DEPARTING FROM RICO’S house in the BMW, Duncan and Ray went over the specifics of the job. It sounded easy enough. They had a name, an address, and the exact amount of money that needed to be collected. The hardest part, it seemed, would be crossing the country and making it to Boston without distraction.
They drove back onto the highway.
Ray switched on the radio.
It felt good to listen to music for a change – to care about something other than football, baseball, basketball, or hockey scores. The recently found freedom from concern did not go unnoticed. And, though they both still considered themselves fans of sport, the break from obligatory attention came as a welcome respite.
The first leg of the trip plunged the continental travelers into the early hours of the morning. The sprightly enthusiasm that carried them back onto Interstate 15 had conclusively waned by the time they reached the Utah border. The goal was to rest when they reached Colorado in the morning, but achy legs and heavy heads curtailed their ambitious plan. Duncan and Ray instead pulled into a motel not far from Fishlake National Forrest, just outside of Richfield, Utah.
The pair oozed from the car into the arms of the night air.
Duncan entered the motel office and paid cash for a room. He thanked the amiable, elderly woman behind the desk and returned to the car.
Duncan and Ray went up to the top floor of the two-story complex, turned the key and entered room 216. Each threw their bag onto one of the beds in the malodorous lodgings. Duncan slipped into the bathroom to wash his hands and to stash the black money bag atop the moveable ceiling slats above the shower.
Though tired from driving, Ray and Duncan yielded swiftly to the idea of having a cold beer and something to eat before calling it a night. They knew that a watering hole would not be hard to find, even in the small roadside town. After a very brief rest, they got back into the BMW and made for the poorly lit narrow streets.
They came upon a bar not five minutes from the motel along a street with no signs or noticeable markings. Outside the bar rested a narrow, linear fortification of black and silver motorcycles in perfect angular symmetry. Duncan pulled the car into the gravel parking lot.
The inside of the bar was enough to make both of the city-dwelling, opulent-car-driving patrons smirk from ear to cheek. Wooden floors creaking under foot, license plates gilding walls, and loud rock n’ roll music assaulting their ears. It smelled of stale beer and smoke.
As they walked through the establishment, the pair could feel eyes following them from every direction. Neither Duncan nor Ray looked the type that had just rolled in on iron horses, and they certainly didn’t look like they were from the neighborhood.
They approached the bartender.
Duncan stood with his back to the bar and surveyed his surroundings while Ray waited patiently to place an order. Duncan could feel the palpable tension. Whether reasonable or not, Duncan felt for a moment as though he and Ray were gazelles dropped into a lion’s den as some sort of strange sociological experiment.
Duncan endeavored to avoid confrontation at every turn. He wasn’t the type that possessed the urge to confirm his manhood by engaging in clashes of primeval fury. But what the leather and denim-clad lions in that particular bar didn’t know about Duncan would have served them well to not find out. Duncan was not one to be considered prey. In fact, he was very far from it indeed.
Ray turned around and handed Duncan a bottle of beer. He looked around the bar and took in the environment much in the way Duncan had been doing.
“Those guys are huge,” Ray said, referring to the bearded horde surrounding a nearby pool table.
“I think they like you,” Duncan said.
“I’m sure they do.”
According to urban legend, prison rules stated that if you wanted to prove yourself tough or worthy of respect, on the first day of incarceration you had to find the biggest and meanest inmate and challenge him to a fight. It was most likely a commonly held idea among those never to have been dropped behind tall bricked walls and barbed wired fences.
Duncan reached into his pocket and pulled out a warm wad of change. He looked down into his palm and appraised it. He shook his hand up and down allowing the coins to jingle and spread about in his palm. Duncan then clenched his fist around the pile making a strong fist and began to walk assuredly towards the pool table. Ray followed without hesitation.
The pride that stood guard at the green felt table saw them coming, they clenched their chalky spears and stood upright. One of the biggest took a step forward and positioned himself in the path of Duncan and Ray. Ray leisurely pulled a chair and took a seat at a small table beside the towering man as Duncan came face-to-face with the tattooed goliath. Duncan was close enough to smell the whisky and cigarettes on his breath, but far enough not to insinuate that he was challenging for territory. Duncan said nothing. The bar seemed to come to a hush, though the music still blared and people still spoke in their usual tone. Duncan was eclipsed by the stature of his would-be opponent and stood in the man’s shadow.
Duncan looked down to his fist, then back to the face of the man in front of him. He then raised his hand, plucked four quarters from the stack, and placed them on the rail of the table. He then took a twenty-dollar bill from his pocket and placed it beside the quarters.
“Next game,” Duncan said.
The extra-large man permitted himself to crack a small smile. The man then nodded once.
Duncan returned the gesture before taking a seat at the table with Ray. The sound of the bar seemed to rise once more. Duncan took a swig from his beer and smiled at Ray.
Duncan lost his twenty dollars to Sam, the bulky man with whose beard he had recently become acquainted.
Ray played Sam in the next game and won the money back.
It wasn’t long before both Duncan and Ray had assimilated into the faction that would to others seem frightening. But in truth, there was nothing frightening about them. They proved to be welcoming and jovial and overtly generous. Sam used the twenty he won from Duncan to buy each of them a beer. Ray returned the gesture with his subsequent victory.
Sam’s compatriots consisted of a throng of young to middle-aged bikers together on their way from Colorado to Las Vegas. They had names like Burner, Slim, Varr, and Mick. One was a mechanic, one worked construction, and one owned a company that shredded paper documents. Sam never did say what his occupation was, or if he had one at all, but when he held his pool cue against the table it was obvious by his hard, calloused hands that he was not an accountant.
Last call came.
Duncan was embroiled in a conversation with Sam and Varr about the practice of wooing women, while Ray was putting similar theories to practice at a table with two buxom brunettes. Ray had great luck with the softer sex. He was good looking, young, and had plenty of charm to spare. He once had a girl back in Phoenix to whom Duncan thought Ray would one day be married. She was the daughter of a prominent city politician. The pressure from her family to find someone more suiting their elite traditions weighed heavy on the relationship. They eventually broke up, much to Ray’s dismay.
Ashley Dupree and Ray still had trouble staying away from one another and there was little doubt for Duncan that they were still in love. Ashley was, and always would be, Ray’s first love. He looked for her in every woman he spoke to, kissed, or with whom he made love. Ashley left Arizona a few years prior to continue her education at an Ivy League college. She and Ray continued to exchange emails, text messages, and the occasional phone call, but Ray hadn’t heard from Ashley in nearly six months. Duncan was certain that Ray was still looking for a small piece of Ashley in that bar just outside of Richfield, Utah that night.
The sound of a large cowbell rung out from behind the wooden bar signaling the end of last call. The bar had all but cleared out by that time, though Duncan, Ray, and their new comrades remained.
Duncan and a few of the lingering bikers from Colorado made their way out the doors. Sam lit a smoke.
Ray emerged a few minutes later, arms devoid of hangers-on.
“Ask for Carlos at Luxor,” Duncan said to Varr, a wild haired, yet seemingly taciturn fellow. “Tell him I said to take care of you. He’ll know what that means.”
“Thanks, Dunner,” Varr said. He raised his arm as if he were preparing to arm wrestle the air. Duncan slapped his hand and held on for a shake. The group that remained took turns bidding similar farewells. The six bikers then mounted their vehicles and roared off, leaving Duncan and Ray in a swirling cloud of dust and smoke.
The two females that Ray had befriended exited the bar in a giggly and slightly unsteady way. Duncan and Ray exchanged a look. Duncan shook his head with a grimace. Ray nodded in agreement. The pair then got into the BMW and slowly pulled out of the lot.
Returning to their room, Duncan’s first order of business was to lift the ceiling slat above the shower just to be certain that nothing had changed.
All seemed well. The bag was intact.
Ray flopped onto the bed closest to the humming air conditioner and turned on the TV. Making a concerted effort to stay away from Sports Center, he flipped the channels restlessly.
“Just turn it off,” Duncan said, falling onto his bed.
As soon as TV blinked off, what sounded like a commotion not far from the front of their door became audible. “You hear that?” Ray asked.
Duncan got up from his bed and walked over to the window. He pushed back the wall-length curtain and peered in each direction. He saw nothing. The commotion began again and Duncan’s curiosity piqued. “What’s with all the noise?” he said. He opened the front door and stepped outside.
Duncan’s first inclination was to look over the railing. As he did so, a loud bang filled the open-air terrace. “What was that?” Ray asked.
Shoeless, Duncan began to walk toward the loud sound. Ray leapt from his bed and followed his friend.
Duncan was first to turn the corner at the end of the aisle. There he saw a woman slumped on the ground, huddling up to a vending machine. A man stood over the woman, his fists were clenched and his eyes enraged.
“What’s going on here?” Duncan asked.
He only needed to look down onto the face of the woman before it became patently clear what had been going on.
Neither girl nor assailant said anything.
“Why don’t you back up?” Duncan said to the man.
Ray rounded the corner.
“Hey,” the man said. “This is none of your business. Go back to your room.”
The man unclenched his fists and feigned calm.
“Don’t,” the girl pleaded.
She was wearing jean-shorts and a thin white tank top. Ray instinctively leaned over to help her up.
“Hey!” the man yelled, his hands transforming into fists once again. He made a move toward Ray.
That’s when Duncan interceded. With stealth and speed, he grabbed the man from the side, swept his legs out from under him and had rendered him immobile on the ground before the man knew what had happened. With a knee in one ear and the cold concrete under the other, the skinny man quickly realized he would be no match for the one on top of him. “What the fuck?” he gasped.
Duncan had the man’s arm twisted around and held it up in the air over his body. The man couldn’t move in a thousand different ways. “What’re you, a cop?” the man asked.
“Why?” Duncan answered, “You doing something illegal?”
“Fuck no. There’s no problem here. I got no problems with you.”
Ray helped the blonde-haired girl up from the floor. Her young face was red and beginning to swell. “Do you know this guy?” he asked her.
“Neither,” the girl answered. “He’s just an asshole.”
“You do have a problem with me,” Duncan said to the man under his knee. “I paid $39.99 to the woman at the front desk for a room. So that means tonight, this is my house. You’re making noise in my house.”
Duncan gave the man’s arm an extra little twist. The man grunted in pain.
“I paid too, man. It’s my house too.”
Duncan gave the twisted arm a pull.
“Okay!” The man howled. “Okay!”
“It’s time for you to leave,” Duncan said. “I’m going to let you up and then you’re gonna get your shit and go.”
“I don’t have any shit,” he said.
“That should make it easier.”
As he finished his words, Duncan yanked the man up from the ground almost as violently as he had sent him down.
Ray took a step forward to shield the girl now standing by his side.
Duncan unleashed the man from his control and stood in front of him. The man looked over Duncan’s shoulder and peered at the girl.
“You’re a real cunt, you know that?” he said, pointing in her face. He might have said something more but thought better of it when he once again met Duncan’s glare. The man turned and clomped heavily down the open stairs to the first floor.
All three that stood on the landing above could see the man’s grey and red pickup truck peel out of the lot and onto the street.
“What’s your name?” Ray asked the girl once the truck was well out of sight.
“Amanda,” she answered.
“You live around here?”
She shook her head no.
“What were you doing with that guy?”
“He’s just…some guy,” she said, tapping her fingertips to her cheek to survey the damage.
“How old are you?”
“Yeah, twenty-three,” Ray said in disbelief.
“I am,” she insisted. “Why, how old are you?”
Ray didn’t answer. “You have somewhere to go?” he asked.
The girl shook her head again.
“What the hell are we supposed to do now?” Ray asked Duncan.
Duncan leaned over and swiped up the girl’s bag from the ground beside the vending machine and handed it back to her.
Both Ray and Duncan knew they couldn’t just let the girl go off on her own, not after what had transpired. By the way she looked at Ray, it seemed as though she didn’t want that either.
“Fuck it, let’s go,” Ray said.
“Where?” the girl asked.
“Where do you think?”
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Genre – Contemporary Fiction/Literary Fiction
Rating – R
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