Maybe I perused too much Carlos Casteneda-type mysticism in my youth, but all I can think about on my way down Gina’s basement steps: This could be my Last Battle on Earth. I must give these moments the attention my life’s purpose deserves. I try to absorb every detail of my surroundings, let loose my inner warrior’s imagination for fight or flight.
Too bad I don’t have any peyote.
I also wish I could remember how that Don Juan shaman character created a double. Boy, would I like to be somewhere else.
“Take it slow,” Gina says.
She’s four or five steps behind me on the basement stairs, yet I can feel that shotgun aimed at my back. The weapon’s like a glowing poker radiating hot death.
I mean, Gina’s definitely going to kill me. I’ve seen the DVD, asked way too many questions, because as we all know, those of us with the Gift of Gab never know when to shut the hell up. It’s a universal fact.
I nearly choke over my next assertion. “I can keep my mouth shut, Gina. You don’t have to kill me.”
“It won’t hurt,” she says. “I’ll make it a head shot.”
Ringo is playing the drums of my heart. Back-beat, jump-beat, downbeat. Everything, all at once. My ribs stretch from the inside.
As I approach the bottom of the basement stairs, Gina flips a switch, and an overhead light pops on. Dark-stained wood shelves cover the cement basement walls. Typical garage and basement junk fills the carefully organized shelf space. Beach chairs. Lawn food. Stacks of clay gardening pots. Broken exercise equipment. Discards of suburban life on the Jersey Shore. About head-high, a narrow strip of double-thick window shows the moonlight outside and last summer’s dead marigolds.
“If I let you live, I’d always worry you’d hurt me with the information,” Gina says. “Or somebody like Franny Chapman would make you talk to save their own ass. I’m sorry, sweetie. You’re a pretty good fuck. But I just can’t take the chance, or the stress.”
“Then why did you bring me home with you last night?” I say. “Why even let me have the chance of finding that DVD?”
“When you came back in Clooneys last night, I knew you’d seen Franny give me that DVD. I had to find out how badly you wanted to watch it, if you knew what it was. Besides, I enjoyed taking you away from her.”
Other than folding Gina up in one of those collapsible aluminum beach chairs, I see nothing in this basement that could help me take away that shotgun. I see nothing, that is, until I spin around to face her.
Oh. My. God. Creeper. He’s balled up like a spider beneath the basement stairway. An electric shock jolts my spine.
In the spilt second I debate whether I should speak, leap, or do nothing, Creeper grabs the initiative. Any action on my part now is suddenly too late.
As her white-stocking foot touches the last step, Creeper grabs Gina by the ankle, dumps the naked, dark-haired beauty onto the basement floor.
Ka-boom. The shotgun goes off. Blue fire flashes from the muzzle. Stacks of burnt-orange clay flower pots explode just inches from my left hip. A cloud of smoke rises toward me from the basement floor.
My ears buzz from the blast. Shards of clay flower pot splash against my pants and shoes as Creeper pounces from behind the stairway. Two blurry-fast steps and he has Gina by the head and shoulders. I hear Gina’s neck snap like a broomstick as I lunge for her shotgun.
Ordinarily, I’d stop, take a moment, say a few words about Gina’s fine character. But hey, and I figure she’d understand better than anyone, I need to focus right now on staying alive.
At the conclusion of my dive, my chest slams the basement floor. But my outstretched fingers find and grab the shotgun. I roll hard to the right, trying to give myself some distance, but Creeper’s on me like a cave-in. His forearms press my head and shoulders flat against the cold cement. His hands encircle my throat. The shotgun blast still echoes in my head. The sulfuric odor of burnt gun powder fills my nose.
The way I figure it, Austin Carr will be a full-boat dead man in two-to-three seconds, soon as Creeper breaks--what did that autopsy report call it--my hyoid bone?
The fingers of my right hand still touch the shotgun, but Creeper’s left forearm has my reach pinned to the cement floor. I can barely wiggle my wrist, let alone grip the weapon. But this is my Last Battle on Earth, and I’m about to lose, about to pass on to that other world, that Great Mystery about which we poor humans know so little and worry so much.
Gotta try something, ace.
Maybe I can twirl the shotgun a little with my wrist and fingers, reposition the barrel so the muzzle’s aiming at Creeper’s knee and leg. Give him a kiss he won’t forget. Yes. There. Like playing spin the bottle.
Creeper’s weight presses on me like a stack of marble tombstones. I feel myself blacking out.
Finally, my thumb finds the trigger.
Next Friday, more of BIG MONEY'S exciting conclusion.