Spider and I were driving a Chevy Impala from Juarez to Portland with 25 pounds of black tar heroin in the trunk. Things were going pretty well. We’d paid off the right people at the border, merged onto I-10 in Las Cruces, and spent the night whizzing across the mystical dreamscape that some people insist on calling Arizona. But now it was morning and things had taken a strange turn. No matter how much water I drank, I was still thirsty.
“It’s because we’re in the desert,” said Spider. “You’re dehydrated.”
“No,” I said. “It isn’t that. This is different.”
Spider didn’t know it but I’d taken some pills back in Tempe, little green things that were supposed to keep me alert and give me a pleasant head rush. But all they’d done so far was give me the unnerving sensation that my tongue was dried out.
Spider offered me his canteen. I sniffed it. His water smelled bad. That was half the problem right there. He had bad water.
“You call this water?” I said.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“All night you’ve been giving me this pond scum. It just makes me thirstier.”
Arizona was an incredible place. Not only did it bear a striking resemblance to the Roadrunner cartoons I watched as a child, but the cactuses were wise and mysterious sorcerers who lamented modern man’s preoccupation with technology, in particular smartphones, whose bluish light wreaks havoc on our circadian rhythms. Come to think of it, the drugs were working just fine. The main problem was that I needed water. The good stuff. Clean.
I pulled over at a gas station. “This place will have water,” I said.
“I don’t think you should go in there,” said Spider.
“You’d have me shrivel up and die,” I said.
Inside the cashier was sitting at a desk, filling out paperwork.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you sell water?”
He pointed at a water fountain near the fax machine. “Knock yourself out. It’s free.”
I thanked him and pressed the metal button and gobbled up that crystalline liquid like the precious thing it is. My God, have you stuck your head under a waterfall—a real one, with those globs of wetness falling from Jesus knows where? That’s what it tasted like. It was so clean.
“Where do you get your water?” I asked the cashier, wiping my mouth. “Does it come from a glacier or something?”
The cashier gave me a weird look. I don’t think he liked me. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “I’m just so thirsty. Will you look at my tongue? I think it might be covered in slime.”
I stuck out my tongue. The cashier shined a flashlight—first down my throat, then into my eyes. He said he didn’t see any slime, but he wanted to ask me some questions.
What kind of jokeshop was this? Sure Pal, ask me some questions.
I sat on a chair and kicked my legs up on the cashier’s desk, which reminded me that I had legs.
“Are you high on drugs?” he asked.
“Bing,” I said, pointing my finger at one of the centipedes floating through the air, shooting it with a laser beam.
“Bing?” he said.
“I don’t think it’s safe in here. I’ve never seen a gas station crawling with so many bugs.”
It was true. They were everywhere. It was a wonder they kept their water so clean.
I guess I said something interesting, because suddenly there were six or seven cashiers surrounding me, all of them asking questions. Things like: “Why are you in Arizona?” and, “Are you transporting drugs across state lines?”
I tried to be coy, but the pills I took made it impossible for me to lie. I confessed that my buddy Spider and I were hauling 25 pounds of black tar heroin from Mexico to Portland, which we hoped to unload for about two million dollars.
“Oh really?” said the cashier. He pulled out a notepad and started writing things down. “Please. Tell us more.”
“Jesus,” I said. “I feel like I shouldn’t be telling you any of this stuff. It must be those pills I took.”
“Pills?” they asked.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “They make my tongue feel all wrong.”
“Where did you get the pills?” they asked.
“I stole them from my dad. He has cancer.”
“What kind of pills?” they asked.
“I don’t know. The kind that makes cancer smaller? Do I look like I went to college?”
The man with the gold star on his shirt gave his colleagues a meaningful look.
“Hey,” I said, pointing at the star. “What’s that for?”
“This?” he said. “I’m the sheriff.”
It was a pretty good gag. When you work at a gas station in Satan’s asshole, baked by the sun every second of your life, you do things like this for fun. They probably didn’t even have the internet here. Certainly the cactuses wouldn’t allow it.
I decided to play along. First they wanted to know where this Spider character was.
“In the Impala,” I said. “Outside. The heroin’s in the trunk.”
“Where’d you score it?” they asked.
Score. Shit they were good. They had all the lingo down. I decided I better do a good impersonation of a drug smuggler, so I gave them the names and addresses of all our suppliers in Juarez. I told them about the cartel, how it was organized from the top down. A bunch of wild information that felt unreal as it came out of my mouth.
They were extremely interested in my story. One of them got on the phone. I was pretty sure I heard him say, “F.B.I.,” which screwed my head back on and reminded me that we had a car full of drugs and that I shouldn’t be saying anything to anybody, no matter how bored these freaks were. I told them that I was tired of their gas station games and intended to get back on the highway and resume my discourse with the prickly green wizards.
They didn’t like that idea, so I made a run for it. The Taser hit me in the back of the neck, and I experienced a jolt of electricity that unraveled my DNA. Then I was just a pile of bones having a seizure on the floor surrounded by of a bunch of highly entertained cashiers. This was probably the first time they’d ever electrocuted anyone, those lucky jerks.
The drugs wore off in the holding cell, and it occurred to me that this wasn’t a gas station at all. Spider sat on a metal toilet a few feet from me reading a magazine with his pants around his ankles.
“My God, why didn’t you stop me?” I said.
“I tried,” said Spider.
“The fuck you did. You should’ve jumped on my back and punched me in the kidneys!”
“This isn’t good at all,” I said.
“Are you shitting?” I asked.
“Maybe,” he said.
“How can you shit? Do you understand how serious this is? I gave them all the names.”
“All of them,” I said. “Every last one.”
He turned the page of his magazine.
“Did they take your belt too?” I asked. “I think I want to meet Jesus now.”
He nodded. Nobody had a belt. We were two people who had to be alive, even if we didn’t want to be.
The F.B.I. came a few hours later and offered us deals. We agreed to tell them everything in exchange for new identities. They asked us where we wanted to live.
“Mexico,” said Spider.
“We don’t think you understand how this works,” they said.
“Okay, then Kentucky,” he said. “That’s a place, right?”
They confirmed that it was.
“What about you?” they asked.
“Canada,” I said. “Way the fuck up there.”
“How about Manitoba?”
“Nunavut?” they suggested.
That sounded like a made up place, so I said, “Yeah. Nunavut.”
The FBI went into the other room to fill out paperwork, and then it was just me and Spider sitting on a cot trying to figure out what the hell happened.
“Kentucky?” I said.
“It was the first place that popped into my mind,” he said.
“You shithead. All they do there is prance around on horses and make baseball bats.”
He admitted that it was a pretty poor decision.
I thought about my new life in Nunavut: hiding out in an igloo, making love to some chubby girl in snowshoes. It sounded pretty good. Maybe I wouldn’t kill myself after all. I doubted they had drugs there, but with the aurora borealis above me, I figured I could get stoned just by looking through a telescope.
“This is good,” I said. “I’m glad this happened.”
“Me too,” said Spider.
“We’ll be better people now. Honest men with real jobs.”
“I always wanted to work in a call center,” he said.
Then we were quiet for a while because we’d just lost two million dollars, and a lot of really scary people in Mexico would be after us, hoping to cut off our penises and make us eat them until we died.
“I just wanted water,” I said.
“You were really thirsty,” he said.
“What the hell was in your canteen?”
“River water,” he said. “I filled it up in Mexico. It was full of bacteria.”
“That explains it. I knew it was bad.”
That was the last time I saw Spider. Years passed, and I’d pretty much forgotten all about him, until this morning when I opened a week-old copy of the USA Today and read about the murder of a call center employee on a highway outside of Louisville. Apparently some kids found a Geo Metro in the woods with a dead guy in the driver’s seat. He had a tarantula tattoo on his neck and a severed penis jammed down the back of his throat.
I showed the paper to my wife.
“I knew this bastard,” I said. “His brain was full of shit, but he didn’t judge me when I screwed everything up.”
My wife nodded.
“I used to be a bad man. I did terrible things,” I said.
She hushed me and combed my hair with her fingernails. The room smelled of whale blubber and fur. Through the window, the green fingers of heaven danced like a collective hallucination, and the earth was covered in snow.
Kevin Maloney is a writer. His debut novel Cult of Loretta was published by Lazy Fascist Press in May 2015. His fiction has appeared in Hobart, PANK, Vol. 1 Brooklyn and a number of other literary journals.