A Jump in the Dark by James Pate

That summer, Paul and Suzie would drink during the day, watching old movies on TCM and talking about their favorite actors and directors. And they would drink at night, having a few Jim Beam-and-cokes before stumbling out to The Lampshade, the bar a few blocks from their gray-brick duplex. Paul had lost his job as a cashier months before, when the manager of the Kroger’s near downtown Memphis caught him sipping tequila from his thermos. Suzie had been out of work even longer. She’d been a teacher at St. Francis Catholic School. The number of absences and late days accumulated. She had been let go in January. “This isn’t purely bad news,” she’d assured Paul. “It’ll give me more time to recover from my hangovers in the morning.”

They were in their mid-thirties, but it felt as if they had already retired from the world. Paul thought they were not so much nihilistic as committed to living how they wanted. Yet they grew worried about their finances.

“We can get a smaller, shittier place,” Paul suggested.

“Don’t you think our current place is shitty and small enough?” Suzie replied.

They had a friend at The Lampshade, a jumpy, skinny guy named Rex. One rainy night in a back booth at The Lampshade, after Paul and Suzie had bitched for a while about their economic situation, Rex said he could do them a favor. Rex sold pills, pot, and sometimes a little coke to people who tended to be careful about buying such things: lawyers, doctors, professors. He was discreet and willing to make house calls. He told Paul and Suzie he had a package of coke he had been waiting to deliver to a brain surgeon who lived in a huge house in Germantown. But Rex had the sense, recently, of being followed. Maybe it was paranoia. But he couldn’t shake it.

“Would you two do the delivery?” he asked. “It’d be some quick cash.”

Paul looked at Suzie. Suzie grabbed his hand and squeezed. They turned to Rex and discussed a dollar amount for the favor.

Three nights later, as had been arranged, Paul and Suzie drove their Toyota to Rex’s neighborhood. They parked two blocks away, wanting to make sure their vehicle was not seen around Rex’s bungalow. “Are we really going to do this?” Paul asked, his heart beating like a crazed animal above his ribcage.

She placed her hand on the back of his neck, rubbing the tight muscles. “It’s a delivery. That’s all. The key is to not think about what we’re delivering.”

The windows of Rex’s house were lit. Paul and Suzie approached the door: it was open a few inches. Suzie glanced back at Paul. She placed her fingers on the door. She pushed it open.

Inside, they saw the massacre. Rex with blood covering his chest, sitting on the sofa, gasping. Across from him were the bodies of two men in white T-shirts, their faces largely missing from gunfire. Rex turned toward Paul and Susie, whispering, “I was right. I wasn’t paranoid.” He stared at them. He didn’t blink. Paul realized he would never blink again.

Suzie said, “Look here.” She strode over to the duffel bag by the coffee table. She squatted down and opened it. Bags of white powder were stacked inside.

Paul went over and squatted next to her. That was when they heard the sirens. They sounded three or four blocks away. “We can stay here, try to explain things,” Suzie said.

“We can.”

“Or we can take this shit and change our lives forever. We find a way to sell this, we’ll never work again.”

Paul looked at her face. She was breathing hard, yet her face was calm. “We can do this,” she said softly.

He nodded, squeezed her knee. The sirens were growing louder. She zipped the bag and flung it over her shoulder. They ran through the back door and climbed over the wood fence in the backyard. They walked once they reached the sidewalk. A humid breeze stirred the treetops. They moved away from the siren wails toward the dark, quiet street ahead, the backs of their hands sometimes touching.

The Bride by James Pate

Rick aimed his rifle from the back window of the Honda and set his sight on the groom standing in his tux. The guy was lean, with spiky black hair, and he stood with his new bride under a dogwood. Rick pulled the trigger.

Steven sat in the driver’s seat, at the ready. As soon as he saw the groom collapse into the arms of the bride, he pressed his foot hard on the gas pedal, tearing down the empty Mississippi lane and heading north toward Memphis.

During the two-hour drive, they were quiet. They smoked. Steven played Iggy Pop on the CD player. They’d met in their youth, both of them being in a punk band called Criminal Flowers. When the band went nowhere, Steven and Rick had started selling drugs, stealing cars for chop shops, being bad guys for hire. They’d both gotten out of prison recently, Steven for stealing a BMW in Dallas, Rick for selling tranquilizers at a club in Nashville.

Back in Memphis, they decided they needed to have some fun. On Summer Avenue, nestled between a boarded-up Holiday Inn and a brightly lit Exxon, stood Admiral Bowling Lanes. As they tied on their bowling shoes, Rick said, “She was fucking him before she moved out. That’s what made me do it, man. If she’d fucked him five seconds after moving out from our place, today would’ve been totally different.”

“Rick, you’re paying me good money for helping you out. You don’t need to explain shit, okay?”

Rick nodded, picking up a ball and moving toward the lane. Steven looked around, sipped beer from a plastic cup. It was a dim place with an ugly beige carpet. It was almost empty, except for the hairy kid in glasses who worked concessions and the two old guys down at a lane at the far end of the room.

Rick turned. He’d struck down every pin. He said, “You see that shit? This has gotta be my lucky day.”

Then he didn’t say anything else due to half of his head exploding, spraying the wall with blood and bone and brain. Steven crouched down behind the chair he’d been sitting in, tugged his pistol from the holster under his shirt, and fired at two men in black shirts and jeans. They were charging at him, rifles in hand.

His bullets flew past the head of the one he’d been aiming for, hitting the ceiling instead. Steven heard a gunshot behind his back and instantly felt the bullet pierce into his hip. Pain flashed through his body and his muscles turned into mush. He was on the ground blinking like mad, a scream lodged in the back of his throat.

The bride approached. She wore a gown with dried blood painted down the front. Mascara was smeared across her cheeks from the tears she must have cried a few hours ago. She stood above him, pointing the gun at his head. She said, “You have no idea who my family is, do you?”

Steven managed to shake his head through the pain.

“If you did, you never would’ve helped that dead piece of shit over there.” She pointed her chin toward Rick’s body.

“I just drove,” Steven told her, his voice low, hoarse. “He paid me.”

“I should kill you. My daddy would’ve. And my mama. But today was going to be my wedding day. And in the spirit of that day, I’m going let you live.”

Steven stared at her. The pain kept him from speaking. His face was like a single dead muscle.

“You didn’t see any of this,” she said. “When the police ask their million fucking questions, you make shit up.”

Steven nodded. He thought he might black out any second.

“All right,” said the bride. “I’m done here then.”

She lowered the gun and turned to leave with the two men dressed in black. Steven kept his eyes on her. Her dress was satiny, with lacy sleeves. She would have been a radiant bride, he thought.

But the blood on her gown, mascara on her cheeks, rage in her eyes…

Now she looked like she could kill the devil himself.