There was an old geezer chewing on a stick of straw, sitting on a tilted-back chair against the side of the grungy little market, which was flashing a green neon sign that had only the letter R left glowing. It was Loony Old Amesey.
“Hey,” Victor called as he got out of the car. “I need a new taillight. Can you help me?”
“Nope,” the old coot called back, not even bothering to move. “We’re closed. Come back tomorrow. That’s Monday, ain’t it? Monday’s always a busy day, but my boys could maybe find time for you.”
Victor cursed, got back into the car, slammed his fist on the steering wheel. Lissy said, “I’m thinking maybe that female cop could have written down our license plate. I mean, she was sitting in the cop car with nothing else to do, right? And you said she was talking on her cell—no telling how close the cops are to us, Victor.”
He took a deep breath, nodded. He hated it when she told him what to do. It made him feel small and helpless. He looked over to see her eyes unfocused and knew she was in pain again. He hated that a lot more. He only nodded to her.
Thirty minutes later they were driving a little blue Corolla, the old Impala now tucked away behind a bowling alley next to an overflowing Dumpster that stank in the hot night air.
It was dark already; the few businesses in downtown Fort Pessel that opened on Sunday were shut down tight now. Victor pulled into the alley behind Kougar’s Pharmacy on Elm Street. He took her bottle of pills and quietly got out of the Corolla. “You stay still,” he whispered to Lissy. “Don’t come in after me, you hear me?”
He jimmied the back door, eased it open. The alarm didn’t go off, just as Victor knew it wouldn’t. Old Mrs. Kougar hadn’t ever had the alarm fixed after it burned out in the big storm of 2006, and everybody knew it.
Victor held his .22 in one hand, the bottle of pills in the other. All he had was a big flashlight, and he hated to use it, too much of a risk. He went behind the pharmacy counter, switched the flashlight on just long enough to find the narcotic pain meds, then off again. Thank God everything was labeled or he’d never find the right pills for her. He didn’t spot the same pills that were in Lissy’s bottle, but he did find Vicodin, and that was just fine. He filled up her bottle, and his pockets, put the nearly empty pharmacy bottle carefully back on the shelf. No one would know until morning that anyone had been here.
His heart nearly stopped when a light flashed toward him and a croaky old woman’s voice yelled, “Hey! Who are you? What do you want?”
Victor shot toward her voice without aiming. He heard her yell and run into something, heard boxes go flying. He fired again. It was either turn on the lights and nail the old biddy or get out of there. Somebody would have heard the shots, called 911. Old Lady Kougar would call the cops for sure, but she hadn’t seen him, at least he didn’t think she had. He was too afraid to think, so afraid he wanted to puke. He ran flat-out through the back door. He jumped into the car, cranked it hard, and rolled out of the alley.
Sweating, breathing hard, he threw the bottle of pills to Lissy, forced himself to take some deep breaths, and slowed down. He drove them out of town, telling her what happened in fits and starts until he calmed down again.
“You didn’t kill her?”
The disappointment in her voice steadied him. He even grinned a bit. “I don’t think so. It was dark as a pit in there. I didn’t hear her hit the floor or anything like a moan.”
“I never liked Old Lady Kougar. Always sticking her snout in everybody’s business.” She sat back, closed her eyes again, and said, “I’ll never forget the look she gave me when I bought condoms. Well, at least you shot at her. The bitch deserved it.”
Fifteen minutes later, the rush of adrenaline had eased off, and his blood slowed. Victor had already looped back toward town, and soon turned, slowly and carefully, onto Denver Lane. The Smiley house was on the end of the cul-de-sac, surrounded on three sides by thick oaks and maple woods that stretched behind the house a good quarter mile before a two-lane hardtop cut through them. They passed the closest neighbor a hundred feet down the street, Ms. Ellie at number 452. Not a single light was on in her house, since she always went to bed at seven-thirty. She’d cackle that she needed her beauty sleep, say that every single time she saw him. He and Lissy would slow down and stare at her shaky old hands when she waved to them, laughing about how they should send her to her reward. Lissy was serious, thought it would be fun to dump the old cow in the freezer in the garage, just another steak.