Friday, August 27, 2010

Round 3: "Crosstown Traffic" by Keith Rawson

We waited near the highway, tucked away in a stand of scrub brush and saguaro’s watching the heat shimmer off the blacktop in smoggy waves. The car’s engine was off because Mal was worried the ancient El Do’s engine block would crack from a combination of the desert heat and the fact the El Do was a raging piece of shit. No engine meant no air conditioning. It was a hundred and fucking twenty degrees out there and I was going bugshit from the heat. So I sat staring at the road chaining Pall Mall’s, guzzling water, and trying not to think about breaking Mal’s nose for not filching a new ride.

So we sat, sweating, smoking, waiting.

Two hours rolled by, Mal starts to smell. It’s hard to describe, something like sex and onions, a tang of orange or peach mixed in, which caused my stomach to roll. I didn’t want to be there, these kinds of jobs are for fuck ups. This was the kind of job a couple of eighteen year old kids pull, not a heavy hitter pushing forty and however the fuck old Mal was. But I was in deep to the wrong shit head, the kind of shithead who made sure the good scores dried up just so he could have the pleasure of watching you fight for scraps while he waited for you to fall on your ass and he can sick his dogs on you. It wasn’t going to happen to me, so I worked all the contacts in Phoenix I had until I lined up a few choice gigs. The first two squirreled, most likely because of the douche bag and all I was left with Mal’s deal.

Mal was typically the kind of guy you spent your career avoiding. He wasn’t a crook because it came naturally to him, or because he was psycho like the current crop of thugs I’d been dealing with for the past ten years. Mal was a crook because he was lazy and he was too stupid to figure any other way to make money other than ripping people off. He’d tried his hand at just about every scam out there, but no matter what he’d always take a fall. All except for strong arm work and as any good thug will tell you, it doesn’t take all that much in the brains department to stick a gun in someone’s face. This was what this score was, albeit a fairly elaborate one for a guy with so few functioning brain cells.

Mal had some how managed to hook himself up with a coyote who specialized in smuggling middle class Mexicans across the border. These weren’t your typical stand in front of home depot waiting for the gringo’s truck to come and pick them up for five dollars an hour border hoppers. The beaners this guy was trucking all lived fairly comfortable lives in Juarez or Tijuana, working jobs, owning businesses and homes, but were sick of the wholesale violence and crime that plagued their daily lives. Most of them were running, trying to get away from the cartels and their pockets were jammed full of cash, credit cards, hard assets and family heirlooms.

The guy transporting them wasn’t any different from the other scumbags totting the poor Mexicans looking for construction work, the difference being he promised to truck his clientele 200 miles past the border where there was less of chance of getting picked up by La Migra or dying from exposure and dehydration. They were lofty promises, especially with the state of Arizona getting so rough on illegal’s these days. But I guess this guy delivered on his promises and he’d walk away making mint off each run.

But the dude started getting ideas about his clients and he figured why not take these rich Mexicans entire wads after he dropped them off to fend for themselves in the great big middle of no where world of the U.S. of A. His only problem was that he was a bit of a pussy and didn’t want to start developing a reputation and start losing his main source of income, so he decided to throw in with Mal and Mal, in a rare moment of awkward intelligence, figured out he’d need more fire power, but was too greedy to put together a proper crew, so instead, he hit me up with the idea. The deal sounded good; my cut wasn’t spectacular, but it might be enough to keep the dogs from taking off a chunk of my asshole until I could put together another few jobs to take the heat off me permanently.

It seemed like we were parked under that mid-July sun for a few days when the coyote’s U-haul finally pulled to the side of the road not ten feet away from us. Mal was going spastic as a short sweaty guy sporting a green trucker’s cap and a fluffy half mustache scurried from the cab, around the back of the truck and rolled up the rear door, discharging a pack of well dressed but disheveled Mexican’s toting suitcases and heavy trunks. I kept wondering what these people thought they were getting into when they signed on to being taken across the border by this guy? Did they expect a tour bus to come and pick them up? A group of air conditioned limos to drive them to their hotel rooms? Yeah, they were a clear 150 miles away from the border, but they were still in the middle of the desert occupied by overgrown skinheads who got away with their racism because they called themselves patriots. Fuck it, I guess all suburbanites were all clueless assholes no matter what language they spoke.

As soon as the coyote jumped back into his and roared off, leaving the group scratching their heads and looking dazed, Mal slammed a ski mask and a rusted revolver into my chest. A revolver? Six shots to handle crowd control on upwards of twenty five people….Jesus….Lucky me I was already strapped with a Remington 12 gauge and my ever trusty Browning. I didn’t see much point in the ski mask either, so I ditched along with the piece.

We came out of the bushes, Mal screaming at the top of his lungs, telling everyone to hit the ground, flailing his piece around like he was trying to throw off a rabid sewer rat. I let the Remington do the talking for me, making a show of jacking a load into the chamber and then firing straight into the air. The Mexicans hit the deck double time with a chorus of squeals.

Fear has no language barrier.

As I moved around the prone bodies, the barrel of the Remington sweeping the ground waiting for hero movements and Mal scuttled about, liberating wallets, purses, suitcases, and running them back to the trunk of the el do and giggling like a loon the entire time, I was more than a little tempted to utter something witty like, ‘Welcome to America, motherfuckers.’ Or something equally retarded. But the way I figured it, I was already degrading myself enough with this job, so I didn’t see the point of making these people, who probably wouldn’t understand me anyway, feel any smaller then I was already making them feel.

* * *

Mal was going apey as I counted out the take from the wallets and purses, which wouldn’t have been a problem if he wasn’t driving on the I-10 headed back to Phoenix at a 120 miles an hour. His eyes kept darting back and forth from the road to the wad of cash passing between my fingers.

“How much now! How much now!” He kept screaming every five minutes. I’d give him a side long glance, shake my head and keep counting. I could understand his excitement; the job had turned into a hell of a score. The final count of Mexicans crammed into the back of that truck had come out to 31 with only six of them being children, so all totaled we had 25 wallets and purses and an equal number of suitcases stuffed into the canyon sized trunk of the El Do'. By the time I was done with my rough count just as we were approaching the outskirts of Phoenix, it totaled up to just short of fifty-five grand.

Hot score for the amount of work that actually went into it and that wasn’t even counting what was in the suitcases. I was going to get hosed on the cut. Mal had gone fifty-fifty with the coyote and Mal was paying me out of his end and he said we’d be going down the middle. I trusted the big dumb shit, but as I counted, I could see something around his eyes that told me he was thinking about putting a hot one my skull.

Or maybe it was just my hyper aware paranoia working over time on my already frayed nerves?

We made the rest of the drive into Phoenix in relative silence. By relative, I mean that Mal only punctuated the air with his hoots and hollers every five minutes or so and added this mantra every ten:

“Let’s go get some pussy, man! Let’s go bang the shit out of some street tail!”

I wasn’t too into whores, particularly the type you pick up along the side of Van Buren, but Mal kept insisting; kept rambling about getting his hands on some “hot tamale” Mexican trim before we met up with the coyote for the split. He was so revved up there was no way I was going to stop him.

We pulled off the I-10 onto the Central Ave., exit heading towards the desolate strip of burnt out apartment complexes and strip clubs of Van Buren Ave. where the street trade shook their asses for conventioneers and men who normal women wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. The intersection of Central and VB was a six way stop and the most dangerous intersection in the entire state. There were at least three accidents there a day and at least one fatal. People just couldn’t peg the rhythm of the lights or got impatient after a long day at the job and would attempt to whiz through, but all they would manage to do is smash up their cars and bodies. With the way Mal was driving and with where his head was at, I was pretty sure we were gonna end up as one of those twisted hunks of metal and blood.

We sat idle, waiting for the lights to go green. It was four in the afternoon, the after work crowd was in full effect, blasting their horns for no fucking reason and traveling twenty miles over the speed limit. We were stopped in the middle lane, Mal slapping the wheel, acting like he’d just won the lottery. The stupid shit had turned off the air conditioner again, fuck knows why, and I was inhaling his stink again, smelling his rotting breath. My focus went between the small bundles of cash between my feet and the beads of sweat coursing down his upper lip and cheeks.

We started to move, a crush of cars matching our speed and I swung my legs around and gave Mal’s blubbery face two hard kicks with my heels. His body hit the driver’s side door hard, popping it open and spilling the fat bastard out into oncoming traffic. I did a quick scramble into the driver’s seat, slamming the door before an oncoming car could take it off the hinges. I spotted Mal in the rearview, getting smacked around by one hybrid putter after another, at least until a big mother of an SUV splattered him across its grill.

It was him or me.

He would’ve done it after he’d blown his wad.

Remember, I saw it in his eyes.

At least that’s how I justified it, and now I was fifty-five grand richer, more than enough to call the dogs off.

Or maybe…..?

Maybe enough to leave?

I heard Albuquerque was nice?


Keith Rawson is a little known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert wastelands of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic four-year-old daughter. His stories have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Pulp Pusher,, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, Needle Magazine, and many others. He is a frequent contributor to BSCreview, a staff writer for Spinetingler Magazine and along with Cameron Ashley and Liam Jose he edits and publishes Crimefactory Magazine.


  1. Ah, it's good to see you haven't lost your touch, KR!

  2. splattered by cross town traffic. nicely done.
    a great interpretation of the title.

  3. Geeze Rawson, between you and that Duke guy's stories, I think I'll postpone my Phoenix trip down memory lane until I get another 12 gauge.I been to Albeyquirky and it's bout as bad as your Phoenix. Maybe your guy should try Show Low or Snowflake. It's sorta peaceful up there in the Whites.
    Nasty stuff you write, filthy in fact. Liked it a lot.