Tuesday
Jun142011

Wire to Wire

By Scott Sparling



Tin House Books
June 2011
375 pages
978-1935639053

 

  

A line of mesquite trees made a crooked windbreak for the small cinder-block house. The trunks of the trees had been painted white against the sun and they shimmered in the heat of the Sonora. At night, the trees looked like ghosts; in the darkness, they danced slowly around the house.

As the sun went down, Slater went from room to room, closing the blinds. He turned on all the lights, then turned some of them back off. When he got it just right, he sat at the fake mother-of-pearl table in the kitchen and snapped his fingers softly by his ear. The rhythm calmed him, gave him something to hang on to.

The trees couldn't really move. He knew that. Still, he didn't want to see them.

Before Selda left, the trees hadn't bothered him. They'd sit on the steps together as the sun went down and watch the white trunks waver about. Nothing scared Selda. Ghosts, come get me, she said. I don't mind.

Sitting by her side, Slater didn't mind either.

Keeps the snakes away, she said.

What does? he asked.

The ghosts, she said. She ran snaky fingers up his back and kissed him.

That was before she decided he wasn't all there and left him in the desert alone.

In the kitchen, he ate from a box of Ritz. Dinner. Later, he parked himself on a chair and let the TV soothe him into sleep. A half dozen times he woke to the strangers on the box. After midnight he was greeted by a salesman and a preacher, followed by Elvis in black and white. At 3 a.m., he found himself confronted with the news in Spanish. He watched intently, not understanding a word.

 

In the morning, Slater stepped out on the porch and felt the heat change the map of his body: scalp, testicles, the bottoms of his feet. He thought that if he slashed his hand through the air, the hot land would ripple like water. That would be fine. Ripple all you want, he told the land. I'm leaving.

Across the scrubgrass, on the other side of the windbreak, was a ranch house set back from the road. Cassie's place. The red pickup was gone. That was a good sign. It meant Dickinson was not around.

The truck started showing up shortly after Cassie's husband disappeared. It was parked there most mornings now. Slater took it to mean that Ed Dickinson had moved in. He had encountered him once or twice, coming and going—the man was loud and bullheaded, and he treated Slater like hired help, instead of a renter. According to Cassie, there'd been some sort of off-the-books business between Dickinson and her husband. Something that couldn't be asked about.

Slater had his own reason for not wanting to talk to Dickinson.

Seeing that that truck was gone, he put his boots on and headed up to Cassie's house. In the tall scrubgrass near the mesquite trees, he moved more slowly, keeping an eye out for rattlesnakes. A 1968 Ford Ranchero—ten years old and badly rusted—sat in the shade near one of the trees. The Ranchero hadn't moved in months.

On the porch, Slater rang Cassie's bell and waited. He had to ring it again before she opened the door, dressed for work—tight jeans, red bandana, and a white blouse with the words Ed's Steakhouse on the pocket. Cassie was freckled and a year or so past forty. Her eyes were done up darkly, in a way that might work in the steak house. Under the desert sun, she looked more ghoulish than sexy. She did not look happy to find Slater on her porch.

"Hey," he said, filling the silence. When she continued to stare, he told her he had come for his deposit.

"You can't just leave whenever you feel like it," Cassie said. "Notice has to be in writing. Says so in the lease."

"There is no lease," he said.

"Sure there is. Ed drew it up after Thomas disappeared."

"I gave notice verbally," he said. "When you came by."

The AC that blew out against his face was obscenely cool "Is that what you call it," she said. "I know a different name for it."

A month earlier, Cassie had stopped by the Addition to collect the rent. Slater had just opened a bottle of tequila. It was late in the day; she looked good with the sunset behind her. The fact that she was older and hard as nails made it more exotic. Not in a good way, it turned out.

Slater resisted the urge to snap his fingers. "That has nothing to do with it." But he knew it did. Once you mixed up sex and money, there was no unmixing them.

"Doesn't matter," Cassie said. "I don't have it." 

"You don't have six hundred dollars?"

She jerked her head and led him to the kitchen, which was done entirely in yellow. A shoe box on the counter held a rat's nest of papers. Rooting through it, she produced the lease. "Says right here. One-year occupancy. Twelve months. No pets and all."

"I never signed that. You never even showed it to me."

"I didn't have to. Ed got it notarized. You can't break a notarized lease."

From the back of the house, a parrot squawked. Slater picked up a spoon from the table and weighed it in his hand. I made love to a woman who owns a parrot, he thought. 

"Where'd you say you're going?" Cassie asked. "Minnesota?"

"Michigan." His T-shirt showed a railroad ferry sailing under a cherry sun. Northern Michigan, it said. Enchanted Land of Cherries and Ferries.

"Whatever. Just write down your address. I'll mail you the money when I get it."

"I don't have an address. All I want is the deposit."

Cassie stood eyeing him with a look that said she had slept with better men. "Tell you what," she said. "Take the Rolls Canardly."

She meant the Ranchero rusting under the mesquite trees. Slater had heard the joke before. Rolls down one hill. Can hardly make it up the next.

"I'm not taking a busted-up old car. I need the money."

"So do I. And when I have it, I'll sure let you know." She plucked an envelope from the shoe box and handed it to him. Inside was the title, registered to Thomas Gorrel. Her missing husband. "Things go wrong," she said, "men run off. Whereas if you're a woman, you have trouble alone."

Slater held a spoon between two fingers. It had an interesting heft. He could fling it and bounce the curved end off her nose. It was a talent he had.

"I'm not running off."

"Nice tits!" the parrot called. "I'm a shitbird." Cassie yelled for it to shut up.

"Listen," she said. "I'll throw in some speakers. High-end stuff. Go see Dr. Jack. Tell him Ed sent you."

"I'm not taking the Ford."

"Then you're not getting anything", she tried to say, but the parrot drowned her out with a chorus of "Nice tits!," followed by "Don't make me shoot you." 

"Shut up, Sammy," Cassie yelled.

But the bird knew that one too and repeated it back.

 

On his way back to the Addition, Slater rocked the back of the Ford Ranchero and watched it bounce. The shocks were shot. No surprise.

The Ranchero was a sedan in front, a flatbed in back. Half car, half truck. The words FLASH ME had been written on the tailgate and then painted over, but the letters were still faintly visible. It was hard to believe anyone had ever been flashed in such a vehicle.

He circled the Ford, looking it over. Across a quarter mile of scrubgrass, a short line of cars undulated toward Tucson, sunlight glancing off their chrome. The road going north was empty. That was the road he wanted.

Sometimes in Northern Michigan, when the cherries were being harvested, a truck stacked high with crates would take a corner too fast and spill some of its load. He remembered dirt roads the color of coffee with a sprinkling of cherries at the corner. There'd be a summer shower, a slender girl, a flannel shirt open under the trees. The scent of sex and the smell of grass—not grass being cut, but living grass, down close to the ground where you could smell it next to the soil.

That was where he wanted to go. But that wasn't Northern Michigan. That was his youth. And there was no way you could get there in a broken down Ford.

 

Dr. Jack ran a thieves' bazaar from a house outside Tucson. Slater parked the Ranchero in the drive and rang the bell.

Several minutes later, Dr. Jack appeared in a T-shirt and boxers. Kernels of popcorn were stuck to one side of his face; he seemed to be emerging from a deep nod, a sleep with luxurious, even tropical overtones. The air coming from the house had a rubbery smell; in the room behind Jack, Slater could see tires stacked to the ceiling. Before Slater could explain himself, Dr. Jack helpfully offered to rip him a new asshole.

At the mention of Ed Dickinson, though, Dr. Jack's face changed. An hour later, the Ford Ranchero was equipped with a refurbished tape deck and six mismatched coaxials. As Slater left, a Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows pulled up the drive. Dr. Jack also filled prescriptions.

At Safeway, Slater picked up a Styrofoam cooler, a six-pack, and several jugs of water. Afterward, he hit an auto-parts store on Ajo Way for hoses, belts, and a new set of plugs.

When he returned, he discovered a wheelchair preacher spraying drunken prophecy all over the sidewalk. By the tailgate of the Ranchero, the man scooped something from the sidewalk and held it up for all to see. A one-hundred-dollar bill. Trees will tumble! the man shouted. Insolvable dichotomies will be transcended! A bottle of Mogen David poked out from his grimy blanket.

Slater gave the man wide berth and drove off. It takes more than a hundred dollars, he thought, before the insolvable dichotomies get small.

That afternoon, he moved the Ranchero into the shade of the Addition and replaced the fan belt and the hoses. By dinnertime, he was done. He opened a beer and drank it quickly. Inside, in the tiny bathroom, he turned on the shower and lay down in the tub, letting the spray strike his chest. To his shame, he found himself growing hard thinking about Cassie.

It had been the bottom of the barrel, sleeping with Cassie. Getting there was not half the fun.

It was possible, he knew, to be aroused and disgusted at the same time. Once, after Selda left, he had made love to a woman simply because he liked her boots. They were delicately tooled, with a leather strap around the heel as if to hold a spur. Her feet, though, were stubby and square and made him want to stop, but he didn't. As with Cassie, the experience just made him feel more alone.

He hoped very much that she had not told Ed Dickinson about their night together.

When he got out of the bath, he decided it was too late to leave. He passed the cool hours of the evening in front of the television, sleeping off and on, and staying away from the windows so the ghosts wouldn't see him.

In the morning, he gathered his backpack and two sturdy boxes containing his clothes and a few other possessions. The furniture would stay behind. Some of it had been abandoned by Selda; the rest was Cassie's or possibly no one's. When your belongings don't really belong to you, he thought, it's time to go.

 

Opening the blinds, he saw Ed Dickinson examining the Ford. The big man dropped to his knees by the tailgate and bent forward, moving his hand under the fender, as if feeling for a hidden key. He stood up quickly when Slater came out on the porch and slipped something in his pocket.

"Are you the dead man who moved my car?" Dickinson said. "Don't ever do that again."

Slater let the screen door close behind him. "Cassie sold it to me," he said.

"Like hell she did. It ain't hers to sell. That heap of stink is mine." Dickinson's red face sat atop a pale yellow shirt with a bolo tie. The right side of his skull sloped up at an odd angle, a look suggesting violence. Mayhem given and received. "How much she con you for it?"

"Six hundred."

"Six hundred? Don't you know better than to trust a dumb bitch?"

"She owed me the money," Slater said. "I'm leaving town."

 "I'll bet you are." Dickinson moved closer to the porch. "So I guess you looked this bucket of bolts over pretty good. Crawled underneath and all? Checked her out from tits to toes?"

"Not really. No."

"Huh."

Dickinson took off his Stetson and looked past Slater. "I don't suppose you've seen Manny's brown ass around here this morning. What do you bet he's shacked up with some two-dollar Mexican whore? No offense to your girlfriend."

"She moved out a couple months ago. And she was half-Mexican."

"Half-Mexican. Which half, I wonder." He put a hand on the Ford. "Tell you what. You keep the car. I'll square up with Cassie. You just help me load her goddamn horses in the trailer. They're stubborn as hell."

"I don't know anything about horses."

"Don't make no difference." He pulled out a one-hundred dollar bill and showed it to Slater. "For your time and trouble. Payable when we're done."

Slater tried to read Dickinson's face, but it was blank. To get him to go away, he agreed to help.

"That'd be a blessing." The big man winked and put the bill away. "Come up to the house when you're ready."

 

The word blessing nearly queered the deal. Whatever Dickinson was up to, Slater thought, there would be nothing blessed about it.

In the Addition, he washed up, pulled a clean shirt from his bag, and laced his boots. He put his backpack and his two boxes in the Ford. As an afterthought, he strapped the Blue Dart onto his belt. The knife was a Tru-Balance, made for throwing. Slater called it the Blue Dart because Ernesto had called it that.

Ernesto was Selda's uncle. He had come out to the Addition on Easter morning, pedaling a rusted green bike twenty miles. When he got there, Selda wouldn't let him in, so Slater made coffee and took it outside with some folding chairs. They sat in the shade, drinking. Eventually, Ernesto stood up and threw the Blue Dart into one of the mesquites.

Selda blamed him for her father's death, he said, because he was the one who heard that Phelps Dodge was hiring. He and Miguel had gone to Bisbee together, but Miguel was given the wrong job. He was a born mechanic, Miguel was, but Mexicans were supposed to work in the tunnels, not take machine jobs from white men. The first Friday evening, the other workers went looking for Miguel.

"Selda forgets that Miguel was my brother," Ernesto said. "She wasn't there. So she imagines how it might have been, and she decides not to know anything else." He looked at Slater. "She doesn't forgive."

The old man threw the knife and hit the same spot on the mesquite three more times. "This was Miguel's knife. He should have kept it on his belt. He shouldn't have thrown it." He waved his hand at the mountains. "That was ten years ago."

"Long time," Slater said.

"Long time for you. Not for a skinny girl like her. She doesn't eat because she has the grudge inside. It fills her up." His eyes turned to crinkly slits. "So I serve my purpose. I help her keep her figure, yes?"

Ernesto retrieved the knife and showed Slater the secret compartment in the handle. It was full of sand.

"I used to keep it filled with salt. You need salt in the desert. Without the weight, the knife doesn't throw." The old man opened his palms, accepting all the unfairness of the world. "That was what killed Miguel. He ran out of salt."

A clank of dishes came from inside the Addition. Ernesto threw the Blue Dart again. "Grip and stance," the old man said. "And fifty years of practice. You try it."

When Slater threw, the knife landed in the dirt. After ten more tries, he was able to bounce it off the tree. Because there was nothing else to do, Ernesto began to teach him. The next weekend he came by again, and the Sunday after that. Slater guessed the old man was hoping to see Selda, but she never came out. In the process, Slater learned the pinch grip, the finger grip, the hammer grip.

"You get your throw, then we work on distance. Most of all, you have to be fast. Fast enough to kill a snake, yes? One motion." His hand moved in a blur. "They never know it's coming till it's in them." He winked. "Like with a girl, huh?"

"That's not my style," Slater said.

The lessons were better therapy than anything he had done in rehab. Ernesto made him throw hard to get a good snap at the end. After one of their sessions, the old man ran his fingers along the handle where Miguel Sanchero's initials were engraved.

"That's you now. M.S.—Michael Slater." He held the knife out to him. "This is yours. Take it. Or it will end up in a box like me."

The gift made Slater work harder. He learned the half turn, the easiest throw. He could hit a tree reliably, but he had trouble sticking the blade.

"Your back foot moves," Ernesto said one afternoon. "Watch how I stand."

"I am watching."

"You're watching the tree. Watch my feet."

"I can see both."

Ernesto held three fingers in front of Slater and moved them toward his ear until he found the limits of Slater's peripheral vision.

"That's a new one," Ernesto said. "I haven't seen that before."

"I'm full of surprises," Slater told him.

"Just keep throwing. Don't get old like me."

 

No one answered the door when Slater walked up to Cassie's house, so he let himself in, calling for Dickinson. No reply. He wandered to the kitchen and filled a glass with water. He watched it sweat onto the yellow counter as he waited. From the back of the house, Sammy was squawking. "Shut up. Show me your tits! Shut up."

There's a new kind of hell, Slater thought. Your husband disappears, and a bird keeps repeating his insults.

After a few minutes, he decided to take a look. The squawks led him down the hall to a partially closed door. Cassie's bedroom, he thought. He pushed it open and went in.

Inside was a freak show. The ceiling was painted black with gold trim. A naked, muscular cyclops took up an entire wall. The cyclops wore a Budweiser cap; a smiling pixie hovered over his huge phallus, sprinkling fairy dust. Volcanic mountains erupted behind him.

On the opposite wall, the same artist had painted a unicorn, hog-tied and suspended above a fire. Pygmies in Speedos were roasting the beast. The baseboards were covered in fake furry leopard skin.

Sammy—a blue and gold macaw—was in a wrought-iron cage covered with fine mesh. The cage sat opposite the bed and was nearly as tall as Slater. The base, lined with the Tucson Citizen, was at least a yard square and dotted with colorful poop.

"Don't make me shoot you," Sammy said.

On the wall near the cage was a cheap wooden plaque showing a romantic couple, arm in arm on a sunset beach. I Love You More Today Than Yesterday, the caption read, But Not As Much As Tomorrow. Someone had drawn a thick black line through the last part, so it read But Not As Much As Tom.

Thomas Gorrel, Slater thought. Cassie's husband.

Slater was still looking at the plaque when Ed Dickinson appeared in the doorway. Slater saw him in his peripheral vision, but jumped anyway when Dickinson spoke.

"What the hell are you doing in here?" Dickinson asked.

"I heard the bird talking. I thought maybe you were back here."

"You thought I was a bird?" Dickinson tipped his head back, as if judging a midget act. "You seem to know your way around this house pretty well."

"I just wandered back. I never knew Cassie could paint."

"She can't. Her husband did all this. He was a kick-ass artist before he disappeared."

"Good for him," Slater said. "I guess."

"He was dealing drugs. Asshole disappeared with a lot of money that didn't belong to him. What do you bet he got himself offed?"

"No idea."

"You take something that don't belong to you, that's what happens."

"Could be," Slater said.

"You don't like me, do you?"

"I don't know you."

"You can pound sand up your ass. I know when someone doesn't like me.'

Sammy squawked.

"Make him say 'Show me your tits,'" Ed Dickinson said.

"He did that one."

"Make him do it again. Say, 'Show me your tits,' Sammy."

Before Slater could speak, Sammy repeated the line. The bird wasn't doing Cassie's husband, he realized. It was Ed all along.

 

A dented, mud-splattered trailer was hitched to a red-and-white Chevy pickup by the horse pen. The trailer was several shades of white, like someone had used house paint and a roller on it. Rust edged the flat surfaces where water collected. Next to it, the red-and-white truck seemed even brighter.

"1978 Silverado," Dickinson said. "454 engine, 4-barrel carb. Had it a month."

Cassie's two horses were already in the trailer, their heads visible above the rear doors. "I loaded them while you were screwing around in the house." Dickinson thumped the side of the trailer. "You just have to help me unload them."

"I need to get going. I was on my way out of town."

"Bullshit. This won't take long. Just a short ways into the scrub, toward the old Willow Place. Backroads. I never go alone. One little thing goes wrong, and you're at the mercy."

Slater looked across the scrubgrass to the highway. "Which direction?"

"North. You lead the way. Watch my signals."

North was the way he was going. He agreed to go along.

At the end of the dirt driveway, they turned onto Highway 77. Slater, in the Ford, kept his eye on Dickinson in the rearview. When they'd gone a few miles, Dickinson put his blinker on. Up ahead was a dirt road that led into the Sonora.

For a few seconds, Slater thought about accelerating, following the highway north. Let Dickinson chase him. But he turned onto the dirt road instead. He'd given his word, and even with a bully like Dickinson, keeping it might mean something. They drove into the Sonora and the highway receded in his mirrors, becoming just a heat blur. Soon even that was gone.

All he had to do was hang on, he told himself. In three days he'd be back in Michigan, where things would make more sense.

He'd had the blowjob dream again the night before. He was standing on the sidewalk and a billboard showed a candidate for city council, a woman kneeling at his feet. He's Getting A Blowjob, the billboard said. Vote for Schmidt. Across the street, waiting for the light, two men were being done by two women. The stick-figure man on the WALK sign was getting head from a stick-figure woman.

In the dream, Slater crossed the road and went into a coffee shop. Three customers at the counter were all getting hoovered. Booths were filled with raised rumps and bobbing heads. A pretty twenty-year-old, chipper and fresh-faced, stepped up to take Slater's order. "Hey stranger," she said. "What can I do you for?"

Embarrassed, Slater avoided her eyes. "Cup of coffee," he said. "And maybe a blowjob?"

Everyone stopped. Her smile drained and she slapped him hard.

"That's disgusting," she told him.

Someone else yelled for him to shove off. The kneeling women murmured agreement.

At that point, the hot shame usually woke him up.

In the Addition, when he told Selda about the dream, she looked at him and traced her finger around his skull. "I know what it means. It means you're incomplete."

By the time she left him, that was all she ever said. You're missing something. And it's not a blowjob.

 

As they drove across the dry land, Dickinson pulled ahead, leading Slater deeper into the desert. Soon they were following a dry streambed, an arroyo. The sides of the gully were lined with yellow flowers and brittlebush and desert lavender. In a flash flood, the gulch would swallow them instant, Slater knew. But it was too narrow to turn around. Finally, they came to a slightly wider spot and Dickinson stopped. There was no ranch and no willow tree. Slater cut the engine and walked to the truck.

"A hundred and ten in the shade," Dickinson said, getting out. "That's why I never come out here alone. You ever shoot a horse?"

"I thought you said you were selling them."

"I never said that. Maybe I should sell them to you."

 "I didn't sign up for this."

Dickinson got a rifle from the cab of the Silverado. "Don't matter what you signed up for. I'll do the hard part. Then we'll turn around and you'll be on your way."

"Count me out," Slater said.

Dickinson laughed at that.

The first horse out of the trailer was Buster, a blood bay with a white stripe between his eyes. Dickinson led him fifty paces down the gully and wrapped the lead around a viney shrub that Selda used to call a Jacob's Staff. The bright red flowers matched the truck.

"Why not just let them go?" Slater said. "You don't need to shoot them."

 "That's real ignorance. You have no idea how cruel that is."

The second horse had welts and sores around its halter. Dickinson led him to the first and tied their leads together. Overhead, a Phantom broke the sound barrier. The thunder spooked the horses, but Dickinson calmed them with some soft, reassuring guff.

The fighter jets were from Davis AFB. Selda delivered vegetables there; Slater had seen the place. The sign by the gate said Excuse Our Noise. It's the Sound of Liberty. That was Selda's motto too. She could fill up one end of a bar with laughter. The best part was how she pointed when she laughed. Her head went back and her arm extended and you knew you had made her happy. Then she started pointing at others and that was not so good.

Their last day together was the loudest. You have a small crooked penis, she yelled. Your Jesus has a small crooked penis. You scratch at night. He denied it, but some of what she said was true. You're not a whole person, she said. You've got a head full of nonreconcilable bullshit, which was smarter than he thought she knew.

She was beautiful on fire.

Dickinson fed a magazine into the rifle, engaged the bolt and locked it. "We all got wants and needs, kid," he said. "I got mine, you got yours. Sooner we finish, sooner we'll both be drinking a beer."

He cradled the rifle with one arm and put a set of orange earplugs in his ears. "You know what COB is?" he shouted. "Corn, oats, and barley. It's what I'm sick of buying."

Before Slater could answer, Dickinson raised the rifle and shot Buster between the ear and eye. For a split second, the horse looked like a puppet on a string, all four legs jerking up at once. His neck snapped with a crack as his full weight hit the ground. The other bay reared, bellowing. Dickinson waited a horrible half minute, then laid it down with one shot. He nodded at his work, then turned to Slater.

"Sorry," he said, taking the plugs from his ears. "Should have given you some of these."

The second horse gave out a wet, groaning wail. Slater snapped his fingers by his ears, trying to keep the sound out of his head. He half expected the big man to produce a shovel and order him to start digging, but it turned out not to be that kind of movie.

"Go ahead now and lead the way out," Dickinson said. "There's a turnaround up ahead."

Slater dropped his arms, brushing the Blue Dart on his belt. The dying horse made a guttural sound that stopped abruptly as Slater got to the Ford. From the corner of his eye, he saw Dickinson put the earplugs back in. In a single, panicked second, Slater found time to marvel how good his freakish vision would be on a basketball court. By the time that image left, Dickinson was raising the rifle, aimed at his back. Slater turned with the Blue Dart in his hand and yelled as he threw.

Dickinson made the mistake of whirling, not diving. The knife struck him between the shoulder blades and went in deep. As he fell, he fired into the grille of the Silverado. Green radiator fluid shot out, hitting him in the chest. Both men were yelling now.

Slater ran to him and pulled the rifle away. Dickinson, on his knees, clawed at his shirt. He tried to stand but jerked back down and Slater grabbed the handle of the knife. The blade twisted as it came out. It took Slater a second to hear the words inside Dickinson's howl. "Don't leave me."

Until then, it had never occurred to him. He took the bolt from the rifle and threw it into the desert. Under the hood of the Silverado, he cut the distributor wires and sliced through the fan belt.

Dickinson, still on his knees, had worked his shirt off. His skin was fiery red where the fluid had hit him; his back was covered with blood. As Slater ran to the Ford, Dickinson tried to lunge at him, but seized up and toppled forward.

"I've got a million dollars," he yelled. "A quarter million. I got any kind of drug you want." He crawled toward the Ranchero, his gut heaving as he shouted. "I'll pay you anything."

The steering wheel burned Slater's fingers. It took him nearly a minute to turn the Ranchero in the gully, lurching forward and back. Dickinson managed to get to his feet and stagger a few steps toward him, his face squeezed tight in pain. "You bastard," he said. "I'll find you. I'll kill you."

A desert bird chirped. Slater drove off.

When Dickinson was tiny in the rearview, he stopped, knowing he had to go back. At low idle, the Ranchero's engine shuddered, missing slightly.

To hell with that, Slater said. He put the Ranchero in drive and followed the dirt track to Highway 77. By the time he got there, the sweat was dry on his face.

The road was empty. Slater looked both ways. Tucson was south. He could tell someone there, send medical help. The Blue Dart, still bloody, was on the floor. It pointed like a compass. North.