Rules of the Road

by Lisa Martinovic

“God damn I hate Indianapolis.”

That was Bull Case, long-distance trucker, rendering his opinion on the shit-hole truckstop he and his buddy, Tex, had the misfortune to gas up at.

Tex was still in la-la land.

“She had me to-stay the night, Bull. She made me breakfast. Mmmmmm mmmm.” He rubbed his belly.

Bull looked down at his scrawny weatherbeaten friend and shook his head in disgust.

“You’re a goner, Tex.”

“Well, I don’t care if I am. Home-cooked meal ain’t a thing a man of the road oughten to take lightly.”

Bull snorted, pulling the nozzle from the shank of his 18 wheeler. He aimed it at Tex to emphasize his point.

“Remember you this, Tex. The road’ll take you places no woman can. And the road never talks back. Now saddle up and let’s get the hell out of Indiana.”

The men assumed their usual positions in the cab. Bull at the wheel, Tex riding shotgun.

Tex fished a used toothpick out of his front pocket and began cleaning the burger out of his teeth.

“I just might be ready to settle down, Bull. My ass is tired of the road.”

“You rather have some woman riding your ass? Ha! You wouldn’t last a week.” Bull flipped the tab on a can of cheap Indiana corn beer and took a long pull.

“I don’t know, Bull. Miss Jenny is mighty good to me. You know she even massages my piles. You ever had your piles massaged, Bull?”

“That’s the sickest thing I ever heard in my en-tire fuckin’ life, Tex. I do believe I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

“You’re right, Bull,” he nodded, “I done changed. I am a new man.”

Bull threw on the brakes and the truck lurched into a long-ass screeching stop.

It was silent in the cab for a good while.

Tex slid the toothpick back into his pocket. “Adios, Bull.”

With a tip of his hat, Tex hopped out of the truck and began walking, thumb thrust open to possibility.

Bull turned the ignition, took a swig, and resumed his affair with the road.

 

Fashion Apocalypse

Exene pioneered the wearing of Saran wrap snug around one’s wrists and elbows. She had always been fashion forward, but this was a trend that wouldn’t really take off until the first year after Apocalypse. By then Exene had moved on to cardboard hats on which she drew daisies using nubs of coal.

The end of the world is no reason to stop honoring one’s creative impulses. That was Exene’s motto.

Wexler was a gleaner. These days, who wasn’t? He first spied Exene warming her tiny hands over a propane flame in the crumbling entrance to a one-time BART station. So captivated was he by her green eyes and the fact of her missing incisors that he pulled his hands out of the rubble, stood up, and stared.

Exene, ever the coquette, dipped her head towards him, revealing that indulgent daisy hat.

And he just

couldn’t.

Edgar Gets a Snack

Griffin held tight to the thin lip of limestone cliff fast crumbling in his grasp. Ferber had lost his scent and couldn’t see Griffin’s fingertips clutching the horizon.

“I know you’re out there,” Ferber shouted, startling the vultures roosting in the only tree on the entire plateau.

Griffin felt a sneeze coming on. Of all the blasted times!

One of the vultures swooped towards him with a few graceful strokes, the last of which grazed the back of Griffin’s neck and produced such a tickle that his shoulder jerked involuntarily causing the sneeze to erupt and his fingertips to release and poor Griffin plummeted to a bone-pulverizing death on the canyon floor.

His final caterwaul en route alerted Ferber to Griffin’s whereabouts. He raced to the edge of the cliff and peered down.

Ferber emitted a satisfied grunt and holstered his .45. The tickling vulture circled, then alighted on Ferber’s shoulder.

“Nice work, Edgar.”

The vulture screeched and flapped excitedly.

“Go ahead, you’ve earned it.”

Ferber scowled, afraid to admit that secretly he enjoyed the sensation.

The tap-tap-tapping on his noggin. Edgar’s beak feasting on the savory morsels crawling across Ferber’s mangy scalp.

 

The Ice Maiden of the Incas

Gaspar de Pinell rarely ventured out of his native Vancouver. Surprises, he felt, were always unwelcome. But his dream about The Ice Maiden of the Incas kept returning, night after night, inflaming his consciousness with a hunger that men like Gaspar never encounter.

On the first day of spring when he clocked out of his job as a grocery clerk, Gaspar told his fellow workers he would not be returning. Ever. No one commented, and Gaspar took his invisibility as a sign. 36 hours later he was hailing a cab at Lima’s international airport.

“Take me to the Ice Maiden,” he whispered.

The driver shuddered and crossed himself. He drove too fast high into the Andes, past miles of impoverished pilgrims making their way on foot. He stopped at the mouth of an abandoned silver mine, left the motor running.

“You go now,” he told Gaspar with a gentle shove.

Propelled by some instinctual force Gaspar marched straight into the gaping maw of the mine. He picked up a trail of fluorescent rodent droppings and followed it down into the chilly dank. There, standing astride a steaming sulfur spring, against the backdrop of an alabaster wall was an ancient albino woman, naked but for her fantastic feathered headdress.

Gaspar fell to his knees and began chanting in the language of his ancestors.

Just as the dream told him to do.

 

The Hospital Hit

The Royal Edinburg Hospital was not the best place to call a meeting, but Beasley Wang was convinced it was now or never and just because he was in a full body cast was no reason to delay action on his Master Plan.

The night nurse pushed open the curtain guarding his bed.

“You’ve got a visitor,” she sniffed.

A thin, greasy man elbowed the nurse aside and approached Beasley’s bed. He thrust out his hand, bared teeth through a watery smile.

“Gil Clark,” he hissed, “here to do your bidding, Mr. Wang.”

Beasley shook the bony hand as firmly as he could, working just as hard not to wince.

Gil Clark didn’t look like a man who could murder. Might want to, but did he have the resolve?

“Don’t worry, I’m your man.” Clark, reading his thoughts.

Beasley sighed. He’d paid 100 K up front for this hit and now he was stuck.

“Envelope on the table,” he grunted to Clark.

Clark tore it open with his teeth, pulled out a single sheet of onionskin paper. He read it silently, moving his lips with deliberation.

Clark didn’t usually get caught up in people’s stories, but this was too much.

“Your boss really do all that?”

“All that and this, too,” Beasley gestured with his chin towards his encased torso.

Clark growled, turned, and marched through the curtain. He started to run, faster and faster, down the gleaming hospital corridor, the sweat of his palms dissolving the ink on the onionskin paper held tight in his fist.

 

The Reunion

Having lost her way in the storm, Valentina Waller stepped into the Hard Core Expresso Cafe for directions. The clerk eyed her strangely, making Valentina wonder if she had some vegetable matter stuck between her teeth.

Insolent bugger. She stared right back, taking full measure of the clerk.

Oh Jesus, she thought, I know this son of a bitch!

Valentina lunged, fingernails flailing. The clerk dodged deftly, flourishing his apron like a matador’s cape.

“Ha!” he shouted, as Valentina spilled onto the dirty hardwood floor.

Valentina looked up and smiled before sinking her fangs deep into the young man’s ankle. He crumpled into a heap beside her.

“I swear I didn’t do it, Valentina, I swear, I …”

A dollop of blood burped from his lips and Clinton Summer promptly expired.

Valentina fixed her makeup and a cup of espresso, then consulted a map before resuming her journey. The rain had stopped and she was now quite certain where she was headed.

 

Smoky’s Tangle

Nikki Vassell and Tim O’Neill walked briskly through downtown Oakland. They’d only been partners for a few days and who knew if this crazy scheme was gonna work.

“I love the ambience” Nikki gushed.

“Couldn’t be more perfect” Tim agreed, a little too chipper.

Nikki raised an eyebrow unbeknownst to her less observant partner. This is going to be a piece of cake, she thought.

They turned down 51st St. past a spate of trendy fusion restaurants.

“Here it is!” Nikki spread her arms wide in front of Smokey’s Tangle. So proclaimed the crudely scrawled sign propped up alongside the biggest yurt that Tim had ever seen.

“Step right this way, partner.” Nicole opened the tattered velvet curtain with a saucy twirl.

Inside, Tim found himself staring into the nostrils of a camel whose exhale steamed his new designer glasses.

“Quite the game-changer, eh?” Nikki purred.

“I don’t understand…” Tim backing cautiously out of the camel’s snout.

“The key, Tim, hand it over.”

“You don’t mean…”

“I most certainly do, Mr. Potato-fucker.”

Tim shrieked and threw his hands into the air.

The camel snorted.

“You were watching?!”

“Blackmail is never pretty, partner. The key. Now. Or I’ll have JoJo trample you into mush.”

Tim looked at Nicole and then at JoJo. Reaching for the slimy Russet potato in his coat pocket, Tim decided to take his chances.

 

The Black Bonnets

Laura Balzer struggled to compose herself in the face of this new reality: I’m a liar. She winced at the word – a slap to her conscience.

But if she hadn’t lied…

“Honey, we’re out of ketchup,” Muldoon yelled up from the kitchen.

“Check the pantry, love.” She had to play it cool.

“What?”

“I’ll get it.” Laura scurried downstairs and emerged with his favorite condiment.

“You’re the best!” Muldoon glowed at his good fortune.

“Love you, too,” she chirped.

Muldoon thumped the bottom of the ketchup jar, beaming at his precious wife.

Laura paused to take it in, then reached for her coat and bonnet. “I’m heading out to the Salvation Meeting.”

“Oh God, Laura, be careful!”

“I’ll be fine, I promise.” They hugged extra tight before she slipped out into the night, fastening her bonnet securely.

But Laura never returned from the Salvation Meeting. Muldoon later learned that upon her arrival there, Laura was set upon by a mob of angry men and women in black bonnets, that she was charged with deception and wheeled off to a prison in a handcart.

And he knew. Either he had to believe her to be a liar or claim that she was framed. And if she was framed he’d have to act.

Muldoon chose to stay home and eat ketchup sandwiches until the Salvation people in their black bonnets came for him.

 

The Hippocratic Oath

Dr. Eva Jablonka pooh-poohed the Hippocratic oath. She felt there were times that doing harm was an essential precursor to doing good. Her boyfriend, Michael Mendizza, was unaware of her position on matters of medical orthodoxy, but he was one ornery son of a bitch. Which is why Dr. Jablonka decided to fake her own suicide.

Michael came home in a foul mood, per usual. He slammed the front door and tracked muddy footprints all over their new white carpet.

“Eva, I need a drink here. Snap-to!”

But none was forthcoming. Michael tore through the apartment. Bedroom, empty, sheets crumpled on the floor. Kitchen? No evidence that she’d ever cooked a meal during their entire five-year cohabitation. In the office her Macintosh silently gliding through photos of them on vacation in Baja.

His angry push on the bathroom door met with resistance. Eva’s body sprawled on the tile floor.

“What the fuck?”

She still had a pulse but blood was dribbling out her left nostril.

He fumbled for his cell to make the 911 call we’ve all practiced in our minds.

“Eva, baby, stay with me,” he pleaded to the limp head lolling in his lap.

She opened her eyes ever so slightly.

“You love me?”

“Yeah, baby, ‘course I do.”

“Are you afraid?”

“Yes—I mean no! You’re gonna be okay.”

“Michael, are you afraid?” She looked up at him, staring hard.

“Yes, I am.”

“Good,” she said, and closed her eyes.

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