4434 words (17 minute read)


See the man in the desert. His hair is long. His beard is ragged. He is tired. He stinks of sweat. His breath reeks of cheap whiskey. His eyes are bloodshot. His knuckles are scarred. The air is cold but his skin is hot. He stands in the dark, out in the dust and brush off of Interstate 10, the road that would take him home if he let it. He looks at it in the distance. A single truck passed ten minutes ago. One solitary sign of life. Nothing since. On the other side of the Interstate was another country. Awhile ago, if you were to glance out the window when it was dark you could see them. Tiny grey orbs floating through the night in short choppy strokes. The man figured they’d started blacking out the water jugs. Those poor souls were too close to El Paso to make mistakes. On a quiet night, you could hear the sounds of war emanating from Juarez. As bad as things were getting here, for some it was still a damn sight better.

There was no food out here. The only palatable vegetation could be found within six feet of the pavement on each side. This brought the deer in close. Dozens of them all lined up for what feels like miles, desperate not to starve. Desperate enough to risk obliteration by as much as eighty thousand pounds of screaming, unforgiving metal tearing across the land at seventy miles an hour. Alone on the road, just your headlights to guide you in the obsidian shroud, an endless series of glowing eyes quickly rise from the dirt. Eyes of panic. Eyes of unavoidable, suicidal panic.

The man stared at Interstate 10 and wondered if those passing on the road could see the glow of his eyes too. Starvation. Panic. Suicide. One more way humans were not so far removed from beasts.

"We’re not so different at all," the man whispered.

He turned from the road and moved to the other side of the pickup, facing north now. He squatted down in the dirt, removing a pack of cigarettes from his jacket, tucking one into his mouth. Lighter in hand, he put his arm up underneath the front of his filthy shirt, sticking the end of the cigarette down the collar, hiding the flame. He kept his hand cupped around the cherry as he took slow, deliberate drags. There was a half-pint of Jameson in the truck. The man would want it for the ride home, where there was more. There was all he would need there.


As he finished his smoke and stood, the man spotted a truck slowing down and edging over into the dirt that served as a breakdown lane down at the road, right next to where the man himself had turned off and blazed a trail to where he was now. The man squatted down again, right hand reaching around to the small of his back and under his coat, fingers wrapping around the grip of the 9mm Browning Hi-Power. The man leaned around the front of his pickup and waited. The truck turned in his direction, bouncing over the ditch and pitching from side to side as it followed his own trail straight towards him. The truck flashed its lights twice and then cut them off entirely. The man released the pistol and stood. This was the agreed-upon signal and about five minutes earlier than expected, however, he remained behind his pickup in case things were not as they seemed.

The moon provided enough light for this new arrival to follow the tracks with little trouble. A cloud of dust obscured the dim view of the unoccupied highway as the Worm pushed up through the dirt, writhing as it met the wretched sun...


Not again. Not now.

The man realized he was starting to shake as he made a beeline for the driver’s side door, opening it and once inside he saw the bodies in the grave, rotting, half-sneering with broken teeth and mouths full of flies and eyes full of blood and welcoming Him to join them forever and ever Amen and then He...

"Shut the FUCK up" the man growled, fumbling around in the dark under the seat. He’d removed the cab light to avoid attracting unwanted attention. The bottle was here somewhere, just had to pull this shit out and only part of Her was with Him but She had found another...

"Fuckin’ shit, come ON"

His vision was starting to blur out and shift as he finally got his hand on the whiskey bottle, unscrewed the cap and began to drink. Almost half was gone as he stopped for breath, the burn like hot needles sliding down his throat as He blinked his eyes hard, the warmth spreading across his chest. He waited silently and listened. Nothing aside from the approaching vehicle. The man had run out of Seroquel three days ago. Seventy-two hours of serious alcohol abuse. The delivery kid was supposed to have shown up before he headed out here.

The truck had come to a stop ten feet from the man’s vehicle. The man quickly capped the bottle and stowed it safely underneath the seat. He shut the door and went to meet the new arrivals.

Two men exited. Both wore leather vests, the patches identifying them as members of the Texas chapter of Yidhra MC, a so-called outlaw motorcycle club headquartered out of California. The man had dealt with the driver before. A large, bearded middle-aged guy by the name of Fairfax. The passenger was a short, bald kid who he’d never met.

"You smell like a fuckin’ still." drawled Fairfax.

"Whatever," said the man, "who’s the kid?"

"This is Stitch. The guys at the meet can speak English, but they won’t. Stitch’ll translate."

Stitch waved "Hola, pig."

The man turned to Stitch.

"They pick you up at the daycare? Go fuck yourself."

Stitch started to come forward but ran into Fairfax’s massive, tattooed forearm.

"Enough. Stow the ’pig’ shit. These fucks catch wind of that, we’re not walking out of here in one piece. And you..." Fairfax pointed at the man. "Can you do this, or are you gonna get the shakes?"

"I’m fine. Let’s get this fuckin’ over with."

The man unlatched the tailgate of his truck and climbed up on the bed where a large, heavy crate sat. He picked up a crowbar and drove it under the lid. After a few seconds of work, the top came off with a flat squeal. Inside, resting on a bed of straw, was a Browning M2, affectionally referred to in the armed services as the Ma Deuce. At the side of the .50 caliber machine gun rested two long barrels.

Stitch climbed up onto the truck, peered inside and whistled.

"Now this here is some serious home defense. Somebody’s a little paranoid."

"Grab the barrels," said the man.

"Sir yes sir, Officer sir." Stitch stood at attention and gave a stiff salute.

"I said knock it the fuck off," Fairfax called from the door of his truck.

Stitch reached in and grabbed the two barrels, nearly losing his balance as he tried turning around in the narrow space with one in each hand.

"Shit’s heavier than they look. Pass ’em down to me."

The man took the barrels from him. Stitch jumped off of the tailgate to the ground, then reached up to take the barrels again. The man lifted the M2 out of the crate and set it down on the tailgate, then reached behind the crate and pulled up a big duffel bag. This in hand, he jumped to the ground and set to packing up the machine gun.

"Stitch, cell phone," said Fairfax.

"It’s off," said Stitch.

"Toss it."

Stitch awkwardly tucked one of the barrels under one of his arms as he reached into his pocket for the phone, throwing it underhand to Fairfax.

"And yours?" Fairfax asked the man.

"Didn’t bring one."

With that, Fairfax took his and Stitch’s phones to the back of his own truck, unlocking his toolbox and setting them inside. While he did this, Stitch turned to the man.

"For real though, you really a cop?"


"But you was?"

"I was."

"Pay not good enough, or did you blast somebody for holding a wallet?"

Fairfax cut in. He loaded a mag into his Kimber 1911, racked the slide, and tucked the pistol into the shoulder holster under his vest.

"Some shit happened. Drop it. Let’s go."

With that, the three started walking north through the backcountry. The man held the bag, Stitch carried the barrels, and Fairfax walked in front making sure the other two didn’t step into any holes. They heard a high shriek from far off, somewhere to the east. The man was worried the alcohol had worn off, but both Fairfax and Stitch glanced in that direction. The shriek was joined by a symphony of howls. Coyotes over a fresh kill. They continued on, a slight desert breeze caressing their faces.

"So what’s with all the mystery?" Stitch asked. "Why we teaming up with a pig?"

He looked at the man with a grin.

"Sorry, I mean police officer."

Fairfax turned his head halfway "He ain’t a cop anymore, Stitch."

"But how do we know he ain’t here to burn us right now?"

"I told you they kicked his ass out."

"Yeah, but like, have you seen The Departed? He could be like deep cover or some shit. A fed or whatever."

"He ain’t."

"So what the fuck is up?"

Fairfax stopped and turned.

"You ever know me to air people’s bullshit out?"

Stitch shrugged his shoulders, as best as he could with the .50 cal barrels. His eyes shown brightly in the dark.

"I’m just saying bro. My ass is on the line out here right now. I just wanna know if he’s cool or what."

"I ain’t worried. I also ain’t gonna give you his fuckin’ life story. You gotta problem with that?"

Stitch backed up.

"Chill, man. Its whatever. Fuck do I care?"

Fairfax turned around and began walking again.

"Besides, I got plenty of stories about you wouldn’t want getting out. You don’t hear him asking how you got your fuckin’ name."

Stitch and the man followed a short distance behind Fairfax.

"Why do they call you Stitch?" asked the man after a few moments of silence.

Stitch stared at the ground as he walked.

"’Cause I’m fuckin’ hilarious."

They had been walking in silence for ten minutes when Fairfax stopped. The man and Stitch caught up to him, and all three had their destination in sight. In the pale moonlight, they could see a dilapidated farmhouse up ahead, next to it a barn. A large Silverado was parked behind the barn, hidden from the dirt road on the far side.

"There." Said Fairfax, "Looks like they’re early. Come on."

The three made their way to the barn, sidestepping fossilized farm equipment. They made it to the large sliding door, which was open a crack, and stepped inside.

Three men stood behind an old round table in the center of the barn. On this table stood two Coleman lanterns, which cast the room and the occupants of it in a ghostly, pale light. The light did not reach far. The three men stood in what looked like a small oblong window in a vast, pitch black abyss. Two of the men wore expensive-looking suits and large white cowboy hats. The third man stood in a crisp black dress shirt tucked into designer jeans, a large shiny belt buckle at the front, and cowboy boots. He was wearing gold-framed aviator sunglasses.

All three stood motionless. As if they knew the exact moment, down to the second, when the other party would arrive. Stitch greeted them in Spanish but received no reply.

The man approached and put the bag on the ground. He dragged the heavy M2 out of it and set it on the table. Stitch set one of his barrels on the table next to it and stood at the front with the other. The man pulled the handle back slightly while Stitch screwed his barrel on.

"Your ex-military guys will know this already, but they’ll need to do the headspace and timing before use. They’ll come with a gauge for that." Said the man.

Stitch translated. The buyers watched silently. The man continued.

"Two barrels for each. They get hot quick, and you’ll need to change them out with extended use, or else you’ll fuck ’em up. We have tripods for fixed positions. If you’re rolling with civilian vehicles, you’ll have to figure out on your own how to mount them."

They listened quietly to Stitch.

"All told $20,000 each. They said you have surplus ammo, but if you want quality, we can get you two hundred round cans, $700 each."

They remained motionless as if the man had been giving a sales pitch to statues. Fairfax stood at the back, arms folded. After a few moments, Stitch presumably asked if they had a deal, judging from the inflection in his voice.

After a long period of total silence, one of the men in the suits turned to Stitch and spoke. When finished, he stared back at the man.

The man looked at Stitch.

"He says that they’re worth fourteen."

The man looked back at the buyer, "And we’re selling them to you for twenty."

The buyer spoke, and Stitch translated, "They’re worth fourteen. We’re paying fourteen."

"Maybe if you were the fuckin’ government, buying from the factory, yeah, they’d be fourteen. But you’re not the government. You’re a glorified drug dealer in a barn in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere. We take all the risk of acquiring them. So if you’re buying from us, the price is twenty. This is business, we’re not bartering in whatever shithole shanty town you crawled out of."

Sunglasses was agile and soundless. The man stood a few inches taller than him, but he could tell this was their attack dog. Sunglasses stood right in the man’s face. This room felt like a bomb, ready to go off at any moment. The air felt heavy, full of electricity. The man felt needles running up the back of his neck. The man felt no fear, however. He knew this guy wasn’t to be fucked with, but he’d seen worse. He’d seen things that make death seem mild in comparison.

Fairfax edged closer, ready.

The man stared straight back into Sunglasses’ eyes.


Stitch, wide-eyed, looked back and forth between the two.

"Tell the fuckin’ Mexican Terminator to back off."

Before Stitch could open his mouth, the man in the suit who had done all the talking spoke.


Sunglasses remained still for a few moments, then slowly stepped back to his former position behind the table.

The suit turned to his associate and conversed in a low voice. After a minute, he picked up a small handbag from the floor, set it on the table, and turned back to the man, speaking English.

"Fourteen for this one now. Seven more, twenty each."

The man nodded. Stitch picked up the bag.

They rejoined Fairfax and the trio headed towards the exit. Before leaving, the man turned.

"You can make up the six you owe me when we deliver."

The two buyers and Victor stood motionless behind the table, no response was given.

The man exited the barn.

Fairfax, Stitch, and the man headed back the way they came at a pace very close to a jog. The moon had set and it took awhile to reach their trucks. Once they were in sight, Fairfax spoke.

"You realize you fucked up in there, right?"

An hour later, the man had parked his truck behind the liquor store and walked up the staircase to the door of his apartment. He’d started shaking a few minutes ago and he knew it wasn’t long before things would start to blur again. He spotted a small brown bag at his door and felt a wave of anxious relief. He picked it up, opened his door, and shut it behind him, setting the deadbolt in place. He dry swallowed two of the Seroquel tablets and fished a Modelo out of the small dorm fridge in the corner, downing half of it in a couple of seconds.

He sat down on the bed in this shithole apartment. Only two rooms, the one he was in now and a small bathroom at the back. He removed the 9mm Browning and set it on the nightstand next to his cell phone, which sat on a small docking station. A light was blinking on it. In his head, he was going over everything that had transpired that night. Why had he decided to mouth off to cartel bag men? Was he really that stupid? And what was worse...

The relapse, for lack of a better word, he suffered before Stitch and Fairfax had pulled up. What had it been, seven years? Seven years and that shit don’t leave you?

There had been months at a time when he didn’t have to pump himself full of chemicals to block it out. But lately, it was relentless. He spent every day since this past January in a doped up or drunken stupor. Was he going to have to keep medicating himself for the rest of his life? What the fuck even is that shit? Why did he...

"Enough. Shut up." The man said to himself.

It was all over the news and the internet what had been going on in LA the last few years. The nightmare drug spreading like an epidemic. The psychos in the woods. LA was sounding more and more like a war zone.

"Not my problem," said the man.

A dark street. A reddish glow from the house at the end.

"Fuck off."

The man with no tongue. The Walker Colt. The little balding man with the needle.

"Goddammit ENOUGH"

The cop strung up like a deer, in front of a great fire.

"I said fuck OFF."

And She was there. Showing Him all of creation and what She wanted to do to it...

"Goddamn FUCK!" shouted the man as he dropped the Modelo and reached for the cabinet doors of the nightstand. The Seroquel was either taking too long or he was building up a tolerance to it. He pulled the bottle of Wild Turkey from the cabinet, setting it on the floor and reached back up inside, where two things had been taped. One was the eightball of coke, the other a small balloon filled with tar. He hadn’t ever needed to use that, but the way things were going...

Bag in hand, he took a few gulps of the bourbon, wiping his mouth on his sleeve before removing the mirror from the wall on the opposite side, tossing it face up on the bed. On this, he cut up a rail and snorted it with a short fat straw. He rubbed the residue from his finger on his gums, which began to throb as he felt it all kick in at once. He cut up another rail to use later, took another swallow of the bourbon and sat down on the floor, back against the bed and reached over to the nightstand where he pressed the power button on his phone.

Two missed calls, a voicemail, and four texts. The man ignored this and brought up the music library. Finding the Pixies, he hit play, turned the volume up as loud as it would go, and shut off the light as Black Francis told him how this ain’t no holiday, but it always turns out this way.

Would it always turn out this way?

He sat there on the floor, knees to his chest in the dark, eyes squeezed shut. He didn’t know.

He’d passed out like that.

Hours later, while the man slept, the sun’s pale light had barely begun to bleed into the sky. A light breeze had stirred up. There was no sound as Victor made his way up the stairs, a small tool kit in hand. He reached the door and silently set to work picking the lock. Carefully, he rotated the cylinder and the door unlatched with a faint click. Victor slowly turned the knob, and inch by inch pushed the door open until the deadbolt chain had pulled taut. He leaned his shoulder into the door to keep tension on the chain while he removed a pair of eight-inch bolt cutters from his kit. He held these with one hand and brought the other one to the chain to keep it from rapping against the wall. With slow, steady pressure, the cutter bit into the chain and broke it. The door swung open slightly. The process had taken two minutes. Not one sound made other than the click of the lock and the low dull snap of the chain. The man in the room continued to sleep in his position on the floor next to the nightstand. Victor stepped quietly into the room. He removed his sunglasses and clipped them to the front pocket of his shirt. He turned the knob on the door, gently pushed it shut, and released the knob again.

Victor scanned the dark room. The man on the floor slept on, half snoring. There was a mirror on the bed, a small, messy line of cocaine on the surface next to a short fat straw. He saw the pistol on the nightstand and carefully stepped over to the sleeping man, reaching over him and picking it up. He brought it to the other side of the room, setting it down on a cabinet that held a small, flat television. He returned to where the man was sleeping and watched him for a while.

A few minutes had gone by, and Victor noted the light was growing outside. He didn’t have much time. He knelt to the floor and lifted his pant leg over the top of his boot. He gripped the handle protruding from the top and removed the large knife from its sheath. He pulled the cuff of his pant leg back down, smoothing it out, and quietly rose to his feet again. Victor decided to risk another minute or two watching. He was to paint the room with this man. Pull him apart piece by piece. The bikers needed to learn the value of fear and respect. He would start with this man, their pet.

He approached the man on the floor and stopped before he would’ve accidentally kicked the empty bottle of Modelo laying a few inches from him on the floor. He picked this up and brought it to the cabinet, setting it down next to the gun before returning to his position over his prey. The way was clear. It was time to work. Victor adjusted his grip on the knife and began to bend forward.

There was a rusty sounding snap as the doorknob, which must have been held half-turned as the door was quietly pushed open, was released.

Just as Victor turned all the way around...

"Buenos días, maricón."

Stitch pulled both triggers of the sawn-off shotgun he’d leveled at Victor’s head.

The two loads of double-ought split Victor’s face completely in half, skull fragments and brain matter showered the wall, the ceiling, the bed, and the man on the floor. Victor’s body dropped straight down, what was left of his head mashed at a sickening angle up against the wall.

The man had woke, cursing and flailing at the body next to him. Ears ringing, he swiped at the gore on his face and reached up for the 9mm Browning, which was not there.

He looked up at Stitch, still holding the shotgun tightly in both hands. Outside somewhere, a dog was barking.

Stitch inhaled deeply and blew it out. He lowered the shotgun and held a gloved hand out.

"Up and at ’em, pig. Pack your shit. You’re being evicted."

Five minutes later, the man had everything essential in a large duffel bag, had washed enough of the blood off of him to be passable, tucked the 9mm Browning into his belt, and started down the stairs. He’d forgotten his phone and quickly went back for it before joining Stitch downstairs, who was standing next to an old, dark green Civic.

"I talked to Fairfax. You and me are headed to New Mexico. You’re gonna stay there a day and then you go somewhere else. If you’d like my professional opinion, I suggest someplace far from here. You’re retired now. Hope you got a 401k in that bag."

The man stood silent for a moment. He looked Stitch in the eyes.

"Thank you."

Stitch smiled and clapped the man on the shoulder.

"Vamos. Let’s get to the state line and get breakfast. I’m starving."

They got in and Stitch pulled the Civic out on the main road and headed toward the Interstate. The man didn’t look back at the building he’d been living in all these years. There were no pleasant memories there. The man’s phone started ringing. The name that came up belonged to someone that had been trying to reach him all night.

The man hesitated but answered.


He could hear Hack Glanton exhale.

"Hey, Darren. Got a minute?"

Darren Barlow looked down at his hand, which had begun to shake.

"Yeah, I do."

Next Chapter: Six