BETWEEN HERE AND THERE
Copyright 2000, held by author
They had been driving for hours. Tito was behind the wheel, talking about Florida, Johnny was in the passenger seat. Nin and Flora were in the back. The canvas duffel bag with the money and jewelry was safely locked in the trunk.
“Forget about it, that stuff that happened,” Flora heard Tito tell Johnny. “So, it didn’t go exactly as you calculated, but the result was better. We did it and never have to go back.”
She couldn’t tell whether Johnny agreed or not, or even how attentively he was listening. Tito was a loud mouth. He didn’t need an audience to continue talking, excitedly, about how much money they now had, and where they were heading. For Tito, Florida was the equivalent of the Promised Land.
Flora liked tight leather gloves and expensive sunglasses. She wore matching ones, orange with black stripes—tiger print. Tiger print plastic around black lenses, and Tiger Print leather, tight, with holes over the knuckles and snaps on the wrist straps. She knew Johnny was stealing glances of her in the rearview. She adjusted her sunglasses, tiger print on tiger print, brushed back her blonde hair and smiled at him. He needed her more than she needed him, they both knew that. With new money, a new start, things had changed. She now felt gratitude.
Flora leaned her head back, the sun making her drowsy, and slipped into sleep. Nin, wearing mirrored blue sunglasses she bought for five dollars from a street vendor, had her earphones on and flipped through a fashion magazine. It was the second time she was playing the tape in her Walkman. It seemed like the 100th time she flipped through the pages, scanning at the words but not reading anything, trying to imagine herself not just in the clothes, but in the pretty scenes surrounding the beautiful women wearing the clothes.
Johnny didn’t want to close his eyes, because when he did he saw blood and heard gunfire.. He and Tito, they needed a score and Johnny found the opportunity, a small Jewelry store off the main drag of Union City. Just an old man and a security guard. The old man, the owner, preferred cash over credit cards, offering a discount for cash. Johnny staked out the place for a month, wore nice clothes when he went inside the store. He drew diagrams of the place, researched the alarm system—an old one—the guy used..
The operation was supposed to be professional. Johnny clipped the wires of the alarm, as Tito held the two men at gun point. Empty the cash register, the showcases of jewelry, then out of there, into one car then to another where the girls were, and out of New Jersey and head south on the back roads until they hit the land of Orange Juice, white sand and no winter.
But as Johnny was breaking the glass of the show cases and emptying the jewels and watches into the duffel, Tito thought he saw the security guard, who was pushing sixty years old, reach for something and he shot the back of his head off. Blood, bits of brain and skull ships splattered on the wall and floor.
Then Tito started taunting the old man, do you want to die, do you want to die. He forced him to open a cabinet, behind which was a safe Johnny hadn’t seen, inside was what had to be several hundred grand.
The whole thing lasted 15 minutes. The canvas duffel bag bulged. Johnny was telling the old man not to call the police, was taking out the rope he had brought to tie him up. But Tito, as Johnny was talking, pulled the guy’s head back by his hair and fired into his ear. Blood exploded in different directions. When Johnny blinked, he could see and hear it all. If caught, this meant the electric chair or lethal injection, whatever method they used these days. Life in prison, just as bad. Worse though, was Hell. Eternal suffering. His grandmother always emphasized the heat. Intense heat. Endless heat. Johnny’s arm and chest were burned real bad in a fire when he was five years old, he still had some scarring from it. But his grandmother impressed upon him, that’s what Hell was like. That it was a real place. He would feel the same pain from the burns for all eternity, with Satan laughing at him and sticking him hard, with the pitch fork.
He hadn’t thought about that for a long time until now. But, thinking about that, or thinking about the two men he watched Tito kill, would be forgotten, or almost forgotten, someday. Not soon, but in the future. Someday. Memory worked like that.
He knew her eyes were closed behind the sunglasses. He watched her chest rise and fall with each breath. He knew the noise she was making, even though all he could hear was the car engine and Tito’s jabber. He loved all her sounds—her laugh was like a bird chirping—her orgasms shuddered yet cooed—and when he was next to her and watching her sleep, a hush came from somewhere hidden in her throat. He loved her soft sleeping noise best. It reminded him of when his mother was alive, and would take him to the beach. She gave him this huge seashell, big as a baseball mitt and told him to hold it to his ear and he could hear the oceans from all around the world. He liked that sound better than the swish of the waves slapping against the sand in front of him. Flora made the same sound as inside that sea shell. When he heard her, he could feel the shell pressing against the side of his head.
Flora opened her eyes but didn’t move. She saw Nin looking up at the rearview. Nin had short black hair and olive colored skin. She had on a red T-shirt and no bra; her breasts were bigger than Flora’s, too big for her short body. She was a junky at times, even turned tricks for a while. All that street crap. Nin thought Johnny was looking at her reflection. Nin licked her lips, then held the tip of her tongue between her slightly yellowing teeth and traced her finger around her nipple so it pressed against the cloth. Johnny finally saw that.
He quickly turned his gaze away from the rearview mirror and said, “I could use a beer.”
“Or some Tequila,” said Tito. “We deserve to party like men.”
Nin took the head phones out of her ear and said, “I want to stop, I’m sick of this car.”
Tito heaved a loud sigh. “Was your opinion asked?”
She shouted back,” You were just talking about partying.”
“You want your teeth in your mouth or your throat?”
Nin folded her arms across her chest and looked out the window at the trees passing by in a blur. Flora cleared her throat, took off her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes. She stretched her arms above her head. She leaned forward between the bucket seats and kissed Johnny on the cheek. “I have to pee. Let’s stop.”
“Tito, let’s rest up, we’ve been driving for a while.”
Tito’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t say anything for a minute or so. Then, he reached into the glove compartment for an AAA directory of Motels, a large paperback. He tossed it the back seat, hitting Nin in the head. “See if you can find a motel.”
“Tito,” Johnny said. “Be nice, you know.”
Tito hunched his shoulders and tightened his grip on the steering wheel.
* * *
The Sweet Water lodge needed paint. Letters were missing from the sign, but the neon letters below clearly read VACANCY. It had been built during the 1950s, and the outside at least, looked like no renovations had taken place since. Few cars were parked in the pot hole ridden parking lot.
“The rooms are clean,” the kid in the office told Johnny and Flora. He was a college student working part time. “This once was a Holiday Inn.”
They got what was called an executive suite, which was just a large room, with two beds and a Jacuzzi bath tub. The kid explained that the jets weren’t working but the tub was large and the water hot and clean. Johnny paid for the room in cash, said they would be checking out early and when he was filling out the registration form and got to the license plate and car make and model blanks, he told the kid his friend was driving and he didn’t know that information. He put a twenty dollar bill on the desk in front of the kid. “Can you just forget about that for now and just see that we are not disturbed?”
“Yes sir,” the kid said, sliding over a set of keys. He then said wait a second, went into the back room and came out with a stack of towels. “Here, you will need these, since there are four of you, in your party.”
Tito carried in the duffel bag, then Johnny drove by himself to a nearby strip mall, returned a half hour later with two pizzas, a case of beer, two bottles of Tequila and a carton of cigarettes. Nin was taking a shower, Flora already had one, was wrapped in towels and lay on a bed. Tito was on the other bed. The television was on, they didn’t talk to each other. Tito got to his feet when he heard someone outside and opened the door before Johnny knocked.
“Well all right, my buddy to the max,” proclaimed Tito.
Johnny put the stuff on the table off to the side of the television, walked over and kissed Flora. Tito opened one of the bottles of Tequila, poured some into his mouth and swallowed hard. After wiping his lips with the back of his hand, he held out the bottle to Johnny. “Tonight we party like men.”
Johnny sipped from the bottle and handed it back. “I think I’m going to have to wait on that stuff.”
Tito took another gulp as he walked over to the beer. He opened a can and put it to his lips and his adams apple rolled under the skin of his neck as the beer drained down his throat. He crushed the empty can, dropped it to the floor and grabbed another. After a belch, he raised the bottle to his lips.
Nin walked out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her body. She worked another towel into her hair. “I’m so hungry, thanks Johnny.”
“Help yourself, Nin,” he said. He placed a slice of pizza on a paper plate and brought it over to Flora.
Nin tied the towel around the top of her head, leaned over the pizza box and took a slice. She nibbled the end of a triangle, pulling a thread of cheese from her lips. Tito tossed the empty can on the floor, grabbed the edge of the towel by her knees and tugged. She squealed with surprise. He flipped the towel to the floor, then slapped the cheek of her ass, then said to Johnny. “Help yourself, Johnny.”
“Come on, Tito, be nice,” Nin pleaded, as she bent over.
Tito stamped his foot on the towel. “No. You stay that way.”
Nin sat down in a chair and ate her pizza.
Tito, with the bottle in one hand, the can in the other, lay on the bed and drank. He put the bottle on the night table and lit a cigarette, all the time his eyes focused on Nin. Flora hated the way he was laughing and tried to ignore him.
Tito made Nin sit on his chest and feed him a slice of pizza. Johnny took a shower. Flora turned the volume up on the television. When Johnny came back out, Tito carried Nin into the bathroom saying it was time to break in the Jacuzzi.
“Does he have to be like that,” said Flora.
“Don’t disrespect me in front of him, Flora. Him and me, we’re partners.”
“Just because I don’t like her that much doesn’t mean I have to like how he treats her.”
“Just put up with it, for now. It will be different when we’re in Florida. You’ll see. It will be a whole new life.”
From the bathroom, there was splashing and the sound of Tito and Nin laughing, then no more laughing, only splashing and Nin’s loud, ragged moans.
“I don’t think we have to worry about them for a while,” said Johnny and when Flora laughed, he added, “I’m so glad to be with you, baby. I need you.”
She let him make love to her. It started off slow and romantic and lasted a long time—for a while they couldn’t hear the television, or the animals in the bathroom—but before it was over, while he was he was moving faster and faster between her thighs and her legs were in the air, she heard familiar voices. She opened her eyes, and saw Nin and Tito, naked, sitting on the edge of the other bed and smoking cigarettes.
“Do her, do her,” shouted Tito. “Do that bitch.”
Johnny, panting, looked down at Flora, saw the expression on her face, and put his hand over her mouth and kept moving.
Nin started to applaud. “Stud!”
Flora decided not to show she was angry or upset, even when Johnny stood up and high-fived Tito. The room smelt of cigarette smoke and sweat and booze.
“We’re partying like Men with our Women,” said Tito. “Friends for life.”
“You got that right,” said Johnny, now able to gulp the Tequila without gagging.
The women used water glasses form the bathroom to drink their Tequila. Tito seemed to get nicer as he got drunk, not as mean to Nin, talking and laughing. Everyone was laughing. Flora was feeling tired and started to have trouble keeping her eyes open. Tito talked about Florida, the people he knew, the places to party, the palm trees.
Flora didn’t know how long she was asleep, or when full sleep became half sleep, but she was awake when she felt her breast being kissed. Tito whispered orders from the other bed, and Nin did everything he said. Flora tried to squirm away, but Nin stretched out on top of her and whispered, “please, I’m scared of him.”
Then Flora heard Johnny laugh too. She realized she had nothing to hide or save. Now, was isolated, disconnected. She had left a life she hated, and had yet to start the new life she wanted. Now, nothing mattered. It was just her body. She lay there and let Nin do whatever Tito wanted, then she felt her self being turned over, and she was lying next to Nin, whose eyes were closed. Flora felt her waist being grabbed and when she was being entered. And when, she began to cry, no one heard.
Johnny was still going at it with Nin as Flora crawled from the bed to the bathroom to vomit.
Tito was already up, weaving, swilling the second Tequila bottle, alone in the middle of the room.
“We’re partying like men,” he slurred. “We’re partying like men.”
The shots outside woke Johnny up. As he reached for his revolver, he noticed Flora’s legs on the bathroom floor and Nin on the other bed, face down and snoring. Seemed at the same second he was thinking where’s Tito, Tito barged through the door, sweat pouring from his face. “We got to go. We got to go now.”
Tito pushed Nin off the bed. “Dress in the car. Come on.”
Johnny went to wake Flora. Tito slung the duffel bag over his shoulder, shouted at them to move faster.
They ran to the car, Tito threw the duffel bag in the back seat, then the women got in. Tito sat behind the wheel. The first light of dawn scratched through the night. The car went into reverse, then screeched across the gravel parking lot into the deserted highway.
Flora and Nin pulled on the rest of their clothes. Flora glanced into the rearview. Her face looked gray. She put on her sunglasses and gloves. Nin just covered her face with her arms and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees.
Tito turned off an exit, barreled down a road. Johnny noticed the speed limit sign reading 25.
“I’m putting as much space between here and there as fast as I can. We got to keep moving.”
“I don’t want to be stopped for speeding.”
“That’s the least of our worries, now dude.”
“What did you do, Tito.”
“What I had to. I got up and was walking to the office there, in the front, to get some change to get a soda. Well, this kid was there and a security guard guy, uniform right. They were watching TV, cable news or something, I don’t know. All I saw was us, Johnny. You and me, we were caught on tape.”
“The jeweler guy had security cameras. We were on TV. We made the damn news.”
“I didn’t see any cameras.” Johnny’s voice seemed ready to sob.
“Mister Calculations. We got to keep moving. I tell you this, that kid and that guard, they’ll never know what they saw.”
There were no more buildings. Just trees. The sun had risen, it was a new day.
Tito kept driving fast. The trees grew fewer. Soon they were racing through farm country, narrow roads and large spreads of fenced in land. Johnny lit a cigarette, offered Flora the pack. She waved him off and wished she could be any other place than in this car. Nin sat up straight, coughed and yawned. When she noticed cows dotting green fields, she said with disgust, “Where are we?”
“You shut it,” Tito’s face turned bright red.
“I don’t see any palm trees,” she snorted. “Where’s the beach?”
“I said shut it! “ He leaned around the bucket seat, his fist swinging at the space in front of her. She tried to slap his hand away, his fingers groped towards her. She moved out of reach. He screamed as loud as he could, “I’ll rip you in half!”
As his body contorted to get closer, his right foot pressed the accelerator to the floor and his left hand pushed the wheel. The car veered diagonally across the narrow road and down a grass embankment, bumping up and down until the screaming and engine were silenced by a fence pole. Smoke rose from under the hood. The fender was bent, cracking the wooden pole. The cows nearby sauntered away from the wreck.
Johnny kicked open the door, his face felt wet and his vision was clouded. He helped Flora out, she said she was okay then stared at him. “Your head is bleeding, Johnny.”
Nin and Tito were out of the car. He was cursing at her, but she was dazed, walking unsteadily in no specific direction. Tito grimaced, holding his elbow, which had bounced against the ceiling of the car. His arm felt numb and ached.
Tito lunged at Nin, but the movement made him wince in pain. Johnny grabbed him. “Just calm down.”
Tito seethed. “You put your hands on me.”
Johnny shook him, screamed in his face. “We got real problems here, the car is fucked.”
“You’re the idea guy. Think of something. Mister Calculations.”
Johnny swung at Tito, who grinned and raised his fists in a boxer’s stance .He ducked Johnny’s haymaker, but when he tried to jab his arm couldn’t move and he howled with pain.
“We’re sitting ducks out here,” said Nin. “And you two are fighting. Just Great.”
“Somebody’s coming,” said Flora, pointing to brand new, Ford Pick-Up Truck, gleaming in the morning sun, dust swirling off its tires. It was moving down a dirt road that cut across the field. The driver had seen the crash and was coming to help.
“At least it doesn’t look like a cop,” said Nin.
Johnny wiped the blood from his eyes. “Tito, don’t do anything, just let me handle it.”
The driver, a middle aged guy wore a mesh backed cap with a beer logo in front. He turned off the engine, his face wrinkled into a smile. “Anybody hurt?”
Only Johnny answered. “I don’t think so, sir.”
“That head of yours is going to need some stitches. I can run you up to the hospital, call a tow truck on my cell phone.”
Tito walked over to the driver aiming his pistol at his head, “Get out of the truck, now.”
“What the hell is this?” said the man.
We’re taking the truck. Johnny, go get the bag.”
Suddenly, the man ducked out of sight, then reappeared with his own revolver and was firing from the driver’s seat. Tito shot back. Johnny dived towards Flora, pulling her to the ground and crawling with her behind the car.
Then the gunfire stopped. Tito opened the door of the truck, and pulled the man out by the collar of his denim jacket. He lay lifeless on the ground, and Tito kicked the body. “Couldn’t even hit me you stupid hick.”
“Oh my God!” shouted Flora, running over to Nin and knelt by her side. Her T-shirt was soaked with blood. She tried to say something. A crimson bubble popped out her mouth. Then she stopped breathing all together.
Tito stood motionless, staring at Nin, looking like he wanted to cry. But then, his face changed and he just squinted. “Now she’s a dead bitch.”
Johnny wiped his eyes with his sleeve. Tito shrugged at him. “Don’t worry. I’ll get another in Florida.”
Johnny shook his head and said, “we better get the hell out of here.”
“What are we going to do with her?” said Flora. “Just leave her here?”
“You want to call a priest? Give her last rites?” Tito was still looking at Nin, with what seemed like curiosity. It wasn’t indifference, and it certainly wasn’t grief. “She had a nice snatch. But that bastard shot her, not me.”
Johnny got the duffel bag out of the back seat and put it in the back of the pick-up. Then he saw large, oblong shaped, plastic container strapped inside of the storage area. He unhooked the Jerry-Jug and opened the cap. It was filled with gasoline. “I got an idea. Tito, Tito! Help me put the bodies in the car.”
Flora watched them haul the corpse onto the front seats. Tito whispered into Nin’s ear. Then Johnny poured the gasoline over the car, then on the bodies and interior. Flora sat in the cab of the truck, lit a cigarette. She hated everything now.
Johnny placed the Jerry-Jug on Nin’s lap. “I’m sorry, Nin.”
Tito lit a match, threw it on the hood of the car and the flames were instant. Johnny started the truck. The flames grew in the rearview. He could see the black smoke rising to the sky. He imagined Nin’s body. Maybe she wasn’t dead—how did they really know, they weren’t doctors. It was too late now. He thought about her skin sizzling, her hair burning away, her eyes and brain boiling out of her skull. He thought it had to be what hell was like. He tried not to cry. He tried not to think. Watch the road and drive. The more he tried, the easier he could.
* * *
Johnny followed signs to a highway. Tito was the first to speak. “I’m free.”
“Free?” said Flora.
“When they finally track down the car, they will think it was me who died in that fire. I got a new lease. When I get to Florida, I’ll get a new name, new ID, the works. I’m free.”
“What a dope,” said Flora. “They might think that for a day or so, when they check out the license plate and stuff. But did you ever hear of dental records. Teeth don’t melt. The guy who tried to help us¼ who you shot—“
“It was self defense. He shot at me.”
“After you had your gun out. They’ll figure out who really is dead. I bet somebody saw you leave the hotel too. You will be charged with who ever you shot back at that dump. And Nin.”
“I didn’t shoot her.”
“Me and Johnny, we’re accessories now. You are stupid, Tito. You’re not a man. You’re a monster. A monster!”
“I’ll get better cars and better looking women. Better than her, or you!” Tito took a deep breath, then sobbed. “I didn’t mean for her to go.”
“Well, she did. Thanks to you. Monster!”
“You better shut her up, Johnny. We’re friends, and I respect you Johnny, but you better shut your woman up, there’s only so much I can take.”
“Flora, come on, do something useful and find something to wipe my face, the blood is making it hard to see.”
She found some napkins in the glove compartment, a first aid kit under the seat. She took off her gloves, mopped the blood off his face. He flinched when she dabbed iodine over the flap of skin, then tapped gauze over his forehead.
“There’s blood all over your shirt, Johnny, and your pants,” she looked at Tito. “You too. You guys can’t be seen like this.”
Johnny pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a low-scale, more local version of K-Mart. The store had just opened up for the day and the parking lot was relatively empty. He gave Flora some money, they told him their sizes and she climbed over Tito so he wouldn’t have to get out of the car. She put on her sunglasses and gloves, and went inside the store.
Johnny parked towards the end of the lot. He watched the front of the store and waited.
“It’s a risk, letting her out like this.”
“What are you saying?”
“She can stay in there, call the cops or something.”
“Why should she do that, Tito?”
“Never know about these bitches.”
“Don’t, Tito. Just don’t. We got too much going on right now. Watch your mouth.”
“I’m just saying.”
“Don’t, just don’t say it. We love each other. You got that?”
“Johnny, not for nothing, it’s a weakness, to let a woman get that close, not just skin to skin, but inside.”
“Just shut up, Tito.” Johnny lit a cigarette. “We can’t be walking around like this, blood all over us. There’s nothing else to do. What is your plan, to go in and shoot everybody? You’re the one with the weakness.”
Johnny turned on the radio. He didn’t want to talk anymore. He went through some stations, settling on the all news station. There was the weather, there was something about stocks and bonds, there was an announcement by the president. Then, the crime report. A desk clerk and a security guard were found murdered, shot to death, at the Sweet Water Motor Lodge.
The pounding Johnny’s head amplified, the gash on his forehead throbbed. In the middle of the sports report, when baseball scores were being announced, he finally shut off the radio.
“They don’t know squat,” said Tito. “They didn’t even mention the car. We got plenty of time.”
“What about this guy’s truck.”
“We got time on that too. The fire messed up the body so bad that they won’t be able to identify it for a few days, if ever! And there’s no guy to report the truck stolen. Think about it. A missing person’s report has to take 24 hours, and when it’s an adult, the police won’t move on it.”
Tito maybe right now, Johnny thought, but he may not be right in fifteen minutes, or an hour or by nigh fall and certainly not by tomorrow. But now was what mattered. If he could concentrate on now, the images of dead bodies and the fear of getting caught just might fade.
When he saw the blonde hair and sunglasses emerge from the store’s exit, he started the engine.
“Well, the selection was pretty basic,” said Flora as they drove out of the parking lot. She handed Johnny a can of Coke and a bottle of aspirin. Johnny parked in the back of a fast food restaurant. Flora also bought some spray cleanser, a bar of soap, paper towels and a jug of spring water. The men took off their clothes, washed their hands and faces and Flora tried to remove the blood stains from the dash board and seats.
She had bought them identical sets of clothes—red flannel shirts, blue work jeans, tan work boots.
“We look like goof balls,” said Tito.
“We’re not going to any clubs, dude. Besides, we can blend in, and now at least, we can get out of the truck to get gas. We’re going to need gas, and I need something to eat. We keep our shit together, we can do this, Tito. We can just keep driving all the way to Florida.”
She also had bought them red mesh caps and sunglasses. “Keep them on. If your faces are really on TV, you need some kind of disguise.”
They got back in the truck, Flora sitting between the two men. Johnny headed for the drive-through. The first thing the voice blasting out of the loudspeaker said was the breakfast menu was no longer available. All three of them were hungry, and Johnny ordered several burgers, and the fries and sodas in large sizes. As the disembodied, staticy voice repeated the food items, Tito removed his gun from his shirt and Flora said, “oh shit.”
A cop car had driven up behind the truck.
“Step on the gas and get out of here,” said Tito.
“Calm down, Tito, just calm down,” said Johnny.
“Pretend like nothing is happening,” said Flora. “Let’s just get our order and pay for it, drive out of here, slow and lawfully.”
“She’s right, the cop is just interested in his lunch. He’s probably on a break.”
“It’s a risk,” said Tito through clenched teeth. “Our faces on the TV, they’re certainly in all the cop shops all across the country. He could spot us.”
“So, we draw attention to ourselves more so you can kill another person,” said Flora.
“He’s a cop.”
“Enough. Tito, just calm down.”
Tito went silent, didn’t touch his gun, when Johnny drove up to the Window, paid the kid in a paper hat who asked if they wanted extra ketchup and wished them a nice day as he handed over the bags of food and a cardboard tray holding the sodas. They were still in full view of the cop car. Flora glanced at the rearview mirror and noticed the policeman hold the microphone of the police radio up to his mouth.
“We’ll just go to the highway now,” said Johnny, even though the highway was several miles away and to get there they had to drive on a two lane county road.
“I’m not getting caught, do you hear that,” said Tito. “I am not being arrested or handcuffed or any of that crap again. I’m going to do what it takes.”
“Does that include killing everyone?” said Flora.
“I’ll start with you if you don’t shut up.”
“Hear that Johnny? Kill me? You need me because everybody has seen your face on TV. You’re a monster. You don’t think.”
“Stop calling me that.”
“I’m a man and I’m not afraid.” He took out his pistol and pointed it at Flora. “You stop calling me that.”
“Put it away, Tito. If you respect me, you will put that away.”
“Keep your woman quiet.”
“I’m not afraid of him Johnny. You let him touch me, let him fuck me like a piece of meat? Are you going to let him kill me too? What about us, Johnny. The love for me you are always talking about.”
Tito put the gun back in to the waist band of his trousers and laughed, mimicking her voice. “What about our love, Johnny. What about our love¼ She’s got you whipped, man. Are you going to take that from her.”
“Take what,” said Johnny, who was trying to pay attention to driving.
“Are you the man or is she.”
“It’s better than being a Monster!” said Flora.
Tito slapped her face. “I’ll piss in your ass. I’ll kill you and fuck your dead skull.”
The blow knocked Flora into Johnny and the truck veered off the road, Johnny turned the wheel and shouted. “Stop it. Stop it, both of you.”
He saw that Flora had tears in her eyes. “Tito, don’t do that again, don’t disrespect me like that.”
“I’m real scared of you Mister Calculations,” said Tito.
“Somebody give me a burger and both of you shut the hell up until we are long away from here.”
Flora unwrapped a burger, and Johnny shoved it into his mouth, biting into it and just as he tasted the meat, he saw lights flickering in his rearview. The cop was behind them.
“Floor it,” hissed Tito.
Instead, Johnny made a quick right to a side road. The cop followed. There was nothing but trees on both sides. The cop turned on the siren noise.
“Tito, I’m just going to pull over. He didn’t have the siren on before, who knows what he wants. Just play it cool. Don’t loose it.”
“Please turn off the engine,” the cop’s voice said though the loudspeaker attached to the roof of the patrol car. “All of you, step out of the truck.”
They all got out from the driver’s side. The cop watched the two men, who were dressed in identical clothing, and the woman. He got out of his car and walked towards them, saying “Let me see some ID and then you can tell me what you are doing with Jim Malley’s truck.”
He didn’t see Tito’s gun, but he heard the shot and felt something graze his arm. Flora dived to the ground and crawled under the truck. The cop had his gun out and knelt on one knee and fired at Tito, hitting his arm, chest, leg. But he didn’t have time to aim at Johnny, who killed the cop with three shots.
From under the truck, Flora saw the body of the cop, which wasn’t moving, and Tito, squirming on the grass. Johnny ran over to him as she crawled out from under the truck. Flora looked down at her hands, at her tiger print gloves, and figured out everything, the only way out.
“Help me,” said Tito.
“I will buddy,” said Johnny.
“Don’t touch him,” said Flora.
“We can’t just leave him here to die, Flora. We’re partners and I don’t know anybody in Florida.”
“Forget Florida,” she said, pressing her foot on Tito’s wrist until he let go of the gun.
“Bitch!” He screamed. “Johnny would never have been able to do this without me.”
“He’s right,” said Johnny.
Flora picked up the gun, she held it with both hands and aimed at Tito’s face. Her arms jerked from the gun’s kick when she fired. “Call me bitch again, come on.”
Johnny remembered his grandmother teaching him prayers. He couldn’t remember the words, or even why or when they should be recited, he just remembered her making him repeat what she said.
Flora would miss him, maybe tomorrow, maybe every day of the rest of her life, any time other than today.
From the corner of his eye, Johnny saw her holding the gun at his head. He didn’t turn around. He didn’t want to see, didn’t want her to know he knew.