McCoy wiped blood and sweat from his face with the sleeve of his dusty black suit and worked the combination locks on the battered brown briefcase. He glanced at the dead man, half-in, half-out of a rusty old Jeep, and said, "Hope there’s enough cash in here that it was worth dying for."

The latches popped up and McCoy opened the case.


He sprang back and pulled the .45 from the rig under his arm. Scorpions poured out of the case and scuttled every which way. He recalled someone telling him a single sting, maybe even several stings, from a scorpion wouldn't kill most people. McCoy didn't want to put that knowledge to the test, especially since it could easily have been one of his whiskey-fueled false memories. Putting stock in those had gotten him into trouble before, and he was doing his damndest to change his life.

Okay, killing the man from Minnesota, sure, a bit of a setback, but only a minor one. McCoy could recover from that.

Besides, word got out that the man had money in that case.

Cold hard cash.

Just the thing a worn-out tough guy like McCoy needed to ditch the States and start over on the other side of the border.

McCoy had to make the move.

Maybe the man from Minnesota was a magician. Swapped out the cash for the scorpions at the last moment.

McCoy went to work on the Jeep.

It didn't take long for him to realize the money wasn't there. But if it wasn't in the case, wasn't in the Jeep, where had it gone? Brandner, the big wheel from Houston, always solid for a lead on a good take, had told McCoy that the briefcase was packed solid with greenbacks.

He paced back and forth outside the Jeep, and wished he could kill the man from Minnesota all over again.

Disgusted, McCoy turned and walked off toward his car, a beat to shit 1957 Cadillac that burned oil and couldn't go in reverse. He got behind the wheel, jammed the key into the ignition, about to crank it when he heard something.


Yeah, music.

He clambered out of the Caddy and listened.

You don’t know what it’s like

            you don’t have a clue…

He walked back toward the Jeep where the music seemed to be coming from.

            If you did you’d find yourselves

            doing the same thing too…

On the ground, just under the front driver's side tire, sat a cell phone.

                        Breaking the law

                        breaking the law

McCoy looked at the dead man. "Music lover, huh?"

The man from Minnesota stayed dead and made no reply. Good thing. McCoy had never been much of a fan of zombies. He snatched up the phone and flipped it open, cutting off the tune.


"Dave?" A lot of static on the line, but the caller still sounded like a goddamned hick.

McCoy looked at the dead man. "Dave from Minnesota?"

"Right. Yeah. He there?"


"What's that mean?"

"He's dead."

"If Dave's dead, that'd have to mean I'm talking to McCoy."

"There you go."

"You get the case open, tough guy?"

"Sure did. That Texan sonofabitch gave me the combo for the locks. Of course, the cash wasn't there…"

"Yeah, that wasn't my idea. Hate to be the one to let you down, but you came a long way from Chicago for nothing."

"Who are you?"

"Just a friend."

"You sound like some kinda redneck to me."

"Been called worse."

"Where's the cash?"

"With me."

"And where are you?"

"The Last Ditch. You probably passed it on the highway this morning. Last Ditch Truck Stop and Café the sign says? Also has a big sign letting passers-by know it's out of business these days. Maybe you didn't notice it when you were chasing after Dave."

"I saw it. Looks like some old tourist dump. Without the tourists, of course."

"That's the place, McCoy. How about you meet me here?"

"You don't have to ask me twice."

"Make it noon."

McCoy laughed.

"What's funny?"

"High noon in the desert. Like this is some kinda Western showdown." He laughed again. "But all right. You got the cash, so you make the call. I'll be seeing you." He closed the phone, dropped it on the ground, and smashed it with the heel of his boot.


The Last Ditch Truck Stop & Cafe.

Calling it a dump was too kind.

McCoy sat behind the wheel of the Caddy and worked the slide on the .45 before stepping out into the heat.

Only one other car in the lot. A gold Trans-Am. Late 70s vintage. Primo condition.

McCoy decided, right after he got the cash, he'd take the wheels as a bonus.

"You've earned it, hoss," he said to himself. He kept the automatic down alongside his leg and walked on into the saloon.

Dust. Cobwebs. A busted up Wurlitzer jukebox with a Hank Williams 45, 'I Ain't Got Nothing But Time', still under the needle. Seeing that beautiful music machine in such sorry shape damn near brought a tear to McCoy's eye. He scanned the room and his eyes settled on a bottle of whiskey that sat on top of the bar. Two rocks glasses sat alongside it. He licked his lips, suddenly feeling very thirsty.

"I thought we could have drink first."

McCoy whirled and, in a swift fluid move, brought up the .45 and leveled it on a thin man who, judging by his voice, was the same redneck he'd talked to on the cell phone. The sawed-off shotgun he had pointed at McCoy's gut spoke volumes without saying a word.

"You're a little early, McCoy," he said. "I saw you pull in, and it struck me we ought to have at least one drink together before we see how this deal goes down."

"I'd be all right with that."

"You'll have to lower that gun."

"You, too."

The man moved slow, not taking his eyes off McCoy, and put the shotgun down on top of a nearby table. "How's that?"

"That'll work." McCoy tucked the .45 into the rig under his arm. "Good enough?"

"I suppose that'll do."

"How about that drink?"

"Step on over to the bar." The redneck walked ahead of McCoy, went around the bar and snatched up the bottle. He filled both rocks glasses and put the bottle down. "I don't believe I introduced myself earlier, did I?"

"Not that I recall."


"Pleasure's all mine."


McCoy picked up one of the glasses, tossed back the whiskey, and slammed it down on the bar. "How about another?"

"Sure." Horner poured. "A toast this time?"

"Why not?"

Horner lifted his glass. "To you, McCoy. Last of the old school two-fisted tough guys. I only wish I didn't have to kill you."

McCoy smirked and knocked his glass against Horner's. "Bottoms up."

Both men drank and Horner said, "One more?"


"You really are a relic, McCoy."

"Tell me about it."

"How long do you really think you can keep it up?"

"My cock? Shit, Horner, I'm not that old."

Horner didn't laugh. "That's not what I meant."

McCoy downed another whiskey and motioned for one more. "I know what you meant. Truth is, I'm done. This is it. I'm taking the money and heading down to Mexico. My retirement. Live high until it runs out."

"What then?"

"Probably put a bullet through my brains and call it a day."

"Nice fantasy you got there."

McCoy grinned. "Something like that."

Horner checked his watch. "Getting to be that time of day, tough guy.”


Horner walked to the Trans-Am, put the shotgun on the hood, went around to the trunk, and popped it open. "Take a look at this."

McCoy walked over and peered inside.


Stacks of it. More than the briefcase Dave from Minnesota died over could've held. McCoy whistled low.

"Just thought you should see it," Horner said. "Give you some happy thoughts. Think about what you might've done with it down in Mexico. Occupy your mind while you're dying."

"You're pretty sure of yourself," McCoy said.

"And you're drunk."


"I do admire you, McCoy."

"That so?"

"Come on. Facing death with a swagger and a sneer. Pretty fucking hardcore."

"You like to talk a lot."

"I have a lot to say."

"So I gathered."

Horner grinned. "What do you say?"

McCoy looked up at the sky. "High noon," he said. "Straight up. Let's boogie."

Horner slammed down the lid. He put the car keys in his pocket and looked at McCoy. "Twenty paces?"

"Make it ten. My knees are killing me."

"All right."

The men walked to the center of the parking lot and stood back to back.

"This is stupid," McCoy said. "Why didn't I just shoot you when I had the chance?"

"It's fun. Loosen up."

McCoy counted four tumbleweeds tumbling about the place. By nightfall he'd be across the border. “Lord willing and the creek don't rise.”

“What’s that?”

"Nothing. You count 'em off, Horner."

"My pleasure. One…"

They each took a step.


Sweat rolled down McCoy's back. What the hell was he thinking wearing a suit in the desert?


All three of his ex-wives had told him he lacked any kind of common sense. He thought they were all just being bitchy, but, well, maybe they'd had a point after all.


He thought about Mexico.






Ice cold cerveza.




Mariachi music.


McCoy spun, dropped to one knee and pulled the .45 as buckshot blasted over his head. The smell of burnt hair, his own, hit him as he shut one eye and aimed.

Horner tried to keep one eye on McCoy and reload the shotgun at the same time. Unfortunately, multi-tasking had never been one of his strengths.

McCoy fired.

Horner's head snapped back with the impact of the first bullet. The second and third shots struck him in the chest and lifted Horner up onto the tips of his toes. He stayed like that for what seemed like a very long time, and then flopped to the ground with a thud, sending little plumes of dirt and dust into the air.

McCoy kept the .45 on Horner, approached slow and kicked the shotgun away. Horner's eyes remained open, a look of disbelief frozen on his face.

McCoy crouched down next to Horner. He fished the keys out of Horner’s pocket and put them in his own. McCoy stood and turned to go, but stopped short. He crouched down again and closed the dead man’s eyes. “Maybe next time.”

Kent Gowran grew up in rural Illinois and currently resides in Chicago. His stories have appeared in F Magazine, DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash, Horror Garage, and other wild venues. He has a deep and loving appreciation for cold beer, BBQ, and good music with a twang.