That’s what we got. Twenty-two dollars, fifty pills, and a lousy twenty-five caliber pistol. That’s what we got…..”
by ed markowski
Del shields his eyes from the sun and punches the Bonneville to ninety. Sonny fiddles with the car radio. Through static, the frantic voice of a radio preacher drowns out the roar of the engine.
“Brothers and sisters, our only salvation from the sick demons of lust and money is our lord Jesus Christ. Only his blood can save your rotting souls! Only his grace brothers and sisters, can make you whole. Only he can save you from the storms of depravity and lust that are swirling through this land!”
Del lights a cigarette and eases up on the gas. “Turn the fucking radio off. Check the glove box for money.”
“Whadda you mean check the glove box for money?”
“I’ve been throwing change in there all along. You’ve been too stoned to notice. I’ll take a couple of them pills.”
Staring out at the desert, Sonny says, “Ain’t got none in your pockets? What happened to all the money Del?”
“If you didn’t use so much dope, maybe you’d remember better. You blew the last fifty shooting pool with them fucking taco kings in Las Cruces”
“What’s the difference Delbert, losing money shooting pool or losing it inside a Korean whore. You know how it goes, one man’s poison is another man’s high.”
“Shut up Sonny. Open the goddamned glovebox, and don’t ever call me Delbert. I hate that fucking name.”
Sonny sticks a toothpick in his mouth and turns off the radio. Counting out loud, he stops at twenty-two.
“That’s what we got. Twenty-two dollars, fifty pills, and a lousy twenty-five caliber pistol. That’s what we got.”
The drug makes Sonny ramble. “At least we got the pills. If we break down, we can hitchhike on cloud nine.”
“Twenty-two dollars and dope ain’t gonna get us far. Not the way you eat them things. It’s ten o’clock in the morning and you can’t keep your fucking head above the dashboard.”
Sonny peels a hamburger wrapper from the bottom of his boot and wipes the sweat from his brow. He wheezes and laughs, “I feel so goddamned good.”
Del pops two pills, and checks the gas gauge. The road levitates in front of the hood. “Quarter tank and we’re in the fucking middle of nowhere. Check the map Sonny. Find the next town.”
Cotton City Three Miles. A ten foot tall metal cowboy holds cotton balls in his hands like six shooters. Cotton products painted on a pastel blue background. Welcome Pardners painted across the cowboy’s belt buckle. Beyond the sign, desert and parched hills.
Cotton City. One motel. One gas station. One bar, and five rusty house trailers collapsing on the desert floor.
Del pulls the Bonneville in front of the gas pump. An Indian woman sets her beer in the shade and walks to the car.
“How much you want cowboy? How much gas?”
“Twenty dollars,” Del says. Sonny slumps in the front seat, eating pills.
The woman pumps the gas, then holds out her hand. Brushing flies from her face she says, “Where you boys headed in this heat? That one there looks like the heat’s already killed him.”
Del mutters “Yuma.” Del asks, “That bar up the road open? My friend could use a cold beer to bring him around.”
“Mister, the only bar in town is always open.”
A tall plastic cactus barbed with Christmas lights blinks in the desert sun. Fly paper sways on the porch overhang, mottled with the dead. A broken door flaps in the breeze. Del pulls the car to the back of the clapboard building.
“Let’s go in and drink some cold beers.”
Sonny slurs, “Sounds good to me, but why we going in the back door?”
“Cold beers on a hot day, what else we got to do?” Del says.
“Nothing else to do Del. But why the fuck we going in the back door?”
Del rolls up his sleeves, a jailhouse tattoo glistens in the sun. “Sonny, get me the twenty-five.”
“Del, your crazy,” Sonny says, handing him the gun.
“Cold beer and easy money, you got a better idea?”
Sonny mumbles, “I only came along to see the sights.”
Family pictures from another life hang on a long mirror behind the bar. Kids running through a lawn sprinkler in a city neighborhood. Denver-1977, penciled on the photo. People at a picnic, eating fried chicken and potato salad, arm in arm, mugging for the camera with smiles and drumsticks. A letter taped beneath a photo of a toddler in a baseball cap. “Dear mom and dad, Thanks for sending the money, it came just in time. So how is retirement down in New Mexico? Are you keeping busy there in paradise?”
Lariats hang at the corners of the mirror. A replica Remington six shooter hangs on a plaque—“This is the gun that killed William Bonney.”
Sitting at the bar, an old man weaves a garland of dried chili peppers. A cat bats a lizard back and forth at the front door. The back door squeaks open.
Del hovers over the man. “Two beers.”
“Olympia, and two shots of Beam straight up.”
Pouring the whiskey, Del brings the gun butt down on the crown of the man’s head.
“Tie the son of a bitch up.”
Sonny pulls the lariats from the mirror. Del rifles the cash register.
“Jesus Christ. Thirty-seven fucking dollars. I’m risking federal prison for thirty-seven fucking dollars. I should kill the son of a bitch.”
Sonny drinks. A thin woman walks through the front door.
“Owen, I called the…Owen?” She stares at Del.
“Get over here lady. Lay on the floor. Where’s the rest of the money? Where’s the rest of the goddamned money?”
“All we got is in the register.”
“I should kill you both for that,” Del pastes the gun to the man’s throat. Sonny jerks his wrist. The gun explodes into the mirror.
On the highway, Sonny folds the money and tucks it in the glovebox under the envelope of pills.
“I thought you were gonna kill them Del.”
“I should have. Thirty-seven dollars, what a fucking insult.”
Sonny shakes a pill from the envelope. “What did you expect, that wasn’t the Wells Fargo bank.”
“People like that are worthless Sonny.”
“What about us Del? What the fuck are we?
“Americans Sonny. Red blooded Americans.”
(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)
Ed Markowski lives and writes in Auburn Hills, Michigan. More of Ed’s stories can be found in the Vault of Smoke.