The Future Never Lasts

Thin-faced Jenkins sat in the backseat of the Maxima, a black derby tilted to shield his eyes. He spoke into Penny's rearview mirror. "Is your last name really Cleavinger or did you just make that up on account of how you show off your stuff?" Penny had parked at the curb outside Beauty World and Spa, Allen's girlfriend's shop.

"Everything about me is made up," Penny said. "I'm self-made. You got a problem with that?"

Swindell, who sat in back beside Jenkins said, "You look like Pauley Perrette, the Goth girl on NCIS. You ever get that from people?"

"You think so?" Penny said into the mirror. Her fingers rotated the small silver ball below her pierced lip. "I never would have made that connection. She's so fake. They dress her up like a Goth baby doll, miniskirt and space-age platform boots. That ain't me."

"He's complimenting your cleavage," Jenkins said, "trying to get in good. I told him Roderick would kill him if he stepped out of line. But a penis has no ears."

"You're right," Swindell said to Penny. "She's way too goodie-goodie."

"You're such a suck-up," Jenkins said.

"The NCIS writers stole her from Sean Young, Rachel in Blade Runner. That's Ridley Scott, 1982."

"Roderick's gonna cut you into little bitty pieces, Swindell."

"Those women can't wear the metal like me," Penny said. "They lack commitment."

Allen, the guy inside his girlfriend's beauty shop, had brought on Penny because the plan was to fake a car theft, which required a second driver. Plus, they'd need a ride at the end of the job after Allen torched the car they weren't really stealing. Plus-plus, having a woman along, one who looked like Penny, would solve the problem that a police lineup might present. All eyes turned when Penny entered the picture. She would not be present for the job itself.

"I like 'em," Swindell said. "They're like signatures of your individuality. You should have lived in England in the '80s."

"Dead man walking," Jenkins said, slouching lower in the back seat, allowing the derby to rest on the bridge of his nose.

"I'm taking back that hat if you keep dissin' me," Swindell said to Jenkins. He spoke to Penny in the mirror. "He can't appreciate a gift. I bought it for the job 'cause I thought it'd make him look like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. That's Stanley Kubrick, 1971."

"Hat's mine now," Jenkins said. "Losers weepers."

"How many piercings you got?" Swindell said to Penny.

"Twenty-one," Penny said. "Got number twenty-one on my twenty-first birthday."

Jenkins thumped up the derby and leaned way forward, over the seat. "I don't see near that many," he said.

"Most ain't for public viewing," Penny said.

"Roderick like 'em?" Swindell said.

"You're such a suckdog, Swindell," Jenkins said.

Allen had brought on thin-faced Jenkins only because Allen had thrown out his back. Swindell was Allen's regular side.

"We're done, the two of us, him and me," Penny said. "Roderick said my labia looked like a pin cushion."

"What did you say?" Swindell said.

"I said to him, `Call me Pin then. Pin is mightier than the sword,' I said."

Jenkins said to her, "I'll show you something mightier than the sword."

"Be like trying to put a marshmallow in a parking meter," Penny said.

"So is Penny your real name?" Swindell said.

"Nothing about me is real," Penny said.

Jenkins rolled a joint from a small bag of stems and seeds. "Does Allen even know we're out here waiting?" he said. "Allen's the one said this was time sensitive. Maybe we should knock on the door."

The three exchanged looks. "Maybe not," Swindell said.

Allen lay naked on the masseuse's table, his fingertips soaking in a saucer of Trish's special nail-softening solution. Trish was working on Allen's lower back. "I could take out most of your grey, maybe just leave the highlights," Trish said. Trish was a professional cosmetologist. But she'd begun classes at Florence-Darlington Technical College to certify in massage therapy.

"Look outside and see if there's a black four-door Maxima with a Dough-Dough's Pizza sign on top," Allen said.

Trish lifted her oily hands from Allen's back. "I'm naked," she said. "Somebody might see me."

"Take a look," Allen said.

Trish cradled her breasts in her forearms as she tiptoed to the front door of the shop and peeked over the sign that said closed. A young woman with coal black hair sat at the wheel and two men, one wearing a funny hat, in the back.

"What's the deal with the pizza sign on top of the car?" Trish said. She and Allen were getting dressed.

"It's like a master key," Allen said. "You can go anywhere with a pizza sign. Nobody asks questions."

"How's the back?" she said. She handed him a slip of paper with Rupert's number on it. "Any better?"

"Better after this job's done," Allen said. He pressed a folded fifty into her palm and kissed her.

Outside, Allen waddled toward the car then leaned gingerly into the passenger seat. "What's up with the derby?" he said.

"Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange, 1971," thin-faced Jenkins said. He gave Swindell a big wink, smiled broadly and patted the top of the hat.

"More like Stan Laurel, Dirty Work, 1933," Allen said. "Let's get this show on the road. Stop at Walgreens."

"We're already running behind," Penny said. She looked over at Allen, who looked down at his perfect fingernails.

On the drive to Walgreens, Swindell asked if a frozen body would float like an ice cube does. He reckoned that it would if the body was frozen soon after death.

"Frozen hard?" Jenkins said.

"Hard as a brick," Swindell said.

"If you put a brick in the freezer, will it float, Swindell?" Jenkins said.

"What's your opinion?" Penny said to Allen.

"If we don't get to where we're going soon, we'll never know," Allen said. "Hurry."

Penny parked out front. "Walgreens?" she said.

"They got TracFones for $14.99," Allen said. "Plus, I got a super-saver's coupon." Allen held up the evidence of his savings.

"This where Rupert buys his disposables?" Swindell said.

"If he's thrifty, he does," Allen said. Rupert brought Allen on to dispose of the frozen body in the truck of a Mercedes.

Jenkins, Swindell and Penny sat up tall when Allen stepped out from the electronic door and into the July afternoon light. He lifted a slip of paper from his shirt pocket, looked down at his new phone and dialed a number, then turned his back to them.

"You're late," Rupert barked on the other end. Rupert was Quintin's regular side. Quintin had brought him on to make the hit and to pack the body in ice.

"We're leaving Walgreens now," Allen said. "They've got a hell of a deal on these phones."

Inside the car, Jenkins said to Penny, "Are your nipples pierced?" Penny paid him no mind. "They are, aren't they? Both of them."

"I left the headlights on," Rupert said to Allen. "But I told Quintin you'd be here thirty minutes ago. My shopping cart's half full already."

"Didn't you pack the fish on dry ice?"

"Yes."

"Then we'll be all right."

"It's hot out there, Allen. Get a move on."

Allen said, "Don't forget to keep your receipt, Rupert."

"What?"

"When you reenter the store to report the car stolen, you'll need a receipt to get a refund."

"How's the back?" Rupert said.

"Hurts like a muther," Allen said.

"That's too bad," Rupert said.