By Cole Kroeber
I can’t keep my eyes off the bag. I use my signals and keep my hands at ten and two, but I’m staring right at that black duffle in the back seat, you better believe. I weave between cars, trying not to turn off my cruise control. How many times have I done this? How many times have I taken a bag of life–changing money from Donovan’s hands and passed it off to some greaseball coke runner? One of those decrepit, low-rise billboards passes by—a southern staple. Real estate or something. A Better Life Awaits, it says.
I think of that old bastard and his ugly shirts and his gas station cigars. Three years I’ve been picking up his bricks, carefully cutting them with vitamins and baby powder, repackaging and distributing, enforcing his rules, transporting these big, beautiful bags of fuck-off money. This is a man I’ve killed for. I have killed for this man, and yesterday, my building shut off my power. Donovan’s operation is moving tens of millions, and I haven’t paid off my Benz yet. I started at the bottom of this thing. Now I’m his second in command and what do I get? You could read a newspaper through my slice of the pie.
I cut off some ass going fifty in the left lane. Donovan calls. Let it ring. I think, and immediately pick up.
“Mornin’, boyo!” He’s been in this country for forty years and still talks like a sheepherder.
“Morning, boss!” I squeak. Pathetic.
“Checking to see how far out you are.”
“Just passed Dalton. About fifteen I think.”
“Boss…can I ask you something?”
“Shit, just ask, don’t waste my time.”
“Sorry. I was wondering why we’re still doing business with Phillip Black after…”
“After…?” He’s testing me. He wants me to say it so he can get angry.
“After that thing he had with your wife.”
“Oh, he had a thing with her, did he?” His voice nearly blows out the mic.
I pull the phone away from my ear and groan.
“Well, what sort of thing did he have with her? A party? A fucking barbeque? What thing are you referring to?”
“I’m sorry for beating around the bush. Forget it.”
“No. No. Say it.”
I roll my head around and scream silently.
“Him and your wife had… they had an affair.”
“No shit, Cronkite! Any other breaking news?”
“Deliver the money and call me the second you do, you halfwit.”
He hangs up. I slap the wheel until my palms turn red. I think of all the sick, bloody things I could do to that man. I wouldn’t get far. One of his dogs would put two in my chest before I could touch a hair on Donovan’s dry old scalp. The bag stares at me through the rearview. It’s a drop in the old man’s bucket.
My exit approaches. Phillip and his men will be waiting in a field under a transmission tower. He will grin through silver teeth and get my name wrong. He will pop the trunk full of white bricks and won’t help me unload it. Why does Donovan still do business with the dick who slept with his wife? It makes him look weak. The old man is losing his touch.
The exit is coming up. I look at my quarter-full gas tank, at the empty fast food bags piling up on the passenger side floor. I think of the mildew in my shower. I think of the money in the bag. The exit slips past. What the hell are you doing? I can get away. I’ll buy another car and head for Florida. Are you crazy? My heart races. Forget him. The old bastard can go to hell. Your money is mine, dinosaur. Consider it severance. I speed up. Then I slow down. Don’t get pulled over. God almighty, when I held the bag it felt like at least a million. I can buy a house on the water. I can get my cousin Ricky to forge some documents. New identity…new name! How about John? Frank? The phone rings. It’s Donovan. I pick up with shaking hands.
“Hey!” I holler. Calm down.
“Did Black get the money?”
“Yes, sir. All went smoothly. Heading back now.” You should stall for time. “I’m just going to grab a bite to eat.”
“With 30 kilos in your trunk?” Donovan asks.
“Oh, right, the coke. Better just head back.”
“But Phillip got the money, yes?” He asks.
I look at the black bag of infinite possibilities. A better life awaits.
Donovan begins to laugh.
“Sir?” I ask.
“Did I miss something, sir?”
“Now that you’ve dropped it off, I’ll tell you. I didn’t want you to stress about it, but in the—” He giggles like a child. “In the bag…—” He wheezes. “I loaded it up with C4 and wrapped it in billfolds! That ought to teach that scumbag fuck!”
My soul drops out of my ass and onto the road.
“I’m going to blow Phillip Black to kingdom-goddamn-come. I’ve got the detonator right here, baby! And they say I’ve lost my edge. Ha! Revenge is sweet.”
“Wait for God’s sake!” I screech.
“Thanks for your help, kid. I oughta give you a raise.”
I try to think of something to say that will stop him. A switch clicks on the end of the line. I am interrupted.