At half past midnight on January 2, Rick pulls up to Walter's house in his Ram pick-up, still pulling the empty car trailer after a long day of futile searching for the Corvette stolen from his body shop. He was hoping the thief was just a high-school punk craving a joyride and would abandon the '53 cherry red classic when thoughts of prison started smacking some sense into him or when the punk got sleepy enough he wanted to go home. But Rick's been all over town, scoping parking lots, alleys, residential streets, trailer parks.
For a moment, although Rick is looking at Walter's dark, silent house gripped by the frigid night, he sees a garishly lit chop shop full of smoke and sparks, hears the screams of amputated steel—imagines his baby mutilated.
A street light shines down on Walter's driveway and Walter's Goddamned stupid ugly Mercury Marquis, and Rick sees that someone has touched up his vandalism of early yesterday morning.
The spray-painted blue squiggles and "OLD DICK" are still on the car, but added are big yellow daisy-like flower petals to the ends of the squiggles. Added in front of "OLD DICK" is the letter "B" and to the end an exclamation mark so that the side of the car now says "BOLD DICK!" Below it now are the words "HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
Ricks says aloud, "Clever, Linda. Real Goddamn clever." He puts his truck in gear.
A portable sign out front of Taco Shack says "OPEN ALL NIGHT." When Rick walks in, a pimply teenage boy is sweeping the floor, and a pimply teenage girl is behind the counter, looking down at the front of her orange and brown uniform and scratching at something crusty. She straightens up when Rick approaches and beams at him. "Welcome to Taco Shack. Would you like to try our special, the new Buffalo Beef Burrito?"
"Hello, ah. . . ." Rick looks at her name tag, but instead of her name it says "Taco Girl." Rick clears his throat. "You take checks?"
"If it's local."
"Great 'cause I'm starved." He reaches into his back pocket for his checkbook. "I'll have that special Buffalo Burrito and an orange soda."
He leans on the counter to write. Floating all over the pink check like clouds are fluffy white cats that look like Linda's cat, Paris Hilton. Printed at the top of the check is "Linda Deprue Parsons or Rick Parsons." He hands the check to Taco Girl, who gives it a half grin. Rick turns around and watches Taco Boy sweep.
A girl is sitting in a corner by herself. Black hair, black blouse, short black jacket, short black skirt, black eye-shadow, black lipstick. She has a nose ring. She takes a bite out of a crunchy taco that disintegrates in her hand. When she catches him staring at her, she glares at him. Then she gives him the finger. The fingernail is painted black.
Taco Girl slides Rick's tray across the counter, and he carries it to a corner booth. Just as he starts eating, the girl in black slides into his booth, crowding him against the wall. She flicks out her tongue and wags it, a silver stud glistening.
Rick says, "I don't, ah, know you, do I?"
"Nobody knows me. Listen. I want you to help me."
He nods. "If you need a hand out, I can write you a check."
"You're a hit man, aren't you?"
"You got that hit man look."
He smiles. "You're cute."
"Yeah, I'm cute. I know. I want you to kill my mother."
She opens and closes her fists several times. "Do you do mothers? I don't care how you kill her, as long as you kill her. You can stab her eyes out or slit her scrawny chicken neck or blow her two ugly faces off. Doesn't matter to me. I just want her dead."
Rick looks around at Taco Boy, who seems to be listening and has stopped sweeping the floor. Taco Boy jerks upright, looks away, and starts sweeping again, moving away.
"Like, I don't care how much blood there is or anything. Cause she'll be dead, and she won't be able to make me clean it up."
"You go to the high school?"
"What makes you think I'm still in high school? I'm nineteen. Actually, I'm twenty. What does that have to do with killing my mother? Can you do it right now? I'll write down the address. It's not far from here."
"Ah, tell me, ma'am. How you planning to pay me?"
"I'll write you a check."
"Maybe I got other people to kill right now."
She ignores him. She pulls out a pen and writes on a napkin.
"See. Here's our address. Nobody else is ever there."
"What about your dad?"
"He took off years ago. A very smart man."
"What about your mom's boyfriends?"
"I think she's a closet lesbian. Or she's trying to grow back her virginity or something."
"She as good looking as you?"
"Jesus. I want you to kill her, not have sex with her. Besides you'd have to put a bag over her head. I swear. A Freddy Kruger mask would be an improvement. Listen. I'm not going to talk to you anymore unless you're going to be serious. Can you be serious? Can you focus? Do you have Adult ADD?"
"I can focus."
"Good. Now like I said, nobody's there. Except my little brother. He's twelve. You can do him, too. I don't care. He's a pain in the ass. The phone number's on here, too, so you can call any time and make sure she's there. You'll recognize her voice. She doesn't sound anything like me. She sounds like a bullfrog because she's smoked for like eighty years, like since she was two. If she answers, just say, 'Sorry, ma'am, I was just trying to call my mama. I guess I dialed wrong. I'm very sorry. I hope I didn't disturb you. I hope you can forgive me. I hope you have a nice day. God bless you.' Like that. Be real polite. She thinks polite people and preppie types can't possibly be psycho. Only rude freaks, like me. Don't do any heavy breathing or anything because you'll spook her, and she'll call the cops. She calls the cops every time she hears a noise outside, like one of my friends coming over after —God forbid— eight o'clock at night, or if somebody calls and says, 'Is Candy there?' So be polite as hell. Show her that there are still some decent people in the world. Then go to the house and kill the bitch. So when do you think you can do her?"
She looks him in the eyes, her tongue out, the silver stud glistening. She presses the napkin into his hand. Rick looks at her hand in his. He studies her face, her black eyes. Then he looks her over again. Her legs are bare.
"I bet your legs are cold."
"I like the cold. Now, are you going to—"
"What's your name? Is your name Candy?"
"God, no. I don't have a name. If you get caught, I don't want you saying who hired you."
"You like cars?"
She shrugs. "They're okay. I like the Batmobile."
"Well, I don't have a Batmobile, but I've got a sixty-eight Camaro convertible back at my house. I need to charge the battery but—"
"How old are you? You're pretty old, aren't you? Like thirty? Thirty-five?"
"How old are you? You're pretty young, aren't you?"
"I already told you. I'm twenty-one. I have a feeling you're not going to do my mother tonight, are you?"
They're in the back seat of his Camaro, parked in his pitch-black garage.
"Oh God, God, yes, Guido!"
"Don't stop, Guido!"
"You're Guido. Guido . . . the hit man."
He stops. "My name's Rick."
"Don't stop, Guido!"
"You like this?"
"I've never had an old guy before."
"Nothing like an old—"
"Huh?" Rick stops again.
"Don't stop, Guido!"
"Yeah. I hear guys get better . . . and better . . . with age. Yeah, Guido. Yeah. Until they're like . . . ninety. Then they're like . . . dead . . . dead. Yeah. But like some guy who's like, yeah, sixty, is going to be . . . fan . . . tastic."
"Don't stop, Guido! Don't stop. Hey, what's wrong? Did I say something wrong?"
Rick's truck is the only vehicle on the dark streets, the empty trailer rattling behind. In the distance, Taco Shack is lit up.
The girl mutters, "I'm sorry for whatever I said. Jesus weeps, man."
"It's not your fault. It's nothing. It's just that my wife left me a couple of nights ago. And I got a fifty-three Vette stolen on top of that."
"You've got a wife? Really? I did it with a married guy? That's just too cool!"
"You got a car at Taco Shack?"
"Yeah. Man, I can't wait to tell Kelly. Kelly's my—"
"We're home." They pull into the parking lot of Taco Shack. Rick stops his truck next to a beat-up Ford Escort. "I bet that's it."
"Yeah, it is."
Staring into Taco Shack, he sees Taco Girl and Taco Boy sitting on the counter by the cash register holding hands. While he's watching, they kiss. He keeps staring and wonders why the girl hasn't gotten out of his truck yet.
Then in a voice she hasn't used before, she says, "I really am sorry about whatever I said . . . Rick. Listen. I'd like to see you again."
Still looking inside Taco Shack, he says, "To plan your mother's murder?"
"Maybe we could go ride around in your Camaro when you get a new battery."
"I don't know . . . ."
"I really am eighteen. And you said your wife bolted on you."
"Eighteen. That's good to know."
"You got my number."
"On the napkin."
She opens the truck door. "See you, Rick."
He looks at her now, and she seems awfully young.
She gets out, closes the door. He watches her get into her car. The Escort sputters, a cloud of gray rising and dissipating in the black sky. She stops before pulling onto the street, and he notices her brake lights don't work. She turns a corner and is gone, but he can hear her grinding the gears. He looks at the empty passenger seat and says, "What's your name?"
A couple of neighborhood dogs start barking. All is still and dark in the houses, but the night is vibrant with the barking of the dogs and the idling of his truck in the middle of Walter's street.
Standing in the dim yellow light of the porch lamp, he looks around. He presses the doorbell and fidgets, prepares for the door to open, pulls back his shoulders, clears his throat.
He presses the doorbell again. Waits again. Then he uses the door knocker. His breath puffs out into the cold air.
He hits the door with his fist.
"Linda!" he shouts. "Linda! I just want you to know . . . I do not care!" He swallows hard. There is no movement in the house. "I don't care. I don't care. I found somebody else. She . . . makes . . . love . . . like . . . a . . ." He looks around for a word. "A goddess!"
Rick pauses, his breath a thick fog.
More dogs are barking.
"I hope mad dogs rip the flesh off your bones. I hope cockroaches lay eggs in your brain. I hope snakes crawl up—"
Rick pauses. Then he slams the door with his fist again.
"I . . . I don't care! I don't care that you don't . . . I don't care . . . cause . . . I . . . am . . . happy!"
Linda flings open the door. Walter is behind her, slightly stooped, his gray head bent forward, and on his cracked old face is —of all things— a smile. But Rick quickly realizes that it's the nervous smile of a man anticipating getting his ass kicked.
Linda wags her finger in Rick's face, the gesture of a schoolmarm. Her robe loosens, deep cleavage revealed. "I'm calling the sheriff next time you show up here. The sheriff used to be one of Walter's students. One of his best students."
Rick staggers back a step, spreads his arms, his palms out. "Linda. You used to think I was slick." He's repulsed by his own whine.
"Yeah," she sneers. "Like shit."
Rick stares at her, then turns away, walks slowly toward his truck.
Linda slams the door at his back.
When he reaches his truck, he pauses with his hand on the driver's door. Then he reaches into the tool box below the back window and pulls out a ball-peen hammer.
He turns and marches toward the front door of Walter's house, but when he almost gets to it, he veers toward the Mercury Marquis in the driveway.
He focuses on the words "BOLD DICK! HAPPY NEW YEAR!" Each smashing blow of the hammer echoes in the cold night.
Linda bursts from the house with Walter several steps behind. She stops half way between the front door and the driveway. "You're paying for this, Rick."
He swings the hammer again. "Oh, yeah! How about if I just buy you and Walter a new car. I'll just charge it on one of my maxed-out credit cards. Now isn't that the thing to do, Linda? Isn't that your way?"
Linda turns to Walter. "Stop him, Walter. Go on, for God's sake. Stop him. Don't let him totally destroy your car."
Walter hesitates. "But—"
Linda shrieks in his old face, "Go on!"
Walter approaches Rick, his long head bowed, his shoulders stooped a bit.
Rick pauses in hammering the car and looks at him. Walter has raised his hand. Dangling from his long fingers is a key chain with a couple of keys on it.
"What the hell, Wally? You want to give me your car? This fine Mercury Marquis? No, you keep it. If I had to drive it, I'd be puking every second."
Linda hollers, "Tell him, Walter. Goddamn it."
Walter stammers. "Well, Linda and I decided . . . . Well, we discussed it this afternoon . . . that you should . . . should repaint it. She says you're a very good body man. Very talented, she says."
Linda sighs, her breath a plume of smoke. "Jesus Christ, Walter. Next thing you'll be kissing him."
Walter's hand comes closer. "Here are the keys so you can . . . can take it to your shop."
Rick stares at him.
Linda says, "Leave your truck for us to drive in the mean time."
Walter is shivering, and his eyes are watery. "I understand," he says. He raises his other hand as though he's going to put it on Rick's shoulder, but Rick gives him such a look of horror that Walter drops the hand. "Love is a powerful thing. And a mystery. Fifteen years ago when Linda was at the high school, I never dreamed . . . . I know how you must feel, Rick. I'm sure that if we can just be mature about all this—"
Linda says, "We expect to have it back in two days. Good as new. Or we're pressing charges."
Rick looks at her. Then he turns and hits the car with the hammer again. He turns to Walter. "And, Wally, I don't mean not to be mature about this . . . but . . . ."
Rick whirls to give the car the most vicious blow yet and flings the hammer back over his shoulder. He feels it slip at the height of its arc, his hand suddenly empty, catching in the corner of his eye the spin of the hammer, its sudden impact with Walter's forehead.
Walter stands with his hand on his head. Rick stares at him. Linda stares at Walter, too, her hands reaching out to him but frozen. Then Walter takes his hand away, and it's covered with blood glistening purplish in the light of the street lamp. He drops to his knees.
Linda wails, "You murdered him!"
"No. I . . . . No."
Lights come on in neighbors' houses.
Rick points at Walter, who is still on his knees.
"See. He's okay."
Walter falls face-down on the grass. Linda comes unfrozen. She rushes to him and kneels down. "Honey buns!"
Rick shudders, then runs toward his truck, but somebody's in it, driving away.
"What the hell? Stop!"
Rick leaps onto the running board and tries to open the door, but it's locked. The driver's window comes down, and Rick is face to face with a gaunt figure, the cheeks sunken, the eyes hollowed out by shadows, the nose flattened, the teeth protruding and crumbling.
Rick says, "Holy Jesus!" and jumps down.
The truck stops. "You're repo-ed, my man."
Rick watches his truck's tail lights shrink and finally disappear. The car trailer sits in the middle of the street.
He hears sirens. Linda shouts from Walter's yard, "I called the cops, asshole!"
"Never mind. It was Grim Stanky, the repo man. Why in the hell didn't you make the truck payments?"
"Rick! Reality check." She points to Walter, who is still face down on the grass.
Neighborhood lights are flicking on all around Rick. The sirens grow louder. "Walter's okay. He'll be okay, I bet. I didn't mean to—" Rick goes over to Walter and turns him over. Walter's eyes are closed. "Come on. Wake up."
Linda kneels on the frozen ground. "Oh, God, is he breathing? Is he breathing? I don't think he's breathing."
The sirens get louder.
Rick notices the keys to the Marquis on the ground. He grabs them and jumps into the car.
It backs out of the driveway with the sluggishness he expected. The vinyl seat is icy and stiff. He can't believe anybody would put plastic-simulated-wood-grain on a dashboard. He slaps the gearshift into "drive" and floors it, the car warily awakening to this new touch, a young man's hand. In the rear-view mirror, swirling lights descend on Walter's house. There's play in the steering wheel. Rick's nostrils flare to the stink of Brut aftershave and BenGay.