Thompson stepped out of his Comfort Inn room, after midnight. Delicious sounds filled the darkness along the main drag: the squeal of tires on a side street, the lost-dog howl of a distant train, the pocket thunder of a big rig highballing down the highway.
The downtown bars were full of bikers who looked like they’d wrap a length of Harley chain around his head for looking at them the wrong way. Or any way. Thompson scuttered past to the other end of town, a low-rent rendition of where he’d started. He passed a discount-tire place and the black hulk of a burned house.
Then, the Last Chance Motel.
Thompson marveled at the ancient neon sign atop the roof before picking up the rest: A pool topped by a scum of black leaves, rippling in the breeze like a prehistoric creature in uneasy slumber. A patio chair on its side like a child’s lost doll. The awed whistle of the wind through a panel-truck porthole. Puddles, black as bluelighted blood, pockmarking the parking lot.
To Thompson, it was 1972, and he could practically see Peter Fonda and Warren Oates and Kay Lenz and Kris Kristofferson leaning over the hood of a jumped-up Pontiac, squinting at a map and sorting through the split from a score.
He pulled out his phone. His followers would eat this up with two spoons. A weak flare of light winked at the motel. Sigh. He’d forgotten to take the flash off the stupid auto. He fixed it, fired again.
A slam-bang from the truck. Followed by a “What the fuck?”
In a blink, Thompson was surrounded. Three men. He backed up, bumped into a fourth. Chatter burst around him like .22 shots, though he’d never heard any outside of the movies.
“Is this Shanky?”
“You a cop?”
“Did you put the shit back in the truck?”
“I thought Shanky was out of town.”
“This ain’t no cop.”
“Did you put the shit back in the room?”
A guy who looked a bit like Joe Don Baker if Joe Don Baker was eaten alive by eczema stepped forward. “Hey, guy. Why you taking pictures of us?”
Thompson breathed. He’d talk his way out of this, whatever this was. Even if this was the coolest thing he’d ever seen.
“I take pictures of noir things.”
“No-war? What’s no-war?”
“Let me show you.” Thompson explained about Instagram. About his handle. His 3,000 pictures and his 2,000 followers. He punched up a few of his favorite Noir Where You Are pics and panned the screen for everyone’s benefit.
“These are really good, guy.”
“Thanks.” Thompson smiled and punched up his latest picture. “See, you can hardly see you guys. I was focused more on the puddles in the foreground, how it reflected off the sign. Your truck is only in there because—“ He started to explain the rule of thirds, but Joe Don held up a hand.
“I got an idea. How about we get a picture of you in there?”
“Really? My followers would totally love that!”
“Sure.” Joe Don jerked his head. “Come over here, by the pool. You’ll get the sign and the chair and the biggest puddle. And you, looking all badass.”
“Sounds great. Thanks, man.” Thompson followed the foursome and handed the phone to Joe Don, who told Thompson exactly how to stand. Then he pointed.
Thompson never heard the steps behind him. Or the snick of the blade.
• • •
The men watched Thompson’s pumping blood as it swelled the nearest puddle. Joe Don took a picture, looked at it. Ran a finger over it.
“A tad more brightness, a hint of vignette, pump up the lux a little …” He showed the screen all around. “Hey, that turned out pretty good. I think I got a gift.”
The men grinned and Joe Don jerked his head again. Seconds later, Thompson’s body slid with a sucking sound beneath the pudding skin of pool leaves. The men finished putting the shit in the truck, and were about to pull out when Joe Don peered at Thompson’s phone.
“Hey, twenty-seven likes already. Sweet.”With a snort, he tossed the phone into the pool.