Blue Johnny’s was a shithole, a place where the sad and desperate funneled cheap beer and rotgut whiskey to forget about their past, present, and lack of a future. The only illumination in the bar was half a dozen sickly yellow lights and red neon.
It was Jasper’s sort of place, a little hideaway where everyone knew his name. Or at least they knew Arn West, the name he gave them when he moved to Rook Point, a town in the ass-end of nowhere, years before.
Blue Johnny’s, however, was not a place for the woman who was eyeing him from the bar as she caressed the top of her dirty glass with her middle finger. She was about thirty years younger than the rest of the clientele, dressed too nice, and when she smiled, she looked like she had all of her teeth. Jasper couldn’t figure out why she was here and why she was looking at him. Was she a cop? Did they find him after all this time?
If she was a cop, there would be more waiting outside. She was probably just here to get a good look at him, to make sure they had the right guy. Grey hair covered his head. Wrinkles lined his face. He looked nothing like the photos the FBI was still using.
Screw it. Jasper was too old to run. He was just surprised it took so long. He ordered another beer, possibly his last, smiled at the woman, and waved her over to his table.
The dark-haired woman was beautiful, and didn’t look a day past thirty. It was hard for his eyes to tell much of anything beyond that in the dim light.
Jasper stood and pulled out a chair for her, a habit from when he was younger. He wasn’t sure if women today cared about such things. Hell, he wasn’t sure if they cared back in the day. It was just the way he was.
“Hello,” she said, slipping into the seat.
“Evening,” Jasper said. “What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“Really? That’s your line?” she said.
“Old fashioned. But an honest question. This place doesn’t get clientele like you too often.”
“What type of clientele is that?”
“Young, pretty, a whole life ahead. This place is a musty coffin that doesn’t have any music past 1978 on the jukebox.”
“I like old music,” she said. She reached across the table and took Jasper’s hand in hers. “Call me Issy.”
He took a long drink from his beer, looking at her over the rim of the glass. Something about her seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. Like a wispy memory, a ghost.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said.
Half an hour later, they were at Jasper’s cabin. He paid for it in laundered cash from the last job he did — the Wellington Armored facility in Los Angeles. The job where everything went tits-up thanks to a trigger-happy security-guard.
The cabin had three bedrooms, a garage, a lake with a dock, and areas to hunt on his fifty acres. The furnishings were rustic, but he splurged on a fancy kitchen. He offered to make Issy breakfast for dinner and started cutting up potatoes for homefries.
She leaned back against the granite countertop beside him. “You got any family?”
“Never really got around to it. I was never much good at that sort of thing.”
“I’ve been retired for a long time,” he said. “Now I just waste the days I have left.”
“Must’ve paid okay. This is a nice place.”
“It’s enough. But I gotta ask: what did you think you would get coming to my house? You seem sweet, but you’re a bit young for me. You aren’t from Rook Point, and I don’t know many traveling hookers that pick up old men at Blue Johnny’s.”
“My mother died two months ago,” she said. “Wasted away from cancer.”
“I’m sorry. About the hooker joke and your mom. Losing folks is hard. Didn’t answer my question though.”
“Before she died, she told me something.”
Jasper put the knife down and looked at Issy, trying to gauge her intent. “What did she say?”
“Mom told me about you. Not Arn West, but you. Jasper Brooks. You pulled bank jobs with my dad. You were with him when he died.”
That was where he knew her. The eyes. Her father’s eyes. Little Isabella. He kicked himself for not seeing it before. A surge of sadness and regret rose in him like bile. He hadn’t seen her since her first birthday party. Seeing her or her mom after the job, even just pictures, would have hurt.
She continued. “Someone’s been sending me and my mom ten grand a month for decades, from random places around the country. Paid for me to go to school, too. She figured it out a long time ago but kept it quiet.”
“She told me where to find you.”
“So, what’re you doing here? You come here to kill me? Turn me in? I’m fine with either. I’ve had the image of my best friend dying seared into my head for too long. Money doesn’t wash that away. Do what you want, kid.”
“I came to thank you. Money doesn’t replace my father, but it made life easier for us, especially when Mom got sick. You didn’t have to do that.”
“It was the right thing.”
“I need something else,” Issy said, tears in her eyes. “I was a baby when he died. I never knew him except in pictures. Mom didn’t want to talk about him. She said it hurt too much. Can you tell me stories about my dad? The good times.”
“I can do that.”
About the author:
Jason M. Tucker is a full-time writer living in Southern California working on a range of freelance projects, crime fiction, horror, and fantasy. He’s had numerous stories in various genres published over the years, including several recent crime stories with Shotgun Honey.
The soft collar of the borrowed flight jacket cradled Gunselle’s neck as she leaned back in the truck’s cab and rolled her eyes to stare at the man who picked her up. The driver was a real wolf, Mike told her. He’d stop for any lone female with her thumb out. Especially someone as gorgeous as Gunselle.
Now he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Luckily, there was no traffic to collide with.
“I could open up for forty bucks,” she said, pushing her hand through unbrushed auburn hair. Sometimes it was fun to play desperate. “I’m dead broke.”
“Forty?” He guffawed. “Jesus. You’re not a movie star.”
“I should be,” she said, motioning for him to pull over. He’d stop. She knew men.
Slowing onto gravel, he jerked the emergency brake and shut off the engine. Gunselle could see the revolver clamped under the dash, grip out, within easy reach. Just as Mike said. A shotgun lay at the man’s feet. She noticed that as she climbed in.
“Forty, huh?” he said, mulling over a foregone conclusion. “That’s rich, but you’re pretty enough. And I like to help a girl when I can.” He pulled his wallet and dug out a pair of double sawbucks. She could see he was flush. He was paid up front for the job.
Gunselle opened the door. The man drew his features into a frown.
“The cab reeks of sweat and motor fuel,” she said. “And I’m better on my back if I can stretch out and get my legs around you.” She touched his thigh. “I’ll bet there’s soft ground under those cottonwoods.”
The man smiled and opened his door, turning his back on her as he dropped to the road. Gunselle finally jumped down as he cleared the front of the truck. The blood-red tire rims caught her eye. With an unpracticed giggle, she ran toward the trees. He followed. As they disappeared into the shadows, she turned to face him. He leered at her trim hips as she backed into the trees, farther from the road. A car sped by on the highway. His eyes traveled from the denim trousers she rarely wore to her chest in the open leather jacket, then to her face, to her perfect lips, the dimpled chin, like Ava Gardner.
His smile flattened when he saw the pistol.
“Is that mine?” he asked.
“Give it to me.”
Gunselle fired one bullet into his belly. Birds ripped through leafy branches above, startled by the sound. As he crumpled to his knees and fell forward, she squeezed another round into the top of his head. She was a good shot.
Slipping out of the leather jacket, Gunselle rolled up the sleeves of her flannel shirt, then took hold of the man’s feet and dragged him farther into the trees, where she dropped him with relief, gasping from the exertion as she sat on a log and caught her breath. After a few minutes, she got up and stripped him of his clothes, his wedding ring, and his fat wallet, then covered his naked body with branches blown down in a recent storm. She’d burn the clothes and empty wallet. The ring was gold. There was no inscription.
A few hours later, Gunselle steered the truck into a gas station in Vacaville. She hauled Douglas Aircraft parts around Clover Field in Santa Monica during the war, when the bar-girl roles dried up at Paramount. She was proud of her driving skills.
Ordering the wide-eyed kid pumping gas to fill the tank, she strode into the diner, knowing full well he was still staring at her. Inside, she made her way to a phonebooth, pulling the door closed behind her. After dropping coins into the box, she dialed the number she was given.
“Hey,” she said to the man who answered. She didn’t recognize his voice. “Let me talk to Mike.”
“This is Mike.”
“Bullshit. Where is he?”
“Who wants to know?”
She hung up. Mike’s place was hit. He was waiting for her to call and let him know everything went according to plan, to give her final directions to the warehouse. Someone must have gotten wind of the double-cross. Gunselle’s heart beat heavily as she stared into the future. All she could see was a stolen truck and a load of top-quality furs. The furs were already stolen once.
The following day, Gunselle settled into the soft couch at her friend’s house on Potrero Hill. He lived in the mountains most of the time, but she had a key. He’d understand. Just out of a bath, gazing at the sunset in his robe, she took a sip of good red wine. The driver paid for it.
She left the truck unlocked in the Fillmore area, keys on the seat. It would be gone by now. Mike didn’t know her real name. He was probably dead. A hundred beaver and lynx coats hung from nails she pounded into the basement’s exposed joists. Expensive stuff in the Tuxedo style, with saddle shoulders, draped sleeves, and turned-back cuffs. It took her all night to transfer the load in darkness. Each coat would fetch two hundred dollars retail. Gunselle did a lot of modelling. She knew clothes. Maybe she’d open her own shop one day.
Letting her head roll back, she stared at the ceiling, no idea what to do tomorrow.
About the author:
Russell Thayer received his BA in English from the University of Washington and worked for decades at large printing companies. He currently lives in Missoula, Montana.