Bart sat in the lumpy recliner in front of his new television. It was a big set. 70-inch wide flat screen with a remote. It had stereo capability and a sweet picture. Heavy sonofabitch though, and big. Too goddamn big. He had to sit it on the floor. He was sipping a Coors beer. He’d tried some of those more fancy brands now that he was making a little bit of money with Driggs, but he didn’t care for them so much. He was watching the Tonight Show. Jay Leno was telling some stupid joke that made no sense at all to Bart. But he wasn’t watching really. He was trying not to think about what had went down with Driggs earlier that evening.
He’d gotten a call about 6:30 when he was just sitting down with a chicken pot pie he’d heated up in the microwave. It was Driggs on the phone saying he had a job. A cleanup job he needed Bart’s help with. Bart did not know what a cleanup job was.
Bart slurped the meat pie too fast, burned his palate, cursed his fine fucking luck, and guzzled the beer he’d just opened before the call from Driggs. He’d thought Driggs to be gone for the week. California. Bart had done his one job and believed he had a few days to jack off. He had yet visited his mother like he wanted to. He hadn’t seen her in almost a year. She was not too happy with him. He was regretting dropping the money for the answering machine he’d bought six-months earlier. His mother was leaving messages too often. Sometimes every day. But he had to have the answering machine to keep up with Driggs’s jobs.
Go here. Pick up this person, these people, that package. Drop it or them or her or him off at this address. Bart knew they were illegal errands Driggs was sending him on. Driggs called himself a “Coyote Entrepreneur.” Bart didn’t know why. The people Driggs had him drive around almost always were illegal immigrants. The packages were likely drugs or money or worse. Guns? He didn’t know for sure what any of it meant. It was easy money for him. That’s all he knew for sure.
Driggs, every time he saw him, would hand him an envelope of money. Good money. Good money that he wasn’t supposed to flaunt. “Don’t go buying yourself a Rolls Royce with this payment, Bart.” Driggs had said that very thing at least a dozen times before when he slipped him the envelopes. Sometimes it was, Don’t go buying diamonds, or a yacht, or a chateau on the French Riviera. Bart didn’t know where in hell that might be, but he knew there was no danger of him buying a chateau there whatever that was.
He put the money into new tires for his truck, a sweet TV and keeping his fridge stocked with a modest but ever-full supply of beer and fortified wines. Sometimes he bought bottled beer for when he might have company. He knew his mother might enjoy a glass of the Annie Green Springs wine he kept in the back. If he’d ever invite her over that is.
Bart drove over to Driggs's place like he had told him. There was a van in his drive. He knocked on the back side kitchen door and when Driggs opened it he saw the body there on the floor.
“Here it is.” Driggs swept his arm as though showing off some fabulous merchandise. “What I need you to help me clean up.”
Bart stepped into the kitchen and shut the door. He pointed at the man there on his back. “He dead?” The man’s pants were down around his ankles, his business there for all to see. His skin was blotchy with bluish patches, one that nearly splotched out the tattoo of an eagle on his chest poking through the popped buttons of his shirt.
“Yup. Well, that is, I think so.”
Bart heard scraping in the sink. He went and looked. “What’s that?” Again he pointed.
“Petey. Shit. Bart, it’s an armadillo.”
“What you want with that?”
Driggs shrugged his shoulders and held his palms out. He tilted his head and frowned.
“Where’d you get it?”
“That last man you drove on up to Billings?”
“Yeah, just last week?”
“He was from Peru.”
“I liked him,” Bart chuckled and shifted from one foot to the other. “The way he spoke. Kinda like he was Yosemite Sam but with a, I don’t know, a Mexican accent. ‘Ah say, you good hombre, Bart. Ah say.’”
“Yeah. I think he liked me, too. Bought me lunch and a six-pack of beer at the hotel.” Bart paused and thought, looked out the window over the sink where Petey scrabbled with his little claws and snout. “We played some cards. He taught me some crazy shit-ass game he knew from back home where he came from.” He reached out a finger towards the armadillo. “Peru, you say?”
“Yeah, he was some kind of high-placed royal in the Peruvian upper class of ancient bloodlines or something like that.”
“So what, he’s like a prince?”
“Yeah. Gave me Petey at the border, handed him over like some relic. Bowed at me when he did.” Driggs went to the sink and reached in for the armadillo. “Let me show you something.” He picked up the animal and wrapped his fingers around it, shaped it into a ball. He held him out to Bart. “See?”
The armadillo contracted in on itself forming the seams of a baseball. Driggs offered the ball to him. Bart took it carefully. He lifted it up to study it closer. “That’s so cool.” He rolled it between his hands. “Bitchin’ man!” He took a step back and bumped his heel against the man on the floor’s wrist. “Oh, shit. Sorry man.” He looked up at Driggs. “So who’s that?”
“This here is Gregory T.” Driggs walked over and kicked at the man’s bare leg. “Good ‘ol Greggy. ‘Ol Greggy. No need really for you to know who ‘ol Greggy is or was. Pretty sure he’s dead. I hit him awful hard with that big coffee mug. He was a helper, let’s say. A helper who’s help is no longer needed, so.”
Driggs put Petey back in the sink, and then they pulled the man’s pants back up and got him in the back of the van where there were no seats, and Driggs drove. He headed out south and east on the main highway out of Rush past the Pony Express monument and the turf farm, its emerald fields of green grass stretching for miles in the desert. They passed the brush and sage, fence post after fence post. The tall mountain ranges of the Wasatch jutted up in the background with clouds bunching up against the mountains in the south. Driggs drove about an hour toward Tintic and the mining district. He turned onto a dirt road that was rutted and pocked with holes and rocks sticking up like vertebrae on the back of the land. He slowed considerably and bounced over the road.
A groan came from the back of the van. Bart turned to look and see the man was on his hands and knees. He teetered and fell against the wall of the van.
“Greggy?” Driggs tittered. “That you?”
The man made no effort to reply. He struggled back up to his hands and knees. Driggs told Bart to hang on and then swerved the van so that man fell heavy against the other wall. An exhale of breath. A groan of pain.
“Shit. I thought I killed you, Greggy.”
The man sat up on his backside and rubbed at the side of his head. Driggs punched the accelerator. The man fell back against the doors at the back of the van, his head clunked.
“Sorry about that, Greggy!”
Driggs swerved and braked and accelerated all over the dirt road. Gravel spit out from the tires, oak brush and juniper branches squealed along the van’s side. Bart hung on best he could as Driggs hooted and shouted Greggy! Greggy! Hawoooeee, Greggy! The man thunked and collided and slid all around the back of the van.
Finally, Driggs slowed and pulled off the road. He drove through a narrow passageway through the brush over cheat grass and wild onion. He stopped and turned off the ignition. They looked back at the man. He lay still on his back in a far corner his arms bent awkward, a knee up.
“Greggy?” Driggs called to him. There was no response. “He’s out again.”
“Whadda we do with him here?”
Driggs didn’t answer. He got out and slammed the door shut. Bart got out and followed him into the bushes. About twenty yards from the van there was a clearing scattered with rusting hunks of metal over crushed orange-copper colored rocks. Driggs walked to the center of the clearing and bent down and grasped a six-by-six foot metal grate.
Driggs looked up over his shoulder at Bart. “A little help here?”
Bart bent down beside Driggs, but then he stood up and took a big step back. “Holy shit.”
“Come on.” Driggs gestured with his head. “We can get this.”
“How deep is that?”
“Deep enough. Come on, before he comes to.”
Bart bent back down, grasped the rust metal of the grate, and together they levered it up and over the hole and let it fall the other side beyond into the rocks and scruffy weeds. It clanged like a prison gate. Bart inched up to the hole. It was roughly four feet in diameter, the rough rock edges slanting straight down. He looked down in there. Darkness not twenty feet down quickly swallowed up any light. He picked up a rock the size of a fist and held it out and dropped it into the hole. It fell silent into the darkness. He did not hear any clack, no thud. Nothing.
“Come on,” said Driggs. He was already heading back to the van.
“Shit, man,” Bart jogged to catch up with Driggs. “We gonna put him in there?”
Driggs pulled open the twin doors of the van. The man lifted his arm and waved his hand and mumbled. Driggs grabbed him by his shoulders and slid him out.
“Get his legs.”
Bart took hold of his legs below the knees like he was conveying a couple of logs. They carried him to the hole. They straddled the opening. Bart looked at the man’s face, his glossy eyes, the mucus coming from his nose. He looked up at Driggs. Driggs nodded his head. They let go.
As he fell the man’s shirttail caught on a protruding piece of metal on the grate. His legs flung down, slapped the rock edge. The shirt tore and then bound the man hanging there, legs down, arms elevated, creased at his shoulders where the shirt-seam cut into his skin. His long greasy hair fell over his downturned face.
“Damn it, Bart.”
“Whadda we do?”
They studied the man, looked for an easy way to release him from the grate.
“Go push him off from that side.”
Bart went around the hole and stood on the grate. He kicked at the man’s shoulder. He wouldn’t budge. He kicked at him again. Got down on his knees and pushed at him. He sat back on his haunches.
“He’s stuck good.”
“Figures,” muttered Driggs.
The man lifted his chin and looked right at Driggs. “You piece of shit. Dropping me in a hole?”
Driggs stared at him.”Cut his shirt.”
Bart stood up and reached in his front pants pocket and pulled out a pocketknife. He clicked it open. The long blade gleamed in the sunshine. He kneeled down behind the man and slid the blade between the man’s skin at his back and the taut cloth of his shirt.
“Honestly, Driggs,” the man said clear as the blue sky directly overhead, “fuck you and your armadillo.”
The man’s shirt tore and gave way. His arms flew straight up as his body fell away. He did not make a sound. There was just the rush of air like a big bird of prey had unfurled its wings and lifted from the earth. And then that was gone, too. No sound. A fly or a hornet buzzed nearby.
Bart leaned back on his knees, the knife in his hand, a look of bewilderment stuck on his face as he stared at the hole. He waited.
Driggs stepped forward, the crunch of rock under his boot.
Driggs said nothing. He grinned.
From somewhere a great distance from where the two men were there was a thud.
Bart thumbed the remote and switched the channel from Leno to the new guy, Jimmy Kimmel. He watched that for a while but kept thinking about what he and Driggs had done earlier that evening. He knew he was more or less a criminal, but this, this sealed it. He’d helped kill a man. A man he didn’t even know. Driggs tried to assure him as they drove back to Rush that Gregory T. was a bad person, a man who wouldn’t have hesitated to put a knife in Bart’s back for little more than a hundred dollars.
“Here." Driggs had shoved the bill at him as he drove, the light of the day slanted, starting to skim over the hills to the west. “For your help with this.”
Bart had taken the bill, a hundred. He’d studied it a little, turned it over, ran his thumb along its edge. The job had taken no more than two, two and a half hours including drive time. Fifty-bucks an hour, give or take, was sweet wages. Driggs was generous, he knew that, but Bart couldn’t help but take a deep breath. It had gotten real serious too quick.
Then Driggs had reached down under the seat and pulled out a pistol. It was grey-black and smaller than any gun Bart had ever imagined. “Here. Take this. You might want it from now on.”
Bart took it and held it like a baby in both hands. It was heavy. Cold. He looked at it, the fine edges, the wood-looking grip that was held on with little screws. The trigger was a solid piece of metal, not like a trigger, something you would pull back like a screen door, say, or a cigar cutter. It said Colt on the barrel. Bart ran his finger over the word. He lifted it to his nose, like he’d done with the armadillo earlier that afternoon.
“You gonna kiss it?”
Bart sat it down on the seat beside him. “Thanks.”
“Yeah. It’s got a full clip. I’ll get you some more cartridges.”
Bart nodded and rolled the hundred dollar bill up into a tight tube and slid it behind his ear like a cigarette, and he thought he might give that a try now, smoking. Pick himself up a pack of Marlboros and a nice lighter, not some cheap-ass plastic Bic lighter either. He was going to get himself one of those metal ones that sounded tough when you opened it, and he made that sound in the seat beside Driggs, the sound like a spur or a guillotine.
“What’s that?” Driggs had turned to him and asked.
“Nothing,” he had replied.
After all that here he sat watching Jimmy Kimmel on his big TV and rubbing at his throat where the little ache was from the smoke. An open pack of soft-case Marlboros sat on the table next to the lumpy recliner. Beside the cigarette pack was a Bic lighter. It was dark blue. Beside the lighter was the Colt. Outside the window across the room was the dark world.