Chapter 7


On these hot, dusty days where the vultures typically and lazily circled a carcass somewhere in the shimmering distance, a walk across the lot from the inside of the station to the pump felt like a crawl across the bone-dry scorching ochre depths of Death Valley. But when Clint heard the tell-tale, distant drone of a cycle from the highway, it beckoned like a siren and his heavy, cracked workboots hit the floor from their previous position propped upon his desk. He knew it was her.


It was a waste of time to wipe his brow, hitch up his pants, and re-adjust his dirty San Jose Tigers cap so that a maximum amount of his dark, sweat-drenched hair was covered. Hell, he could have been Paul Newman swaggering across the blistering macadam and she wouldn’t give a good goddamn. Still, he did these things, a force of habit choking him worse than the worm from the bottom of a Cuervo Gold bottle.


Clint left behind the rattling, tepid comfort of the air conditioner and opened the door. The heat of the highway blasted him, nearly knocking him on his ass. What kept him upright was the sight of her—upon her Harley. She swooped into the gas station like a giant shining bird, a mysterious enmeshment of womanly flesh and cool, gleaming metallic chrome. Together, the woman and the motorcycle were like a big tall glass of water to him, this dry denizen of the desert. To be perfectly honest, there were days when Clint didn’t know which he wanted more: Her, or her hog.


As he approached the pump, the cycle sputtered to a stop. She dismounted from the Harley, her hands still flexing as if she was still gunning it, and this unconscious gesture caused a whole line of muscles running up both arms to run riot, like a drunken conga line too beat and bewildered to do the bossa nova the proper way it should be done. She knew Clint was watching her, watching every twitch of her body as if her highway patrol uniform were see-through, but she just didn’t care. They both knew the real reason she was here, the reason her mirrored sunglasses were pointed in the direction of Chico’s Diner.


Absently, she brushed dust, a cellophane wrapper, and a dead bee off her uniform. “Where is she?” she asked Clint in a low voice.


Clint chuckled maliciously and ran his callused hand over the worn, smooth curves of her leather seat. He saw her jaw set in a way that indicated she was about five seconds away from doing a Mexican hat dance on each and every finger of both hands. He withdrew. “She ain’t here, Carter.”


Carter’s face was impassive, the sunglasses still shining, like twin beacons, toward the diner.


Clint went about filling up the tank. He was screwing the cap back on when she spoke.


“What do you mean, she’s not here?”


Clint settled the nozzle back into the cradle. He took no real joy in hurting her, just a cruel satisfaction that later would torment him until he got into another bar fight and would get gored with a broken Bud bottle. “She took off for the Yucatan again. Chico said last night she had a vision in the desert. Well, we don’t know if it was the peyote pill or the old Little Debbie snack cakes, but this mornin’ she packed up her trash bag, stole Chico’s pickup, and headed south.”


Together, they stood there a long time, Carter waiting for an appropriate obscenity to descend upon her like a vision, one that would appropriately express her heart-rending anguish, and Clint, waiting to get paid and maybe for her to offer him a one of those soft, chewy breath mints that she ordered special from a health food store in Monterey.


“Oh.” The gas-station jockey remembered something. He dug for something in his shirt pocket. “She said she wanted you to have this.” In his dark oily palm lay the ring that Carter had given her.


“Marisa,” she whispered.


“Oh. And I was supposed to give you a message, too.”


“What?” Carter choked out the word while nervously taking the ring in her own hand.


Clint scratched his head. “I believe it was, ‘fuck you, puta.’”

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