Beautiful blond woman in the dark

Photo by Molly Blackbird

Jarette was speeding into the desert night with Delilah beside him. It was dead silent except for the sound of the truck’s engine and its wheels on the asphalt. Headlights struck the darkness illuminating a sliver of road ahead with nothing but sand, rocks, and scrub brush to their right and left.

The tiny town of Baker was behind them now. It receded quickly after they reached the town limit. They were going from one speck on the map of Nevada to another. Back to Middlegate. At least that’s what Jarette believed as he gripped the steering wheel.

His heart pumped fast and anxiety rose as each mile passed. He thought about what they’d left behind: the apocalyptic mini golf course and the blood-covered man falling down the stairs from the trailer.

The only words that had come from Delilah’s mouth for the last two hours were the last words she spoke when she got in the car after leaving the bloody man behind:

“I said drive. So, drive.”

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Jarette had been too petrified to speak, but now he looked over at Delilah who sat expressionless in the passenger seat.

His jaw was tight when he asked, “What the fuck was that?”

Delilah continued staring forward. Stone-faced and mute.

“Seriously, Delilah. What in fuck? You said we went there to sell paintings, but you left them in the back of the truck when you went in that trailer. And then…that man. What happened in there?”

Desert wind pelted the side of the truck. No music played. Delilah kept staring forward when she spoke with a low tone.

“Look, Cowboy. I thought you could handle all this. And that’s not what I expected to happen in there. I expected to come out with a suitcase full of cash. Not a bloody knife.”

“You stabbed that guy. Didn’t you?”

“If I didn’t, he would have killed me. That’s not how that was supposed to go down.”

“What was supposed to go down was selling your paintings! Not knifing some guy in the desert!”

Now Delilah turned her head toward Jarette and raised her voice to an angry growl, “Listen, you lost, little boy. After spending time with you, I really started to like you. You seemed like my kind. And seeing as you had nothing to lose and nowhere to go, I thought you’d be a good partner. Maybe you’re not.

“But that doesn’t matter much. We’re in this together now, so I’m going to lay some things out for you. Remember when I told you I spent time with the EPR in Oaxaca? The Ejercito Popular Revolucionario leftists?”

“Yeah.”

“They taught me how to be a revolutionary, but I was already pretty good at being a soldier. Before I started painting, I was in the Army and I did a couple of tours in Afghanistan.

“Back then, women were banned from direct assignment to ground combat units, so they made us intelligence. The military gave us some training, but not like the men. Women weren’t supposed to see combat, so it was good that I was stationed with Green Berets because they helped me learn how to fight.

“Then, they put us with Afghan women in their homes. I was out of Kandahar. The Army called it the ‘battle for hearts and minds,’ but that was bullshit. It was counterinsurgency.

“It felt really good to help Afghan women. To help them see they had rights as people. But I saw a lot go down. Girls raped. Beaten. Murdered in the street. Babies, too. Children. Children who lost their legs. Babies without heads.”

She trailed off. The darkness seemed even blacker now in the speeding night.

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“When I got back to the States, painting was how I healed. Being an artist helped me hide from who I’d been. But the ghosts kept coming up in San Francisco. So, I went down to Oaxaca, and I discovered the EPR. Those guerrillas made sense to me. Being a soldier again made sense to me.

“My military pay was blood money, so I gave most of it to the EPR to help fund their cause. But when those Marxist-Leninists started blowing shit up, it triggered me. I guess I have PTSD. Whatever. It made me remember all that shit in Afghanistan. Right around then, I needed money, and I got approached by the Pérez cartel.”

Until he heard the word cartel, Jarette began to have compassion for Delilah. He saw comparisons between himself and her, except that his war was in his mind and Delilah’s war was real.

“What did the cartel want with you?” Jarette asked.

“The Pérez cartel had heard of me. The gringa soldier who took no prisoners and they wanted to use me. Other than the money, I don’t know why I got involved. Maybe it was the buzz. The adrenaline. Maybe I was bored being a revolutionary. So, I started doing jobs for the Pérezes and they treated me well.

“The cartel sent me to take out people, and I gained the Pérezes’ trust. I was making money, living the good life. Good looking men. Good food and mezcal. Fiestas that went all night. And my nightmares from the war seemed to calm down. At least a little.

“One day the cartel said they had a mission for me in the Yucatán. They wanted me to infiltrate the Mendez cartel. The Mendezes were enemies of the Pérezes. Rivals fighting with each other for territory and power in the drug trade. Meth mostly.

“I was sent to the Yucatán as a gringa tourist to take out the head of the family: Rodrigo Luis Mendez. The mayor of Tulum. Rosa Marie’s papa. The Pérezes paid upfront and they paid me well.

“Once I got to the Mayan Riviera, I figured out that the easiest way to get to Rodrigo, who was always heavily guarded, was through his son-in-law, the philandering husband of Rosa Marie.”

“Manuel,” Jarette said looking ahead as the desert night continued to swallow them.

“Yes. Manuel. When I figured out he could get me close to Rodrigo, I started my affair with him. It wasn’t a bitter pill to swallow. I find handsome Latino men sexy, just like I do lost, little cowboy troubadours in the desert,” Delilah grinned for the first time since they had fled Baker.

“Every time I fucked Manuel, I got more information out of him about how I could get close to Rodrigo. But as the weeks went by, Rosa Marie got jealous and sent men to kill Manuel and me. That night I was lucky. Rosa Marie’s men were also her father’s men, and Rodrigo knew Rosa sent them to kill us. When they murdered Manuel with machetes, Rodrigo told them to keep me alive.

“Rodrigo knew everything. He knew all about me. He knew the Pérezes sent me to kill him, so I never would have had a chance to get near enough to do it. And Rodrigo was tired of his daughter. Her drunken fits and tirades. Not being able to take care of his grandkids. A real loose cannon. He wanted her dead and he wanted me to do it. He said he’d pay good money, too, because he didn’t want family blood on his hands.

“So, I killed her. Just like I said I did. I strangled the bitch.”

Small town in the middle of the desert at night

Photo by James Lee

Jarette’s head was spinning as they rolled through the Diamond Mountains and into Eureka. Population 414. It was silent and looked like the streets were only used by ghosts at night. As he looked at the darkened windows of closed shops under dim streetlights, Jarette knew he was a hostage now. He had gone from a California fugitive running from his own burned-out life to a Nevada captive. Prisoner to a PTSD-ridden hired killer.

He said, “I wish someplace was open in this town. I need a drink.”

“You keep drivin’ and I’ll make you a stiff one when we get back to Middlegate. You’re in this for the long haul now, Cowboy. It turns out both cartels want me dead.”

“You see, I only got a small amount of pesos upfront from Rodrigo Mendez after I killed his daughter. I went to Baker to get the rest of my money, but that motherfucker Rodrigo wasn’t ever going to pay me. If I hadn’t knifed that guy in Baker, he was going to kill me. Then, he would have killed you, too.”

A strong gust of wind slammed the side of the truck as they drove out of Eureka and Jarette swerved from the force. His temples were pounding as his blood pumped faster, but he avoided panic.

Delilah said, “Back at Middlegate Station, I’ve got most of the money the Pérezes paid me. They’ve had a price on my head ever since I pulled the plug on killing Rodrigo. The Pérezes don’t know where I am though. Middlegate’s not somewhere people get found.

“But once Rodrigo finds out what happened in that trailer, he and the rest of the Mendezes will know I’m somewhere in this desert and they’ll find me. That’s gonna be soon.

“So, you and me…we’re gonna hit the road, Cowboy. We’ll get back to the Station, get my stash of cash, ditch this old truck, take your nice car, and head east. You got any friends east of Nevada?”

“A few,” Jarette said with dead emotion. His insides were frozen. “Why do you want me along? Why don’t you let me get on my way?”

“I told you, handsome. I like you and you’ve burned enough bridges yourself that you’ve got nowhere to go but forward. Plus…a girl’s gotta eat. And you’re a pretty good meal.”

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They drove on, back west toward Middlegate. Back toward all the demons Jarette wanted to escape. But now, he knew he was driving a truck with a flesh and blood demon next to him, and she was a bombshell blond who liked to murder for money.

Maybe Delilah liked to kill for more than just money. Maybe she was like a praying mantis. After she was finished with her mate, she cannibalized him.

Jarette hoped Delilah never got that hungry.

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Tedium part 10 is coming.