By Brendan Magee
Our marriage was two hundred and eighty-five days over, but Zak still wouldn’t give back the ring. It wouldn’t be two hundred and eighty-six. There had been only one day of happy marriage, my wedding day. There had been too many nights waiting and fearing his return from the Black Bear Inn. The Emergency Room nurse knew I hadn’t walked into a door. I had to rid myself of the mental and physical pain, and bury the emotional scars. I needed money for freedom and happiness. It was the least I deserved.
One swipe of my Bowie knife and off it came, finger and all. He felt no pain. Marcia saw to that with half a bottle of bourbon down his throat and the other half as an anaesthetic on his finger. I planted the finger upright in his cannabis plant and painted him a message on the back porch: “Smoke on this.” There was no point taking the finger to Riley the pawn. He wouldn’t lend on it.
Me and Marcia rode up on Zak’s Harley. He wouldn’t need it for a while. Riley was about to close up as we walked in. I was in a hurry so I banged the ring down on the counter. “How much?”
Riley gave it a quick glance.“Fifty bucks.”
I knew that was wrong. It had cost me almost five hundred when I’d bought it for Zak. “It’s worth more than that. Remember, I got it here.” I was kinda pleading.
“OK. Fifty-two, then.”
The increase was an insult and made me mad, but not as mad as Marcia. “I think you mean five hundred,” she said. Riley laughed and turned his back.
Marcia headed out the door. She was back within thirty seconds.
“You don’t understand. Five hundred or I’ll blow your balls off and add them to the sign outside.” Riley turned to see Marcia pointing a gun at his lower half. He didn’t panic, but didn’t move, either. I suspect he never had a woman point a gun at him before, so he was uncertain what to do. Marcia walked right up to the counter. She showed no sign of nerves. “Open the till.” Even her voice was strong. He didn’t reply, just clicked the till open. He put a bundle of notes on the counter. I counted out six hundred and eight dollars. I handed back one hundred and eight. I didn’t want Riley thinking me a thief.
I pocketed the five hundred and left him the ring. As we walked out, Riley made a grab for something under the counter. Marcia fired. The bullet would have parted his hair if he hadn’t been bald. She had been first reserve for the State’s Shooting Team.
Marcia was annoyed. She marched Riley to the back of the shop and made him climb into a half-full barrel of moonshine. I think it was white lightning. She put the lid back on the barrel, forced it shut, but not before punching a hole in the lid. There was breathing space. Marcia wasn’t cruel.
We jumped on the Harley and headed for the state line. We saw no police, even when we hit Tennessee at eighty. Marcia’s grandpa wasn’t expecting us, but he was accommodating. He appreciated the company. His wife had died three years previous. He still had the loneliness.
Over the next two years, we developed a grits business. We dipped them in flavoured moonshine. Blueberry was the favourite. We marketed it as a health product, one of your five a day. We called them Zak Riley’s grits, with a gold band on the packet and a thumb pointing up. We thought a wedding ring finger might be misunderstood. We sold out to a multinational four years on, and me and Marcia now live in San Francisco.
My cousin came to stay. He told me that Riley had escaped not long after we left. His wife had been worried, wondering why he was late. She had gone to the shop and found him singing in the barrel. She didn’t believe a word he said and divorced him. She owns the pawn shop, now.
Zak is a bit of a local celebrity. He claimed a black bear had bitten off his finger and swallowed it. He visits local schools to warn kids of the dangers of bears and knives.
Me and Marcia have Harleyed Route 66. Twice.