Mike Grabow lived in the kind of neighborhood where some houses sported Christmas lights strung like cheerful beacons that never came down. But from busted appliances littering front yards to dead automobiles that leaked oil and other fluids onto soiled driveways, it wouldn’t appear that there was ever much to celebrate.
Grabow was drinking hard even though it was before two in the afternoon. It wasn’t the celebratory type of drinking either. Not unless pain, loneliness and despair were reasons to celebrate. He took a long pull from a bottle of Ancient Age, chasing it with half a can of Bud. Putting the beer can down on a table covered with empty cans and full ashtrays, he stopped to examine the fingernails of his right hand. With his left, he unsnapped a sheath on his belt and set to work scraping dirt from under the nails with a folding knife.
After replacing the blade, he sat still for a moment, his eyes unfocused, seeing nothing but memories. With sudden fury, he grabbed the half full can and flung it across the room, punching a hole in the thin plaster. He snatched a bent smoke from a crumpled pack and lit it with the adept flip and roll of a dented chrome Zippo.
He had nearly finished a stretch in Yuma when Veronica sent the letter saying she was done with him. In some ways he understood. They had been together seven years and he had been away for four of them. When he got out, he found she was living with Lester Willis.
It had been Willis who had set up the job. Everything went right, the entire thing well planned. They had split up, Willis saying they would divvy up the take after the heat died down, warning him that the only way they would be caught was if they started throwing money around. Two days later, the cops were kicking in his door. Grabow knew he had been set up. But, he wasn’t a snitch. And it wasn’t until he found out they were together that he knew the real reason why. One look at Ronnie and anyone would know Willis hadn’t dropped a dime just for the dough.
He had been stewing over it ever since. Too scared to do anything about it and drinking hard to mask his feelings, cowardice and shame.
Suddenly almost sober, he made a decision. They were in L.A., a six hour haul from Phoenix. It was time for the miserable bastard to get what was coming to him. And he was going to get Ronnie back.
He took a cold shower, grabbed his S &W Airweight and, after stopping at 7-11 for doses of various over the counter speed, pointed his Impala west on I-10. Just past the California border, he stopped to piss and for coffee that tasted like the cardboard cup it was in. He watched a blood red sun sinking fast in the desert to the west. Two more hours and Willis would be dead.
Traffic thickened as he neared L.A. but Grabow never slowed. He imagined Ronnie sitting close to him on the drive back to Phoenix and could taste her scent. He had no trouble finding their rented house in an Inglewood neighborhood that was a hell of lot nicer than his. There was muted light coming from the back of the house and the flicker of a television screen. He slid an expired credit card into the door jam and quickly jimmied the lock, smirking at the fact that an old thief like Willis didn’t have a deadbolt on the door.
They were fucking in the bedroom when he entered and flipped on the light. Willis rolled over and Ronnie covered herself with a sheet. When Willis reached toward a nightstand, Grabow pulled the trigger until Willis’s face was crimson pulp. When he stopped, there was one bullet left. Ronnie was swearing and screaming at him. When he told her he wanted her back, she told him to drop dead.
He raised the gun and fired again.
She had to step over him to get to the phone.