A typical grave in the desert measured four feet deep by four feet wide, not the usual six feet deep. The extra two feet took another thirty to forty-five minutes to dig, depending on rests. This was on top of the ninety minutes it took to dig the first four feet, and there was no telling who might show up in that time.
Victor Bank didn’t want to find out.
He dug fast, beneath a starry night sky. The silhouettes of cactus and mesquite filled the desert landscape. Shadows skittered across the sand, probably Jackrabbits or Javelina he figured.
He finally stopped, out of breath. It had taken him sixty minutes, record time. He sighed in relief, grateful he was finished.
Even in the middle of the night, the best time to dig, someone could come strolling along – cops, kids out getting liquored up before a little target practice on the cactuses – and the last thing he needed was to dig more holes.
He looked to the distance, where Phoenix glowed like a circuit board of winking lights.
Somewhere in Phoenix, he thought, someone was dying.
Not peaceful, quiet, in their sleep, but excruciating, brutally painful, medieval hard-pipe-hitting-nigga type shit.
How many were getting killed? he wondered. Who was getting murdered, raped, robbed, kidnapped, at that very moment? Somewhere it was happening, somewhere it was all going down, in the broken-down streets and buildings heaped together by an atrophied system, among the wretched-depraved.
How many got busted, and who?
Kidnapping was the new craze. The Mexican cartels had a monopoly on kidnapping and mostly restricted it to rival cartel members, or illegals that couldn’t pay back the money they owed for getting smuggled across the border. Their families were also fair game, locked in cages like animals in hideouts throughout Phoenix until the ransom was paid. The rest of the city was off limits, but shit happened, and sometimes civilians got caught in the crossfire, chalked up to collateral damage.
But collateral damage was exactly the reason Victor had a package in the trunk of his 1980 Buick Regal. A fat, sweaty Mexican named Geraldo, stinking up the trunk, all 350 pounds of him.
Victor grabbed the heavy duty black plastic Hefty bag. He pulled the bag to the edge of the trunk, grunting from the effort. Chopped up, the prick still weighed a ton. He heaved the bag onto the ground and the bag squished into the sand like week-old meat. The bag smelled about the same, too. Victor stopped to think just how long Geraldo, what was left of the fat prick, had been festering in the bag.
Car lights shone through the darkness about a mile away. Victor couldn’t tell if the car was getting closer or farther. He shoved the bag hard toward the hole, making the bag jiggle like jello with each shove. He still saw the lights in the distance, maybe closer now, he wasn’t sure. He pivoted around to the other side of the bag, grabbed hold, and pulled the bag toward the hole. The bag tore and some of the rotted leftovers of Geraldo’s massive girth spilled out. The gore soaked into the sand. Victor fell back, knocked on his ass.
“Motherfucking cock sucker!”
He scrambled back to his feet and the stench nearly knocked him down again.
The car lights disappeared.
After a couple more minutes of labored tugging and pulling, careful not to tear the bag completely open, Victor finally dragged Geraldo to the hole and dumped the fat fuck inside. Victor slumped onto the ground next to the hole, out of breath again. He wouldn’t need to hit the gym for a couple days after tonight’s little workout, he figured. A trail of gore covered the ground from the trunk to the hole.
The bag stuck up out of the hole. Victor repositioned the bag, but it wouldn’t fit. He shoved it, kicked it, stomped on it. His Cavalli Italian-leather shoe squished into the bag and came out dripping human sludge.
He shook his shoe and pieces of Geraldo flew everywhere. Victor pulled an Orvis Madeira hand-rolled handkerchief, looked to his shoe, looked to the handkerchief, shook his head and wiped the shoe, tossing the handkerchief in the hole with Geraldo.
He wiped the bottom of the shoe in the sand, spreading sand over the bloody trail.
The bag still poked up out of the hole and Victor realized he needed to dig the extra two feet.
Chelsey’s Diner held its shit together by shoveling slop to any half-starved bum in off the streets. The walls, ceilings were moldy; the cheap linoleum floors and booths smelled of month-old mop water and piss.
There was enough grease in the air to clog arteries.
The tattered plastic cushions liked to scrape through clothes and leave long angry red scratches. Anyone brave enough to wear shorts and sit down in a booth or on a stool, left Chelsey’s looking like Freddy Krueger fondled their ass.
Victor scanned around, wondering what the fuck he was still doing there. The diner was a five-star shithole in one of the worst parts of Phoenix, a dump even the flies avoided. His crime partner, Mike Elroy, was supposed to meet him twenty minutes ago, but hadn’t shown. Victor was getting pissed. The waitress seemed to notice and avoided him like a bad case of herpes.
Mike finally came through the door, up to the booth, sat down across from Victor without saying a word.
“I know. You’re pissed. I can tell.”
Victor shook his head.
“I’ve been waiting in this shithole for fucking twenty minutes. Where’s George?”
“He didn’t show. That’s why I’m late,” Mike said.
Victor flipped open his cellphone, dialed, a few seconds later started yelling into the phone, and said: “Where are you? You’re just a big dumb Mexican, aren’t you? Fuck you’re Smart Water! I don’t care if it’ll take five minutes, five seconds, or five milliseconds, get your ass over to Fandango’s and meet us there. I’m not fucking around. You better be there. Just be there!”
The waitress overheard the entire conversation. She shot Victor and Mike a disgusted look, like saying ‘watch your mouth, there are other customers in here.’
Mike looked around. They were the only ones in the diner. He looked back to the waitress, smiled, winked and kissed at her.
“At least you weren’t completely alone. You had some eye candy to look at,” Mike said. He nodded to the waitress, winking at her again.
“Fucking George and his fucking Smart Water,” Victor said.
“I still remember the night shit hit the fan because we stopped at that AM/PM so he could get his Smart Water,” Mike said.
Victor watched the waitress grab up a stack of plates piled at the end of a long greasy counter. She sank back into the kitchen, dragging her feet.
She was the shell of a haggard woman.
Pretty her up, Victor thought, and she still might turn a few heads: the princess Barbie that’s left out in the rain, spat on, pissed on, run through the gutter, but still has the same hair, same dress. The way she dragged her feet, she looked shackled and weighted down by invisible chains.
“So what ever happened that night after you left us at Dr. Ling’s? You mentioned something about getting into a shoot-out out in the desert with the cops, but never told me the rest,” Mike said.
“That’s it… I got into a shoot-out out in the desert with the cops.”
“That’s it? C’mon, there has to be more to the story than that?”
Mike waited for Victor to say something, anything, but Victor was tight-lipped, it never came.
“One of these days, you’re going to come around, I know it, I feel it in my bones,” Mike said. “I’ll bet my life on it.”
Victor arched an eyebrow, and said: “You bet your life on it? Really?”
“I’ll bet my mother fucking, ever-loving life on it.”
“Well, not tonight. I’ll tell you someday, I’d hate to see you jinx yourself and get killed over a story.”
“So how’d the thing go with the package?” Mike said.
“Geraldo sleeps with the rattlers.”
“You mean fishes.”
“Mike, Jesus Christ, man, there any fucking fish in the desert?”
“What’d that prick do, anyway?” Mike said.
“I don’t know, apparently he was supposed to get a key to some lockbox, from this stripper named Cherry over at Fandango’s, but he smoked the wrong chick.”
“Cherry, that’s original. You ever notice how they’re all named Cherry, or Destiny, or Candy?”
“A civilian. Collateral damage and all that. I don’t know.” Victor said. “The key’s to some lockbox, and… I don’t know, Mr. Puzton wasn’t very forthcoming with information. You know how it is. You ready to do this?”
“Somebody’s gonna hurt someone before the night is through.”
“I see the bad moon arising. I see trouble on the way.”
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
Cigarette smoke licked at the sultry stage. The dance poles gleamed in the disco lights overhead, slippery from a night’s worth of cunt and sweat. Victor sat at a bar plied in cracked vinyl over foam padding. The foam poked through in places. His elbows stuck to the bar when he leaned into it.
Fandango’s was one of the few places left in Phoenix that allowed smoking. The anti-smoking laws took care of the rest. In fact, Victor wasn’t so sure they were supposed to smoke in Fandango’s.
He batted at the smoke.
He hated cigarettes about as much as he hated drugs, even though selling drugs was part of his racket. He figured anyone stupid enough to use deserved what they got and he was thinning the herds for polite decent society.
He had passed a cigarette machine on his way in. Eight bucks for a pack of smokes. He blew his money on beer and Patrón instead, maybe a little Jack Daniels if the mood struck him.
Though he spent as little as possible on the broads if he could help it; a game he played to see how much cash he had to blow to get them in the sack.
Tequila was big in Phoenix, probably to do with it being inside a border state. Having conducted business there for the Arellano cartel for the last nine years, until recently striking out on his own, Victor figured Arizona might as well be part of Mexico.
He moved down to Phoenix from Chicago right after 9/11, when everyone was gung-ho about protecting the borders. Now, half the fucking signs and billboards were in Spanish.
Still, Victor didn’t give a shit.
It was all about the c.r.e.a.m anyway.
The cartels, and the illegals they rode on the backs of, had earned him bundles. Victor felt no sympathy. He knew the illegals just wanted to make money same as everyone else, wanted a piece of the American Dream, bought into it hook, line, and sinker.
Problem is, in America, Victor knew you didn’t get anywhere without hitching a ride first.
A giant Mexican with pockmarked face sat at the end of the bar near a white prick with a bushy goatee. The prick was whiter than white, red hair, probably had Irish in him. He glowered at Victor, and Victor thought sour milk. He sized up Victor’s suit and tie, lean muscular build, styled haircut.
But the Mexican ignored Victor; wore a light blue bandana over his head. The Irish prick wore a West Coast Chopper cap, and Smash Fight Wear denim biker vest. Fucking tool, Victor thought. Fat hung off of them in layers. The Mexican had bitch tits.
Music blared over loudspeakers throughout the club, but had quieted between dance sets as the next stripper got ready to go on stage. The bartender finally came over to Victor and said: “What can I get you?”
“Ten shots of Patrón Silver.”
The bartender was also metrosexual, looked Victor up and down, like he wanted to say ‘ten shots? Give me a fucking break, buddy, I can only serve you two at a time.’ He wore a black collared t-shirt, Fandango silkscreened across the back. All the employees wore one. Maybe the bartender stared a little too long, and Victor started to wonder if the bartender was a fag.
The music started back up.
“Like what you see asshole?” Victor said.
“Huh? I couldn’t hear you. What’d you say?”
“When’s Cherry dancing?” Victor shouted.
The bartender pointed to the stage.
He shook his head, still vexed by the ten shots of Patrón Silver Victor ordered, and began to pour.
Mike strolled out of the men’s bathroom with such a swagger that a few of the guys standing at the stage took their attention off the strippers long enough to scoff. He shot them a grin, nodding like saying ‘yeah, that’s right, I’m a badass, do something about it.’
He felt pretty badass, not just felt it, knew it.
The pricks were all middle-aged, sagging beer guts, starved for affection.
Behind Mike, a stripper timidly came out of the bathroom wiping her mouth. She had a hoe stamp of a butterfly tattooed across her lower back.
The pricks stared, slack-jawed.
Mike’s grin widened.
They went back to waving dollars at the strippers again.
The music died and the strippers departed the stage as the next one was preparing to go on. Mike grabbed Butterfly by the waist as she tried to hurry past, pulled her in close, kissed her on the cheek.
The bouncer near the door suddenly perked up. Thick beefy neck, giant arms folded across his barrel chest, pure stereotype. He pushed a matchstick from one side of his mouth to the other. He unfolded his arms, but Mike let her go.
The music started again, playing Dionisio Aguado’s “Le Fandango Varié.”
Mike stood next to Victor at the bar, noticing the Mexican and Irishman at the end.
“What’s with the those two? Red looks like he’s sweet on you,” Mike said.
“Between him and the bartender, I’m a popular guy tonight.”
“What do you think of this place?”
“It’s no Stardust Lounge,” Victor said.
“When’s Cherry supposed to come out?”
“She’s up next. You recognize the song?”
“Yeah, the Fandango, pretty appropriate.”
Mike noticed the ten shots of Patrón Silver, five of them emptied.
“Jesus, I see you started without me,” Mike said.
Mike’s eyes got big. He gave the shots a doubtful look, shook his head, then downed the first two. Mike could see Victor was already buzzing, on his way to flying high, could see it in his bleary eyes.
“That’s it, I’m getting some smokes,” Victor said. Without another word or waiting for a response, he stood and headed for the cigarette machine.
“You drunk already? I don’t think you’re drunk enough, you need to finish these shots,” Mike yelled after Victor, saw Victor stagger and immediately recover on his way over to the cigarette machine.
Le Fandango Varié played on.
As much as Victor hated cigarettes, he hated the fact that a pack of smokes cost eight bucks even more. This always happened to him, he realized. Liquor in a man lent itself well to his hypocrisy. Victor shoved the first dollar into the feeder, and the machine spit it back out.
“Fucking piece of shit!”
One of the pricks at the stage glanced in Victor’s direction.
Victor smoothed out the dollar, fed it into the machine, but the machine spit out the dollar again. His face tightened. He clenched his fists, raised a fist. The bouncer perked up again. Victor hovered his fist over the cigarette machine and time seemed to stand still.
The bouncer and the prick at the stage waited to see how far Victor was prepared to go.
Two guys, same black collared employee t-shirts, peeked through paper thin black curtains, where the strippers made their entrances at the back of the stage.
The two knelt down on the stage; held fog machines low to the stage.
Fog pumped out in giant plumes. It rolled over the stage, out into the crowd. Covered the floor, everything up to their knees.
Someone yelled from behind the curtains and the two guys adjusted the dials on the fog machines, started banging on the machines to get them to stop.
Stage fireworks shot up in a dazzle of white light at the foot of the stage. The crowd jumped back, shielding their eyes. Victor ducked down like hearing a gunshot go off next to his head. Mike flinched and looked ready to leap over the bar.
Everyone shielded their eyes from the immense glow, not sure what was going on, ready to take off running in a hot second.
The fireworks died and there she stood center stage, nothing but a g-string and castanets.
The men all cleared their eyes, looking puzzled.
She was a Mexican goddess, perfect in every way.
Perfect tits, perfect ass.
Victor had taken his eyes off the stage like everyone else, and didn’t see her entrance onto the stage. He wondered how she got out there so fast. Judging by the looks on their faces, all the men wondered the same. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the stage for but a split second.
None of it seemed to matter. The moment she fell into their sights, all the men stood captivated by her beauty and glamour.
She stepped forward; clapped the castanets in tune to Le Fandango Varié. The spell broke over the men, and she enthralled them in a new spell as she danced in rhythm to the majestic, magical guitar. Her tits jiggled, bouncing up and down with every graceful, fluid movement.
All the men shared the same fantasy, only pictured in different ways.
If Victor looked hard enough, he could see little signs appear above their heads. White signs with bold black letters. I want to fuck her long and hard. I want to fuck her in the mouth. I want her to handcuff me to a bed. I want to lick her pussy. I want to fuck her ass then filch it. I’m a bad boy, I want her to spank me. I can’t get it up, I wonder if she’ll notice. My dick’s small, she might laugh, but fuck it, I don’t care, I’ll still fuck her anyway.
“That’s Cherry?” Victor muttered.
Victor saw everyone had eyes on Cherry, everyone except the big Mexican and Irishman at the end of the bar. They scanned the club, hands in their jackets, like getting ready to make a move.
I want to kill her.
I want to shoot her full of holes.
The way Rowdy Roddy Piper lifts the wool from over his eyes – put on the sunglasses, everything turns to shades of grey, and the world is a new and terrifying place.
Victor reached for his Sig Pro 2340 .40mm.
Before he could pull it, Cherry had a compact nine mil whipped out with the Mexican and Irishman dead to rights. She continued the Fandango, squeezing off shots. Victor wondered where the fuck she’d been hiding the thing. One of the bullets clipped Irish in the shoulder and he fell backward over the bar. Everyone bolted, scattering to the winds.
Victor and Mike pulled their pistols simultaneously. Mike took cover behind the bar, at the opposite end.
The Mexican flipped a table, started spraying the club with an Ingram Mac-10.
Mike popped around the side of the bar, shot the Mexican in the side of the head, and a red cloud peppered the fog. Victor had dove to the floor just before a line of angry holes opened up across the cigarette machine, exploding in a shower of hot white sparks.
Irish jumped up from behind the bar, but Cherry already had a bead on him. Put a bullet in one of his bitch tits. Victor and Mike sprang up. All three unloaded into Irish together. He flew back against the wall, smashing through the shelves of liquor.
Cherry turned her nine back and forth between Victor and Mike.
They turned their guns on her.
Le Fandango Varié ended.
The club had cleared and it was just the three of them.
George walked in holding a bottle of Glaceau Smart Water.
“What the fuck is going on?”
“Wait a minute! Just wait a goddamn minute, okay?” Victor said.
“Okay, I’m listening,” Cherry said.
“We just came to get a key from you… a key to a lockbox.”
“Oh yeah, pinche chavalla?” she said through clenched teeth. “Well so did they.”
Cherry pointed to Irish and the Mexican.
“Have it your way, honey. You sure you want to go this route?” Victor said.
“Look,” Cherry cut him off. “I don’t even have the fucking key anymore.”
“You don’t have it?” Victor said.
“You don’t have it?” Mike said.
Cherry looked to George, but he just shrugged.
“No, I don’t fucking have it, you hard of hearing pendejo? Some puerco named Geraldo already came here and got it from me.”
“You gave it to Geraldo?” Victor said.
“I fucking gave it to him. Go find him if you want it.”
“Our mistake, we’re going to move slowly to the door, and we’re going to leave. Isn’t that right fellas?”
Yeah, Mike and George nodded.
Outside, Victor shouted at the starry night sky.
“You remember where you dug the hole?” Mike said.
“Fuck no! Vaguely.”
“What hole?” George said.
“George, just shut the fuck up,” Mike said.
“Follow us,” Victor said. “And I swear to Jesus H. Christ on a fucking cross, you stop to buy, look at me George, you stop to buy a bottle of Smart Water, I’m going to shove it right up your ass!”
They got in their cars and drove out to the desert. Took the I-17 out of the city, to Carefree Highway, pulled off into the desert along an unused dirt road.
Victor finally slowed and parked his 1980 Buick Regal to the side, between some mesquites. George did the same. Victor pulled a shovel from the trunk, almost knocked on his ass by the stench when he opened it up. He tossed George the shovel.
“Follow me,” Victor said.
The silhouettes of cactus and mesquite filled the desert landscape. Jackrabbits and Javelinas skittered across the sand.
“It’s around here somewhere, start digging. Consider it your penance.”
Victor looked to the distance, where Phoenix glowed like a circuit board of winking lights.