By the time I’d made the two-hour drive to their Charleston apartment, to Chloe and Pete’s little love nest, my hands were so swollen I had to kick in the door. I’d planned to jimmy it open. A jimmied door suggests a crime of convenience. A kicked-in door signals a crime of passion.
I didn’t know what I would do when I found Chloe, but I knew I’d better do whatever I could to cover up whatever it was I was about to do. Still, because my hands were so swollen, I couldn’t hold the screwdriver. I kicked in the door.
When the blue lights appeared twenty minutes later, I was sitting in my truck—make that Pete’s truck, Pete Hump’s Plumbing #2—nursing my puffy, bloody knuckles, feeling numb and empty inside. Discovering that your wife is doing the dirty with your boss, a guy you’ve known since middle school, takes something out of you. To top things off, the cops showing up like they did meant that Pete had set me up, that he was still alive, that the beating he’d taken hadn’t been beating enough. What I’d left and what I’d found weren’t what I thought they’d be. I thought I’d left Pete dead, and I thought I’d find Chloe in an apologetic mood.
I watched the two blue uniforms enter the dark apartment building. Inside, the cops would see what I’d seen, soiled sheets in an otherwise empty apartment, nothing missing or turned upside down. Only their eyes wouldn’t well up with tears and their blood wouldn’t boil. They’d see a scene of passion, but they wouldn’t see a crime. That would have to wait.
I started the engine, dropped the transmission into D, and eased away from the curb. Heading west out of Charleston onto I-26, I reached for the two-way radio, the one connected to Pete Hump’s #1.
“I have just two things to say,” I said into the mike. “First, I love you, Chloe, and I want you back. And second, I hate your guts, Pete, and I’m gonna rip off your head and shit down your throat. Over?” I set the mike on the floor and felt under the seat for a roll of duct tape. Pete’s voice came back.
“Remember these words?” he said. “A choir of naked peasant women. Slowly dancing. In a giant tent. In a field. Over?”
I tore off a strip of duct tape and pressed it over the key-up button, keeping the channel open on this end, and reached for my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd CD, the live one from the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Sure, Pete could cut me off at the other end, but every time he switched on that radio, which he couldn’t resist, I’d be there. Me and the Skynyrd boys. I set the mike near the stereo speaker, punched up Saturday Night Special and pumped up the volume.
When I reached the city limits of Darlington, the sky had the pink light you see at dawn in the South in the summer. It cracks open the night, making way for somebody’s first day, somebody’s last. Still, the I-95 billboard lights above the plumbing shop advertisement were so bright the sign seemed to float in the dim sky. Its words, Pete Hump’s Heat Pumps, spoke of something mocking, something vile.
I took the Pocket Road exit. A change of clothes, a Smith & Wesson .357 and a bottle of bourbon were the only things I’d need. I eased up the long path to my hunting cabin, left the engine idling and Skynyrd playing. My hunting clothes, minus the jacket, were where I’d left them, but my pistol was gone, which meant only one thing. Pete had it.
Outside, I started for the truck. Columns of sunlight suddenly shot from behind the clouds and through the pines, spraying glitter over Black Creek, flickering upon the little island where Chloe sunbathed. The specks bright, the island empty.
My boys sang Gimme Three Steps. I shifted into reverse and thought of what Pete had said over the radio about the naked peasant choir in the tent in the field. He was desperate.
Pete forgets I know Chloe better than he does, that I’ve lived with her, cooked and cleaned and waited on her hand and foot, pleaded like a beggar. Chloe gets her way, and I know that way better than Pete does. So, while Pete thinks that he’s gonna be messing with my mind, that he’ll be clever and outthink and outsmart me, he will at the same time be like a bird dog on a covey of quail. And that scent is my wife’s. He thinks he’s making his own decisions, like that bird dog thinks he’s making his. Truth is, he has no choice but to follow the path that’s been laid out in front of him. And neither do I. But soon he’s gonna develop a pain in his nose that I didn’t put there, the one that comes from having Chloe lead you around. And soon after that, he’ll be a dead man.
I reached down and lowered the volume on the CD player. Picked up the mike with my sore, swollen hand.
“Trashy Pete. In a hole. In a field. Doing the dance,” I said. “Chloe, I still want you back.” Then I turned up the volume for the long guitar solo at the end of Free Bird.