As he was doing now, Tyrone Morris got his best ideas while sitting at the bar of the Alabama Anchor. He was at his usual spot drinking his usual Budweiser and watching a young lady named Dixie take her clothes off up on stage. That she was his girlfriend was unknown to the four men sitting around the raised platform, none of whom looked in Tyrone’s direction.
They too drank Budweisers, which really wasn’t surprising considering it was happy hour and the beers were a buck.
Tyrone had considered striking up a conversion with the man to his left and telling him about the multi-national conglomerate that had bought the original American Budweiser company, but then Dixie had come out on stage wearing a tight little western outfit and a cowboy hat. All thoughts of complaining yet again about the company that had changed his favorite recipe to complete shit as a cost saving measure left his brain completely.
He watched his girl dance around the stage to an eighties rock song while slowly peeling away articles of clothing until she was naked. Tyrone noticed she was careful to drop her clothes far back on the stage so the men up front could not reach up and take them. Some weirdo had done just that last month and then sat back sniffing them like a bag of cocaine. Dixie had asked the man to return them after the show but he refused and left the building. She gave Tyrone The Look and Tyrone had done what he thought a boyfriend should do in this case. He followed the man out to his car and beat the living shit out of him until he couldn’t walk anymore. Then he tossed the man in the backseat, picked up Dixie’s clothes and brought them back to her as if riding a white horse.
Instead of heaping praise on him, though she’d hit him several times because she’d been pissed he’d got blood on the delicate lacy material and it would take days of soaking to get out.
That was a long time ago now in Tyrone’s eyes and he was a modernist, always looking forward. Or a futurist. Or whatever it was called. Anyway, he was happy. Dixie was happy. And he was watching her get naked again. Something he never tired of. This was why he was always there every Tuesday and Thursday night.
When her show ended at the exact time that the song ended (a fact which always impressed him), he waved the waitress over and ordered another beer. Then he turned to the man to his left and said hello.
“Hello,” the man next to him said.
“My name’s Tyrone,” Tyrone said.
“Dale Paine. Like Thomas Paine. Only Dale.”
“Cool name,” Tyrone said.
The man tipped his beer in Tyrone’s direction. “Thanks.”
“Where you from?” Tyrone asked.
“Hell of a drive getting up here.”
“Five hours and forty five minutes with traffic.”
“What brings you this far north?”
“Visiting the corporate offices of China Ocean Drilling. Heard of them?”
Tyrone shook his head. “No. Chinese company though, right?”
“That’s too bad. Used to be we were leaders in offshore drilling.”
Dale shook his head. “Not any more. Now we’re subcontractors of subcontractors. That’s why I’m up here. Just spent three months in Houston on a platform and now suddenly they can’t pay me my wages because there’s subcontractor invoicing trouble. I think it’s just the damn Chinese dragging their feet.”
Tyrone raised his Budweiser and said, “Exactly. Same thing happened to Budweiser. Got bought out and left the country.”
“Hey, where’s your company office? Odd a drilling company having offices this far north.”
“They’re in Decatur. Tax advantages. Supposed to be woman owned, but I never seen her. Doesn’t matter who you are anymore, gotta jump through the government hoops.”
“Yeah,” Tyrone said. “Government hoops. Hey, they don’t have strip clubs over there in Decatur?”
“Did you see the same cowgirl I did? They don’t make them like that there. She’s beautiful. Must be the water. And besides it’s cheaper here. Three times as much for a room there and I’m down to my last fifty bucks. Figured I’ll just drive back in the morning.”
Tyrone nodded. Impressed the man thought so highly of his girlfriend. Then he asked, “What you going to do if they don’t pay you tomorrow?”
Dale sat forward and leaned over, showed Tyrone the gun under his shirt. “My name is Paine. That’s all I will have to say tomorrow.”
Tyrone’s eyes widened. “Damn, that’s impressive. That legal?”
“Nope. Wiped numbers. Untraceable. Need be, I’ll just dump in the Gulf on my way back.”
Tyrone nodded. “Hey, want to save a few bucks?”
“Stay at my place. It’s nothing fancy, but it’ll save you on hotel. We can drive to Decatur tomorrow together.”
“I don’t know.”
“Think about it, with two of us there’s less need to pull the gun. Would be easier all around.”
Paine nodded. “Yeah. You got something there.”
“Great. And that girl, up on the stage. She’s mine. We live together. She can make us breakfast in the morning.”
“How about that?”
* * *
“You can’t just invite any old person into our home, Tyrone. He’s a stranger, and he has a gun—a big gun.”
“Yeah, but he won’t use it on us. He’s going after his employer, a Chinese company. They robbed him. I’m going to help him. Maybe I can get a cut.”
They were in the bedroom. Dixie had on a light blue robe, this one thick and fuzzy and mention of sexiness involved. Tyrone sat on the bed next to her, talking quietly to her. The fan was on and positioned near the door so they could talk without being overheard by Paine, who was sleeping on the couch.
“Come on, sweetie, what don’t we have?”
“Right! And what do we need to do?”
“Exactly! You’re doing a great job at the Anchor, but I need to contribute as well. I’m a man, I need to provide for my woman. So that’s what I will do. It’s four hours, five at the most. All I have to do is show up, look mean and then get a cut from Dale.”
“I don’t know. If he’s driving, how you getting back?”
“Get your mom’s car. Drive down and pick me up. Dress nice. We’ll get a good meal afterwards. That seafood place you like.”
Dixie thought harder. “What am I missing?”
Tyrone leaned in. “Look, maybe there’s a chance we could get more, maybe the whole amount.”
“What are you talking about?”
“All of it. We could get the entire amount from the guy. He was on rig for three months. He had nothing to spend his money on. He’s going to be pulling in quite a bit. Maybe I help him get it and then maybe I take all of it instead of just my cut?”
“Tyrone, you can’t steal the man’s income.”
“Baby, we need the money. Like you said, we need health insurance. And well, I mean… I was thinking.”
“What are you thinking, Tyrone? I’m not running away with you.”
Tyrone slipped off the bed, leaned forward and kissed Dixie’s hand. He looked up at her with as much conviction as he had.
“What are you doing, Tyrone?”
“Dixie, will you marry me?”
“Are you kidding?” Tears filled her eyes. “Don’t joke about this, Tyrone. Don’t joke.”
“I’m not joking. I mean it. I love you. Will you marry me?”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I will!”
He grabbed her, hugged her as tight as he could and kissed her all over her neck, her cheeks, her forehead.
Then she pushed him back, a look of terror on her face. “Abigail won’t let you come no more.”
“What? The Anchor? Why not? My money is good.”
“I know, I know, but she won’t let any of the girl’s bring their boyfriends or husbands. Says it creates conflict.”
“But that’s wrong. You’ll be my wife. I never had no trouble with it before.”
She smiled. “I like you saying that. Wife. Say it again.”
“Wife. You’ll be my wife, Dixie. I love you.”
“And I love you.”
They kissed again, this time longer, this time Tyrone leaned forward, reached his hand inside her robe.
“Hey,” she said looking towards the door. “We have a guest. I don’t want him to hear.”
“Fine,” he said, sitting back against the wall. He was silent for a moment and then asked, “What am I supposed to do on Tuesdays? That’s my favorite day to come. They got half priced Jameson. You know how I love Jameson!”
“I know, and we then go home after my shift and make love!”
“Yeah,” Tyrone said. “And make love. Yeah.”
“I have something to tell you. I’m sorry, Tyrone. I am.”
“What is it?”
“My name’s not Dixie.”
“It’s not? I mean, yeah, OK. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Well, I like Dixie better. We’re in Alabama, how cool is that? It just fits. And I liked hearing you say it all the time. If you heard my real name maybe you wouldn’t like me any longer.”
“That’s not true at all,” he said. “No, I love you. We’re planning a future together.”
“I’m telling you because we’re getting married, and you’d have to know. You’d see my name on the wedding certificate.”
“So what is it?”
“That’s a beautiful name. I love it. Why don’t you use that on stage?”
“Because, on stage I have a persona. It’s like acting. I can get to be whoever I want to be. You understand?”
Tyrone nodded. He understood. He felt that way sometimes himself. It would be nice being somebody else. Different life, different decisions, different paths. Like that saying about wearing another man’s shoes. What if you were that man? Then you’d make all his decisions and your life would be better. “I understand,” he said.
She yawned. “Let’s get some sleep. You have to work tomorrow.”
“Right,” he said. “Work.”
* * *
The next morning Dixie made breakfast and saw the men off. Tyrone rode in the passenger seat and Dale drove. They rode in silence for about twenty minutes and then Tyrone said, “She packed a lunch.”
Dale nodded a the brown bag. “Special girl you got.”
“Gonna get married. Asked her last night.”
“Impressive,” Dale said.
Tyrone was nervous though. He’d never doubled crossed someone to such a level. Part of him didn’t think he could do it. He liked Dale. They’d drank beer together. And he had a cool name.
But he was feeling good also. He would marry the girl of his dreams. They weren’t doing really as bad as they could be. He knew folks doing far worse. They had supper on the table at least thanks to Dixie—Charlene. He liked that name. It fit her.
He thought about Charlene in between making small talk with Dale. The drive to Decatur was forty five minutes, much longer than he remembered. Dale told him about life aboard an oil rig and living on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Tyrone talked about fishing with his cousins on the Tennessee. He’d mostly smoked pot and sat in the boat, and he might have mentioned he caught fish his cousin had actually caught, but he thought he’d sold the story to Dale so he was happy.
“Here”, Dale said.
He parked the car in front of the third office of a strip mall. Tyrone counted half a dozen businesses total, three boarded up. A bright blue sign hung over the front window of this business. Hammersmith Drilling and Dye.
“Why dye?” Tyrone asked. “Seems odd.”
“They send divers down the line and flush it with solvent. If they see anything then they know there’s a crack.”
“Oh,” said Tyrone. He knew nothing about deep sea drilling, but he found it interesting.
“You ready?” Dale asked.
Tyrone’s gut felt tight and he needed to pee badly, but he nodded.
“You take the gun,” Dale said. “Like we planned. Anybody acts funny bring it out.”
“Sure, right, yeah.”
On the trip down here Tyrone had come up with a plan that met both of his requirements. Scare the people inside the office and get the gun from Dale. The only way he’d seen to do that, was to offer to carry the gun into the office. Now the idea didn’t seem so smart. What if he had to pull the gun? What if they had cameras? How long does a guy go away for if he waves a gun at somebody?
Tyrone tapped the gun in his belt. The damn thing weighed a ton. And it was cold. And it dug into his side and scraped the skin. “Got it right here.”
“Great. Don’t let it blow your pecker off. You’ll need it on your wedding night.”
“Right,” Tyrone said.
They climbed from the car. The air was hot, the sun blasting down on them. Tyrone felt dizzy, his head light. He wanted to throw up.
Dale opened the door. A little bell dinged overhead. Tyrone looked up. The bell was tiny, no larger than a golf ball. Silver and rusty. Been there a long time.
Tyrone followed him inside and heard the bell ding a second time. The sound was loud in the quiet office.
Tyrone peaked around Dale’s shoulder. The office ran back about fifty feet. Desks lined either side of the room. Seven people looked back at them. All women.
Six were old, close to retirement age. One was young. Cute, Tyrone thought.
Dale strode forward. The women watched him. One of them was on the phone. She stopped talking, waited.
Tyrone followed behind Dale, not saying anything. They walked to the back of the office. On the left was a door. Brown. Hollow. Tyrone could have kicked it and put his foot through the thin sheets.
Dale opened the door and stepped in without knocking. Tyrone looked over his shoulder.
The man sitting at the desk looked up from his computer. Mid fifties, bald head, wearing a button up blue shirt with the sleeves down. His jacket hung on a coat rack in the corner. Tyrone liked the coat. It wasn’t expensive, but it spoke of the man having style.
“Why are you here?” The man asked.
“I want my money,” Dale said.
“I don’t have it. We don’t have it. These things are done through bank drafts and automatic transfers, you know that.”
“It didn’t work. You know that.”
“Who the hell is this guy?”
“His name is Tyrone. He’s with me.”
Tyrone frowned at that. He hadn’t expected Dale to say his name. They should have discussed that before coming here. He would have used a code name.
Dale moved around the desk, stood next to the man. “Merritt, where’s my money?”
Merritt shook his head. “I don’t have it. Some things didn’t work like we wanted. I’m sorry.”
“That’s not the deal. The deal is you give me my money when I do the job.”
“I’m sorry. Please. Just give me twenty four hours.”
“I killed your wife, Merritt. You give me fifty thousand dollars. That’s the way it works.”
“I don’t have it.”
“What?” Tyrone asked.
Both men looked at him. Merritt laughed.
Tyrone’s heart pounded in his chest. He hadn’t signed up for this. He was supposed to act intimidating, not be involved in a murder. He stepped back, closer to the door.
“Stay there,” Dale said. “Merritt, you either produce my money or this man kills you. Do you understand?”
Merritt’s eyes went wide and he shook his head at Tyrone. Tyrone shook his head back.
“I’m sure there’s something we can do,” Tyrone said. “Let’s work this out.”
Dale walked around the desk to Tyrone and leaned into him. “You planned to double cross me today. I heard you talking last night. You think the fan was loud enough? Hell, I heard you fuck your woman, too. I seriously hope you enjoyed it.”
Tyrone couldn’t breath. His heart pounded in his chest. It sounded to loud to hear anything else.
Dale turned to Merritt. “Shoot this guy. Do it or I do both of you.”
Tyrone pulled the gun from his belt and swung it around, trying to point it at Dale. Dale grabbed the barrel, swung it back towards Merritt. He squeezed hard.
“Pull the damn trigger.”
“I won’t kill this guy.”
Tyrone said it loud enough he hoped one woman out front heard it and knew how to call 911. He sure has hell hoped so.
“Last chance,” Dale said.
“Please. You need to —”
The gun was fucking loud in Tyrone’s ears. So loud he screamed. The blast ripped through the small room and tore a hole in Merritt’s chest. The man slumped forward, blood sprayed against the wall. Tyrone put his hands to his ears and tried to press them hard enough to remove the ringing.
Dale went around the desk and opened the top drawer, then the next. He went through all of them and then glanced over at the jacket. He went to it and ruffled through the pockets until he found a white envelope. He flipped it open and saw a thick wad of bills.
“Let’s go,” he said.
* * *
Tyrone sat in the passenger seat staring at the fast food wrappers. He stared at the greasy stains on the yellow paper. Hitmen were supposed to be cool. Black leather, high powered rifles. At least he had a cool name.
“You stole the car, didn’t you?” He asked.
Dale didn’t speak.
“I should have known. I’m not getting a cut, am I? I don’t even know why you grabbed me. I didn’t need to be here. You complicated this whole deal by involving me. It doesn’t make sense.”
Dale looked at him. He smiled.
Tyrone felt his gut twist up all tight and he knew what it was like to face his own death. He knew he would die today.
“You pull over, I’ll just jump out. Won’t be no big deal. I won’t say anything.”
“Everybody says that.”
“Yeah. You’ll say anything because now you’re thinking you’re going to die. You’re starting to see the end of your life. You’re wondering why this guy picked you up. Why’d he go through so much trouble to find you, bring you along? Why?”
“Because I’m going to take over your life. I’m going to become you, Tyrone.”
Tyrone thought about that for a moment. He couldn’t understand why someone would want his life. “Why would anybody want to be me?”
“Because you’re a nobody. You’re just another nameless redneck living in the backwoods.”
“You could have killed that guy and moved on. You created a complicated situation to kill a guy.”
“Life is complicated.”
Tyrone nodded. “I agree with you there.”
“We’re not friends.”
“No, we’re not,” Tyrone said. “I thought we were.”
“You were going to rob me.”
“There is that. Life is complicated.”
“I’m going to need your driver’s license. Your social security card. All of it.”
Tyrone stared at him. “What?”
“Your identification. All of it.”
Tyrone shook his head. “I don’t have any of those things. I never got an ID, not even a permit.”
Dale’s eyes squinted. “I’m going to kill you either way. You can do it easy or hard.”
“I’m aware of what you’re going to do. But you don’t understand. I never got that stuff. Couldn’t afford it.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty three, I think.”
“You think? Nobody just thinks about their age. Everybody knows how old they are.”
“Not me. Never knew my exact age. Only people who really knew are dead and I never paid much attention to it. I can buy beer.”
“What the hell kind of backcountry wasteland did I put myself in?”
Tyrone looked hurt. “I’m sorry about trying to rob you. I needed the money to get my feet on the ground. Been a long time, you know?”
Dale shook his head. “Son of a bitch.”
They drove west on US 72. Tyrone watched the farmland roll by. He tried to take it all in. This was his home. His land. He didn’t want to die.
They drove past a boat shop. He’d been in there once to repair his cousin’s boat. They’d shot a hole in the bottom while hunting fish. They’d brought it in to have the hole sealed with a torch. He liked boats, especially his cousin’s.
“What are you going to do with me?” he asked.
“I don’t know. You screwed up my plans.”
Tyrone smiled. He couldn’t have said it better himself. First time failure worked at keeping him alive longer. He considered what he could offer and he didn’t have much. He didn’t own anything. Nothing of import anyway. Dixie had the television, but that wasn’t worth much with depreciation being what it was.
“You could just let me out.”
Dale didn’t respond to that. Tyrone shrugged. Worth a try, he figured. Tyrone went back to staring at his feet. He thought killing for money should be more glamorous. He thought about the movies. The movies never talked about driving down a back country road. No point in it, but he must have done it ten thousand times. He’d ridden busses as a kid, then with friends after he’d dropped out of high school. Then this last year with Dixie in her mom’s car. Life had been good, he thought.
“OK,” he said. “You do what you have to do. I’m ready.”
Dale didn’t respond.
“I’m ready,” Tyrone said. “I’m at peace.”
Dale looked at him. “I put a gun to your head you won’t be ready. Nobody is. You think about all those things you won’t ever have, what you missed, what you still want to do. They’ll all come flashing back and you’ll want to tell me all about them. You’ll stall.”
Tyrone nodded. “Probably. But I never really wanted to do much so not much is gonna flash for me.”
Dale nodded. Then said, “Shit.”
Tyrone looked ahead. State Troopers blocked the road. Dale slowed down. The officers with their wide dark blue hats walked up and down the line looking into windows, talking with people.
“You don’t move,” Dale said.
“It’s about us,” Tyrone said. “It’s about you killing that guy.”
Dale stopped the car behind a green Toyota. They were the fourteenth in line.
“What we going to do? We can’t run. They’ll come after us. We should have taken a different route.”
“No,” Dale said. “We’re going to do this.”
“I don’t want to die!” Tyrone yelled.
Dale tilted his head back, his eyes wild. He laughed at Tyrone and Tyrone knew he was going to die.
Tyrone Morris had spent his entire banal life moving from one warm beer to the next never once questioning if there should or could be something else, but today he made a choice.
He lunged from the car and dived into the ditch. Cold water splashed around him, dug into his palms, his crotch. A gun went off. He screamed, sucked in the stench of stagnant water. He puked, then pushed himself forward, sloshing through the clinging water until he was on the other side of the ditch, running through a field.
Behind him he heard Dale continue laughing.
* * *
Tyrone woke up in with a needle in his arm and the quiet beeping of a machine past his head and out of site. A state trooper stood near him. The man’s hat hung from a coat rack behind them. He stood over six feet tall. Clean shaven, blue eyes and black hair trimmed short.
“Hello,” the trooper said.
“Hello,” Tyrone said weakly.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” the trooper said. “Dale Paine was a real son of a bitch.”
“Yeah,” Tyrone said. “I guess I am at that.”
The trooper flipped open a small notebook and said, “Want to tell me about it?”
Tyrone nodded. “Yeah. I guess I do. Hey, did you know Budweiser isn’t made by an American company?”