Dusk, and once again, the dream-like grapple with death, as high winds howled across the South Dakota desert, and black rocks twisted in a devil dance against the sky.
“Where’s your goons, Tonto?”
Greenleaf looked sharply at the girl. She stood, motionless, by the window, her arms folded.
“Relax, angel, it will all go down.”
“It doesn’t look like it.”
“They’re on their way.”
She made an impatient gesture.
Shadows filled the room, as night came on. He sat at the table and studied the layout which the girl had drawn for him, the maze of rooms and hallways and staircases, whikle he chain smoked cigarettes. She remained restlessly watching, her eyes fixed on the road.
“I’m not waiting.”
“That’s too bad love.”
“I’m not coming back.”
“That’s too bad too. But it will be a mistake.”
“You’re a mistake.”
“Suit yourself, Cinderella, but there’s still time.”
“Your rime, Geronimo. Small time.”
Headlights swept the driveway. A dark, late model car pulled in. Two shadows sat slumped in it. Greenleaf rose softly, slipping a revolver down his snakeskin belt, his gaunt Indian face expressionless.
“Your coach awaiteth.”
“Your goons are drunk.”
“You’re a joke.”
“Fifty thousand dollars?” The Mexican asked again.
“Right, amigo,” Greenleaf answered impatiently, “fifty grand.”
“Fifty thousand dollars in cash?”
“In that haunted house?”
The wind rocked the black sedan. They sat parked near the entrance to the roadhouse, headlights extinguished, engine idling. Greenleaf watched the girl slip out tf the car and run through the night. Her cheerleader’s uniform fluttered with the gusts. Her long golden hair – something out of a fairytale – flared, for an instant, as she disappeared through the roadhouse doorway.
“You have seen this cash, my friend?”
It was still early. The parking lot was all but empty. There was a pickup truck parked by the roadhouse door. There was a late model station wagon next to it. Beyond the asphalt, under the waving trees, they could dimly make out the silhouette of a squad car. Inside the roadhouse, the girl was making her moves.
“This don’t look so good, my friend.”
The driver stared hard at the parked police car. His blunt fingers gripped the wheel. His partner was staring hard at it too. He shook his head and tilted his bottle.
“It looked good to you this afternoon, amigo.”
“Greenleaf leaned forward in the back seat. He tried to peer past the two petrified Mexicans. The roadhouse was a relic from another time – a high gabled ghost built during the brief mining boom which founded Black Water. Its wooden frame was warped and weather beaten, bordering on haunted oblivion. The gutters and drainpipes were dull with rust. Blinking neon food and drink signs stabbed through the first floor windows. The rest of the house was cloaked in darkness. Somewhere inside, the strange white girl was drifting through the rooms, cutting phone lines, unlocking doors.
“No, my friend, it sounded good to me this afternoon.”
The driver took a long drink from the tequila bottle. He wiped his mouth, hesitated, and then took another.
“How does this sound to you?”
Greenleaf shoved the barrel of his revolver into the driver’s neck. He cocked back the hammer until it clicked into place.
“It’s going down soon, Pancho,” Greenleaf whispered, “and you’re going with it. So’s your pal. In case you forgot, we’re looking at a bag stuffed with cocaine in a safe in that house. We’re looking at fifty thousand dollars on its way to claim it. We’re looking at the advantage of surprise, and we’re looking at the fact that we got someone inside to set things up.”
Greenleaf sat back in the seat and closed his eyes. He listened to the wind howling through the night – across the bluffs and rocks and boulders of the Badlands. His shiny black hair was matted with sweat. His hands were shaking. The night seemed like a dream. Everything seemed like a dream since he had met the girl.
She had appeared that morning, like an apparition, standing suddenly before him in a Black Water tavern, where Greenleaf was playing the final shot in a high stakes pool game which began the day before and continued through the night.
His dark eyes heavy with smoke and the long night, his fingers stiffly wrapped around the cue, Greenleaf leaned across the table and fixed his gaze on the last bright colored ball which seemed to float there. He looked up suddenly – a flood of sunlight was streaming through a cathedral. As he squinted, the stained glass dazzle slowly gave way to a strange white girl. Hair like spun gold, skin so pale it was almost translucent, she stood like a chimera at the end of the table, disturbingly beautiful, her candy-cane cheerleader’s uniform sparkling under the light of the overhead lamp.
“Got a gun Cochise?
”She was looking down at him with undisguised disdain. Her eyes seemed to look through him, not at him, from some far away reality quite beyond him.
“I might have, princess. Why?”
Greenleaf had to gather himself together just to take a breath.
“Got a couple of these to go with it?”
She lifted the ball from the table and held it lightly in her hand.
“I might have those too, love. Cut to the chase.”
She waited tables after school at a roadhouse in the valley. The owner had a brother who was a crooked county cop. They were both crooks. Anyway, the cop got lucky. He scored a primo bag of cocaine in a routine traffic bust. He either snuffed the delivery boy, or let him go in trade … he was selling the stuff back to the delivery boy’s boss … or to someone else. She had overheard all this through a door in the storeroom and couldn’t quite get it straight. But the score was stashed in the office safe. A deal was going down that night at eight o’clock.
“Big time wampum, Hiawatha.” She made mock Indian signs with her hands. “You in or you out?”
Headlights swept across the roadhouse parking lot. A champagne colored Cadillac sped past them and parked by the neon-lit door. Two men in suede suits and Stetson hats climbed out. They looked around and went inside. One of the men was carrying a briefcase.
“It’s game time amigos.
Greenleaf pulled himself together and leaned forward. He jabbed the driver’s partner with his gun.
“I’m not going to run this past you again, amigo. You know the set up. Make your way to the hall at the end of the bar and slip through that storeroom door. It will be unlocked. Inside the storeroom there’s another door, also unlocked. That door opens to the back of the roadhouse office. It’s unlocked too. Wait by the door ‘til you hear my voice. Then bust in.”
The Mexican looked long and hard at the parked police car. He studied the Cadillac. He turned and looked at his friend. The driver nodded gravely at him. He shook his head and slipped outside.
“Let’s move.” Greenleaf jabbed the driver. They drove to the end of the parking lot and braked by the swaying trees. Greenleaf hit the asphalt running, a flashlight flickering in his hand. It was all a matter of timing – to hit them hard in the middle of the deal. He imagined the play going down, right now, in the office: the safe open and the cocaine out, the briefcase open and the cash out, the four men clustered around the office desk, sampling the product, checking the bills. He imagined himself and the Mexican, guns drawn, busting in from different doors. Five times fifty thousand dollars, the coke would take in on the street. Greenleaf calculated breathlessly as he ran. Maybe more. Plus the cash. Eighty thousand dollars would be his share. In ten more minutes he would have eighty thousand dollars. Eighty thousand dollars plus.
The cellar door was open and Greenleaf bounded down the wooden stairs. The flashlight tossed off devil shapes in the darkness, igniting black flame shadows everywhere. Eighty thousand dollars, Greenleaf repeated to himself. He beamed his way, slowly, through the mountains of roadhouse rubbish, around crates and barrels and boxes and trash. He ducked under dripping pipes and waded through puddles of stench. The old house rocked and creaked above him, while the cellar floor was alive with frightened rats.
Murder. Gunplay. Prison. Death. Black thoughts ran round and round in his head. Round and round, they raced in his mind all day, as waves of fear and panic seized him. Drug dealers, crooked cops, crooked club owners, shotgun ready Badlands bartenders – Cinderella’s castle was a booby trap. He had known that going in, but he could not stay out. Eighty thousand dollars. This was his first real crack at big-time dough. Maybe the only shot he’d ever get. This was the break he needed to blow off Black Water, to escape his dirt poor life in the South Dakota desert – shooting stick for meals and flops in Badlands dives.
Greenleaf stopped abruptly and held his breath. The long, steep staircase that led up to the office suddenly loomed before him, climbing through the cobwebs and disappearing in the darkness. He lifted the light and shined its beam on the waiting door. His heartbeat raced and his legs felt wobbly. He had to grip the flashlight to keep it steady. The Mexicans were right. The play was crazy. They were pros upstairs – four armed, experienced, dangerous men, Those pros would never give up the Jack. Not without a bloodbath. Even if they gave it up to them tonight, they would get it back tomorrow. They would hunt them down, anywhere they went. The cop would see to that. How hard would it be to throw a net around Black Water? To find and break the Mexicans? To sniff him out? To get all of them? “Anything odd happen here lately, you ask? Well, yeah man, there was this high school chick in here talking to this hustler Indian.” They didn’t have a chance. But he knew that coming in. Eighty thousand dollars. Maybe they weren’t supposed to have a chance. There was something out there he couldn’t quite see. Something crazy. He tried to see it, but the pills he popped all day to stay awake.
Greenleaf froze on the spot, as the door opened suddenly and a flood of light came streaming down the staircase. Framed in the yellow haze at the top of the stairs, the silhouette of the girl appeared, standing motionless in the brightly lit doorway. Her eyes gazed down on him like holy mysteries – two huge, hypnotic, emerald-green gems. As always, her gaze went completely through him, hitting some mysterious target deep inside him, leaving him, as always, strangely stunned and spent.
Greenleaf felt himself falling as he mounted the stairs, sinking, dropping, drowning like a one-armed swimmer disappearing into some desolate unknown. Halfway up, he remembered the mask. He slipped it over his head and face. An executioner’s mask. A hit man’s black hood. Someone would die tonight, Greenleaf knew, and he somehow knew, deep down, that it would be him.
He lumbered to the top, and as he moved through the door, the girl swiftly retreated. He followed her figure down a hallway lined on both sides with hulking doors. She was dressed in a bridal gown, a ghostly swirl of taffeta and silk. On her head was a crown of desert flowers. There were more garlands woven in her golden hair. She turned and smiled at him and beckoned. He lurked behind, his neck glistening with sweat, squinting through the slits in the black hood. At the end of the hall, she turned again. She lifted an ivory finger to her lips, slipped through the door and signaled him to follow.
He followed her in, but what he found inside the dingy office looked more like a hophead’s hallucination than the slick double cross he was expecting. Yes, all the players were there waiting for him. The cop was there. The owner – a big balding man – was there. The two Stetsoned drug dealers were there, as was the briefcase full of cash and the sack of coke. But everything was topsy turvy, upside down. The men were sprawled all over the tiny room – slumped in chairs, toppled over furniture, curled on the floor. No sound came from the bar. The girl stood like a dream shape in the midst of the petrified mayhem. Her emerald eyes were sparkling and there was a faint smile on her lips. She performed a little pantomime for him. She mixed an imaginary drink, tilted her head, and pretended to drink it down.
“Knock out drops.” She whispered.
She leaned over and pulled the gun from the curled up cop. As she did Greenleaf saw the body of the Mexican behind her. He was sprawled out on the floor. There was blood seeping through the top of his thick black hood.
“Happy hunting, Hiawatha.”
She smiled as she rose and extended her arms in front of her and pointed the policeman’s thirty-eight caliber special at his chest.
The explosion sent him reeling back. He slammed against the wall and sagged slowly to the office floor. A ball of fire blazed in his chest. His head was spinning as he gasped for breath.
“You won’t need this, my love.”
The girl floated over him like a white-winged angel. She pulled the gun from his snake =skin belt. Greenleaf lifted his eyes and watched her turn and fire his revolver into the unconscious cop’s chest. She fired again into the face of the sleeping owner. And then she fired into the walls, desk, woodwork until the gun was empty.
Greenleaf tried to rise but he found that he could not move. It felt as if a great weight was pressing down upon him. He looked on as the girl took one of the drug dealers guns and shot the Mexican, and then used the Mexican’s gun to shoot both the dealers. She moved around the room amidst the rustle of silk and the fragrance of desert flowers, rearranging the bodies, shooting bullets into the walls and doors. He knew what she was up to but he couldn’t quite swallow it. She floated past him and rustled down the hallway. There was the slamming of a door and the sound of a body being dragged back toward the office. Greenleaf knew it was the body of the getaway driver. A door opened across from the office. The sound of the barroom’s jukebox filled the air. There were more explosions, more bullets ricocheting, the sound of more bodies being dragged and rearranged – the bartender, the cook, the few patrons. It was as if the roadhouse were her dollhouse. The bodies of the men her toy – all of them arranged by the girl to create, for the police, the illusion of a robbery gone bad – and a survivor-less gunfight when it had.
A white silk suit, a diamond ring, a pocket full of money, his hair slicked back – Greenleaf was high rolling his way through the casinos of Las Vegas, a blonde on each arm. The bright lights glittered and the roulette wheel turned. He was winning big time, jackpot after jackpot, prince among the players …
The girl sat in the dark and waited for her lover. Soon, he would appear to her, as he always did, in the antique barroom mirror. Tall, dark, handsome, elegant, he would be dressed for their wedding in that high style gold rush fashion which gentlemen wore for their ladies way back then. The roadhouse was theirs now, theirs alone. Her father was gone. Her uncle was gone. They were gone in the way they both deserved. There would be no more of that from the. There would be no more rooms with drunken men. There would be just her and her lover from now until forever.