The icy October wind lashed at Sue’s cheeks as she made her way across the parking lot to her car. An unseasonably cold evening in which was planted the spore of an unseasonably hot romance. She had caught a glimpse of him from the coffee shop and tried to go out to him, but by the time she’d reached the threshold, he was already gone – evaporated into the gloaming.
In the brief magnetic instant that she’d seen him, he appeared loping purposefully down the sidewalk, his head turning slightly from side to side as he observed everything. His eyes were concealed behind a big black pair of sunglasses, but she imagined them to be green and intense. The collar was turned up on his leather bomber. The swing of his arms was a counterrhythm to his long stride. She could see even from a distance that he had a tattoo on his right hand.
She felt her heart crumple as she stepped out into the crisp afternoon air and craned her neck in vain to catch a glimpse of this man. She’d been harpooned with the most powerful of feelings, like this man would write the next chapter in her life, could shape her sadness into something towering and worthwhile. He was gone, though – slipped away like the lifesaving rope from a doomed mountaineer.
All the heartbreak of years past came galloping, trampling back all of a sudden. Sue’s mouth turned down like a baby’s does when it’s about to wail. She could not prevent the single hard sob that escaped her throat. A terrible wave of loss settled through her body like poison.
She bumbled heavily back to her chair and gripped the paper cappuccino cup for support. That man in the sunglasses was receding ever further from the possibility of togetherness, and dragging, unravelling along behind him a feeble thread of her hope. She could feel it pulling out of her, like the stringy guts of a bee after it’s stung you.
Sue sat in the chair for another half-hour, bruised. Then she forced herself to get up and leave the coffee shop, moping on down the street in her car, back to her apartment. She flopped onto her huge couch and stared at her blank computer screen on the coffee table. She didn’t move for two hours. Then, the leaden blanket of sleep slipped over her. It was a fitful slumber. (71,425)
Sue woke up with a nasty pain in her left deltoid and a foul mood in her heart.
“Oh great,” she thought carelessly, “I’m probably having a heart attack or something.” She didn’t want to get out of bed, so she laid there until the last possible second that would avoid tardiness to her first meeting. Then, she laboriously raised herself and padded into the kitchen to make some coffee.
The black sludge from her French press tasted like ‘Raid’ and she wished she’d bought better coffee. What, she mused, is the point of having a fancy French press if you’re drinking Yuban out of the thing? Lucky, then, that the blueberry scone she had left over from yesterday was still edible when she took it out of the toaster over (which was never used except as a bread-box) and gave it an exploratory chomp. All was briefly right with the world until a spider the size of a Ritz cracker clambered over the top of the ‘Glamour’ she was reading. Sue emitted a shriek that could lobotomize a hippo and reflexively flung the magazine away from her, knocking the French press off the table and onto the kitchen tile, where it exploded into eight pieces and splattered its muddy contents across the room. The copy of ‘Glamour’ had been stopped in its flight by the French press, and now lay open on the table. The economy-sized spider scampered unseen down a table leg and then surreptitiously fled underneath the lip of the bottom cabinets.
Sue huffed forth an expletive and began manically scanning for the spider. Not only was she generally scared of arachnids and other crawlies, but she now had a vendetta against this one for further marring what had already been a pretty rough morning. The spider itself was now well-hidden in between her cabinets and the stove. Sue gave up after a few vengeful minutes and, with the jitters in no small amount, began to rush about in an effort to get dressed while she still had a chance to be on time. On her way out, she called her friend Phil, who was a professional bug exterminator, and asked him what should be done about the offending eight-legged stowaway.
“I don’t think you should spray just for one little old spider,” said Phil, “plus, he’s probably eating up other pests. How about just letting him be? He’ll probably stay away from you from now on.”
“Ugh, Phil, I swear! You’re a pal, but sometimes you’re friggin’ useless!” Phil wasn’t offended by this outburst and told her that if she really wanted to eliminate the visitor, she could buy some aerosol spray that’s designed to kill spiders.
“Be real careful with that stuff in your kitchen though,” he warned. “You don’t want any of it coming into contact with your food or anything. That stuff’s real nasty.”
Halfway across town, a man pulled up to the Circle K in an old black Buick and got out of the car. His lean legs carried him into the store, where he very purposefully picked out a bag of Doritos ‘Spicier Nacho’ flavor chips, a big Snickers, and a gallon of water. He strode up to the counter and paid for these items, along with two packs of Camel Wides. One of these he slipped in the side pocket of his jacket, the other he opened. He pinched a cigarette out and lit it before he had reached the store’s doorway. Once outside, the man looked around in every direction. He stuffed the open pack in his front shirt pocket, slid into the car, and turned the key in the ignition. Before leaving the parking lot, he checked his rearview mirror carefully, as he had done often for the last 2100 miles, making sure that there were no suspicious figures or vehicles behind. He was doing this because there were 30 gallons of 2-methyl glycidate, an illegal precursor chemical to the drug Ecstasy, in the trunk.
Chapter 5 ---
Determined to kill the big spider and any brethren that it may have invited, Sue sprayed the ‘Raid’ (the actual bug spray, not the bad coffee) around the baseboards and under the cabinet outcroppings in her kitchen. She did this after she got home, so that she could leave the apartment open in the cool evening and let some fresh air in. She wore a painter’s mask, but the evil smell still penetrated her nasal membranes and made its way to the back of her throat, where it stayed with a kind of poisonous oily sensation that made her gag.
“Wow!” she thought, “Phil was not kidding around about this stuff.”
After she was finished with the attempted arachnicide, she get in the shower to wash off any nasty residue that may have gotten on her skin. Emerging squeaky and glistening, she decided to watch a movie.
A man stood naked in the sands, his skin badly damaged from the sun. He looked up at woman in a long dress standing above him on a dune. Her headscarf was undone and her long hair whipped about her face.
“I never thought you’d take it this far!” he called with failing breath over the gritty winds.
She said nothing. Behind her eyes burned a hot hate.
She lifted up the shovel on which her right hand had rested and threw it at the man. It landed at his side, the blade grazing his ankle painfully.
The man looked up at the woman again, this time with a plaintive expression of agony.
“I won’t dig my own grave!” he said with a disbelieving near-sob.
She said nothing. Her stare was total and unblinking,
For six interminable minutes this strange confrontation continued. The man could feel the flesh on his face burn and crack as the brutish sun worked its slow carnage. His lips were like shredded coconut, flaked and white. His neck stung as if welted by a rope. His eyes itched.
Still the woman was silent. But inside him, the man began to feel the terrible fist of her wrath. His gut clenched and twisted with violence, causing him to fall to his knees and heave. In between spasms, the man saw a large desert spider the color of bone scuttle a few feet in front of him and then quickly plunge into the sand, totally covering itself in seconds. The man struggled to his feet. A sensation like boiling lead began in his gut and traveled up his torso, moving into his chest and into his throat.
His legs felt hurt and heavy. Again he fell. The woman was unchanged.
Through dry tears the man prayed for deliverance. But the sun was still there, and the woman did not move or say a thing. She stood still.
The will within him was desiccated and broke to dust like an ancient dried flower. He looked up once more and cried “No!”
His hands rebelled. The left one reached for the shovel. He tried so hard to hold it back, but his right hand colluded with the left and soon they were both gripping the blistering metal. His arms pushed him back to his feet again, using the shovel for balance. Leaning on the shovel like that, he already had the first spadeful of sand. Oh, how he fought with the little strength left in his bones. But his arms were determined to lift that sand aside and his muscle fibers ripped as he gritted his teeth in resistance. At last he could no more. Crying sorrowfully, he tossed the first shovelful to his left and stuck the blade into the infinite grains.
The woman remained silent, doing nothing.
For four hours the man dug in the unruly sands. The winds mocked his effort, filling in half of what he took out. The sand’s angle of repose made a crater much larger than the depression dug by the man as he continually shoveled out what had been filled in.
After the second hour the man could not stand, and dug while on his knees. Finally, the man stopped. He knelt in a pockmark in the desert, about two and a half feet deep, and five or so feet around, surrounded by a slanting shield of sand.
The man was utterly empty. With eyes vacant save for a dying spark of accusation, he looked up at the woman. She stood there still, her gaze unabated.
The man then capsized and lay without moving. The burning winds picked up, bringing with them thick sand and dust. The gusts lasted for fifteen minutes, then became calm. They had erased the work of the man and obscured him within it.
The woman stood unchanged except for an imperceptible smile that warped the corner of her lips.
Sue was walking down a busy street to the copy shop because she needed to print, collate, and bind a presentation. Her shoes were new and caused her pinky toe, whose nail was wonky and hard to trim well, to rub against its neighbor in such a way that Sue was sure that there must be a ragged wound there that matched the scraping pain.
She was also feeling a fairly sharp sting of regret that she'd not had some breakfast before setting out. In her mind, the copy shop was only a few minutes away by foot, but in reality, it was more like a few blocks, and she was starting to get famished. The only cafe on this strip, The Naughty Bean, had closed its doors last month -- leaving only faux-European clothing boutiques and about seven ratball Chinese joints. Sue loved Chinese food, but not at eight in the morning -- and not from places about which the paper had published unflattering Health Department reviews. So it was with a foul and shouty mood that she clicked down the street.
Then, she heard three loud sounds that could have been gunshots. She instinctively wheeled around in the direction from which they'd come to see a kerfuffle in progress far at the other end of the block. People screamed and there was a lot of commotion, but Sue could not see any detail. She turned back around and went hurriedly on her way, the rogue toenail slicing painfully with each step.
The shots had come from the short black gun of the man who only hours before had bought some Doritos from the Circle K just outside town. He had hoped to be five hundred miles away by now, but when he'd called to check in, they told him that there was something additional that was ready for pickup in the city and would he please go back and grab it? A moment after he'd fired, he wondered if this had been a setup or if the cop had legitimately recognized him from some other jurisdiction in an unhappy coincidence. In any case, the cop was dead now and the man had a hole in the right handwarmer pocket of his leather jacket.
Also dead was an old man with a pointy beard who looked like the classic stereotype of a shrink, three-piece suit and all. It had been his fortune to be standing behind the collapsing cop as the man fired his second shot from the gun still concealed in his pocket, after his first had hit the cop smack in the neck. Nearly dead was a young woman with beautiful teeth whose femoral artery had been severed by the ricochet of the cop's bullet. That bullet had been fired after the man refused to be arrested and instead of putting his hands behind his head, dropped to his knees and shot at the cop. He had a pack of cigarettes in the same pocket as the gun, which made it hard to effectively grip the weapon quickly. The cop got his hollowpoint off first, but it missed the man and hit the pavement before deflecting onto a streetlight post and finally, in its new, disclike squished form, coming to rest in the leg of the young woman, whose name was Alexandra.
The chaos created by this scene was considerable, and in a blink half the block was rushing this way or that, yelping. The man was vexed. His black Buick, with the 2-methyl glycidate in the trunk, was less than three yards from where he knelt and its parking meter was only paid for an hour. But he knew that more cops were probably mere seconds away, and if his license number was noted, the whole thing was doomed. Likewise, it was only a matter of time before someone in this crowd of ticks either attempted to heroically subdue the man.
The man decided to run now and try to sneak back later to pick up the car. He bolted horselike through the crowd into the restaurant above which was the office where he had been supposed to pick up the additional cargo. He wasn't interested in investigating the setup right now, though -- he trampled over the bohemian waitstaff, rammed through the kitchen door where he encountered some aggressive line cooks, elbowed and kneed his way past these cooks nearly losing his shades in the process, and out through the rear delivery door into the alley.
Now, the man's immediate problem was to get his appearance changed so that he wouldn't arouse suspicion when he returned to claim the car. He continued sprinting down the alley as sirens blared up the street.
Archer Postwit was headed to his nine-o'clock meeting in a sharp khaki suit, two blocks away from where the man had killed the cop. Postwit had heard the shots and ducked, but being unable to see anything, just continued on his way. (94,299)