The road ran an empty mile, straight to the Gulf of Mexico. North, it sandwiched neat between prehistoric land where snarled tangles of branch filled a landscape of dune and swamp. A thousand burned sticks, tall and barren rose to a burning blue sky.
Nuketown, Sillinger mumbled. He shifted slightly on his seat and leaned against the van door. Beyond his windshield, he watched convicts lay sod.
There were four of them dressed in baggy prison gray. Jim Davis, a black, Walt Henley and Johnny Watt, trailer-whites and Hector Chochu, an Indian or mexican maybe. Sillinger fired up another cigarette and sucked the smoke deep down into his lungs. He looked at his watch. It was almost nine.
Closing his eyes, he took in a deep breath. He’d lost track of the years, four… five, sitting screw-ups who landscaped and constructed nothing in the middle of swampland. Saved taxpayers money, they said. Big money. He started to drift. His eyes were heavy, just another minute, he thought. Convicts weren’t going anywhere. They were ‘shorty’s’ doing lesser times for their aggravated crimes-- assault, robbery, drugs and trafficking. No murderers slipping away here, nowhere to run to anyway.
His thoughts shifted to Brenda. Darlin’ Brenda, love of his life. They’d been adrift for months. It didn’t help she was away much of the time.
It’s DEA Ray, she had said. The Sabina case is my case. What do you want me to do, quit? This case means a lot; it’s everything.
A Federal agent, she spent much of her time in Coyoacan securing the deal for drug lord Eduard Sabina and his family members and it was almost done. She had trailed the accounts, the deals and was now ready to move on him. Just a few loose ends, she had said. Then it’d be over.
This ain’t no Boy Scout outing.
Sillinger jumped. His eyes popped open to Jerry Remy, scowling at him through the open cab window. Remy’s eyes were black and dead, his ruddy pockmarked face expressionless. He wore an ivory white handlebar mustache that dripped down below his chin; a tight red bandana surrounded the top of his head, a pump-action shotgun at his side.
These boys need an ass kickin’, he said. You might want to get off yours and give me some help.
Sillinger crushed his cigarette and climbed out of the cab. They stood side by side and watched convicts kick dirt and lay sod. A single hawk flew low over them, its shadow crossing like a dark omen. It would turn out so.
What time is it?
Nine-o-three, Sillinger said, eyeing his watch.
Get these pricks moving then. Truck‘ll be here soon.
Remy eased across the road. He nodded at the mexican.
Get that barrow over on this side, then added in a mocking tone, mucho pronto amigo.
Without expression, Chochu dropped his rake and picked up the waiting wheelbarrow holding broken soil and a busted spade shovel. Sillinger made his way down the road toward the others, kicking the ground absently. Only Remy seemed to notice the car slowly creeping down the road toward them from the north.
He’s sleeping with her, Sillinger thought, shuffling through the dust. That much he knew about Jerry Remy. He had no proof, only a feeling. But he knew. Ahead, Watt and Henley unrolled sod sections in the simmering morning heat, stomping them haphazardly into place. Davis was further up raking debris off to the side. Cicadas and blue jays chirped relentlessly from the surrounding swamp, a chaotic distraction, a warning. Watt stopped and looked up the road toward Davis, shielding his eyes from the morning glare. Sillinger looked up to see the car approaching, a sleek black Lincoln Continental that stopped next to Davis. As Sillinger approached, he was surprised to see his wife Brenda’s smiling face perched behind the wheel.
She watched Sillinger. My husband, the fool, she thought. That Remy too, swaying and grinning just beyond like death in a withering heat haze. Remy had believed her about everything; about ridding herself of Sillinger, the easy access to the Sabina drug money, springing the guy for a big payoff. It was all setup. She had slept with Remy to secure his participation, to get them isolated, to seal the deal. But now there would be another deal.
Davis stepped off toward the ditch as Sillinger leaned in the open window on the passenger side.
What ya doin’ here, Bren?
He scanned the interior.
Where in hell ‘ya get this car?
I bought it for me, she said smiling. It's a bonus from the Sabina case.
I brought you something too.
A delayed smile crossed Sillinger’s face. He glanced back at Remy who had not moved. His dark eyes appeared to shine. What is she doing here, he thought?
He never saw it coming.
Brenda was quick. The blue silver revolver fired two shots through Sillinger’s head, wiping the confused smile from his face. The first bullet dropped him to his knees like a sinner on Sunday. The second removed his left cheek and ear but he was already dead. He toppled over backward and was still. Remy grinned. He was impressed. He had been sure that when it went down, she wouldn’t pull the trigger but she had, quite easily and it was his last sure thought. The broken shovel handle entered the base of his neck just above the top vertebrae. The broken point exited his throat and he grasped it with his right hand. Remy’s dead black eyes were alive. They bulged from their sockets and he half turned, dropping his shotgun and gurgled nothing to Chochu standing there. Then there was no more. Chochu squatted and picked up the shotgun. Both Henley and Watt were running and he methodically took them down. Davis hadn’t moved from beside the ditch. He smiled up at the open cobalt sky. He didn’t say a word. Brenda squeezed the trigger, emptying the gun into him.
Hector "Cho" Sabina stepped over Sillinger and got in the car.
How you doing baby? Brenda said.
I see my father got you the money and our ride. Drive.
The Lincoln’s wheels spun shards of gravel and stone as they fishtailed down the road. Two hawks flew high above them, sitting silent on the wind.