The words over at Three Word Wednesday are grimace, phase and stumble. This got dark.
One Cold Dish
Submerged as he was, he could hear his heartbeat, which had slowed considerably, and a distant rumble of the creek as it flowed over river stones smoothed by time and current.
The tub, sculpted out of quick-set concrete and river rock, was wide enough that his outstretched fingers of his outstretched arms touched the rough, candle-wax-drenched sides. It was long enough to settle his entire 6-foot, 2-inch frame within, deep enough submerge a full foot underwater.
A natural hot spring, hot, sulphurous water, gloriously soothing.
He broke the surface and time became real again; frogs croaked their evening song, as did crickets. The stream grew bolder.
Wind rattled the cottonwood leaves like a backup singer’s tambourine.
Even in the sketchy moonlight, he could catch the swirl of blood, like smoke caught in resin, in the warm water. His blood, where he was slowly bleeding out from the 9 mm bullet the had pierced his lower back at an angle – when the report came, he instinctively turned away from the blast, or the slug would have caught him mid-chest – traveled upward through the end of his liver and disintegrated against a rib, a blossom of death.
He sunk his head underwater again, just hearing the sound of his heart was a comfort, and a smile replaced the grimace as he pondered how something so simple could have gotten so fucked up.
Tommy, the wildcard. Tommy the impetuous one.
He’d wished that she’d not told them her secret at the bar, in front of Tommy, who was more bluster than anything else. She’d wanted to tell him of course, since everyone said he was One Cold-Hearted Bastard. But they'd all been wrong, so much so as to confuse cold-hearted feelings with fearlessness. He possessed a singular mental purposefulness that came in handy in certain situations.
She’d told them about the blind date with that Burroughs kid, the rape, although she’d never said the word. “The incident,” she kept saying, like she’s borrowed it from the cops, rolled it around on her tongue and decided that it sounded so clinically cold as to forget the welts, the bites and bruises, the brutish stickiness of him against her back and thighs, the stinking beer breath hot on her neck as he held her throat tight in his big, greasy hand.
He smiled again, remembering that she said she’d told them she soaked for hours in her tub, straining the little apartment’s electric water heater to exhaustion as she kept filling and refilling the tub with water that kept her skin a constant shade of angry pink. And here he was, he thought, soaking away his sins as well, like hot water could heal all – wounds, sins, indiscretions.
When the arrest didn’t materialize - Burroughs was too connected, the details of the night too sketchy, the hometown cops said - she’d come to them in the bar and said she wanted closure. That’s what she’d call it, “closure.” Revenge, plain and simple. Right a wrong; make just the injustice.
He’d not said a word while Tommy spouted off about shotgun castrations and caps and asses and two in the heart and one in the head mentalities; he’d spoken up just the once and said no, this would best be handled the old-fashioned way.
A beating, tire irons, a shallow grave.
Tommy insisted on coming along and after a time, he had agreed, reluctantly. Tommy would drink his courage, which he counted on when the actual time came to square things up with Burroughs.
Weeks passed with Tommy pestering him that things needed to made right. Tommy, man, he was like one of those little yappy dogs that goes through a phase, barking at the wind or a leaf blowing across a lawn, just to hear itself.
“We gotta do this thing, man,” Tommy said. “We promised.”
Saturday night, full bar. He caught up with Burroughs at the pool tables, called for a game. Rounds were exchanged, confidence gained.
They drank all night (Jimmy fill his highball with tea from a bar-bottle under the counter), played pool, made crude male-talk about women, men, jobs, life. At closing , he suggested they go to a roadhouse where he was known, cruise some pussy, maybe get lucky.
“You know it,” Burroughs said as he told the lot that he’d drive and Tommy called out shotgun and the asshole accepted bitch in his Silverado without so much as an argument.
Dipshit, he thought, driven to his untimely death without a care in the world, straddling the shifter for miles and then beaten to death.
“Hey, there’s no roadhouse out here,” Burroughs said after the first 30 miles and he punched him square in the ear, breaking the drum and telling him to shut the fuck up right then and there. More protest, one more punch and he’d simply slumped against Tommy’s jacketed shoulder.
“This is about that little bitch from the bar, isn’t it?”
“Isn’t it? She was fucking asking for it.”
“Dude, she was asking for it.”
Tommy burped as the truck went into the skid on the hard-packed dirt of a narrow fire road, his body impacted by the sudden inertia and weight of another body into his, all slammed against the door.
“Out, now,” he roared.
And the three of them stumbled into the amber glow of the parking lights, the tire iron shouldered, cocked, ready.
“You can’t do this,” Burroughs pleaded, a warm piss stain widening across the crotch of his expensive jeans.
“Bitch asked for it.”
And Tommy pulled the Glock and fired wildly, nine shots, emptied the entire plastic clip into the night in a blaze of white-hot muzzle percussions.
He’d caught Burroughs twice in the chest, spun him into the hood, where he slumped into a pile on the ground. The smell of loosened bowels mixed with pine. Tommy puked, began to sob.
“Tommy, go get help,” he said.
“Ohman, ohman, ohman ohman, shit, ohman, sorry, shit.”
He leaned into the tree trunk, the blood splatters a Jackson Pollock painting against the untucked white cotton T-shirt.
“Tommy, get in my truck and get Jimmy. No one else, you hear. Do it now. Let me get the shovel.”
The brake lights faded and there he was, alone with Burroughs and he stuck the steel blade of the shovel into the dirt and sighed.
“You couldn’t have left well enough alone, could you?”
The corpse did not answer.
The hot spring was a mile-and-a-half down a well-worn trail and he’d shed his clothing as he walked; blackberry brambles raised ugly welts on his shins and forearms and his feet were a bloodied mess by the time he’d slipped into the water.
He surfaced again, knowing that Tommy was at the sheriff substation, spilling his guts and placing blame anywhere but toward himself. Soon, the dirt road would become a major crime scene, complete with yellow tape and little paper teepees to mark where the shell casings landed.
He clenched his teeth, relaxed. He listened to the crickets, the frogs, the tiny tambourine sounds of the cottonwoods.
He slipped underwater and checked the sound of his own slowing heart.
He exhaled the last air in his lungs.