The car jumped as she swerved off the road into the gravel lot and steered around to the back of the bar. She pulled in behind a handful of cars a handful of drunks would have to somehow retrieve in the morning, and his truck. Her sigh of relief was tempered by the tightness in her neck. She killed the engine and opened the glove box; stared for a second at the vial. No hesitation, she thought. She rummaged through the jumble of road trip detritus in the passenger side floorboard until she found a rag and an empty styrofoam cup with a lid. She picked up the vial with the rag, stuffed it in the cup, put the lid on the cup, and opened the door. She tugged the bag wedged behind the driver’s seat out of the car and headed towards the bar. The rendezvous point.
The bar was closed, but the bartender was an old friend. Heh. Old friend, she thought, snickering under her breath in spite of herself. We can trust him, she’d told Jack three days prior. We’re childhood friends, and he owes me a favor. She shook her head as she crossed the gravel to the employee entrance and pulled the door open. She heard low music playing in the bar as she crossed through the kitchen and swung through the door. Jack was sitting at the corner table, his back to her, nursing a beer. The bartender heard her coming and looked up from his sweeping. She flashed him a quick half-smile and handed him the cup with a wink, then strode over to Jack’s table, hoping her brash aggression would hide her shaking hands.
I slid the cup onto a little shelf under the bar, right next to some old unused pint glasses and tumblers. I couldn’t help but look at her as she walked toward him. That lucky bastard. I wondered if he realized just how good he had it. She was the kind of girl you’d get into a firefight for, the kind you’d risk everything for. Since we were kids, she always stood heads above every other girl, and even before she fell for me, I knew, I loved her best. I just had to keep the lid on it a little while longer. She promised by the end of the night we’d be on our way to Mexico, by the end of the week we’d be fucking on foreign beaches. I just had to keep doing what I was doing, wiping down these glasses and pulling drinks for the her and the guy.
She tossed the bag on the table with a heavy thump. Jack looked up and grinned. “Ginger — fuck. What took you so long?”
She rolled her eyes and lit a cigarette, hiding her smile behind her cupped hand as she lit it. “Had to take a 200-mile detour to get rid of those fuckers,” she exhaled.
“But you did get rid of them, right?” he looked out the bar windows at the road.
“Wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t.”
Jack laughed and lit his own cigarette. “After three years I’d like to think you’d know better than that, honey,” he winked. He reached down and grabbed her chair, slid her closer to him. His hand on her leg was rough, but his face and his voice went soft.
His hand on her leg sent my blood racing, as if every drop of blood in every capillary and vein had just done a shot of whiskey. Playing it cool is the hardest thing in the world to do when you’re planning something like this. It took every ounce of resolve I had not to pull the double-barrel out from under the bar and plant two slugs in the sucker. But I put on my most charming smile and did my duty, shuffling over to them and taking their drink orders. I knew what she’d want, just like always, Tennessee whiskey with a splash of ginger ale. He asked for a scotch and soda. He looked at me kind of shifty and made me assure him that the bar was still technically closed for a few hours. I calmed the guy’s nerves and ambled back to the bar. When you’ve been doing it for as long as I have you don’t even pay attention when you’re making the simple drinks. Thirty seconds was all it took to fill two highballs, drop ‘em off at the table and make it back to my little sanctuary behind the barstools.
Jack waited till the bartender went back to the bar. “Hey, listen — Gin —”
“Uh-uh, wait,” she said, holding her glass up. “We gotta toast that job, yeah? Best one we’ve ever done. There’s gotta be at least six hundred K in that bag.”
Jack paled. “You counted it?”
“Fuck no, I didn’t count it. Baby … of course I wait for you. I always wait for you,” she took a sip of her whiskey after tapping her glass to his. “It’s an educated guess. Weight.”
Jack relaxed and took a sip of his drink, his eyes traveling down her neck, taking in every inch of his partner. Partner, he thought, more than one definition to that word. The tiny box was heavy in his pocket and he started to talk and his voice came out a croaking whisper. He took another drink.
“What’s next?” Ginger asked, leaning over the table, conspiratorial. “You got an idea? I got a lead on something — it’s tricky, but I think we can pull it off. All we have to do is —”
“Gin. Wait. There’s somethin’ I need to talk to you about first.” He leaned in closer, his voice almost a whisper.
They were talking about something that I couldn’t quite make out and I was doing my best not to look suspicious, wiping down a couple of dusty glasses and faking my best vacant stare in the direction of the high-end liquor. My hearing isn’t what it should be for a man my age, but I definitely made out “Jamaica.” Surely she wasn’t throwing me under the bus. Ginger wouldn’t do that, plan this out and then double-cross me. I’d never done her wrong … She didn’t come last night. Shit. I didn’t get her off and now she’s gonna reconcile with Jack and they’ll fucking shoot me and take every penny in the bar safe.
I’m being paranoid. Ginger loves me. She said so. We’re in this together. Just do your damn job and wait for the signal, that’s what she’d said. Mexico. Beaches. Keep your head on straight.
“I wanna quit, Ginger. And we could. Here, in this town, or — fuck — anywhere! We’ve got money, we could go anywhere. Jamaica? Fuck! Anywhere! I just … I wanna do this. We need this, Gin. We’ve been on the run so long now, and fuck it — I love you, alright? I love you. I wanna spend the rest of my days lovin‘ you, not worryin‘ whether you or me is gonna get gunned down tomorrow.” His speech was rapid-fire but hushed, his eyes wide. He looked feverish. He slugged the rest of his drink and slammed the glass on the table.
Ginger scooted her chair back a few inches, put one dusty motorcycle boot on the table, and reached for another cigarette. As she fingered her pocket for her lighter her palm brushed her pistol grip. “It ain’t that easy, Jack. And even if it was, what makes you think I’m through? What makes you think I’d give all this up just to lay on a beach with you and be bored as fuck for the rest of my life?”
“The fuck?! Oh — so I’m boring now. I get it. After all this time. After all I’ve done for you —”
“What the fuck have you ever done for me, Jack? Tell me. Tell me one single goddamn thing you’ve done for me.” She leaned back in her chair and drew hard on her cigarette. “I’ll wait.”
“Ginger, baby — how can you say that? We’re great together — we should take time to enjoy it. I want to take time to enjoy it. And — honestly, darlin‘ — if you don’t wanna, that’s fine. I want you to be happy, even if it ain’t with me. But I can’t do this anymore. I ain’t gettin‘ any younger, and if I don’t sit back and enjoy it, I don’t see what the point was in doin‘ it at all. Coulda just got me the ole nine-to-fiver like the rest of ‘em, you know — come home of an evenin’. Sit on the porch, have a beer. And I’d like you to be sittin‘ right there with me. But if you wanna keep goin’, doll — you’re gonna have to do it without me.”
The second cigarette. That was it, the checkered flag. She was right, they would make quick work of their first drinks. I made hers first and set it off to the side. I didn’t want it anywhere near his. As I filled another glass with scotch and soda I slid my hand nervously under the bar, grabbing the cup she’d handed me and carefully opening it. I looked at the vial inside. “Don’t get it any of it on your skin,” she’d said, “or else you’re done for, and I’d hate to have to find some cute Mexican guy to leave marks on my thighs.” The moment of truth, I had to do it. I watched the liquid spill slowly into his scotch and soda, an unseen director ready to call “cut and roll credits,” on their relationship and the life of that crook. I felt powerful. This is what it was like to fight for a woman.
I grabbed the glasses and walked toward them, silently interjecting the fresh drinks in between their conversation. I hightailed it back to the bar and went back to pretending to be oblivious.
Ginger pulled her leg off the table and sat up, her left hand dropping to her hip, nonchalant. “Jack. You know I can’t do that. And I can’t let you do that.”
“The fuck is that supposed to mean?” he asked, taking a thick swallow of his scotch.
She swallowed an equally thick smile and took a long drag off her cigarette. “We promised, Jack,” she said slowly, conjuring tears. “We. Promised. We don’t quit unless one of us is dead. And now you wanna back out? Fuck off!”
“Baby, I —”
“Don’t you fucking ‘baby’ me, Jack. I’m not your goddamn baby. We promised. Does that mean nothing to you?” Ginger stood and shoved the chair back and away, the legs scraping on the floor covering the sound of her clicking off the safety.
“Ginger. No. Listen. It’s not like that. We could still do the occasional job, you know? Relive the old days. I just thi —”
“The old days?! Really?! Jack, no. I don’t wanna relax and live a life of leisure. I wanna live fast and die young, and that little box in your fucking pocket ain’t gonna make me think any different. And don’t think for a minute I didn’t notice it.”
“Ginger, I —” Jack stopped talking when she pulled. He didn’t hesitate, didn’t have time to think about what he was doing. She’d fucking kill him, he knew it. She couldn’t do this without him. She —
His arm acted on auto-pilot, it seemed. Shoot first, ask questions later had always been his motto. As sound waves from blasts ricocheted off walls and shattered ear drums, Jack found himself falling, just as he had three years prior.
He stood up and grabbed his glass, downing half of it, then turned and saw what had happened. Ginger on the floor, that left hand he’d wanted to band and claim as his own covering the flower of blood rapidly blooming on her shirt.
“Fuuu-uuuuck!” he cried out as he slid to her side. “What have I done! Oh, Jesus … fuck … Ginger! Fuck … what have I done!” he screamed, fervently brushing her hair from her face.
Ginger looked up at him, her face smooth, her eyes calm. “Shhhh …” she said, cracking half a smile. “Don’t worry, baby … You’ll get what you wanted.”
“I don’t understand?!”
“Jack. I poisoned your drink. Concentrated nicotine. You’ll be dead in — what — maybe 15 minutes? It was the only way. But …” she was weakening; her voice fading. “Jack … we’ll get to relax … and be together … forever … so you … you … got … what you wanted.”
“Ginger!” Jack pleaded. “No! Not like this.”
“Jack. It’s too late. Just know … before I go … I —”
Ginger fell silent, and 10 minutes later, Jack did too.
I’ve never seen someone get shot in real life. Correction. Before today, I’d never seen someone get shot in real life. I always imagined I’d play the action hero though, leaping to my feet and unloading something big and heavy and full of rockets in the general direction of danger. Instead I watched the man I poisoned shoot the woman I loved, the woman he loved. For a split second, I thought he’d shoot me too, that’s what they did in the movies. No witnesses. But I guess he was too concerned with what he’d done to notice me slip off to the back of the bar.
There was no chance they were going to survive, and there was no way in hell I was going to stay at the bar, not with two dead cons and at least half a million in bills, plus whatever else Ginger brought in the duffle bag. Christ, growing up, I never thought Gin would be a criminal mastermind. I never thought she’d turn me into one too. I knew what I had to do.
I walked back out into the bar without looking at either of them and I grabbed that duffle bag. I wanted to look, I wanted to see her face, but I knew there was no time. I emptied the contents of the safe into the duffle bag, and dropped it outside the employee entrance. I walked back behind the bar, stepping heavy and with purpose. I took one last long stare at all that top-shelf booze, and then I started grabbing bottles and pitching them around the room. In five minutes flat the whole bar reeked of grain and hops. Everything from the barstools to the jukebox, drenched in somewhere near ten grand worth of liquor. I fished the Zippo out of my pocket, flicked it open with a snap of my wrist and clicked hard. I dropped it to the ground and walked out of the employee entrance, picking up the duffle bag as I left. I’d be on my way to Mexico by the end of the night, and fucking on foreign beaches by the end of the week.
The above story is a Jen and Nick production.