Monday, March 30, 2020

Liars, Killers and Thieves, fiction by Nikki Dolson

The first time I stopped running was in a town named DuPont. I pulled off the highway and drove my truck right into the parking lot of a motel with a lit vacancy sign. My fake I.D. wasn’t questioned but the clerk, a white woman with turquoise-colored hair named Amanda, quizzed me: Where had I come from? Was I going to Wichita? Was I ready for fall? She didn’t wait for my answers. I paid for a week with a stack of bills I nearly fumbled all over the floor. I was shaky with exhaustion. I wasn’t sure I could stay in one place that long but I was too tired to drive another mile. I’d driven nearly non-stop after I mistakenly thought I could hideout with the masses in Austin, Texas. My new personal rule was never go to the best barbecue place in town, no matter if it is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant off an alley. You will be seen.

Amanda stood six-foot-three in barefeet. I knew this detail because she told me and also unlatched the half-door in the counter to show me her bare feet and the manicure that matched her hair. She was high on something. I watched her curl a long finger around a lock of hair and get distracted by it. I knocked on the counter between us to get her attention.

“Sorry. You’ll have the run of the place. You’re the only one staying here,” Amanda said. She tapped at her keyboard.

“Great. I don’t want to talk to people.” I was weepy at the idea of a bed, of sleeping in, of not driving.

She deflated a little. “I’m sorry I’ve just been talking and talking and talking.”

I waved her off. “It’s fine. Can I have my room key?”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Don’t apologize so much.”

“Sor-” Amanda caught herself and smiled. Her dimples were spectacular. She couldn’t have been older than twenty-one and was dewy with youth, a condition I’d only read about and had never noticed before. Tears blurred my vision. Amanda had her whole life ahead of her and I had nothing. Evidently, I was going to be weepy over everything until I got some sleep.

Amanda stretched across the counter to give me the key and she held my hand for a moment. “If I can do anything for you, you just let me know.”

I blinked away the tears that were threatening to fall. “What are you on?”

She laughed. “A little molly. Do you want? I’ll sell you some, assuming you’re not a cop.”

“No one looks at me and thinks I’m a cop.”

She looked me over. “You could be a teacher.”

“I’ve heard that before but I’m just a dead woman.” I had to stop talking. I turned to leave but she called after me, “Do you want the molly?”

“Maybe later.”

“If you need ice, don’t use the machine outside your room. I’ve worked here for two years and I’ve never seen it cleaned.”

I thanked her for the heads up and went to find my room.

The room was more than I expected. Low wattage lightbulbs in all the fixtures lit the corners of my room like candles. It had a kitchenette I wouldn’t use and an extra deep bathtub, the interior of which was scalloped like a clam’s shell. Fancy upgrades for a room with grey industrial grade carpet. I dumped my duffel on a table and sat in one of its two matching chairs to remove my boots. From the duffel I pulled out the plastic freezer bags of money and hid them in the bed’s box spring where a tear in the fabric already existed. I stripped off my clothes, cranked up the window AC unit and crawled into the bed. The sheets were cool but rough against my skin when I slid beneath them. As much as I wanted to sleep, I stayed awake listening to the night and the AC unit, waiting for the sun. As if my bad dreams might only come true in the dark.

The next afternoon, I drove over to the office for advice on where to find food. Amanda wasn’t there. In her place was Ned.

“Can I help you?” Ned didn’t get up from his chair behind the counter. From where I stood, he was only a disembodied head with hair so wispy and pale it was nearly invisible. Eyebrows were much the same. He was watching a little black and white portable television. I hadn’t seen one of those since the 90s.

I started to speak but he turned, had a good look at me in my wrinkled tank top, jeans, and flip flops. His gaze held just enough parental disapproval in it to make me regret my red bra, the straps of which were definitely showing. Ned decided I was lacking. “I’m sorry we don’t have any rooms available,” he said.

“Is that so?”

Now he stood up and I saw he was broad shouldered, barrel chested, and beer-gutted.
“You might have better luck if you drive on to Wichita.”

“Is that the best place find food?”

He frowned. “No, there’s a place a few miles north. Cassidy’s. There’s a Walmart that way too.”

“Thanks for being so helpful.”

“Get you some lunch and drive on.”


With news of a Walmart nearby, I went back to the room to pull more money from my stash. Two months on the road and I still had a little over fourteen thousand. I’d been frugal up until now. Never spending enough to be noticed. But I needed some necessities—underwear, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. and I figured all Walmarts were the same and I wouldn’t get out of there with less than a hundred dollars’ worth of nothing I really needed.

Cassidy’s was a diner in the heart of the town. There was a smattering of boarded-up store windows and closed signs along with a post office, a library, a couple schools and, of course, the Walmart, all within a block or two of each other. Cassidy’s was all fluorescent lights and 50s d├ęcor. The booth I sat in was upholstered in a red vinyl with white piping gone dingy gray in places. The tables were Formica banded in chrome. The menu was straight forward classic American—eggs, bacon, sausage, burgers, steak, and potatoes prepared in every way expected. My waitress came over and she was Amanda, lithe and lovely, in a terrible blue waitress uniform.

“Just how small is this town?” I said.

“Hi again.” Amanda was red-eyed but still so amiable I had to ask what she was on now.

“Ugh, nothing.” She exhaled and blew at the lock of blue hair that hung down over one eye. I ordered coffee but she shook her head so I asked for orange juice and one of everything off the breakfast menu.

She brought me my juice and sat down across from me. “How’d you sleep?”

“I slept enough.”

She arched a perfectly plucked eyebrow. “What does that even mean?”

“Don’t you have work to do?” I glanced around the restaurant. The current customers were all men, wearing work shirts with the name of their employers emblazoned on the back, Vulcan Chemical, Boeing, DHL, etc., and all of them looked like some version of Ned. The place was too quiet. The only noise came from the grill in the back and the clink of silverware on plates and coffee cups moving on and off the Formica countertop.

“They’re friends of my father. They don’t need or want me,” she said.

I sighed. Why fight it? I asked the question. “You don’t get along with your dad?”

“He’s old. Both my parents are. My dad hated my long hair when I was in high school but he absolutely lost it when I dyed it blonde and cut it so I could look like Marilyn Monroe. You can imagine how much he hated me in heels.”

“I bet you’re devastating in heels. What made you go that shade of blue?”

She turned her dimples on again. “I was bored.”

“You work two jobs in the town you grew up in? Not much of a life.”

“It’ll be three come the fall when all the old houses here gear up for Halloween.
We’ve made the New York Times with our annual Haunted House Mile.” She looped a curl of hair around a finger. “It’s the tourism that keeps this town alive. And no, it isn’t much of a life, but I need to save money and feed my pinup habit somehow. Besides my uncle runs the motel. It’s an easy job and he lets me work nights because no one comes in at night. No one but you.”

“Is your uncle named Ned?”

“You met him, huh? Sorry.”

“No, he’s great. Told me to drive to Wichita because there was no room at the inn.”

“Oh my god. He’s such an asshole though he probably doesn’t care that you’re black, if that helps any.”

I rolled my eyes at that last bit. “So long as he leaves me alone.”

“Hey, Adam, you going to work or what?” The cook called from behind the grill.

“Or what,” Amanda yelled back. She rolled her eyes. “He’s an asshole too but it’s a job. I’ll get your food.”

I ate my eggs and watched the men watch her. They didn’t speak to her other than to order and ask for their checks. Still she did her job and smiled. Wasted her dimples on those unworthy men. I left her a twenty for a tip. Then I headed to the Walmart.
Wednesday afternoon, two weeks before school began, meant kids in every aisle and their mothers pushing, cajoling, herding them. One or two kids riding in the carts or hanging off the sides. Older kids carrying basketballs they couldn’t bounce and skateboards they were absolutely forbidden to ride. They begged for sugary cereals in one aisle and pleaded for microwaveable whatnot in the frozen food sections. It was such saccharine sweet perfection I nearly called my own mother, but we’d only disappoint each other and there was the slight chance my father would pick up the phone and I had no desire to talk to him.

Three blocks from the Walmart, I found a bar with a bartender who was happy to take my money and even happier not to talk to me. I drank until night fell then I drank some more. I drank until my phone battery was near gone and I got to the end of the show I was binge-watching. I signaled the bartender for another round. What I got was a beer and woman who used a pair of purple painted crutches. The bartender asked her, “Can I get you a beer, Donna?”

“Yes, please.”

She sat across me and rested the crutches against the wall. “Hello, Cupcake.”

I flinched. I had to remind myself how it’s not nice to assault the elderly. I took a long drink of my beer instead of punching her.

“That’s what they call you, isn’t it?” Donna said.

“I don’t know you,” I said.

“No but our mutual friend thinks you can help me.”

“Have a nice night.” I stood to make my escape and had to grab the table for a moment. I was much too drunk for this.


That next morning, my drunken sleep was interrupted by a man I once met at a party. Louie Pluck was a killer, once upon a time. Then he turned state’s evidence and disappeared. Now he was holding out a coffee cup to me.

“Longtime, Cupcake.”

“Don’t call me that. What are you doing here, Louie?”

“WITSEC.”

“How did you find me?”

“Followed you from Walmart. I’m a cashier there.”

"How is this my life?” I leaned my forehead against the doorjamb. At this rate I was going to need to leave the country to actually get away.

“Let me in. I need you do a little something for me.”

I shut the door in his face. Opened it again, took the coffee out of his hand, and shut and locked the door again. I showered and while the lukewarm water pelted my back, I drank the coffee. It had alcohol in it which eased my hangover. I dressed to the sound of Louie’s continued gentle knocking at my door. The persistent fuck.
I went to the nightstand and removed the lampshade from the lamp. The lamp was cheap but had a heavy base. I’d get a swing or two in before it fell to pieces.

“What,” I said when I opened the door.

“We need to talk, Cupcake.”

I raised the lamp and stepped toward him

“Whoa, whoa. We talk or I talk to Vegas.”

I let him in. He surveyed my room. “Nice.”

“What do you want, Louie.”

“It’s Pete now.”

“Louie, you have to be alive to talk.”

“Nah, I have a failsafe.” He walked over to the bed as if he was going to sit on it.

“Don’t even think about it.”

He circled away from the bed and sat at the table for two in the corner of the room. I sat on the bed, put the lamp on the floor, and wished I had a knife.

“My friend, the lady you met last night, needs you to do her a favor. She’s old and sick. So is her husband. They want to die but you know, it’s hard to be brave enough to do it yourself.”

“I can’t help them.”

“You’ll help them or your boss will know where you are.”

I looked at Louie and very quietly said, “My boss is dead.”

Louie leaned in. “Fuck me. It’s true?” Then he laughed and clapped his hands once.
I picked up the lamp again.

“Relax, relax. If you do them, I won’t tell Vegas where you are. They are looking for you, you know.”

Of course, I knew it. I didn’t need this asshole telling me my own business. I put down the lamp again and exhaled a long breath. “What if I got word to the Old Men about where you are?” The Old Men were just that. Two old men living their lives in Palm Springs and oh yeah, overseeing a bunch of contract killers crisscrossing across the country on their say so.

“They aren’t looking for me anymore. Besides they might want you more. You won’t risk that.”

“What do you get out of all this?”

“A cut of the insurance payout.”

“Who gets the payout?”

“Their son.”

“Where do I find the nearly departed?”

“Well, you find people. You can find Donna and her husband.”

“This is a game to you?”

He shrugged. “I just want to see you work. You know, I remember the first time I saw you. You, in that painted on dress. Your boobs pushed up to your chin. You fucking sparkled. Simon couldn’t keep his eyes off you. None of us could. How old were you then? Twenty? Then I found out you worked for him. How did you do it? Just bat your eyelashes and whisper something dirty in their ear? Tell me.”

I’d been twenty-four years old at that party. My dress hadn’t been that tight but Simon and I had been hot for each other that night. When it was good between us, it was fire. Now Simon was dead because of me. I refused to cry in front of Louie. I cleared my throat and said, “What’s my cut?”

“A grand and you get to walk free.”

“And take any heat.”

“Eh, you have your options. Kill them before you leave town or have Vegas breathing down your neck.” He opened my door, waved, and slithered out into Kansas sunshine.

Now I know that I’m fucked. Louie obviously wanted me to dig for information in town thereby making my face known and connected to Donna. I could leave and let Louie do his worst. I’d been running for weeks so maybe getting cornered by whoever Vegas sent wouldn’t be the worst thing. Maybe I should stand my ground. Show them I wouldn’t be easy to kill. I considered doing that for about three minutes then I called Cassidy’s to talk to Amanda.

“I had a drink with a woman at a bar last night. She had purple crutches. Know her?”

“Yeah, her name is Donna Westcott. What could you two possibly talk about?”

“Nothing. We had beers. What else do you know about her?”

“She taught at the elementary school and coached the high school swim team until she had a stroke.”

“Nice person?”

“Maybe a long time ago but she’s bitter and angry now. I’d steer clear. She sucks worse than my uncle.”

I went to the front desk, prepared to face Ned again, but there was a sign up that read Be Back in Ten. I hopped the counter and spotted what I’d seen the other morning. Under the portable television were several phone books. The most recent was still twenty years old. I quickly walked back to my room lest Ned figure out I was already staying at his no vacancies motel.

I cracked open the book and went straight to the Ws. There was only one Donna Westcott. She and Michael Westcott had lived on the other side of town. Maybe they still did. I looked up homes for sale in town. Wrote down a few addresses for cover and headed out. The Westcotts were out for a stroll when I drove past their home. Michael was using a walker. Donna set the pace, her purple crutches had glitter in the finish and they shimmered in the sun. As I went past them I could hear her saying,

“Come on. I don’t want to be out here all day.”

My reward for finding them was to soak in that big tub. I fell asleep and woke up in cold water. It was dark out and I figured Amanda would be on shift. I had an urge to check on her and see how her day had gone. I dressed, grabbed my ice bucket and walked back down to the office. She was there. Turquoise hair falling in a cascade of curls over one shoulder. She jumped when I walked in.

“Hey there. I’m in need of ice.”

“Sure.” The smile she gave me was a little brittle but I thought about her at the diner.

The way they shunned her. I’d be a little brittle too. She took the bucket from me and went into the manager’s office. I could hear ice trays cracking. When she came out, she seemed okay. I took the bucket from her. “You should get out of town. Go to New York. Chicago. Anywhere but here,” I said.

“Haven’t saved enough yet but when I go, I’m headed to California. I want to put my toes into the Pacific.”

“Good ocean. How much money do you need?”

She shrugged. “A few thousand more, I think. Enough so I have time to see things and not worry. Maybe drive the PCH. Live out my Marilyn Monroe in Hollywood dreams.”
“Have you ever seen Gilda?” She shook her head. “Watch it. That hair with your face—Rita Hayworth all the way.”

Amanda blushed. “Are you drinking alone?”

“I always drink alone.”

“Well that’s sad. We can have a couple of drinks together.”

There were the dimples again. Maybe she was hoping I could give the money she needed to leave town. Maybe she was a lonely as I was. “Come over for drinks,” I said.
When Amanda knocked in my door two hours later, I was half gone on cheap wine. She brought whiskey and molly. “Not polite to show up to someone’s place without a gift.”

“You’re wonderful,” I said.

She handed me a pill. “Want one?”

“Hell yes.”

Blissed out and feeling no pain, we watched movies. Everything I could order on the motel’s cable service. We watched Laura and a documentary about a jewel thief named Doris Payne and, of course, we watched Gilda.

“Is this movie even about Gilda? Ballin and Johnny are fighting their obvious love for one another,” Amanda said. We discussed every part. She rewound and fast-forwarded the movie to prove her points. It was a great night.

I woke up dry-mouthed but happy. It was nearly noon. Amanda groaned as I sat up. “Did we drink everything?”

“Yes, but I’m pretty sure it was the molly that fucked us up so thoroughly.”

She giggled as she stumbled off to the bathroom. I decided to put my face back into the pillow. When I woke again, she was long gone.

Should I stay or should I go? The Clash song started up in my head, which was cruel not only because of the hangover but because it had been Simon’s favorite song and it did not help me one iota. Why did I care? Killing people was not new to me. I could do the Westcotts and be on my way before anyone noticed. I called the number listed in the phone book. A quavering voice said hello.

“Hello, Donna?”

“Yes.” Her voice got a little stronger.

“It’s Cupcake. Our mutual friend talked to me. Is this what you want?”

“Y-yes. It’s hard these days.”

“You both want this?”

“There’s no life without each other.” Her voice was so soft. A little pained.
I thought of my one and only and the running I was doing and the loneliness I couldn’t escape. Suddenly the idea of bringing peace to someone seemed all important.

“I’ll see you soon. Don’t be afraid,” I said.

My next call was to Louie. “I need a gun.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“To do what you asked, I need a gun.”

“Hold on.” He muted the call and I waited. He was whispering when he got back on the phone. “I’m at work and people are probably listening.”

“Unlikely.”

“Hey, I’m still important.”

“Sure you are but if you really thought anyone was watching or listening, you’d never have gotten involved in this.”

He sighed. “Why do you need a gun? They’re seventy-year-old sick people. You can’t take them?”

“You need an insurance payout. It can’t look like a suicide and I’m not interested in bludgeoning them to death so, a gun. Preferably a Beretta.”

“Jesus. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Bring it tonight or I’m gone.”

Half past eight, Louie was at my door with an attitude, a .38 snub-nosed revolver, a handful of bullets, and five hundred dollars. “You’ll get the other half after.”

“This isn’t a Beretta.”

“Best I could do on short notice. Let me guess, you wanted a silencer too?”

I shook my head. “I’m sure they have pillows.”

I changed out of my flipflops and into boots. I grabbed my gloves, parked in town and walked to the Westcotts. I skulked past homes where people were eating their late dinners or still fighting with their kids to take baths or go to bed. The wails of children denied their last half hour of television could be heard. I was glad it was dark enough. That the streets weren’t well-lit. That if anyone glanced out their kitchen window while doing the dishes, I would’ve been nothing more than a shadow. Maybe they’d think they saw someone. Maybe they’d mention it to their spouse, but I’d already be gone and if they heard something like a gunshot later it was still early enough that they could blame it on the television, theirs or the neighbor’s, being turned up too loud. It was the perfect time to shoot someone.
The Westscotts’s tiny home with the unmown lawn had its dying porch light on. I unscrewed it to stop its flickering and plunged the porch back into the darkness of the night. I knocked on the door. I could hear their television on. I knocked again. The television noises stopped.

“Who is it?” Michael Westcott wanted to know.

“I’m Pete’s friend.”

“And?”

I had to smile. He probably challenged everyone, no matter the hour. “I spoke to Donna. She knew I was coming to visit.”

The door opened to the limits of the chain. One blue eye squinted down at me. “Why is it so dark,” he asked.

“I guess your light went out.”

“It’s a little late for a visit, don’t you think?”

“Donna didn’t tell you I was coming?”

“No.”

“Okay. Sorry to bother.” I turned to go.

“Wait. You said you were a friend of Pete’s?”

“Let her in.” Donna called from depths of the house.

He grumbled and the closed the door. I heard the chain coming off and he let me in. Michael Westcott was much taller than me but looked so small bent over in his flannel pajamas.

“I’ll close the door. Go sit,” I said.

More grumbling but he walked slowly over to the end of the couch, sat down and exhaled loudly with the effort. I locked the door and turned off the lights.

“Hey,” Michael said. I pulled the gun from my waistband and walked over to him. I put the muzzle against his head. He was shaking. “Oh, Jesus. Oh, god,” he said.


I hesitated and the barrel of the gun dipped. I wondered about Donna. Michael didn’t seem to know about the plan. Maybe he had dementia. Then he said, “I thought I wouldn’t be afraid. It’s foolish to have been fighting death all this time, letting doctors cut on me a dozen times for a dozen reasons, and now I’m afraid the one time I chose death.” His hand reached up and touched my own. His fingers gently lifted my gloved hand back into position. “I want this. Please, don’t you be afraid too.”

My other hand came up to cover his and together we held the gun. I pulled the trigger. The sound was loud but not too loud. Easily mistaken for his TV show. I lifted his hand from mine and set it carefully on his lap then went to look for Donna.

I turned off lights as I went from room to room. Even the bathroom light was on. I flicked the switch. Hallway light off. Flick. Small bedroom, the son’s old room. Flick. The master bedroom’s door was ajar. I nudged it with my shoe. A bullet went through the door and whizzed past my head, just barely clipping my ear. I hit the floor hard.

“Shit,” Donna said.

“Donna? I’m here just like you asked me to be.”

I only heard the sound of the television. I stayed on my knees and pushed the door
open quickly. I found her and shot her. She was in the corner of the room, in the blind spot. I stepped over to her. She wasn’t dead yet but her breath was ragged.

“Why, Donna? I thought this was what you wanted. If you changed your mind you’ve could’ve said so. You could’ve sent me away.”

“I didn’t want to take care of him anymore.” She coughed.

“You could’ve left.”

“And leave him like that? Besides I didn’t have enough money.” Her eyes rolled up to look at me.

“How does Pete figure into this?”

“He said he’d help. Then he said you would do it but I had to kill you. Make it look like,” a wrenching cough took her words. She coughed again and again and again then she stopped for good.

“Make it look like a robbery or something,” I finished for her. The gun was still in her hand. Of course, she had a Beretta.

I needed to go. Someone definitely heard our gunshots. I checked my ear in the bathroom mirror. It bled a little but nothing that needed a bandage. I turned to leave but something was wrong. I had to figure out what I’d missed. I turned back on lights until I knew. In the son’s room, a shelf of first and second places trophies. All won by Adam Westcott.


The next morning, I was at Walmart buying a couple of bottles of rubbing alcohol and a chef’s knife. I waved at Louie. He frowned but continued to ring up the customer in front of him. I was there to follow him home when he left work early that day.

Outside of his rented duplex, I grabbed my purchases and shoved the Beretta into the waistband of my jeans. I knocked at his door. When it began to open, I threw my body at the door and it bounced off his face. I went in after him.

“I’m sorry, Cupcake. I’m sorry,” he said as he scrambled across the floor reaching for the couch.

I put the Beretta against his skull. He froze. “I told you not to call me that. No one calls me that except Frank and Frank wants me dead. Now get up. Do you have duct tape?”

“Why?”

“Because if you don’t have duct tape, I’m going to have to use extension cord and that will hurt.”

Blood ran from his nose to his lips. He wiped at it and eyed my gun. “Kitchen drawer. Second from the end.”

“Perfect. Now go sit.” I ushered him away from the couch and the gun I figured was hidden there. “I just want to talk. I know you think you can take me but I will shoot you in the stomach and both knees. That way even if you get a hospital in time to fix the hole in your belly, you’ll never walk the same.” He sat in a kitchen chair and put his hands behind his back. I rolled the tape around his wrists and up his arms. More tape went around his chest. I kept adding tape until the roll ran out.

I grabbed a handful of paper towels from the roll over his sink. I pulled a chair over and sat so our knees touched. “You set me up,” I said.

“No, I didn’t. I would never.”

I wiped at his nose and lips so he wouldn’t spit blood at me. “How much does Vegas say I’m worth?”

“It’s not like that,” he said. I put the barrel of the gun against his right eye. “Twenty-five thousand. More if I bring you to them alive.”

I removed the gun from his eye. “And how much will you get from the insurance?”

“The same.”

“You thought you could get paid twice for me.”

“You blame me? You just showed up. It was serendipity. How could I not try?”

“You didn’t even have the balls to take me out yourself.”

Louie struggled against the tape. “Why the hell did you even come here?”

“Does it matter now? Tell me how Amanda figures into this.”

“Are they dead?”

“Yes. Not before Donna got off a shot at me though. Tell me about Amanda.”

“Nothing to tell.”

I raised the gun again. “You said that the son gets the payout and I know Amanda used to be Adam.”

He sighed. “Look, Donna came to me. She said she was exhausted taking care of her husband and trying to keep herself going. There wasn’t enough money to go around.”

“So you offered to help, for a small fee.”

 “Walmart doesn’t pay much.”

“And Amanda?”

“I told her what Donna asked me to do. Told her that if we did it right, she’d get the full payout. She didn’t really like it but she came around eventually. Then I told her I had someone who could do it and we’d never be suspected.”

 “You made sure you were going to get paid, no matter what happened, didn’t you? Do you even care about Amanda?”

He made a face. I got up and turned on his television and found a game show rerun on cable. I turned it up loud.

“You really should have stayed a cashier. Did you think I would let you live after you threatened to tell Vegas where I was?”

“I still have a failsafe. I go missing and- “

“And Amanda won’t have to pay you anything. She won’t cry over you for long.”

I grabbed the bottles of rubbing alcohol and dumped them over his head. He screamed. He screamed louder when I set him on fire. I let him panic for thirty seconds then I shot him in the face. Frank, the man who taught me how to kill, would approve. I tossed the paper towels into the flames. They rolled off and fell next to the wall. I pulled the revolver from the grocery bag and left it with the Beretta on the kitchen counter. The empty alcohol bottles went in the bag with the knife. The wallpaper was just beginning to burn when I left.


Louie got me thinking about Amanda’s access to my room and her desire to live out her Marilyn Monroe dreams. I checked for my money, knowing it was probably gone.
Knowing I’d have to come after her now. I packed my duffel and wiped down the room. After six, I called the desk and lo and behold, Amanda was there.

“Hey, come have a drink with me. I’m leaving. I’ve been killing time in this town for too long,” I said. I slipped the knife into the top drawer of the dresser.

Amanda showed up with ice. Her hair up in a ponytail and black heels on her feet. Her smile was pressed on. “Thought we might need some. We have to toast goodbye.”

“Absolutely.” I poured the last of the whiskey into plastic cups and handed her one.

“To new friends,” she said.

I hopped on to of the dresser and raised my cup. “To liars, killers, and thieves.” We looked at each other.

“That’s an odd toast.”

“Is it? Liars, Louie and you. Killers, me. Thieves, also you.”

She sat down hard in a chair. “I’m sorry.”

“What did I tell you about that? Drink your whiskey.”

“How did you figure it out?”

“Your old bedroom is still intact. I saw Adam’s swimming trophies.”

She closed her eyes. “They were proud of those trophies. I left home to live a life they didn’t agree with and we stopped talking. Then Mom had the stroke and Dad had the surgeries and he was never the same. Was I supposed to give up my life and take care of them? I barely have a life and I had to dedicate it to them and stay in this miserable town?” She was crying now.

“Hey, don’t waste the alcohol.”

She wiped her face and drank her alcohol down and I drank mine.

“You and Louie were fucking?”

She frowned. “Wait, who’s Louie?”

“Pete. Pete is Louie. He was sent to do a job for some people then he talked about them to save his own ass and the government hid him away in this town. Were you going to take the money and leave with him?”

She nodded. “I didn’t know he got you to do it and then he told me, and I didn’t know what to do.”

“You didn’t know he was setting me up?”

“God, no. I swear.”

I set my cup down on the dresser top and pulled the knife from the drawer. “But you searched my room, didn’t you?”

“I search every room. Sometimes I find things.”

I got down off the dresser and approached her, the knife moving back and forth as I walked. I always loved the weight of a knife in my hand. Frank always wanted me to have a gun but give me a knife any day and I will be a happy woman. Unlike Amanda. She didn’t look happy. She was shaking now. “You found my money, but you didn’t leave. You really should’ve left. Where is my money, Amanda?”

“In the room next door.”

“Go get it.”

I followed Amanda outside. She wiped her hands on her jeans and pulled the key from her pocket and tried to open the door but her hands were shaking.
I put my hand on her back and she flinched. “Breathe.” She exhaled a long breath and the key slid into the lock and she pushed open the door. The money was in closet, still in the freezer bags I brought it in. She sat on the bed. “Is it all here?”

She nodded.

“I should kill you.” She started to cry again. I sighed. “Save it. Do you talk to your parents at all?” She shook her head. “What did you do last night.”

“Bowling with some friends in Wichita.”

“Good. When your parents’ bodies are discovered, collect your insurance money, wait a bit, then leave this town.” I got in her face. “Never speak of me to anyone. If you do, I swear I’ll find you.”

She sniffled and nodded.

“Good. Get out. Neither one of us should stay in this town a moment longer than we have to.”

I loaded the truck with my belongings and drove out of town. Maybe I’d drive to Canada or Alaska. Somewhere far enough away that my guilt might fade a little. I knew there was no outrunning guilt, but I still wanted to try. I was glad to be back in the truck. Back on the road. Back to watching for lights in my rearview mirror.


Nikki Dolson is the author of *All Things Violent* (Fahrenheit Press) and her collection of short stories, *Love & Other Criminal Behavior*, is forthcoming from Bronzeville Books.

6 comments:

  1. Damn, Nikki! You know how to write them.

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  2. Great story, Nikki. Wonderful voice, and I didn't know where it was going, but I was hanging on the edge of my chair. :)

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  3. That wasa very good story. Top of the noir bar.

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  4. Smashing! I enjoyed it very much.

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  5. Excellent dark twisted tale. You crushed it Nikki.
    Stellar writing.

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