The door is rattling like it might open and I might fall out. The hills come in rapid succession. A rollercoaster ride that puts my balls in my throat every time the suspension bangs a new pothole into these worn-out back roads.
She has a cigarette dangling and a skirt hem receding up her leg. She's not the Nancy I remember.
I went to prison because I got framed. I got framed because I wouldn't lie. I wouldn't lie about Nancy.
They wanted me to say I touched her. Did bad things. They wanted me to claim the crimes of another man. A piece of garbage pervert who also happened to be the son of a powerful, influential man.
I killed the pervert. Shot him dead and smiled as I did it. I reached out my hand to seven-year-old Nancy and she took it. I cradled her and carried her away from that nightmare.
Now the nightmare's come back.
She's all wide eyes in the darkness. And I'm hanging out the door like yesterday's promises -- all used up and withered away.
Nancy's got the wheel. She's got my heart too, but I can't tell her that. Not yet. Not yet.
I fire a shot that clangs off of sharp fast metal. The road buckles and heaves and my next shot sails off, wounding the moon.
Nancy laughs like everything's going to be okay.
They fire back at us. The back window sprouts spiderwebs. I aim careful, thinking of Nancy, of what they'll do if they get hold of her.
A bullet shatters her face in the driver's side mirror. Nancy screams. I fire.
Their car bucks like a bronco. Shows me its suspension. A balletic moment standing on end. A chainlink restraining fence cradles its fall, bulging like a pregnant mother with the weight. Then their car goes down the hillside stock car rolling.
Nancy's foot is still against the floorboards. I take her arm. The cigarette drops from her mouth.
"Nancy, stop! Nancy, go back! Nancy!"
I shake her and the brakes catch -- in her head and on the road too.
She's scared and wild-eyed and practically steaming in the October night. I want her lips. Her everything.
We circle back to the ditch. I stumble and scrape my way down the hillside. Nancy clings to my arm and my leg and my soul.
Like a little girl. She's not anymore. She's not.
Her breasts urge my shoulder forward toward the wreck. The wheels are turning, upside down. One killer hangs sprawling through the windshield as if reaching up for mercy from the pit of hell.
How many had I seen? I needed to remember. How many had I seen in their car?
One crawled on all fours toward the bramble. My boot crushed his spine to the hard ground. My revolver did the rest.
They put me in prison for killing the pervert. Took my badge, my honor. Not my courage. And not my love. Never my love.
They let me out eventually. But only to trick me. Only to get to her, to Nancy.
I went to see her dance. I wore a baseball cap. Dark glasses. She saw through all my disguises. I tried to slip away. But she leapt off the stage and caught me by the door. Her breasts shoved against me, insistent. She hadn't had them the last time I'd seen her.
I tried to slip away. She covered me with kisses. She told me I was the one. I told her she was crazy. Then I saw the men looking at us. Not the regular lowlifes. His men. And I knew I had betrayed her. Betrayed her to them.
I dragged her by the wrist so fast that her feet barely touched the floor. We went out the back to her car. She gave me a gun and a hard kiss on the mouth and off we went, flying down the back roads. They were on us immediately.
I count four bodies in the wreckage. I thought I had seen five in the car.
There's a motel not half a mile down the road. A place to hole up. To ready ourselves in case more are coming.
Only as soon as the door closes behind us Nancy is climbing up my back, fitting her every curve into mine.
She tells me that she loves me. That she's always loved me. Worshipped and adored me since the night I saved her life.
I want to tell her I feel the same. I want to give her everything. But she's just a kid. And I've seen too much.
I pry her gently from my chest, hold her at arm's length. For eleven years her letters were all that kept me going. She wrote to me every week. She called me her knight. Her shining knight.
Nancy undresses very slowly and climbs up on the bed and waits for me. I tell her I need a shower. I make it a cold one. I tell her this, but really I don't know what I need. I can't give in to this. I can't.
I stand a long time under the spray. I never hear the outside door open. I never hear a thing until it's too late.
When I walk into the room I'm wearing only a towel. The influential man is there, seated in a dark corner, his bulk spilling out over the edges of a straight chair. He's wearing a thousand dollar topcoat and a serpent's smile. Next to him is a skinny rake with skin painted as gray as cellblock concrete. The rake is giggling under a fedora. He turns profile and I see the nightmare come back to me. To us. The pervert I shot dead. Eleven years ago.
Nancy isn't on the bed. She isn't in the room. She's nowhere to be found.
My gun, the gun Nancy gave me, is on top of the toilet tank in the bathroom. The bathroom is three steps to my left. Neither the influential man nor his son has a gun in hand. But where's Nancy? Where the hell is Nancy?
"You didn't know I had another son, did you?" His voice hisses like acid burning through steel -- a long, slow, bubbling sound.
"You didn't know they were twins. No, of course not. How could you? No one knew. I kept them hidden, one or the other. I never let them out in public together. A powerful man makes enemies. Enemies that might strike at me through my son. I couldn't stand the thought of losing him. So I kept a spare."
The rake giggled and whispered in the pindrop silence, "Oh, Daddy..."
"You thought you could deprive me of my treasure, of my legacy. But no man beats me. No man steals my son. I kept you alive in prison only so that I could watch you die with my own eyes. As you watched him die."
I feel my muscles knot and the bile rise in my throat. Every second without her is an eternity. What have they done to my Nancy? What the hell have they done?
"Your son was a piece of shit pervert scumbag. Like his old man."
The rake takes a step forward. His hand flashes beneath his coat and comes out with a long knife. Rusty. Not all that sharp. I recognize it from eleven years ago. The same knife held at little Nancy's throat.
"Where is she, you bastard?"
The influential man shifts in his chair, lights one of Nancy's cigarettes, left behind on the desk.
"Now listen to me, killer of my son. I have your princess. She will die, of course, as she was meant to, by my son's hand. Whether it takes a month or an hour is up to you. I have no taste for my son's... predilections. They are a weakness I intend to stamp out of him... someday. On this occasion, however, I shall indulge him. For how long I do this is, as I've stated, up to you."
The rake comes closer and lowers the knife toward my waistline.
"You will now drop your towel and stand perfectly still as my son deprives you of your manhood. Obey me and your princess will not suffer. I give you my word."
The rake is right up against me, giggling and shaking with excitement. The gun is three steps away in the bathroom.
Nancy. I think of Nancy.
I drop the towel from my waist.
The rake whispers like a lover into my ear.
"I'm going to feed these to her. One at a time. Daddy will let me. I know he will."
I think of Nancy.
The rest doesn't matter.
I failed you, Nancy. I'm so sorry. I'm so damn sorry.
The influential man lights another of her cigarettes, gestures impatiently. He tosses the pack onto the empty desktop and I notice what's missing.
The car keys. The damn car keys.
The outside wall explodes inward, sending glass and cheap plaster and broken two-by-fours hurtling like missiles in all directions. The front bumper of our getaway car catches the influential man in his midsection and carries him and his chair across the room into the far wall. The rake and I dive side by side into the bathroom just as that same front bumper takes the bathroom door off its hinges. There's smoke and chaos and a ringing in my ears. A red-hot poker inserts itself into the thick muscles of my thigh and tells me that the skinny rake found his knife and his courage in the rubble. I snap his wrist. Only because I'm still breathing in plaster particles. Only because I can't find his neck.
I feel the icy skin of the tub at my back. I plug the drain and turn the hot water on full blast. He tries to yank his knife from my leg. The room is smoke and mirrors. I grab three times and miss him. There is so little there. I get hold of his billowing coat but he isn't in it. He makes another try at the knife. If he pulls it out I'll bleed to death.
I reach for the top of the toilet tank, for my gun. He bites into my wrist and I have him. I take him by the shirtfront and drag him down and twist him round and get him over the side of the tub. I get hold of the greasy mop he calls hair and force his head down facefirst into the scalding hot water. I lift the rest of him over the side and plunge him in and stare into his laughing eyes as I hold him under. His gray skin boils to lobster red. I'm roasting my arms up to the elbow but I don't give a damn. I'm going to make him stop giggling if it's the last thing I do.
Finally he stops. His eyes stare at nothing. I shut off the hot water, twisting so hard the knob snaps right off its housing.
The smoke is clearing. I take my gun and manage a wobbly stance. I step out into the room. The getaway car occupies most of it. The engine shuts down. The driver's side door creaks open. Behind the wheel is Nancy.
Smart, quick Nancy.
They never had her. She was never theirs. She ran and then she came back. She came back for me.
The influential man is still alive, pinned to the wall by the car's front bumper. Cleaved in two like a worm by a lumberjack's axe. The pressure of the bumper is all that keeps his organs from spilling onto the carpet.
He tries to speak but settles for a grin. I hand Nancy the gun. She places the barrel to his forehead. She is afraid no longer.
His grin widens, staring past my shoulders. I turn and see his son risen, screaming like a banshee, charging at Nancy.
She fires until the gun is empty.
She is a child no longer.
She is a woman.
We climb into our getaway car and back away, smearing the influential man as we go.
I notice two more bodies in the rubble. Guards outside the door, Nancy tells me.
"Nothing could keep me from you."
We drive into the hills overlooking the city. I tie a tourniquet around my thigh and slide the knife out slowly. There is little bleeding, no major arteries hit.
Nancy flings the knife out over the hillside. She kneels before me as I sit sideways in the open door on the passenger side. The moonlight shines upon her naked breasts.
I give her everything then. No holding back. The nightmare is over. For both of us.
She makes love like a woman.
I weep like a baby in her arms.
We hold each other until our breathing quiets. Something rustles in the trunk and Nancy grabs the gun from the front seat and reloads. She steps naked to the back of the car and fires into the trunk until the revolver is empty.
I knew I counted five in the car.