a person who is a hundred or more years old.
I should doubt to have thought, for all my long years, that I might live to see the bones of a dragon.
Leaving, we set fires beneath the curtains. First those in the bedroom then those in the hallway, the living room. The Foreigner showed me how to ball four sheets of paper into a mash that would smoulder for ten minutes before bursting into flame. We set two such sculptures beneath each curtainstem, hurrying out the back gate and over the fence. The Boy was stood upright in the driver’s well of the car, door open, scoping for us. He hissed hurry and we jogged the last few paces. I thought of The Dead Woman’s eyes, still splayed open on the bedroom floor. I wondered what the flame might do to those eyes. We clambered in and The Boy went to drive away. The Foreigner put his hand across the car and gripped the wheel.
Checks? he asked us. I patted my pocket. Opened the back centre seat and eyed the boot. Mentally ticked. Ticked.
Checked, I said. The Boy fidgeted, agitated.
Checks? The Foreigner asked again. The Boy mumbled he hadn’t left the car. The Foreigner’s finger swept across the dash, intimating the fuel-gauge, mile-counter. Stamped his foot in the well.
These are your checks, The Foreigner said.
Checked, fuck, checked, The Boy blurted.
We pulled away. Lights set to low, sweeping out the track onto the street. Down the street and away, pulling onto other streets that rolled and rolled out to the highway like rivers running to the ocean. The boot began knocking but all three of us ignored it. The Boy didn’t say a word, just sweated, sat forward in his seat, squinting every corner for imagined pursuit. I scanned behind as we crossed the overpass. A miniscule spectacle of sparkling orange in the distance behind.
Relax, The Foreigner said. Relax, it’s done already.
The Buyer was waiting for us on the bluff, leant against his SUV, shadowy forms shifting in the blackened glass behind him. He stepped away as we approached, our headlights picking out his tan suit in the sallow desert. The city glowed with a heavy curtain of neon beneath him. Like a dome; a sheet of luminescence chained to ten thousand twinkling anchors.
Sit, The Foreigner said as The Boy went to open his door. You stay here.
The Foreigner moved smoothly from his seat. Lithe, like a cat, the car door closing softly behind him. The Boy shifted uncomfortably. Fidgeted in his seat, the boot knocking a rhythmic beat behind me, The Boy subconsciously matching the beat with his foot against the floor.
I don’t fucking like this, he said. I closed my eyes and counted in my head. Listened to the insistent knocking. I don’t fucking like this one fucking bit, he said again. I leant back, opening my eyes and examining the fuzzing headliner above me.
If we’re just – The Boy started Why don’t you shut the fuck up and let your brain quiet? I interrupted. If we’re in trouble I’ll tell you we’re in trouble. Up to then all you need to do is nod. Right? And drive the fucking car. Christ.
The Boy went back to silence. Outside The Foreigner and The Buyer had bowed to each other and now stood in conversation. The Foreigner gestured The Buyer and The Buyer nodded. The Foreigner turned and came back. Pointed at me as he crossed around the car. I clambered out and went with him to the boot.
Good? I muttered.
Of course, he replied.
We popped the trunk and The Old Man rolled over to face us, his misty eyes scanning fruitlessly, his body shrinking away from the cold desert air that washed over his naked skin. The Foreigner grabbed him under his arm and lifted him out the boot, suspending him a moment in the air like some hollow doll, easily swung, before dumping him into the dirt with a start of dust. He whined through his gag, tears rolling out his white, pearlescent eyes. I gripped him beneath one armpit and the foreigner beneath the other and we lifted him easily into the air, carrying him across to where The Buyer stood waiting like some expectant heathen deity. The Old Man’s felt like paper beneath my grip; barely present. I speculated how far I could throw him. Wondered what his end might look like were I to pitch him off the cliff; how far he might fly. I swept his feet back as we deposited him and so he landed in a heavy bow, his bound hands useless as his wet, sticky face went to the dirt. The Foreigner pulled him back by the hair, exposing his belly, and intimated with a knife I hadn’t seen him draw the design of a dragon, tattooed across The Old Man’s chest. The mark was almost faded, a mess of deep reds and blacks, hints of yellow across the withered man’s antique and ochre skin. The Buyer squatted to examine it. Ran a finger up and down it it. The Old Man shivered, whining, his head tossing like a blinkered horse. The Buyer looked The Old Man in his shifting eyes, scanning for something in those dulled, blinded orbs. Nodded to himself, not quite smiling. Stood and drew a pistol. Shot The Old Man through the upper teeth, severing the spinal chord. The Old Man keeled at me, gaping. I dumped the body to the dust in disgust, my arm and shoulder splattered with blood, bone and matter. The Buyer smirked an ugly, mean smile at me.
Good job, he said.
Good job yourself. We could’ve done that in his house, I spat. Done him clean like the woman.
Everything has a purpose, The Buyer purred. I have my reasons.
I ran my tongue over my teeth, picking the flecks of gristle from them. Spat them onto the body.
If you wanted him dead you aught have paid me to kill him, I said. Would’ve been cheaper.
You know where you’re going? The Buyer asked The Foreigner, his interest evaporating instantly off me.
Of course, The Foreigner nodded.
Then get to it, The Buyer said, turning to return to his car.
Hey, I said. He turned to look back to me, raising one slender, dismissive eyebrow. Money, I said plainly, holding out my hand.
The Buyer stood a moment, looking at me with slim, steely eyes. A shadow shifted in the SUV behind him but I blocked it out, keeping my attention square and focused, not letting my eyes flutter.
Money, I said again.
The Buyer rolled his eyes. The Foreigner took me by the shoulder.
I have it, he said. We’ll split it when we’re done.
We are done, I said. Find him and bring him was what we agreed. I found, I bought, now you pay.
He has your money, The Buyer said, turning. And you’ll get it. When it’s done. And it’s done when it’s done.
I didn’t see you pass no money, I said. My heel lifted an inch, considering a step forward. I thought better of it. Rested back. This isn’t what we agreed, I said.
No, The Buyer said plainly. It isn’t.
Come, The Foreigner hissed. You’ve crossed a line. You want your money; come.
I thought about arguing. About going for the gun in my waistband. About how good a human shield The Foreigner might make. About whether The Boy would wait for me or flee. I thought a moment before turning on my heel and following The Foreigner’s lead as he lifted the dusty, naked corpse of The Old Man who peeled like sticky toilet roll out the earth as we hoisted him.
The Boy had a gun drawn, held beneath the dash in sweating hands. The Foreigner slapped it out his hand as we climbed back in, muttering to himself in his own language. The Boy caught my eye in the rearview.
We in trouble? he asked. I shrugged, eyes flicking to The Foreigner and back. The Boy nodded once. Steeled himself and sparked the engine. Creaked into reverse.
The Buyer watched as we pulled away, stood where we left him, The Old Man rolling back and forth in the trunk and the earth bouncing up and down out the rear windscreen. I thought again of The Dead Woman’s open, empty eyes, staring sightlessly in the burning bedroom.