We Take Care of Our Own by C.W. Blackwell

Chico jumps the curb and races the van over the sidewalk, his knuckles tight on the wheel. He hits the brakes at the front entrance, close enough to trigger the automatic double-doors. Benny, Lozano, and I stream out of the van, a typhoon of ski masks and Hefty bags. It’s 9:00am and the drug store is busier than any of us expected. Lines at both registers.

Lozano climbs the pharmacy counter and wags a janky .38 over the frightened customers. Some have their hands up and some are face-down on the floor like they’ve seen this movie before. The pharmacist stands at his terminal, fingers frozen over the keys. Benny gives him a knee to the thigh and he slowly folds to the floor.

We shake out our Hefty bags and hit the shelves.




Anything with Oxy or Perco is golden.

Chico honks the horn and Benny cinches the bag.

“Let’s go,” says Lozano. He stuffs the .38 in his sweatshirt. “Get your asses in the van.”

I kneel over the pharmacist. He smells like hot piss. Tears running down both cheeks.

“Don’t hurt me,” he says.

“Where’s the Humalin,” I say. “Or Novolin.”

His hands shake, lips quivering. I give him a hard slap to help him focus. “All the insulin is in the cooler,” he says, “Under the counter.”

I sweep the cooler and dump it all in the bag, jump the counter and head for the door. Some of the customers are starting to get up. They’re recording me with their phones. Live-streaming for their social media cred.

Outside, the van is rolling down the parking lot and the door is sliding shut. I hit the asphalt running and catch up before Chico makes the corner.

It’s a close call.

• • •

I set the insulin on the kitchen table and crack a beer for the old man. He looks terrible. Unwashed hair. Eyes like dark bruises. But he’s happy to see me.

He always is.

“How much did they give me this time, mijo?”

“About fifteen vials,” I say. “They were generous.”

“I told you the VA would come through. This country always keeps its promises. We take care of our own.”

“I bet they remember everything you did, Pops.”

“Well, of course they do. I made sergeant in three years.”

I clean the back of his arm, load the shot.

He grits his teeth and swigs the beer when the pain comes.

• • •

Harbaugh’s Pharmacy. Saturday, 8:35AM.

Another tide of ski masks and Hefty bags.

We jump the counter like a sunrise war party.

Terrified children flee down aisles of endless hair dyes.

Lozano’s gun goes off accidentally. He turns it over suspiciously, as if it has a mind of its own. Nobody’s hurt, but it sends the customers into a wild panic. A mad rush for the door.

Chico honks the horn and everyone cuts their losses.

Everyone but me.

I find the cooler in the back of the pharmacy and swipe the shelves clean. The old man’s empty and the VA clinic has been closed all week. By the time I jump the counter and make it outside, the van’s already squealing onto Front Street, police cruisers howling through the intersection.

I’m five seconds too late.

I cross the parking lot toward River Street, ski mask hugging my sweaty face. I cut between the parked cars and careen through the landscaping. On the other side, there’s a young cop waiting for me. Maybe twenty-one. Glock in the air. He gets too close so I slap the gun from his hand and give him a hard jab to the chin. He goes down so quickly the radio pops off his shoulder. I cross the road and trudge into the San Lorenzo River, swim the shallow currents toward the Beach Flats.

• • •

“How much this time, mijo?”

“The clinic gave us even more today,” I say. I fish around the bag for the vials. I’m soaked through. River water draining from my tennis shoes. “All for free. You must have been one of their best men, Pops.” “No, mijo. But it’s like I told you — we take care of our own.”

Windows to the Soul by C.W. Blackwell


Jackie watched the clock on the car stereo. Hands tight on the wheel. It was cold and there was a ragged stratum of ice curling up the windshield. She sat in a fog of her own breath.

Engine running, heater off.

She wanted to stay alert.

“Come on, asshole,” she whispered. “Don’t take all day.”

She watched the door and she watched the clock. The parking lot was empty. She felt as if she were the only person in the world.

ATM machines blinking.

Deposit slips mouldering in the ornamental rosemary.

She leaned across and pushed open the passenger door.


The front doors opened and James ran down the handicap ramp with a reusable Trader Joe’s bag in one hand and a silver revolver in the other. The bag was burdened underneath. Handles taut. His mask was crooked and he tripped coming off the ramp but he didn’t fall, just tumbled haphazardly over the asphalt and through the open car door.

Jackie didn’t wait for him to get settled.

She hit the gas and white smoke spit from the rear tires.

At the intersection there was a white Toyota making a lazy turn onto Graham Hill Road. She launched through and cut around the car. The Toyota hit the brakes and the driver looked around bewildered.

Jackie never took her foot off the floor.


James reached in the bag and pulled out a fistfull of cash.

“What took so long?” she said.

“I hit all the registers, baby. Every one.”



“Should be twelve grand in there.”

“Looks like it,” said James. He was digging in the bag like it was Halloween. “How long will that last?”

“In Baja? Depends on how much junk you smoke.”

“I just wanna chill out, Jackie. Weed and Corona.”

“Heard that before. Anything go wrong in there?”

James tilted his head back and forth as if deciding what she’d consider wrong. “It was chill. Except for the last part.”

“Tell me.”


James stammered, trying to put it a certain way.

“Just tell me,” said Jackie.

“You remember that girl Becka from high school?”

“Becka Simms?”

“No, the other Becka.”

“Becka big tits?”

James put his hands in the air, wavering. “I guess.”

“Don’t tell me you never called her that,” said Jackie. They were a mile up Highway 9 and the roads were clear in both directions. Just another mile would do it.

“I think she recognized me.”

“You’re fucking kidding. What’d she say?”

“She looked into my eyes, Jackie. It was the last register by the door. I wasn’t going to hit her up but the first two were so easy. She was looking right through me.”

“Then what?”

“She said my name.”

“She said James?”

“No. She said my full name. James Ritchie.”

Jackie cut onto Summit Road.


They parked on the bluff. The sun had crested the trees and the frost on the windshield was subtracting to the cowl. Jackie slipped one hand on James’s knee and the other on the grip of the revolver in the center console.

“What are you doing, baby?” said James.

“Should have been more careful, babe.”

James laughed, then his eyes widened.

Jackie thumbed the hammer back.

“Becky’s cool, baby. She won’t say nothing.”

Jackie looked him over. He’d be handsome if he wasn’t such an idiot. It was too bad he’d never outgrow it. She pulled the trigger and the passenger window shattered. The bullet went through his neck and cut his spine. He made a quick nod and fell forward onto the dashboard like a felled tree. A formless jet pumping over his collarbone.

She took the money and put the car in neutral. When she stepped out, the car rolled silently down the hill toward the sheer drop at the end of the bluff.

“Told you to wear your fucking sunglasses,” she said.


Jackie walked to the road.

The switch car sat beneath an old-growth redwood tree.

She spun the keychain on her finger and lifted the money bag as if judging its weight. Ten hours to the border.