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Steven Nester
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potluck.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2015

Pot Luck

by Steven Nester

 

My wife used to be a God-loving Baptist but since she started taking marijuana she’ll spread her legs for any free-thinker she thinks can get her stoned. I fear no evil when the Donnie and Marie milk-toasts of the LDS come huckster their Johnny-Come-Lately at my door, so I let her answer. But when you see a Unitarian in a turtle neck and sideburns at the ecumenical round table loosen your mind get-togethers they toss every month you have to watch out.

They’re sly, LuAnn and her pimp pusher Kent. He’s obviously the kind of guy that reads Playboy and probably even worse. After Monday evening youth group with him LuAnn breezes home with bloodshot eyes and minty breath and clothes in hasty array but I’ve got them nailed. It’s the extra pounds she’s picked up. It’s called the munchies. Burgers and fries with a side of sin.

My car is a dead giveaway so I ask Chet to drive. Chet lives down the street. I tell him LuAnn’s cat has run away and my car is on the blink. I promise him a burger and he says sure. He seems genuinely concerned and says he’s skipped tonight’s youth group with Kent and LuAnn to help out. He smiles at the thought of doing a good deed. Chet’s a good kid, even if he does wear a tee-shirt promoting a heavy metal anti-Christ. 

We make the rounds of every parking lot where they might smoke and cop a feel: in back of the bowling alley, the mini-mall—heaven forbid the churches—but we’ve got to cover them, and we come up empty. Chet holds the wheel with two fingers and drives with confidence as if he’s done this route before. It’s a small town so he probably has. We swing into Supreme Burger, the last stop, and pull into a spot. I look for Kent’s car. You can’t miss it; it’s a ragged convertible bug taped together with bumper stickers for peace, tolerance and other things that probably piss God off.

Chet’s not hungry so I get a coffee and settle in. He slouches into his seat and checks his watch over and over like something’s going to happen any second.  It does. The VW pulls in. LuAnn gets out, stumbles, laughs and straightens her skirt. Before I can put my coffee down Kent pulls onto the highway. Where’s he going? LuAnn glances at Chet’s car and smiles, plainly high as a kite. She can’t see us; and I wonder who she thinks we are. She enters Supreme and I get out. I try to see if she’s meeting somebody but everyone’s coupled up in booths.

She stands at the counter and chats with the girl at the register. Two sodas, two hamburgers, two fries, to go. For who? And where? And how? Kent’s VW pulls in again and stops behind the dumpster. He swivels from the seat and takes cover behind a plumber’s van. He’s spying on them, too.

I glance at Chet and he’s dialing his cell. I glance at LuAnn and she’s answering hers. I look at Kent and he’s talking into his. Mine’s silent. A police siren wails across town. That could be for me. I have a .38 in my pocket. LuAnn walks to the passenger side of Chet’s car and gets in. Kent appears and raps the driver’s window and gets in back. I walk to the car and sit behind LuAnn. It’s so quiet. Chet pulls out a small pistol, beating me to the draw.

 “Sorry for doing this,” he says, looking back at me.

Chet puts the gun in her face.  LuAnn puts what is clearly a marijuana cigarette between her lips. Chet squeezes the trigger. A tiny flame pops from the muzzle and flickers at the end of the joint. All three talk and pass the joint around as I hyperventilate. The car fills with smoke. Chet’s gun looks real enough. All three offenders are here. I know the kind of math it would take to make it look like a love triangle gone wrong. Soon I wonder what the big deal was all about.

“To world peace,” I say, and take the joint.

 

 


dating.jpg
Art by John Lunar Richey 2016

“The Dating Game Killers”

Steven Nester

 

 

They called it The Dating Game but there really wasn’t all that much to it. You were there to get a guy and if you knew what kind you were after and knew how to spot it a girl could get set up with someone on the spot. If you couldn’t find a nice one you could always get an accomplice; and since Donna June attracted only power company linemen and wised-up bowling alley mechanics, a triggerman with vision was what she had in mind.  

Bachelor number one turned out to president of the Pepsi Generation. His name was Kirby and his mousy squeak was probably the sweetest one in the girl’s choir, thought Donna June. It came through the divider like the smell of cheap bubble gum that goes limp after a couple of chews.

 “Bachelor number one,” she said.

She could almost hear him sit to attention, his hands wrestling on his lap and his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he gulped and called upon a higher power for guidance.

“You’re stranded on a desert island. With me. When a rescuer arrives, do you tell him to get lost; to check his bathing suit at the door; or to marry us?”

She tossed her head and her long brown hair whipped and curled like the tail of an impatient jungle cat.  

“Well I would have to say marry us?”

The audience thought the kid was alright but Donna June thought it was a little square so she wandered off the well-paved script to the bounces and bumps of her thoughts.

“Is anybody else in the rescue boat,” she asked, “Like a divorce lawyer I hope?”

The audience thought that Donna June was on the mark, but bachelor number one didn’t; he seemed to take it personal.

“Divorce?” he said. “I thought we were going to get married.”

Donna June thought he was funny. Hey guy. It’s only a game show. The host grinned like when you have a headache and somebody said something funny and you couldn’t help but laugh even though it hurt to.

“Cheer up, bachelor number one,” the host said. “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”  

“Sharks, too,” Donna June said. “Are you in the swim, bachelor number one?”

“If you say so,” he said.

“I say so and you better look out ‘cause you’re swimming with a shark now,” she said. The audience clapped.

Bachelor number two was a little too right-back-atcha with his answers, as if he had it all figured out, like the guy who nixed her for the used car loan at the Fresno First National thought he had it all figured out.

“Bachelor number two,” she said, “Complete the following statement: ‘I’ll know I’ve met Mrs. Right when—’”

“Can’t answer that,” the guy said butting in. “I haven’t met her yet.”

The audience thought this was real witty, but Donna June thought they were playing along with the APPLAUSE and LAUGH signs that blinked on and off. When she squinted through the lights that hid them she saw they were regular people, straight shooters dressed for traffic court or maybe visiting day at the state correctional—but not so much like they believed that clothes could make them something they were not. Donna June decided they laughed when they felt it; not when somebody told them to.

“You mean I don’t sound like Mrs. Right?” Donna June asked, making a dash for it.  

“Tell me a little about yourself and I’ll get back to you” he said.

“Sounds like you’ve made up your mind already,” she said.

Donna June noticed the cameras always seemed to point at her so she thought to make the most of it. She made a pistol with her right hand and aimed it towards the screen where she thought bachelor number two might be sitting and mouthed bang. She put her finger tip to her lips to blow away the imaginary smoke. The host kind of drooped and the audience ooohed and aaahed in surprise. There weren’t any flashing signs asking for that, she noticed.  She thought of picking number two just so she could cut his hamstrings and dump him in the Mojave; but that fun would be over faster than a heartfelt lap-dance, so she moved onto number three.

 “Bachelor number three,” she said, reading her cue card. “If you were a hero what kind of hero would you be? Ham or—”

“I’d be the kind that gets shot up and don’t come back,” he jumped in.

The flesh on Donna June’s backside pricked up. The sharpness in this boy’s voice was sheathed, but Donna June heard the sneer and purr of Central Valley white trash cleaned up with polyester slacks, a five-dollar haircut, and shiny new Beatle boots that pinched. She tugged her brassiere strap because all of a sudden it felt real tight. His name was Randy and Donna June peeled out after him like the highway patrol.

“Huh. He who runs away lives to fight another day,” said the host. He wore too much plaid and his sideburns looked like souvenirs from a Tijuana bender.

“Don’t like parades,” Randy said. “Marching reminds me of the stockade.”

The host’s head looked to explode but the audience loved it. A bunch of suits as old as her granddaddy stood on the sidelines and waved for the host to keep things moving. The cameras tried to stare Donna June down but she was spurred to a gallop. She swooned, got up and peeked around the divider.  

Randy swung off his stool and walked to her. Stiletto thin with a mop of black hair he looked like he didn’t shave yet but Donna June knew he’d bring the wood. He loosened his tie and grabbed her. His lips tasted like Fritos.

“I knew I’d gitchoo,” he said.

She embraced him and her flowery jumper rode up her thighs but she didn’t care; she was ready to make the six o’clock news with Randy, full frontal felons with nothing to hide. Her lips curled and she went feral.

 “C’mon, daddy,” she said biting his ear. “Let’s skip.”  

Somebody yelled cut! over the loudspeaker and the suits came to center stage and got into a huddle like they were figuring a play for fourth and long. The big boss wore tinted glasses and a paisley Nehru suit with patch pockets and a belt tied around the waist like he was going on a hippie safari to San Francisco. He clasped his hands together in a slightly prayerful manner, but that didn’t keep the sharpie from poking through. He walked over to Donna June and Randy.

“Hey kids, that was great, really great. But let’s try it again. Let’s make it super real this time.”

That seemed to annoy Randy. He whipped out a pistol but the guy didn’t seem to care.

“Hey put the gun away,” Jungle Jim said. “It’s not loaded, is it?”

 He put his hand around Randy’s shoulder like best buddies and tried to steer him back to his seat but Randy was having none of that. He squeezed the trigger and the bullet must’ve hit a cable or something because a long section of pipe with lights attached swung down from the ceiling and sliced the divider in half. The two other bachelors ran off the set and the host and two of the suits ducked into the darkness offstage. Randy pointed the .32 at the TV swami and asked for his car keys.

 “Shoot him if he don’t,” Donna June cooed.

The guy dangled the keys with a seen-it-all smirk on his suntanned face, then Randy snatched them and fired a shot into his belly. With all the color the guy had going on you couldn’t see the blood until it oozed between his fingers where he clutched his belly.

“That real enough?” Randy said.

The guy fell onto his ass and groaned; then lowered his shades to get a look at the damage.

“Where we going?” Donna June asked.

“Some place else,” said Randy.

She snagged the keys.

“I’ll drive,” she said.

Randy grabbed the guy by the shoulder pads of his suit and yanked him onto his feet and held him in front like a shield with the gun to his back.

“You’re coming with us.”

He didn’t say anything as Randy and Donna June shoved him along through the huge sound stage doors to the parking lot. The sunlight came down so hard it hurt. Randy grabbed the sharpie’s shades and put them on. He looked like a teen playing grown-up with his dad’s sunglasses, and pointed to a red convertible Camaro parked in a space with a sign that had somebody’s name on it.

“That one,” Randy said.

The TV guy stayed put, doubled over then dropped to his knees and rolled onto his side.

“Sorry buddy,” said Donna June as she gave him once last frisk and found a wad of cash. She dropped a ten-dollar bill on him.

“This car don’t stop at the hospital. I’d call an ambulance if I were you.”

The vinyl seats were smoking hot so Donna June draped a folded beach towel from the back onto the driver’s seat and the two hopped over the doors into the car.

“Damn,” said Randy as he squirmed and rode the seat with one cheek. She turned the key and stepped on the clutch. It was factory stock and softer than mud. Donna June had made up her mind. She turned to Randy and said, “Vegas.” 

“We rolled the dice plenty today.”

 He leaned over to kiss her cheek.

“Cops’ll be everywhere,” he said.

“Vegas’s where we’re headed,” Donna June said.

She pumped the gas pedal and revved the motor then ground the stick into reverse.

 “Hey fella.”

It was Kirby and did he looked pissed.

“Hey fella what,” said Randy, his arm resting over the door like he’s catching some air, the gun relaxed and pointing to the ground.

“Hey fella that’s my girl you got there,” said Kirby. The bubble gum sweetness was gone. He manned up real nice, puffing out his chest like a high school nerd that keeps coming after the lunch room bully who pushes him away over and over and thinks it’s funny.

“Donna June talked to me first. We were almost married,” he said, thumbing over his shoulder to the sound stage.

“Son, that was a teevee show,” said Randy. “It ain’t real. You better jump on your tractor and get back to the farm.”

A man fight. Over her. Donna June’s heart skipped a beat and softened just like a little girl’s when swords were drawn in princess cartoons. Then it got real hard and her eyes narrowed to watch. Randy sat in the passenger seat, a warm pistol in his hand, and talked trash with a boy named Kirby who was armed with nothing but bad judgment. Donna June loved being a commodity in a run-in no matter if it was chucking knuckles or dragging down Rte. 99 through Bakersfield. This was two curs foaming over a ripe stray, and she decided to give it a minute or so and laid off the gas. The Camaro idled rough and throaty and a siren pushed its way through the growl.

“You ever been to Vegas,” Kirby asked.

Donna June shook her head no.

“That’s enough outta you, son,” said Randy.

He raised the gun but Kirby grabbed the barrel and twisted it back and upwards, loosening it from Randy’s grasp and pulling it from his hand. Part magic, part Kung Fu, Donna June was sold on Kirby. He brought the butt down on the crown of Randy’s head and let him slump onto the dash.

The sirens sounded closer, a little more real and bearing down. Donna June saw the only move to make. Randy was fine alright and came on strong at the starter pistol; but Kirby was the one that made it to the finish line faster than a speeding bullet.  

 “You ever been married,” he asked.

“Nuh uh,” said Donna June, finally seeing how this rail of a boy might fill a woman.

“It ain’t so bad,” he said.

He stuffed Randy’s .32 into his waistband desperado style.

“They got drive-in churches. You don’t even have to get out the car. Easier than getting a burger.”

Kirby led her by the elbow out of the Camaro, delicately and barely touching her, to a dinged pick-up truck bleached by the sun. He opened the passenger door for Donna June. It groaned and snapped like a tow truck pulling two cars apart after a high speed wreck.

“You’ll see,” said Kirby.




Steven Nester is a freelance writer who has published in Yellow Mama, The Rap Sheet, Kirkus, Shotgun Honey, and other publications. His mystery author interview radio show, "Poets of the Tabloid Murder," may be heard on prx.org. 

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