He stood on the side of the dust-caked road as the sun set over the highway lights ahead and thought long and hard about the middle of the road. The dust was swelling up ahead and it was a few more hours before Ian Baker would reach the end of the desert. At the end was one deal, he thought, or another, and maybe just the one score you still needed.
He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. You could see some of the lights from here, and he was happy enough to be stopped and looking. His shirt was sweated through good and his jeans still dirty from the night before when he had been cut deep in the leg by some biker in the bar who thought he was a real tough guy and didnít feel like paying for what he wanted. They all wanted it. Some just didnít want to pay. That was the long and short of it all. Some people just didnít want to pay.
The sun was setting now. It was warm and orange and lowered behind the hills. He had the dark, cold fear of knowing. It crept up on him now from behind. So he pushed it back as he pushed his fingers up through his hair. There is a very good thing about not having anywhere else to go but straight. This makes it easy even with the fear. He knew he was alone. Alone in the desert is a real damn thing. You can be alone in a dark Hellís Kitchen alley with only that twenty in your pocket to your name and not feel as alone as this. He had been there too. He was not afraid of the dark. That had ended years ago. And he wasnít scared of knives anymore. You canít be scared of a knife two inches deep in your leg. That all goes away pretty cleanly when youíve had the hot barrel of a gun pushed into the side of your head and your wad of money taken like that in an alley off 46th Street. The fear of knowing you were alone in the dessert is something far different. Then he looked back at the car and the lights ahead.
Ahead was the deal. It was always ahead, he told himself then. And you have the car. Yes, the car. He took the rubber band from his wrist and pulled his hair back and tied it and looked at the sky turned a dusty orange brown into black while he headed for the car. The sun was almost gone. He sat down and closed the door and turned on the lights. Behind him was a different world. Out in front were the lights of paradise city. It wasnít a dream or a mirage but there straight ahead. It was a deal and he could drive all night and make it smoothly with good driving all night and be at the motel by morning. So he looked into the lights ahead and stopped the talking rattling inside his head. There was no were else for him to go but drive straight through the dessert.
The leather seats had cooled and Ian turned on the radio, then turned it off. The key was in the ignition, but not turned. He just sat and listened to the night coming in there on the side of the road. His mind was off again, and he tried to stop the image of his sleeping wife on the bed next to him two mornings ago. He did and then came the sound of the kid crying in the next room. He silenced that one too. Then he looked down at the clothes he had been wearing for the last three days. You have to pay for everything sometime, he thought. That doesnít explain a deserted life, but itís a start. You have the luxuries which you pay a lot for, no matter how you pay for them. These were no problem and you paid them with all you had and it meant your soul, or your money or your head or your life but you paid up somehow and sooner or later they were all worth it. Luxuries are like that. He knew what was behind though was never worth it, no matter how free it seemed. The grinding kill of life on the nine to five was the lying death of garbage man dogs and business clad sheep. The hustling could be the same way too often too. She didnít understand, but she tried like hell. That is something to pay for.
He turned it over and pushed his ride into first. The gears turned underneath him from first to second and then up into third as the dust swelled up behind the black car and the wheels hit the dirt-soaked pavement again. The sun was gone but the lights were ahead, so he looked on and started to drive.