Standing on the porch of a vacant one-bedroom weatherboard, Nicky watches Pig rinse dark, orange earth from his hands.
"So, it's shoulder-deep, then?"
Hunched over, Pig half hears Nicky's question. He decides it's not worth it to turn around and keeps washing his massive hands in the stream of water pissing from a plastic cistern set on iron stilts.
Nicky takes a lengthy draw from a can of VB and burps into his fist. "That hole you dug out there. It's shoulder-deep, yeah?"
"Christ almighty, I was the one who dug it, wasn't I?"
"Well, yeah, but months from now there better be no dingo traipsing up the road with a bone in its teeth."
Twisting the cistern's spigot off, Pig shakes the excess water from his hands. "Look, it's deep enough for our need, all right? There's, like, these big rocks out there. It'll be a piece of piss rolling two or three of them right on top when she's down in it and then we fill it in. No way some scrawny dingo pawing his way past all that."
Nicky drains the rest of his beer and crushes the empty can beneath the heel of his boot. He fishes a pair of sunglasses from his shirt pocket and settles them on his nose as Pig lopes towards the porch.
"So, you want to give her another go before we finish up?" Nicky asks.
Pig stops and considers this with some seriousness. "Nah. She's all dry fits and kicks in there, mate. How 'bout you?"
Nicky holds up his left hand. His ring finger has a band of silver three months old.
"Bah," Pig scoffs. "Don't make me hurl. Diehard four-star cocksmith, that's what you are. Yeah, you might act all devoted when your new bride is around, but I've seen you out and about, getting your strange."
"At least I'm civil about my strange when I'm getting it."
"Hey! I was agitated before."
"So that's what you call all that."
"Yeah, she was being all uncooperative. And it's not like it was any fun. Jesus, it was like poking my knob in and out of a bag of old clay."
Nicky grimaces. "Still kind of a shame, though, isn't it?"
"Her. Jo, I mean. You'd think after all this time the woman would've shown a little more sense."
Pig pushes a palm against his jaw and bubble-cracks his neck. "Just goes to show what fancy educatin' does for you. All those smarts and you still end up a bloody junkie doctor."
"I've told you at least fifty times, Pig. She's a dentist, not a doctor."
"Yeah, well, doctor-dentist, she could be fuckin' Beyoncé for all it matters now, right? So have you worked out another supplier to replace her yet?"
Nicky takes off his sunglasses and polishes them carefully on the hem of his shirt. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that. I think with this Jo business it might be time for us to throttle back a bit."
"Throttle back? Are you serious?"
"Serious as your sore cock," Nicky replies, putting his sunglasses back on. "People are going to be looking for her, mate, especially those narco-squad detectives she talked with. That said, I'm thinking it might be best we lay off selling Vicodins and jumbo Oxys, but go-go, toot and that Thai bud we've been getting? All that will still be business as usual."
Pig mops his brow with his forearm and stomps up the porch steps. "But that's leaving a lot of cash on the table there, Nicky."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. But it'll only be for a little while."
"A little while? If people can't score their pingers from us they're going to start looking for Hong Kong Mike—you know that, don't you? God, I bloody hate Hong Kong Mike. Hong Kong Mike is a total four-flushing, Fremantle cunt and about as Hong Kong as a fried prawn takeaway."
"Yeah, but these detectives, Pig. It's a minor miracle we haven't been picked up yet. I'm just glad Jo told us about them. I mean, can you imagine if she didn't say anything to us at all?"
"I guess you and me would be fucked."
"Good and properly fucked, no question. And I'll tell you right now, no way is your man here taking another fall over some pill-popping slummer who doesn't know how to handle a bit of routine questioning. See, this is what I was on about from the beginning. You take on straights and when any kind of law leans on them they get all panicky and think the world is coming to an end. Hell, we both had our reservations about using Jo and her connections. It was only a matter of time before something went sideways."
"She was the one who approached us, not the other way around."
"I know, right? Christ, you and me should have our heads examined."
"Depressing. Depressing is what it is."
Nicky motions to a Styrofoam portable cooler behind him. "Beers in that Esky if you need some cheering up."
Pig turns and lifts the lid on the cooler. After trawling through the dirty slugs of melting ice, he lifts a can of VB and opens it. He takes a long drink and wipes the back of his wrist across his lips.
"Ahhh, that's the stuff. Good and cold."
"Yeah, good and cold for the ditch digger."
"You've got that right," Pig replies as he glances back at the house. "So, what about the other stuff then?"
"What stuff? You mean with her? God, I don't know. Wait until dark, I reckon."
Even with the gag stuffed in her mouth both men can hear Jo's uncontrollable sobbing from inside the house. Nicky shrugs and takes out his mobile from his front pocket. After pulling up one of his heavy metal playlists, he turns up the tinny volume but the music isn't loud enough to drown out Jo. Nicky suggests they take the cooler over to an old picnic table set farther away from the house. To pass the time they play Euchre with a battered deck of cards Pig always seems to have on him. Pig keeps winning and he drinks the lion's share of the beer, but Nicky pretends he doesn't care. An hour later when the sun disappears, Nicky tosses his last losing hand down on the table as scores of sheath-tailed bats crisscross the sky.
"Well, I guess it's that time," he says as he pulls a black .38 revolver from the back of his jeans.
Pig gathers the cards and stuffs the deck back into its box. "Do you need a hand hauling her outside?"
Nicky checks the .38, slaps the cylinder home, and spins it. "Nah, I think I can manage. You grab the ute and bring it around back. Meet me in the kitchen with the blue tarp and the tools. Both of us will load her up after."
Having ambled back into the house, Nicky finds Jo in the lone bedroom. A pixie-cut blonde, past thirty-five, and a bit on the hippy side, Jo is sprawled out on a stained futon and naked except for a pink bra that's seen better days. The mixed stench of fear sweat and piss is fierce in the hot room, and Nicky tries to breathe through his mouth. This is the second time he's ever had to kill someone, but now Nicky wonders if pushing his father down the stairs after he broke his mother's jaw even counts. He tells himself work fast and not to think. Untying the knots of rope that have her arms and legs lashed to the futon's frame, he rolls Jo over onto her side.
"C'mon, sweetheart …"
Jo's slaps and kicks are furious, but putting all of his weight on her hip Nicky punches Jo in the face as hard as he can and she goes slack. When he drags her out of the bedroom by her feet, Pig appears in the hallway behind them. He has a bottle of Bundaberg rum in one hand and a pair of channel lock pliers and tin snips in the other.
"Hey, look what I found rolling around under the passenger seat."
Nicky's eyes go from the bottle to the tools then back to Pig's face. Shaking his head, he keeps hauling Jo down the hall and reaches the kitchen. Lit by a kerosene camp lantern, Pig has already laid out the blue tarp out on the kitchen floor. Slick with bodily excrements as she is, Jo slides easily onto the plastic. Nicky drops her legs, takes a knee, and checks to see if she's still out. Concluding that Jo is mercifully unconscious, Nicky jumps up and rips the bottle from Pig's hand.
"Give me that!"
"Later, Pig, okay? Later."
Pig snatches the bottle back. "No later. I want to drink this Bundy now."
Glaring, Nicky draws a deep, steadying breath and exhales. "Goddamnit, now is not the time to be drinking liquor. We've got—we've got things to do."
"Uh-uh. You've got 'things' to do, Nicky. Me, I'm going to sit down here at this kitchen table and have me a proper drink. Come to think of it, maybe you should have one too. Grubby work ahead. Having this bottle necked could do us both a world of good." Pig tosses the pliers and tin snips onto the tarp and unscrews the bottle's cap.
Nicky glances at the tools. "Jesus Christ, mate, have some common decency."
"Common decency? For who? For this one here? Right, like she's going to care in a few minutes that you'll be snipping her fingertips off and yanking her teeth."
"You bastard, I knew it."
"I knew you'd pull this rubbish. I swear to God, you always end up doing this, Pig. You forget to eat. Then you get dehydrated. And after sucking down ten or so beers you make for the hard stuff. You're completely hammered."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are!"
"Oh, get off it. You know what I think? I think the reason you're busting my chops is because it's time for you to hold up your end of our bargain. Yeah, no backing out now. We shook on it. Heads digs the hole, tails does the deed."
"Wankin' alkie schizo …"
"Hey, better a wankin' alkie schizo than a pansy boy passing on a free poke. Maybe you ought to check in with the missus." With a pinkie and thumb Pig mimics speaking into a telephone. "Hello, sweetie? Yeah, would it be all right if I did the trimmings on a liability that could send me and Pig up for life? Good God, man, you're a bloody joke!"
Nicky pulls the .38 from the back of his jeans. Pig's eyes go hot and wide as he sets the bottle down on the table.
"What, you're pointing that thing at me? The fuck you on, mate?"
"I should have done this back when I had the chance."
"Back when you had the chance? Back when?"
"Before. When we were out there playing cards."
Even pissed as he is, Pig's haymaker comes too fast for Nicky to dodge it. When Pig's right fist wallops Nicky's temple the blow drops him to the floor. Dazed, Nicky looks up as Pig yowls and kicks away his pistol. He's clutching his wrist, the middle knuckles of his right hand pushed halfway back.
"You dog-fucking chumwhore! Look! Look at what your stupid skull did to my hand! Bloody pull a gun on me? After all we've been through? Christ! This is all about you and Hong Kong Mike, isn't it? All this time, me broiling out there and digging that pit, you're in with that slanty-eyed, Fremantle wog, aren't you?"
Pig lays into Nicky with his boots.
"No! Pig! Wait! Jesus! Stop!"
"So what's the big plan, eh? Pop ol' Pig after I help you load that dobbing bitch in the ute?"
Out of the corner of his eye Nicky sees with some alarm that Jo has vanished. "Oh shit, mate. Where'd she go?"
Pig stops kicking. "Where'd who go?"
"Jo, you idiot! She's gone"
"Oh, fuck me …"
Swiping a leg, Nicky takes Pig to the floor. It's a mad scramble to get the upper hand, like two dogs fighting, but Nicky gets behind Pig and puts a chokehold around his throat.
"You know, you truly are a piece of work, Pig. Only you would fall for the oldest trick in the book. Where'd she go? Who cares where Jo went? We're in the middle of the bloody Outback, mate. She can run all she wants. If the snakes don't get her exposure will and then all I'll need to do is follow the buzzards. As for Hong Kong Mike, well, I didn't think you had the brain to put that together, but, yeah, I'm throwing in with him. Been in the works for days now, right after Jo talked to them narco-squad goons. I mean, I was planning on doing you clean once we got her in the hole. Put the barrel to the back of your head and—pow! You'd never have felt a thing. Too bad all that's shit now."
As Nicky conveys all this to him, Pig's good hand scrunches and pats the tarp. He wants the pistol, the leg of a chair, but when his fingers find a stiff, slim rubber edge he knows he's found the tin snips. Clenching the handle, he jabs the tool's tapered point into the arm wrapped around his throat. When Nicky lets go, Pig flips him over and sinks the tin snips into the side of his neck.
It's as if someone has slit open a garden hose. Blood jets everywhere and when Nicky yanks the tin snips out, the red gush only gets worse. Outside there is the unmistakable creak of the ute's door opening. Pig gets up, throws himself out the backdoor, and skids to a halt. Jo is five meters away, and Nicky's .38 is in her hands.
Pig almost laughs. "Jesus, I thought you'd well and truly rabbited, sweetie."
Her gag now down around her throat, Jo does not move. "I would've, but you've still got the keys to the ute, motherfucker."
"Ever shoot a man, Jo?"
"Can't say I have."
"Yeah, well. It's not as easy as you think."
Jo fires and the crack of the gunshot sounds like a two by four snapping. Pig is almost to her, but when Jo squeezes the trigger again a one hundred and fifty-eight grain FMJ punches a hole through his chest and out his back like a hornet. Pig staggers backward, touches the hole in disbelief, and then folds to his knees. Jo steps quickly and shoots him once more in the face to be sure he's down.
Patting his pockets, Jo locates the ute keys, and then swings the .38 at the back door. She fully expects return fire or for Nicky to come bursting out of the kitchen with a knife, but when nothing happens she limps back inside. She finds Nicky pale and bleeding out on the tarp, like an island in a lake of blood. Trembling, Jo keeps the .38 trained on him and waits a full five minutes until Nicky's heart stops. Just to be sure, she aims and shoots him in the head. It suddenly occurs to her that he might have some product on him. Jo pats Nicky down and finds nothing, not even a pack of smokes. She takes eight Redback bills from his wallet and after wiping most of the blood off her hands, legs, and feet she goes to the bedroom. Pulling on her clothes, she catches a glimpse of herself in an old mirror and nearly breaks down.
Minutes later and back in the kitchen, Jo drags Nicky's corpse, bloody tarp and all, outside next to Pig. She thinks about checking Pig again for whatever money or drugs he may have on him, but the proximity of his flesh makes her feel sick. After finding a whole spare can of petrol in the bed of the ute, she douses the bodies and leads a fuse-like trail back into the house. She uses the kerosene lantern to set fire to the bodies. As the weatherboard roars and goes up, Jo slides into the ute and wonders what will be left when the ashes finally cool.
Twenty minutes of rough, winding dirt road takes her to the highway. But, once there, Jo quickly realizes she has no idea which way to turn. Earlier when he was mauling her, Pig said the house was hours away from anything or anyone in any direction. Yeah, it might've been bullshit, but now, facing the impenetrable darkness, Jo isn't so sure. In the rear view mirror she can see the flames in the distance like a tiny campfire, and above the wash of the headlights all she can see are the arid heavens with their useless, doomed stars. It's been years since she thought of it, but when she was young Jo was in the Girl Guides. It was only for a few years, and she dropped out when boys captured her attention. She tries to recall anything about finding one's way with the stars and remembers the Southern Cross below the equator is supposed to be helpful. But that's it—she can't recall anything else. She checks the ute's fuel gauge and finds it's three-quarters full. Turning right onto the highway, Jo accelerates on faith.
Copyright © 2017 Kieran Shea.
Kieran Shea's fiction has appeared in many publications including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Dogmatika, and Crimefactory. He has been nominated for the Story South’s Million Writers Award twice. He divides his time between Annapolis, Maryland, and Ocean City, New Jersey.