Author Denis Johnson died Thursday, May 25, at 67, shocking the literary world. This article, the first in a four-part serial written on deadline, originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of playboy magazine. To honor him and his place in our magazine’s history, we’ll be re-serializing Nobody Move over Memorial Day weekend. Return each day to see another part of Johnson’s noir saga.
Read our obituary of Johnson here.
Mary poured some bourbon over ice and asked Gambol, “Do you want a drink?” He’d already told her twice to shut up, but she couldn’t help herself. ¶ Gambol, sitting on the couch in his boxers and Mary’s blue nylon robe, said nothing. He stared at his wounded right leg, outstretched before him on the ottoman. His brow looked even heavier than usual. He kept his lips clamped together. It didn’t seem possible, but maybe he was thinking.
Mary took her drink to the coffee table and sat beside him on the couch. Together they watched the final minutes of Law & Order. No conversation but the fraught dialogue of cops and crooks, no other sound but the ice in her glass when she sipped from it.
When the show was over, Gambol looked at his wristwatch. Mary knelt on the floor beside the ottoman and parted the hem of his robe and examined the wound. He couldn’t appreciate the work. When it came to suturing, she was better than most doctors she’d assisted. “You’re healing fast, but I’m leaving those stitches in awhile. Seven days minimum for a wound to the proximal lower extremity. Ten days would be better.”
He placed his hand gently on her head. She laid her cheek on his thigh and stared at his crotch. “Did I say you had one leg still working? Make that two out of three.” She reached for the remote and killed the power, and he relaxed on the couch while she knelt between his splayed knees with her head going up and down.
In only a matter of seconds she sat beside him again, wiping her lips with her thumb, and said, “What’s got you so excited?”
Gambol stared straight forward, stroking her hair.
She handed him his aluminum cane. “Let’s see how the bad leg’s doing.”
He gripped the cane’s head with both hands, stood up straight and let the cane fall to the carpet. Taking uneven, quite deliberate steps, he got himself to the bedroom and turned on the light. Mary rose to join him, but he shut the door.
When he opened it again in a few minutes, Mary was still standing beside the television, and Gambol was dressed for the street, all but the footwear. A pair of black socks jutted from his shirt pocket.
He went into the bathroom, and she heard him piss a long time and flush and turn the faucet on and off. She heard him messing in the medicine cabinet, went to see—he was emptying a tin of Band-Aids into his hand and shoving his pants pockets full of them.
She got out of his way and observed him while he behaved like a one-legged contestant in a game of treasure hunt, stumping around the place and collecting unrelated items. Six feet of toilet paper-bunching it into a ball in his large hand as he hobbled into the kitchen—her car keys from the magnetic hook on the door of the fridge, a Magic Marker from a kitchen drawer and, from the drawer next to the sink, his .357 Magnum and its clip-on holster and a box of rounds. Clamping the Magic Marker in his teeth like a cigar, he began loading the weapon.
Mary said, “Ernest, are you going someplace? Or maybe we?”
He took two packs of MagSafe rounds from the drawer and put one in each front pocket of his trousers and closed the drawer. He clipped the holster to his belt and slipped the gun into the holster and snapped the strap across the hammer.
Mary said, “Should I get dressed?”
He made his way back to the couch. She retrieved the cane for him, and he grasped it and sat down with considerable care and put the wounded leg on the ottoman and handed her his socks.
As she got the socks onto his feet, she said, “Let me see you work that foot. Lift your leg up and down. Not the whole leg—bend at the knee. I want to see how the knee works. Now lift your leg and dangle your foot. Is that the best you can do? You’re crazy if you think you can drive. I wouldn’t give you twenty minutes working the pedals.”
Meanwhile he was scribbling on his jogging shoes with the Magic Marker. Blacking out the reflectors on the heels and toes.
“Look,” she said. “I’m here. Use me. I can deal with it when things get real. I like it.”
He put both feet on the floor and began getting his shoes on. The right one obviously pained him.
“Ernest, let me help you with that.” But he placed his whole hand on her head, and she felt his fingers hard against her temples. She said, “Okay, my mistake,” and he released her.
He worked his foot into the shoe. With a woofing grunt, he bent at his waist and yanked tight the Velcro stays.
He went into the bedroom again, this time using the cane to walk, and came out wearing one of her sweaters, a large gray one she’d knitted herself. He pulled at its hem and covered most of the holster. Then he reached into his pocket and found a penlight no bigger than a finger and adjusted it and shone it toward her face.
She squinted at the tiny glare and said, “Works fine.”
He went to the kitchen door—the door to the utility room and the garage—and she said, “The opener’s clipped to the visor.”
He closed the kitchen door behind him. She heard the door of her car slam outside and listened carefully and heard the car’s door open a second time and close more softly. Then maybe once more it opened and closed, this last time so quietly she couldn’t be certain.
The car’s engine started, and she listened to the sound of the garage door opening and closing and then the sound of the engine growing small out in the neighborhood, until she couldn’t hear it at all. She lit a cigarette and turned on the television.
In the jagged silhouettes of the treetops to his left, a small glow began and followed him as he drove. In three or four minutes the moon had risen into view. A crescent moon. Muslim moon. It gave very little light.
Gambol watched the odometer. A half dozen miles along the Feather River Road, he pulled Mary’s Lumina left onto the shoulder facing oncoming traffic—there wasn’t any — and stopped. He pressed the window button with the meat of his hand and smelled the sharp odor of pine as the window came down. He shut off the car’s engine. He heard nothing but the breeze in the evergreens.
For a midsize car, the Lumina had unusually generous legroom. Nevertheless his right leg began to throb, the discomfort pulsing in hot waves from groin to ankle. In order to keep his head clear, he’d taken no painkillers since noon.
With some difficulty he bent to remove the gun from under his seat and opened and spun and closed the cylinder. From his back pocket he extracted a ball of Mary’s toilet paper and made two small wads, soaked each in his mouth and put one in each ear. He extended the weapon toward the open window and fired twice, paused, cranked off three more test rounds, paused a few seconds and fired again.
He pried the spitwads from his ears and tossed them out the window, laid the gun on the passenger seat and drove for five minutes before stopping to eject and pocket the casings and reload, this time with the MagSafe rounds. He opened his door a few inches, and by the dome light’s illumination he searched for the switch that disabled it. He opened and closed the door several times in darkness.
In 35 minutes he’d traveled 21 miles farther on the winding road, and on the left, as he’d expected, he passed the restaurant. He saw lights on downstairs and one pickup truck parked on the building’s near side, as he’d been promised.
A half mile beyond the site he turned the car around and cruised past it once again. On this side of the building, the ground dropped into darkness and continued toward the river.
Farther along he shut off the headlights and turned the car around again. A hundred yards short of the restaurant he stopped and lowered all four windows. He heard nothing but a steady noise he took to be that of the river.
Easing the car slowly along the left shoulder, he brought the restaurant into view and coasted to a halt, avoiding the brake lest his stoplights flare. He turned off the engine.
The darkness allowed only the most general impression of the environment— sloping, heavily treed on both sides of the building, with open ground to the rear and then the river. The building was old enough that it seemed to have settled slightly out of plumb.
He checked his watch. Twelve-fifteen am No estimation was possible of the time this would take.
From the building’s shape it was clear that the upstairs was smaller than the first story. He hadn’t been told how long a climb to expect. He’d been told only that the upstairs consisted of a single small apartment occupied by Jimmy Luntz.
From his pockets he dug a handful of Mary’s Band-Aids. He stretched his right leg across the bench seat, sat back against the door and applied 10 of them to his fingertips one by one.
Jimmy Luntz stood on the landing just outside the wide-open door, finishing a cigarette under the crescent moon and listening to the washing sound of the river, not unlike the freeways he was used to. The television, tuned to MTV, lit the air of the room behind him and seemed to tug at it so that the room lurched back and forth.
Now from the restaurant downstairs came a relentless basso thumping. What song? He couldn’t tell. Just a jungle rhythm.
Luntz went down the stairs and around to the front and found Sally Fuck silhouetted in the restaurant’s doorway, swaying like a stalk, directing music with one hand and holding a large glass in the other and singing, “Red, red wine,” over and over. He pointed at Luntz. “Come on. Harmonize.”
“Sell me some smokes, Sally.”
“Sally who? No such Sally here.”
“Sol. Sol. Sell me some smokes, Sol.”
John Capra came out and stood behind Sally, scratching his beard and his belly simultaneously, and said, “Fuck.”
“I smell food,” Luntz said.
“All-American cuisine. Ratburgers.”
They went inside, and Luntz and Sally sat at the counter. All the lights were off except the light over the griddle and the light of the jukebox in a far corner. Luntz said, “I didn’t know that old Wurlitzer worked.”
“Some nights it never stops.” Capra threw two hot dogs on the grill beside half a dozen others already frying. “You want three?”
“Just a couple.“
Sally sat on the stool beside Luntz’s with his back against the counter and his legs out straight and sang through an entire Rolling Stones number. The song ended and the jukebox stood silent. On top of the jukebox lay a blackened engine part.
Sally poured his empty water glass full of red wine from a green half-gallon jug and said, "Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Where’s your girlfriend?”
“She went to court.”
Luntz was silent.
“She looked like a natural at the wheel of that Cadillac. Anita, Anita. Nuthin’ sweetah. You figure she’s coming back?”
“I try not to figure.”
“I figure you just lost a Cadillac, Jimmy.”
Capra set down on the counter a basket of fries still dripping a little grease and said, “Anita Desilvera is one good-looking woman.”
Sally said, “Wouldn’t you just love to suck on her stank—you whore?”
“Did you hear a car earlier?” Luntz said.
Sally said, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, she’s not coming back.” and dropped a french fry into his mouth like a worm. “A glass of wine for the cocksman.”
Luntz said, “You got club soda?”
Capra went to the cooler and brought him a can, popping the top as he set it down on the counter. “You still got that funny stomach?”
“A shot of wine wouldn’t hurt it. Sails said and raised his glass.
Luntz said, "I don’t like the way you’re staring at me.”
Sally said, “It’s just because the light comes from behind you, man.”
Capra slammed three plates down on the counter, bang, bang, bang, and said, “You are really drunk.”
Sally said, “Drunk is good tonight, my melodious little cum-swallower,” and shoved a frankfurter into his mouth.
Luntz said, “What else do you do around here for fun?”
“When the others get back from Bolinas,” Capra said, “we’ll see a little more action.”
“When is that?”
“They’ll start turning up tomorrow. We got half a dozen, sometimes a dozen people living here.”
Sally said, “Bikers.”
“Bikers are my people, Sol.”
“They’re just like everybody else around here. Around here,” he told Jimmy, “it’s the great outdoors. They all subscribe to Dog and Woman Magazine.” Again Sally was squinting at Luntz. “You look like a man without much to live for.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“Leave him alone, Sol.” Capra stopped scraping the grill and ate three hot dogs in 90 seconds and went back to scraping. “You still play the sax?”
“Jimmy loves sax.”
Capra ceased his movements at the grill. He didn’t turn around. “Shut up, Sally.”
“My name is Solomon Fuchs, honey, and you can call me Sol.”
“People tell me I look like Art Pepper,” Luntz said, “but I don’t blow as good as he does.”
“Nobody blows like Art.”
“I never said anybody did.”
“Well, I played some.”
Sally’s interest seemed authentic. “What about Art?”
“Actually, I keep forgetting. Art’s dead.”
“But his music lives on. I don’t care if that’s a sweet thing to say. It’s a true sweet thing.”
“Sure,” Sally said. “And when was the last time you played professionally?”
“Me? I don’t know. I don’t even have a sax. I’m kind of in hock.”
“When was the last time?”
“An actual gig? For money? Well, an actual gig…. What is this, anyway,” Luntz said, “Gamblers Anonymous?”
Sally ate half his second hot dog and shoved the rest of his meal aside and said, “So name me two things you’ve got to live for.”
Capra said, “Sol. Don’t continue this shit.”
“Don’t be a hairy-headed biker with greasy knuckles.”
Capra leaned over the counter and took Sally by the chin and got close to his face and said, “Quit ragging on him like a bitch.”
Sally stared at Capra with a kind of fearful hatred. “I get on the back of a motorcycle, all I think about is getting off.”
Capra splayed his fingers and released Sally’s chin. “He gets bitchy. He made his bed and now he doesn’t like it.”
Sally said, “We’re all in the same bed.”
“Only two of us,” Capra said.
“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. I understand you shot Gambol.“
Capra put his hands on the counter and stared down at them. Sally laughed. Phony laughter. Capra said, “Jesus, Jimmy.”
“These fries are good,” Luntz said.
Capra gathered up the plates and went to wiping down the counter with a rag. After a while he said, “When you turned up from outer space, I figured, you know—bad debts.”
“I do have bad debts.”
“So the Caddy you loaned your girlfriend. And the shotgun. Jesus. So Juarez is after you.”
“I just wanted to see if I could do it.”
“You offed Gambol and stole his shit?”
“He’s all right. I hear he’s recuperating.”
“He’s not dead? Fuck me. That means Juarez plus Gambol.”
“What shotgun?” Sally said.
“Shut up for two fucking seconds,” Capra said, “just for two seconds, all right? I’ve got some serious shit to say.” Luntz and Sally were quiet, and he said, “I need you out of here tomorrow, Jimmy.”
“That’s quick notice.”
“It is what it is.”
“Give him another day,” Sally said. “Give him till Sunday.”
“I’d appreciate it,” Luntz said.
“Noon Sunday. Not one fucking minute later. I’m serious. You didn’t lay it out, man. I didn’t realize your shit stank this bad.”
“I guess we all stink pretty bad, huh?”
“Whatever that means,” Capra said.
“Well, the only thing I knew about you was—Feather River. 1 just knew you were hid. I didn’t know you were mixed up in Sally’s thing.”
Sally said, “Do you ever speak in anything but double meanings?”
“Okay, Sally,” Luntz said. “Confession time. How much did you get away with down there? Weren’t you an accountant for the syndicate or something?”
“I was a public-information man for the Cooperative Agriculture Board, and I was a bagman for them on one single occasion. Of which I took instant crazy advantage.”
“How much in the bag?”
“Three hundred and eighty-six thousand. The whole idea"—pointing at Capra—"was his idea. And now it’s happily ever after. A biker bar in the Himalayas.”
“One place is as good as another,” Capra said. And to Luntz he said: “Sunday.”
“Three eighty-six? Wow. Got any left?”
“Oodles,” Sally said. “Let me put you in a Jaguar.”
“Noon,” Capra said.
“Sell me some vodka to go. And some smokes.”
“Noon Sunday.” Capra turned off the blower above the griddle and headed past the coolers toward the back room, saying nothing more, and Luntz was left alone with Sally Fuck, who stirred the wine in his glass with one of his long fingernails and said, “Juarez finds whoever he looks for. And Gambol eats their balls.”
“Man,” Luntz said, “I really don’t like the way you talk.”
“Anyway, according to the autopsy, Cal from Anaheim had no balls on his corpse.”
“That’s a legend.”
“Soon to be the legend of Jimmy Luntz.” Sally wasn’t drinking his wine at all. Just stirring it and tasting the drops on his fingernail. “She was a beautiful Indian maiden. It’s like a song.”
“Kiss my ass, Sally. I need a pack of Camels.”
“I’m terribly sorry. We’re closed.” But Sally got up to fill the order.
“And a half-pint of Popov.”
“Yeah. And what if she did come back? What are you going to do with that one?”
“Get her drunk.”
Inside the restaurant, the last small light went off. The moon had risen high and was no longer visible to Gambol through the car’s front window. Nearly two a.m. Nearly 14 hours without oxycodone. As pain burned off the fog in his thoughts, a detail he’d overlooked came into view.
He possessed no kind of tool for dealing with the restaurant’s door. No idea how he’d get past the threshold.
He rifled the glove box. An armrest folded down in the middle of the seat, and he looked in its hutch. He found nothing to help him.
He holstered his gun and gathered up his cane and the car keys and opened the door and stood outside the car, shutting the door not quite completely, and made his way around to the rear of the vehicle. The trunk’s lid unlocked with a click and a sigh. He raised it six inches, and a bulb came on within. He bent to glance inside—a spare, a jack and two prongs of a four-pronged lug wrench—and with the weight of two fingertips he shut it. A wrench with lug ends wouldn’t help. He needed a pry.
Standing by the car in the frail moonlight, he closed his eyes and took several even breaths, beginning each from the diaphragm, filling and emptying his lungs.
He headed for the building.
Halfway to the entrance he took a short detour to examine the pickup truck parked beside the building. The cargo bed was bare, recently swept. He continued toward the driver’s side of the cab and saw, on the dash, all by itself, a large screwdriver with a foot-long shaft. He leaned his cane against the front wheel well and cupped a hand against the driver’s window glass to shine his penlight within. It was an old Ford with novelty death’s-heads for locks, pinpoint eyes of red glass. The doors weren’t locked.
He opened the door an inch, another—the dome light didn’t function. The door’s bushings were shot. It gave out a sharp croak as he opened it. He paused to stand up straight and listen. Only the river. The restaurant stayed dark. Without further disturbance to the door’s position, he reached inside for the implement.
With this gift scabbarded in his bell he moved toward the restaurant’s entrance, where he propped his cane beside the door, unsnapped his holster and tried the doorknob. Locked.
He cupped his hand and shielded the light and ran it around the door’s base and top and edges. Dead wasps and dead flies littered the threshold. The hinges lay inside, inaccessible. The lock was not a dead bolt. He pried between the lock and the jamb until the door gave sideways and the bolt came free of its housing. Pushing gently with the flat of his palm, he opened the door wide. The hinges made no sound. He retrieved his cane and gripped it hard as he stooped to lay the screwdriver on the porch.
He entered the restaurant. His penlight’s beam threw up tables and chairs, and he threaded his way among them, heading generally to his right and toward the rear, where the stairs must be. As he reached the windows in the far wall he switched off his penlight and was able to see well enough to continue alongside them, skirting a round-shouldered jukebox with an old camshaft balanced on top of it. In the far corner he found two doors side by side. He tried his penlight briefly—a figure with a barbell on one door and on the other a figure with monstrous tits.
He ran the light around the molding at the base of the wall around the entire room, as far as its beam would reach—no other door.
As he headed for the counter and the kitchen area, he heard a voice from exactly there, muffled by a wall, and another voice, also muffled. He unholstered the gun, set his cane on a chair and walked as quickly as he could toward the sound. The lights behind the counter came on. A man in jeans stood some 15 feet away with his right hand raised to the wall switch. Gambol fired two rounds, and before he could get off a third the man collapsed like a sack out of sight behind the counter.
Gambol continued to the counter and leaned over it as far as he could. The man lay motionless in the narrow space between the counter and the stove, shirtless and barefoot, facedown. Gambol took aim, holding the weapon with both hands, took note of his breathing and in the space between his out-breath and in-breath squeezed the trigger carefully. The head broke open. He turned away.
Someone was shouting, but his ears rang. He couldn’t hear the words. He turned again with his weapon and saw no one and turned away and found his cane and walked to the door and out into the night.
He had 30 yards of open space to make across the parking lot and then an equal distance along the roadside to the car, but when he reached the roadside he’d be hidden by trees. In his left hand he held the gun. With his right he gripped the cane’s handle. He stiffened his right arm and right leg and marched as swiftly as he could. As he passed the pickup truck, sounds followed him, his hearing still blurred by the shock of gunfire. Footsteps, possibly, down the far side of the building and footsteps on gravel and then a sharp, clear sound—klick-ACK!—that meant he hadn’t moved fast enough.
Luntz assumed Anita was back. He heard a loud backfire. The Caddy shouldn’t be doing that. And another—identical.
One is a backfire. Two is a gun.
He fell to the floor and reached under the bed for the duffel bag that held the shotgun. Rather than pulling it to him, he found himself floundering toward it under the bed. Lying on his side, he clutched the duffel to his chest and ran his hand along its length and touched the zipper. He felt capable of nothing else.
Another shot downstairs.
He put his knee to his chest and a foot against the wall and shoved himself and the duffel out from under the low bed, and his bones turned to rubber bands as he tried to stand. He rose only as far as his knees and was barely able to hoist the bag onto the bed. He jerked the zipper one way and another until it gave in the right direction. He stood up in a room lilted sideways, gripping the barrel and dangling the shotgun, aware mainly of an unbelievable trembling weakness in his legs.
He opened the door and stood outside at the top of the stairs, turning the shotgun in his hands until he had hold of its pistol grip. He pushed the safety button and cocked it once—klick-ACK!—and took a step, and his feet slipped out from under him, and he viewed, overhead, a crescent moon and several stars in a black sky. He was bumping down the stairs on his spine but feeling no physical sensation at all. His feet found a purchase, and he stood and wobbled down the remaining steps and onto the earth and clambered toward the building’s corner, going down several times onto one or the other knee. As he rounded the building, he pulled the trigger. His ears and his hands seemed to explode with the force, but he had hold of the weapon still, and he cocked it again. He saw who he was shooting at—someone moving past the pickup at the building’s other end.
Luntz chased his target as far as the road’s shoulder. Now the man was hopping toward a car. Luntz raised the gun level with his shoulders and pointed and fired again—numb up his right arm and deaf in his right ear. The man jumped and turned and fell, then he pushed himself up on one hand, then onto his knees, both arms extended together. Luntz turned and flung himself to the ground, hearing gunshots, and his senses ceased functioning. When the darkness and silence ended he was over the side of the hill and standing behind the building and hearing the river, and now his senses were sharp, precise. He heard a car’s door slam. Heard the car’s ignition. Next he was standing in front of the restaurant again, cocking the gun’s action and pulling the trigger, but the gun was empty. He saw the car’s taillights blink out down the road among the trees.
He was shaking, every muscle quivering. The breath shoved itself in and out of his lungs. He turned the weapon this way and that. When he touched its barrel, someone said “Jesus!” and he wondered who was talking, and they said “Fuck!” and he realized it was himself.
In the restaurant behind him, the lights came on. He saw small cylinders in the gravel at his feet. He had no shoes on. Only socks. To his knowledge, he hadn’t hit a thing.
He heard a siren—growing nearer, louder—but it was die wail of a human voice.
The restaurant’s door stood open. He went through it shouting, “Hey, hey, hey"—he didn’t know why.
Sally Fuck rose up from behind the counter, wailing like a siren and wringing blood from his hands.
Sally came around the counter and sat on a stool and held his head in his gory hands, his whole frame trembling.
Luntz said, "Is he dead?”
Sally raised his face. It looked like a gargoyle’s, sick and shining. He laughed, and then he sobbed so hard the spit flew from his throat.
Luntz said, “What now?”
“Sally—Sol. Sol. What now, man?”
“I don’t know.”
Luntz laid the shotgun on the counter and leaned over it to look at John Capra. Sally had tried to turn him over, evidently, and smeared Capra’s blood in a swath across the floor. The face was turned toward the stove. The back of the head had been scooped away and flung against the oven door. Luntz watched for movement. If somebody stared hard enough. Capra would move.
“We have to take care of this,” Sally said.
“Fine. I mean—fine,” Luntz said. “God. Oh man.” A lot of ideas hammered at his head, most of them having to do with Capra coming suddenly alive.
Sally swung around on his stool and got his feet under him. He started for the back. “We need a pick and a shovel.”
“Gloves,” Luntz called after him. “Do you have any gloves?” He stood staring at his hands. The thumb on the right one was mottled red and blue and swollen at the joint—sprained by the shotgun’s recoil, maybe broken. He searched his nerves for some sensation of pain, felt none. He needed to go upstairs and get his shoes on, but he couldn’t form a plan for doing it.
Mary had left a couple windows open and smoked whenever the impulse came. She held the ashtray in her lap and watched a desperate woman selling 14-karat jewelry on TV without a script to help her. By one am Mary no longer heard even an occasional vehicle in the neighborhood.
Around three, a lone car cruised by. She turned the set off. The garage door rumbled. She heard a door open and close inside the garage, and then the car’s trunk lid. She stubbed out her cigarette.
Gambol labored through the door into the kitchen and replaced the revolver in the counter drawer, took a jug of milk from the refrigerator and drank several deep swallows from it before shutting it away again.
Leaning heavily on his cane with every step, he came and sat beside her on the couch and lifted his bad leg with both hands and dumped it across the ottoman. In the middle of sitting back, he paused. “What I don’t understand about the whole thing,” he said, “is when the Twin Towers went down, why didn’t we just nuke the fuck out of those bastards and turn that whole Muslim desert to glass?” He sat all the way back and took one long breath and released it slowly.
“Hooray,” Mary said, “he talks.”
“A thousand atom bombs don’t matter,” he said, “if you don’t have the sense to push the button.”
She helped him draw the sweater over his head, and then she helped him with his shoes and his pants and boxers, saying only “Here” and “Lift a little” and “How’s that?” The sweater’s left elbow was ripped and dirty, also the left pant leg from hip to cuff. The wound on his right leg looked fine. He hadn’t torn the sutures.
He said, “The mirror on your car is broken.”
“Did it come loose?”
“The side-view mirror. The glass is broken.”
“Somebody hit it?”
“Fuck if I know.”
“Do I want to ask what you’ve been doing?”
"That’s always a mistake.”
She opened a fresh box of swabs and cleaned the light abrasions on his left hip and elbow with rubbing alcohol and disinfected the area around the right leg’s mended bullet wound and finished by wiping at the grime on his fingers.
“Mind your own business,” he said. “That’s never a mistake.”
“I kind of feel like you are my business.”
“Maybe in other ways.”
“The various ways. You know.”
She gathered up the dirty swabs in both hands and took them over to the kitchen sink. “Do you want some more milk or anything?”
“Sure. Thank you.”
She tossed the swabs in the bag reserved for medical trash and brought him milk in a clean glass. He took it from her hands and closed his eyes and sipped. “Well,” she told him, “if you can run around and fall on your face, maybe you’re well enough we could sleep in the same bed.”
She watched him closely, and when his eyelids came up he was already staring at her face. “I don’t know if I’m ready to… whatever.”
“Let’s go to bed,” she said, “and maybe I could earn another five K.”
“It’s gonna cost me five for every single blow job?”
“Really I’d just like to sleep with you.”
“Yeah,” he said, and his eyelids came down. “Fuck yeah. I’m tired.”
Luntz didn’t know why he was the one driving the pickup. He sat in the driver’s seat, covered with Capra’s blood and holding the shotgun in his lap and saying, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” Sally sat in the passenger’s seat, hugging himself, leaning forward, sitting back, leaning forward, saying, “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
“Sally. I think I left the door open. The restaurant. The front door, man.”
“Fuck the door. Fuck the door. Fuck the door.”
Sally didn’t say where to go, and Luntz didn’t ask. He drove toward higher ground, away from any part of the world he’d already seen. Sally rolled down his window. He rolled it up again. He said, “Turn on your headlights.”
“What? Jesus, I can see in the dark.” Luntz’s left hand scrabbled over the dashboard. “Adrenaline.” He found the knob and pulled it. The road came up in front of him like an amber wall. “What the fuck is Gambol doing in my world?”
Sally said, “Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay.” He had his cheek against the rear window and the fingers of one hand splayed on the glass.
“Will you stop crying, goddamn it?”
“We’re all crying. You are too.”
“The fuck I am.” Luntz drew a long stuttering breath that filled his chest. He clenched his stomach and tightened his grip on the wheel and drove straight ahead. He tasted snot on his mouth.
“There’s a car following us,” Sally said. “Back there. With one high beam busted.”
“Maybe it’s a bike,” Luntz said, and Sally said nothing. Luntz floored it, got around a bend and U-turned so quickly he could hear the tools and probably Capra’s body sliding across the cargo bed. Facing back the way they’d come, he floored it again, but he hadn’t downshifted, and he killed the engine.
The vehicle came at them, went past, kept going.
They sat in the silent truck in the middle of the lane, both breathing hard. Sally wept. Luntz lit a Camel. “I knew it would be like this,” he said. “I knew I could never handle this shit.” He turned the key and rammed the gearshift and pumped the clutch and ground it into gear and wrestled with the wheel until they were heading uphill again.
Sally hocked repeatedly and spat several times onto the floor. He sat up with his hands on his knees. His breathing came under control. Sally said, “So this was Gambol.”
The grade steepened. Luntz yanked at the gearshift and found second.
“Yeah, it was Gambol.”
“You cunt. You fucking cunt.”
“Who are you talking to? Gambol isn’t here, Sally. The fucker can’t hear you.”
“I’m talking to you, you cunt, you fucking cunt. He wanted you.”
“Who? Gambol? He didn’t know I was here. How would he know? He was after you, Sally.”
“You fucking cunt. Maybe that Indian bitch told him. She told him. She snitched.”
“Anita doesn’t know a soul in Alhambra. Not one swinging dick.”
“It was that cunt of yours.”
“Anita never heard of Alhambra. She thought Alhambra was the name of a prison.” Luntz pounded open the wing window and slipped his cigarette out into the wind, and it flew away in a shower of sparks. He didn’t ask where to go. He just kept going.
The crescent moon lay directly overhead, and on such a night the river’s swollen surface resembled the unquiet belly of a living thing you could step onto and walk across.
Anita stood in the darkness by the water, her head high and her shoulders back, and stared at the shape standing across the river from her.
Anita went onto her knees and spooned to her face four swallows of water with her left hand, and the shape across the water did the same. Now they knelt across from one another, the river between.
For half an hour she didn’t move. Her knees, her calves, her hips, all burning. She did not take her eyes from the one across the river.
The last two nights had been chilly. This night too. The backs of her hands, her cheeks, her lips had been chapped by the wind.
When she got to her feet, the knees of her pants were frayed and bits of gravel clung to the fabric, but she didn’t brush them clean or in any other way distract her focus from the figure kneeling on the opposite bank.
The dark shape across the water grew elongated, also standing.
They faced one another with the Feather River in between. In two or three more hours they would kneel again and drink.
Luntz pulled the flashlight from Sally’s hands and gave it a shake and fiddled with the switch.
Sally grabbed at it. Luntz let it go. Sally banged its head on the dashboard.
Sally dropped it onto the floor and stomped it twice, saying. “It’s dark—it’s dark!”
“We’ll use the parking lights.” Luntz pulled the knob, and tree trunks materialized in front of them in an orange glow.
They went to the back of the truck. Sally let down the tailgate and took the pickax and the shovel by their ends and dragged them out, letting the shovel fall. Luntz snatched the cuffs of Capra’s jeans with both hands and pulled. “Help me get him out. Ah, God. His pants are coming down.”
Sally said, “Jesus’ bloody nail wounds, man. Leave him alone.” A few yards in front of the truck, Sally rolled aside a chunk of log and kicked away dead branches to make a bare enough spot and hacked at the earth with the pickax, hunched over, walking backward, saying, “Jesus’ bloody fucking punctures, man.”
“We need four feet. Four and a half. If we do this right, we can get it done in two hours. I’ll break it up, and you dig it out, then I break up another layer. You work one end. I’ll do the other, then we switch. I dug miles of ditches at Chancellor Farm.”
“Near La Honda. Hah! In the hills. Hah! Reformatory. Hah!” He stopped talking and only slung the point of the pickax at the ground in front of him, saying “Hah!” with every blow.
They worked without need of a pause. Luntz felt able to dig until his hands wore away or he struck the earth’s molten core. Each time the shovel hit a stone he went to his knees in the hole and clawed it out and tossed it, no matter how big it was, yards into the brush.
“Who’s that? Who is it?”
“Dig. Dig. Dig.”
Sally hacked at dirt with the pickax as if he were going at some monster’s face. “This is insane. This is insane. This is insane.” Luntz joined in, and they chanted together, “This is insane, this is insane, this is insane.”
When they couldn’t work anymore from outside the hole, they took it in shifts, one resting by the edge while the other stood at the bottom and gouged. A change came to the darkness, not exactly daylight. Luntz craved water, but they’d brought none. During his rests his hand throbbed and burned. While he dug he felt nothing.
Sally stopped and said, “Enough, enough, that’s enough.” He stood in a hole up to his armpits.
Luntz helped him out, and they climbed into the bed of the pickup and scooted Capra’s corpse as far as the tailgate and jumped off again. Capra lay on the tailgate with his arms above his head and one leg dangling. He still had a face, but it didn’t look like Capra, and the back oi his head was gone. “You take that end,” Luntz said, coming around Sally to wrap his arms around the ankles, and Sally locked his elbows in Capra’s armpits and took Capra’s halved head against his chest, and they hauled the corpse around to the front of the truck and without discussion rolled Capra into his grave and buried him.
Sally collapsed beside the mound and lay on his hip, breathing hard and running his fingers over the churned earth. “When was the last time you talked to him?” he asked Luntz. “What day?”
“What was the last thing he said to you?”
“I don’t know. You were there. He asked me how many hot dogs I wanted.”
“No, no. man—something that meant something.”
Luntz tried to remember. He stood up and rubbed at the muscles of his back, below the ribs. “He told me I’ve gotten quiet, and he said he liked it.”
“Yeah.” Sally laid his hand on the grave and got to one knee.
“Sally, hand me that shovel.”
“It’s called a spade.”
Sally extended the spade’s handle, and Luntz took it in both hands and said. “I can subtract, Sally,” and hit him with the flat of it as hard as he could.
Sally clutched the side of his head with both hands and fell backward with his calves under him.
Luntz said, “Who told Gambol where I was?”
Sally scurried on his back like a spider, hopping, scrabbling, the blows missing, Luntz swinging anyway—"Who told Gambol—who told Gambol—who told Gambol?“—until Luntz’s strength died and he stopped swinging. To keep upright he leaned on the shovel. "It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t him, and it wasn’t her. So it was you.”
Sally got to his hands and knees and tried to rise and gave up and said, “This is Friday, Friday, Friday.”
“It was set up for tomorrow night.”
“They don’t come on the night they say”
“Why the fuck not?”
“Because there’s always a snitch. Like you.”
Sally crawled as far as the grave and put his hands on the pickax as if he were talking to it. “I just wanted to get us out of here. It doesn’t have to be Alhambra.”
“So you snitched to Juarez. You made a deal, is that it? And look at the shit we’re in.”
“L.A.—fuck. I don’t care—east L.A. Fine, I’ll live in a trailer that smells like socks. Just put it in a city.”
“Well,” Luntz said, “you sure got Jay out.”
Sally stood upright on the grave and whirled like an eerie batter at home plate, and Luntz watched the pickax drifting toward him until the smooth top of the crescent struck him in the belly. He doubled, sat on his ass and said, “What?” as the back of his head hit the ground. Sally leapt onto him and straddled Luntz’s midriff and got his fingers tight around Luntz’s throat and locked his arms straight, and Luntz felt him bearing down. Luntz’s vision turned a brilliant brown, then a mellow purple, then a beautiful color he’d never seen before, in which he had everything he needed and all the time in the world to decide what came next. He gripped the wrists of the hands choking him and removed the hands as easily as if he were taking off a sports jacket and held them out at arm’s length while Sally breathed and Sally’s spit dripped down into his face. Luntz’s body look in great breaths of air, but Luntz himself was somewhere else without any need of air. Sally struggled backward, trying to get loose of Luntz’s grip. Luntz released him.
He heard the truck’s door open and close. Luntz got up slowly but without any effort. Sally came toward him with the shotgun. Luntz watched him with only peace in his heart.
“It isn’t loaded.”
“Wanna bet?” Sally’s head and shoulders whipped like a dancer's—klick-ACK!—and he directed the gun at Luntz.
“Fucking Luntz. You’ll bet on anything.”
As Luntz walked toward Sally, he heard the tiny click of hammer on pin in the empty gun.
Sally handed the weapon over and Luntz tossed it into the truck through the window and got in and turned the engine over and cut on the headlights.
“I can’t walk from here!”
“It’s downhill all the way.”
Sally made no move to get in the car. He stood in the headlights with his hand raised before his eyes. Luntz backed the truck up slowly to a spot where he could turn it around and left him.
Luntz thought they’d taken the only road in, but now he came to a fork and without slowing down took the way that looked less rutted and soon another fork, and now he had no idea where he was. Somewhere between himself and the river he’d find the main road, that’s all he knew. As long as he didn’t get turned around entirely, he was all right. He looked at his watch—it was scabbed with soil and clotted blood. He spat and polished it against his pant leg. The dial said four am, but its face was smashed. The morning was bright and he’d seen miles of dirt byways before he found the paved one and turned downhill toward the restaurant.
Mary’s cell phone started beeping, and Gambol opened his eyes and said, “Fuck him,” and when it stopped beeping he and Mary went back to sleep, and when it beeped again he reached over for it and found the button and said, “Fuck you.” Juarez said, “You didn’t call.” “How did you like the moon?” “What moon?”
“Did you see the moon last night?”
“I’m in Alhambra. There’s no moon. Did you accomplish a certain errand?”
“Accomplish? On what information? Fucked-up information.”
“You’re saying no. Things aren’t complete.”
“No. Just maybe the other guy.”
“The person with the lady’s name.”
“Right. I never found any stairs. Where were the stairs?”
“Okay. New plan. Don’t look back.”
“No. Where were the fucking stairs?”
“It’s in the past. We move on. We take care of this another way.”
Gambol said, “I never found any stairs,” and tossed the phone against the wall across the bedroom. Beside him, Mary stirred but seemed to be asleep. Probably pretending. Gambol closed his eyes.
He dreamed he was skiing down a slope stark naked before a crowd of sideliners, freezing cold but with a large friendly hard-on. When he woke he found he’d thrown the covers off, and he was still cold, and his large friend was still with him.
He pulled off his boxers with one hand and gripped Mary’s shoulder with the other, and as he nuzzled his groin against the backs of her thighs she turned his way with her eyes closed, and she smiled. “The last twenty-four hours have been nothing but fucked,” he told her as she opened her eyes. “The next twenty-four hours start right now.”
Something came at Anita in the darkness, maybe the headlight of a train, but it was only the door to the waking world. As she drifted toward the door, it banged open. Jimmy stood framed in it, pointing a shotgun at her.
Lying on her back on the bed, she pushed herself up onto her elbows. Her thoughts dragged behind, and even as she stared at him she said, “Who’s there?”
He shut the door and locked it. “Where were you?”
She tried to remember.
He threw the shotgun onto the bed and lifted his duffel bag from the floor and slammed it down beside her. “Where were you?”
“Down by the Feather River.”
“The Feather River’s right out the back door.”
“A different part. My part.”
“For two days? Three days?”
He started snatching red cylinders from the duffel and slipping them into the shotgun.
She managed to swing her legs around and get her feet on the floor. “Don’t put any bullets in that gun.”
“These aren’t bullets. They’re shells.”
“Just leave it empty.“
“Because I don’t want to be in a room with you and me and a loaded gun.”
“Your gun’s loaded.” Now he took a rusty church key from the refrigerator door. His actions made no sense to her. He said, “Right? You have your gun?”
He gripped one of the shells, pried an end of it open with the church key and spilled a lot of ball bearings onto the mattress. “There’s ten—eleven—fuck. Where do they go? Where do they go when you shoot the fucking gun?”
He put the shotgun in the duffel and started to zip it and paused, putting his hand to his mouth.
“When did you start sucking your thumb?”
“It hurts.” Jimmy looked all around as if his thoughts were attacking him. “Let’s do this thing. We have to go.”
“I can’t move.”
“I’m tired. And you’re all dirty. You’re filthy. You look like a farmer.”
“So do you. Were you sleeping under a bridge?”
“I didn’t sleep.”
Jimmy stood in the bathroom door and looked at the mirror and said, “Jesus.”
Sitting on the bedside, she let her head hang.
“Open your eyes.” He gripped her by the chin. “Here’s the plan. You shower for two minutes. I’ll find us some clothes downstairs. Then I’ll shower for two minutes.”
“Why are you crying?”
“I’m not crying. Get in the shower.”
“Jesus Christ. Jimmy, there’s snot on your face.”
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.”
She stepped under the shower and would have stayed forever, but the bulb in the ceiling blew, and in the dimness under the falling water she thought she saw fireflies clambering from the drain and coming at her face, and she left the stall quickly. She lay on the mattress without looking for a towel and didn’t realize she was falling asleep until something woke her.
Jimmy stood over her in a pair of jeans too short for his legs and too wide for his waist. “Move, honey” He tossed her a bundle of flannel and denim, and she dressed in jeans and a lumberman’s shirt while he jerked her this way and that, trying to help her and at the same time babbling math:
“We have ten percent of a plan. We go to see the judge. We take his half. That’s half a million plus for each of us. We put it in two accounts and go in two separate directions. You can deal with your husband or not—that’s later. I’m out of that one.”
“These pants won’t stay up.”
“Use my belt. Where’s your purse? Just give it to me.” He yanked the shotgun from the duffel. “Okay. We’re gone.”
“There’s no way to go,” he said, “but the way we’re going. I know how it ends, but there’s no other way.”
“Because Gambol did a bad thing. Let’s go.”
On the stairs down, Jimmy turned to her and said, “What about your shoes?”
“I don’t need shoes.” She got past him on the stairs.
“Don’t you have shoes?”
“I’ve got feet.” She passed the door to the restaurant. It stood wide open.
“Not the Caddy,” Jimmy said. “The truck.” Her bare feet changed course and took her to the truck.
“In. In. In.”
Jimmy tossed the shotgun on the floorboards at her feet. He still held her purse. He took the Caddy’s keys from it and threw the purse in her lap, shut the door in her face and went over to the Caddy and slapped the keys down on the vinyl roof.
As he climbed into the seat beside her he said, “Make it easy for the next owner.” He leaned wearily against the steering wheel as he started the truck.
Gambol woke to the smell of food. Daylight leaked around the curtains into the room. Mary’s cell phone, he saw, had returned to its charger on the night-stand. He took it in his fist and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and said, “Fuck.”
He called O'Doul’s, and a woman answered: “Dooley’s. What.”
“Juarez. That’s what.”
“The name is not familiar.”
“Get Juarez. It’s Gambol.”
“He’s not here.”
“I said this is Gambol. Get him.”
“He’s really not here. He went north.”
“North. That’s all he said.”
“When did he leave?”
“I don’t know. Real early.”
“Who’s with him?”
“The Tall Man.“
“Just the Tall Man. Isn’t that enough?“ He went out to find Mary in the kitchen in her shorty robe, standing over a fry pan with a cigarette jutting from her lips, humming a tune. "Steak and eggs,” she said, “and guess what—champagne.”
“Juarez is coming up.“
“Shit. Here? Shit.”
“Yeah. And the Tall Man.”
“Is that monster still with him?”
“That monster’s always been with him.”
“Was he always like that? Born like that?” Gambol said, “You mean tall?” Mary laughed as if nothing was funny. Gambol looked at the bloody hunks sizzling in the pan and said, “I’m not hungry.”
Luntz pushed it hard, making sure he heard the tires on every curve. If a cop lit him up, he’d steer it off a cliff.
“You brush against these people, you know? Just brush up—and it’s an electric thing, you get some juice from it, you feel like you’ve got some balls, but—these people are hard.”
She didn’t answer. He gave her shoulder a shake. “No curiosity? Don’t you want the news? Capra’s dead. Gambol blew his head off.”
“In a hundred years we’re all dead.”
“Did you ever know anybody who got murdered?”
Beside him she was white and pale. “The dead come back. Death isn’t the end.”
“Let’s be optimistic,” he said, “and assume that’s bullshit.”
“At night you can see them standing across the river.”
“That sounds like DTs.” He reached for the pocket in his big flannel shirt—Capra’s maybe, or Sally's—and handed her the half-pint of vodka. “Have a party.
She unscrewed the cap. "If you know the crossing place,” she said, “you can block their way.” She looked like a child in an older brother’s clothes. She turned the bottle up and wrapped her lips around its neck.
Three bikers passed, coming up the other way. Then two more traveling side by side. “Must’ve got an early start from Bolinas. We got out just in time.” Half a minute later, a whole pack—seven, eight, nine, Luntz couldn’t count.
He tried the radio and spun the dial until he hit some music, any music, not even real music—country music. News came on, and Anita slapped at the knobs until it went away.
“Are we in range? Where’s your cell phone?”
“I don’t know.”
“Look in your purse. Let me have it. Don’t just stare at it. Fuck. Call information.”
“Do you want it or not?”
“Get the number for O'Doul’s Tavern in Alhambra.” Luntz grappled for his cigarettes and found one left in the pack. It was ripped in the middle and streaked with dirt. He managed to keep it lit through two drags before he tossed it.
Anita said, “It’s dialing.”
He wrested the phone from her hand as a woman answered: “Dooly’s, babe.”
“Let me speak to Juarez. Right now.”
“No Juarez here.”
“Tell him it’s Gambol.”
“He’s still gone.”
“Don’t mess around.”
“I told you—he’s gone.”
“Where is he at?”
“I told you. He went north.”
Luntz waited for a thought.
The woman said. “Who is this?”
He thumbed the disconnect and drove for several seconds holding the phone out the window, then let it drop.
Anita sat with her hands folded around the empty bottle.
The morning seemed lit by a blowtorch. The edges of his sight shimmered. “Dear Jesus, give me music.” He had to spin the knob several times to get the band to move even half an inch. No music. News of this and that, a local murder.
“Did you hear that?”
Anita reached for the dial, and Luntz stopped her fingers and squeezed until she made a small sound.
“Desilvera. That’s your name.”
He crushed her fingers. She didn’t resist.
He let her go. “That’s Hank. Henry Desilvera. That’s your husband.”
She looked straight ahead. “Not anymore.”