Shane Ashford was staring at the neon sign of the gas station, listening to the cars pass along on the highway like the gentle lapping of waves on the shore. Car lights strobed across the parking lot. Across from Shane in the passenger seat Paulie handed him a bottle of Perdition beer.
Paulie was saying, “She grew up good. Not like this piece of shit she found in the gutter. You remember how smart she used to be?”
“You could never trick her,” said Shane. “She’d look at me like I’m the biggest idiot she ever saw. When she was seven, no less.”
“She was smarter than me. Then one day all that smartness just up and went.”
“She’s still smart,” said Shane. He twisted off the bottle cap and drank. He swallowed and thought of the next thing to say. “Sometimes, when you’re growing up, you just don’t think about the consequences. You and me for example. What we got into.”
Paulie dismissed the comment with a shake of the beer bottle. “You and me that was different.”
“Completely different. We were always in control.”
Typical Paulie, Shane thought. Forgetful of the past, oblivious to the future.
They both drank quietly. The air smelled of distant rain and gasoline fumes. A woman in a pink dress and high-heels had parked by the air-compressor and was filling her tires.
Shane said, “This guy, how badly he hurt her?”
Paulie eyed something out in the darkness behind the gas station, a spot where the light didn’t touch, like the darkened corner of an aquarium. He slowly put the bottle down on the concrete outside the open door of the car, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“A number between one and ten?” Paulie said, pretending to think. “Eleven. What he did, it’s enough to put you off your dinner. I’d known him before she had. He used to be known for slinging heroin. Not like what happened to Lauren, but not far behind. Why even the comparison? Bad is bad, on a flat scale. No numbers. We’ll make it right. Like that guy who hurt Lauren. The one you asked me to help with.”
“You ever wonder if violence ain’t the answer?”
Paulie smiled the way he did, a smile that wasn’t really a smile, more like a mask for something else. Anything else. He said, “Senior year you punched that son of a bitch Ernie Brundt in the smacker. They took him off in the back of an ambulance with a concussion and two missing teeth. What was the reason again? He said he was going to spike some girl’s drink at the prom?”
“I got a girl pregnant a week later. I didn’t do a lot right. I learned the hard way.”
“That was something else.”
“Sure it was. Some people just need a good ass-kicking, and you know it.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Shane said.
“When your girl was born you came over to my place. You were shit scared. You remember that?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
“We drank a couple beers, like we are now, and you asked me to look after her. If anything ever happened, I’d look out for her. You remember that?”
Shane drank again, nodding yeah yeah Paulie I remember.
“The only thing I ever wanted from you was for you to be happy. But you asked me a big favor, so I asked one of you.”
“I’m with you now ain’t I, Paulie?”
“Yeah, you are. But you’re also somewhere else. The way you hold your shoulders. You’re scared. I haven’t seen you scared since you came over to my house that night.”
“Things change so fast. You think you’re holding the world in your hands but it’s seeping through your fingers. You find out you’re just holding sand.”
“What you did is what any real man woulda done, you know?”
“You weren’t inside there, Paulie. You didn’t do the time.”
“You’re not locked up anymore, you understand that? I don’t like the way you talk, like you changed.”
“How am I talking?”
“Like you ain’t you.”
“What’s wrong with saying that I don’t know if this is the right thing to do?”
“We made a deal, Shane. You got a debt. I help you, you help me.”
Paulie drank and watched Shane from above the uptilted beer bottle. He sucked out the last drop and threw the bottle into the bushes and said, “Prison made you weak. Once we get out there, I promise everything’ll be fine. Everything’ll be copacetic. I got to take a leak.”
He reached into the back seat and took something with him in his pocket to the gas station shop. Shane was watching the moon and the clouds over the moon when Paulie came running out of the store carrying a paper-bag. He was yelling, “Start the car, man, start the car!”
Then Shane was leaning over the console to open the passenger door, and Paulie got in, still yelling go, go, go, and the tires were burning on the asphalt, the gas station growing smaller in the rear-view mirror, the neon flickering, smoking pink like the woman’s dress.
Paulie was smiling and laughing to himself. He hit the dashboard with his fist excitedly. When Shane asked what was going on, Paulie set the paper-bag on Shane’s lap.
“Open the bag, man,” he said. “Open the goddamn bag.”
And when he did he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Like something from a bad dream. He closed the paper-bag.
Shane asked, “How much?”
“You tell me. Come on, count it for me.”
“Did you kill someone?”
“I didn’t shoot no one. But big whoop if I did anyhow. What difference would it make if I had gone in there and shot the motherfucker at the register between his eyes? What if he fell over cross-eyed like he’d tripped on his own shoe laces? Would you think different of me?”
Paulie removed the revolver from his pocket. Shane thought he could smell smoke and the chemicals of the burnt gunpowder, but he couldn’t be sure.
He asked it again—“Did you kill someone?”—and almost dropped his words like a bag of marbles. “You’d tell me if you did, right? I won’t do anything if you did.”
“Keep driving. I’ll tell you when we reach the turn off.”
Shane Ashford and Rosalind Crawford were sitting under the maple tree that was dripping with brown and red leaves when Rosalind said, “I’m going to keep it. I don’t expect you to help me.”
Shane had just turned seventeen; Rosalind was telling him something that was to change his life forever, and yet from the wooden bench he focused on the past, watching the empty football field ahead of him where he and Paulie Jermaine played on the school’s football team the previous year. He watched Paulie in his mind’s eye out on the field stark naked, the coach chasing him, Paulie not really anticipating what he’d do if he got caught, the audience of Miller High cheering him on, throwing plastic cups onto the field. It was Paulie’s last game before coach had to kick off his best linebacker. Shane quit the team a few weeks after. He wanted to focus on his grades.
“I will. I’ll help you,” he said to Rosalind. “I’ll drop out of school, ask my uncle for a job at his shoe factory. What did your parents say?”
She looked towards the sky swirling with white clouds, some gray.
“I haven’t told them yet,” she said. “I don’t know how to.”
“You have to tell them.”
“I will. I’m telling you first, aren’t I? It’s not easy. You’ll never have to do what I’m doing, what I’m going to have to do.”
“It’s my kid, too. I have to tell my parents.”
“But you don’t have to tell them with it in your belly.” She glanced down at her flat stomach. “If you ran off it would never follow you. It’s in me, Shane. Growing inside me.”
Three days later she was at his bedroom window banging on the glass, and he’d let her in and she sat on the floor crying into her hands.
He’d sat with her until she looked up at him.
“He kicked me out,” she said, the words quivering her lips. “They both did. I have nowhere else to go.”
“I got a job at my uncle’s factory.”
“It’s not enough.”
“We’ll make it enough.”
“You’re not going to bail on me?”
“You think I will?”
“I’m scared, Shane. I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
“I’ll get more hours. We can rent a place. You don’t need them. We don’t need anybody. I’ll look after you.”
She nestled in his arms and stayed like that, curled up, and she felt so fragile in that moment, as though the slightest wind would break her. Shane held her firm, his grip telling her he had her, that he’d shelter her from whatever the world might bring, shelter her from a hurricane.
The next day Rosalind wasn’t at school. He learned that her father quit his job and that he and Rosalind and her mother left Pittsburgh, some saying that they had gone to Old Country and become Amish, despite having never been part of the Amish community nor having any association with Anabaptists.
It was a long eight months but Shane concentrated on school and worked part time at his uncle’s shoe factory. Paulie had dropped out before Christmas and spent a month somewhere up north but he never said where. When Paulie returned to Pittsburgh there was a spate of car tire slashings in the high school car park. Someone had spray-painted male genitalia on the gym door. A local liquor store was held up at knife-point.
Then one night Shane was in his bedroom studying for his finals when he heard a tapping on his window. He stood up from the desk and stared at the window in dejavú, as though the last eight months had all been a dream. He opened the window and Rosalind climbed through carrying a newborn wrapped up in a woolen blanket in her arms.
“I ran away,” she said, plainly, flatly. She’d probably practiced a thousand better ways of saying it but that’s what came out. “When I refused to abort they took me away. My grandparents have a house by Eerie Lake. They tried to get me to give her up. I couldn’t. I won’t. I ran away.”
He didn’t ask her how she got to Pittsburgh or what she had been doing for the last eight months. He said, “Okay.”
“That’s it? Okay?”
“I’m glad you’re back.”
“I was expecting you to be mad.”
“Why would I be mad?”
“Like maybe you thought I didn’t love you.” She watched him for a time and then said, “You want to meet your daughter?”
He wiped his hands on his pants. She moved the blanket to reveal the baby’s face. He asked, “What’s her name?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking Lauren.”
Lauren it was then, he supposed. He couldn’t think of a better name. Lauren looked up at him and she was uglier than he had imagined her to be. He tried to recognize himself in her face but couldn’t, although he couldn’t recognize Rosalind either. She looked just like any other baby he’d seen, although he hadn’t seen many.
“Are all babies usually this ugly?”
“She’s not ugly. She’s beautiful.”
Lauren was wearing a pink hat. Shane touched her head like he would a dog.
“You want to hold her?” Rosalind asked.
“I don’t think I’d be very good at it.”
“It’s easy, look.”
She was heavier than he expected. He held his daughter in a way resembling that of a football. The three of them sat on the bed with Lauren between them and he just stared at his daughter, and the silence was the most beautiful silence he had ever experienced. He didn’t return to studying that night, and instead he watched Rosalind feed his child and play with her and their presence was unlike anything he had ever known. They slept on top of the covers and at dawn Rosalind woke him.
“What are we going to do?” she whispered.
She nodded at Lauren. “About her. About us. Where are we going to live? Your parents won’t let us stay here. They’ll call my parents. They’ll come and take her away.”
He looked at her face. He was not scared. He didn’t feel scared. “I’ll ask for more hours in my uncle’s factory. We’ll get a place.”
“I’ll be eighteen next month. I’ll get us a place. We’ll raise Lauren together.”
“What about school?”
“There’s more important things than school.”
“You wanted to study art in Vienna.”
“There’s always time later for Vienna.”
“What if there’s not?”
“Before you, before Lauren, all I ever had was time. There’s time for Vienna later.”
“I love you, Shane. I didn’t know I loved you, but right here, right now, I know I do. Nothing can change that.”
Shane turned on the radio and used the dial to skim through stations searching for a news broadcast relating to a gas station robbery. When he couldn’t find anything, he clicked off the radio.
“There’s a police scanner in the trunk,” Paulie said. “I just bought it. I’ll let you play with it when we stop.”
“I’m on probation. Do you know what that means? If I tie my shoes wrong I’m back in the cage. Do you even care?”
Paulie was laughing again. “God damn I have missed you, pal. This is like the old days again. Paulie and Shane on the road leaving only chaos in their wake.”
Shane kept it under a hundred. His palms were sweaty on the steering wheel. He and Paulie were quiet for a time. Then Shane asked, “You ever talk to Rosalind?”
“While I was in prison. Did you ever maybe contact her, or she contact you?”
“Rosalind, Rosalind. Who’s Rosalind?”
“Come on, I’m serious.”
“Haven’t seen her since she went off with the Amish. Nice one buddy. You knocked a girl up and she’d rather join the Amish for eight months than stick it out with you.”
“Where are we going?”
“Just drive, man. Enjoy something for once in your life.” Paulie lowered the window. “You smell that? That’s the smell of freedom. That’s what you get now. You’re an American again.” He stuck his nose out the window like a dog sniffing the wind.
“Hey, Paulie. How’d you know I was getting out of prison?”
“I dunno. It was on the news or something. Shut up and drive.”
The visitor’s room was long and narrow and divided by a glass wall. Shane was led in by a young prison guard who stood by the door watching him sit at a desk. It was a while before he faced her and picked up the receiver. She was already waiting.
“How are you, Shane?” Rosalind asked, as though he had the possibility of saying everything’s fine. She visited infrequently, and Shane had started noticing the change in her face, the change brought by time, the lines at the corners of her eyes, the way everything remained the same but somehow different: like years of laughter and tears that leave their mark on a person’s face and soul. Still he found her beautiful, loved her the same as he did when they spent that first night together.
“You haven’t come for a long time,” he said. “Did you talk to Lauren?”
“I can’t see you like this,” Rosalind said. “Lauren can’t, either. She said she’d think about it. It’s not healthy for her to see you like this.”
“This is how I am now. Twenty three hours in a room with a guy who sold drugs to kids. I get an hour to walk around a basketball court as many times as I can. This is me now.”
No one spoke. Shane thought about hanging up, then thought of something to say just to say it or maybe to get it off his chest like removing a malignant tumor. “I did this for us,” he told her, his eyes glinting in the light. “What that boy did to her wasn’t right.”
“Can you live with what you’ve done?”
“Yeah, I’m allowed to be afraid, ain’t I? In my life I’m allowed to feel something for a change.”
“You were supposed to be there for us.” She looked away, covered her mouth with her hand. “I’ve been talking to Paulie a lot lately,” she went on. “I remember back in high school, the only two dipshits had any sort of respect for women were you and Paulie, as hard as it is to believe. I came to you because I loved you. I think I still do.”
“What do you mean you talked to Paulie? Rosalind, don’t talk to Paulie. He ain’t right. Stay away from him.”
“You always looked out for her, from the moment she was born and I love you for that. But things are different now. You’re in there, and we’re out here.”
“Don’t you put all this on me. You were there. Paulie was there. You told me to do it.”
“There’s something I never told you. Fifteen years ago, when we started going out.” She took a long pause. Her eyes gleamed. “We did the test. It wasn’t my idea. Lauren insisted. I didn’t think Paulie would agree, but he was so good about it. I’m here now, and you look so unwell, but I’m here because you have to know. It’s never going to be like it was before, when you get out.”
“What do you mean you did the test?”
“You don’t have to look out for her anymore.”
“I loved you when I loved you. So did she. I probably won’t be back for a long time.”
“What fucking test?”
She was looking away, somewhere toward the dull glow the lights made on the wall, somewhere at years of memories she’d pushed aside until this moment. Then she slowly returned the receiver to the cradle and stood up. Shane said, “That’s it? Fifteen years packed up and shipped off?”
Rosalind looked at Shane once more, one last time, shook her head. “Bye, Shane.” Her voice was muffled behind the window.
Shane struck the glass with the receiver and yelled, “Was I worth nothing to you? I gave it all up for you and Lauren. This is what I get?”
A small room in the courthouse. White walls, sterile like a hospital. A plastic pot plant by the door. The judge turned a page in the folder.
The judge said, “Your refusal to identify the other two suspects during the incident has caused you to spend more time incarcerated than you needed. Your statement, Mr Ashford?”
Shane’s lawyer whispered into his client’s ear. Shane ignored the advice given to him, and instead said, “Unchanged, Your honor.”
The lawyer locked up the briefcase, looked at his watch, and then shrugged at Shane and whispered, “Do as you please. I tried to help you. Do you even care about getting out?”
There was a long silence, then the judge broke it by saying, “You have caused no incidents in ten years. Certain guards have likened you to a house plant. This usually doesn’t have much impact, but you shared a cell for three years with Andre Markazi. He has integrated well into society, and he has spoken highly of you. Based on everything, Mr Ashford, we have decided to grant you parole.”
The lawyer said, “Excuse me?”
“From today onwards you may begin arranging accommodation and other living necessities, and you will be assigned a parole officer in the coming weeks.”
The following week Shane exited through the same gates he had entered years ago. He saw Paulie leaning against the side of the car waving at him, the cigarette between his fingers burning down to the butt.
Shane carried a sports bag over his shoulder with the clothes he was wearing when they’d told him to strip and put on the jumpsuit. Paulie had the passenger door open for him. He ripped a bottle of Perdition beer from the box on the back seat and pressed it against Shane’s chest.
“What are you doing here?” Shane asked.
“Giving you a ride.”
“Where? I’ve nowhere to go.”
“Sure you do. There’s a serviceable sofa at my place.”
Shane looked at the beer bottle sweating in his hands. Paulie said, “You going to drink that?”
He twisted off the top and took a long pull, wiped his mouth with his palm, and said, “I’ll just get a hotel.”
“You’ll do what?”
“A hotel. You don’t have to look after me.”
Paulie wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve. He wore a gray sweater with silverfish holes scattered across it. He smelled of hard liquor and body odor and he had the beginnings of a beard that resembled grass cuttings.
“I don’t want you speaking like that,” Paulie said. “We’re pals. Pals look out for each other, right? You just drink your beer and relax and let Paulie look after you. Everything’s copacetic.”
Paulie drove as though he’d never driven a stick shift before and they stalled thrice at red lights.
Clarion appeared on a road sign and Paulie told Shane to take the turn off. Shane said, “We’re going to Clarion?”
“That’s what it says on the sign back there don’t it?”
“What’s in Clarion?”
“This punk who hurt my daughter, man. Hurt Ashley. You listen to a word I said?”
“Sorry, Paulie. I’m listening just fine.”
“You messing with me?”
“I ain’t messing with you, Paulie. Just I knew a guy from Clarion. I wasn’t expecting Clarion. You know?”
“Just keep driving until I tell you to stop driving.”
It was a small town. They passed a fountain that was no longer functioning. Paulie told Shane to park on a street beside the park. The dark trees were outlined in the slightly lighter sky. He told Shane to pop the trunk and then Shane got out. The smell of damp earth and grass cuttings and the sound of the river trickling in the distance took Shane back to the isolation of prison, and he shuddered in the breeze; his hands were cold; he watched Paulie in the side mirror taking out a pair of black leather gloves.
“You sure you never talked to Rosalind?” asked Shane.
“While I was in prison. She never contacted you about anything?”
“You high, man? I told you I didn’t talk to no Rosalind.”
“She told me you did.”
“Why you gotta be like this? It was only once. We had a drink together. What’s this about, man?”
“Why’d you lie?”
“I didn’t lie. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I was looking out for you.”
“Back in high school, did you mess around with her?”
“Did I mess around with her?”
“I got to know.”
“You want me to tell you if I screwed Rosalind in high school?”
“I do, yeah.”
“Right now, here in Clarion, on a beautiful fucking night like this, this is what you’re asking me?”
“That’s what I’m asking, Paulie.”
“You know I always tried to look out for you. I don’t like lying. Pals shouldn’t lie, so here’s the God honest truth. I never touched your girl. Now come on.”
“What about the test?”
Paulie stopped walking. “What did you say?”
“The paternity test. Lauren’s yours.”
“I need you to concentrate, Shane. Thinking of women and kids ain’t helping nothing. Think about that son of a bitch in there.”
“It’s not women. It’s Rosalind. It’s my family. My daughter.”
“Yeah, well she ain’t your daughter is she? While you were locked up Rosalind spent a lot of time at my place. I didn’t want you to find out like this.”
“You said pals don’t lie.”
“Yeah and they shouldn’t. But when your right hand man is having a fucking crisis in the middle of the street in Clarion you got to get it under control. You get what I’m saying?”
The cell door closed automatically and locked with a clank. A tanned-skin man was on the top bunk reading a magazine. Shane pulled the picture of Rosalind off the wall and stared at it a while before he tore it in two and dropped both strips in the toilet. His daughter stayed on the wall to watch it all.
“Something happen?” asked Andre Markazi, putting down the magazine.
“Yeah, something did happen. But it happened a long time ago.”
“One of those little things that slowly come get you?”
“Something like that.”
“Ten years for drugs, that’s my deal,” Markazi said. “My mistake was taking my own juice. Taking any juice at all, if I think about it. I heard you beat a guy up screwing your girl?”
Shane was staring at the remaining photograph. “My daughter. A boy a couple years older than her. We hurt him pretty bad, Paulie and me. Last time I heard, he was in a chair for the rest of his life.”
“Now you’re in here. Your woman found out who the man she married really was?”
“She always knew.”
“I know the feeling. You make these decisions and at the time they seem right. It’s not until years later you realize those little mistakes tripped you up, and you spent years falling.”
“How’d you get caught?”
“Like everyone else. You get used to it. You stop assessing the risks, and it becomes a habit. You become blind. I sold my shit to a guy I didn’t know, at my house of all places. I’d been high for years. I had so much cash in my house I could have bought a mansion in Brazil and retired. I didn’t even know how much I had until the police took it all away.”
“The kid I beat up didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I thought you said he messed with your daughter?”
“My daughter was too afraid to tell me he’d got her knocked up. It was consensual.”
“Then the wife couldn’t look at you the same way again?”
“She was there with me, in the car. She wanted me to do it.”
Markazi sat up in the bed. He reached under a pillow and stuck a hand-rolled cigarette made out of Bible pages and dried tea leaves in his mouth, unlit.
Shane continued: “Now she’s saying she doesn’t love me anymore. As though I’m the one who changed.”
Markazi just shook his head. “I also got a daughter. I got a photo of her when she was a baby but she’d be about seven now. Her mother and I aren’t getting back together. It’s cool because we never married anyway. My daughter though, I’m real looking forward to seeing her.”
“You don’t talk to them?”
“Salma’ mother visited me couple months back. That’s my daughter’s name. It means peace. So her mother was saying that Salma’d been asking a lot of questions about me, like she wants to know where I am.”
“She say you were here?”
“Nah, man, she said I was working at a law firm in New York. How good does that sound? Andre Markazi, New York lawyer. Like I’m important or something. Anyway, first thing I’m going to do when I get out is go see Salma. Or probably find a job first and a house, so she got a place to stay when she visits me. Never had a job before, not a real one anyway. My brother works for a delivery company in Clarion. A small town. He says there might be a spot for me. I never lived in a small town before. Could be good for me.”
Paulie held out the balaclava and Blackjack. Shane reluctantly took them. The wind was cool and it ruffled his coattail. Shane felt his knees buckling. Then suddenly everything was quiet, like he had entered a vacuum.
Paulie was pulling the balaclava over his head; a pair of eyes, drooping at the corners, and ordered Shane to do the same.
The Blackjack hard and heavy in his hands. Shane followed Paulie across the street asking, “What exactly did this guy do?”
“You remember when you found out that animal fucked your daughter? You remember how angry you were?”
Shane recalled his fists bloody with his own blood and the blood of the kid, the knuckles showing the early signs of deep, purple bruises. The kid looking up at him, spit and drool all over his chin, his mouth gaping like a fish as he begged for his life, but there were no words. He never remembered any words.
Shane swallowed, looked at Paulie, said, “Yeah, I remember.”
“What he did to my daughter makes me feel the same way. Like we got to fight the bad in the world or it’ll be all we know. We gotta make everything okay, ‘cause if we don’t, who’s going to?”
“But it doesn’t make it okay. We can call the police. Let them sort it out.”
“Police won’t do anything.”
“But we can try.”
Paulie ran up to the house and stood crouching by the front door. He signalled to Shane to go around the back. He heard a car starting up around the corner. Shane passed the window and looked through into the television glow at the man sitting on the sofa, a girl no older than eight by his side, wearing pyjamas with white rabbits on it.
Shane’s attention returned to the man, the man he couldn’t take his eyes off. He’d seen him before, he was sure. His hair was a bit longer, a bit of stubble on his chin. Better clothes. But it was him.
Shane started to sweat harder, droplets running down his back. He shook his head at Paulie but Paulie wasn’t watching, didn’t care. So Shane came around the side of the house while his heart thumped and he felt the wind tunnel in his stomach. The back-door was unlocked. He twisted the knob and let himself into the kitchen. The television light wavering through the open door. Dirty dishes in the sink. The faucet dripping. He could hear the commercials playing. Paulie would be coming through the front door any minute.
Shane had his finger to his nose when he stepped into the living room and said, “Markazi, don’t move.”
The girl froze and grabbed her father’s arm. Markazi said, “I know you, man?”
“You have to stand up. You have to get out of the house. You and the girl, you gotta get up.”
He repeated, “I know you?”
“Doesn’t matter if you know me. Someone’s coming for you.”
Shane heard a dog barking outside.
“I think he’s going to kill you.”
That got Markazi to his feet. He was reaching for the girl to lift her up on his hip when there were footsteps in the kitchen. Then there was a voice.
“Hey, what the fuck you doing?” said Paulie. He had a gun in his hand. “I was waiting at the door. Why you didn’t open the door?”
“Because you have to tell me what this man did to Ashley.”
“He got her hooked on heroin. I told you that. She could have gone to college, and instead she’s shooting up in alleyways in Pittsburgh.”
Shane said, “I’m sorry, Paulie. I get it. It’s bad. I’ll do what I promised. But you have to put the gun down first.”
“Yeah, why’s that?”
“You fire that thing and the neighbors will hear it and the cops will be here in five minutes. You want to try run away from that? Sure, we could maybe do it. You want to risk it?”
Paulie Jermaine blinked rapidly behind the balaclava. The revolver shook slightly. Then slowly he said, “What do you want to do?”
“I say we tie him and the girl up, take them to the woods and do it there. We can buy a shovel, bury both of them in the dirt. It’s cleaner, Paulie. We do the job and we get out with our own lives. What do you say?”
Paulie stood still for a short time, Markazi and his daughter huddled together on the floor, Markazi whispering, “Everything’s going to be all right. It’ll be all right.”
“Yeah, yeah okay,” Paulie said finally, “that’s a good idea. Take them into the bedroom. We’ll tie them up there.”
They’d barely made it to the bedroom when Shane lifted the Blackjack and struck it so hard across the back of Paulie’s head that he fell to the floor as though he’d tripped on an invisible wire. The revolver slid under the dresser. Paulie lay there shuddering for a moment. Then there was nothing but silence.
It could have stopped there, but it didn’t.
Shane lifted the dresser and picked up the revolver, and then he knelt beside Paulie. He said to Markazi, “Get out of here.”
“We’ll call the police together. I’ll tell them you were here with me.”
“Your daughter doesn’t need to see this.”
Shane waited for him to carry his daughter out of the bedroom before he aimed the revolver right where he intended it to be, and looked away.
In the living room Markazi was covering Salma’s ears. Shane pulled off the balaclava and dropped it to the floor.
“Is he dead?” Markazi asked.
“Why did you do that?”
“My whole life Paulie took from me. I took his life, because he took mine.”
Shane picked up the telephone and called the police and gave them the address, then he went to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, the light buzzing on, and took a carton of orange juice with him to the front porch. He sat on the first step raising the carton to his lips thinking of nothing, caring about nothing. The sky was absolute blackness. The smell of rain was close. Markazi walked out and sat beside him.
“You’re not going to run?”
Shane drank the orange juice, licked the stickiness from his lips. “I got nowhere to go. The police are going to come and they’ll probably think you did it. I’ll be here. I’ll tell them the truth.”
“I could… I could help you get rid of the body.”
Shane drank, swallowed. “I thought about it. But what’s the point? Running and hiding never solved anything.” He motioned toward the dark horizon. “Plus all this, I don’t belong here. It’s not my world anymore.”
“What about your daughter?”
“She loses a father no matter what happens. Sometimes you just roll bad numbers. Hopefully someone out there is rolling sixes.”
“You saved my life.”
“You won’t be out again until you’re an old man, if you’re lucky.”
“I never really got out, Markazi. I just didn’t know it. This is me now. It’s always been me.”