Shannon grew up on a Nebraska farm that had more debt than hope and as a little girl she used to walk through the barn singing to the cows “California Here I Come” and she eventually got the nurse’s degree she thought was her ticket out, but she only made it as far as Nevada, where her beat-up Chevy gave up the ghost.
Needed money but she’d seen her daddy borrow money only to give the whole damn farm back to the bank and she saw him cry, so she decided taking money was better than asking for it and a lot less paperwork to boot and revenge on all those guys, some of them bankers, who told her that with her looks she could make all the money she wanted in Nevada. Turns out she could, only not that way, and she never lacked for a volunteer willing to get behind the wheel for a cut, but none of them was Danny.
After that night in Fallon she took off with him and never looked back at the nursing gig that she kept anyway as a beard, or the apartment she hated with the furniture she never liked, she just took off with Danny and they drove all over the West and she loved the road like she loved Danny, they were one and the same, they rode all over the West wherever they wanted to go. They just rode and she never had to worry about walking out of the bank onto an empty street because, “Baby, I’m not just Mr. Right, I’m Mr. Right There.”
But this time—Danny, did you have to?
The bank in Carlsbad was easy, the bank was a breeze. She showed them her .44 and they fell all over themselves loading her up with cash. Sexy woman, sexy gun, she didn’t know which scared them more. Just in, just out, just like she’d done a dozen times before. She walked out and Danny was right there, but then this security guard walked up and Danny did what she told him never to do—he got out of the car.
The driver stays in the car, she told him a thousand times.
The driver stays in the car.
Behind the wheel, not the gun.
The gun is my business and I know my business.
He was protecting me, I guess, she thinks, but he shouldn’t have. The truth is that she would have shot and not gotten shot, but he got out of the car and pulled the gun and then there were two shots and she got behind the wheel and shoved him over and now here they are.
She gets up and goes to the window. Slips the curtain back, looks out and picks the 2008 Camry. The cops won’t break too much sweat tracking a used Camry and no one puts LoJack in one.
Danny made sure she knew how to boost a car.
“In case I’m not around,” he said.
Oh Danny. Oh baby.
There was that picnic on Crystal Lake that time. Danny was so sweet, he bought chicken and champagne and they sat on a blanket in front of the car with the lake in front of them and no one else there and he wiped her mouth with a napkin and said, “I wish you’d sing for me the way you sang for those cows,” because she’d told him that story. She never told anyone else that story and she sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy” and when she was done he got on one knee and took a little box out of his jacket pocket and she asked, “Baby, what did you do?” and he proposed. “Would you make me the happiest man in the world?” and she said, “Yes. Yes, Danny,” and he put that ring on her finger and they made love right there with the mountain reflecting in the lake.
The phone rings.
“Where are you?” he asks.
“Surf Inn. Leucadia.”
She hears it in his voice and knows it’s true.
Just as she should have known his wallet would win.
Mendoza’s gone the other way with it.
Doesn’t see a future with us so he’s cashing out. Squeezing out that last peso, blood from a stone. Going to make his money on the reward side. Bank the reward and deposit some goodwill with the cops at the same time. Never a bad thing, your cop account being in the black.
“What room are you in?” Carlos repeats. A little too urgent, pressing, like he’s afraid she’s getting hinky.
“Okay, hang tight. They’re on the way.”
I’ll bet they are, Shannon thinks.
“No,” she says. “I think the desk clerk made us. Danny can walk. I’m going to get him in the car and go a couple of blocks south. There’s a taco shop on the corner. We’ll be in that lot.”
She clicks off.
Looks at Danny.
They got married in Vegas. A cliché, but Danny made it fun and romantic. Danny made everything fun and romantic. He joked with the minister and the two professional witnesses and when the ceremony was over he said they had to go to the Flamingo for their honeymoon because that’s where the old-school guys went, all those old mobsters with the great suits and the hats, and they could pretend they were Bugsy and Virginia. And that’s what they did, they talked like they did in those old movies and he sat on the bed as she stood in the doorway and showed him lots of leg and he whistled and said, “Some tomato I married,” and that made her laugh. Danny always made her laugh.
Shannon sits down on the bed beside him.
Knows she’s out of time.
They’re out of time.
She asks herself the question and hates the answer. The answer is she’s out of options.
Can’t stay with him, can’t take him…can’t leave him.
And he’ll talk. He won’t want to, he won’t mean to, but he’ll be stoned on the drugs and he’ll talk and that’s the death penalty or life without parole, and she didn’t sign up for that and he’ll understand.
Danny knows who she is.
That time driving through the South Dakota badlands at night they pulled over, cranked the radio up and left the door open and danced in the faint moonlight. Danced in the moonlight, their bodies flowing silver, their sweat shining silver they danced and then they got back in the car and stayed in Wall that night. And in the morning they drove back that same way and saw they’d been on the knife edge of a 600-foot straight drop and didn’t even know it, one wrong step and they’d have fallen to their deaths and Danny said that was them—dancing on the edge of death and that was sure them and that was life too. You’re gonna live life, you have to dance on the edge of death.
“Baby?” she says.
Sweat is popping out of his face.
His blue eyes wide and feverish.
His skin hot as she strokes his cheek.
“Baby, you remember our favorite day?” she asks as she slips the pistol from her waistband.
They were driving out of San Diego all the way to Utah because they needed to put some serious distance between them and that bank downtown. All the way up on the back roads through the spare Mojave white as bone and then they gassed up in Primm and blew right past Vegas, didn’t even stop to try their luck because they figured they’d had enough luck for one day and didn’t want to push it and they drove past Mesquite and then nicked that little corner of Arizona and then into Utah past St. George climbing up from the desert into the cedar country from white to red to green and it was one of those long summer days, so it was still just before dusk when they came up outside Cedar City. They were looking for a hotel, they were tired from the long drive and ready to stop and have some dinner, stop and get a bed and make love and it was still a little sunny, gentle sunshine on the slopes of the hills and then suddenly there were lightning flashes.
Lightning on a sunny day.
Light behind light.
As a little girl she loved the lightning, loved the storms that rolled over the plains like symphonies of drums. She would go out on the porch to watch the silver flashes against the black sky and feel the electricity tingle on her skin like the possibility of freedom and danger and another life. But she never ever saw lightning on a sunny day until that day with Danny. Danny always said that every day has its reward, you just had to be there with eyes open to see it, and this was their reward that day and then it got better because they looked up to see these horses come running over the top of a hill, two horses—one white and one chestnut—came over the hill backlit by sun and lightning and it was so beautiful so beautiful so beautiful that she cried the way she sometimes did when she was with him and he was inside her, two horses one white and one chestnut came over the hill backlit by sun and lightning, and that was their reward for that day. That was their favorite day and always would be.
“Sure I remember, baby,” Danny says, his voice weak but his voice happy. “That was that day with….”
Two horses, one white and one chestnut.
Shannon raises the pistol, tears spilling from her green eyes.
Came over the hill.
He starts to nod out again and she puts the barrel to the back of his head and can’t tell if he feels it or doesn’t.
If he does he doesn’t move or turn around.
Two horses came over the hill and danced on the edge of death.
She pulls the trigger.
A sharp crack and a muzzle flash.
Shannon jams the pistol back into her waistband, grabs the bag of money, shuts off the lights and goes out the door.
She boosts the car the way Danny taught her and pulls out on the PCH, past cop cars wailing, lights flashing, coming the other way, passing her. Ten minutes later she’s on the 5, busting south for the border, down to Mexico to kill Carlos Mendoza.
Because business is business and she can’t afford to let people think they can fuck her.
She’ll find another driver but she’ll never find another Danny, and she knows that and she knows the road will be just a lonely dance in the dark.
Two horses came over the hill and danced on the edge of death, lit by sun and lightning.