The world was black and closed. The curtains were drawn. Rod did not know if it was day or night, whether or not the sun or moon shone. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to care. A gnawing rot of hate burned a hole in his belly. It was the only thing he could feel or cared about.
He sat upright on the edge of the bed. He dabbed a needle in an ink-filled Mason’s jar lid on the bedside table and poked his forearm. He winced. The tiny wound swelled slightly. He had filled the room’s ice bucket with ice. When he was done, he would use the ice to reduce the swelling. He poked himself again. He looked at the ragged visage in the mirror across his hotel room and breathed deep the frozen air-conditioned air. This is going to take a while, he thought. He put the needle down and picked up the smoldering cigarette cradled in a glass ashtray and sucked on it until there was no tobacco left to burn. Back to work. Poke. Poke. Poke …
He wouldn’t forget her name. He was etching it on his skin. Maria. Maria. Maria, why didn’t I see it coming? Her suffocating death at the hands of his partner. His big calloused hands like a vise around her swollen purple neck. It seemed predestined now. How could it have unfolded otherwise? God drew it up just so on his fucking blackboard. Why didn’t he read it? Why did he choose not to read it? It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway. He would’ve been powerless in the face of the ugly mudslide of events.
He thought back. When was it? Two, maybe three days ago. It was hard to know. A drop under High Bridge. Four bricks of coke. It should’ve just been Rod and Jelly, but Maria always wanted to tag along. She didn’t have to, but she always did. It had been that way for a month or more. Jelly didn’t like it, but Rod made the rules. Rod was the smart one. Jelly was his partner because he was the biggest, meanest motherfucker the boss could find.
He remembered that night in Jelly’s garage. Maria was high on ice and shaking. Worse than usual, but she never interfered. Just sat in the back of Jelly’s car and scratched her skin until it bled. They drove an hour or so to the bridge. Nobody said anything. Just the city, a radio sax, and white static.
But the drop went bad. The mark didn’t have the money. He brought big guns and some friends instead. Shots were fired that cracked the hum of the of the highway overhead. Boom, boom, boom. Jelly caught a bullet in his arm but had the sense to gun the car. The tires spewed dirt and gravel into the air. The mark lost them as the black muscle car fishtailed and rocketed away.
Then the stupidest thing happened.
Maria grabbed one of the bricks and threw it out the window. What in the hell was she thinking, Rod thought. Maybe she was scared. Maybe in her doped-up brain she thought she was helping out. But there was no way in hell they could go back and get it. Free coke for a crooked mark. Jelly went berserk, twisted in the driver’s seat while the car sped on a wide city street, caught Maria by the neck with both hands and squeezed the life out of her. Rod punched him in the head, but the blows bounced off him as if he were made of granite.
The rest of the night tumbled out of the car like a fractured nightmare. Rod hadn’t seen Jelly since. But he would find him. And he would kill him.