A Cold Day in Crisis
Matthew Sanborn Smith
Moby's little loaner Datsun roared toward inevitable explosion at a hundred and ten miles an hour while the desert sun baked its flaking blue paint. For the thousandth time I cursed the old bastard for the broken air-conditioner. I was a creature made of sweat and stubble and burning red eyes and one flailing hand. That hand danced all over the torn vinyl and foam of the passenger seat searching for the next cigarette. The volume knob of the antique radio had fused to the top end from having never been turned. Steely Dan's Bad Sneakers strained out of two tinny rear speakers over the screaming engine. I'd been going since yesterday morning, so that it didn't seem like a new day, just one very long one. Kara waited out there somewhere, I could feel her, even though I'd never met her.
I had one very powerful and very angry man demanding that I bring her back in one piece. If I needed more motivation, he had one more "very" going for him and that was very rich. In the short term, I had no choice. Like my brothers, Odysseus and Aeneas, I never had any choice. All my life people have manipulated me, circumstances twisted my arm, fate and the gods pissed on my plans. Kara's father, Raymond Moby, just held the latest spot in a long, long line of hassles. I risked my ass for another man's daughter and felt crushed with guilt for neglecting my own. This tired, I always want to cry about stupid shit, but my situation with Lena deserved a good cry. In the long term this was just another job, but one that paid enough that I could get Lena back and be a real father for the first time in her life.
Three hours ago at the last gas station, I'd checked in with Moby. I'd narrowed it down to Kering, Arizona, somewhere I'd only heard about, too small for my maps. There's only one reason people like Moby hire me. Not for my looks; I look like a vagrant, and half the time I am. Not as a hitman; I'm good with my fists, but not so much with a gun. People like Moby hire me for my nose. I can find people, I'm good that way. As a kid, every time my father left home for more than a day, I'd track him down. He'd get pissed, but come back for a while. After a few times, my mother wasn't too happy about it either. "If the man don't have no time with us," she'd say in her Trinidadian accent, "just leave him be and keep your backside in school." I didn't pay much attention to her. Finding him never made me miss much school anyway (and look at all the wonderful vistas my education opened up for me). My father came the easiest for me, before he died. The more I knew about someone, the better I could sniff him out.
I didn't meet her friends, but from what I could gather from Kara's tight-lipped family, the Arizona desert felt right. "I think she'd like the heat," I'd said as I moved my fingers across the map. The look on Moby's face told me I should have kept my mouth shut. He looked a little spooked, like everyone does when I speak my hunches out loud. He also looked like he couldn't afford to have me around. I'd have to play this one real careful. At the end of the job, the old man might want to finish up with me for good.
I saw another gas station and stopped. There weren't many stations left anymore. Besides that, I was maybe a half hour away from total collapse. I have to stop giving blood before a job, but I always ended up needing the money. They like my blood because it's thick like paste. They mix a pint with water and get two quarts out of it.
There were a couple of buildings here, beaten and bruised by dust storms, huddled together against mother nature, their backs to the Sonoran desert. The station didn't have a name, no brand of gas that I could see. It looked eighty years old. The one pump had black numbers printed on white wheels. I peeled my mangy ass off of the hot seat and dragged myself out, more by pulling with my arms than pushing with my legs. The building didn't look like a store so much as a huge shack, the old boards sun-dried, gray, and wrinkled. The broken Coke machine sat on the porch, a museum piece, where you had to open a little glass door and pull the bottle out, popping the metal cap on a built-in opener. I pounded up the steps and a tired dog barked at me from beneath. The store inside felt cramped and the shelves barely held any stock. Probably the only source of food for a hundred miles around and there was nobody to need it. People had already started pulling up for the coast or the North twenty years back. Only the craziest bastards summered here.
"Hello!" I shouted. Nobody answered. The back door lay wide open. I knew registers enough to authorize my own gas, but if somebody caught me . . . One of those crazies out here likely had more guns than witnesses. I laid a buck on the counter and grabbed a Mountain Dew from the cooler. My crash loomed, not far off, and the gritty floor looked good enough for flopping down and falling asleep. No way I'd sleep in the Datsun. Visions came of my dehydrated corpse pulled from it by the local Sheriff's department. Then of Lena calling another man "Dad", or maybe crying with no one to care whether she lived or died. I wouldn't have it.
Whoever watched the station couldn't have gone far. Of course, not enough people came through this place to merit an employee sitting at the counter all day. I walked out the back door. The yard showcased a collection of dissected car bodies; I had to step over a rear end to get to the house out back. A weathered old chicken coop that had started out as red sat behind it. The dust and the heat had beaten the land until nothing remained but the bleached bones of the things I'd left behind in Nuevos L.A. No swings, no wagons, no dolls. No kids.
I knocked at the door of the house. With a cool rush of air, Kara Moby opened the door.
Son of a bitch.
Owing to a white mother, she was lighter than Raymond or me. A lot prettier too. She wore a too short blue and white flowered dress that showed every bit of leg she could lay claim to. Heavy breasts swung free beneath it. I had to remind myself she was sixteen and, because of her father, it meant a lot more trouble than just prison. She stared at me until I realized how stupid I must have looked.
"Umm . . . I just need to pump some gas. Do, uh, you take the money? Nobody's at the register."
"Where'd you get the soda?"
"Oh, I put the money on the counter for it," I said, faster than I'd meant to. Damn, she could rattle me as easily as her old man. She looked me up and down. I must've been pretty scary looking after my drive, but I wasn't big. No ordinary kid, she left a life of luxury to come out here to the desert by herself. Or maybe not by herself.
"I'll take your money," she said, kicking her feet into a ratty old pair of men's bedroom slippers. She pushed past me, and not with her shoulders. I thanked God for cheap thrills. A glance into the house showed me this: a cat; an old TV showing the Price is Still Right; orange curtains (closed); a huge oval rug on the floor like blue speckled wound rope, the kind my mother had. Everything had a brownish cast because of the curtains. Kara pulled the door shut in my face and almost broke my nose. She glared death at me but turned her back and started toward the station. Smart enough to know when a fight's not worth it. With that in mind and the view following her back I seriously began to doubt the teenager story. A man Moby's age, I mean a woman Moby's wife's age . . . A teenager would have been too young for them.
What were the chances of this? I mean, I've got mad skills, that's why Moby hired me, but nothing like this ever fell into my lap before.
"How far to the nearest town?" I asked her. I caught a little twitch in her back.
"You're in it. Crisis, Arizona: One gas station, one house, one Artesian well."
"Crisis, huh? Must be a hell of a night life here." How would I tackle this if she didn't want to go? Knock her over the head, tie her up and drag her back? Even as much as Moby wanted her back, I think that would be a bad, bad thing for my life. Maybe I could call him up, and tell him, "She's right here, at the gas station called Crisis! Come and get her!" I tried calculating the dock in pay I might suffer. It would put off life with Lena, so forget that. But the ride back might be hell if Kara stayed awake.
"How much?" She asked as her little feet slammed onto the gas station's back steps. Maybe pissed because I took her away from Bob Barker's simulacrum.
"I wanna fill up."
In the station I stayed on the wrong side of the counter when I held out my eighty bucks. I didn't have the sense to think this might look threatening. She stared for a long second and when I didn't move, she snatched my bills and popped the register. She didn't have enough in there to buy a gun to rob the place so I don't why she hesitated. When you're broke, every penny counts (and don't I know that?), but Kara had never known broke. She swept the soda money on the counter into her hand and dumped it into the drawer. The drawer slammed shut and her expression said, "Get out."
"Is there, uh, someplace to sleep around here?" I asked.
Her hands went to her hips. "Your car," she said. This was Moby's kid all right. Cold like her old man. I tried to force a smile, wound up looking like a drunk, instead.
"Sleepin' out there today, I'd never wake up."
"And how is that my problem?" A real sweetheart.
"I got money." Kids still liked money, didn't they?
She assessed my threat. "How much?"
I tried to calculate how much I'd need to get back and gave up. "Sixty bucks, it's all I can spare."
"Awright," she said after a couple seconds. She held out a hand.
I dug into my pocket, half twisting away out of habit so she wouldn't see how much I really had. Sixty bucks was more than half. I put it into her hand and she was cold. Cold like she'd come out of the fridge.
"You're chilly," I said. When she didn't pull back, I touched her arm. She burned cold, like dry ice. The chill ran through my fingers and into my bones. I pulled away quick but my skin stuck to her arm in places.
"Jesus Christ," I said. She smiled that Moby smile at me, the one where he knows he can do whatever he wants with you. This girl had nothing to fear from me.
"What the hell are you?" I asked her, rubbing my throbbing hand. She brushed my skin off her arm like dirt.
"I'm too much of a good thing."
What the fuck had Moby spawned?
"Still want to sleep here? You're not getting your money back anyway, if you leave." I surprised myself for even thinking about it. A smart man would run for his life.
"You're gonna need a bandage," she said.
She walked past me to a shelf in the corner where the aspirin collected dust and grabbed a shopworn blue and white bandage box from the shelf. I wouldn't expect this place to stock them. But then, if she ran the store, they'd have a big demand for bandages.
"How much?" I asked her, figuring this a small part of some bigger grift.
"Don't worry about it," she said. Back behind the counter, she pulled out some leather gloves and put them on. Hydrogen peroxide came out next. She kept that handy. She kept everything handy. How many other guys had tried to grab her? A lot from the looks of her. Kara poured the peroxide on like she owned the company. It spilled over my hand and all over the counter. She raised my hand and wiped the counter with a towel, then began bandaging my fingers. This girl worked like a mom, caring, which I figured only made it scarier when she turned on a person.
Gentle. Her attitude disappeared. Maybe because she felt guilty, I don't know. Her eyes looked tired. Too tired for a kid her age. Not an up all night or hungover kind of tired. It was a world weary tired. I wondered what a day at the Moby compound might be like.
"Thanks," I said, doing my insignificant part to put the ill will behind us.
"Dave. David. Hey, Kara."
"Why are you so cold?"
"I just am. Maybe everybody else is so hot. Don't tell anybody, okay? I mean . . . in the outside world."
I nodded. "Yeah. Everybody here knows, I guess." She didn't answer that, except with crooked lips before she looked away. How many other people were here? Did they take off once they knew what she was, or were they waiting in that house?
"You can sleep on my couch if you want," she said. My couch. "It's cool in there. But you gotta wash up first. You stink."
"I got some clothes you could wear. They're my daddy's."
"Where's your daddy now? I don't want to piss him off or anything." I knew where he was. I knew he'd never been here in his life.
"Out of town."
"He won't mind, me wearing his clothes and sleeping on his couch?" What else he wouldn't mind, I never asked, but it hung there between our eyes.
"He ain't gotta know. Besides," she said, pulling off a glove, "I can take care of myself." She reached toward my face and I pulled back, proving her point. She giggled.
"You'll be alright. It heals quick," she said from a position of experience. "C'mon. Let's get you washed up."
That almost sounded like she planned on washing me. And forget her age for a minute. How long had it been since I'd had any? And let's not forget the way she said it. Or her looks. Her father definitely wasn't around and I knew he wouldn't be. Then I thought about the cold and I couldn't touch her, not without getting a deadly freezer burn, so why get myself all worked up anyway? Because I was a guy and that's what guys do, especially when they haven't gotten it in so long they almost forget where to put it.
We walked across the backyard/center-of-town. I felt dizzy from being up so long. A little man inside my left eye tried to stab his way out with a straight pin. But I half forgot about him inside. The cool of her little house came sweet like a tropical drink under a hundred swaying palm fronds. It wasn't quite as chilly as before but it felt fantastic.
"Shower's in there," she said, absently swinging an arm in the direction of a door before she plopped down on the couch. "Don't come out until you smell presentable. I'll have some clothes for you."
I had to keep my elbows to my sides in the small, filthy bathroom. Rusty water had turned the shower floor and walls orange where it sprayed. A sliver of green soap stuck to the floor like a barnacle, but I washed myself with shampoo, which couldn't bring itself to lather in the hard water. I didn't want to imagine Kara's washcloths, so I used my hands to rub the muck off as best I could. The bandage helped, long as I ignored the burn.
It was the best shower I ever had.
When I finished, I grabbed the clean clothes that had appeared on the toilet seat. The pants just about fit and I squeezed a fat worm of toothpaste out on my index finger. The foggy mirror cleared quickly. How would this whole thing unfold? Scenario after scenario ran through my head and each one ended in death. Only my death. Everyone else always seemed to make it out fine. Either Moby would kill me for not coming back with his daughter or his daughter would kill me for fun, profit or just trying to warm up. Sometimes I'd just die accidentally because I couldn't manage walking on two feet.
Screw it. Exhaustion overwhelmed me. Tonight, I decided, was the best time to plan. I might just come out of it alive if I planned it after sleeping out the poisonous fatigue. If I didn't come out of it alive . . . I didn't care. Let Kara kill me in my sleep if she wanted to. At least I'd be rested.
I came out of the bathroom and practically fell onto the couch. She wasn't there. I would have fallen on her if she was, and hurt myself pretty bad.
"Gotta smoke?" I asked anybody who would listen.
"Not now," she said. "It'll only keep you up."
What did she care? Maybe, once I fell asleep, she'd take the rest of my dough and roll me out into the desert. Whatever. Couldn't do a thing to stop her now. My eyes hurt too much to open. I folded my arms across my bare chest to ward off the chill, and I was out.
I woke up outside, under a blinding afternoon sun. Kara wound on top of me, but didn't burn. She pushed me back down, forcing those beautiful, thick, icy lips against mine. What the hell brought this on? Lena's mother, Lorraine, always told me I cleaned up nice. The incredible weirdness of Kara's cold flesh in the afternoon desert got me hot. Or maybe it was because it had been so long since a woman wanted me. She worked passionately. She worked desperately. She was lonely and I remembered I hadn't seen anyone in this shitty little town but her. I turned my head and tried to take in everything outside of her fierce lips. We dry-humped smack dab in the middle of Crisis, the gas station a couple dozen yards to my right. Between that and the house, I checked as many windows as I could see. I didn't see another pair of eyes, but with her body pressed up against me I couldn't see everything. I reached down and felt her cool thighs and hips and back. She had her dress hiked up above her waist and I didn't feel anything else but skin. I didn't know for sure if we had an audience but I imagined that we did and whatever resistance I might have had crumbled then. Like I said, weird is hot.
The damp bandage dangled loose from my hand, I hadn't dreamed that. Why could I touch her now? Maybe out here the sun kept her warm enough to save my skin. My tongue slipped into Kara's mouth and her tongue felt like she'd just downed a glass of ice water. She reached down, unbuttoned and unzipped me with a little bit of fumbling. In a minute, I pushed inside of her, feeling like a necrophiliac in that chilly womb. She felt warmer inside, not near normal, but dicks don't care. Kara looking the way she did, grey eyes and light brown skin beneath her dark, straight hair, even if she kept me occupied while her boyfriend cut my throat, I was okay with it.
I closed my eyes and gave myself up to it. I'll be running from Moby forever. Kara stopped. Shit, had I just said that out loud? She sat up and looked at me.
"My father sent you," she said. My mouth opened by reflex, wanting to fast talk but my brain left it dry. Her hips got to work in answer to my non-response and she rode me harder than before. Maybe it got her off?
"We're tied together now," she said. "I've got this on you. You and I are both going to disappear together." I would have been all for it, except for one thing.
"I got a kid. I gotta get back to my kid."
"Shoulda thought of that before. You knew who I was."
"Your dad just asked me to find you and bring you back." I was scared now and the truth was the only thing I could think of that could even come close to getting me out of this. "I need the money so I can get a place and get my daughter out of the foster homes. It's not bad policy to stay on your father's good side either."
"Where does fucking me come into it?" she said, still bouncing on me. I couldn't answer for a moment.
"Hey, you're fucking me! I just wanted some sleep."
"That's not all you wanted!"
"That's all I asked for!"
"Well, either way, you're mine now. If you tell him you couldn't find me, he might kill you. If you take me back, I'll tell him you raped me and he'll definitely kill you."
I didn't even think. She weighed a ton, but I grabbed her hips and flipped her over onto her back with myself on top of her. I had no choice, one quick pop to the jaw and maybe I'd buy myself enough time to figure a way out of it. My fist came down on a jaw like a rock; she seemed unfazed. Her skin ripped but she didn't bleed. What I saw underneath, that glimpse of dark grey I caught, I couldn't understand. The little piece of skin flapped like fabric. Kara caught my wrist and squeezed. I expected to hear something crack. She jerked me forward and I fell on top of her. I was still inside of her but my boy faded fast. Our eyes met, just inches apart. Her legs wrapped around me with the power of crushing hydraulics.
"Don't make me break you," she said.
I should have gotten into fast food after school. I'd be a manager by now. Maybe district manager.
"All right, just let me go," I said. "Looks like I can't force you, and I'm not going back without you, so I won't go back at all."
"You'll go back eventually. You'll want your daughter."
"Help me get her and I won't have to go back." I don't know where the thought came from, but this girl had power. If anyone could help me why wouldn't it be her?
"Fuck me," she said. I got to stay in the game, maybe closer to my goal. Obediently, I went through the motions until my body responded. She felt good out there under the afternoon sun. I squeezed her closer to cool off and she didn't seem to mind my sweating body. She squeezed back. I think she liked my heat. Imagine never being able to warm up. No wonder she came out here to the middle of the desert. Her cold heels pressed into my calves. She was hungry and never seemed to want to stop. We made love until the sun burned me black.
Her little house had warmed up since we left it. I went in for another shower while she went to the station to find something to eat. She made cornbread and offered me beef jerky for protein. She stayed close to the stove the entire time and left the oven door open after the cornbread finished. She'd pasted up her jaw. It looked like makeup, it blended with her skin and I doubt I would have even noticed it if I hadn't been looking for it. Kara didn't shrink from my stare. In fact, she turned her face so I could get a better look.
"I'm surprised you haven't unplugged this," I said, knocking on the humming refrigerator.
"It helps warm up the place, long as it stays closed."
"You convert heat to energy."
"Yeah," she said, kind of sad.
"Where's the owner of this place?" I asked.
Kara turned her back to me and wiped the beige counter top with a threadbare towel that had the faded image of a duck on it.
"I, um . . ." she turned to me, her face contorted to cry, but her eyes couldn't manage it. I put my hand on her back and maybe breathed in too sharply; she was already getting too cold again for me to touch. I kept my hand there anyway.
"Don't!" she said, knocking me away with her elbow. "You're gonna hurt yourself!"
"Take it easy, Kara."
"No. His name was Gary. I found this place a little over a week ago and he let me stay with him. He was a real redneck but he was such a nice guy. He never once tried to touch me."
She twisted her face again, trying like hell to wring tears from it. "I know you don't have your little girl, but you don't know what lonely is. I haven't been able to touch anyone in seventeen years without hurting them. Gary's the first guy I ever met who wasn't scared of me or only wanted to fuck me. He slept hard and a couple nights ago I crawled into bed next to him cause I knew he'd never know."
"You had sex with him?" I asked.
"No," she hissed. Her voice shook like it wanted to shake her apart. "All I wanted to do was be next to someone, pretend or something, I don't know. I kept a blanket between us and I got up close and felt his warmth." Kara's hands covered her face. I watched her tight eyelids between her spread fingers.
"I went into sleep mode. I didn't mean to. The next morning he was dead."
I couldn't take anymore. I grabbed a skirt draped over the back of a kitchen chair and wrapped it around her.
"No," she said, as I held her. She made a feeble try at pushing me away. She could have pushed me across the room if she'd wanted to.
"Just for a minute," I told her. "I'll stop in a minute." Her head sank and her arm wrapped around mine.
"All I want to do is cry," Kara said.
"Go ahead," I said.
"I can't. I was in a car accident years ago, when I was seventeen. One of those automated city tow trucks plowed into me in an intersection. I almost died. My father paid a lot of money to keep what was left of me alive. They could have made me so I could cry but he didn't want them too. He said he never wanted to see his little girl cry again."
I held her until it hurt. Then I held her a little longer, until my skin started to go numb. Kara eased me away, grabbed one of Gary's cigarettes from the counter and offered me one. She lit me up and ran the lighter under her chin for a minute before putting it out. The cornbread grit settled in on my teeth and I remembered I hadn't brushed them with a real toothbrush in maybe a day and a half.
A knock came at the door. We both jumped enough to shake the table. She looked as terrified as I felt. I pointed her out of the kitchen and I turned to face the door. I still don't know why I did something so stupid. Too many action feelies? Trying to be the man? Lucky for me, Kara was smarter. She grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me backwards the second the first bullet came through the door.
I felt the bullet's hot breeze blow by me as the splinters from the front door lodged into my arm. Kara yanked me off the ground like a toy. What made me think I could protect her?
More gunshots. Now I ran in front of her, being pushed down a narrow hallway that made me flashback to the trailer I grew up in. Somewhere behind me, a door smashed to pieces, but all I could think about was that we were going way too fast to dive into any room in this hallway. Then the ugly truth hit me, seeping in around the yelling and the gunfire: she was running me straight into the wall at the end of the hall.
Not into the wall, really, but through it.
I thank God she knew where the studs were (she did, didn't she?). And also that the place wasn't concrete block construction. It still hurt enough to put me out of the game for a few seconds. I tripped over the part of the wall that didn't give so easy and Kara went over me.
"Hold it!," some guy shouted. "Nowhere to run!"
I rolled over in the debris outside, trying to ignore my smashed nose and bleeding mouth. Even if I could have gotten up, the guy was right, he and his buddy would have cut us down before we'd ever find cover. The black guy with the goggles had his rifle trained on me as he climbed through the hole I made. The white guy stood at the corner of the house, he must have run around the side. He had something, I don't know what, trained on Kara. She must have recognized it as something that could hurt her, because she stood still.
"You gotta come with us, girl," the goggle guy said.
"If you want her alive, what the fuck are you doing firing through the door like that?" I yelled, getting to my feet. "You could have killed her!" The rifle barrel in my chest kept me from getting right in his face. I don't know what got into me but I wasn't afraid to give this guy a ration of shit. After smashing through a wall, how bad could a bullet be?
"Uh-uh," he said, tapping the lenses of those funky goggles, "I can see heat."
"You have no idea what you're gonna be bringing down on yourself," Kara said in a voice as cold as her body.
"You don't worry about us," Pinky said. "We can take care of ourselves. Our boss collects all sortsa special people like you. Like us."
I got it then. I got it before I really knew it, if you can understand that. On the surface, I figured the rifleman used his goggles to see heat. The reflexive part of me knew he did it with his eyes. That part lashed out at him in the second he glanced at Kara. I caught strap of his goggles with one lucky, digging finger and tore them off his head. For a half second I think I saw two shiny black pits where his eyes should have been.
"Shit," he screamed, blocking his eyes with one hand. In this heat, it must have been like staring into the sun.
My arms were busy throwing the rifle aside but my head was free and hard. A headbutt to the jaw and he went down. All the while, I wondered why his buddy hadn't killed me already.
"Barry!" the white guy yelled. "Shit!" He had backpedaled maybe fifteen feet from the edge of the house, keeping his weapon trained on Kara who looked pissed that she'd missed her chance. Why hadn't the guy shot her? Or at least shot me? I kicked the rifle out of reach and glanced at Barry (who didn't look like a Barry at all) to see if he still moved.
"Jesus," I said.
"Did you kill him?" the guy asked. "You motherfucker!"
"I didn't kill him!" I yelled. "Look at him, Kara. Look at his face."
"He looks like --" she started.
"He looks enough like your dad to be your brother."
"I don't have a brother."
"You do. Look at him," I said. She came closer, looking like she was doing long division in her head. With friends like mine, I wouldn't have lived to see twenty-eight if I didn't think fast when somebody had a gun on me.
"So what do you do that's special?" I asked the guy whose eyes were bouncing all over the place.
"Don't you worry about what I do. You just stay the hell away from me while I get my friend and get outta here."
"Moby sent you?" Kara asked. She said his name so easy. She'd never called him daddy in her life.
"Of course, Moby sent them," I said. "Why do think he hasn't fired that thing at you, Kara? Anything happens to you he's as good as dead."
"Wouldn't stop me from killing you, assfuck," he said, swinging the weapon in my direction.
"You've been hanging with your own kind too long. Go ahead and fire. You might stop my watch, that's about it."
I charged at him and heard Kara behind me doing the same. Before we'd gotten two steps he dropped his useless weapon and ran, faster than I'd ever seen anyone run before. So that's what he does, I thought. I petered out. No way in hell I could catch him. Kara thought faster than my beat-up body could run. Still running, she swooped down on his gun and brought it to her shoulder. She came to a dead stop. Out in the distance, without a sound or a flash, Pinky went tumbling down like he'd fallen off a pair of stilts.
While I watched for signs of movement among the cacti, Kara fired a burst in her brother's direction.
A cold, cold bitch.
"Look at these two," she said, without taking her eyes off her moaning brother. "Moby made me, didn't he? He didn't just fix me--he made me. That accident . . ."
"Was no accident," I said. She looked at me quick and I got that bad feeling in my gut. "I didn't know, Kara. About these guys, I mean."
She looked me over and took a deep breath. "We'll take their car. It's gotta be better than your piece of shit. You'll get your money and you'll get your little girl." She could say little girl because she'd turned into a woman without me catching it.
"What do you get?" I asked her.
"I get your help. I get my revenge."
Shit. What choice did I have? Running from Moby, I was dead. Taking on Moby was suicide. I'd never see Lena again. No. I couldn't have that. I'd spit in Poseidon's face before I gave up on that kid.
"Kara," I said.
"You can't what?"
"I can't help you take care of Moby. Hell, I've been doing what other people tell me all my life, but I can't now. This is the only chance I've ever had to get my kid back and I can't buy into a whole new shitload of trouble."
Her hands went to her hips. "Well, what if I go back by myself and leave your ass here? You won't get your little girl that way either."
I sighed and looked to the sky. "You gotta do what you think is right. I can't force you to do anything. Even if I could, I wouldn't want to. But I don't want anything to happen to you either. We can figure out something else."
"Do you understand what he did to me, David? He made it so I can't ever be with anyone!"
"That's not true, Kara. You can be with me."
"I can be with you," she said shaking her head
"That's right. Just like today. I know now why I found you so easily. You're lonely till it fills up everything you are, just like me. And how could you not be here? The loneliest goddamned place I've ever seen."
"You and me," she said, still not accepting it. "Look at your scraggly ass."
My blood ran too hot from the fight to worry about her insults. I stood my ground and didn't blink.
"Awright," she said. "Let's just go. Please. You got five hours to talk me out of it."
After a second, with a half dozen incoherent arguments buzzing in my head, I said okay. I pulled the Datsun around behind the station and pulled the distributor cap. Never did pump my gas. Moby's boy's hadn't really wanted to kill us and we hadn't killed them, we just turned off some important parts. They'd make it to the car eventually. At a glance, the old jalopy fit right into this car graveyard. I pieced together the remains of my pack of cigarettes and grabbed my reader from the glove compartment. The reader had my latest instruction manuals on it: The Inferno, The Aeneid, and The Odyssey (I hadn't planned to stop looking for my father just because he died).
I joined Kara in that big, sleek, shiny boat that had probably never seen a gas station before today. The car cost more than my mom's house. Motherfucker gave me the Datsun. The leather seat tilted back to a fine recuperation position. I refused to touch my tightening, blood-tacky face. It hurt like hell, but once I touched it, it would be unbearable.
We might have been only hours away from death, ours or someone else's, but before we rolled an inch Kara scanned the hard drive for some music she could stand. I'll Be There, Mariah's old version, started. I left the windows up.
And turned off the A/C.