The only thing more jacked up than the enormous emerald pendant in Joe Newby’s right hand was the fact that he was completely naked from the waist down. Wherever Newby had come from, he had acquired a priceless gemstone and lost his pants and underwear in the transaction.
“Take a picture,” he snarled. “It lasts longer.”
Baldwin averted his eyes, tried to look at the sky, at the ground, anywhere but at Newby’s hairy whiteness. He finally settled on a dent in the truck, just over Newby’s shoulder.
“Why you so quiet?” Newby kept fiddling with the emerald and then himself.
“You need to get some pants on,” Baldwin said, keeping his eyes on the dent.
“Husband came home. Didn’t exactly have time.”
Baldwin nodded at the emerald. “Where’d you get that thing?”
“The devil hisself.” Newby smiled and lost himself in the sparkle of the pendant as he worried the stone with his thick fingers.
Suddenly Baldwin realized something else wasn’t right. The more he obsessed over the emerald, the more it became apparent to Baldwin that Joe Newby was cranked out of his mind.
Baldwin was all too familiar with the grinding teeth and wild empty eyes. He had been a tweaker himself back when he worked at the refinery in Port Arthur. He and his factory buddies had taken pool chemicals and Sudafed and made the stuff in their bathtubs to sell, and one by one they had each gotten hooked. They would take too much and stay awake for a solid week, fix cars all afternoon, mow yards at midnight, play horseshoes at dawn. Baldwin served time for the homemade lab, and during that year in prison got clean. But the pull of that evil stuff was still with him. It was always there, a lover breathing hot on his neck. Even now he caught himself wondering if Newby had more and what it’d take to get him to share.
“I need your help.” Newby’s hands shook violently as he tried to put the emerald in his shirt pocket.
“It’s time for me to go, man.”
Newby quietly walked behind his truck, opened the passenger door, shut it, and walked back around to Baldwin, waving a .357 Magnum.
“Your son’s inside,” Baldwin said, as if that strange boy with his SpongeBob doll might keep Newby from doing something stupid.
“Just shut up and get in the truck.”
“Come on, Joe. Don’t do this.”
“I said get in the goddamned truck!”
Baldwin did as he was told, and the two drove off, down the red dirt road, fishtailing to and fro, leaving bitter clouds of orange dust in their wake.
Newby’s sister’s name was Belly.
“That’s her real name,” he told Baldwin as they drove.
“Means ‘beautiful’ in Italian.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Baldwin actually found himself laughing a little.
“Oh, so now you’re an expert on Italy?”
“No, I’m just saying that ‘belly’ doesn’t mean ‘beautiful.’”
“Don’t make fun of my sister, asshole.” Newby pointed the gun at Baldwin’s head.
“I’m not. Jesus. Put the gun down. I’m not.”
“My sister knows things, things I can’t even begin to explain.”
Belly Newby wore too much eye makeup and lived right off the highway in a very nice trailer with a red neon palm in front and a sign that said “Psychic. Knows All. Tells All.” She read palms for $20 and tarot cards for $50, and starting at the bargain price of $100, she could light candles to return lost lovers or remove hateful curses. Or at least that’s what it said on the sign in the fancy gold frame hanging over her television.
She greeted Newby and Baldwin as if they had come to her place for a party. Despite the fact that her brother’s penis was hanging out, she hugged both their necks and even smacked Baldwin on the lips. Baldwin could taste the French onion dip and potato chips she had been eating. She didn’t seem to care that her brother wasn’t wearing any pants or that he had a hostage at gunpoint. Nope, Belly Newby was all smiles and winks and pats on the back and kisses on the lips.
“Joe-Joe, I already got the hot water running for you in the bathtub. There’s OxyContin and Ambien in the medicine cabinet.” She took a long, thirsty swig from her bottle of Diet Coke and then a couple of quick puffs off her cigarette, one of those long brown ones.
“Keep an eye on our friend here,” he said, offering her the piece.
“I don’t need that.”
“Take it!” His eyes flared.
Belly took the Magnum and waved it a little at Baldwin.
Baldwin quickly stepped to, which in turn made Belly giggle and wave the gun at him even more.
“It’s not a toy!” Newby barked.
“I know that!” She snapped back. “Why don’t you go get a bath and let me do my thing?”
Newby clumsily took off his shirt as he made his way to the bathroom at the end of the dark and narrow hall.
Belly sighed and smiled at Baldwin. She put the gun in the waistband of her warm-up pants. Baldwin wondered if she knew that the gun didn’t have a safety and that stuffing it down her drawers like that, she was likely to shoot herself in the leg.
“You like chocolate gravy?” she asked.
“Chocolate gravy?” Baldwin couldn’t help but make an ugly face.
“It’s Bisquick and Hershey’s syrup. I was making it for the boy. Thought for sure y’all’d be bringing him.”
“Joe left him at the house.”
“I told him that baby’s too young to be left alone like that.” She shook her head and chewed on her cuticles. “And now I got all this chocolate gravy on the stove and no one to eat it.”
“Shouldn’t you have seen that coming?” Baldwin said without smiling. “You know, being a psychic and all.”
“Oh, you’re one of those?” She rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth. “You’re gonna prove to me that I’m nothing special?