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Wounding Radius

By

PFC Larry Pierson, a 21-year-old Afghanistan veteran from Vermilion, South Dakota, had made off with four M-16 A2s, six thirty-round magazines of ammo, and two M67 grenades.

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/plant_10x14__550.jpg
Gregory Carideo, Found plant, 2013. Courtesy the artist

Two days after a private first class went AWOL from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Hannah and Iris were in the nearby Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, on the low western slope of a mountain named after a general. A waterfall tumbled over broad limestone rocks, creating a pool at the bottom in a little meadow surrounded on all sides by boulders. A natural hideout, it had all sorts of outlaw legends attached to it. Jesse James. Belle Starr. People hung out there. High school kids partied. The spot was well known but still secluded—a good place to sell drugs, which was why Hannah and Iris had come, plastic baggies crammed into the pockets of their cargo pants. They were disappointed to find only two couples there, high school kids skinny-dipping on a school day. At the edge of the water, Iris sold them a dime bag, accepting a collection of wet and wadded cash from a topless girl in cut-offs. The teenagers were talking about the AWOL GI.

“What’s he going to do with the guns? That’s what I want to know.” The speaker was a heavy blonde girl, propped on one elbow, rolling a joint with her free hand. That was the question that had everybody in Fort Sill and Lawton talking. Hannah and Iris had heard their customers at Chili’s discuss little else in the two days since the GI took off.

The blonde girl’s freckle-chested boyfriend said, “GIs go AWOL sometimes—I probably would. What’s the big deal?”

“The weapons,” Iris said, restraining herself from calling the kid a dumbass. “The weapons are the big deal.”

The last notable AWOL case had been a few years earlier, when Hannah and Iris were still in high school, before Hannah took her track scholarship to the University of Connecticut and got kicked out for selling Oklahoma homegrown to her classmates. That AWOL GI had been found hanging from a light fixture at the Ranch Motel on Cache Road. He had been to Iraq a whole bunch; that was the story. This time, however, PFC Larry Pierson, a 21-year-old Afghanistan veteran from Vermilion, South Dakota, had made off with four M-16 A2s, six thirty-round magazines of ammo, and two M67 grenades.

“Didn’t you go to Eisenhower?” one of the guys asked Hannah. He was floating on his back near the froth where the waterfall hit the surface of the water, his pale soft penis breaking the surface every few seconds. “I remember you. You ran track. You were great, man. I thought you had a full ride somewhere back east. Can’t you run anymore?”

“She can run,” Iris said. She was angry at them for making Hannah feel bad, angrier still that they didn’t seem to remember Iris herself at all. “You bet she can. How about a race?”

Hannah smiled. That was Iris—semper fi. Iris’s dad was a Marine who’d lost a leg breaching an enemy minefield on the push into Kuwait in ’91. He had raised Iris on a steady diet of Van Halen, the Terminator movies, and sermons about loyalty. One phrase he used so often it had become a joke between Iris and Hannah: “Semper fi means never leaving your friend in a hellhole.”

Hannah didn’t want to race, but she bristled at the thought that these kids could think she was a has-been at twenty-one. Like she could lose all her speed in the three years since high school. Her daily runs were the only good thing in her life at the moment, the only thing she was doing right. “How about it? You want to race, little man?” She addressed his penis. His girlfriend, the topless one in wet cut-offs, looked up from her phone. But the kids were stoned and lethargic. The boy in the pool waved off Hannah’s suggestion.

Iris patted Hannah on the back. “Come on,” she said. “Screw them.”

They headed up the mountain to check on a small patch of Iris’s pot plants. The landscape in the Wichita Mountain range was perfect for hiding small dope crops—big, loose boulders, with patches of grass occurring in and among the boulders all the way to the mountaintops. While Hannah was away at college, Iris had broken sod in a few of these small meadows, trusting that no one would look for marijuana crops in a national wildlife refuge, and if anyone discovered her little gardens, there would be no way to trace them to her. Hannah thought the whole enterprise was reckless, but still she followed Iris between the rocks, climbing up from the swimming hole, then southward and down. The pot patch was close to the road, hidden from drivers by a wall of lichen-covered stones the size of VW bugs, which Iris had marked with white chalk like a Cold War spy indicating a drop box.

Coming up on the crop from behind, they trudged through a nearly dry creek bed by a short ridge with a shallow cave in it. As they passed, Hannah glanced inside the cave and saw four wooden crates sitting side by side. They were each about a foot and a half deep and wide, painted khaki, with “US ARMY” stenciled across them and coarse rope handles on their sides.

“Iris,” Hannah said. “Look.”

Iris stopped and looked where Hannah was pointing. “Whoa. Army stuff.”

With all things military Iris took on an air of authority. Hannah was a townie, a true civilian whose great-grandparents had settled in the 1901 Land Run and whose parents owned a chain of local convenience stores. “These are equipment cases,” Iris said, wishing she could think of something more official sounding, more technical.

As the crate fell open, Iris took a second to absorb what she was seeing—slick paper, flesh, orifices.

They stood in front of the cave, looking in at the crates for a minute before Iris said, “Fuck it.” She dragged one out by its side handle, letting it slide and settle at the edge of the creek bed. “God, it’s heavy.” Then she began kicking at it, aiming her boot heel at the lock.

Hannah grimaced. “You shouldn’t do that.”

Iris pointed, indicating the pot plants just ahead of them. “There are a lot of things I shouldn’t do. Don’t you wonder what’s inside?” She gave another hard kick with her boot heel and a wood plank splintered. Two more kicks and the lid was free. As the crate fell open, Iris took a second to absorb what she was seeing—slick paper, flesh, orifices. “Oh,” she said. “It’s porn. But then why is it so heavy?”

She knelt before the chest and emptied the porn by handfuls, dropping the magazines on the rocks. “Look,” she said, turning the case on its side for Hannah to see. From the outside, the case looked eighteen inches deep, but only half that from the inside. She could barely lift it, and when she tipped it over, she heard heavy items sliding inside. “Hannah, you know what? They have false bottoms.”

She slammed the heel of her boot into the corner of the chest until a space opened up between its wall and its floor, which the girls pried at until they tore away the false bottom, revealing an M-16 A2 rifle, disassembled and nestled in the bottom of the case. Black plastic magazines, which looked like the disassembled road sections of a kid’s race track, nestled together in one corner.

Hannah lifted the sight mechanism to her eye, looking around with it like a pirate sighting land. She struggled for Iris’s apparent nonchalance, but she had never seen a gun except her grandfather’s hunting rifle. This black plastic stuff was something different, cold and dark like the expression in the eyes of a snake. She thought of all the school shootings, all the crazy shit going on. These kinds of weapons weren’t for shooting quail. “These have to be what that AWOL GI stole a few days ago, right?”

“Must be,” Iris agreed. She opened another crate and felt an ominous crunch of metal under her heel. Grenades were strapped to the top of this case, and she had bent the safety clip of one of them as she kicked the case open. When she realized what she had done, her mind went into slow motion as her body sped up. She jumped across the creek bed, and crouched behind a boulder, yelling for Hannah to follow her. Her dad had told her that a grenade goes off in five seconds once it’s triggered. Five seconds, and it had a wounding radius of fifty feet. The boulder she hid behind wasn’t quite fifty feet away, but it was a boulder. When she rounded it, Hannah was already there, sticking her landing and pulling Iris down. “Fucking road runner,” Iris said, clutching her friend. They sat holding onto each other’s arms, their shoulders hunched together. It didn’t occur to either of them that, when the grenade went off, it would trigger the other ordnance close to it. But there was no explosion. They stood up.

“Holy crap,” Hannah said. “Holy crap.” Her heart was fluttering so fast it made her voice vibrate. “Let’s get out of here.”

“I just want to see what’s in the others,” Iris said. She crossed the creek bed again, heading back to the crates.

“You know what’s in them. Forget about it.”

Iris was pulling a third crate out of the cave when they heard a voice.

“I said stop it.” A shirtless guy, wiry and badly sunburned, with aviator shades on, wearing the belted bottoms of a set of desert camo BDUs, slid down the sloping side of a boulder, bracing with the soles of his Nikes, and landed a few feet from them. He looked at the cases at their feet and at Hannah and Iris. “What are you doing?” he said. “Cut it out.” He was pointing a pistol at them.

Hannah felt the moment thicken around her like syrup too dense to move through. She was stuck, stuck in an endless moment. If she hadn’t been caught selling Iris’s pot on campus, she would be sitting right now in the student union, drinking fancy coffee and studying Organic Chem or Therapeutic Modalities (she was majoring in sports medicine). She would be close to graduating; close to telling Iris she was done selling dope for good. Close to free. Now she was as far from free as she had ever been.

“Hey,” Iris said. She had gone numb at the sight of the gun. She surprised herself by speaking. “These your magazines? Both kinds of magazines, that is.” She opened up a wide smile, on autopilot, working to contain the situation. “Get it? Both kinds of magazines?”

“All of it’s mine,” the soldier said, pushing his shades up on his forehead. He had pale green eyes and would have been good-looking if not for a weak chin, the kind that made him look like a drawing that someone had lost interest in before finishing the face. Still, if you just considered the top half, he was pretty hot. He had gotten a good look at Hannah now, and had that dazzled expression Iris had seen so many times before. “What’s your name?” he asked Hannah.

“Um, Ann.”

“Her name is Hannah,” Iris said. She stuck out her hand. “I’m Iris, but you can call me chopped liver.”

“I’m Larry.” He lowered the gun and took Iris’s hand. He moved slowly, like a lizard in the morning before the sun has warmed its blood.

“Are you staying out here?” Iris asked. “What are you going to do with these guns?”

“Do you have any idea what’s really going on in this country?” Larry stepped back and waved the pistol around.

Hannah stared at Iris. Anything demanding subtlety, Iris just rolled right over. Like the way Iris would crash her dates, riding in the backseat, growing more and more self-amused as she humiliated Hannah. But this time, Iris’s blunt methods were working. The GI looked like he was glad she had asked.

He said, “I have friends up north who would really like to have them.”

“What kind of friends?” Iris asked.

“Patriots,” he said.

“Like militia types?”

“Do you have any idea what’s really going on in this country?” Larry stepped back and waved the pistol around.

“No, no, but I’d like to,” Iris said quickly. She didn’t exactly have a plan, but she knew that the ordnance was worth money and that this guy needed help. What you call an opportunity.

Hannah turned and waved. “I’ll see ya,” she said. “Best of luck. Come on, Iris.”

“Come with us,” Iris said, grinning at the GI. “Wouldn’t you like to take a shower?”

“Iris!” snapped Hannah. “Let’s just go!”

Iris reached out and rubbed Hannah’s back, trying to calm her down. She wasn’t very savvy, Hannah wasn’t. “I bet you’re hungry,” she said to Larry.

His eyes darted back and forth over the girls and the weapons. “But this stuff,” he said.

“Let’s put it back in the cave,” Iris said. “It’s not going anywhere.”

He looked them both up and down. Chopped liver—Iris—wasn’t so bad. Bad skin but great legs. If she weren’t with such a pretty one she’d look okay herself. “Is that your weed crop over yonder?”

“Guilty,” Iris said.

“Could we smoke a bowl?”

“Oh, you bet,” Iris said.

“That would be,” he jammed the gun into the waistband of his camos, “really fucking awesome.”

*                      *                     *

The pretty one, Hannah, it was like she didn’t like him. She didn’t say anything to him or to her friend the whole way back into town except to tell him to lie down in the backseat and not get up.

He felt the rolling of the car below him and watched the sky flashing overhead from the windows. Hannah was driving and Iris rode shotgun. They had an iPod plugged into the stereo and were cranking some really loud rock, kind of pretending like they were into the music, staring straight ahead and not talking. They reminded him of when he was little, of his mom and Ed, and the way they weren’t talking and you could tell how mad one of them was at the other.

“If only Ed had a phone out there on the compound.”

“What?” Iris turned around in her seat and looked down at him.

He talked to himself when he was nervous. It was embarrassing, but he couldn’t help it. “Call him and tell him what I got for the cause. Dude’s so careful about being off the grid, there’s no way.”

Iris turned around again. “No way what?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Keep your head down, okay? You’re on like every news channel.”

He said okay, but his mind kept running. Even if Ed had a phone, he probably wouldn’t give him the number. Punkass kid, Larry. Look at my punkass now. How do you like my punkass when I roll up with some goddamn M-16s and the magazines to use in them? Am I still useless to the cause with my little grenades?

He said the last part aloud, catching the buzz-saw sound of his own voice and trying too late to lower it, but he didn’t think they heard him over the music. When they got into town, he felt the frequent turns underneath him, saw traffic lights and fast-food signs flashing by. A calm came over him as he watched the women’s long brown hair blown back by the cold air coming from the vents. He had been so alone before, but now he felt like the tide had turned. He was rescued, saved. When they pulled to a stop, Iris told him to sit up and come on in.

*                      *                     *

Hannah and Iris shared a cheap but new condo at the end of a horseshoe-shaped block on the south side of town, behind the local college that Hannah had spent her life trying to avoid but would now be lucky to get into. Their front door looked across a small parking lot and a fenced pool. In the distance, the view was dominated by the stadium lighting of a used car dealership with red and white balloons that bobbed from light poles and cars. The balloons were always coming loose and blowing over to Hannah and Iris’s parking lot, dipping and weaving around the dumpsters and the fence around the swimming pool, the strings wrapping around rearview mirrors and snagging on the big crepe myrtle that stood at the entrance to the lot. Iris made sure no one saw Larry get out of the car. The condo that shared a wall with them was empty, and Iris was glad.

The pot smelled like his childhood, like nights in the carport, sitting on the wet vac, looking at the rows of Ed’s wrenches hanging from a pegboard.

Larry flopped down on the couch, propped his feet on the coffee table, and grabbed the remote like he was home. He watched as Iris got to work packing a bong. Pot, god. He could smoke pot again now that he had fucked it with the Army. Up in smoke. Ha ha ha. In the mountains, he had wanted to get high on the weed he found there, but the leaves had to be dried and some other stuff. Treated. His mother had strung the kitchen with clothes lines and hung leaves to dry when he was a kid, and it seemed like she sprayed them with something, but he couldn’t remember what. In a way it would be good to see his mom. She hadn’t answered his calls, which could only mean she was with Ed out on the compound again, even though she hated it out there. He could make these girls give him a ride. Jesus, they had saved him! He had backed his own car so far into a ravine trying to hide it that he knew he could never get it out again. He was glad he’d pulled the crates from the trunk, even if using Jesse James’s old hideout to stash the stuff hadn’t been the most practical idea. He wasn’t even sure if he had found the right spot, but ever since Mess Hall Tyson mentioned the place, he’d thought it would be perfect for his hideout, too. He imagined himself standing around the compound telling everybody about the place, making that connection in their brains—Larry Pierson and Jesse James, Jesse James and Larry Pierson.

The pot smelled like his childhood, like nights in the carport, sitting on the wet vac, looking at the rows of Ed’s wrenches hanging from a pegboard. He didn’t usually like to think about his childhood, but that smell was all right, it reminded him of how his mother had looked out for him. Starting when he was about ten, she’d take him to the carport when she and Ed were fighting and hand him a joint to help him chill out. The weed made him paranoid, crazy with the shadows, but he was always asleep when she came to get him later, so he never told her.

Hannah thought Larry’s movements had gotten even slower. He seemed calm and clear now, markedly different from the gun-waving nut he had been a little while earlier. He and Iris sprawled on the sofa, watching some afternoon soap opera. Horrible, horrible. But this was what she deserved—a white-trash fate, like Iris’s, like everyone else they knew. She pulled a bar stool over from the kitchen to join them, accepting the bong from Larry.

“So, what’s a woman like you doing in a place like this?” Larry asked, grinning at her.

“I live here,” Hannah said. She could see the gun sticking out of his pants.

“You don’t seem like you should,” he said.

“But I do?” Iris asked.

“I’ve only been back a few months,” Hannah said. “I can’t get used to it.”

Larry ignored Iris’s question, focusing his attention on Hannah, who hovered above them on the bar stool. “Back from where?”

Hannah took a deep hit on the bong, the water in the bottom bubbling like a cauldron. She didn’t really want to talk to this guy but she didn’t want to make him angry, so she told him about her track scholarship to the University of Connecticut.

“Connecticut?” he said. “Why would you want to go to one of those teeny states?”

“For a couple years there it was like I was someone new,” she said, holding the bong in her lap. At UConn, she was dating a smart guy, and he was kind and sane, although he dumped her when she got busted for selling weed on campus. “Best of all,” she said, “I led UConn’s Track and Field at the NCAA East Regionals. Now it’s like that new life never happened.” She passed the bong to Iris, who was watching her closely.

Iris had never seen it before, how badly Hannah was hurting.

“So now you’re just giving up?” Larry asked. He always resented people with silver spoons in their mouths, and this girl looked like she came from money whether she did or not. But there was something awful about seeing a person like that fail. Because if she couldn’t make it, what would happen to him?

“Maybe not. I might have a chance to get in at OU,” she said. “University of Oklahoma, up the road.”

“What’s this?” Iris said, sitting up.

Hannah shrugged. “Yeah, Julie came by Chili’s the other day.” She looked at Larry. “Julie’s our old track coach.”

“What happened?” Iris said impatiently.

“She talked to the coach at OU, that guy that wanted me before I chose UConn. She thinks I have a chance.”

“But you have to be clean and sober and far, far away from drugs.” Iris smiled at her friend. “Right?”

“Don’t worry about it, Iris. It will probably never happen.”

Until then, Iris had told herself that Hannah didn’t blame her for pushing her to sell pot on campus, but she saw in the way Hannah looked away that she was wrong. She’d only pushed that particular business venture to keep Hannah connected to her while she was halfway across the country, and she may have achieved the opposite.

From her vantage point, she couldn’t see his weak chin, only his green eyes and the dark line of hair that trailed from his navel to the top of his camos.

“I bet it happens,” Larry said, his green eyes shining. “A girl like you.”

Hannah felt a rush of warmth under his gaze and gratitude for his optimism. From her vantage point, she couldn’t see his weak chin, only his green eyes and the dark line of hair that trailed from his navel to the top of his camos. Her eyes kept following the line, stopped again and again by the top of his pants. The camouflage was doing its job. Not that she wanted to see him naked, just that the view was like running down a sidewalk that stops in the middle of nowhere. She looked up and saw Iris watching her, eyes narrowed with lively interest.

“He’s right,” Iris said. “It will happen.”

*                      *                     *

At Chili’s that night, the manager let Hannah know that she had been promoted to bartender. Not Iris. He pulled Iris aside first, and Iris knew by the careful, cheerful look on his face that Hannah had gotten the spot. She had seen that look so many times that she could fill in the blanks. Iris would remain a server, “because you’re the best we’ve got,” but Iris knew better, and Hannah did, too. Hannah prevailed because that was just what happened with them, going back to grade school. Hannah was better-looking and had always made better grades than Iris. She got better guys. She took state in track while Iris failed to place at district. Even when they were thirteen, learning to put on makeup, Iris had noticed that Hannah’s eyes looked exactly like the drawings on the back of the eyeshadow trios, the ones that show you which color to use for lid, crease, brow bone. But Iris’s eyes didn’t match the picture, she had no discernible crease between her lids, like her eyes were just holes in her head with skin on top. When they finished with their makeup, Hannah looked smoky and mysterious; Iris just looked like a slut. Iris hated Hannah’s easy bests. When Hannah got kicked out of college and came back to Lawton, back to her, Iris had barely been able to disguise her glee. Hannah wasn’t such hot shit after all.

“Congratulations,” Iris said in the car after their shift.

“I don’t care. Do you want the job? I think I’d rather wait tables.”

“Fuck off. They don’t want me, they want you.” She planted her feet on the dash of Hannah’s Civic. Little bits of lettuce and cilantro came off in a greasy smear.

“Hey, manners,” Hannah said. Iris had a suspended license for driving without insurance, so her car, a yellow Trans Am from the ’80s, sat in front of their apartment with a dead battery. It was the kind of car that guys always said would look cool if it was fixed up, but they never went so far as to offer to do the fixing.

“Sorry,” Iris said. She wasn’t. “I guess I’ll get to bartend when you go away to OU.”

“Honestly, Iris, that’s a shot in the dark.” For her part, Hannah felt a fierce pity for her friend, a constant need to apologize and to suppress her abilities so Iris could win sometimes. She was always at pains to discover things Iris did better than she did. She had gotten into selling weed that way, because Iris had done it first and said she would be Hannah’s boss, sending her stuff to sell at UConn. Hannah thought letting Iris be her boss would even things out between them so she could continue making academic progress without all the guilt. That hadn’t worked out. And now the bartending thing—she had known it was a bad idea for them both to apply. Someday she’d be free of Iris, but she couldn’t see how it would ever happen.

“Did you tell anybody about him?” Hannah said. When they left for work that afternoon, she had put a pizza coupon and a twenty on the kitchen counter along with walking directions to the Little Caesar’s next to the used car dealership. Larry told her he had his own money, but she left the twenty anyway. She wasn’t leaving her phone, though.

“Of course not.”

“I can’t figure it out,” she said.

“What?” Iris said. She was counting her tips, turning the bills so that they faced the same direction.

“Why he took the guns. The ammunition. Grenades, for god’s sake. Why take it at all?”

“You heard what he said about the militia.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t really believe that, did you? He doesn’t want to hurt anybody.”

Iris looked at her. “Haven’t you ever stolen something just because you could? Just because you knew it was important to the person you were stealing it from?”

Hannah thought about it. “I stole a bunch of condiments from Burger King once.”

“I remember. Why the hell did you do that?”

“To-go ketchups and salt and peppers. I don’t know—it just seemed so neat that I could just take them.”

“Yeah, and you felt guilty about it until you finally returned them.” She laughed, shaking her head. “You returned condiments.”

They both laughed.

*                      *                     *

Larry trudged across the field toward the Little Caesar’s, skirting the back of a used car dealership. He watched a white balloon detach itself from the rearview mirror of a late-model Ford F-150 and whip into the air. Aloft, its long tail wiggling in the wind, the balloon reminded Larry of what sperm supposedly looked like up close. Stoned with no snacks was downright painful, and those girls didn’t have anything but protein bars and salad stuff in their refrigerator. He left the MREs he had stolen on the mountain with the guns. He had sworn he’d never eat that astronaut food again; it reminded him of his first moments in Afghanistan. The helicopter had just landed when the landing strip was hit. His new commanding officer, this tight-bodied chick, was standing on the blacktop, telling them where to hump their gear, and he was thinking, who is this dolly giving me orders, and then, boom, it hit and he was far enough away but she was out there in the open and then gone. He saw her leg later and that night he ate his first MRE, beef and noodles. But even that sounded good right about now. He had the munchies.

He was glad the sun was setting as he crossed the pizza shop’s parking lot. It was full of people, customers and delivery drivers, and Larry became self-conscious. Not that he looked much like the Army picture the media was probably using—that pimply-faced kid was long gone. Still, he had to be careful.

It was the kind of place where you could grab a pizza that was already cooked, which was good. Larry paid for a pepperoni without looking up and shouldered his way out the door. A big cowboy caught the door with the flat of his hand and said, “What’s that?”

Larry looked up, startled. “Nothing.”

The cowboy grinned. “Thought you said something.”

He didn’t know if he had, but he said no.

If only there was some way to give the stolen guns and ammo to Ed without having to see him. He wanted to make his donation to the cause, to prove to Ed that he wasn’t the worthless traitor to his race that Ed had said he was when he enlisted, but he didn’t want to live on the compound, even though it would mean being near his mom. “After all,” he said loudly into the empty field. “I joined the Army to get away from Ed.”

Until high school, Larry had never seen anyone who wasn’t white except on TV, so he didn’t understand at first what the big deal was.

He pulled a piece of pizza from the box and folded it into his mouth as he walked. The grass in the field was tall and full of wild flowers and trash. He worried about snakes for a second, but they were the least of his worries.

It was Ed who had first taught Larry about the superiority of the white race. Until high school, Larry had never seen anyone who wasn’t white except on TV, so he didn’t understand at first what the big deal was. By ninth grade, though, he’d figured it out. He hadn’t thought there was anything special about himself, ever, at all, but according to Ed, he was special just by virtue of not being black or brown. This was such good news, Larry could hardly believe it. It was like being told he was the rightful king of France or something.

*                      *                     *

When Hannah and Iris got home from work, Larry was asleep on the couch. They let him sleep, and the next morning they got out of the apartment without waking him. Hannah had bartender training that morning and would work a double shift straight through dinner. Iris drove her to work so she could have the car, wheedling against Hannah’s objections until Hannah gave in.

“You don’t need to pick me up.” In the passenger seat, Hannah swung a small backpack over her shoulder. “I brought my gear so I can run home.”

Iris groaned. “It’s like five miles.”

“You used to run five miles no problem.”

“Not anymore,” Iris said. “Makes me tired just thinking about it.”

“Don’t go anywhere,” Hannah said from the passenger seat. “They’ll impound my car if you get pulled over with your suspension.”

“Hannah, I know.”

“And don’t take your buddy out. Not anywhere. Not for any reason. Except to drop him off somewhere—see if he’ll leave.”

“My buddy? I saw the way you were looking at him yesterday.”

“I was high.”

“Truth serum.”

“That’s such bullshit; that’s always been such bullshit. I am not attracted to him. He’s a very troubled guy.”

“Ladies love outlaws.”

“Not this lady. What are we going to do, Iris?”

“I don’t know, let it play out. Maybe his buddies up north will come get him. We could charge them a service fee.”

“Iris, I swear to god. These are dangerous people. This is not the moment for one of your entrepreneurial fantasies.”

“Everything’s a transaction, Hannah.”

“You’re driving me crazy, you know it?” She slammed the door and strode across Chili’s back parking lot, furiously knotting her apron around her waist so tight she could barely breathe.

Late that afternoon, local news broke in on the PGA tournament airing on the flat screen above the bar to announce that police had found PFC Larry Pierson’s car, a ’94 Ford Taurus, rolled down a wooded embankment off one of the section roads in the wildlife refuge. Police were fanning out from there to search for him.

“They find that guy?” One of the busboys stopped in front of the bar with a full tub of dirty dishes and watched the screen.

“His car,” Hannah said.

“What do you want to bet that dude’s holed up somewhere set to blow?”

She took her time spinning the rim of a big margarita glass on a lime-juice-soaked sponge and smashing it into a bed of coarse salt. “Maybe he’s left the area,” she said.

“Nah,” the busboy shifted the tub against his hip. “It’s going to be bad.”

Good if the police found the ammo. Good. Otherwise all that shit might end up in her house.

Hannah took out her phone to call Iris, but then she stopped. She looked at Iris’s name lit up with her number beneath it. Semper fi. When Iris was little, her mom had dressed her in too-big concert t-shirts and patent leather Mary Janes until finally she began dressing like Hannah, usually in Hannah’s clothes. Iris had clung to her for dear life since fourth grade, whispering her semper fi mantra in Hannah’s ear. Everything Hannah knew about herself came through comparison with Iris. She hadn’t known she was smart until she saw Iris’s report card. She had had no sense of her own appearance until Iris was by her side and thereafter she became “the pretty one.” She hadn’t known she was fast until she and Iris raced. All of it came to her filtered through guilt about Iris.

The cops were going to find the guns and ammo and Hannah was glad. She wanted that stuff put away somewhere safe. If she told Iris, she and Larry might drive out to the refuge—in Hannah’s car!—and try to grab the stuff. They’d get caught. Hannah dropped the phone back into her apron. Good if the police found the ammo. Good. Otherwise all that shit might end up in her house.

*                      *                     *

Iris had never had sex with a GI before. Never wanted to—they were as establishment as it got. But Hannah wanted him, Iris could tell, which made him seem like a must-have item. She had never tried taking one of Hannah’s boyfriends, but since Hannah had been back from college, Iris felt meaner. Hannah was so good-natured that it drove Iris crazy—bad enough that she had every conceivable thing going for her, but she was like a princess from a fairy tale, where beauty and goodness go together, the sort of person who, if someone was shitty to her, would try to figure out what the person was going through, saying things like, “I think he’s just in a lot of fear.” Iris knew Hannah would probably think something like that about her screwing Larry, too. Maybe she would think, “Poor Iris is just feeling guilty for getting me kicked out of college so she’s projecting her anger at herself onto me.” And she would be right. Right, right, right. But Hannah would never come right out and say that to her and Iris would never say to Hannah what she thought all the time: I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Anyway, sex with Larry was fine. Brief and faster than she thought he could move, but fine, whatever.

She had felt close to him as they schlepped the broken cases down the mountain in the rubber tubs Hannah stored her college stuff in and now that all the gun parts and ammo were sitting around the living room safe and sound, dark and present like live animals, Iris and Larry got high again and turned on the TV. When they saw on local news that the cops had found Larry’s car, they high-fived each other for getting the stuff out that morning and not waiting around to get high again, as they had wanted to. That was the thing—ol’ Larry was a real live dope fiend. He was exceptionally paranoid, having twice rounded on her and accused her of calling the cops, but then she’d pass him the bong or kiss him and he’d settle down. He couldn’t get enough! Hannah could say what she wanted about Iris’s business sense, but Iris knew the score. She who has the dope has the power. She who fucks the new boy first wins. Iris was winning.

She took a long hit and passed it to Larry, whose arm was draped heavily around her shoulder. After this victory, when they got rid of Larry, she hoped the score would be even between her and Hannah. Things could be like they had been in ninth grade, when they had both tried and failed repeatedly to insert tampons, concluding that maybe you couldn’t use them until you lost your virginity, and spent Friday and Saturday nights playing Risk in Hannah’s parents’ garage. Iris would watch as Hannah mounted up her green armies in the Ukraine and swept Europe in a few moves. She always won, but Iris didn’t mind. It was great just to hang out with her, to know that someone as good as Hannah was really her friend.

*                      *                     *

When Hannah got home, sweating from her five-mile run from Chili’s, Iris and Larry were asleep on the couch. The stolen guns and ammo surrounded them in her own college storage bins. The TV blared a yogurt commercial. Larry was naked and she could see where the sidewalk ended. She barely looked. Hannah stood with the door open, letting the pot smoke escape, about to turn around and take another run while she figured out what to do.

Larry opened his eyes slowly and blinked. He rose on his elbows and stared at her, his gaze going from bleary to sharp to wild in a matter of seconds. He sat up, shaking Iris off his chest.

She woke with a start. “Hey,” she said, smiling up at Hannah. “Close the door.”

“You called the cops didn’t you?” Larry was bug-eyed. He stood up and stepped toward Hannah.

“What? No! I—”

Iris sat up and fastened her bra. “She wouldn’t do that. Hannah’s cool, Larry.”

“You don’t like me. Fucking pretty girls. You saw the news. You called the cops.”

“Look,” Hannah said. “I like you plenty.”

“You fucked up one of the grenades, too.” He reached down into one of the rubber storage containers that said “Hannah’s Track Medals” in white glitter letters and pulled out the damaged grenade. “Look what you did.”

“I didn’t, I—“

“It needs to be bent back, that’s all,” Iris said, taking the grenade from him. Sorry, she was thinking. Sorry, sorry, sorry! “Just straighten the pin. It’s fine.” Sitting on the couch in her bra, her knees pressed tightly together, she wedged her thumb under the smashed part of the pin and worked it away from the body of the grenade. Then she began to straighten it. “I need my glasses.” She gave Hannah a wired, triumphant look that Hannah knew. It said, Semper fi means never leaving your friend in a hellhole. “They’re in the car.”

“I don’t know if I can find them,” Hannah said, backing out the door. Iris didn’t wear glasses. “Come help me.”

Iris set the grenade down on the coffee table and stepped toward the door, moving around a box of ammo with her eyes on Hannah. At that moment, one of the white balloons from the car dealership that had been drifting across the parking lot bobbed into the room behind Hannah. Hannah saw its white form nodding from the corner of her eye. “Oh my god!” she gasped, jumping away from it.

Larry yelled and leapt to his feet. He grabbed the grenade from the coffee table and pulled the pin in one swift motion. You had eight seconds once you pulled the pin, he remembered that from basic training. What most people didn’t realize was how long eight seconds was. He had forgotten it himself, but now that he was high again he was back in touch with the spaces between moments, the way they could stretch out like mile markers on a highway when you’re driving slowly. Once he pulled the pin, which wasn’t broken after all, he thought it all out in his head, how he could either throw the grenade out the door and stay in the apartment or grab the pot on the table, leave the grenade there, and run out the door. He found he didn’t care about the ordnance. Letting it blow would mean not having to deal with Ed. Fuck Ed. Larry had options. He’d push the girls out of the way.

But Iris and Hannah were already on the move. “Get to the pool,” Iris yelled. “Get in the pool!” They sprinted. Hannah cleared the parking lot and threw open the swimming pool fence, looking back before she dove into the water. She saw Larry standing in the doorway of their apartment, holding the grenade like he was trying to hear what it was saying to him. Iris was halfway across the parking lot and running as fast as she could run.

G

Author Image

Constance Squires’s first novel, Along the Watchtower, received the 2012 Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction, and she has just completed a second novel, Live From Medicine Park. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Shenandoah, The Atlantic Monthly, This Land, Bayou, Identity Theory, New Delta Review, and other magazines. Her short fiction has received several short story awards, has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist for the 2014 Disquiet International Literary Award. Her nonfiction has appeared most recently in the New York Times, Salon, the Village Voice, Largehearted Boy, and on the NPR program Snap Judgment.

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