One Month Earlier
All the regulars enter Durant’s through the back door, cut through the kitchen and slip into a seemingly pitch-black dining room. One of the oldest restaurants in Phoenix, Durant’s remains THE place to drink, dine and do deals. It has been a landmark since 1950 and a family operation ever since. Durant’s exudes an air of the clandestine largely because its founder, “Jack” Durant formerly worked for Bugsy Siegel as a Vegas pit boss.
“God help me, I can’t see a fucking thing,” she whispered to herself.
“Table for one?” a waiter asked from somewhere in the dark.
“Just wait a sec, until my eyes catch up,” she told him. “Actually, a table for two; I’m meeting someone here.”
“There’s a gentleman in the back who told me to keep an eye out. Perhaps he’s the person you’re meeting?”
“Um, maybe. He told me he’s bald and about six foot five.”
“A blind date?”
“No, no nothing like that; strictly business.”
“Come this way,” the waiter said as he led her to a red-quilted leather booth in the farthest back corner.
“We spoke on the phone,” she said sliding into the booth a safe distance from the man.
“Can I bring you some drinks,” the waiter interrupted.
“Scotch, rocks,” the guy said.
“And for the lady?”
“Sapphire martini, up.”
“We spoke on the phone?” she repeated as the waiter walked away.
“Yeah, I’m the guy. What are you in the market for?”
“I need a gun, and I need somebody to show me how to shoot,” she told him as her trembling hands fiddled with the napkin-wrapped silverware.
“Now that’s askin’ a lot, lady.”
“I was told you could arrange things,” she said as she slid five one hundred dollar bills across the table.
“In that case,” he said. “I can set you up with a guy, but you’ll . . .”
The waiter placed the drinks on the table and started to ask for their order, but the man cut him off.
“We’ll order later.”
“Drive down to South Mountain in about an hour and wait by the first ramada. He’ll find you.”
“What about the gun?”
“Bring another $500. He’ll bring the gun.”
The impatient waiter lingered close by and recognized a chance to get the order.
“I’ll have the rib-eye,” the bald guy said, pointing to the menu.
“And for the lady?”
“Enjoy your steak,” she said, getting up. “I’ve got to run.”
* * *
The day after she got the gun, she drove out to the Black Mountain Shooting Range. There she ran into a guy who’d been a cop before he retired 10 years ago, and he showed her the basics. She was amazed at how quickly she became proficient with it. She congratulated herself with a chuckle, thinking how ironic it was to be taking shooting lessons from a cop.
“This old guy has no idea he isn’t teaching me self-defense. What would he do if he suspected I have murder on my mind?” she thought.
The shooting range proved to be fine for honing her aiming skills, but all the targets were stationary. She began to think about how she could practice on some moving targets. A tingle ran through her body very much as it did when she watched those porn movies her husband kept buying for her.
* * *
“Tripp, where are you?” She said as she grabbed her cell phone from the console.
“It doesn’t sound like you’re home. You in the car?”
“I’m just pulling in the driveway from the grocery store.”
“What’s for dinner?”
“Why do you care? You’re never here for dinner.”
“Okay, okay. I know you won’t believe it, but I’m just leaving downtown. Try to get yourself in a better mood by the time I get there. I stopped off at Grady’s for a few beers with the guys.”
She knew it would take Tripp at least half an hour to drive home. With a bit of luck she could grab a meal from Applebee’s on Central and have it on the table when he walked in the door.
Tripp Collins owns an auto repair shop in downtown Phoenix, and he’s proud of it. He spent years working in various garages around the city, but finally saved and borrowed enough money to get a place of his own. He’s also quick to tell friends that his wife works as a paralegal for some high-minded attorneys in one of those high-rises down on Washington Street. Between the two of them they bring in enough to live comfortably without worrying much about money.
Easily able to afford a gym membership, Tripp boxes three nights a week. It serves him well to be built like a truck, but unfortunately he also enjoys his beer. Some nights she knew better than to come home late or not have dinner on the table when Trip arrived home. Those were the nights he came in drunk and used her for a speed bag.
She’d made more trips to the hospital than she cared to admit and once a welfare worker showed up at the house during the day to inquire about her well-being. Of course she sent him away with some story about a balance problem that caused her to fall repeatedly. So far she’d managed to keep the police out of their tenuous marriage and had learned how to stay out of Tripp’s way most of the time.
Her cell rang again as she hung up from Tripp, “Hi Sis, I’m just checking in to see if you’re planning on coming over on Saturday afternoon for barbecue.”
“Oh God, I forgot all about it. Listen, Tripp has some sort of boxing thing going on down at the gym, but I should be able to get away. Barbecue sounds great. I could use a break.”
“Perfect! I’m glad Tripp can’t make it. You know how he always manages to make a scene.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know why you stay with him.”
“Because I can’t live like this without his income. I’ve told you this before. I like the Lexis, the clothes, and going to the spa.”
“Okay, okay, I don’t have time right now to convince you otherwise and the baby is starting to cry.”
“I’m going to hold that new baby all day long on Saturday! I can hardly wait!”
* * *
She just about got dinner on the table in time and Tripp wasn’t drunk. Actually, he was in a good mood.
“I’m going over to my sister’s place on Saturday for barbecue while you’re at your gym thing.”
“Okay by me, doll. I don’t enjoy those things anyway.”
“They still haven’t named their new baby girl, and she’s already two months old.”
“Too bad you can’t have kids. I’d like a boy to follow me around and work next to me in the shop. If you hadn’t lost that one, he’d be 10 years old by now.”
She didn’t respond, but bit back tears at the memory of losing their child. Tripp blamed her because her uterus couldn’t support a healthy pregnancy. It nearly killed her when the doctor told her she’d never be able to have a successful pregnancy. Tripp liked reminding her how imperfect and damaged she was. He seemed to enjoy making her feel rotten. She’d learned not to react to his taunts or risk a beating. She began clearing the table and saved her tears for over the kitchen sink.
“I’m goin’ over to the gym for awhile. Don’t wait up. The guys might get up a game of cards after we work out. See you in the morning.”
She heard the door slam behind him and knew exactly where he was going. Sheila Barns worked as a waitress at the Matador downtown close to Tripp’s auto shop. He ate lunch there almost every day, and she knew he’d been fucking Sheila for over a year. She had become very good at following Tripp and looking at his cell phone calls when he was in the shower. The two of them were having quite a fling if their hot texts to each other were any indication. That woman had to be stopped. Sheila Barns wasn’t going to break up her marriage.
“That bitch doesn’t know who she’s dealing with,” she said to herself as her anger overpowered her tears. “She has no idea!”