Category Archives: Chris Leek

Used Cars

I barreled through the intersection with the stop light on red, running west with my chest heaving and a sawed-off .410 across my lap. Pounding adrenaline had fixed my hands for 30 miles, one to the wheel and the other on the pistol grip. Two metro cruisers wailed angrily behind me, baying for blood, but only choking down road dust. I crested a rise, tapped on the brakes and swung hard right in a squeal of abused rubber; two of the dog-dish hub caps cut out left, preferring to take their chances alone. I didn’t blame them.
+++++I put the hammer down and the burbling growl of a 440 six pack curled itself around the night. The cherry tops were loosing ground (objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are), their staccato flashes fading out like a Polaroid left in the sun.
+++++I allowed myself to relax a little and Carla Jean’s face face instantly flooded my mind.
+++++“Please Johnny, don’t hurt him.” She had said. Told me how she was real sorry.
+++++“Well, I’m sorry too baby.” I said to the empty highway.
+++++I fished in my shirt pocket for a match, set fire to a Marlboro and drew deeply.
+++++Funny thing was he hadn’t said anything, he just stood there with his dick hanging out and a ‘fuck you’ grin on his face. I tried hard not to think about what happened between them. Instead I thought about how that greasy car salesman screamed when I went to work on him with the blow touch and how I couldn’t stop even after he was long past feeling the hurt. But mostly I thought about the crash of side by side barrels that ended five years of marriage to Carla Jean. A marriage as worthless as the third hand beaters on that bastard’s fly-blown lot. I screwed up a fist, dried blood – maybe mine, but probably not – flaked away from the knuckles. Outside another badlands town shot past in a sodium blur of bleached out rust. I lifted off the gas and let the needle ease back down the dial until it rested comfortably on eighty. The world contracted to the stretch of the headlights and my ’71 Dodge time machine ate black top. The past was falling behind and I wasn’t waiting for it to catch up. Lurking somewhere in the darkness, beyond the high beams was the future. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t matter, these bucket seats were firmly in the present.
+++++Heavy blades whirled above, chopping at the cool rush of midnight. Searchlights hunted in the desert scrub, one flitted across the hood, back tracked and locked me in a cone of harsh glare. I slewed the car to a halt with a rattle of gravel. Nevada’s finest had assembled themselves in ranks and ranged across the road ahead.
+++++I peered into the future, but all I saw was a pair of bloodshot eyes, hollowed out like a Halloween pumpkin, staring back at me from the bullet crazed windshield. I stayed in the present. Smelling the ashes of a burnt out car lot, listening to the contentment of an idling V-8 and watching the orange tip of my cigarette. I sucked it closer until it touched on the filter and all I had left was the taste of heat.
+++++Fuck it.
+++++I flipped the used-up butt from the window, pancaked the gas pedal and left more piece of trash smoldering in my wake.


My eyes hurt; it feels like they’re boiling in their sockets. All around me the rattle of coins is incessant and overwhelming. Reels that spin and clunk hammer their own brand of pain into my head. Everything washes out in a swirling fog of noise and neon. Somewhere from a million miles away – or maybe right beside me – a claxon blares followed by a crash of quarters and a wild shout.
+++++“Oh yeah baby, that’s what I’m talking about!” People move towards the sounds.
+++++I have to fight my way upstream, drowning in a tide of bat-faced housewives clutching blue plastic cups and a convention of salesmen with sweat stained collars. They’re all craning to see which of their number has slain the beast and sated a need less desperate than mine.
+++++I burst through the back of the crowd and gulp in the refrigerated air, it tastes like I imagine pine needles might after a rainstorm, both sweet and sharp. The cool air passes in and through me; I drink it down and manage to hold some inside. That feels a little better, things become solid again.
+++++I start towards the cashier’s cage, choosing the one closest to the unmarked door hiding stairs to the parking garage. I join the shortest line, there’s only one woman in front of me. She’s arguing over the value of a giveaway Keno credit. Okay I can wait. I stare at my feet and watch the fog churning and climbing my legs, blue neon is flickering down amongst it like a static charge. I glance up and the woman is gone, the girl in the booth looks at me, pleasant and inquisitive from behind the grill.
+++++“Good evening Sir how can I help you?”
+++++I can’t speak; the words I have rehearsed in my mind for days won’t come to my lips.
+++++“Sir, are you ok? You don’t look so good.”
+++++I try to smile but know it appears on my face as a grimace. The girl looks anxious now, fingering the button on her intercom.
+++++“Sorry, I ate some bad shrimp.” I manage to blurt.
+++++She relaxes, the pleasant expression rests comfortably on her face again.
+++++I reach into my jacket, my hand lingers for a moment on my wallet, a voice tells me that there is still time, nothing is in play yet. I ignore it, my fingers move past the wallet and close around the grip of a nickel plated nine. I look to the floor again, this time seeing only the dust on my shoes and the dubious patterned depths of the carpet.
+++++“Excuse me, sir?”
+++++The gun slides free; it seems impossibly bright in the refracted light of gaudy chandeliers and pulsing video poker.
+++++“I want everything in the draw. No alarms and no heroics.”
+++++For a moment palpable fear dances naked between us, then vanishes as she screams.
+++++The nickel plate sparkles in my hand and I feel the trigger under my finger. I tighten my grip and it moves just a fraction, barely noticeable but I notice and so does the girl. How much more before the pistol bucks, cordite fills the air and dull metal punches a hole through life.
+++++“Drop the fuckin’ gun, asshole.”
+++++Security arrives breathless to stand behind me with arms braced and a Pernach clasped tightly between sweaty palms.
+++++“I said put it down, now!”
+++++One life or two, maybe even three, just another game of chance in a room full of them. The biggest gamble made not on the turn of a card, or the spin of a wheel but the pressure of a finger. There’s no time to study the pain only to make the play, to hit or hold, the odds are stacked but they always were.
+++++I feel the pressure and hear the sharp crack. The fog clouds back in on me, this time it’s chased through with a spray of red. I’m out of breath and tasting copper. My legs leave and the carpet rushes up to meet me. No cards  left to play I’m down to the felt. The house wins.