Stragglers

It’s another reprint Thursday!

This was another 10Flash story, this one from October 2009. The theme for this was “two men running from a bank robbery” or something like that, I forget exactly. I remember I botched it a little by having a man and a woman, but KC still kindly accepted it and helped me revise it a little. I’m still not totally sure if the time jumps worked properly, and it’s probably darker than what she wanted, but I think it’s a solid story. Maybe I was reading a lot of Ed Brubaker crime stuff at the time?

Stragglers

By Alexander Burns

Gracie clawed at the Model A’s door, but her hands wouldn’t hold still long enough to get a grip.

“Goddammit, Gracie,” Russell growled. “Move it!” Sirens closed on the bank, only a block away.

Gracie took a deep breath, clenched and unclenched her fists, and finally got the door open. Russell squeezed past her and collapsed into the passenger seat. She tried to ignore the pool of blood he’d left on the sidewalk.

#

Gracie’s left foot splashed in a puddle of fetid rain water, drenching her socks and skirt. She stumbled over the pothole in the drive and fell to her hands and knees in the gravel. Her body shook with sobs. Raindrops pelted her back, pounding on the fresh bruises. She squinted through the rain and found the blurry shape of the fence post. Her fingers groped at the wood. She hauled herself to the gate, dragging her wet legs through the mud. She looked back at the house, little more than a shack, really. Alan wasn’t standing in the doorway, wasn’t even looking out between the slats on the windows. He didn’t give a damn. Beyond the shack, their dead fields soaked up the rain, but it was long past any time that they might have offered up anything in return.

A shadow passed across Gracie, and someone stepped out of the rainy haze to kneel beside her. He leaned close, propping an arm on the fence, sheltering her a little from the rain. He was square-jawed and handsome, with beautiful blue eyes. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, and his clothes were worn thin. Rain pattered on his dented fedora, and Gracie felt like she was inside, comfy and protected. He looked her over, surely noting her swollen lip and bluish-purple wrist. He said nothing, but put his hat on her head before walking down the path to the house.

#

Russell hissed as he peeled his shirt away. Gracie risked a glance, but snapped her eyes back to the road. His right side, below the rib cage, was a sticky mash of blood and torn flesh. She listened for the police sirens. They weren’t getting closer, but they weren’t fading, either.

“Goddammit, Gracie,” said Russell. “I told you – I told you to watch out for guns.”

Gracie squeezed the steering wheel.

“Now I’ve got a damn bullet in me and we didn’t get any fucking cash!”

“Watch your mouth,” Gracie said.

Russell jerked in his seat and his voice pitched up. “I got a damn bullet in me!”

“It’s not my job to watch for guns!” shouted Gracie. “You’re the one with the gun, you watch for the guns! I get the cash!”

“Well you fucked that up, too! Gahhh!”

Gracie floored the gas, and the car surged through the last intersection of whatever shit burgh they’d just tried to hit. She didn’t bother checking the names anymore.

#

Even the rain seemed to fall silent when the stranger stepped up to the door to the house. Alan may have been watching after all – he opened the door before the visitor had a chance to knock. Gracie saw Alan’s defensive stance, the way he puffed his chest out like when he hit her. His coward’s pose. She felt a surge of hate, and launched to her feet. She stormed down the drive, her jaw clenched.

Alan opened his mouth to speak, the look of disdain on his twisted face telegraphing his intentions. The stranger didn’t wait to hear it, and Gracie froze mid-stride as he tackled her husband. They vanished into the darkness beyond the doorway.

She held her breath, straining to hear their curses through the rain. Something crashed. She heard a clatter of pops, like a stack of 2x4s falling over. The stranger stepped back outside and glanced at the clouds. He tucked a gun into his pocket and straightened his jacket.

Gracie didn’t move until the stranger took her hand. She jumped back and slipped in the mud.

“Look, it’s okay,” the stranger said. “I saw what that bastard was doing. You’re better off. My name’s Russell.”

Her hate dissolved, replaced by confusion, fear. The world dropped away beneath her feet.

“Did you –?”

He stepped close and took her hands in his, holding her up. “I’m sorry, baby,” he said, his voice low, as though he were confiding in her. He leaned close, his lips brushing her ear. “That man was holding you back.”

#

Gracie pressed Russell’s jacket against the wound, and he cried out in pain. His blood soaked through the blue cotton. They were stopped about a half hour out of town. Russell sat on the road, propped up against the side of the car. She no longer heard the police sirens.

“We need a doctor,” Gracie said, her voice monotone. She grimaced and pulled a blood-stained hand away from his torso. She felt detached, as though it weren’t really blood. Tomato, maybe. She used to grow tomatoes, with Alan.

“Son of a…” Russell said, again and again. “Son of a bitch with a shotgun, third counter. Deposits only, I guess.” He tried to laugh, struggled to keep his eyes open.

“There’s a town, five miles over,” he pointed down the road. “They’ll have a doc.”

Gracie wiped a tear from his cheek and hugged him close. “I’m sorry, baby,” she said, her voice low. She jumped at the power of the pistol – she’d never fired a gun before. A spray of blood showered the side of the Ford. Russell gasped and shuddered against her.

“I gotta get out of here,” she whispered. “And you were just going to hold me back.”

#