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Runnin' Scared

Put the petal to the metal and fire on all cylinders. 

Once in the life, you're always running.

Runnin' Scared by Bill Baber

The situation we were in had Gaff spooked. We’d been running together for twenty-five years, all the way back to our days in Huntsville, and I had never known him to be afraid of anything: prison guards, other cons, cops, or killers. Gaff was a stone cold outlaw, so since he was scared, I started to feel a tad edgy.

His knuckles were white as he gripped the wheel. I glanced at him. Gray hairs brushed his temples and lines were etched around the corners of his eyes. No longer was he the brash kid I met inside all those years ago. Time had turned him into a usually unflappable professional contract assassin. He reached down and pushed in the Caddy’s lighter, shaking a Lucky loose from the ever-present pack in his shirt pocket.

After taking a couple of drags, he grabbed the pint of Hornitos from the seat between us, took a long pull, and passed the bottle to me. There were three black Lincolns a quarter-mile behind us. They had come into sight fifteen or so miles back, like buzzards circling two men lost in the desert, patiently waiting for the right time to swoop.

We had been down to Puerto Penasco, where Felipe Flores demanded we deliver proof of a job we had handled in Tucson before he would pay us. The son of a bitch must have tipped them off. Twenty years earlier we had offed Ramon Alverez in a dispute over a late payment. His kid vowed revenge. He had tried and never come close, until now.

Gaff turned toward me. Those steel blue eyes were still as menacing as ever. He might have been scared but the pendejos behind us had better be prepared for a helluva fight. When the end came for Gaff, he wouldn’t go down easy.

“We got two plays, if we try to make the border. I’m guessin’ there are more of them waiting for us just outside of Sonoyta. We wouldn’t stand a chance. So we cut off at San Felipe,” Gaff said. “They wouldn’t be expecting that. The road from there to Caborca is straight and flat. I reckon we could put distance between us because I know for damn sure this Caddy will outrun those pieces of shit. Man, I miss that old fifty-eight Chrysler with the dual carbs and that big hemi. That son of a bitch was bullet proof. And the fastest car I ever drove.”

He took another big swig and continued, “Or, I jump on the fucking petal, hope we can hit one of the dirt roads around Pinicate, get up on top of a hill, and shoot it out there. You got a say in this, Carson. What do you think?”

The road toward the border was barren and desolate, nothing but desert hills covered in scrub and cactus. I thought about it for a minute. Man, this wasn’t where I wanted it to end. I had known from the start Gaff and me ran the risk of going out in a hail of bullets. I never envisioned it happening on some Mexican back road. If we made a run for it, odds were they’d shoot us down like dogs.

“Fuck it,” I said. “Let’s take it to the pinche cabrones.”

Gaff grinned at me. “Partner, I knew that’s what you would say. Now let’s have a snort and go to war.”

We finished off the pint as the Lincolns kept their distance, grim reminders that our time could be short.

“Ready?” Gaff asked.

“Yep. Let’s do this shit.”

Gaff punched that Cadillac and it responded like a trussed-up rodeo bull. With the needle buried, we pulled away from our pursuers. Gaff tossed the empty tequila bottle out the window.

“Always had a fondness for that,” he said.

“Unless you were drinkin’ Beam,” I replied.

We laughed.

“Either way, I hope to Christ that ain’t my last drink.” Gaff lit a smoke.

If it wasn’t for the dust, they would have blown right by. As it was, we’d opened up a decent lead on them. We fishtailed onto the dirt road at sixty and made for a range of low hills a couple of miles to the west. 

We grabbed our pistols and a gallon-jug of agua from the trunk before scrambling for the ridgeline. We set up thirty or so yards apart, each of us concealed by mesquite trees and boulders.

Gaff opened fire on the first car when it was still a quarter-mile away. He took out the windshield and when the car spun sideways, hit the gas tank. The Lincoln exploded and its occupants spilled out, confused by the smoke. We picked them off like ducks in a shooting gallery.

The muchachos in the other two cars put up more of a fight, but they were no match for the Brownings. After half an hour, it was over. It had been easier than we had thought.

When we got back to the road, Ramon Alverez’s son, dressed all in black, crawled toward one of the cars. He wept softly when he saw Gaff standing over him. “Por favor, Señor, por favor," he pleaded.

Gaff pulled out his Colt revolver. “Adios hoto,” he said, and shot him in the head.

We didn’t say much on the way back to Tucson.  

After stopping in Ajo for a six-pack, Gaff pulled over and watched a blood-red sunset over the desert. He got back in the car, looked at me, and grinned. “I wonder what the hell tomorrow will bring. Whatever it is, it’ll have a tough time topping today.”

I had the feeling he was right. Then again, in our business, you never knew.

Bill Baber’s crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous anthologies. His writing has earned a Derringer Prize and Best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog, and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.