by Audrey Breshears
The bar of soap was just a sliver. The sinewy man turned on both faucets in the tiny stainless steel sink and wet the bar as he rubbed it between his chaffed hands. He lathered his half inch hair and washed his stubbly face and moved down to his neck and chest. He clawed at the stubborn Mom tattoo scrolled on his deltoid until it bled, but it was no use. It was there for good. He managed to conjure up more lather for his hairier lower half, taking care to clean each crack and crevice. With cupped hands, he collected water and splashed it over himself handfuls at a time. It was like rinsing a washed car with a thimble – not the best way to take a shower, but it was the only way. The soapy water ran toward the drain in the concrete floor like it was in a hurry to get away from him and his skin was chapped and tender from the series of five daily baths. He couldn’t help himself.
After he carefully put on the orange uniform and placed his wire framed glasses on his long nose, he picked up a well-worn book, flipped it over and carefully opened the back cover. There was a slit next to the binding. He lifted the inside cover away from the leather and pulled out a packet of white powder. He bit a tiny hole in its corner poured a two inch line on the last page of Revelation. He felt under the metal bed frame for his straw and brought one end to his nose and the other to the dust.
One more hour and his nineteen year sentence would be over.
The fan belt squealed rhythmically on the Dodge Caravan as Dick St. Helen’s wife drove through the razor wire gates at the prison. “Mom, are we gonna get locked in here?” Tristan asked nervously as the gates slid together behind them.
“No! Jeez, shut up, will ya?” she said. “Christ!” The cigarette that hung from her crimson lips sprinkled ashes on her cleavage when she skidded to a stop. She flung open the door and grunted as she heaved herself out of the van. One last drag and she flicked the cigarette to the asphalt. “Stay in the car,” she said to Tristan as she slammed her door. He drew his jacket around him and locked the doors on the van.
Jolene stomped up to the guards. “Go ahead,” she said, blowing out the smoke and spreading her massive arms and legs. “You know you want to.” They exchanged a disgusted glance and frisked her.
“Clear,” one of them said and the buzzer rang loudly as the doors slid open and admitted Jolene St. Helen to the prison. She gyrated down the hall like a roller derby queen.
Dick sat grinding his teeth and clenching and unclenching his fists as he waited for his online wife to pick him up. She was late. “Here you go, St. Helen,” the guard said and handed him a manilla envelope. He unwound the string that tied it shut and poured the contents out on the bench. He hadn’t seen this stuff in nineteen years. It contained the contents of his pockets when he was arrested for kidnapping and raping a prostitute. He still didn’t get that. How could you rape a prostitute? There was a pair of glasses with a cracked lens, a Speidel ID bracelet that his mom had given him and never bothered to put his name on, and the only present he ever got from his dad – a set of dummy keys. They were leftover from a promotion at his car lot where customers were lured with the chance to win a car if their key fit the ignition. Catch was, none of them unlocked anything. He felt foolish for keeping the childhood gift, and hurriedly crammed the useless items in his pockets.
When he saw Jolene, he stood and glared at her. She just raised her eyebrows at him and marched to the desk. Dick silently watched over her tattooed shoulder while she signed stacks of papers and answered question after question.
“Jesus, are you gonna take a kidney or give me an ex-con?” she asked. While they waited for the supervisor to examine the papers, she tapped the toe of her stiletto, which was no easy task, seeing how she could barely balance in them and her feet were spilling over the edges. The sweet scent of her body spray assaulted everyone in the room. Dick had begun to sweat.
He did not respond when the guard said, “OK, St. Helen, you’re outta here.” He simply turned and walked down the hall toward the door in long purposeful strides. She had to trot to keep up with him.
“Hey, Dickie, you’re not gonna believe Tristan. He’s so handsome! And so big for fifteen! Bigger’n you!” Dick said nothing. He cared nothing for his stepson. He tucked his cocaine laden Bible under his armpit and threw the empty manilla envelope on the floor as he strode through the bullet proof glass doors.
Jolene got in the driver’s side and Dick slammed his door so hard the visor fell in his lap. “Where’d you get this Lamborghini?” he asked her as he glanced around. Tristan’s face paled when Dick’s eyes settled on him. “I thought you said he was handsome,” he sneered. “He looks like a fag to me.”
“He ain’t no fag!” she said indignantly. “You’re the fag – I bet you liked some of those big ole boys, didn’t ya?”
“Shut up, you whore,” Dick said. “I’ll slap the pis out of you.”
Tristan rolled down his window. He looked like he was about to puke.
Mary Steele picked up the pistol. It was lying on the table at the gun show next to the jewelry case. “How much is this?” She asked, even though the price tag was dangling from a string tied to the trigger guard. “I can do $925 out the door.” It was marked $999.
“Throw in a box of shells?” She had been looking for a Kimber compact 45 ever since she had decided to get her concealed carry license. She pointed it at the floor, closed her left eye and looked down the sights. It fit her small hands and wasn’t all that heavy. It should have plenty of knock down power and be relatively accurate.
He looked at the young woman with the pony tail and glasses. She was about five feet tall. He wondered if she could handle that gun, but hey….
He sighed and squinted his eyes at her. “Okay.”
“Great,” she smiled.
“All right, now we’ve got to do the paperwork,” He handed her a clip board and a pen. She answered the absurd questions on the yellow background check form. “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” No. “Have you been adjudicated mentally defective or have you ever been confined to a mental hospital?” No. “Are you a fugitive from justice?” No. “Are you under a restraining order?”
She asked the dealer if anyone actually ever answered yes to any of these questions.
“You’d be surprised,” he said. “There’s a lot of nuts out there.” She finished the form, showed him her driver’s license and he copied the number down. He put the gun in its hard plastic case and handed it to her just as Joey walked up.
“What’d ya get?” He asked, smiling. She handed it to him.
“All right. Just what you wanted,” he said. “Did you get some bullets?”
“Yep. HydraShoks,” she said.
She handed the man her credit card and he swiped it on his phone cube. He looked at Joey and said, “I’ll make ya a deal on a pair of those.” Joey laughed and said, “Can’t afford it!”
At the range, Mary put on her shooting glasses and hearing protectors. She gripped the Kimber
with both hands and held it in front of her. She widened her stance, looked down the barrel and lined up the white dot on the front sight with the flat U of the rear sight. She placed the X on the center of the target on top of the front sight, held her breath and squeezed. She shot six more times before she was out of bullets and the slide stayed locked open. She laid the gun on the carpeted table and slid off the hearing protectors.
Her instructor pushed a button and the target slid up the track to them. “You’ve shot guns before,” he said. The holes were all in the center of the silhouette’s chest.
“Yeah, me and my dad used to shoot a lot,” she said.
“Yeah, I can tell. Let’s see that again,”
She smiled, a little proud of herself. “Okay.”
He clipped a new target on the track and sent it away, further this time. She put on the glasses and muffs again and reloaded. Showing out this time, she doubled tapped the face of the silhouette and the other five went in the center ring on its chest.
The instructor grinned. The classroom part of the concealed carry course was boring, but he loved the range, especially when he had a good student.
“All right. That’s good enough to qualify,” he said. “It takes about four to six weeks to get your license. They’ve gotta have time to process your background check and all. It’ll come in the mail, directly to you. Then you’re good to go.”
“Okay. Hey, I appreciate you,” she said as she shook his hand.
Mary picked up her pistol and popped out the empty magazine. She pushed in seven new bullets and shoved it back in the gun, pulled down the slide release and clicked on the safety. She put the gun in the pistol rug and zipped it.
In the Land Rover, she opened the over-sized glove box and put her gun in and locked the lid. Emanuel was too little to even open the compartment, much less unzip the case and fire the gun, but
she wanted to be safe.
She called her husband as she pulled out of the parking lot. “I’m done,” she told him.
“Great!” Joey said. “I got the oil changed in your car. You gonna pick up Manny or you want me to?”
“I’ll get him. I’ve got to get gas on the way home. You’re sitting on empty.”
“Okay,” he said. “You want me to get us a pizza?”
“Um…” she was thinking of something healthier, but she relented. “Sure. See you in a little bit.”
Mary hung up as she pulled up to the farmhouse where she grew up. Manny was toddling from one flower to another pretending to smell them. His grandmother picked him up just as he was giving one a taste. “Shoo wee,” she told him. Mary got out of the SUV.
“Was he good for you?” She asked her mom.
“Oh, yeah. He’s always good,” her mom said as the baby reached for his mommy. Mary got a poop report and heard about what all he had eaten that day. Then her mom laughed and said, “Oh, I gotta tell you something. Emanuel got into the trash.” She shook her head and covered her smile. “I had bought a Spiderman cake at Kroger on clearance. It was just four dollars because its head was kind of messed up, but I thought it would still taste good. Well, me and your daddy and Manny had some after lunch, but your daddy didn’t like it. You know how he is – so I chunked it. It did taste kind of funky – it was probably something they found way in the back of the case and decided to get it out and let it go. They figured it would make its way into someone’s cart, I guess.
“Anyway, I was in there folding clothes and Manny came around the corner. He was just covered in that red icing. It was in his hair, on his shirt – all over him. He was crying, trying to get it off him. Poor baby. He didn’t like being all messed up, did you, Baby?” She picked Manny up. “He was fine, though, after I got him cleaned up.” Emanuel grinned as if he knew exactly what they were talking about.
“How was your class?” her mom asked.
“Oh, fine. I got qualified for my license.”
“Good. You be careful with that gun around the baby. I know Daddy taught you about guns.”
“I will, Mom.” Mary’s mom carried the diaper bag to the car. They hugged goodbye. “Give Granny a kiss.” Manny puckered his little lips and his grandmother gave them a quick smack.
“Bye, Sweetie. Granny loves you!”
Mary fastened the baby into his carseat. He said, “Bite?” Manny was always hungry.
“Daddy’s getting us some pizza. We’ll have some in just a minute.” She got in the truck and started it. Jake Owen was on the radio as she pulled out on the street. She turned the rear view mirror where she could see Manny nodding his head and pointing his index fingers in the air. She laughed and started singing, “She was the one that got a-way” She looked at the gas gauge. and remembered she had to stop and fill up. Joey didn’t like to get below a quarter tank. She pulled into the Valero station on the corner as the notes faded.
She hummed as she got out and went to the passenger side and opened the fuel door.
Jolene just about pulled the bumper off the Caravan when it drug in the pothole. The gravel drive to the sagging mobile home between the gas station and the adult video rental store was dry and bumpy. Dust clouded behind them as if it were trying to obliterate their very existence. “Whose car is that?” Dick pointed at the old Cadillac.
“Your mom’s,” Jolene said. “She wanted to surprise you.”
“Why would I want to see her?”
Norma stepped out onto the porch. She was wearing a red wig, huge white framed sunglasses, tight flowered Capri pants and her shirt was tied around her waist. She waved and hollered, “Dickie! Hey!” She was waving a Kleenex like it was a pom pom and he had just made a touchdown.
“Tell her to get out of here,” Dick said and sat in the van like he may just spend the night there.
“Oh, come on, you baby,” she scolded. “She’s old.”
Tristan and Jolene got out of the van and walked toward the trailer. Norma gingerly came down the steps. “Where’s Dickie?” she asked them.
“In the van.”
Dick watched his mother jiggle toward him. She moved a lot slower than she did nineteen years ago. The red wig reminded him of the real hair she had when he was a teenager. He remembered his sixteenth birthday party. His mother had fawned all over him and his friends, feeding him cake and licking the frosting off the knife while she looked into his eyes.
That was during his Bruce Lee period, which was before the Eddie Van Halen period, which was before the ‘I’m just like my boss, the jeweler’ period. He was always trying to be someone else and it had never worked.
She made it to the van. “Dickie, get out and hug your mama!”
He got out all right, but he just pushed her into the hood of the van and stalked into the house.
“Wait a minute!” she shouted at his back. “Come help me a minute! That’s no way to treat your mama!”
He slammed the door behind him and went straight to the refrigerator. He opened a beer and drained the can without stopping. Norma opened the door slowly and stepped into the living room. Her wig sat crookedly on her head and she breathed heavily. “Well, I thought you’d be happy to see me,” she said between pants.
Dick looked hard at her. Here was the reason he had spent nearly twenty years in prison. She was the reason he hated women and could not sleep at night. Mothers were not supposed to be like her.
“Happy to see you? Happy to see you?” His voice grew louder. “No, I’m not happy to see you! Just get out!” he shouted. He went to the bedroom in the house where he had never been before. He would have slammed the door if there had been one. He jerked open a dresser drawer and saw stacks of
Penthouse magazines and red lingerie. Whose room is this? He looked around. There was a large unmade bed between two crooked lamps. A back pack was on the floor next to a worn out pair of Converses and a woman’s house coat was flung across the bed. A clock on the bedside table flashed the time in red numbers.
He went across the hall to the other bedroom, but there was only a TV and an Xbox and two bean bag chairs. “Who sleeps in there?” he shouted at Jolene, pointing at the room with the bed.
“Me and Tristan,” She said quietly. “We only have one bed.”
“No!” he screamed, thinking of his own teenaged bedroom.
Norma, too, was remembering those dark years as she watched her son tearing through the trailer. His dad was always at that god forsaken car lot and then he was gone altogether. She had been desperate for love and here was its aftermath. Her face and shoulders were heavy with the burden as she moved trance-like to the drawer where she knew Jolene kept her pistol. She turned and stood with her arms limp at her sides with the large revolver hanging in her right hand. Streams of black mascara ran down her white powdered face. She slowly raised the gun to her temple. “I’m sorry, Dickie.” The walls of the trailer volleyed the piercing blast.
“Mama!” Dick’s voice was suddenly childlike. He ran to her collapsed body and lay over it, sobbing. “Mama, Mama!” The gun came into focus through his tears. His rage reignited and he snatched the pistol up and wiped his nose with the back of his sticky red hand. Jolene was hugging her knees and screeching like an owl perched on a limb, shaking her head violently. “You’re just like her!” he screamed and fired two rounds into his buxom wife’s chest. The blast spread eagled her across the sofa, knocking it off its propped up legs. Tristan covered his ears and scrambled for the door, but he tripped over Norma’s body. Dick fell to his knees in the middle of Tristan’s back and touched the barrel to the back of his head. “You’re better off,” he said, and pulled back the hammer and fired.
Dick held onto the door facing and pulled himself up. He staggered to the sink and looked out the window and then frantically began to wash his face and hands. People were milling around. “Did you hear that?” he heard on man ask another. “Where’d it come from?”
He picked up the gun and ran wildly out the door, across the yard into the Valero lot next door. A young woman was putting the nozzle into a big SUV.
“Get in the car, lady.”
Mary Steele’s heart dropped as she turned to the voice. A man with wild eyes and a blood spattered shirt was pointing a gun at her. “Hurry up!” he shouted as he opened the door. He shoved her
in and slammed the door behind her and pointed the gun at Emanuel as he came around to the driver’s side. Mary looked around and saw several people watching, frozen. She was so startled she couldn’t think.
He slammed his door as he got in and threw the automatic door locks. The keys she had left in the ignition jangled as he started the car and screeched out of the parking lot, leaving the gas nozzle bouncing on the concrete. She said, “What do you want? I’ll give you my purse, I’ve got about a hundred dollars and some credit cards. You can have all of it. You can have the truck. Just let me and my baby out.”
“Shut up, you whore!” he shouted. “Just shut up!” They sped down the rural highway faster than Mary had ever gone in a car. Her heart pounded and Emanuel started wailing. “Shut that kid up before I shoot him between his little eyes!”
“Manny,” she tried to console him, “Hush, baby.” Her heart raced, horrified at the thought of Emanuel being shot. The Kimber, how can I get it?
She looked over at Dick, but he was holding his pistol on her and glanced at her every couple of seconds. “Keep your hands where I can see them!” She quickly put her hands on her knees.
She looked back at Manny and he reached for her, opening and closing his little hands. The man was trembling and he reeked of cigarettes and beer.
The notes of Dixie rang out from her pocket. “Give me that!” he shouted. She took the cell phone out. It was Joey. She handed him the phone and he threw it out the window and it shattered on the asphalt. He was gaining speed when they came upon a lumbering old truck loaded with hay. St.Helen passed it on a double yellow, in a curve, swerved to miss an oncoming car and squeezed back into his lane. “God help us,” she prayed.
A siren and flashing lights were fast approaching behind them. Dick looked in the rear view mirror and stomped the accelerator. Mary grabbed the handle over the glove box on the Rover to keep
from getting thrown around in the truck. Emanuel wailed loudly. “I swear to God I’m gonna shoot that kid if he don’t shut up!” He waved the pistol.
“Can I get back there with him?” she asked.
“Yeah, yeah, just shut him up before I do!”
She climbed between the two front seats and fell into the backseat as he took a sharp curve. She held onto Manny’s car seat and pulled herself next to him.
The dispatcher radioed the police cars. “Be advised that suspect is armed and dangerous. Reports of shooting at suspect’s home, two females and a juvenile deceased. Recent parolee from Cummins.”
Mary took Emanuel’s hand and tried to calm him. His face was red and his nose ran mucous into his mouth. He was getting hoarse from screaming. She wiped his face with her hand.
Son of a bitch. She glanced at the fuel gauge and hoped he would run out of gas soon.
The reporter’s cell phone rang in his pocket. “Get Bob and get on the chopper. There’s a high speed chase on Highway 10 just west of town.. Carjacking. Some guy’s got a girl and her baby.” Ethan James ran down the hall of the news station and met the helicopter pilot on the way out. The cameraman was already on the helipad. They were in the air in less than five minutes.
“There they are!” By the time the men on the news chopper spotted the blinking lights chasing the Land Rover down the road, the pursuit had gone on for thirty miles. Bob dived in closer so the cameraman could get a shot. The Pulaski County’s Sheriff’s cars were bearing down on the SUV. They could hear the banter on the police scanner in the helicopter.
“Visual on vehicle’s occupants. Woman in rear with baby. Suspect driving. Over.”
“10-4. 76, maintain distance. We don’t want a crash.”
In the Rover, Dick looked in the rear view mirror. There were three cop cars in a tight line shadowing him in a ramped up Follow the Leader game. Police cars were approaching from the other direction now, too. The setting sun glared mercilessly in his eyes. He tried to shield his face but he couldn’t see anything. He slowed a little and made a sharp right into the ditch and plowed through a barbed wire fence into a hayfield.
“Going live!” The producer shouted into Ethan’s earphones. The local channel interrupted CSI to broadcast the scene.
The Land Rover bounced across the field and Mary’s head hit the side window in the back and her knees rammed the back of the seat. She grabbed at the head rest but didn’t catch hold. Emanuel’s little arms and legs flailed about helplessly. He had stopped screaming. The police cars slid to a stop in the gravel beside the highway.
“Back up!! Send the pickup out here!” A couple of them stomp-ran through the field, following the tracks in the grass.
The Land Rover lurched and stopped. Dick St. Helen looked over his shoulder at his hostages. He raised the revolver over the headrest and pointed it at Emanuel and cocked the hammer. The baby whimpered as Mary was struggled to get up out of the floorboard. She raised her head over the seat and saw her kidnapper pointing the gun at Manny. She shrieked a stream of obscenities that she didn’t even know she knew. Her face was streaked with mascara and the setting sun lit her hair giving it a reddish cast. But Dick didn’t see Mary – all he saw was his mother with her head half blown off. A guttural yell escaped his throat and he jumped out of the vehicle and ran through the waist high grass.
Blind fury engulfed Mary Steele. The baby was sweaty and pale, but he was alert. She got out of the backseat and threw open the front passenger door and reached across and jerked the keys out of the ignition. She unlocked the glove box and took out the pistol rug, unzipped it and grabbed the 45. She jumped out and wildly fired two shots at St. Helen and missed. She took a deep breath, held the gun with both hands and rested her arms across the hood of her truck. Just take your time, hold your breath and squeeze, she could hear her dad’s voice in her mind. Three bullets were in Dick St. Helen’s back before he could fall headlong in the bloody grass. The gun fell from her hands and went to Manny. She unbuckled him and hugged him like she had never hugged him before. The live feed from the helicopter cut to quickly cut away to commercial.
The paramedic’s heavy boots thudded across the sagging trailer house floor. He knelt next to the body lying face down in a bloody pool and carefully palpated its neck for a pulse. He was bent over and listening intently for any sign of breathing when he noticed the red stained tattoo on the back of Tristan’s neck. The image of a Phoenix rising out of the ashes became clear just as he felt the faintest flicker of a pulse.
Audrey Breshears Bio:
Native Arkansan Audrey Breshears is a registered nurse and a 1989 graduate of National Park Community College. She and husband Danny have a farm at Hollis Arkansas, where they have an off the grid cabin, a small herd of goats, sheep, miniature horses, chickens, homing pigeons and bees. Breshears enjoys shooting hand guns, hiking, re-purposing furniture, collecting vintage alarm clocks, and spending time with her three grandchildren. She plays bass guitar and is a licensed ham radio operator. Intriguing people and the psychology that motivates them are the subject of most of her writing. Her first book, Living at Hollis, is under construction.