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Desert Heat

Nothing like fast cars and faster women to crank up the cooker. When the night is hot and the heat it on, good men can turn bad, and bad men...can turn desperate. Here's an old-school, southwestern shoot ’em up for your degenerate entertainment...


Desert Heat by Bill Baber


God, it was hot out on the desert that night. The windows were down and all that did was let in a wind that felt like it had been launched from the business end of a blowtorch. It was the end of July and down on the flats the stars were bright overhead while lightening flashed incessantly over the far mountains.

We were halfway between Tucson and Nogales listening to the X that was coming somewhere out of Sonora. They played Muddy Waters doing “Rollin’ Stone” and Hank’s “Ramblin’ Man.” Then, some blazing Otis Rush—Gaff turned up the radio; Otis was the closest thing to a god he believed in. I grabbed one of two lukewarm Tecates that were left and Gaff passed a bottle of mezcal. There was nothin’ to see ’cept for the occasional prongs of a Saguaro or a skinny jackrabbit crossin’ the road.

We were in Gaff’s ’58 Imperial—that sonofabitch was heavier than a played-out Houston whore, and the Chrysler 392 Hemi under the hood was a beast. That car mighta been slow to get rollin’, but once she did there was nothin’ on the late night desert highways that could keep up with her. There was as much chrome on the dash of that bitch as there was on the exterior of the car; Gaff kept the dash lights low or else the glare would blind you. There was an orange glow comin’ from the end of his Lucky. Neither of us was sayin’ much.

This last job had been rough. We’d covered twenty two hundred southwest summer miles in under a week chasing a guy from West Texas to New Mexico before finally catching up with him in Oklahoma. The guy had been more than happy to come up with the money, after which Gaff cut his throat with a razor and left his body on the bed of a dingy Tulsa motel room.

All for a twenty percent cut of Alverez’s money.

After topping a little rise, the lights of a small town illuminated the surrounding emptiness. Might as well of been a neon sign you could read a hundred miles away, warning: “Trouble Ahead.”

“Hell,” Gaff said, “it ain’t much past ten. Maybe there’s a spot we could get a beer that’s cold.”

Well, there sure was. There was a hillbilly band playin.’ And they were damn good, too. Course Gaff had to get his Fender out of the trunk. He ripped through “Matchbox” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll” with those boys and the joint was jumpin’. You woulda thought he’d of played with those cats forever. They might have played some of the best blues ever heard west of the Delta that night. You could smell mota out in the gravel parking lot, and if there was a hot Mexican girl in a bar like that, Gaff was gonna find her.

So there we were, havin’ us a time. And the Mexican girl? Her name was Esmeralda and I could tell right off that Gaff was in love. I’d seen the look before. She was beautiful. She had the flashing eyes and the painted red lips and she was already wearin’ that low crowned, wide brim straw hat Gaff fancied. From experience, I knew what was comin’ next.

He was a tough lookin’ bastard. Gaff was going to have his hands full. Hell, this guy might take both of us. He started right for Esmeralda, grabbed her, called her a puta and went to slap her. Well, that’s as far as he went because Gaff hit him with a jackhammer that woulda gone through granite and deposited the hombre right in the middle of the dance floor.

A minute later, when Gaff wasn’t lookin’, the pendejo got off the floor, produced a blade and I had to pull the little Colt semi from my pocket and save Gaff’s ass. I knew we weren’t the only ones packin’. We weren’t that far from Tombstone and there was always some old boy in a place like that thinking he was a modern-day Doc Holliday. After snatchin’ his favorite hat off of Esme’s pretty little head, Gaff pulled his piece and we backed out of there.

With the shots still echoing through that honkytonk and the smoke not yet cleared, we were streakin’ north like a comet, back toward Tucson. We would have never made it to the border. Some local boys in an old Ford gave chase but we outran ’em before the lights of town faded in the rearview.

***

“Alverez is gonna be pissed.” I say. This ain’t the first time we’ve been late with his money.

“Fuck him.” Gaff says, taking a pull on the mezcal and lighting another smoke. “When it’s you and me that got his money, the prick should be patient. We might be late with it once in a while but he always gets it.” He took a deep pull on his smoke and broke into a grin. “Besides, we’re the ones doin’ all the work. Might be time for a little vacation.”

Right about then, Gaff slows down as we approach the southern edge of Tucson. The night hasn’t cooled any. It ain’t two yet; it’s Saturday night and there will still be a bar open. There is, at the south end of Speedway. A twangy country band is playin’ a Buck Owens song and right away a Mexican girl catches Gaff’s eye.

We walk out of the bar at closing time into the heat of an early desert morning. There are two of them waiting in the parking lot. They aren’t good enough to take me & Gaff, even if we are a little drunk.

“We better get some rest.” Gaff says after we make short work of em. “We’re goin’ south of the border and takin’ Señor Alverez out tomorrow. Our vacation will have to wait. Time we went into business for ourselves.”

Bill Baber’s crime fiction has appeared in Flash Fiction Offensive, Powder Burn Flash, Darkest before the Dawn, Shotgun Honey, and Near to the Knuckle. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published by Berberis Press, 2011. A native of San Francisco, he lives with his wife and spoiled dog in Bend, OR.