Contributor: J. Douglass

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“He’s not gonna come.”

“He is! Just be patient!” I point to the car. “You’re sure that’s his?”

Joanne nods. “It has his work stuff in the back.”

Her husband is a contractor, so he carries all sorts of maps and measuring tapes and stuff in the back seat. How many people kept a shovel in their car? There was no doubt this was Dario’s.

She looks at her lap and plays with her wedding band. They had only been married three years. They didn’t have much money, so they didn’t have a house or any kids. Their families were in foreign countries, so it was just the two of them. Trying to make it work. My family had them over for holidays when I was deployed. No one should have to spend Christmas or Easter alone.

I rest a hand on her shoulder. “Joanne, it’s gonna be okay. Maybe he’s not cheating. Maybe he’s working on a project or something.”

She looks at me and frowns. “He would have told me, Kevin.”

“Are you sure?”

“He’s been real distant recently. We used to talk over dinner or go out on the weekends. Now he’s just stone cold. He’s lost weight recently, too.”

Wait, she never said that before. “Has he been irritable lately?”

She nods.

“And has he been private about his stuff?”

She nods.

My heart freezes. “Has he ever used drugs before?”

She looks like I punched her in the gut. Then she starts to cry.

“Hey, now.” I hand her some tissues. “It’s okay.”

Was that better or worse than cheating? If I found out that my Darla started using, what would I do? It wasn’t impossible. We were on the outskirts of Cleveland, after all. There was a decent supply of drugs, and an even bigger of poor, downtrodden souls looking for relief.

“He hasn’t had much work recently,” she says. “He’s been too embarrassed to tell me, but he doesn’t go in as often as he used to.”

“Has he applied for another job?”

She shakes her head. “I think he’s too embarrassed. You know, with English as a second language. We’ve talked about taking classes, but. . .we don’t have the money.”

If he was abusing, I thought, then he was going to hurt. Most people I know of don’t recover from drugs; they just use it until it kills them.

Maybe cheating is better.

It’s been twenty minutes and Joanne’s still weeping. I don’t have any more tissues, and she’s using her sleeves.

“Joanne, maybe I’m wrong.” I shrug. “My wife says I am all the time.”

“I don’t want to lose him. Mi buey.” Buey. That was ox in Spanish. He had worked in construction all his life, and was tan and buff to show it.

“I know.”

“We should go,” she frets. “We’re not safe here.”

I grip the steering wheel. “No, we’ll be fine. Remember, I’m a marine. You’re safe.”

She brushes her hair back with her hands, and she looks, for just an instant, like she did her wedding day. He had cried when he saw her dress, and ran down the aisle to pick her up. They had the ceremony in Spanish, but he had tried to translate his vows into English. See, in Spanish, the phrase “I love you” is expressed as “you [whom I] love.” The ‘I’ is implied, and he didn’t use it in the entire list. There were a few chuckles in the audience, but she wasn’t embarrassed. She was never embarrassed by him.

“Come on, help me keep watch.”

She dries her eyes. Then she bends over and digs in her purse.

“I have cigarettes if you want one.”

She returns with a chocolate bar. “No, thanks.”

I laugh. Whatever floats her boat.

She is intent on the candy, but I see something move out of the corner of my eyes. “Joanne!”


I pointed it out, but it was hard to see until they were under a streetlight. A man was dragging a huge, black garbage bag. I have never seen a bag that big. It looks like he was concerned about tearing it, because he had tried to prop it up on a skateboard. It flowed over the sides like a cake baked out of its pan. The man himself was skinny and dressed in black, baggy clothing.

“What the hell is that? Should we call the police?”

“It doesn’t look like he’s moving his laundry.”

They wouldn’t arrest us if it was his laundry, would they? I open my phone and press 911.

“Kevin!” She shrieks.

The man is opening the trunk of Dario’s car. He has the keys.

Joanne reaches for my car door. I lock it. “Joanne! We can’t!”

She looks at me with the terror of a wild animal. Then she unlocks the door and runs into the street.

“Joanne!” I kick my door open and tear after her.

The man in black pulls out a gun. Two shots. That’s all it takes. Joanne is dead on the pavement. Then he is pointing his gun at me. “Come here. Hold up your hands.”

I expose my hands and walk over.

“Load these two into the trunk.”

I nod and charge at him. He fires and misses. I grab his arms and aim his pistol into the air. He tries to kick me, but I have better reach. We wrestle a moment until I break his wrist. He drops the gun with a yelp and doubles over, holding his arm and crying out. I kick him into the trunk and slam the door shut.

I find my phone on my car seat, asking, “Hello? Hello? What happened?”

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