PULP of the WEEK 

At 2:26 a.m., All-Nite Fitness had plenty of parking. Tracie Opp scanned the empty lot out of professional habit. The single lit window spilled glare from an otherwise darkened strip mall. She could see the treadmills arranged in neat rows, the ellipticals, stationary bikes and weight racks, all motionless and awaiting use. A card reader perched over the front door lock.


She got out of her car, shivering at the transition from warm cab to Tucson winter air. Instead of her usual sweats she wore a black tracksuit purchased for this occasion.


The car door remained open. She lingered, her eyes stealing to the glove compartment where she kept her SIG-Sauer pistol.


It's five feet to the gym. You don't need it, this time.


She felt her jaw tighten. A familiar rush of tension, which she dismissed by slamming the car shut, marching up to the door, and shoving a plastic card with the All-Nite logo into the reader. The lock whirred and clicked. She pushed her way inside.


Dance music pulsed from hidden speakers. Tracie glimpsed her slender form in the wall-length mirror. Somehow, she felt more self-conscious with the room empty than if it were packed with bodies. The front window seemed to amplify her solitary condition, projecting it outwards into the night.


A creaking noise carried over the music.


Her hand reached for a pistol that wasn't there. Already, she was regretting leaving the SIG behind. But no one came leaping at her. A short, lit hallway led off the back of the gym to a unisex bathroom and the manager's office. The sound had come from there. She remembered the All-Nite saleswoman telling her staff was "usually" present, though there hadn't been any cars parked out front.


She crept forward on the balls of her feet. The door to the manager's office lay three-quarters open, showing dim light and the edge of a desk. She peered inside.


A young man reclined in an ergo chair, one thick forearm covering his face. His well-muscled chest rose and fell with the cadence of a sleeper. On the desk behind him, dual flat screen monitors showed two feeds: a camera poised outside and above the door, catching the front of her car, and a wide-angled view of the gym's interior. She hadn't noticed any cameras coming in.


The man shifted position and the chair creaked. She watched him for several moments, wistful. Not about his body; about his ability to sleep. He came awake as she started to close the door.


"Sorry, sorry," he said, lurching to his feet. "Not supposed to nap."


"It's alright."


The top of his stubbled head didn't quite reach her chin. "You must be a new member."


"Tracie. I didn't see another car parked, so I thought I was alone in here."


"Employees park in the back. I'm Jason." He pumped her hand. "Can I show you where we keep things? Towels? Bottled water?"


"I'm fine." She was already retreating back into the hallway. His eyes followed her, settling on her hips a second longer than polite. She felt her jaw clench again. Being ogled at three in the morning wasn't something she'd planned on.


He called out after her. "I'd, ah, appreciate it if you didn't …"


"I won't tell your boss you were snoozing."


Ten minutes later she broke her first sweat on a recumbent bike. Tension began to fade beneath the mindless peddling. She felt more relieved than she probably should, knowing Jason was here, the cameras were running, and the front door, which she kept her eye on the whole time, couldn't be forced by casual means.


At 3:05 sounds of snoring echoed from the hallway. Jason had fallen back asleep.


* * *


As a probation officer, Tracie was accustomed to the occasional restless night. But that all changed in early November. She'd wake with a jolt less than an hour after drifting off, every nerve in her body humming. Further sleep impossible, she'd shuffle to her apartment's living room and wait for the darkness outside the window to lighten. Then it was off to work.


After a week of this routine she began to dread nightfall. The words "bed" and "bedtime" made her anxious. It wasn't like she was getting two to three hours of broken sleep. She wasn't getting any sleep, and co-workers were noticing the hollows around her eyes. She begged sleeping pills from a friend, but they left her feeling unrefreshed and hung-over the next morning.


Finally, she went to see her doctor.


"Your blood pressure's up," he'd said, ripping the Velcro cuff from her bicep. "One thirty-nine over eighty-eight. Prehypertension."


"That's bad?"


"It's unusual, for someone your age." He peered at his computer screen. "And your weight's down. Stressful job, Tracie?"


She stared at him. A middle-aged man with a comfortable practice, love handles bulging under his white coat. "How about yours?"


"Don't get defensive. You must handle a lot of rough customers, in your line of work."


"I'm with intensive probation. Rough customers are what we do."


The doctor reached for his prescription pad, only to shove it away a moment later. "I don't think sleep meds are the answer. More than two weeks on those and people start to get dependent. Psychological mostly, but it's still a crutch."


"What do you recommend?"


"Well … exercise is good for stress. Do you work out?"


"I ran track in high school, but that was years ago." She shrugged. "Anyway, my schedule's pretty busy."


"This is the kind of thing you've got to make time for."


She wanted to laugh when he said it. He wasn't hitting the gym too often. But on the walk back to her car she realized: she had all the time she needed.


* * *


Six hours after leaving All-Nite Fitness, Tracie and her surveillance officer, Monica Robles, made a surprise visit to the home of Teddy McRae.


They parked along the curb to strategize. Teddy lived in a cinderblock tract house with his grandmother. Ragged chain-link enclosed a strip of raked dirt and the skeletons of two ash trees. Unlike most of the neighboring houses, the lawn didn't include a roaming Pit Bull or Rottweiler. Small blessing.


"You sure you're up for this?" Monica glanced out the passenger window at the McRae's scarred front door. "You look beat."


"I got an hour and a half," Tracie said, almost proud. After finishing her workout, she'd returned home so exhausted she'd managed to sleep a little before the alarm went off. "How do you want to handle Teddy?"


"Carefully."


Monica was a thin and intense Latina, her hair cut short at the anticipation of being grabbed. Tracie didn't think she had the stones to make a full-fledged P.O., but she kept the opinion to herself. "I'll have him drop. Any time either of us gets close, the other's hanging back with eyes-on. Okay?"


"Why do you got to risk provoking him? He always does what he's told."


"There's a phrase. 'Excessively compliant.'" She jerked a thumb towards the front window, where a gray cat reposed in the space between glass and vertical blinds. "And I don't like him living with an old, vulnerable female."


"It's his job. Caretaker."


"Because he couldn't get anything else."


"His therapist doesn't think he'd harm family."


"She's a moron. And it isn't her ass if something goes wrong."


Tracie checked the SIG in its holster and climbed out. She knocked at the door. A moment later it squeaked open, answered by a lump of an old woman in a pink housecoat. Three Chihuahua faces poked out from a knitted sling across her chest. At sight of Tracie, they all began yelping. The old woman canted her head down and told the dogs to shut up, giving the odd impression she was talking to her breasts.


"Can we, ah, come in?" Tracie said.


The woman stepped back into a living room crammed with mismatched furniture. The TV blared angry talk-show dialogue. Ignoring her visitors, Granma McRae took a handful of greyish scrambled eggs from a plate and offered it to the Chihuahuas. A trio of little tongues licked her fingers clean.


"There you are," said a bass voice.


Teddy McRae leaned in from the kitchen. He wore an apron and held a skillet brimming with more eggs. "You guys want breakfast?"


Tracie and Monica shook their heads at the same time.


Teddy's mouth drooped under a heavy beard. The apron was too tight on him; the skillet seemed too small in his gorilla-sized hand. While a juvenile, he'd been tattooed as a clown, with a triangle above and below each eye, and a circle on each cheek. The county had paid a small fortune to have the tats laser-removed, but they'd left behind neat triangles and circles of bright pink flesh. Teddy was still a clown.


"We're going to need you to drop today, alright?" Tracie said.


"You won't find anything."


"We still have to check."


He shrugged, and in so doing dumped half-cooked eggs all over the linoleum. Granma McRae made a hooting sound. Teddy flushed, while the ghosts of his tattoos went pale. He dropped to his knees and started scooping up the mess. Monica bent like she was going to help, but Tracie pulled her back.


"We'll wait for you in the living room, Teddy," she said.


* * *


Back inside the relative comfort of their county car, the doors locked, Monica hefted the plastic baggie containing Teddy's urine sample. "I still don't see why you have to humiliate him."


"We're not social workers, alright? He's on intensive for a reason. And do not put that in the cup holder. Glove compartment. Please."


"Do you think he was traumatized as a kid?"


"His parents divorced when he was twelve. I wouldn't call that trauma."


"My parents divorced when I was eight. I remember feeling pretty upset about it."


Tracie slipped on sunglasses, to cover her rolling eyes. "And did you grow up to be a stalker?"


"No. But I have empathy towards—"


"Four separate women, Monica. He threatened them, followed them when they moved, beat-up boyfriends, did everything short of attempted rape. He doesn't belong on the outs. He belongs in a cage."


She started the car. Monica took a final glance at the cinderblock hovel, before folding her hands on her lap. "You've been different ever since—"


Tracie held up a finger. "Don't talk to me about it. Don't talk until it's happened on your watch."


* * *


Reality had collapsed into a gray digital monitor, measuring beats per minute, distance traveled, and time. Tracie watched the numbers pile up as her feet pounded the never-ending surface of a treadmill. Running in place. Running to nowhere.


Jason was on shift again tonight, but far more active. He kept coming out and fussing with the towels, asking her how the machines were working. Twice he adjusted the interior camera. She sensed the interest that would lead to a pick-up attempt, but for now, thankfully, it remained in the distance.


She quit the treadmill and wandered over to free-weights. Jason's shaved head poked from the office doorway, peering at her. He jerked back inside when she turned towards him.


"Don't get a lot of women in here at night, do you?"


Silence.


She could let it go, but that would probably make him bolder next time. She marched to the office. He'd been typing something on a laptop computer; as soon as she got close he snapped the screen shut.


"I don't care if you sleep on the job," she said, "but I don't like being spied on. You want to make things awkward, I'll go straight to the management."


His scalp turned red. "I didn't mean …"


"Say you're sorry."


"I'm sorry."


"And you won't do it again."


He shook his head. "I won't"


"Good. Because I'm beginning to think I need this place."


* * *


Teddy McRae woke in the pre-dawn hours. He'd been having trouble sleeping. A check of the front room showed Granma sacked out on the recliner, all crags and shadows in the TV's muted glow. He snuck past her to the kitchen, and opened the laundry room's sliding door. Standing on tip-toe, he reached behind a box of detergent and pulled out a small computer tablet he'd boosted three weeks before, during a sanctioned trip to the mall.


Intensive probation allowed for few pleasures. Teddy missed internet access most of all. With so few women in his confined life, even digitized companionship would be welcome.


Except …


He thumbed the tablet's power button. A world of release waited on the screen, save for the grating problem of Wi-Fi access. Two months ago, his neighbors had purchased a router with a signal strong enough to reach him. But it was locked. Every morning since then, and every spare hour he could spend away from Granma, he tried different passcodes. Not randomly; that could take the rest of his life. He was being methodical about it, entering things like his neighbor's phone number (a miss), and keeping track of the failures on scratch paper.


Just earlier this week there'd been a breakthrough. Mrs. Delaney, his neighbor, had called for her cat Smucky from the back porch. The Delaneys didn't have any kids, so it was a cinch the pet might be part of her passcode. He'd tried all the obvious combinations, like 'Smucky123,' and 'Smucky#1cat,' with no success. His latest tack was pairing Smucky with Mrs. Delaney's probable dates of birth. He'd remembered Granma saying she was around 58 years old, so subtracting that from the present year …


He checked his scratch paper and typed 'Smucky092155.' No luck.


'Smucky092255.'


He was about to clear the field and try again, but the swirling icon started flashing.


And he was in. Just like that. He had to choke back the shout that would wake Granma. His heart pounded so hard his vision blurred.


The gate to the kingdom now lay in his hands. All he had to do was pull a search engine and go anywhere he wanted. But where first? The possibilities threatened to overwhelm him.


Fingers trembling, he typed 'Tucson girls' and hit enter.


* * *


Somehow, it was late October again. And somehow, Tracie found herself parked in front of the Stahl house on Halloween night.


The Chief had authorized a sweep of Level One sex offenders. Though intensive probation was her usual assignment, Tracie had been pulled for extra manpower. Her new, temporary partner was an older P.O. named Burke. He'd insisted she drive. And now, catching a whiff of his breath as he called in their position, she understood why. He'd begun his All Hallow's Eve celebrating early.


"What's wrong with this picture?" Burke nodded towards Stahl's ranch-style house. Level One offenders were warned to keep a low profile on this particular holiday, but Stahl had gone all out. Floodlights glared. Ghosts hung from the mesquite tree on the front lawn, above a clutter of plastic tombstones.


"It's not going to keep any kids away," Tracie said.


"Let's bust him."


Burke swayed a little too much getting out of the car. Tracie pretended not to notice. He kicked over a tombstone and tromped across the lawn. The door opened before he could ring the bell, spilling a tall silhouette with a bowl of candy. Burke shoved the figure back inside the house.


Tracie hurried after, worried her disinhibited partner might hurt somebody. She charged through the doorway and into the living room, where Burke had Stahl backed up against a ragged couch. Cheap candy lay scattered everywhere.


"That's real cute," Burke was saying. "That's real appropriate for a guy your age."


She realized he was talking about Stahl's costume. He'd dressed as a psycho-killer, with a bloodied t-shirt and a hockey mask hanging by straps from his thin neck. A plastic butcher knife had been thrust through his belt.


Stahl's Adam's apple quivered. "I was just—"


"You're not supposed to be handing out candy."


"My girlfriend is."


"And where's she?"


"Out to get some more."


"Looks like you got plenty, here." Burke gestured towards the mess on the floor.


"Can't I even … I mean, this is my favorite …"


"What're you trying to hide there, behind you?"


"Nothing."


Burke pushed him aside. A forty-ounce bottle of beer rested atop a couch cushion, half gone.


"Booze, huh? I'll revoke you for this."


Stahl's face hardened. "I'm not the only one partying tonight."


"You saying I've been drinking?"


"I can smell it from here."


"You can, huh?" Burke's fingers curled into fists. "I think you're getting confused about who's on probation."


Tracie put a hand on her partner's shoulder. "You've got him cold. Let's do this right—"


Burke turned to her, cursing. As soon as his eyes left Stahl, the skinny man exploded into action. He grabbed Burke and pulled him close, while his free hand drew the plastic butcher knife and stabbed upwards into the P.O.'s ribs.


Except the knife wasn't plastic.


Tracie's eyes came open. She woke, breathing hard, taking in the surrounding bedroom with a rush of perceptions. The lights were on. She'd left the sink running, in the bathroom.


I'd been dreaming. She didn't remember dreaming about the stabbing before. She didn't remember any dreams, the past couple months.


Her bedside clock read 1:29 a.m. She recalled lying down some time around eleven, with the intention to rest before brushing her teeth. So she'd fallen asleep for over two hours. That had to be progress.


But with the dream came memories of the aftermath. She had frozen for crucial seconds, before she could finally clamp her hands around Stahl's wrists and wrestle him to the floor. Both she and Burke were reprimanded, after Stahl was whisked away for five to ten. But Burke had needed emergency surgery. He ended up with a foot less of colon than he'd started with.


Sleep was out of the question now. She went to the closet and got her tracksuit off the hanger.


* * *


"Teddy, your urine screen came back dirty."


"What?"


McRae shot up out of the cracked leather recliner. Tracie's right hand went to her holstered SIG; her left gripped the cup of instant coffee Granma had made. But Teddy didn't lunge. He just stood there, breathing heavy. Tracie glanced sidelong at Monica. Her partner sat poised on the edge of the McRae's couch, squinting from the sunlight pouring through the blinds.


"Sit down, Teddy," Tracie said.


"But I didn't … I never …"


"Sit down."


He sat. Fat-sheathed muscle trembled beneath his bathrobe.


"Your profile showed trace amounts of cannabis," Monica said.


"Pot? But I don't smoke it. I don't even like it. I've been straight with you guys about drugs, this whole time."


"How'd it show up, then?" Tracie said.


"Wait a second." Teddy craned his head towards the hallway. "Granma? Get over here."


She came tottering into the living room, Chihuahuas at her heels.


"Tell them about your medical marijuana," Teddy said.


"Oh, yeah. For my rheumatism. Got a doctor's card and everything."


"She smokes it out back in the Arizona room," Teddy said. "I must've breathed some in, when I went to check on her."


"Second-hand pot smoke?" Tracie shook her head. "That's an old one."


"I'll show you."


He led Tracie and Monica down the hallway, to the back porch. Rusted screens enclosed a small area with kitty litter trays and patio furniture. "There." Teddy pointed to a chrome pipe on the edge of an ancient lawn chair. "That's hers. You can check it for prints if you want, because I never, ever, touch it."


"This isn't a crime scene, Teddy." Tracie glanced at Monica to make sure she wasn't about to say something conciliatory. "You dropped dirty, so we're yanking your privileges. And you're back on community service. Twenty hours a week. That's the new regs."


Teddy's voice went flat. "I've got to pick up trash again?"


"I'll waive substance abuse counseling for now, on the chance this really was accidental. Another dirty, though, and you're going back inside."


"What am I supposed to do when my grandmother smokes?"


"Stay the hell away. That's my recommendation."


Teddy flushed like he did when he'd spilled the eggs, the flesh surrounding his former tattoos turning scarlet. Tracie sensed the power coiling up through his big body.


"I'm going to leave you alone now to think about it," she said.


He looked down at his feet. "That would be best."


* * *


As soon as the county car pulled away, Teddy pushed past Granma and locked himself in the bathroom. Emotions seethed just under the limit of his control; he forced them back and breathed deep like his therapist had taught. Months of acting polite, of swallowing any self-respect he might have left and they go and do this, yank his privileges, convict him without a trial …


He sat on the toilet and messaged his temples. The prospect of being stuck in this little house, cleaning up after Granma and her Chihuahuas seemed to stretch into eternity. They'd always find a reason to punish him. His only release was to put on a safety-orange vest and grope for trash with the rest of the lowlifes.


No. Not his only release.


He reached into the sink cabinet and pulled the tablet out of its new hiding place. As soon as the screen lit he went straight to his favorite new site. 'Tucson in the Raw.' It featured attractive area women caught by hidden cameras, or long range lenses. Tame stuff, mostly, but he liked the fact the girls were real, and he might someday, somehow, bump into one.


He browsed through a series of thumbnail pictures. They had captions like 'Blonde Jogger Doesn't Know I'm Watching' or 'Changing Room Mishap.' He scrolled down, down—


Stopped.


The video caption read: 'Tracksuit Hottie Hits the Gym,' and was dated from only days before. A high-angled shot showed an athletic brunette running on a treadmill. His breath caught with recognition.


As soon as he loaded the video he knew it had to be Tracie Opp. There was that same narrow face, that set determination to her jaw. He watched the whole loop, fascinated. Watched it again. She appeared to be the only person in the gym. Alone, outside her role as P.O., she seemed vulnerable. His predatory instinct sparked.


On the third and fourth viewings he noted details. The window behind Tracie was dead black. That, and the lack of people in the shot suggested she was exercising late at night. He'd heard of gyms that catered to weird hours. Also visible was a reversed logo painted on the window; a swoosh shape next to a clock face.


There could be only so many of those in Tucson.


A thought came to him. It came so fast, with such compulsive force, he had to take another series of deep breaths. The thought was this: he could steal Granma's car keys and go searching for Tracie's gym at night. There'd be consequences, of course. And only the small chance he'd actually be able to catch her while she was there.


But how was going back to prison any different from what he'd had to endure, living here?


He closed his eyes and imagined finding her. Imagined the look on her face, when she realized the rules had changed.


It'd be worth it.


It'd be worth more than any image on a screen could capture.


* * *


Tracie arrived at the gym around one a.m. Another member, a gray-haired lady wearing a heavy coat over a leotard, was stepping out just as she pulled up. They exchanged nods, two fellow refugees from the daylight. The woman climbed into an ancient BMW and drove off.


Inside, Jason was fussing over an elliptical machine. He wouldn't make eye contact with Tracie. As soon as she reached for a towel he went scooting off down the back hallway, to slip out through the fire door. She wondered if he was leaving for the night.


One can hope. It'd be nice to have some privacy, for a change.


Her usual treadmill sat waiting. She set the timer for forty-five minutes, at a brisk pace. It had been a good shift, despite her near-altercation with Teddy earlier. The rest of her caseload had decided to behave, and she'd spent a quiet afternoon doing paperwork. Days like this, it almost felt like she had a normal job.


As the rubberized track started sliding beneath her, she remembered her old career dreams of becoming a physical therapist. When had that gone out the window, and why? It had to be easier than busting heavies all day. Maybe she should be attending night school instead of working out, brushing up on her physiology …


A pair of headlights swept through the front window. Someone cruising the parking lot, and slow. For a second she thought the BMW lady had returned. But the car was an Escort station wagon, with a bulky silhouette at the wheel. The driver hunched low as if peering into the gym. Then the Escort sped up, disappeared.


She wasn't sure what to make of it. The headlights failed to return. Five minutes later, her sweat starting to bead, she'd already shrugged it off.


Until she heard the voices.


They were coming from the back of the gym, outside. Jason talking to someone. Evidently, he hadn't decided to leave. It was hard to make out the conversation over the treadmill's whir. A sharp noise, and Jason's voice cut off abruptly.


She stopped the treadmill. "Jason?"


No answer. She called out his name again, louder. "Are you alright?"


Just the workout music, droning in the background.


What if the person in the station wagon had circled to the back lot and gotten out? It could be a friend of Jason's. But why wasn't he answering?


She stepped off the treadmill. A glance down the hallway showed a piece of cinderblock propping the fire door open. Jason must've gone out for a smoke. The smell of nicotine as she approached confirmed it. Still, he should—


The door slammed open. Jason came staggering in, white-faced, his muscled right arm hanging limp from his shoulder. The elbow bent at a strange angle. He looked up, a warning in his glazed eyes.


"Go."


Hands reached through the doorframe and settled on Jason's back. Pushed. He sailed past her and struck the bathroom door. Slumped down its length.


Now a familiar bulk was filling the doorway. Teddy McRae in black sweater and slacks, his clown face looking more composed than she'd ever seen. The wrongness of him being here, of him being anywhere except behind cinder block walls made her spine curl.


"Gee, I suppose I'm in some trouble now, aren't I?" He laughed. "You figure I got anything else you can take away?"


There was no mistaking his posture. The look on his face. Tracie's brain dumped the option of fight and went straight to flight. She could sprint for the front door and get her car open, where the SIG waited in the glove compartment. Or she could bolt for the office just behind her, lock the door, and call 9-1-1.


The office was closer. She leapt backwards and threw herself inside. As soon as she'd worked the snap-lock the door shuddered in its frame.


"What're you doing?" Teddy's voice called, amused. "I just wanted to talk to you."


"So talk." She scanned the desktop for a phone.


More laughter. "Okay, that's not really what I wanted to do." A grunt, and the door shook again. There was a ping as a screw shot free of its hinge and struck the floor. Teddy's three hundred pound mass could probably bull through in minutes.


She spotted a cordless on one corner of the desk, next to Jason's laptop. The dial-tones sounded painfully loud as she punched 9-1-1. How, she wondered, had he found her here?


The upper half of the door cracked inwards, throwing splinters. She heard the line pick up and a female operator identify herself. The door bulged, split, and Teddy's shoulder burst through in a cloud of plywood dust, followed by his head. He coughed. His hand started to worm through the impromptu hole. In moments he'd be able to reach down and open the lock.


She dropped the phone. A voice echoed "hello?" from the receiver, just as it struck the carpet.


Teddy wriggled, grunted, unable to force his arm any further. She realized: he was stuck, if only for a few seconds. She snatched Jason's laptop from the desk. Lofted it high, and then brought the hard plastic casing down against Teddy's head. Crack. Shock traveled up her wrists. She swung again, putting all her weight behind it. The casing shattered. Electronic components rained down into Teddy's beard. He bellowed and wrenched himself backwards, ripping his sweater on the jagged wood.


"What's the nature of your emergency?" the phone asked.


Tracie didn't bother answering. Teddy's cries should be enough for the operator to dispatch police. She glanced through the toothy hole in the door. Teddy leaned against the far wall, both hands clutching the top of his head. Blood from a scalp-cut coursed between his fingers and dripped down into his eyes. He looked dazed, but not out.


The office had no other exits. With the door compromised it was a death-trap. She had to move while he was still stunned. Hands shaking, she undid the lock. Stepped out into the hall. Teddy's eyes widened, to see her rushing forward. Not that it slowed him much. He groped for her as she pivoted right, moving towards the back door. The piece of cinder block still held it open. If she could reach a clear stretch outside, she felt certain she could outrun him.


His fingers closed on her tracksuit. Bunched the fabric at her shoulder.


He took a step towards her, reaching out with his other hand for a better grip. But something checked his progress. Jason, lying on the floor, had wrapped his good left arm around Teddy's ankle. Teddy shifted his attention. In the same moment, Tracie whirled and slammed her elbow against his slab-like forearm. His fingers loosened. She jerked back, allowing herself to pull free.


Long strides took her to the doorway. She didn't look behind. He was there, she knew, right on her heels as she slipped out the fire door. Reaching out again to grab, but now her sneakers crunched gravel in the back lot. Cold night air surrounded her. Freedom.


All that time on the treadmill kicked in. She raced past a row of dumpsters and a sputtering fluorescent light.


Raced past the Escort station wagon, its door still open.


Raced into darkness, and kept going.


* * *


How long she ran was difficult to gauge. Early on, she heard a car engine revving somewhere behind her. Teddy's Escort. She leapt a fence and sprinted in the opposite direction.


Eventually her legs grew tired, her lungs ached, and she caught the flash of revolving red and blue lights in the distance, drawing her like the proverbial moth. Two prowl cars were parked in front of a strip mall. Her strip mall, she realized; the single lit window bore the All-Nite logo. She'd run in a full circle.


"We were hoping to find you," the young officer said, after she'd identified herself. "Your friend Jason's just been splinted and hauled off to the nearest ER."


"What about Teddy? Teddy McRae?"


The officer frowned. "Was he the assailant? No word on him."


But minutes later a police radio crackled the news: McRae had been located in a nearby trailer park. He was slumped over the deployed airbag of a station wagon, weeping uncontrollably. Tracie would eventually learn that while searching for her among the poorly-lit streets, he'd hit a speed bump at sixty miles an hour and swerved into a parked truck.


So much for Teddy.


She gave the police her official statement and drove home, exhausted but satisfied. Despite the abruptness of what had happened, despite being caught off-guard, she'd handled the situation competently. Without freezing, this time.


Back at the apartment, she changed from tracksuit to pajamas. Her whole body felt pleasantly sore now that the adrenalin had worn off. It seemed too hopeful to think she might snatch a couple hours from what remained of the night. She braced herself as she took up her familiar vigil on the couch, expecting to wait out the dawn.


But sleep wanted her after all. Only moments after closing her eyes she dozed off, and rode dreamless currents into morning.



Copyright © 2014 Garnett Elliott.

Garnett Elliott lives and works in Tucson, Arizona. Recent stories have appeared or are slated to appear in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, All Due Respect, Libram Mysterium Vol. II, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. Recent novelettes through BTAP Books include Dinero Del Mar, Carnosaur Weekend, and the soon-to-be released Red Venus.

About the Author

Garnett Elliott

Night Sweats

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PULP FICTION