Geoff made two errors of judgment in his life, both in the middle of Winter. Three, if you count the ex-wife, but that wasn’t life-threatening.
His first should have taught him, but it didn’t.
He was cooling a place down South, a big nightclub with a clientele mostly underage and uneducated. Management wanted to go up market, start charging fifteen bucks for a beer, using glasses for the mixed drinks rather than plastic. That kind of thing. Maybe get a band in sometimes, have the kind of promotion which didn’t involve ‘chicks drink free’.
They called Geoff in later than he would have liked.
“Once there’s an infestation, it’s tougher to make a change,” Geoff said. They were coming in from the suburbs, taxi loads of them, or they’d drive and make a mess of themselves on the way home. That’s why Management finally made the call; three dead, and in the papers ‘coming from the nightclub’, naming them. Didn’t look good.
“Do what you can. We want a re-launch in a month.”
Geoff smiled. “You’ll need to plan for a little longer than that. Unless you want the stragglers mixed in with your new crowd. Some of them take a while to figure it out. Some of them don’t come every week, takes a while for the message to sink in. It’s all about getting the message out, making sure it reaches the right people.”
In the end it was easier than he’d imagined. Once he’d told Management to raise the drink prices, and change the music, and send in some screaming queens to fuck in corners. Make it nasty for the suburban bigots to be there. They weren’t a smart crowd, and were led by a dozen or so kids who looked good but were all about habit.
Other thing he did was to hand out flyers for a nightclub, other side of town. Give them a place to go, a new spot to go to. Make it seem like their choice.
It went very well, till right at the end. Management was pleased, gave him a bonus. Gave him lifetime free drinks as well, but you never drank at a place you’ve cooled. Just not on, not safe, don’t do it.
The last few stragglers; they came late on a Saturday night. He hadn’t seen any of them for a week; it’d been all the business types, drawn by the prospect of cocktails, guaranteed connections, guaranteed introductions at the door, single to single.
He had to use a modicum of force against some of them. One patron, come drunk from another pub, or a party, come thinking he’d find his mates. Geoff’d kicked him out three weeks running, tossing him out on his arse.
“All your mates left ages ago. They don’t like this place anymore,” Geoff said. He pointed up the road. Smiled. Hoped the guy’d piss off quietly, no fuss, but not really expecting that.
“You don’t know my mates, arsehole. I’m going in. I’ve been coming here months, I’m a regular, you’ll be sacked, arsehole.” Words didn’t bother Geoff at all; it was the elbow in the ribs as the guy tried to force his way in that pissed him off.
He raised his elbow quickly, catching the patron under the chin with a nasty crack. His head snapped back, and he was too drunk enough to fight the roll so he fell backwards off the step. Most people, that’d be enough. The drunk ones, nothing’s enough. He came back at Geoff, fists up. Geoff, tired of it, didn’t hold himself back. He laid the blows carefully but aggressively, until the guy bled and could no longer stand. He pointed up at the cross Geoff wore around his neck. “What’re your wearing this for? You’re a godbotherer? Your lot aren’t supposed to beat the crap out of innocent people.”
“We’re all godbotherers, mate.” Geoff didn’t tell him he wore the cross to disarm people. Make them trust him, even if only for a second. Sometimes a second was all you needed.
“Fuck you, fuck off to church, go fuck a nun,” and Geoff drew back, and, using the crown of his skull, split the man’s cheek open like a ripe fruit.
“So they teach pub fighting in Sunday School, do they?”
Geoff turned to the voice. It was young, a woman, but that didn’t mean anything. You don’t let that fool you; women can carry knives, they can bust a bottle and cut up your face as well as men can.
Geoff looked at her, so skinny her legs could barely hold her up. Huge distended stomach, white and tattooed with small dark crosses.
“You reckon you’re coming in here with a baby?” he said.
“Not a baby yet. Still my body.” She sucked hard on a fat, hand rolled cigarette which stank of the bonfires his grandfather still made sometimes. Piles of crap in there, all the rubbish he didn’t want to cart away. It made Geoff think of what he’d left behind, the pus-pile of a city full of rubbish, fires on every corner turning the sky black and covering your skin with a thin film of grit.
“I’m not letting you in,” he said.
But the lack of judgment; he spent too long looking at the girls’ stomach, her legs. His eyes stopped flicking, flicking, and from behind a great peck at his skull.
Knocked forward, he steadied himself on the girl’s shoulder. She shrugged, trying to knock his hand off, but he squeezed tighter, feeling the collarbone and, in that split second, wanting to crack it clean between his fingers.
He ducked under his left arm, twisted into a crouch while pulling the knife from his belt.
She took the force of the second blow. Geoff knew then that his attacker’s reflexes were slow and that gave him time to assess.
Tall. Muscle top (or ‘mussell top’, as Geoff had seen them sold as in the shops where these people came from). Dirty jeans. A long red scar across his nose; look at me. I’m tough.
The weapon was a hooked stick, long enough to cause harm from a distance, but unwieldy. Geoff wondered why they went fancy with their gear. The basics did just as well.
Geoff stepped up under his attacker’s arm and cut the foolishly-revealed jugular.
His attacker fell to his knees, using his weapon to hold himself up.
Geoff felt the dizziness then, the great pain of his head wound. The other patrons had run away, not wanting trouble. All but the pregnant girl
Police sirens, now, one at least. Geoff was relieved. It would be good to sit down, just for a moment.
He felt something stroking the back of his head, probing the wound, and he twisted around to look, strangely calm.
It was a dog.
And the pregnant girl, lying in the gutter, laughed at him.
“That’s not right,” he thought. Waited until he heard the ambulance siren so help for the baby was close, then took a brick and caught her a blow, right to the side of the head.
“She’s pregnant,” he shouted to the paramedics. “Pregnant! Save the baby!”
He didn’t know if the baby was saved or not.
He liked to think so.
He didn’t care what Management thought about the incident; his job was done, and what happened to him after that wasn’t their business or concern. But he was ashamed to see his trainer, John. “Your life, and the lives of those around, depends on how you react. You need to make the decision and stick to it. Stay or go? In or out? You can’t change your mind. A cooler can never change his mind. Never oscillate.”
Proud of the word, its three syllables, its clever meaning. “It’s why women can’t be coolers. They can be swayed. They listen to reason. You need to watch for the signs. No one else cares, do they? No one cares less about your feelings. What’s on the inside.
“Yesterday, one of ‘em got to you. It may well happen again. You’ll see it ‘their way’ and you’ll have thoughts about the Management.
“That happens, you come to me. Mid-shift. I mean it. You down tools, you come to me. Because if you make that connection, you’re done for. You’re finished as a cooler, and you won’t be able to forget what you’ve done in the course of your job.”
John passed Geoff a beer. “The good thing is, we’ve identified your weakness. You lost your judgment because of the baby. Understandable, but unprofessional, right? You can’t be swayed by anything. Right?”
“Right,” Geoff said. And it was all good, after that.
All good till he was called in to cool the crows. Years in between the judgment calls, and the pregnant girls he saw in between didn’t bother him. He didn’t let them bother him; he knew his weakness.
Management at an isolated bar wanted the place back for the locals. The crows liked it because it had burnt close to the ground, people dead and their bones still there in the foundations.
The crows would come, driving through the ice with old cars on bald tyres.
“That’s what we’re talking about,” Management said. “This whole death wish thing. It’s not like they all make it here; two car loads, dead, spun off the road. Taking others with them, but that’s a cause for celebration with this lot.”
Management shook his head, as if he was saddened. “The locals can’t come anymore. They’re not happy. And unhappy locals are not pleasant locals.”
Geoff made it a habit to keep the Management depersonalized as well as the group he was expected to cool. No ties, no connections, no bad decisions based on emotion.
He’d learnt that early on, in a bar in the Far North. Management wanted a small group out because they were underage, he reckoned, but after a hard night, the first night always was, Management confessed to fucking one of them and now she won’t leave him alone.
Geoff liked working in winter less than other seasons. He didn’t hate it; but it wasn’t comfortable. In summer, if he wore cool, loose clothes and managed to stand under the eaves, find himself a bit of shade, he was fine. So long as they brought drinks out to him, kept him hydrated, fine. A lot of the job was outside, on the street, checking it out before it entered.
He listened to them in the queue and inside, later, he’d walk up to one of them and say, “Your mum wants you to know the ring is in the bottom drawer.”
And the girl’d freak out. You could see her shut down, shut all else out but that her dead mother had sent her a message.
“How do you know?” she’d say, not remembering ranting on about the lost ring to a friend in the queue, not remembering saying, “I wish Mum was here. She would have known,” and the tears in the eyes wiped away.
Amazing what they’d talk about in the queue.
But winter. Winter you’re miserable out in it, your face is cold, your smile freezes on your face so people don’t believe it any more. Your ankles ache and the boots you wear; too heavy. You wear more clothes and that makes you clumsy. Patrons are clumsier too, but you don’t like the sense of being not quite in control. Your ears are cold. You don’t feel like eating. You don’t want a cool drink but you don’t want a hot one.
Geoff hated winter.
In the cold, his scars shrank in, stretching the skin surrounding them to give him the look of someone with a bad face-lift. Constantly surprised. Granted, it helped to confuse the patrons, make them doubt his stance. But he didn’t like it.
Geoff liked to joke that his scars throbbed when danger approached. “Early warning system. Don’t always pay attention. They throbbed like hell when I met my ex-wife. Could’ve saved myself a world of pain, there.”
He liked to joke about his ex-wife, but there was nothing funny about it. She said it was about the violence, the way he lived his life, but he never touched her. Never raised an arm at her, or hinted at it. It was just an excuse to cover the guilt she felt for being a crap wife.
She said, “You understand violence. That’s the problem. You get why people hurt each other. You accept it into your life like other people accept Christianity. You’ve got a death wish, a death acceptance. You’re certain you’re going to die violently, and you just accept that.”
“You can’t fight fate,” he told her.
“Fuck you,” she said. He was never sure why that offended her quite so much.
Cooling the crows was a job he couldn’t say no to. A challenge. Entrenched patrons Management wanted to cool, and they were an interesting type.
“They got weird fingernails, and they talk weird, like crows going farrrk farrrk,” Management said. He winked at Geoff. Geoff hated winkers. They took on your answer for themselves. Assumed your yes without even asking you.
Geoff took a few days, checking them out first. In the meantime, he told Management, get those drink prices up. Sometimes that works, on its own.
Especially with a little bit of bouncing at the door. Second night in; three crows, waiting patiently, too lethargic to fight. The locals stood aside, not wanting to enter.
The smell of the crows (mold, wet wool, oily scalps) turned Geoff’s stomach. He gestured one of his flunkies over and whispered, “Piss on their shoes,” and watched as the flunky pissed all over them.
“Sorry folks, you can’t come in with piss on your shoes. Not the kind of place we’re running here.”
The crowd laughed, and Geoff chuckled, too. They’d all seen inside, felt their feet stick to the carpet, seen the toilets overflowing, smelt the air in there even at the start of the night.
One of the locals, he’d been pissed on too. The crows weren’t bothered, but he was. He stepped up to Geoff, stupid mistake, and Geoff just lifted an elbow up under his chin, made the head snap back and shut him up.
The crowd didn’t like it, but that wasn’t going to hurt him.
It was clear from the start that this lot were different to others he’d cooled. They were smarter. And they had a reason to be in the place. He found that out by drinking with them, found it out easy as asking.
One girl, she called herself Necro. He said, “What’s your real name? Because I’m not calling you Necro.”
She played with the chain around her neck. At the end of it; a small crucifix. Not one of the big ornate ones half of them wore as a joke. A real one. She must have got it for her confirmation, something like that.
“Bailey’s the name my parents gave me. You think that’s any less stupid than Necro?”
“At least it’s a name. Necro’s just a description.”
“Well, you know, that’s what we’re about.”
“What, dead bodies? Death?”
She tilted her head at him. “You knocked that guy out pretty easy.”
“Crowd didn’t like it.”
“Yeah, well, most people don’t like violence much. It upsets them.”
“I grew up with it. It’s just another way of communicating,” she said.
That was the start of it; when his judgment slipped.
The crows all had long fingernails. They forced small beads under the nails, so that they nails grew over the beads to curve into claws.
They wore their hair short and spiky.
Sometimes people called them carrion crows.
But, Bailey said, “We are not into dead bodies. We are into dying bodies and the place they leave behind. That’s why we want this place to be ours.”
The scar on the back of Geoff’s head stretched. Could just be the cold, he thought.
“What is it about this place?”
“Hasn’t anyone given you the tour?” She took his hand. He saw Management looking shocked; what the fuck’re you doing? You’re supposed to be getting rid of them, not fucking them.
He’d have a word later. Let me at them. Let me do it my way. You need to know them before you can cool them. He’d already seen that drink prices didn’t matter a rat’s arse to the crows. The locals, they were pissing off in droves. But the crows paid whatever the price. They ran a car wrecking yard, pulled in a fortune. Geoff told Management to mix the drinks wrong, water the beer, pour the spirits meanly. That was the next step. The next avoidance of violence.
Bailey holding his hand felt wrong. The part of his brain which made good judgment numbed, but he thought, so long as I’m aware of it. So long as I know.
“You know this place has burnt down twice.” She stared at the massive fireplace. It stood as tall as Geoff and was twice his armspan. “It was the fire, both times. They don’t realize a fire this big is like a furnace, and the brickwork gets old, or, like they did they second time they built it, made crappy and cheap so it goes up easily.” She led him upstairs.
“The first time, fourteen people died. That’s on record. Management kept a book. You can ask them to see it; they’ve got it somewhere.”
Geoff had seen the little museum; an old box with books, a charred wine bottle, some keys. That kind of thing.
She led him upstairs. From there, the view of the grounds was clear.
“They buried most of them in the yard, there.” He could see small headstones, some of them draped with strips of colourful material. Once colourful. Now faded and grey with cold. Geoff looked at them and wondered; why do they bother? What is the fucking point of it, remember the dead? Better to forget.
“The next fire, they found nothing but bones,” Bailey said. “They built over them, is what I’ve heard. So down there, in the foundations, are the bones of the burned. They think it was about 16, that time.”
“But you’re a Christian, aren’t you?” He touched his crucifix. “That kinda death obsession isn’t very Christian.”
“You should know that we all serve God in our own way. Some obsess with family, or they go out volunteering, making themselves look good. I don’t care about looking good. What about you? What about your family?”
“No family. I move around a lot. Don’t get much of a chance to form close friendships. It’s a lonely life in a lotta ways. You rely on strangers for your relationships.”
He told himself he was doing it to get her onside, figure out what it was that would work on them.
Back at the pub, some of the crows barely moved. They were led in by the others, sat down, and they stayed there, barely blinking, until it was time to go. Geoff couldn’t figure them. Druggies, he guessed. One man, Carn, Geoff thought his name was, checked them, made sure they sat upright, didn’t dribble on the table.
Carn looked like a follower, but some leaders do.
Geoff kept an eye on him.
Geoff upped the basic stuff. Got people in to steal their bags, their phones, their laptops, whatever they were carrying. Had Management put up a sign saying “all care and no responsibility. And we’re lying about the care part.”
He called the pound on their dogs. They bailed them out quick enough, but he called the pound again, and again.
They left the dogs in the car after that, bowl of water, window open a slit. Up his sleeve, Geoff had poisoned meat.
“Nice dogs,” he said. “Hope no one slips anything to them.”
“They’re worth a lot of money. They’re cancer dogs. We gottem from the research institute. They can smell cancer on a person.” Carn was always covered in dog hair. He didn’t seem to notice.
He got people in to sell them drugs, then called a police raid. That cleared a lot of them, but too many of the locals, at the same time.
The place was a lot tougher than he’d been led to believe. Turned out it was a tow truck drivers place, too. They were blokes he didn’t like to mess with. Management was happy with them, though. They were real men, they drank beer by the keg, they left tips, they spread the word.
It took Geoff a while to realize it, but the crows were there for the towies. Not just for the place.
For the towies.
A call would come in, one of the towies, two, sometimes three, would grab their keys. The crows would follow.
Geoff jumped in with Bailey, one time. “Where’re we going?”
“You don’t want to come.”
“Just this once.”
Scene of the accident, and the crows stood back, letting the towies do their job.
Carn hopped around amongst the cars, three of them, there were. He inspected them like a cop, miming note taking. The towies laughed, first minute, then one of them waved a tyre iron to scare him off.
Carn hopped back. “One of them’s a write off. Let’s get it for the yard. A seller, rather than a builder.”
Bailey nodded. “Offer ‘em $200.”
Carn walked to the owner, a middle-aged woman, cut across the forehead. He spoke; she looked at the towie. The towie nodded. She nodded.
“They get 30 percent of the scrap sales,” Bailey said. “If someone’d died in it, we’d offer them a straight thousand, something like that. We don’t sell the ones someone’s died in.”
“You’re pretty sick, you lot,” Geoff said.
He called his trainer, John, to come out for a look.
“You’re okay. You’re doing fine,” John said. “I can’t come out, mate. I’ve got five on the go here, and the wife’s about to piss off, the kids, can’t even tell you what the kids are up to, and Mum’s sick.”
“I’m feeling a little concerned. I wouldn’t tell this to anyone but you. I’m not sure…”
“Geoff, you deal with it. Right? You don’t need me any more. You’re a big boy.”
And with that, Geoff was deserted.
In his ear, Management hissed, “Why are they still in the queue? Get rid of them. I thought you were the best. That’s what I was told.”
“I am the best. Some pests take time to exterminate. Two, three doses of poison and they still hold on. Eggs you didn’t see. Infestation you didn’t find. You need to be patient, pick them off until the last one is gone. Main thing is, if you’ve got a massive infestation; find the nest. You figure out where they’re coming from and you cool that place too.”
“Reasonable for the results. For the chance to say, it’s done. No eggs, nothing left to reinfest.”
Management nodded. “I’m liking your language, Geoff. I like the way you look at things. Drink?”
It was a mistake to drink with Management. They told you things you didn’t want to hear, then made you suffer for knowing.
That was Management, all over.
“And next time you brief someone, it makes sense to give them all the info they’re going to need to do the job. Same with anything, even your shopping list, mate. You give the right information, you get the job done. You told me crows, just the crows. But the crows come for the towies, don’t they? And the towies are a lot harder to cool than the crows.”
“And I want the towies cooled because?”
“Because the crows are here for them. You get rid of the towies, the crows are going to leave.”
“Well, get to work, mate. This is taking too long.”
Geoff told Bailey; “I’ve checked out the stories, Bailey. There was a fire here, one fire, but no one died in it. They all got out in time.”
Bailey shook her head. “We know people. We’ve spoken to them. We know the truth.” She smiled at him. “You should come see where we live. The old car yard. Every car we use to live in; someone’s died in. Guaranteed. You should come see it.”
“I don’t go to people’s homes,” he said. “I like the familiar.”
He started in on the towies. They were going to be tough; they’d been coming to this pub for years, 20 years, some of them had come as kids.
He’d need reinforcements. There was going to be violence.
Bailey called him. “Geoff. Geoff. You have to help us. One of the towies is here, he’s got Carn, he’s beating him up. You have to come and help.”
“Just one of them?” Geoff said. “You sure there’s not more?”
“It’s that one who pushed me over last week. He hates us. The others don’t care.”
Geoff knew he had to get to the nest soon; this was a good excuse.
He grabbed some things; a tyre iron, a knife or two, his baseball bat. Threw them in the back of the car.
Error of judgment. He thought he’d sussed it. Thought he’d figured out the lay of the land.
But he’d been distracted.
He arrived at the dead car yard they called home. The cars. Seen individually, the cars were once luxury vehicles. Some of them were Mercedes, and some nice RVs there, hatchbacks, a convertible or two. Older Holdens, Fords, tough, sturdy, whole sections rusted away.
Once there was space between the cars, room for a man to walk.
Now the cars were merged. Rust and ivy made it hard to distinguish one car from another, though in places a recognizable grille poked out, or an emblem, or one last patch of original colour.
Apart from that, its one tall tower of metal, rust, ivy, broken glass, fake leather, real leather gone furry and plastic; steering wheels, dashboards, all merged into one.
Bailey ran to the car, reached in the touch his arm.
His arm, brown and strong, against hers, white and weak.
He got out, holding his baseball bat. “Where are they?” The crows stood around him, and he stepped with his back to his car.
“You’re looking well for a ghost.” Carn said to Geoff.
“I’m alive and kicking, buddy. All rumours to the contrary.” Carn’s nose twitched. He twisted his cancer dog’s collar, let the dog sniff Geoff.
The dog whined.
“He knows. Death is in us all.”
“Where’s the towie? Bailey said you were being beaten up.”
“And you came to help me? That’s very kind.”
“I thought he might move onto her. He’d beat you to death in minutes.”
“I just wanted you to come visit me. You’re so cautious you wouldn’t come when I invited you. I wanted you to see where we lived.”
Research, he thought. This is research. The only way I’m going to cool them is to know them. I need to know their nest.
But he knew it wasn’t that. Even as he made the error of judgment, he let himself make it. He chose it.
Because he looked at Bailey and saw a woman who understood violence. Who accepted it into her life.
That was a rare thing.
“Have a look round while you’re here.” She took his arm. “This is the part we live in.”
They entered through a doorway, two cars leaning nose to nose against each other to form a triangle. It was like a cave, warm from the cold outside, lined with blankets, partitions there so they had some privacy. He tried to keep track of the turns, but the cars were all alike, the rustiness of them making it seem like one big wall of car.
Geoff felt okay about it; no threat.
Inside, some cars rested on their sides, providing walls of sorts. Some cars had been cut and sliced; they were chairs, tables, wash basins.
Carn sat down on the seat of an old Jag.
“Have a drink, Geoff. Vodka, wasn’t it?”
“Not for me, thanks.”
Never drink on the job.
“And this,” she said, leading him through more cars, though he barely recognized them. “This is where we keep the ghosts.”
The smell of it was awful. He’d worked in some places, some absolute pus-holes, but this…
“What do you mean, ghosts?”
As he spoke, he looked up. There were, what? Fifty cars, piled up? Almost impossible to tell, the way they’d merged together. He saw movement in what used to be the windscreens, large white movement he couldn’t figure out.
“There are people living in there?”
She shook her head.
“They’re dying in there.”
She stepped up to one, pulled out her camera. Snapped a picture.
Inside the car, the seats had been removed. Inside, a man, Geoff thought, though it could have been a woman. Tits that big, flabby fat flesh. He filled most of the car. His limbs rested limply; he blinked slowly at Geoff, though didn’t seem to see him. Below him, a pile of shit, layers of it.
“What the fuck is that?”
“A ghost. He’s dying. We’re looking after him.”
There was no looking after, though. Geoff could see that.
“You just let him shit in a pile through a hole in the car?”
“We feed them coffee beans and wait till they shit them through. Like those beans people buy which have been shitted by that wild cat. Best coffee you’ll ever taste. I’ll make you one later.”
He shook his head.
She laughed. “I’m joking. Geoff? It’s a joke.”
“But…” he waved his arm. He could see the cars were full, at least ten of them, ten of them with fat white bodies in there, sitting, blinking.
“Oh, this part’s not a joke. This is our life’s work. We’re keeping a record of their deaths. The moment they die. It’s important work. They’ll be remembered for it. Otherwise, they’d die on the street and no one’d even move the body.” She said this loudly, to the people in the cars.
Geoff could hear nothing from them.
“They don’t talk much. Mostly can’t.”
“But why don’t they just get out?”
“Look at them, Geoff. Most of them can’t, now. Carn’s such a genius. I don’t what it is he gives them, but I think it’s part that drug they give to keep kids quiet, part something else. You saw them at the pub; those are ghosts in progress.”
Geoff thought of the druggies he’d seen hanging out with the crows.
“But…they haven’t got any room to move.”
“How small is the womb? We have no room there. This is the perfect way to return to the womb.”
“Out of the goodness of our hearts,” she said. “They all came to us off the streets, abandoned, ignored, forgotten. They have wasted lives.”
She snapped another photo.
“We keep in nice and cold here, so we can see their breath. So we can see their last breath.” She packed her camera away. “I’m pretty good at knowing how many breaths they’ve got left. That one there…” she pointed to a woman with drooping eyes, a greenish tint to her skin. “She’s got maybe a hundred, hundred and fifty. She’s close.”
“Just think of it, Geoff. No more decisions to be made. No more fights to be won. Just giving in to God’s will. Allowing fate to take its toll.”
“Ready for that vodka, Geoff?” Carn said and finally the instinct kicked in. Geoff crouched, knowing something was coming. Carn threw a jug of vodka at him, following it up with a lit match.
It was a pathetic attempt. Geoff hit the match away, grabbed the jug, smashed it to the side of Carn’s head. It shattered, so he had a glass weapon.
“Anyone?” he said. “Anyone?” One of the first rules about being outnumbered (apart from never letting yourself get outnumbered) was to intimidate. Make it seem like you’re in control, you’re crazier than them.
“This way,” Bailey said, grabbing his arm. “You’ve made your point. Come out this way.”
She tugged at him, and it was either stay there, with their big guy bleeding on the ground and any minute they’ll get up the guts to do something, or go with her.
She led him through the cars, a different way than that they came, he was sure.
“Where’re we going?”
“Back way. They’ll try to meet us out front. You shouldn’t have hit Carn.”
“He tried to set me on fire.”
She looked at him. “He tripped.”
He shook his head. “He doesn’t like me.”
She led him climbing through an old minivan, fast food wrappers still on the floor from when it was a vehicle.
“That was pretty cool, the way you whacked him.”
He’d follow her anywhere, for that. He realised what his real weak spot was; not pregnant women, but women who understood violence.
Women like Bailey.
Then they were out. It was so cold, compared to inside.
“Let’s get to the car, I’ll put the heater on,” he said. She stopped. “You’re going to come with me, aren’t you?”
“Just away. I can’t stay here, now. I’m swayed, I’m done. I need to move on.” He was done. The sense of relief, the idea that he didn’t have to cool any more, settled him.
“What are you going to do, then? And what am I going to do? Leave this behind?”
“We’ll sort that out,” he said. “We’ll build a new place. You’ll work on the road. Make it random.” Thoughts ran at him. “There’ll be car wrecks along the way, heart attacks, everything happens on the road.”
They stopped close tomidnightfor coffee, an outdoor place, brightly lit, with ice on the tables and mittens provided to hold the mugs.
“How many more breaths would you say you had? Fifty thousand? Maybe sixty.”
He laughed. “I’m right for a while.”
“We all have to have a last breath.” She fiddled with her camera.
His breath puffed out in the cold. He saw her watching it, saw the pulse in her temple.
She’d be counting his breaths; he knew that. He also knew it didn’t matter. He had to have a last breath; if she wanted to capture it, fine.
“It’s cold,” he said. “Let’s get going.”
She packed her camera away.
“Somewhere cold,” she said.
Copyright © 2012, Kaaron Warren
Published in agreement with the author