by Brian Haycock
Brian Haycock

Brian Haycock lives in Austin, Texas, where he has worked mainly for nonprofit organizations. He enjoys running, hiking and reading stories of all kinds. His stories have appeared in Thuglit, Nefarious, Yellow Mama, Crime and Suspense, Pulp Pusher, Blazing Adventures, and many other publications.

Turner walked down the median divider smiling into the cars. He showed them the sign — Students Against Cerebral Palsy . . . Won't You Help? — and held up the white plastic bucket with the bills in it.

A woman in a Focus rolled down her window and held out a one. "It's nice to see you young people doing something constructive with your time," she said. She had pink-framed glasses and gel-styled hair. Turner held the bucket under the bill and watched it float down, thanked her with a smile. That was the key. Keep that smile going, no matter what.

The light changed and the cars started up. Turner walked back to the intersection. Across the way, his girlfriend Emmy was working the cars going the other direction. He watched her walk down the divider. She looked good in the Longhorns tee shirt, the jeans, with her hair tied back like that. He watched a window roll down and a bill come out. She was bringing in more than he was, but he didn't mind. He'd drop her a bill himself, if he were in one of the cars.

The line stopped and he started walking again. The window of a pickup rolled down and a big Irish-looking head stuck out. "Aren't you a little old to be a college student?" the man asked.

"I did a stint in the Army, four years. You know, earn money for college, like the recruiters tell you. That's what I did." He kept the smile going, waved the bucket at the man. "How about it? Can you help us out here?"

The driver reached in his pocket, came up with a five and dropped it in. "Thank you for your service," he said. "You served in Iraq, huh?"

"Afghanistan. Not that there's much difference. People trying to shoot you, blow you up. It all looks the same before long." The line was moving. "Hey, thanks a lot."

As he walked up to the intersection he looked across at Emmy. She was waving at him, motioning for him to come over. He worked his way through the cross traffic making the turn onto South Lamar and jogged across to her.

"How's it going over here?"

"Pretty good, except there's this one guy came through twice. Gave me kind of a hard time the first time, you know, coming on to me, not wanting to take no. Then he circled around, came by again, got a little nasty. It's not a big deal, but I'd feel better if you hung out for a while. You know, in case he comes back for another shot."

"Sure, no problem. He put anything in the bucket?"

"No, but he said if I got in the car with him he'd give me whatever I wanted. I don't think he meant a donation for medical research."

"Well, he comes back again, just point him out. Maybe I'll get in the car with him, see how he likes that." Turner liked talking tough for Emmy. He hadn't seen the guy yet.

A FedEx truck pulled up at the light, a little short of the crosswalk. Emmy waved the sign and the bucket at the driver and he shrugged, shook his head. She started down the line. Turner watched the FedEx driver staring into the side-view mirror, watching Emmy walk. Turner didn't blame him. He'd be doing the same thing.

A woman was crossing the street, dragging a little wheeled cart with bags in it. Groceries from the Sun Harvest store in the mini-mall. She was probably fifty, getting by. Sweating a little in the sun. Turner smiled at her as she came up, showed her the sign. "Like to help us out, ma'am? We're trying to find a cure for cerebral palsy."

"I'd like to, young man. But I'm just barely making it as it is. Good luck to you, though."

She went by, hurrying now to beat the light to the other side, and Turner told her to have a good one. She glanced back over her shoulder at him and smiled, said, "Thank you, and . . ."

Turner heard the squeal of tires behind the FedEx truck. Then he saw the pickup. It slammed into the woman above the knees. She flew into the air and rolled out ten feet into the intersection. Her cart buckled under the bumper, the groceries spilling out across the pavement. The pickup came to a stop five feet past the end of the crosswalk.

The woman lay in the street, not moving.

Everything stopped. For a few seconds there was no sound in the air. Everyone in the cars stared at the woman lying in the road. Turner looked at the pickup. The driver stared out at the woman and drummed his fingers on the rooftop. Then he turned and threw a hard stare at Turner. They locked eyes. Turner knew what was going to happen.

The pickup pulled to the side, around the woman. It looked like the driver was going to pull over to the side of the road and come back to help, but Turner knew better. The truck drove through the groceries, crushing a box of oatmeal and some carrots, then suddenly sped up. In seconds it was far down the road.

Turner ran out into the intersection. The woman was face down on the hot asphalt. He felt at her neck for a pulse. Nothing. He looked around. Suddenly things started moving again. A couple of horns sounded. There was a scream from the sidewalk, a shout from the other side of the road. The FedEx driver was talking on a cell phone, calling it in. Turner turned to see Emmy coming around the front of the FedEx truck, looking around, not knowing what had happened. Her face froze when she saw the woman. Her mouth opened, trying to scream.

Turner ran over to her. "We have to get out of here," he said.

"Why? What did you do?" She was staring past him, at the woman lying on the pavement.

"I didn't do anything. There was a pickup, it came up on the other side of the FedEx truck when she was crossing. He hit the brakes, but it was too late. Come on, we have to get moving. If anyone asks, we'll say we're just putting our stuff in the car. Act like we're coming back."

"Shouldn't we try to help her?"

"Hey, help is on the way. Everyone here has a cell phone. I don't know that much about first aid. Besides, I felt for a pulse. I think she's gone. Trust me, there's nothing we can do."

"But you saw what happened. We have to wait, tell someone."

"News flash. We're not a couple of college kids out here fighting cerebral palsy. It's a scam. Remember that? We've both got history with law enforcement. When they show up, it's going to take about two minutes for them to run us, find out who we are and lock us up for something. Fraud, probably. Misrepresentation. Hell, they'll probably throw in jaywalking just for laughs. They'll be taking our statements from jail cells." He picked up his bucket and sign, put an arm around Emmy's shoulders. "I don't like this either, but we have to go."

He led Emmy across the street. Traffic was barely moving, everyone slowing way down to stare at the body in the street. When they got into the parking lot, Turner looked around at the scene behind him. There were four or five people around the woman, looking shaken. No one was watching them. He pulled Emmy through the rows of cars.

Turner opened the side door of his Ranger pickup, made sure Emmy got in. He slid behind the wheel, started up, and headed for a back exit that opened on to a side street. Emmy was crying. He turned on the radio, thinking that would help. It didn't. He turned it off.

"Look Emmy, I wish we could stay and help out. I wish we could have done something to help that woman. I said hi to her when she went by. She seemed nice, but, you know, we've got our own problems." He didn't mention that the woman had been looking back at him when she stepped into the path of the truck. Smiling at him. He kept seeing her that way. He didn't want to think about that.

"It was that truck, wasn't it? The crappy white truck. Wasn't it?"

"Yeah, it was."

"That was the guy I told you about. The one that was hitting on me. He went by, one lane over, while I was talking to a guy about cerebral palsy. He yelled at me when he went by, never mind what. I looked up and he was looking out the window at me, not paying attention. That's why he didn't see her."

"He didn't see her because of the FedEx truck. He was coming up to the intersection and he couldn't see the crosswalk because of the truck."

"Listen, Turner. I saw him. I saw him three times. I talked to him, sort of. I can identify him."

"Everyone back there saw what happened. Maybe someone saw the license plate. Look, Emmy, if I get popped again I'll do real time. I'm just trying to get my life started again. I don't want to wind up back in Bars or someplace like that. Someplace worse, probably, on a second felony conviction. And if we go in to the police, that's what's going to happen. How about this? We'll give it a couple days, see what happens. They get the guy, we won't have to worry about it. If they don't, well, we'll see."

Emmy quieted down at that. "Okay. All right. We'll see what happens. But tell me one thing. Did you see it happen? Did you see the driver?"

"That's two things," he said, trying to lighten it up.

She glared at him. He thought he heard her growl.

"No, I didn't see anything. I was looking down the road, watching you walk down there. I heard the brakes, that was it. The action was over when I looked around. And the driver, he never looked toward me at all. Really, it all happened so fast, I don't remember a thing."

# # #

Turner remembered everything. The driver. Big guy in his late twenties, early thirties, with dirty blond hair, a little long, his face sunburned, probably from working outside. Dark blue tee shirt. His arm out the window with a tattoo in blue. The truck. A white Dodge Ram, not new. A work truck with scratches in the rear fender, a tow hitch, a red bumper sticker with a blurb about a redneck bar. West Muleshoe Inn. A dive out on 290 west of the city, a mix of bikers and rednecks, usually a band playing hyped-up country or hard blues. Usually a show going on out in the lot. Turner had been out there a couple of times.

He remembered the woman's face as she looked back at him in the last seconds of her life. He remembered the way her head had been twisted around when he'd felt for her pulse there on the pavement. He'd only seen the side of her face, but he remembered the tight skin, the lips curling up to scream, frozen that way. He knew it would take some time to forget that. He thought a bottle of Jack would help.

He remembered something else. REM-P83. The plate number of the truck. He remembered the REM part because of the band, and the P83 part just stuck. He wished it hadn't. He didn't want to remember any of it. But he did.

He remembered everything.

# # #

When they got back to the apartment on Slaughter Lane, Emmy went in to take a shower while Turner counted the money from the buckets. Emmy had seventy-eight dollars and a handful of change. He had thirty-six in his bucket, counting all the change and rounding off high. Their third time out with this scam and Emmy was coming out with twice what he took in. It wasn't a surprise. Even telling people he'd seen action in Afghanistan hadn't helped that much, although if he hadn't come up with that, it would have been worse.

Four hundred and sixty-four dollars in three days. And they'd had to come in early today. It was a great scam. It was over now, though. The police would be looking for them now. Not looking hard, he hoped, but if they went out and tried to raise money for cerebral palsy again, they'd be asking for it. They could try it again with a new disease, but not right away. Six months, he thought, maybe more.

Emmy came out wrapped in a bath towel and went into the bedroom. The apartment was just a single room with a partition to make a bedroom, a kitchenette, and a bathroom at the back. Turner hated living in such a dump and paying six hundred a month plus utilities on a one-year lease. Things had to change. And soon.

He went into the bedroom. Emmy was sitting on the bed in a pair of jeans, no top. It looked like she'd been getting dressed and just lost interest. She was crying. Not hard, but hard enough.

"We did pretty good for the time we put in," he told her. He thought it would cheer her up. "About one-twenty. You had seventy and change. I was around fifty. So we'll have the rent. We could maybe go out tonight, hear some music, have a few."

Emmy didn't look up. "I keep seeing her. The way she looked lying there in the street."

"I know," Turner told her. "I keep seeing her too."

# # #

That night they had burger and potato tacos with onions and salsa. They ate them on the tiny balcony in back, looking out over the parking lot. After dinner, Emmy didn't want to come in or go out. She sat for a while with a can of beer, staring off into the darkness. Turner suggested a couple of bars they could go to, then gave up and told her he was going to go out and drive around for a while, clear his head.

He drove over to the interstate and headed south with the windows down, blasting a Danny Gatten CD and tapping on the wheel. He was in a mood. He knew what Emmy meant about seeing the woman lying on the street. But that wasn't the worst. He kept seeing her the way she looked as she turned back to him and smiled the second before the truck slammed the life out of her. He wanted to take that picture out of his head, but there it was.

The other thing he saw was the driver, the man staring at him as if giving him a warning, letting him know. He saw all of it clearly. The man, the truck, the license plate. REM-P83. That was still there, waiting for him to do something with it.

He thought about making an anonymous call to the police. He could do it from a pay phone, just say he didn't want to get involved, give them the number and let them deal with it. They could get a warrant, impound the truck, check for damages, blood, whatever. On TV it looked easy. They'd collect the evidence, he'd confess, that would be the end of it. And Emmy would cheer up when he told her about it.

He got off onto the frontage road, crossed the highway and headed back north. He was almost sure he'd make that call. But he wasn't making it now. He'd spent three years in John Barsman Correctional Facility for simple possession of meth on a plea deal to avoid being charged with dealing, assaulting an officer, and whatever else they could think up. Going through that, then doing his time in Bars, he'd gotten used to the idea that the police were not his friends. And no matter what, you didn't talk to them. You never said a word about anything. Out here the rules were different, but he had trouble seeing himself making the call. He just didn't see the police as anywhere near being on his side.

He was coming back into Austin now, not going home, but not going anywhere else either. He was just listening to Danny playing that redneck jazz, playing it hard and fast. Driving music. It was how he thought things out. Let the music take over, let go of everything else. The answer would come to him if he just waited for it.

# # #

He pulled in to the Muleshoe a little before ten. He drove through the parking lot, looking for the truck, knowing it was a long shot. It wasn't there. He parked toward the back, next to an old Bronco, and looked around. The Muleshoe was an old wooden building with an addition on the back made of tin sheets. It had been a John Deere dealership years before, but there wasn't much interest in tractors around Austin now. A line of bikes was by the front door, mostly rebuilt Harleys. The lot was half full of pickups and old sedans, some SUV's, most of them used and used hard. There were people standing around the front door, smoking cigarettes, blowing the smoke up into the air. A band was playing inside — the sign said Omar and the Howlers — and the music was filtering out, distorted and full of bass notes.

Turner wanted to go inside, catch a set and have a beer, but that wasn't why he was there.

He wasn't sure why he was there. He wanted to have a look at the man who'd been driving the truck that hit the woman. That was the simple, short answer. But he didn't know what he would do then. He'd have to find out when the time came.

He'd thought about finding the driver and blackmailing him. Going up to him and saying, you want, I can keep quiet about what happened. I don't have to. Pay me, and this goes away. One trouble with that was, he didn't think the man had much. He had an old truck, looked like he worked outside, probably nailing shingles into hot roofs, something like that. He wouldn't be rich. Turner didn't think that would work, but he wasn't ruling it out, either. After all, the cerebral palsy scam was over, and he'd need a way to make some money. What he thought was, he'd play it by ear, see what developed.

He turned on the radio, found a classic rock station, kept the volume low. Out the side window he watched the trucks coming in while Robert Plant screamed on the speakers. Ten minutes into this and he already wanted to leave. He'd known going in it was a long shot. He'd only seen a bumper sticker on the man's truck. Chances were, he only came here once or twice a week, if that, and he wouldn't be here tonight.

Then he saw the truck. He knew it as soon as he saw it make the turn into the Muleshoe lot. One look and the alarms went off in his head. He watched as it drove down the line and parked twenty feet away. The man got out, holding a beer bottle. Lone Star. He took a long last hit and threw the empty into the ditch that ran past the side of the lot. It shattered on the rocks down there.

Turner was out the door and walking fast across the lot without thinking. It was the bottle that did it. The man had killed someone with his truck that day, and now he was out driving around, drinking Lone Star like it hadn't happened at all. That was too much.

He came up behind the man, grabbed him by the collar, swung him around.

They were face-to-face, staring hard. Their eyes a foot apart. Turner with the man's collar in his left hand, the right ready to roll.

"Remember me?"

It took a second. Then he grinned. "Yeah, sure. I remember you. You were out there with that little hottie, scamming money. Cerebral palsy, wasn't it? Don't make me laugh."

Turner brought his right fist up hard under the man's chin, watched his head snap back. He fell backwards into the front fender of his truck. The side of his head slammed into the molding above the headlights and bounced. He hit the ground, rolled over once and brought his arm up to cover his head. Then he stopped moving.

Turner got back in his truck and pulled out. There were a couple of people by the front door. They hadn't seen what happened. They didn't even look at him as he drove by.

# # #

When he got home Emmy was already in bed. He didn't think she was asleep, but she was pretending to be. It was a little early, around eleven. Emmy was a party girl. Her day started at noon and ended around four. He guessed she just didn't want to talk. That was all right with him. He didn't want to talk, either.

He took a long shower. He cleaned out the scrape on his hand with peroxide. It wasn't much of a scrape but it was there. A reminder. He took a can of Coors out onto the balcony and sat in the breeze, looking out at the lights of the strip mall down the block.

He wondered about the man he'd just left in the Muleshoe lot. He'd landed a great punch, knocked him clean out. It had felt good. But he was worried. A punch like that could do some real damage. He'd seen it happen. He'd been in a few bar fights, seen plenty of others. He'd seen people carried off on stretchers. He knew what could happen.

Well, the man deserved whatever happened to him.

Emmy came out the sliding door and curled up in the other lawn chair. "I heard you come in," she said.

"I thought you were asleep." He held out the can of Coors and she took a light swig, gave it back.

"I wanted to be. I want to stop thinking about her, but I can't."

"Don't worry. It'll fade. A few days, it'll be just something else that happened to you. No big deal. Trust me."

"No, I don't think so. I decided to call the police, tell them what I saw. It's the only way."

Turner took the rest of the beer in one long pull. He wanted another, but he didn't want to get up for it. "Emmy, you need to think this through. That's a bad idea. Really bad. If we get pulled into this . . . well, we just can't."

"I thought it out. What I'll do is, I'll call, say I was in the parking lot, saw the truck drive off. I'll give them a really good description of the truck. I won't say anything about you, about what we were doing. Really, I'll feel better after I do this."

"No, just stay out of it. Look, by now they've heard about the college kids collecting for cerebral palsy who left right after this happened. They've got a description from the other people that were there. They've checked with the university; they're pretty sure we weren't doing anything for cerebral palsy. If you go in, they'll know it's you."

"I won't go in. I told you. I'll just call, talk to them on the phone."

Turner went in to get another can of beer. He needed a minute to think. He needed the beer to help him think. He didn't want to tell Emmy about what had happened at the Muleshoe. It just wasn't something she should know about. Emmy wasn't good with secrets. And she couldn't lie worth a damn. If she wound up spending a couple hours in a room with a good cop and a bad cop, she'd be telling them about everyone she'd known since the fourth grade. And she'd start with him. He just couldn't see a way of talking her out of making the call.

"Okay," he said when he was back on the porch. "Okay, if it will make you feel better, go ahead and call. But suppose we get a copy of the paper tomorrow? Maybe it's all solved. Maybe you don't have to get involved at all. Is that okay, honey?"

"Sure. That makes sense. I'll go out tomorrow and get a paper, first thing. Don't worry about any of this. I'll be real careful."

# # #

In the morning Turner was up early. He wanted to go back to sleep, but he couldn't, not with the way things were going. The alarm clock was flashing red zeroes. There had been a thunderstorm during the night. It had woken him and Emmy and they had made love as the lightning strobed in the window and the thunder shook the room. Apparently the electricity had gone out for a while. He looked at his watch. Almost nine, early for him.

He made a cup of coffee and poured in half-and-half, but it had gone bad. He made another cup and tried it black with sugar, but he didn't like it that way. For a while he sat at the counter in the kitchenette with his head in his hands, trying to think his way through this.

He was starting to realize that he might not be cut out for a life of crime. Well, he hadn't really chosen it, it had chosen him. A late-night traffic stop by a rookie cop with a smart mouth was all it had taken. That and a half-gram of crystal in a county that didn't even sell beer. If it hadn't happened, he'd be a solid citizen now, with a job that paid actual money, some kind of a future. Maybe even a family. He wished he could see a way out of this, back to a normal life, but he really couldn't.

He dressed in a tee shirt, jeans and running shoes and went out for cream. It was a block to the Stop-and-Go. He bought the half-and-half and a bag of glazed doughnuts. Standing at the counter he stared at a stack of local newspapers on the counter. There was a mine cave-in somewhere, more bad news from Iraq. He didn't want to buy a paper, but he knew Emmy would be down here for one five minutes after she got up if he didn't, so he picked one up, folded it and put it next to the doughnuts and cream.

He knew the hit-and-run wouldn't be on the front page. It wasn't a big enough story for that. It would be buried in the Metro, probably a paragraph, maybe two. It wouldn't matter. He knew there hadn't been an arrest. Emmy was going to call the police and try to tell the truth and lie at the same time, and she wasn't even close to being able to do that.

He was more worried about the other thing. He thought the man he'd punched out at the Muleshoe could be badly hurt. He kept seeing the side of his head hitting the truck and bouncing off. But there wouldn't be anything about that in the paper. It would have happened too late to make deadline.

He wondered if the Muleshoe had a surveillance camera in the lot.

Back at the apartment he made a third cup of coffee, got it right this time, and started in on the doughnuts. He read about the mine disaster, flipped through the sports pages. Emmy was stirring in the next room. Here it comes, he thought. Be ready.

She came out, gave him a quick kiss on the cheek from behind and headed for the bathroom. She stopped. "Oh, you got the paper," she said. "What does it say about the accident?"

"I haven't come to it," he told her. "Go ahead. I'll let you know if I find it."

He watched her go through the door and close it. He looked back at the box scores. After about a minute he realized he was just staring, not even trying to read them.

He pulled out the Metro section. There was a photo of a dog in mid-air about to splash down in Barton Creek, a story about the City Council arguing about overtime pay, another about a local rock drummer who'd died of cirrhosis. He turned the page. There it was. Woman injured in South Lamar hit-and-run. He read the story. Critical condition . . . Name withheld . . . Anyone with information . . . Pretty much what he expected to find, except for her still being alive. It wouldn't help. Emmy would still make the call.

He folded the Metro with the story facing up and put it on the counter next to him. He went back to staring at the box scores.

When Emmy came out, she went straight for the paper. "Well," she said. "I guess they don't have it solved."

"No. Not last night, anyway. They've got a pretty early deadline. You know, it's a morning paper. What we ought to do, though, is watch the TV news, see what they have about it. There's really not much there. If there's anything new, they'll have it on TV."

"You're just trying to stall."

Of course he was. "No, babe. I know you want to do this, but we really should know where things stand. I mean, the guy might already be in custody. No sense getting involved if we don't have to. Let's just see. It's only another hour, maybe two. I think the news comes on at eleven. What difference will that make?"

Emmy had coffee, two of the doughnuts. She cleaned up the kitchenette, started in on the living room. She usually didn't like to clean up, but today she kept moving around, wiping up everything she could find to wipe up. She was looking at the clock every couple of minutes. At five of eleven she had the TV on, sitting there while The View wrapped up. Turner was working on another cup of coffee, still trying to think of a way to talk her out of this. He had nothing.

The hit-and-run was the lead story. "Police are seeking the public's help in finding the driver of a pickup truck that killed a forty-eight-year-old Austin mother of three on South Lamar Boulevard yesterday afternoon . . ."

That was that. Emmy was already standing. She had her handbag under her arm. She shot a look at Turner. "I'll be back in a while."

Turner watched her disappear out the door onto the landing outside. He listened to her steps on the wooden stairs. Maybe it wouldn't matter, he thought. She'd just tell them she'd been in the parking lot, give them a generic description of the van. She'd say she didn't want to get involved, and that would be that.

Nothing was ever that easy. Not in his life.

# # #

Since he had the morning paper, he opened it to the classifieds. Just in case there was something worthwhile in there. Now that his cerebral palsy scam was gone, he was back to worrying about how he was going to make a living. He'd tried a couple of things after prison, but nothing had really worked out. He'd scalped tickets for a while, but you had to have enough money to buy tickets, and he usually didn't. He'd gone out a few nights with his buddy Jimmy, stripping out copper wiring on construction sites. They'd done pretty well, but by now everyone knew about that scam. The contractors were hiring security and the police were doing surveillance on construction sites. So that was the end of that, at least for a while. He'd tried looking for a real job, but he hadn't gotten far. Three years working in a prison laundry didn't look that good on a job application. Even the laundries wouldn't have anything to do with him. Still, it would be worth scanning the ads, just in case. He'd have to think of something.

He was reading an ad for a car salesman trainee, wondering what he'd have to do to pass the drug test, when he heard the woman on TV mention the Muleshoe. He looked up and stared as a picture of the roadhouse came up on the screen, the parking lot closed off with yellow crime scene tape. The victim's name is being withheld . . . Police are asking anyone with information . . . He dropped the paper.

The man was dead. He'd killed him.

He thought about going after Emmy, trying again to talk her out of making the call, but fifteen minutes had gone by. It was too late. It was way too late.

He heard footsteps on the stairs, then on the landing. Emmy coming back. She came in the door, looking happier than she had when she'd left. She tossed her purse on the couch and gave him a big smile.

"I called, talked to one of the detectives. Overholt, I think. I told him what I said I would. It was great. I just described the truck, told him I didn't want to get involved, and he said that was fine. And he said they'd had a break in the case, a lead. He said he thought this would all work out, it probably wouldn't even go to trial. Isn't that great?"

"Sure, honey. That's great. I guess you were right about this after all." Thinking that if he started now he could be in Mexico in three hours. Then what? He had no idea.

# # #

Emmy was so happy about her turn as a good citizen that she pulled him into the bedroom for an hour of lovemaking. After that she fell asleep and Turner lay next to her thinking about the mess he was in. He tried to think of something that would tie him to the crime scene. There wasn't much. Maybe footprints, tire tracks, but he didn't think they'd lead to him. He could have left some DNA on the man's jaw, but this wasn't television. He'd been in the lot for a half hour, but no one had paid much attention to him. Even if the police connected him to the hit-and-run there wouldn't be any real evidence to connect him to the murder. He felt a little better. Not much, but a little.

He reminded himself it wasn't a murder. He hadn't meant to kill the man. He hadn't even planned to confront the man until he saw him driving around drinking beer the same day he'd killed someone with his truck. So it wasn't murder.

It was manslaughter. That was bad enough.

He got up and got dressed. He thought he'd go down to the Stop-and-Go, pick up a six-pack. If he was going to sit around waiting for the police to come and take him away, he thought he ought to have a little buzz on. And sometimes a couple of beers helped him think. Or he liked to think so.

When he walked around the slat fence into the Stop-and-Go lot he almost turned around and went back. There were two police cruisers at the curb in front of the store, a couple of cops standing around by the door. For a moment he told himself they were just there for coffee, waiting for something to happen. He knew better. He took a deep breath, gathered himself and headed for the door.

"Excuse me, there? Sir? Do you have a minute?" The cop being nice, polite.

"Sure. What's up?"

The cop held out a black and white picture, letter-sized. Grainy. A picture of Emmy, talking on the phone. From the surveillance camera in the parking lot. Not a great picture, but he knew who it was.

"Do you recognize this woman? We're trying to get in touch with her."

Turner made a show of looking at the picture. He squinted a little. "No, I don't think I know her. Too bad, she could be pretty cute, it's hard to say, though. She in trouble?"

"We just want to talk to her about something. You live in the neighborhood?"

"Down the road a way. Got the afternoon off, thought I'd get a six-pack, relax."

The cop smiled at him. "Well, thanks for taking a look. Have a good afternoon."

In the store the clerk looked at him like he was trying to think of something. He and Emmy had been in the store together, but not often. And he didn't recognize the clerk. He could be new. He didn't think it would be a problem. He paid for the beer and went outside, nodded to the cops and started walking. He managed a block before he looked over his shoulder to see if he was being followed.

He wasn't. Not yet.

# # #

When he got to the apartment Emmy was up, having a glass of iced tea on the balcony. She gave him a bright smile. "Hey, lover, come back for more?"

"Not right now. Listen, Emmy, we've got a problem. The police are down at the Stop-and-Go with your picture from the surveillance camera. They want to talk to you. It's not going to take them long to find you. We have to grab a few things and get out of here."

"Looking for me? That's impossible. I just talked to them, what, an hour ago. I guess two. They were really nice, I told you."

"Well, they got over being nice. A cop down there showed me your picture, asked me if I'd seen you around. I told him no, but it won't take long. You know, you walk around, people notice you. Guys do, anyway."

"Look, it's not a big deal. So we were working a scam. It's not great, but you're off parole. The worst that can happen is, well, I've got no idea, but it can't be that bad."

Whatever happened, Turner wasn't going to tell Emmy that he'd killed the man at the Muleshoe. He was going to deny that no matter what. When they strapped him into the gurney for his lethal injection he'd swear to anyone who'd listen that he didn't know anything about that.

"I just want this to be over, okay. I don't want to spend the next couple months with this working its way through the system. Come on, we'll just make ourselves scarce for a few days, let things blow over."

"How about this? You go over to Jimmy's, hang out with him for a couple days. You can stay on his couch. I'm really not worried about talking to the police. I was in the parking lot, I saw what happened, but I wasn't close enough to be much help. I don't see the problem."

Turner opened his mouth to try to argue the point, but nothing came out. The buzzer sounded. Someone was at the downstairs door, wanting to be let in. Emmy pushed the button to answer.

"Miss Emerson? This is John Overholt of the Austin Police. I want to talk to you about the accident you witnessed. Can I come upstairs?"

She said to give her a minute and looked at Turner. He went out the front onto the landing and walked down to the far end, being very quiet. He made it to a back stairway that led to a gate behind the building. He got down there and walked very quickly across the back lot to the strip mall next door. He went down an alley and came out in the lot in front of a doughnut shop. He went in, thinking this was the worst place to hide from the police.

But he couldn't think of anywhere else to go.

He ordered a couple of creme-filled and a coffee and sat at a table to wait for the police.

# # #

Twenty minutes later, Emmy came in and sat down across from him. She smiled. "I figured you'd be here. It was either this or that bar down the street, Mad Jack's."

He stared at her.

"You're not going to believe what happened."

Try me.

"They found the man who hit that woman. Guess what. He's dead. They found him in the parking lot of some bar over by Oak Hill. What happened was, he'd been drinking, his blood alcohol was like a two or something, and he drove into the lot at this bar, probably ten or eleven, they don't know, and he got out and passed out there right next to his truck. So he's lying there and someone pulls in in this huge SUV, an Explorer, I think he said, and drives right over him. You know it was dark, the guy didn't even see him. First the front wheel, then the back. Just crushes him." Suddenly Emmy started giggling. "Wow, I mean, this isn't funny at all. Anyway, they showed me a picture, from his license, you know, and yeah it was him. The cop said he wanted to find me and let me know because when he talked to me on the phone I sounded like I might be afraid to get involved, like this guy might come looking for me or something. And they were just putting it together then. So he wanted to let me know there wasn't anything to worry about. He was really nice. Baby, are you all right?"

Turner was hanging onto the edges of the table, trying not to faint. The room was spinning a little. Not much but enough. He sucked in a deep breath, held it down.

"Emmy, have you ever thought about getting out of here? Just packing it up and trying it out somewhere else? Somewhere different. You know, like Mexico. Or Alaska. Getting loose from everything we're tied up in here, getting a fresh start? Do you ever think about that? About Alaska?"

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