaean Sibyl replica painted in the center. The interior of his house feels like a sauna inside a bigger sauna, inside an oven, over an open flame pit. His swamper runs non-stop, clicks on every few minutes, loud and obnoxious, but all the swamper does is blow lukewarm air and shift the smoke, shove around the smoke with nowhere to go. Outside, his windows cry slutty tears. HEddy G – he stares up from his recliner, at the ceiling, watches the smoke lick at the black tar spots on the Sibyl’s face and tits. 

 

Next to him, his thin floor lamp seems to wobble around, leans askew to the verge of tipping. He looks to the other side of the room, where the light doesn’t reach—sees a man standing there in the darkness, materializes.

 

Eddy G jumps out of his chair. The only thing Eddy sees is the man’s mauled, disfigured face. Every time Eddy G looks at the man, he’s drawn to the disfigured face. Nothing else stands out in memory. Not clothes, not hair, not hands, not feet. The cicatrized face looks like hamburger, like someone ran it through a meat grinder. The Burger Face wears tan, flesh-colored makeup slapped over his face to hide it. The face is so hideous, the disgusting sight of it would probably make God turn away. The Burger Face has a set of wild, bloodshot eyes that study Eddy up and down.

 

Eddy G realizes that most people would’ve probably run away screaming by now. He feels like he has to burp, but can’t.

 

The Burger Face says, “Relax, Eddy,” raw and raspy. He sets the chair upright. “Have a seat, smoke another cigarette. Eddy, I said relax. Just nod your fucking head, and go along with it.”

 

Eddy G stares, mouth hung open, as a black plastic Hefty bag drops to the floor. The bag could’ve appeared out of thin air, or been there all along, but Eddy isn’t sure.

 

The Burger Face snarls, flashing his pearly whites, and says, “This is fucking real, Eddy, as real as what will happen to you.” The lumpy bag squishes around on the floor. “Answer me this, Eddy, if you were free—I mean complete and absolute freedom—to do whatever you wanted without consequence, wouldn’t you?”

 

Eddy G—he thinks about what’s in the bag more than the answer to the Burger Face’s question. What kind of minced-up human sludge is in there? Eddy G figures the Burger Face must be a pretty sick fuck, and whatever poor bastard, what’s left of him, is in that bag, had probably been alive and screaming the whole time the Burger Face chopped him up.

 

“Right now, you have two choices, Eddy. You can choose what’s behind door number one, or you can choose what’s in the bag.” The bag squishes around some more, jiggling in place. “I don’t have all fucking night, we’ve got a schedule to keep. I’ll assume by your silence you choose the bag. One. Two. Three. Four. Last chance, Eddy. Five.”

 

Eddy G says, “All right! Okay! Fuck it.”

 

The Burger Face says, “Good choice, Eddy. I got a car outside.”

 

The car is a loud, deep red Lamborghini. Eddy G hears the click of an electronic key. Two quick chirps disarm the alarm. The Lambo doors swing up. Eddy G walks outside and gets mugged by the sticky heat. The car is gorgeous, sexy, sleek. Eddy wonders how many women the Burger Face fucked in the car. Even with a disfigured face, Eddy G figures a car like that still probably earns the Burger Face plenty of pussy. Eddy G looks back at all the cigarette smoke in his doorway, like a portal of fog. The sky is starless, pitch black, city lights hold back the darkness.

 

“You want to drive it?”

 

“Really?”

 

The Burger Face snarls, then laughs.

 

“Fuck, no.”

 

*****

 

The Lamborghini weaves in and out of traffic, drivers lay into their horns, hit the brakes. They swerve out of the way. Manhole covers in the street rattle, hopping up, do a little wobbly dance as the Lamborghini rockets past. The Lamborghini runs a red light, shoots through the intersection, roaring above all the cars that skid and crash into each other, piling in the intersection.

 

Eddy G—he looks back and sees a car launch in the air, barrel roll through the air. The driver smashes through the windshield like a crash test dummy, into the rest of the mangled wreckage and human carnage.

 

He sees a bum wrapped up in cardboard, sleeping on a bench under a covered bus stop. The Lamborghini roars by, startles the bum awake, and he rolls off the bench, into the street, into the path of a delivery truck that squashes his head and midsection and now he looks like roadkill with tire tracks through his head and stomach. Eddy sucks down another rolled cigarette; feels how good it burns in his lungs.

 

The Burger Face howls, “We having fun yet?”

 

Eddy feels regurgitation burn his throat, but he’s thrilled. He wonders where the cops are. They should be hot on their asses any second now and he looks for the cop cars, helicopters, news choppers, that are sure to all come raging down on them, vengeful fury, smite the wicked, type shit. He’ll tell them the Burger Face took him hostage, threatened to chop him up into little pieces and put him in a squishy industrial-size plastic Hefty bag.

 

The Burger Face says, “Relax, Eddy. This is just the beginning. We’re not going to get caught, as long as you keep your fucking mouth shut. You’ll see.”

 

*****

 

Dirty Harry’s Last Stop Gas stands alone. It stands on a lonely street corner, in the city’s heart, at the edge of a vacant dirt lot choked with tall weeds, broken glass, used rubbers. Liquor stores, gun shops, beauty salons, markets, Korean Barbecue, Starbucks, Jamba Juice huddle on the other three corners.

 

Yezhov pushes the gas mask further up on his head. “You never have heard ‘categorical imperative’ by Kant?”

 

The words Light My Killjoy are burned across the forehead of the mask, and it reeks of weed. He glares over the end of his nose, down at Danny, crosses his gigantic arms over his massive chest, and says with a slow, Russian-accented drawl, “I cannot believe you never have heard of ‘categorical imperative.’ ”

 

Danny looks and feels like a little kid, standing next to Yezhov. The way he does when his dad calls him “loser white trash” because he looks the part in blue jeans and flannel. Yezhov wears a long trench coat and Danny can’t remember a time when Yezhov wore anything different.

 

“Kant believe motive was most important factor in determining moral. He argue moral action must be performed out of sense of duty and no else. It is not from feelings or pity, or reward, but based on sense of ‘this is what I ought to do.’ It is possible actions have negative consequences and still be moral.”

 

Danny says, “Vooom,” waving a hand over his head.

 

Yezhov glares. “There is problem, yes?”

 

“There is?”

 

“Kant believe lie is always wrong. So what if crazy madman wielding axe asks where friend is? He wants to murder your friend. Do you tell truth where friend is? Or do you lie and save friend’s life?”

 

Danny is bored, half-asleep.

 

Yezhov smiles, “You read on internet and get smart. Most say go to school and learn in college, but I say don’t need college, everything on internet now.” He motions with his arms to the store, the world outside. “This is great age we live in, yes?”

 

*****

 

Cars swerve, left, right, slam on the brakes, anything to get out of the way. The Lamborghini races hell-bent down the center of the street, back and forth between the left and right side of the road.

 

Eddy G—his hands shake bad. The cars smash each other, flip in the air, roll through the streets, in twisted, accordion heaps of glass and metal, like wrecking balls. They take other cars with them.

 

He looks through the back window, marvels at the long, snaking procession of cop cars trailing behind. The night sky is a panoply of red and blue bursts of flashing lights. Their sirens wail through the sticky night air. The cops keep up pretty good, but some join the graveyard of screams and blazing wreckage spread out over a twenty-mile tract.

 

The Burger Face shouts over the wind, “How many are back there, you think?”

 

“I don’t know.” Eddy turns back around, shrugs, “After you ran down the kid walking his dog, I stopped counting.”

 

The Lamborghini flies into the parking lot of a shopping mall, straight for the Macy’s doors. It plows through a young preppy couple exiting the doors.

 

Eddy G—he sees an old lady in her sixties chastising a perfume girl over a free Burberry sample. She’s wearing thick round glasses the size of small spare tires, and her hair is a bright red beehive. The perfume girl keeps quiet, but she has a stuck-up look of disdain that says, get out of her face old bitch, because she’s too good for this job.

 

The Lamborghini, it crashes through the Macy’s doors. The Lamborghini guts display cases, clothing racks, employees, shoppers; all the people flee screaming, knocking over strollers, kicking out canes from under the infirm. The momentum carries the Lamborghini through the Macy’s, into the main corridor of the mall.

Eddy G – he knows most people by now would’ve jumped out of the car to get away. He feels sharp pain in his stomach, like Ka-Bars stabbing him repeatedly in the gut, but he smiles.

 

 The Lamborghini skids up to a Chase outlet bank, people running, screaming. They shove, punch, kick, trample each other to save themselves.

 

*****

 

Sheriff Elroy looks straight into the cameras. “We’re going to get these sons-a-bitches if it’s the last thing we do.”

 

The silver lenses of his wire-framed Aviator sunglasses reflect the bright light of the news cameras. His girdle has popped loose, his gut poking out over his belt. Reporters cram around him in the parking lot, shouting their questions over the apocalypse of gunfire inside the mall:

 

“Do you know anything about them, sheriff? Anything you can tell us about the gunmen? How many?”

 

“Whoever they are, and how many, these men are pure evil, plain and simple. We’ve devoted everything we got to taking them down. They are the most savage, wicked, feared, hated, mass-murdering criminal fucks this city, this country, this world, has ever known, and we won’t rest until these evil motherfuckers get their comeuppance.”

 

The cameras pan to dozens of cop cars and SWAT vans, FBI, ATF, National Guard units teeming around military trucks and Humvees, police choppers and news choppers buzzing overhead.

 

Sheriff Elroy grabs a camera, brings it straight to his face. The tip of his nose presses against the glass.

 

“You sons-a-bitches. You hear me? You can run, but you can’t hide.”

 

Eddy G bursts out of the mall, gunfire on his heels. The door he exits explodes in fireworks of ricocheting bullets. He charges past Sheriff Elroy, the throng of reporters, and Elroy fumbles for his Colt six-shooter.

 

The Lamborghini crashes out of the mall next. The reporters scatter, everyone takes cover behind vehicles, but Elroy stands his ground.

 

The car skids up to Elroy—he’s still fumbling with his six-shooter, trying to squeeze his fingers around it. From the driver window a shotgun levels at his crotch, he sees it too late and screams, as the shotgun blows him away.

 

The Burger Face floors it, Eddy G leaps in as the Lamborghini rockets past.

 

*****

 

The Burger Face shouts over the howling wind, “This is a crazy world we live in!”

 

Eddy G—he doubles over. His stomach wants to escape through his mouth. He rolls and lights another cigarette, savoring the burn.

 

“It’s whatever we make of it!” the Burger Face shouts.

 

Eddy feels more alive than he’s ever been.

 

*****

 

The Lamborghini screeches into the parking lot of Pink Cabaret. There are a handful of cars, low-key. Eddy G sees a parked jet black ’87 Camaro with a bumper sticker that reads: Fuck off, this message brought to you by the First Amendment. He recognizes the place, because he’s blown both kinds of wads here more than once.

 

Over the front door is a portico, pink neon lights along the trim of the roof. Everything looks new and clean. The hot pink neon sign in graffiti sans-serif and the brown marble paneling are a veneer of high dollar and class.

 

“You’ve been here before?” the Burger Face says.

 

Eddy G says, “How did you know?”

 

The police and news choppers buzz overhead; the convoys of police and military vehicles whine in the distance.

The Burger Face says, “We don’t have much time.”

 

They hurry inside, where the cabaret is more veneer of mirrored walls, deep plush chairs, oval tables, hot pink dance poles, and creamy white stages. The flat plasma screens above the fully-stocked bar show nothing but tits and ass. Every woman on the TV screens look in Eddy G’s direction and wink, dancing just for him.

 

He looks to the twin mezzanine balconies—all the middle-aged lowlives that wave dollar bills at the dancers on stage. Some of the crowd is young, thugged out in hip-hop fashion. Eddy really hates these pricks. Some of them wear suits and sit up on the balconies getting lap dances.

 

The Burger Face yanks fistfuls of money from his pockets and throws it in the air. “This is your life, fuckers!”

 

Or maybe it appears out of thin air, or has been there all along, Eddy G isn’t sure. He isn’t sure of much anymore.

 

The Burger Face howls, “The drinks and lap dances are on me!”

 

Everyone looks puzzled, then cheers. The Burger Face pumps two shotgun rounds into the stripper on stage, the cheers turn to screams. The men shove past each other, the women, trample them: wives, mothers, sisters, daughters.

 

The Burger Face throws more money in the air. “Step right up, fuckers! This is your life!”

 

Eddy tries to help a stripper to her feet. She’s begging him to help her escape. For the love of God or Buddha or whatever, please help her get out of here, help her flee this place . . .

 

*****

 

Yezhov puffs a joint, hits it big. He lowers the gas mask over his face.

 

The Lamborghini skids into the parking lot.

 

Danny says, “Will you put that thing out, already. You smoke too much of that shit. Go down in the basement and keep them quiet.”

 

Yezhov strolls carefree to the coolers in back, into the cold storage behind the coolers. He looks at the freezer door at the end of the cold storage. His breath rolls out in thick white plumes. The glow of TV screens shines out of an office doorway screened by a curtain of plastic strips. Rows of security monitors are lined along metal commercial shelves in the office. The walls are covered in every Clint Eastwood movie poster imaginable.

 

Yezhov checks the monitors—the young girls locked in chicken wire cages in the basement. They have barely enough room to sit or kneel. Yezhov lifts one of the posters, he presses a button on the wall behind the poster; it opens a panel to the basement stairs. The panel, it slides shut behind him.

 

The Burger Face walks into the gas station, triggering the door buzzer. He angles his face away from Danny. Eddy G—he stands in the path of the door buzzer, with a vacant look.

 

“You okay?” Danny waves to Eddy. “Can I help you with something?”

 

The shotgun blows the buzzer apart.

 

Eddy G hits the deck, and Danny jumps in the air.

 

Halfway down the basement stairs, Yezhov hears the shotgun blast, feels the walls shake. The women in the basement in the chicken wire cages begin to cry, whimper. He thuds the rest of the way down the stairs. “Bitches, quiet!”

 

Then he hurries over to the corner, another metal shelf of televisions that monitor the upstairs:

 

The Burger Face eases the shotgun in Danny’s mouth, says, “You know of Kant’s categorical imperative?”

 

Danny drips sweat. He wants to piss himself, but it comes out of his pores, instead. 

 

“This is a great age we live in,” the Burger Face says. “Who needs school or college when you got internet? There’s a problem with it, though. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?”

 

Danny nods.

 

“It’s not an axe, but you know what I’ll do to you, don’t you?” The Burger Face eases the shotgun deeper in Danny’s mouth, “So, the moment of truth. You have two choices. You can tell the truth where your friend is hiding. Or you can lie and save his life.”

 

Danny points to the coolers in back. The Burger Face pulls the shotgun out of Danny’s mouth and it makes a loud pop.

 

“He’s in the basement,” Danny says.  

 

From down in the basement, they faintly hear Yezhov shout, “Little son of bitch!”

 

Hogtied, Yezhov and Danny watch the Lamborghini peel out, rocket away.

 

“Russian bosses will not be happy with this,” Yezhov says.

 

*****

 

The swamper is running non-stop. Eddy G—he eases into the recliner, rolls another cigarette from his handy tobacco pouch. His lungs feel blackened and shriveled because he’s been a chain smoker since twelve, but it doesn’t stop Eddy G and he lights the cigarette with his trusty Zippo that reads: Eat a Dick, on one side, and has a topless big-titted lady on the other. He thinks this is cigarette twenty in as many minutes, he isn’t sure. He lost count.

 

His house still feels like a sauna—like a sauna inside a bigger sauna, inside an oven, over an open flame pit: inside a lake of fire, in the ninth circle of hell, smack dab in the middle. The swamper, it clicks on every few minutes. Outside, the windows cry slutty tears.

 

The Burger Face steps back into shadow and melts away. The Burger Face—Eddy G, he stares up at the domed ceiling, stuccoed in Venetian plaster, the cheap Sibyl replica covered in black tar spots—Eddy G and the Burger Face—He’s replaying the night over in his head while watching TV—The Burger Face and Eddy G.

 

They are all over the news, on every channel, national and international coverage; the news anchors are calling them psychopaths, mass-murderers, evil. But no one saw their faces, not camera footage, not firsthand witnesses, not even the two gas station attendants that were somehow miraculously spared. No fingerprints, no blood, no hair or fibers. There wasn’t even a single set of fingerprints on the discarded shotgun or the wrecked Lamborghini that was abandoned by the gunman or gunmen.  No one was sure of how many and gave differing accounts.

 

The news anchors say the murderous rampage is the deadliest and bloodiest killing spree ever to occur in one night, with a final body count of 763 people dead. Books are already being written and movie rights discussed—at least a six sequel movie deal—it’s too bad they don’t have any names and faces to go in the history books.

 

Eddy G—he looks for the phone.

 

 

Jason Duke is a crime writer and Iraqi war veteran. He was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army for six years, and served a 15 month deployment to Iraq between 07-09. Now he lives and writes full-time in Phoenix, Arizona. His fiction has appeared in Plots With Guns, Thuglit, Spinetingler Magazine, Crimewav.com, Crimefactory, Needle Magazine, Yellow Mama, Darkest Before the Dawn, A Twist of Noir, and the anthologies D*cked and Pulp Ink, among others. Special thanks to his friend and fellow writer in the trenches, Jimmy Callaway, for a wonderful job critiquing the story.

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