This article is part of the Eastwood series.
That's when the Firebird explodes. I've seen vehicles go up from punctured gas tanks. That's a gassy thump of fire, like when you light your barbecue, followed by roaring flames. This is an exclamation mark of an explosion, a bright flash and boom that throws us to the ground and collapses tin shacks. Five seconds later and we would have lead poisoning.
The shooting stops immediately and people start screaming. This is our chance.
I stand up and start moving. The van's driver is staring slack-jawed with wonder at the rising fireball. I shoot him in his head and run towards the van. Two more of the bastards climb out, just skinny kids with Kalashnikovs. I plug one in the sternum and he drops like a collapsing building, all slow like. The other one gets winged in the hip. Maybe a flesh wound from a nine, but from the Magnum it blows out a quarter of his pelvis. He starts screaming.
I pause for some reason when I get to the van and look down at the screaming kid. I cast a long unsteady shadow over him with the dissipating ball of fire at my back. His eyes widen when he sees me.
"You!" He wails. "No! No, make my day! Make my day!"
"You want an autograph?" Like I said before, I was raised an asshole.
Morrison joins me and makes his day. He laughs at the sheer absurdity of our salvation.
Morrison drops, right through his back and into his heart. I don't know if it was one of the shooters or the ammo cooking off in the Firebird. He looks up at me with disbelief, as wide-eyed as the dead kid.
"Famous last words," he manages.
I climb into the van. Bullets are starting to come after me with purpose. The windshield cracks and then shatters into my lap. I look down at it. There is blood all over me. I'm bleeding. I punch the steering wheel and open my knuckles on it.
I want to run them down, crush their fucking faces with my bare hands. Squeeze until you can't recognize them.
I don't. I back up to the detour taking the fronts off a couple shacks along the way. I turn it around with a squeal of tires and head back the way we came as fast as this piece of shit can manage.
I feel around and find my wound. It's an L-shaped knife hole that goes through me and out the other side. Shrapnel. It missed my kidney by maybe an inch.
Shock hits after a couple minutes. Cold sweats and gray vision. I start shaking, but I keep my eyes on the winding roads and my foot on the gas. Campertown fucks dive out of the way. Then I'm back on the Pacific Coast Highway, a gaggle of bewildered Malibu sheriffs receding in the rearview.
I screech to a stop at the same checkpoint to get back into Los Angeles. The same Corporal is there, chewing on a big wad of bubblegum.
"Holy shit," he looks at me and spits his gum out, "buddy, what happened? What happened to your car?"
"I'm late," I swallow, trying to focus on my surroundings, "Just need to get to Griffith's."
"Buddy, I can't let you drive in that-"
I grab a handful of his camouflaged tunic.
"My friend is dead," I swallow again, fighting back vomit, "I'm gut shot, and my boss is going to fire me if I don't make it to Griffith's in-"
I look at my broken watch.
He lets me go. I wouldn't have let me go in his position, but I must have appealed to something in his hillbilly heart. The cold chills fade, but I have to fight to stay conscious. It takes me twenty to get to Griffith's.
God only knows why security lets me into the building when I mumble something about Max Hard Fuck.
"You're late!" A PA runs up to me. "Oh Judas Priest, what the fuck happened? You're a mess."
"Water," I'm so fucking thirsty.
Someone presses bottled water into my hand. I drain the bottle and take a second one as they're combing my hair. The track suit hides the blood, but it's dripping on the floor wherever I walk.
"Can I take that?" An intern asks and points at the Magnum still clutched in my hand.
"Give it back," I mumble and pass it to her.
They push me on set just as I'm being introduced by the mysteriously-ethnic co-host Aija. A crowd packed with teenage girls holding signs for their favorite bands cheers wildly. Klint, Howser and Rollins are already sprawled out on a red velvet couch. They make room.
Tucker Mellow, the beloved host of TRL, is in the big chair. He claps his hands as I stagger up to him.
"Alright," he effuses, "alright, awesome. Great to see you. Have a seat."
"Thanks," my mic scratches as I sit down.
"No, thank you," he beams. "I've got to say, you have really turned this season of Max Hard Fuck into something amazing. Everybody is talking about you. Isn't that right?"
The girls cheer.
"They call you 'The Killer' and I think we all know why, but let's show those of you who might have missed the show."
Somewhere a monitor is playing our gunfight in Aspen. I recognize the sounds but I can't figure out where the video is playing. Whatever, I don't need to see it again.
"You're late," Rollins hisses at me while the clip is playing.
"Where is Morrison?" Howser seems more pissed off than usual.
"Alright man, awesome entrance," Klint holds his hand up to high-five me and I just stare at him.
"The cases?" Howser is full of hostile intensity.
"We delivered the one to the old Jew," I take a long swig of water, "the other one blew up along with the Firebird."
Something passes over his face. Some brief stutter of fear. There's something important about that reaction, but I don't know. I can feel blood running down my legs. I hardly know where I am.
"Alright!" The clip is over, Tucker is looking to me again. "Awesome! Now, you have a famous grandfather, is that right?"
"He's dead. I don't like to," I go scratchy and clear my throat, "don't like to talk about him."
"Ah haha, well then we won't talk about him! Whatever you want to talk about is just fine by me, Killer."
The girls roar with laughter. They seem to loom in and out of my vision. The whole rotten thing is turning into a kaleidoscope.
"Well, I wish you could have been here sooner," Tucker grins, "we had a lot to talk about with you."
The audience laughs again. With me or at me? Fuck them.
"You're a gentleman, Killer. I hope you can make it back."
"You bet," I need a joint and a trauma surgeon, preferably in that order.
"The show is Max Hard Fuck, catch the live season finale tomorrow at seven!" Tucker turns to the four of us. "Everyone knows Killer. Klint, Howser, Rollins, thank you for joining us."
I stand up first, nearly pass out.
"Killer, you want to give us the number one video request for today?"
Tucker Mellow is at my side, his arm resting on my shoulder. He smells like a fresh coconut. He points at a big teleprompter.
"Right there, just read it out if you'd be so kind."
"From their new album Girlspace," I read from the prompter, "this is Five Square's 'Bun Strap.'"
The teenage girls in the audience scream their adulation. I cough and gag and a trickle of blood runs down my chin.
Someone squeals, "Tuckerrrr!"
I sink slowly to my knees. I swear I can hear angels singing. Beautiful angels. They're singing about&thongs&
Elliot said my breakup must have been due to the sweater curse, an unexplained phenomenon where anyone who gives their significant other a hand-knit sweater gets dumped. The only way to break the curse, Elliot said, was to destroy the sweater.
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