Evergreen more than eversun

Mashthetics via Creative Commons

“I guess that reputation you have of non-stop rain ain’t true, then?” Gary asked the gaunt-looking cab driver.

“We get our share, true enough.”

“Nice day today, though,” Gary remarked.

“Yep. Enjoy it while you can.”

“I will.” Gary was quiet for a few minutes. Then, “Any suggestions?”

“For what?”

“You know, stuff to do. I just got in.” It seemed a dumb thing to say, considering the cab had picked him up from the airport.

“Space Needle? Seen that?”

“Yeah,” Gary said, leaning back, “I seen that.”

“Lots of people go downtown. The very first Starbucks is there.”

“Nah, I don’t drink coffee.”

“Well, it’s a great day. You could hit the water. Or the mountains. Beautiful scenery up here. Lots of green.”

Gary was quiet.

“Not outdoorsy?”

“Not really,” Gary answered. “But I do like green.”

The cab driver fidgeted. Sweat beaded on his wrinkled forehead. “Green’s nice,” he said.

“You got anything green,” Gary paused, then added, “Frankie? Maybe some gemstones?”

“Ah, crap,” the cabbie said. “Come on, man, I was gonna give them back. I swear.”

“Sure you were. Tell me where the case is and then pull over here.”

“Here?”

“Right here.”

Wells Fargo Tower_lg

Dystopos via Creative Commons

Wells Fargo Tower is not the tallest building in Alabama. But is is the tallest in Birmingham. I don’t work on the top floor, but I work near it and I can look out from my thirtieth story window at the rolling hills of the South and I know there’s no other place I’d rather be.

The hardest part of my job is not letting it change me. I take home a comfortable paycheck, but I earn more than that. Here’s the thing about embezzlement: you don’t have to be smart to do it, you just need the stones to return to the scene of the crime five days a week and ask them to pay you for the privilege. Not that I’m some kind of hillbilly idjit. You don’t siphon three million dollars from phony expense reports in under five years without some kind of plan.

But there’s a part of me that wants more than the money. I want the life. Seersucker suits and adopted personality quirks. Charity lunches and political glad-handing. I want people to know I’m rich, to feel it when they walk into my office. I want people to grovel.

For now, I’ll wait.

Snow on the Gate

Paul Morgan via Creative Commons

Randy left cold Chicago with flashes of red and white pulsing in his aching mind. Sadie laughed at the trunk full of party favors, like something out of a Hunter S. Thompson tale. Six days into the stash and Randy stopped understanding the world as a place with rules and laws; not just the kind enforced by police but the kind enforced by cosmic forces or deities. He floated and spoke to creatures from other dimensions, he and Sadie made some kind of love in vats of marshmallow fluff and beds of shining light.

Something told him the red and white wasn’t Christmas. The half-memory, half-hallucination made him think of Santa Claus, but the shiver in his spine and the empty passenger seat where Sadie usually sat was less festive. He was coming up on Springfield and the snow was coming down. The snow was white, and fluffy, and it reminded him of something they might have fought about. The sky was gunmetal gray, and that reminded him of something, too.

The backfire from the truck brought back the sound of the gun in his hand, and the puzzle fit together. The cold, white snow. The red blood.

Miami Beach at night

Daniel Lombraña González via Creative Commons

This place is full of weirdoes, and I fit right in. Kendra Corinth thought this as she stepped out onto the Miami boulevard. Warm summer nights weren’t her favorite, but streetlamps were her sunshine. Her powder blue hair caught the flash of an LED billboard. For a moment her pale face looked pink, like a cooked shrimp. The elaborate makeup on her eyes went beyond the extravagance of the club-hoppers, swirled and looping in intricate artistry from lashes to temple and down onto the slope of her cheek. She wore her clothes like she was daring everyone to stare. There were six knives and two guns hidden in the elaborate crooks and folds of her overlapping layers.

She bummed a light off a gawking tourist and picked his pocket while he leaned in. Around the corner, she tossed the cigarette aside. She didn’t smoke.

Fresh with cash, she set about her plan. She needed an uncooked salmon, large enough to hold a bowie knife and a delivery van—preferably covered in graffiti. She also needed half a gallon of nail polish remover. As she broke the beauty supply window she thought, Yeah, my weird sunshine fits right in.

Welcome to Iowa

Jimmy Emerson via Creative Commons

Orchid made a call to a friend in Iowa, trying to keep the panic and unprofessional thoughts out of her voice. The friend hadn’t seen what she was looking for, but his casual reassurance that he would look into it settled Orchid’s nerves for a few hours. Usually she would be furious—murderous. But the phone call from her bagman had sent her into a quiet panic. Had the runner simply taken off with the money, she could kill her way out of the situation. Hunt him down. Get it back. She believed him when he said it was stolen. Vanished. No way to track it down in time.

She still had to try to get Bashar back. He was running, but she didn’t hold that against him. She thought about running, too. The Eastern Europeans would be by in less than 24 hours looking for the money. They wouldn’t entertain excuses. Orchid didn’t fear most men, but she feared these guys.

“Jesse,” she said into her Nextel.

Chirp. “Yeah, boss?”

“You’re in charge. I need to take off for a bit?”

Chirp. “Um. Okay. How long?”

“Not long. Just need to look for something.” She paused. “Up north. Iowa.”

Nothing's too hard for God

Marshall Astor via Creative Commons

Bashar made the drive once a week from Columbia to Kansas City. I-70 wasn’t much to look at, but he liked the alternating billboards that told the story of his life: religion and porn. A mega-church advertising Sunday services, then an adult bookstore trumpeting a sale. John 3:16 in tall letters. A quarter mile later, a gentlemen’s club reminding motorists that they had girls who were not just nude but all nude.

The job was boring, but it gave Bashar time to pray. When he arrived in KC, the men in sunglasses would inspect the guns in silence. They’d nod, and hand over a locked briefcase and a small stack of bills that Bashar knew was his cut. It was always tempting to pull into one of the clubs on the way back. Or even at one of the churches. His money would be welcome at either. But he knew better than to stop until the money was safe in Orchid’s hands.

It all went wrong with six words: what’s the worst that could happen? The passenger seat, where he left the briefcase, was empty when he got back.

Bashar turned the car north and drove.

Don't Mess with Texas

Nils Geylen via Creative Commons

Jennie Sherman believed that Texas was big for a reason. She wasn’t from the South, but she was so far removed from the North she didn’t remember it. The Lone Star State suited her because she was her own lone star, and she felt the land in her bones.

“Don’t mess with Texas, and don’t mess with me,” she’d say with a silly-serious laugh. Jennie knew people thought she was overdoing it, but Texas was big to accommodate people with big personalities. At least, that’s how she saw it. That’s why she fit in so well.

The job at the bank didn’t pay much. It seemed ironic. When the men in the ski masks and ten-gallon hats came in and asked her to fill the bag, she leaned over the counter.

“If you take me with you, I’ll show you where the gold is,” she whispered.

“Gold?” the man whispered back. She imagined he was handsome underneath the wool.

“Lot of it,” she said with a wink.

Everything in Texas was bigger. So if you were going to commit a robbery in Texas, Jennie thought, might as well make it a big one.

Young America, Minnesota

MoxyJane@Spiral Bound Images via Creative Commons

Got a view of the lake out the back of my house. Beyond that, a low hill and then another lake. Ten thousand as you travel ‘round this place, so they say.

In the summer they got mud at the bottom and grass on the edges. Wintertime freezes them over and the kids slide across their tops.

Many, though none of the ones I can see from my rear window, have docks and little boats that sit on top. Some, like mine, hold secrets down at the soft bottoms.

I’ve been married thirty-eight years next spring. My wife is a loving and hardworking woman, if a little plain and dull.

Sixteen years ago I met a lady who was everything my wife is not: glamorous and lazy; distant and exciting. She lit up my life, for a time.

Thing is, no one threatens Wally Cobb. I’m a family man. You don’t threaten my family. That lady didn’t see things my way. She was always looking down on me.

Now I look out at the lake behind my house.

And I’m the one looking down.

I met a new lady. Good thing there’s another lake. Beyond the low hill.

Lightning 1

azglenn via Creative Commons

Way out on the non-existent wind, off where the twilight sky is that bruising color between purple and gray, you can see the sparks. The low clouds just before dusk have a hunger, and they gnash their teeth until sparks come off. You don’t even have to stare too long or very hard.

We drove toward those sparking rips at a pace that might have made one think what we wanted was to light ourselves up in those arcs of static that glass the ground. Maybe if you’re hit just right you turn to glass yourself. But that wasn’t it. We had flashing blues and reds behind us, and a trunk that hung low on the axles. Fitting, I suppose, where we were headed with all that gold. First we needed to get across the Grand Canyon state, where the real canyon is between the lives lived by those who only watch the lightning sparking on the horizon on hot autumn nights, and those who live in pursuit of hungry clouds and intimidating sunsets.

The road blazed past; we heard harmonicas on the radio; we pretended the roadblock wasn’t just ahead. It helped to watch the sparks.

ABAC Myrtle Beach Christmas

Judy Baxter via Creative Commons

White latex gloves on a steering wheel, a cigarette burning close to the off-white wrinkles. Hugo “Hug” Kinson grinned for no reason and ignored the occasional stare from the passing Saturday traffic. A body in the trunk, Steely Dan on the radio, Gerorgetown in the rearview, freedom down the line. He shifted his considerable weight to one side, passed gas. Hug laughed. What a day.

It got weird when Donald Fagen changed the lyrics. “You’ve been tellin’ me you’re a genius, Hug, but you forgot the bag. The cash is sittin’ on the table for anyone to find. Sucks to come so far just to find you don’t have what it takes. Them Broad River angels won’t have pity for your kind.”

Hug snapped off the radio. The chili dog sat badly in his gut, extra onions licking flames up into his chest. A generator-powered road alert sign read, “A neighbor heard the gunshot.” He chewed the inside of his lip.

Flicking the butt out the window, he startled and swerved when the GPS’ silky voice piped up, “In ten miles, you’ll realize you’ll never get away with it.”

Hug kept driving.