But doing it makes me feel better.
So here is Ricky Gold, after having traveled halfway through hell, as he prepares to run an important errand in one of America’s shopping meccas.
He bailed out of the car and walked quickly into the store, breath held. Once inside under the white fluorescence of the store’s lighting, he exhaled and relaxed. Everything seemed so… normal.
Just keep it that way, he told himself. Keep things normal and don’t attract attention to yourself.
Gold made his way thorough housewares and pet supplies, past the electronics department that normally would have been a magnet to him – Wonder if the new Shyamalan is out on DVD yet? – and wandered into the sporting goods department. He slowly wandered up and down the aisles, looking closely at what the shelves held. Fishing lures, roller skates, soccer balls, archery supplies, camping equipment, flashlights, batteries, but nothing resembling—
“May I help you sir?” It was a heavyset woman in classic Wal-Mart Blue.
“Bullets?” he asked.
“They’re behind the counter,” she said, pointing. “I can help you.”
He followed her to a glass counter filled with knives and binoculars. Behind it, glass cases full of rifles and shotguns. Beneath the weapons, in a low case, was row upon row of boxes in the familiar colors he had seen at Earl’s Place. “Well all right,” he said.
“What do you need?” asked the woman.
Gold set the small bullet down on the counter. “Some of these.”
The woman stared at him for a moment, then looked down toward the bullet. Her eyes stopped before they got there, locking on Gold’s right hand. He looked at his hand and saw what she saw; the skin a deep ochre with a network of cracks across the palm, up over the fingers, and across the back of his hand. It looked like an ill-fated creek bed damned by a blistering sun and a summer of drought.
“This?” He pulled his hand away. “I, uh—“
“How many,” she said quickly.
She picked up the bullet. “Of these.”
“Oh.” Gold thought about it. The sign in Earl’s Place showed between fifteen and twenty-five dollars for fifty rounds. How much should he have to keep Nighthorse at bay if the need arose? “How about…” He drummed his fingers on the glass countertop, trying to act nonchalant. “Fifty bucks worth.”
“Fifty dollars worth of .22 long rifle?”
“You can go over a little if you have to,” Gold said.
“Any special brand?”
The woman turned to the glass case and pulled a ring of keys from her pocket. Gold wandered down the counter, looking at multi-bladed knives and what looked like small walkie-talkies boasting secure code channels. He wondered if he should get a set.
“You’re doing some major plinking, then?” the woman asked.
“Real major,” Gold said, hearing the beeps from the cash register.
“You been in here before?” she asked.
He swallowed. “Not this time of night.”
“What brings you in at this hour?”
“I’m on my way home from work. Got done early for a change.”
“Where you work?”
Where do I work?
“The dairy,” he blurted.
“Hmmm,” the woman said. “You look familiar.”
“I do?” His fingers started to rattle on the glass and he forced himself to stop.
The woman nodded. “Cash, charge or check?”
Gold handed her three twenties.
“Which dairy you work at?” the woman asked, punching the amount into the register.
“You watch television?” Gold asked.
“Television?” She hit a button and the cash drawer popped open.
“I think you’ve seen me on television,” Gold said.
“You? On TV? Really?” She pulled change out of the till at a glacial pace.
“Well, not really me,” Gold smirked. “But people tell me that I look like the Big Boy restaurant kid.”
The woman gave him a blank stare.
“Never mind.” Gold held his hand out for the change. “It was a joke.”
“Sorry.” The woman counted the change into his hand and then hefted the bag with the ammunition. “Let me double bag this for you. It’s heavy.”
Gold cleared his throat and tapped his foot while she went through the excruciating process of finding another bag, holding it open, placing the original inside the new bag, then closing the whole mess off and stapling the receipt to the outside. He took the bag by the handles and then put one hand under it for support when he felt how heavy it was.
“Thanks,” he smiled, and turned to leave.
“Hey,” the woman said, and his stomach jumped. He kept walking. “Hey mister!”
He stopped. Swallowed. Then turned.
“I figured out who you look like,” she said.
“You did?” he croaked.
She nodded happily. “My second husband. He had hair just like yours, only redder.”
“It took you that long to remember your second husband?”
“We weren’t married long. You know a guy named Jamie Pikeman?”
Gold shook his head. “I’ll keep my eye open for him.”
“You don’t have to look any farther than the Mount Pisgah cemetery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. We were married three weeks and he started getting action off of some little trailer park waitress.”
Gold smiled. Why are you telling me this?
“He got drunk one night and went to meet her in her mini-van at a chained-off auto park entrance. Took his head clean off.” She drew her finger across her throat for emphasis.
“I think I would have remembered that happening to one of my relatives,” Gold said, shrugging. “Sorry.”
“Happy shooting,” the woman said.
“Thanks,” he nodded, then turned and walked away.
He couldn’t get out of the store fast enough. As early as it was, there were enough people inside to make him feel uncomfortable, like they were staring at him, trying to think of why he looked so familiar, and then when it hit them, pronouncing him guilty with their eyes.
Kada wasn’t in the lobby at the pay phones, so he hurried out the door. He spotted her walking across the asphalt to the Camaro.
“I got the stuff,” he called.
She turned at his voice and waited for him to catch up.
“Did you make the call?”
“I told them the name of the motel and the room number and I told them to be careful. We’ve got to move.” For emphasis she pointed out at the street. A police car whizzed by, running with lights but no siren. “That’s the second one I’ve seen.”
“I didn’t think of this,” Gold said. “Will that make getting to the interstate a problem?”
She shook her head. “It’s the other way. And you got the bullets?”
He held the bag up and she took it from him. “How many did you get?”
“Fifty dollars worth.”
“Why fifty?” She opened the bag and peeked inside.
“When I was at—“
“Richard, are you expecting to fight a war? You have two thousand rounds of ammunition.”
“No,” he said. “There should only be about a hundred, hundred and fifty.”
Kada stopped at the car and pulled out one of the boxes. “There are five hundred rounds in this box. And you have four boxes.”
“No, no. Three boxes at the most, fifty rounds in each, fifteen dollars a box—“
“Twelve dollars a box, five hundred rounds a box. You were thinking of bigger bullets for bigger guns.” She laughed as she unlocked the car. “A hundred-fifty rounds of .22 ammunition would only run a couple of dollars.”
Gold exhaled and looked around the parking lot. “I didn’t know,” he shrugged. “Let me take some of it back. Maybe I can hear more stories about the clerk’s headless alley cat husband.”
“That’s all right,” Kada said. “You’d better get in the car.”
“You don’t think I’m a stupid idiot? What if we need the money?”
“We’ll be fine. And I think you’re very sweet to go to such great lengths to protect me. Now we’re ready for anything.”
He watched as her smiling face turned and disappeared into the car. Then he looked out at the street as another police car sailed by, silently, overhead lights flashing.
Amazing. Molly would’ve dragged me back into the store and told the woman horror stories about my screwups while she processed the refund.
The passenger side door opened. “Are you coming, Mr. Argent?”
He climbed into the car. “Arizona?”
“Arizona,” she said.