Free Throw (Part 3) By Jeffrey Schrecongost

Archive Fiction Original Lit


     In the morning Don woke on Sarah’s couch, eased from sleep by eggs scrambling, sausage sizzling, and coffee brewing. He sat up, pulled the big Hudson Bay blanket over his bare shoulders and chest, and lit a cigarette.

Sarah sprinkled a handful of shredded cheddar cheese into the egg skillet and stirred, then snagged a pair of tongs from the pocket of her yellow apron and rotated the sausages.

“Morning,” she said.



“Yes. Please. No sugar. Just a splash of milk.”

She walked barefoot into the living room and handed Don the hot cup. ‘The Doors’ in a psychedelic font on one side and Jim Morrison’s face on the other. The shirtless, beaded-necklace photo.

“Thank you. Morrison, huh?” Don said.

“That cup’s a relic. Really dug him once upon a time, though.” Sarah dropped her voice and sang, “When the music’s over, yeah.”

“She’d never been to the ocean,” Don said. “Never seen that beauty. I promised her we’d make it. She was a good person.”

Sarah removed her apron, carried two plates of scrambled eggs and sausages into the living room, placed them on the coffee table, sat next to Don, and kissed him on his right temple.

“You’ll make it,” she said.

She smelled like efflorescing flowers in a cool, gentle rain. Her hair was still damp from the shower.

“Gotta get forks,” she whispered, and stepping past him, the morning sunlight charging through the windows rendered her white, cotton dress translucent, and he saw where her thighs met and the way her ass moved with each stride, and he felt like a thief, and he looked at Morrison and dragged on the cigarette.

“Turn out the lights. Turn out the lights. Turn out the lights.”


     After breakfast Don made a half-dozen phone calls arranging for Vessie’s body to be transported back to Clarkton and to locate and notify eighty-four-year-old Randolph Blaze, her brother and only living relative.

He then showered, dressed, and placed Sarah’s two suitcases in the back of the Tahoe and her guitar case in the backseat. They pulled away from her apartment building and headed for the highway, for the sea.

“Should I feel safe with you?” she asked.

“You don’t? You let me sleep on your couch.”

“I do. But should I?”

“You want me to take you back home?”


“I’m just driving until the road ends. And I want you with me when the road ends.”

“You’re just driving?”


“What’s behind you?”

“Nothing. Nobody. What’s behind you?”

“Life in that town. The restaurant. No one to hear my songs.”

“You want people to hear you?”


“You have a lot of songs?”


“You write them all?”

“Most of them, yes.”

Sarah pulled a joint from a pack of Marlboro Lights.

“You mind?” she said.

“You sharing?”

“Of course.”

“Then I don’t mind.”

The mid-morning sun followed them like a spotlight as they crossed the South Carolina state line.

“Do you like Little Feat?” she asked.

Don pulled up his sleeve to reveal the tattoo.

“Nice. The sailin’ shoe. Got it beat, though.”

Sarah removed her black, knee-high boot, raised her left leg and dropped her foot on the dash. On her ankle was a tattoo of a German shepherd with antlers and a purple lei around its neck.

“I’m impressed,” Don said. “The Hoy-Hoy LP cover.”

Sarah turned, opened the case, and pulled out her guitar. She played and sang.

     “…But don’t go fallin’ over the edge. Don’t let your wanderin’ mind drive you out of your head. Stay on that fine line. Hold on to that thread. ‘Cause pain is all you’ll find by fallin’ over the edge.”

     “Don’t stop now,” Don said. “How about some of your own stuff?”

“Okay. You asked for it.”

Her music was like a shelf full of Don’s favorite albums. Fresh, but familiar. She had that indefinable skill, that ability to exist inside the mysterious, inside the just-out-of-reach. Some kind of make-believe truth in her songs. Some kind of reliable fragility. Her voice was not operatic, not classically beautiful. More like dry leaves and honey. And her voice and melodies had a strange effect on her song lyrics, altered the words somehow, made the painful appealing and the alluring suspect.

And there she was, rolling under a deep-South sun in her black, knee-high leather boots, white, low-cut dress, and orange, sequined gypsy scarf around her head, strumming and singing with a controlled urgency, a soft intensity, that narcotized Don’s soul.

And they kept moving, wheels turning, for someplace else, for the sea.


Fluidity vs. Fixity: A Binary in Shelley’s Frankenstein

By Ronny Rose

     We have, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an interesting binary: fluidity in opposition to fixity. Both Frankenstein and the Creature advise inertia (Frankenstein: “Learn from me […] how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow”; the Creature: “Oh, that I had remained in my native wood, not known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst and heat!”), leading one to assume it a privileged binary in the novel. However, textual evidence suggests that travel, movement, and constant pursuit are the sources of the two characters’ fulfillment and, indeed, act as a sort of lifeblood. While the novel would like to promote stagnation as the untested remedy for the ills (both psychological and physical) of the characters, it instead becomes as much travel literature as gothic horror.

Early in the novel we learn Walton himself is “[…] on a voyage of discovery towards the northern pole.” So, we have in this frame tale Walton on a voyage, Frankenstein on a voyage, the Creature on a voyage, Clerval on a voyage, etc. Yet, Frankenstein says, “[…] [a] human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility.” Clerval’s father says he “eat[s] heartily without Greek,” but finally allows Clerval to “undertake a voyage of discovery to the land of knowledge.” Again, we see this binary of fluidity/fixity. While the favored position is to remain, the text continues to advance departure.

Later in the novel, when the Creature confronts Frankenstein, the Creature promises to “[…] go to the vast wilds of South America.” The Creature pledges distant travel in exchange for a mate, employs travel as currency. This again is indicative of the value placed on movement in the novel.

Travel is often medicinal for Frankenstein. He says of Clerval’s invitation to join him, “He besought me, therefore, to leave my solitary isle, and to meet him at Perth, that we might proceed southward together. This letter in a degree recalled me to life […].” Travel also liberates Frankenstein both literally and figuratively. He says, “I was obliged to travel nearly a hundred miles to the county town, where court was held […] and a fortnight after my removal I was liberated from prison.” Indeed, Frankenstein’s travels, “[…] which are to cease but with life,” supply him with a mysterious energy – certainly the antithesis of what he could expect to gain from a fixed existence (though both would have, no doubt, driven him mad).

While Frankenstein, on its surface, seems to frown upon fluidity and travel as a source of human fulfillment, a number of its characters ultimately find a great degree of satisfaction – irrespective of intent – in constant pursuit. Perhaps the Creature’s words, carved in the tree, sum it up best: “Follow me.”


     On Highway 26 now, just past Columbia, South Carolina.

“So why haven’t you asked me what I do?” Don said.

“Figured you’d tell me if you wanted to. What do you do?” Sarah said.

“Past to present: basketball, too much cocaine, gambling, and radio.”


“Sports talk show host.”

“Still gamble?”

“Trying to quit.”





“Still do coke?”


“Why’d you quit?”

“I missed a free throw I shouldn’t have missed.”

“You just get tired of your radio job, or what?”


Don checked the rear view mirror.

“You know the one thing I’m going to miss about that shitty town?” Sarah said.

“What’s that?”

“El Jefe’s Macho Diablo Casserole. It’s a source of fear and loathing. Rumor has it that it was Pancho Villa’s mother’s creation. I can never get it right when I try to make it at home. No one can. It’s this mind-boggling, Tex-Mex beast of a meal, and the recipe is the most closely guarded secret in Pennville’s restaurant business. The combination of ground beef and chorizo sausage is easy enough to detect. So is the mix of onions, garlic, and jalapeño peppers. The layers of flour tortillas? The red sauce? No-brainers. But it’s the spice blend and the brands of Colby and Jack cheeses that have everyone stumped. To discourage people like me, El Jefe’s owner, Marley Fannon, placed a two-by-four foot sign above the restaurant’s bar for everyone to see. It says, ‘I know what you want. Don’t ask.’ People still try to steal the recipe, though. Last year Marley became suspicious of two of his employees. I guess he overheard them plotting to steal his recipe book. He waited after-hours in his office, surprised the two guys, and beat them beyond recognition with a heavy, copper pot. Then he poured salsa verde on them and called the police. Crazy stuff, man.”

“I’d say so. Got it beat, though.”

“No way.”

“Yes. Pizza Prince’s King Arthur.”

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s the best pizza in the world. Some people kill for it.”

“Wow. I’ve gotta hear this.”

“You sure? Because I mean literally kill for it.”

“C’mon. Tell me. What do you mean ‘literally kill for it.’”

Don reached for the roach in the ashtray, lit it, cracked the window, and inhaled.

“There was this guy I knew in high school,” he said, his voice crimped. “Jett Mason.”


     Jett Mason walked up the highway toward Clarkton, hands and feet numb from the cold. His Levi’s were muddy below the knees, his black work boots torn at the soles, and his brown, leather bomber jacket creaked as he moved. A full moon reposed behind translucent clouds and illuminated rolling hills and pastures on each side of the road. Winter lightning split the night sky, and snowflakes glistened like descending shards of shattered mirrors.

“What’s your favorite word?” he asked the trucker who had given him a ride forty-eight hours earlier.

“My favorite word?” the trucker said. “‘Family,’ I suppose. ‘Love,’ maybe.”

“That’s two. I asked you what your favorite word is.”

“‘Family,’ then. What’s yours?”

“‘Rehabilitation.’ Pull over here. I’ll walk.”

“Whatever you say, buddy,” the trucker said, pulling the rig off to the side of the highway. “You take care, now.”

“I will. Thanks for the lift.”

Jett shook the trucker’s hand, then pulled a .38 revolver from his jacket pocket and shot him in the head.


December, 1985

Jett knew Carol was bringing ugly news. It was her voice, how her voice tottered when she called him that Saturday morning. He had just finished a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when she pulled into the driveway in her growling, black Camaro. From his bedroom window he watched her stride toward the front door, her blue and gold coat matching her cheerleader outfit. Her brown curls bounced with each step she took. Her right hand was clenched.

Worry reddened his face. He couldn’t swallow. The doorbell rang. His mother opened the door and greeted Carol.

He walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, then went downstairs, counting the steps.

eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve.

     Carol stood in the narrow foyer. Jett leaned forward to kiss her. She pulled away.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hey. What’s wrong?”

“I came over to give back your class ring.”

Jett said nothing. Across the street Alvin, the neighbor boy, was building a snow fort.

“It’s not working out,” Carol said.

“What are you talking about? I thought you loved me. I love you.”

“Where’s your mom?” she whispered.

Jett turned.

“In the kitchen. Why?”

“We should be at the next level by now, and you’re never ready. You’re like a little boy.”

“Next level? What do you mean?”

“What do you think I mean, Jett? What do we always fight about?”

“But I want to wait until we get married.”

“I don’t. And it’s not just that. We’re seniors, Jett. We should be able to date other people.”

“You’re breaking up with me because we don’t do it?”

“Yes. The other reasons, too. Here. Please take this.”

Carol reached out and opened her hand.

“Who is it? Tim? Sloan?”

“Take it, Jett.”

With his index finger Jett lifted the ring. Gone was the yarn and thick, black nail polish Carol had once carefully applied so it would fit snug.

“Goodbye, Jett.”

From his bedroom window he watched the Camaro disappear around the curve just past the Markwell’s house. He sat on the edge of his bed and pushed PLAY on his tape deck. He forgot he’d cued up The Beatles’ “She Loves You” the night before.

     “You think you’ve lost your love?

     Well, I saw her yesterday.

     It’s you she’s thinkin’ of,

     and she told me what to say.

She said she — ”

     He pushed STOP and stared at a framed photograph atop his dresser. It was Carol on Myrtle Beach in a day-glow-pink bikini, smiling, sitting next to a message she had scooped out of the wet sand: I LOVE JETT.

He placed the picture in the top drawer of his dresser and closed the drawer. Then he dropped the ring on his tongue and sucked on it, shifted it from one side of his mouth to the other. The faint taste-combination of metal and nail polish made Jett swallow the ring four seconds before he wanted to.


     No more snow fell, but a harassing wind returned. Jett plodded up the on-ramp at the junction of Highway 78 and State Road 445 and made his way toward the Sunoco gas station on his left. A bell rang as he stepped inside. He walked directly to the counter.

“Evening, sir. How can I help you tonight?” said the lanky, towheaded clerk.

“I need two packs of Kools.”

“Yes sir,” said the clerk, reaching above the counter for the cigarettes.

Jett eyed the cash register.

“Two packs of Kools. Jett? Jett Mason?”


“It’s me. Bernie Wickel.”

He offered Jett his hand.

“Hey, Bernie,” Jett said, shaking it.

“Wow. Jett Mason. How’ve you been, man? Hell, I haven’t seen you since when?”

“Since I went to prison.”

“Oh. Yeah, man. Everybody missed you at the reunion. We all missed you.”

“I bet. Funny thing is nobody missed me enough to visit me up there.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t get up to see you, man. Things got really weird after you went away. People had to take sides, or take no sides. Bullshit, you know? I always thought you got a raw deal, Jett. I mean, ten years? But, you know, Sloan’s parents, and Carol, they wouldn’t let it go, man.”

“She loved him,” Jett said, looking out the window above the candy bar rack.

A yellow Buick with front-end damage pulled up next to the gas pumps and stopped. The driver, a portly, middle-aged woman, got out, looked back into the car, threw a mini-tantrum, and drove away.

“We all knew it was an accident. We knew you didn’t mean to kill the guy. Come on, it was a fistfight. He started it anyway, right?”

“Sort of. Maybe. Then again, maybe I did. Anyway, one punch can fuck your life up pretty good, huh?”

“Yeah. Jesus. So what’re you doing now?”

Jett looked into Bernie’s eyes, pulled out the .38, and said, “I’m robbing you, Bernie. Give me all the money in the register.”

Bernie laughed.

“Quit fuckin’ around, man.”

“I’m not fuckin’ around, man. The cash under the tray, too. Do it. Now.”

Bernie’s hands began to tremble. He opened the register drawer, pulled out the cash, raised the tray, yanked out the large bills, and handed the money to Jett.

“Put it in a bag.”

“Don’t shoot me, Jett. We were — ”

“ — Shut up. Now turn around. Give me the keys to your truck.”

“Aww, Jett. You can’t take my truck, man.”

“Do it.”

Bernie reached into his jeans pocket.

“Drop them on the counter. Walk this way, into the bathroom. Hurry up.”

Bernie, with the .38 between his shoulder blades, walked into the men’s room.

“Which one of these keys locks the bathroom door?”

“The gold one. Don’t shoot me, Jett.”

“Shut up. Get on your knees.”

“Jett. Jett.”

Jett shoved Bernie to the floor.

“Quiet down, Bernie. All you have to do is answer one question, and I’ll leave. Okay?”

“Sure, Jett. Anything you want to know, man. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Just don’t shoot me. Please.”

Jett took a quick look back toward the interior of the store.

“How late is Pizza Prince open tonight?”

“Pizza Prince? I don’t know, Jett. Midnight? One?”

“Which is it, Bernie?”

“One. One.”

“Close your eyes, Bernie.”

Bernie’s head exploded, red and pink chunks spattering against the wall above the toilet. Jett looked at the condom machine to his right and spit on it, then backed out of the restroom.

Four bullets left.

Jett locked the restroom door and closed it, grabbed his cigarettes from the counter, ran out to the parking lot, jumped into Bernie’s blue Toyota pickup truck, drove across the lot to the pay phone, called information, and asked the operator for Carol’s address. Then he drove back up the highway.

He robbed two more gas stations on Highway 78, again shooting both clerks — a twenty-four-year-old woman and a seventy-three-year-old man — in the head and leaving them for dead in locked, bloody restrooms, then doubled back for Clarkton. For Carol. But first, for King Arthur.

Jett pulled off the highway and turned back onto State Road 445, then turned right onto University Avenue, slowing down to thirty miles per hour. He lit a Kool and scanned the area for the Pizza Prince delivery car he knew would eventually appear. Ten years is, after all, too long for anyone to be denied a King Arthur. It is cruel and unusual.

Two bullets left.


     Pizza Prince is a Clarkton institution. The first Pizza Prince restaurant, on Washington Street, opened in 1958, and it was there and then that original owner, Driscoll Buckminster, created and perfected the King Arthur. The King Arthur is a culinary masterpiece: a thin crust topped with (in this order) a secret tomato-based sauce, finely diced provolone cheese, finely ground sausage and pepperoni, chopped black olives, chopped onion, chopped red and green bell peppers, and chopped mushrooms. This aesthetic tour de force is crowned with more finely diced provolone cheese and a sprinkle of secret spice mixture, then slid with care into imposing, Bulgarian-made ovens hand-crafted specifically for Pizza Prince. After the prideful pie has developed a bubbly, lightly browned exterior, it is removed from the oven and sliced with rare, razor-sharp, Nicaraguan machetes into iconoclastic square pieces, then boxed and covered with aluminum foil to ensure a dramatic unveiling. The King Arthur is, quite simply, the world’s best pizza, and those fortunate enough to experience this gastronomic rapture can never objectively judge any other pizza again. One can understand, then, why Jett Mason, after ten years in prison, and before killing Carol, had to conquer King Arthur.


     “Don’t shoot me, dude,” said the Pizza Prince delivery kid. “I’ve got a statistics test tomorrow morning.”

The kid smelled of high-grade marijuana, and his eyes looked like Ban Roll-On applicators.

“Just give me the money,” Jett said.

Jett had followed the delivery car for three blocks, and when the kid parked in front of a fraternity house, he stopped the truck, jumped out, and put the gun in the kid’s face. He nodded at the pizza box on the passenger seat.

“That a King Arthur?”

“You bet. Sixteen-incher, man. You want it too, dude?”

“That’s a stupid question, pothead. Of course I want it. I’ve been away for a long time.”

The kid handed Jett his money bag, then the extra-large Arthur.

“Screw you, dude,” he said, and sped off toward Kemper Street.

The pie’s beguiling aroma had dulled Jett’s perceptions. He fired a sloppy shot at the kid’s car, missed badly, and put a hole in the left leg of an Inflate-A-Mate blow-up sex doll the frat boys had taped to an oak tree.

One bullet left.

Jett ran to the truck, tossed the pizza onto the passenger seat, the money bag onto the floor, started the engine, and stepped on the accelerator. He turned right onto Turner Drive, then left onto Millborn Avenue, and headed for Blue River Park.

He cut the lights and pulled the truck in behind a group of trees and bushes just a few yards from the bank of the slushy river. Wind gusts whistled above. On the other side of the river red and blue lights reflected off the now heavy, opaque clouds.

Jett rolled down the truck’s windows, took a deep breath, and opened the pizza box. With deliberation he lifted the thin foil covering the King Arthur. A bit of provolone cheese had stuck to the foil, and Jett licked it off. Then he reached first for a crispy edge piece. He raised it to his mouth and bit into the savory square, closed his eyes, and chewed slowly, slowly. His head rolled back as the pizza’s rich, complex flavors both pleased and perplexed him. He smiled and nodded, contemplating every glorious morsel, then gently pulled his fingertips across the tops of the steamy, grease-heavy center pieces.

More red and blue lights. Sirens now.

A sixteen-inch King Arthur provides the fortunate diner with thirty-five wondrous squares. Jett ate twenty-seven of them, placed the foil back atop the pie, closed the box, pulled onto Millborn Avenue, and headed for Tommy’s Trailer Park. For Carol.

He dumped all the cash he had stolen that night into the Pizza Prince money bag, stuffed it into his jacket, then parked the truck in an empty lot nine units down from Carol’s trailer. It was dark inside, but a Chevy Malibu was parked in the drive.

He walked to the back door, took off his boots, then with a nail picked the lock and entered. He moved like a ghost through the neat, clean kitchen and turned to look down the hallway. He heard voices in a room at the end of the hall. It was Thomas Magnum. Arguing with Rick and T.C. He walked on the balls of his feet toward the room, his greasy hand holding the .38 to his side.

…two, three, four, five.

The door was open.

Jett peeked around the doorjamb. Carol was asleep on her left side, the only light in the room the Magnum, P.I. rerun. He stepped forward and stood next to the bed. She had kicked the black sheets off her body, and they lay in a messy lump at her feet.

God, that sweet-white smell. White Shoulders.

A small ceiling fan made a scraping noise every fifth rotation.

Scrape. Scrape.

His eyes moved from her toes to her knees to her thighs. Her white t-shirt had shifted up a bit, revealing the two dimples on her lower back and the curve of her hip under tiny, green, satin panties.

Her lips. Her eyes. Her hair.

     You smell so good.

He held his breath, leaned down to within an inch of her face, and moved his left hand up and down her body, never touching. He counted her breaths.

…three, four, five…

He had never seen her skin before. Not like this. He closed his eyes and again inhaled her scent.

I think I’m ready now. Ready now.

     “I think I’m ready now,” Jett whispered, startling himself.

Carol opened her eyes, paused for a moment, then leapt up screaming.

“Get outta here! Get out!”

Like a ninja she rolled to the other side of the bed and grabbed an aluminum baseball bat she kept next to her nightstand.

“I said get — ”

“ – Carol. It’s me. Jett.”

“Jett? What are you doing here? Get the hell outta here. I’m calling the cops.”

“I remember this one,” he said, pointing to the television. “Magnum’s having all those Vietnam flashbacks. Is this a two-part episode?”

With her free hand Carol reached for the phone.

Jett raised the gun.

“Not yet,” he said. “Carol, look.”

Jett pulled the money bag from his jacket and dumped the cash onto the bed.

“See? I’m not a boy anymore. I’m not a little boy.”

Carol stared at the money and wrinkled her nose. She looked up at Jett.

“You smell like a King Arthur.”

“I should. I just ate twenty-seven pieces of a sixteen-incher.”

“That means there are, what, eight pieces left?”

Carol lowered the bat.

“Yeah. Eight. Center pieces, though. I ate all the edge pieces first.”

“Jesus. You would do something like that. What is this, anyway? You gonna hurt me, Jett?”

“Yeah. But I thought we could have sex first. I think I’m ready now.”

Carol looked back at the pile of cash.

“Where’s the rest of that King Arthur?”

“In my, in Bernie Wickel’s truck.”

“You killed Bernie?”

“First one to go. What do they call it? A Spree Killing? Thrill Killing?”

“He was always a jackass, anyway,” she said. “Look. I’m not gonna fuck you if I know you’re gonna kill me as soon as we’re done. Total turn-off, Jett. You must’ve picked up your social graces in prison, huh?”

Jett pointed the gun at Carol’s face.

“You really like that thing, don’t you?” she said. “Calm down. Hear me out. I’ve got an idea. I’ll put my bat away, and you put your gun away. Then you run out and get those last eight pieces, and I’ll freshen up. Then, when you get back, we’ll thunder the lightning, polish off that King Arthur, count this cash, and take it from there. Sound good?”

“How will I know you won’t call the cops or something?”

“Baby, I’m hungry, horny, broke, and I haven’t had a King Arthur in months. I’m a little ragged around the edges, but I’m not stupid. So, what’ll it be?”

Jett put the gun back in his pocket, nodded, walked out the back door, put on his boots, and ran through the darkness like an unhinged possum to Bernie Wickel’s truck for the remnants of the King Arthur. More lights in the sky. More sirens.

Carol placed the cash on the floor. She strutted to the bathroom and fixed her hair, applied a bit of lipstick, eye liner, and White Shoulders perfume, turned off the television, turned on a small lamp on her nightstand, took off her t-shirt, and stretched out on the bed.

Five minutes passed.

Then the thump-click of boot-steps on plastic tile.

…two, three, four, five.

Then nothing.

“Jett? You can come in, baby.”

Jett stepped into the bedroom and looked down at Carol.

“You took long enough. Where’s the pizza, sweetie?” she said. “Baby? What’s wrong?”

The room was quiet save for the sound of the ceiling fan.

Scrape, scrape. Every fifth turn.

“I guess I’m not ready,” he said. “No more pizza.”

Bang. No more bullets.


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nineteen months later.

     “Hop in, buddy,” the trucker said, fiddling with his stringy, gray beard.

Jett looked at the goofy lettering beneath a not-so-cleverly-airbrushed caricature of a nude Marilyn Monroe on the truck cab’s door. It read: The Booby Trap.

“Thanks,” he said. “Where you headed?”

“South. Pensacola,” the trucker said as he rolled the rig out of the truck stop’s parking lot. “Can you hand me that bag of Red Man there on the console, buddy?”

“Sure,” Jett said. He handed the trucker the bag of leaf tobacco. “Hot day, huh?”

“Lord yes. There’s some beer in that cooler behind you. Help yourself.”


Jett opened the red Igloo cooler, pulled out a Stroh’s, admired the can’s frosty skin, and popped the tab. He took three gulps. Then he lit a Kool.

“Fire Brewed Taste,” the trucker said. “Folks just don’t appreciate Fire Brewed Taste anymore. Real shame.”

“What’s your favorite word?” Jett said.

“My favorite word?”

“Your favorite word. What’s your favorite word?”

“Hmmm. I always liked myself some words, you know. I guess my favorite word would be ‘invidious.’ Yep. Always liked ‘invidious.’ Kinda mean-soundin’, ain’t it?”

“Yeah. It sounds mean.”

“What’s yours?”

“It used to be ‘Rehabilitation.’”

“That’s a pretty good word, I guess. You say it used to be your favorite?”


“What’s your favorite word now?”

Jett closed his eyes and felt the pull of the simmering Deep South. He listened to its warm winds whisper promises of anonymity, peace, forgiveness. Maybe a little, white boat in calm, Gulf waters. Yes. A pearly dot and sail-shadowed stick figure on azure, and a child on a beach grasps his father’s hand and says, “Look, Daddy. There’s a man on that boat.”

“All of them,” Jett said.


     “John, Paul, George, and Dingo,” Paine said, leaning back and crossing his boots on Dingo’s desk.

He lit a cigarette, dropped three tablets of trucker speed on his tongue, and washed them down with a gulp of his Gin-and-Cheerwine.

“My entire life, Victor. My entire life I’ve heard that one.”

“Why all the fucking ducks, Dingo? And the ships. And compasses.”

“They bring some class to this place, you know? My office. I can make it look however I want.”

“It’s ironic, Dingo.”

“I know it is, Victor.”

Dingo sipped his Jack-and-Ginger.

“Where’d he say he was going?”

“Said he was going west.”

“That means he’s going south. What did you give him?”

“Two vests and a Glock.”

“You two are such pals. Charming. He gonna shoot me with that Glock, Dingo?”

“I’m sure you guys can work it out, right?”

“Who was with him?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s he driving?”

“Black Tahoe.”

Paine stood.

Dingo followed.

“Sit down. Relax. How much you want for this wealth of information you’re giving me, Dingo?”

“Nothing, Victor. On the house.”

“Oh, I wanna pay you something. It’s the right thing to do. Here.”

Dingo looked at the wooden mallard atop his file cabinet, at the photograph of his boat above the door, then back at Paine.

Paine reached into his leather vest pocket, pulled out a wrinkled coupon book, and dropped it on Dingo’s desk. He picked up a tiny duck from an end table, examined it briefly, then carefully replaced it.

“You should think seriously about redecorating in here,” he said, then walked out.


     The orange ‘Vette rumbled across the South Carolina state line and into a spongy-blue dusk. Paine took a curve too fast, and his copy of Heart of Darkness slid across the passenger seat, coming to rest at an angle. He pulled it back to the center of the seat and straightened it, then patted it three times with his fingers.


     “I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary.”


     “Now that’s nuts,” Sarah said. “So this Jett guy really got away?”

“It would appear so. From time to time you read about a sighting here, a sighting there, Gulf Coast, Carolinas, but they can never catch him.”

“It’s awful what he did, but the pizza, the King Arthur. I can understand why that was so important to him.”

“Like I said, it’s the world’s best pizza, and it’s made in Clarkton, Indiana.”

“You should take me there sometime. Just for the King Arthur, I mean.”

“Never going back there. Remember? You’re never going back. I’m never going back.”

“Yeah. Okay. But you know what they say about never. About saying never.”

Don sped up. Approaching the 26/95 junction now.

“I know what they say. Doesn’t apply to me.”

Sarah pulled her guitar from the backseat, plucked a few strings, then strummed and sang: “Been on that long, broken road. I hope she straighten up, straighten out, before I get too old. Still on that long, broken road. Is she gonna straighten up, straighten out, before I get too old?”


     Humid, mid-morning gray. In the Low Country now. On Highway 21, just outside Beaufort. Dense aromas of mud, sea, and briny creatures.

“I love that smell,” Sarah said.

“We’ll be there in about an hour,” Don said. “It’s called Palm Island. Nice resort. We’ll get a room and pamper ourselves for a few days. How’s that sound?”

“Sounds fantastic. Do you know Joni Mitchell’s ‘My Old Man’?”

“Great song. Sing it for me.”

“I’m going to. That’s why I asked you if you knew it. ‘My old man, he’s a singer in the park. He’s a walker in the rain. He’s a dancer in the dark.’”


     Paine passed an RV to get a better look, but still wasn’t sure.

Could be. Could be.

     He glided into the left lane, sped up to eighty, and passed five cars at once. He tapped Heart of Darkness three times.

C’mon. Indiana plates?

     Out into the left lane again and back quickly, just missing an oncoming Jeep Wrangler. Then back into the left lane. Two cars behind now.

Indiana. Gotcha, you sonofabitch. Jackpot.


     “‘He’s my sunshine in the morning. He’s my fireworks at the end of the day. He’s the warmest chord I ever heard. Play that warm chord and stay baby.’”

     Don caught the orange flash in his side view mirror. The Corvette was one car behind, dashing in and out of the passing lane. Don knew it would happen eventually. It was happening now.

“Sarah. Sarah.”


“Reach behind you and open that green duffel bag. There’s a gun in there. Give it to me. Careful. It’s loaded.”

“What’s going on?”

“Please. Just do it. Now put on that vest.”

Don placed the Glock on his lap.

“Don, what’s happening?”

“Give me the other vest. Take the wheel for a second.”

Don put on the vest.

“Someone’s following us, Sarah. Bad people. Slide down and stay there.”

Paine was on the Tahoe’s bumper now. He raised his STI Eagle 50-45 and blew out Don’s rear window.

Sarah screamed.

Don, left hand on the wheel, turned and fired three times through the breached glass.

Paine ducked, and the Corvette’s windshield exploded. He swerved and fired again, catching the Tahoe’s left taillight.

Don sped up to ninety, the Corvette right on him. Just ahead was a wobbling, white pick-up truck, in its bed an entire house full of furniture loosely tied together with frayed twine.

“Hold on,” Don said, passing the truck.

Paine followed.

The truck’s driver, startled, jerked to the right, then back, then lost control and veered into the left lane. A wooden bookshelf bounced out of the truck’s bed and slammed into the Corvette’s passenger side.

“Goddamnit,” Paine said, edging the ‘Vette left.

Paine’s driver’s side rear tire slipped off the shoulder. He over-corrected, and the rear of the ‘Vette swung out far to the right. Paine worked the wheel. Too late. He grabbed Heart of Darkness. The ‘Vette went airborne, then vertical, nose down, and spun nine times like a top on the pavement. An orange blur. A strange, orange twister. Then off the road, engine howling, ripping through the trees, shredded metal and glass and flesh and bone.


     He owed her the truth. There was more than just the debt to Gordy. She wasn’t Karen. No one could be. But he wanted Sarah in his life. He knew this nomadic, deceitful existence had to end. This hateful lie. He needed her. Perhaps a weaker man, or a stronger one, could let her go. Don could not.

By the time they pulled through the Palm Island gates, he had told her everything.


     “Room service,” a voice outside the bungalow barked.

Don opened the door, and the young bellhop pushed the table inside. He avoided eye contact as he assembled the elaborate tablescape. He dropped a pepper shaker, shook his head, and mumbled. Don handed him a twenty as he exited the room.

The menu was sensual and sensational: a cheese, olive, and cracker plate followed by a well-chilled, rustic, chunky gazpacho, then chicken with pancetta, potatoes, and black olives accompanied by wild rice with porcini mushrooms. For dessert, tiny wild strawberries served plain in a silver bowl. Two bottles of Rioja Alta completed the culinary composition.

They ate in silence, surrendering glances then yanking them back. Sarah struggled to maintain her anger. It was grappling with two facts she couldn’t ignore: Don could have left her numerous times and didn’t, and he did save her life.

Ten minutes passed. Twenty. Neither spoke.

Finally, Don said, “Look. You have every right to be angry with me.”

Sarah didn’t stop him. She turned her head and stared at the pool.

“I’m almost free of this,” he said.

He had yet to realize he was lying again. To her. To himself.

“So?” Sarah said, still averting her gaze.

“So. Stay with me until I am.”

“And then?”

“Stay with me.”

She looked back at him, expressionless, refilled her wine glass, brought it to her lips, took a large drink, and lit a cigarette.

Don felt like he was scaling a sheer cliff.

“I won’t lie to you again,” he said.

Sarah stood, walked toward the open patio door, leaned against it, and stared at the full, silver disc in the night sky. Don followed and wrapped his arms around her waist. He rested his chin on her shoulder. His cheek touched hers. She closed her eyes.


     An hour later, at Sarah’s urging, Don found himself dancing amidst only candlelight at Tony’s Tiki Hut, an open-air beach bar, singing Beach Boys songs and spilling margaritas on them both.

“Gonna go get refills,” Don said.

“Okay, dear. Make them doubles.”

“You’re a wild, wild woman.”

Sarah continued to dance as Don returned to the bar. The balding bartender, a tough-looking but friendly man in his fifties donning surf shorts and a faded blue t-shirt, handed Don the margaritas and said, “Nice lady you got there.”

Don hesitated, for an instant confused. The bartender nodded toward the beach. Don turned. Sarah’s dance serpentine, her hands reached for the sky, then toward the sea, as if to beckon an apparition perceived by her alone. Her thin, cotton dress surrendered to the fitful candlelight, permitting it to trace her body’s silhouetted curves. The length of her dark hair rose and fell with the tranquil breeze.

He left the margaritas on the bar, approached her a bit unsteadily, and placed his trembling hands on her hips. She turned and pulled his hands to her face, kissed them. He moved closer and touched his lips, then his tongue, to her neck. Then a sound as she eased her head back – a soft, involuntary moan — made him starve for her.

Later they made love like they invented it. Afterward, lying side by side, hand in hand, they laughed about, debated, hinted at, something like a future together, but ultimately agreed they were delirious in their fatigue. They slid into a deep river of sleep.


     The next morning’s sun rays snuck in between the curtains.

“Gonna take a long, hot shower,” Sarah said.

She kissed Don’s chest. He, her hand.

“Let’s go out to the beach before breakfast,” she said. “Want to?”

“Yeah. Sounds great.”

He watched her as she walked into the bathroom. She turned on the shower and sang a song he didn’t recognize.

He looked up at the ceiling, then closed his eyes, covered them with his fingertips.


     The duffel bag on the bed contained twenty thousand dollars in cash. Next to it, on Palm Island Resort stationery, a note:


You’re too lovely for never.




     Late on a clear, chilly Nashville night, Sarah entered her apartment, leaned her guitar case against the wall, poured a glass of wine, and lit a joint. She was drained, but it had been a great gig. She turned on the radio, tuned in to a Gulf Coast AM station, and smiled at his voice.

“Welcome back, friends. You’re listening to ‘Chasin’ the Trane’,” said Don McQueen – now Trane Peckinpah. “We have one of my favorite callers on the line. Good evening, Cal from Galveston.”

“Hey, Trane,” said Cal Trapp – once Jett Mason. “I was wondering. What’s your favorite word?”

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