The sweat dries on my back, but still puddles under my hat.
Why I decide to wear a suit every day is beyond me.
I blame the movies.
The dame that hired me called and asked to meet here.
I don’t normally go out into the desert until the sun is long gone, but with the kind of money she is paying me, I’d be out here in a snow suit in the middle of July.
Dirt and gravel crunch under my shoes as I wait.
Dead signs surround me, their neon long gone.
A coyote runs across my shadow.
I’m sure somewhere that’s considered bad luck.
Or good luck.
Or nothing at all.
A slight breeze and I catch her perfume.
She’s leaning against an old sign for the Silver Slipper, smoking an expensive and slim cigarette.
The last rays of sunlight catch something in her hand, glinting gun-metal and a warning I should tread carefully.
“Your checkbook beckoned, so I came running.”
“Like a mad dog.”
“That’s what they call me.”
She gestures, the barrel of the gun telling me to sit.
I knew I shouldn’t have worn this suit.
Getting dirty, though, should probably be the last of my worries.
“You’re probably wondering why I asked you here. Or, maybe you’re more focused on the gun. Either way. I hired you to find something out, and you did a fantastic job at that – don’t get me wrong – but, you’re time of employment has come to an end. I’m sure you understand – I can’t let you tell anyone.”
“Hell, if I blabbed all the secrets I know, I wouldn’t still be in business. I take the private in private eye seriously…so how about putting the piece away and letting me walk on out of here. The sunset is perfect for a dramatic exit like that.”
She laughs and it sounds almost as authentic as I thought her tears were when she came into my office that night.
“Oh you silly mad dog. This is life…there are no dramatic exits.”
I hear a click. By the way she turns her head and arches her eyebrows I know it wasn’t her.
The signs come to life, one by one. Neon hissing. Does neon even hiss? First the Silver Slipper behind her, then a leprechaun peeking through an “O”, and on and on down the line until we are bathed in pinks and blues and sickly whites.
Her knuckles turn white as she grips the gun, looking around, her eyes daring me, asking me “what did you do? What did you do?”
“It ain’t me, doll. Maybe it’s the ghosts of signs past coming to get you for what you did.”
Her eyes cast in shadow and she steps forward, holding the gun towards me.
The signs blink out and everything goes dark. Pitch black. Which is strange because in the distance I can still see the sun setting. Not too late for that dramatic exit.
The lights come back on and we are surrounded by long shadows. They whirl around us, stinking of death and dust.
She drops the gun, laughs, and lights another cigarette.
I fail to see what’s funny and remain on the ground.
She looks for something in her handbag. It’s a small bag. Couldn’t even hold a kitten. She sighs and looks back at me.
“Dramatic exit, huh?”
“It’s what the good people would want. You going to let me have my Clint Eastwood moment?”
She nods, the curls in her hair bouncing slightly.
The shadows disappear and the sky is normal again. Normal fluffy clouds and pinks and oranges.
I pull myself off the ground and try to get the dust off. Shouldn’t have worn black. I’ll have to pay to get these pants clean. Hopefully her check has cleared already.
I look at her, then squint at the sun and begin walking back to my car. Sadly, in the opposite direction of the sun set. That’s life, right? No dramatic exits.
I hear the click of her lighter and force myself not to turn around, to hold on to whatever drama can be salvaged.
It wasn’t her lighter.
She gets me right in the middle of the back.
I stumble but keep myself upright.
Another bullet goes into the back of my leg.
Getting harder to walk.
Maybe I should start carrying a gun.
I turn around, squinting at the sun, trying to see her but she’s just a faded shadow periodically torn apart by a muzzle flash.
Her last bullet hits me square in the gut and I drop like a sack of wet cement.
“How’s that for a dramatic exit?”
“As long as I get the last word in, I might be able to make this work.”
She laughs that laugh again and stands over me. Waiting. Watching.
She’s taller than I thought she was.
Behind her the neon graveyard shimmers and blinks.
She walks away from me.
I yell things at her. Louder and louder.
If she doesn’t hear me…does it still count as the last word?