Cranked by Mark Westmoreland

Crank smashed his truck through the wrought iron gate. A Glock 22 lay next to him on the seat. Country Mud pumped through his veins. His temples pounded an offbeat rhythm, his muscles flexed rubber band tight, his body chilled with cool sweat.

An hour before he’d snatched up Daisy Whitlock. She was shoved in the extended cab, wrists tied behind her back, she cried through a balled-up gym sock. Her daddy owned seventy-eight acres of north Georgia, managed the region’s oldest credit union, and kept enough money on hand to purchase salvation from God.

Crank laid down on the horn so the family rushed outside. Dark-eyed teens and their shapely mama gathered behind their dad. William T. Whitlock rested his arms on the porch banister. Shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows, coarse hair prickled when he saw the gun. Crank moved quick. The Mud fueled him. He slung open the back door, grabbed Daisy by the hair, and flung her to the ground.

He stomped a heel into her lower back, aimed at the back of her head, said, “Know you got plenty of money, Mr. Whitlock. More’n you’ll ever spend. Won’t hurt you none to spare me some.”

William T. herded everyone back inside. Daisy’s mama tried to fight around him. He jerked the door shut in her face. He turned back to Crank, neck red, eyes razor slits. “Daisy, he treat you all right?”

Daisy cried through the sock.

“You see her.” Crank’s grip shook. Made his aim unsteady. “She’ll stay all right long as you gimme what I’m askin.”

William T. stood at the edge of the steps, fists balled in his pockets. “How much you askin?”

“Fifty-two hundred. Cash. Right now.”

William T. sucked his teeth, shook his head, said, “Ain’t no price I’m gone pay.”

Daisy wracked under Crank’s boot. His vision shimmered. The Country Mud boiled inside him.

William T. moved to the bottom step. Body relaxed. Arms loose at his sides.

Crank spoke, his voice edged with static, “The money, Mr. Whitlock.” His grip knuckle-white.

Whitlock knelt, pulled his pants leg high, drew from an ankle holster. He returned to his full height, aimed between Crank’s eyes. Snorted, said, “Kill her then.”

Crank’s shoulders were taut. His eyes bubbled and twitched. He jerked Daisy around by the hair. Pulled her to her knees. Aimed the Glock into her crown. “You gone let me kill your little girl?”

William T. moved easy. Closed the distance between them. Honed his sight between Crank’s eyebrows. Gave a soft answer, “Got two more inside.”

Daisy bit a scream into the sock. Crank snarled, grit rotten teeth, bore the gun into her head. “I ain’t kiddin with you, Mr. Whitlock.”

Whitlock took a final step forward, placed the barrel against Crank’s soggy skin, pulled back on the hammer. William T. glanced at his daughter. Tears squeezed through tight lids. He locked in on Crank. Said, “Neither am I.”

The Gram by Mark Westmoreland

“You see what that sumbitch Rocky posted on the Gram?”

“The Gram?”

“Instagram.”

“Instagram? The hell you talkin bout?”

Scotty and Bobby Ray bounced along in Scotty’s F-150. They were hung over from the night before and unready for the day. Scotty looked over at his best friend, a dumb look on his face. Bobby Ray spit tobacco juice into a Coca-Cola bottle. “How you not know what Instagram is?”

“Ain’t never heard of it.”

“How’ve you not heard about it?”

“Hell if I know, Bobby Ray, why should I give a shit?”

“Cause if you knew what it was you’d’ve seen the stack of cash on Rocky’s Instagram.”

“I got no idea what in hell you talkin bout.”

“All right, listen, Instagram’s a website where you put pictures of yourself. For your friends to see.”

“What?”

“It’s like Facebook but nothin but pictures.” Bobby Ray spit.

Scotty dug a finger into his ear, thought about what Bobby Ray said. “You into some faggot shit you ain’t told me bout, Bobby Ray?”

“Scotty, don’t act like such a goddamn redneck.”

“Hey, if that’s what you into, fine. Just don’t think we gone turn into butt buddies or nothin.”

“Goddammit, you gettin off topic.”

“Bobby Ray, you the one goin online and puttin up pictures of yourself.”

Bobby Ray scooped his dip out of his mouth and flung it out his window. “First off, I ain’t no queer. You can get that shit outta your head right now. And, second, the whole point of this story is that Rocky’s postin pictures of seven or eight stacks of hundred dollar bills.”

“Why ain’t you already said that?”

“I did, goddammit.”

“What’s it matter anyway?”

“Damn, thought you’d never ask. What I’m thinkin is this: If he’s gone put pictures of that kinda money on the internet, he’s askin somebody to steal it.”

“Yeah?”

“And me’n you oughta be the ones to steal it.”

Scotty blew a snot rocket out the driver’s window, thought about the proposal, and asked, “How much money you think it was?”

“Seven or eight thousand.”

“Hell, lets go.”

Scotty cut a U-turn in the middle of the road, and drove to Rocky’s trailer park.

• • •

Scotty rammed his shoulder through the front door of the trailer, almost tore it from its hinges, and stumbled inside. Bobby Ray followed him in, said, “This place is goddamn immaculate.”

“Ain’t it, though.”

“Rocky a germaphobe or somethin?”

“Not that I know.”

“You want to look through the livin room, I’ll check the rest?”

“Make it fast. Don’t wanna be here long.”

“We ain’t spendin the night, Scotty.”

Scotty did his best to keep the trailer in order but Bobby Ray tore through the home and turned it upside down. He made the guest room a pigsty, destroyed the kitchen, and made a mess of Rocky’s dirty laundry. When the money was nowhere to be found Scotty said, “If you done we need to get on outta here.”

“But we ain’t checked Rocky’s bedroom.”

“Goddamn, Bobby Ray, let’s go.”

“I’ll make it quick.”

Scotty took a seat on the couch. Bobby Ray barged into the master bedroom, found Rocky stretched across the bed, his legs hung over the side. Hundred dollar bills were strewn around the room and a wad was stuffed in Rocky’s mouth.

Bobby Ray knelt down, picked up a bill, and it was fake. He stood up, leaned near Rocky, and saw that the side of his head looked like a smashed grapefruit. “Holy shit.”

Bobby Ray backed out of the room, said, “Let’s get the hell outta here, Scotty.” Bobby Ray turned to his friend who stared straight ahead. Bobby Ray followed his eyes.

A deputy sheriff stood in the doorway, his cowboy hat pushed onto the crown of his head, his belly sagged over his belt. He brought a cell phone out of his pocket and showed the boys the photo from Instagram. The smile on his face told the story when he said, “Reckon you boys’re in a mess you ought not be in.”