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[Ongoing story: James has finally made contact with the people who know what happened to his father, but the solution comes with a price. It’s night and he’s at a meeting place in the desert.]

I’m looking at four guys with three automatic rifles. Couldn’t be darker if they took away the moon. Calculate, James. They’ve got you.

“We’re here for a trade.” They make one silhouette against the light still shining from somebody holding a military grade flashlight on us all.

Trade? I’m slow to understand but the guy takes no time in making it perfectly clear that I should be grateful that they’re here at all. Grateful, my ass.

“We know what happened to him, not that we had anything to do with it. But we’re still…under some pressure now that you’ve turned up.”

I still don’t…

“Here’s the trade. We locate your father’s body. You pay what’s owed.” The silhouette of the four guys is an unmoving mass. The guns stay pointed to the stars.

“You said he was out to pay the debt. He paid…”

“He paid part of the debt. Part. Guys on the other side still got him on the books. And now that you showed up, we know where to find you, your brother, right? Unless you don’t want to finish this off, and finish it with your father.”

My heart is exploding with fear chemicals. This isn’t anything that was supposed to be happening. Do I understand this really has to do with Merrill? Fucking Merrill, my little brother. And now I’m out in the desert with a debt from him?

“Hey,” the guy laughs and moves free of the group. I now see him solo against the light, which means there’s one other guy still standing with the flashlight. “Hey, minor accounting at this point. You started this.”

I take a shallow breath so I don’t pass out. “So how much…how much did he pay?”

“Easy, Dunn. Give us ten grand and we give you your father in a box. Promise.”

I laugh, unable to stop myself. “Promise? How the fuck can I to believe you?” I shouldn’t have said that. I need to stay easy and calm here.

“Dunn, you just got to believe us. Got a choice?”

No I don’t have a choice and I don’t want to make another trip out here, ever. Ever. I need to be done with this. “I’ll give you five, that’s what I can get.”

“Not about negotiations. You’re here where you’re not supposed to be. Got that? Are you getting that. You started a big mess here and now you can finish it. Done. Dollars for bones. What you asked for, right?”

I am frozen, my legs aching from the tension . I pull myself up tall and let my brain go, hoping to find something else to offer. Ten grand isn’t possible, right?

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