Twin Wells

Chapter Three: The gunslinger.
Illustration by Mark Summers

Or not quite night. Baldwin stood for a moment, let his thoughts fade into the stillness and his eyes adjust to the flatland twilight smoldering like a brushfire out there somewhere. It was startling then, right then, how dead it was. How there was nothing to keep the distance out. How the noise of the TV back in the bar seemed like the ticking of his worn-out, blown-up engine cooling down. Joe Newby leaned against the tailgate of his pickup, throwing up. “Oh, crap,” he’d say and throw up some more. It was a real nice pickup—one of those big crew-cab diesel pickups. Newby was trying to aim away. “Oh, crap. Oh, crap.” At last he took a deep breath, stood up, and said, “Oh, crap,” and then, “Get in.”

Just past the bank they took a sloppy, skidding turn onto a dirt road heading straight out into the great expanse of hard and scrubby nothing-in-particular, over a dip that made Baldwin wince against the silence of the tools that were not in the big chrome toolbox, headlights bouncing into the sky. They lurched left across a cattle guard and then, as if they’d run into a rock, stopped, with all the dust they’d sucked along behind them settling through the beams that shone upon an aging double-wide with an unfinished, tacked-on porch and the pallid light of a TV flickering in the window. Left in the truck exchanging glances with a pit bull tied to a post, Baldwin reassured himself that this was probably not the home of someone with a numeral after his name. He closed his eyes. A lingering trace of Newby’s discomfort mingled sadly with the smell of brand-new pickup. After a minute he opened the door, observed the length of dog rope that now was pulled taut in his direction, and stepped into the night to find a bush. Unhappy sounds came from the trailer. A woman’s voice. Shrill and uncertain. Suddenly quiet. Then the TV off and quiet all the way out to the horizon.

Newby’s boy sat in back in the middle looking at Baldwin. Ten or eleven maybe—hard to tell. Retarded almost certainly. Not the obvious kind—not Down syndrome or anything like that but something missing, something empty, skewed, looking back at Baldwin in the faint green glow from the dash.

He likes stuffed monkeys,” Newby

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