Crime Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I was parched. I tossed my jacket over my shoulder and continued plodding towards the inexplicable pasture land in the distance. It’s not that I was ever afraid of dying, you understand, I just expected it to be quick and painless, like an unanticipated bullet to the back of the head. Baking to death in the desert? That wasn’t something I’d ever figured on.

We were on our way to Vegas and we’d already covered lots of territory that day, unfortunately, much of it was on foot. After two hours of trudging towards a slight rise in the deserted wastelands of the southwest, we finally reached the windswept outcrop of parched and crunching sand and could see what lay beyond. I sighed, then cursed under my breath. It made no sense.

“Look,” Joey said. “A cow pasture. I think we’re home free.”

I looked at my big, stupid partner and said. “You’re an imbecile. Did you know that?”

“No, I’m serious,” he said. “Look at that. That’s farm land. That’s a cow pasture. There’s probably a town just on the other side of those…” We both squinted at a wavy shimmering mirage in the distance. “What are those—mountains?”

“How the fuck should I know, Joey?”

“Well how far could it be?”

“A million miles?”

It was a waste of sarcasm, because he said, “Naw, the horizon is only twenty miles away. I read that somewhere. That’s like…”

“The horizon,” I said. “That’s the fucking horizon, you imbecilic moron.”

He was all patient innocence. “Why are you so pissed off? What did I do?”

“What did you do?” I wanted to shoot him. “What did you do?” It was hard to imagine any wheels turning behind that big, stupid, face of his. I resumed walking toward the green field. A part of me was relieved, if puzzled, at the sight of all that grass in a desert, but I was still ticked off at Joey’s stupidity.

“I gave you 40 bucks and told you to fill up the tank, Joey. So what do you do?”

“Come on Saulie, don’t be like that. I said I was sorry.”

“You get 10 dollars-worth, a lousy quarter of a tank.”.

He looked away.

“We left the last gas station with 10 dollars-worth of gas, Joey. Then you tell me you know a shortcut. Christ! You might as well have put a gun to our heads and pulled the trigger.”

“I don’t have a gun, Saulie.” He shielded his eyes from the sun.

“That’s because you’re too stupid to have a gun.”

“I don’t need a gun, Saulie. I got these.” He smiled as he balled up his massive fists.

I snorted in disgust.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea,” he said, jogging to catch up with me. He pulled a pen-knife out of his pocket. “I could signal a passing plane. You know, reflect the sun off the blade into the eyes of one of the pilots.”

First I looked at Joey, to see if he was serious, then I looked up at the clear blue New Mexico sky. There were two contrails, a tiny little jet-sized dot at the front of each one, heading in different directions: Tiny specks in the sky. I looked at Joey again. “You do realize that they’re flying at about thirty-thousand feet, right?”

“Yeah? So? What’s footage got to do with it?”

“What’s footage got to…?” I started to say. “Do you really think you’ll catch the attention of a pilot flying 6 miles up with a two-inch pen knife?”

“You’re awfully negative, Saulie. That’s why you don’t get anywhere in life.”

He said this with a straight face. Like he was a fucking psychology major at Dartmouth College. “Oh really?” I said. “How can you say I don’t get anywhere in life? Look around.” I spun slowly in place with my arms outstretched. “How can you say I don’t get anywhere, Joey? You don’t think this is somewhere?” I was more determined than ever to reach that field of tall grass before I broke his skull with a rock, if I could find one in all this sand.

“You know where we are?” He asked.

“Yeah, I know where I am. I’m in the middle of nowhere, sweating my cojones off with you—my partner, the genius.”

We were walking side by side. The grass was no more than 50 yards distant. There was something funny about it. My partner looked thoughtful. “Yeah, I guess nowhere is somewhere.”

The ‘big green field of prairie grass turned out to be an endless expanse of small black rocks: Lumpy, razor-sharp remnants of an ancient lava flow. It looked green from a distance because thin, two-foot-long shoots of grass had pushed their way through the rocks at regular intervals. Despite their struggle to survive in such an environmentally challenging landscape, there were so many that it created the illusion, not a mirage, just the appearance of a thick carpet of grass seen from a distance. But for the grass, we might as well have been on the moon. It was almost impossible to walk on such terrain.

After a minute of picking our way over the impassable landscape, I said, “Hey stupid.”


“Since you only got ten dollars worth of gas, what did you do with the other 30 bucks?”

“I spent it,” he said.

“On what?” I didn’t care. I was just making idle conversation with an idiot.

“I bought some minutes for my phone,” Joey said.

I stopped. He stopped. We stared at each other.

“You have a cell phone with you?” I couldn’t believe I was asking. I never carried a cell phone. It never occurred to me that he would. Who would he call, and who would call him? What a stupid question. The sun was baking my brain and the lack of moisture had reduced it to the size of my partner’s gonads.

Much to my surprise, he said, “Yeah, sure. Why?”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “We’re walking through the fucking desert, and you’ve got a cell phone in your pocket? What are you—a fucking moron?”

He just looked at me.

I couldn’t believe it. “Let me see it, Joey.”

He stood there, dumbfounded, like he could not believe I would doubt his word.

“Let me see it Joey. Now.” I held my hand out, wiggling my fingers impatiently.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun, pointed it at my forehead and said, “Sorry Saulie, bosses orders,” and pulled the trigger.

When nothing happened, he looked surprised. “Oops,” he said, “Goddamned safety's...”

Before his tiny brain could activate another muscle in his gigantic body, I whipped my piece out of my holster and shot him in the chest, twice. He still looked surprised. Then he fell backwards like a fucking redwood tree.

I shot him again for good measure.

“So—the boss wants me dead,” I said to his inert corpse. “Interesting.” I reached into his pocket and retrieved the phone. I already had a plan. Step one: Get the fuck out of this desert. Step two: Arrange a little meeting with the boss.

October 18, 2023 05:57

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Danie Holland
15:35 Oct 25, 2023

This was great Ken! For some reason, I always enjoy when characters play dumb but are actually just playing the people around them. Of course, In Joey's case, it sounds like he really is just an idiot. The twist was so sneaky, for sure didn't see that coming. We focus so much on the relationship unfolding between the two which almost sounds like banter between two friends who got themselves into a predicament that we don't realize they might be something else to each other. Coworkers/enemies. You also tease us when Joey lies saying he doesn'...


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Michał Przywara
20:47 Oct 19, 2023

Heh :) Fun dialogue :) Something about crooks getting themselves into a bind opens the door for a lot of funny. Maybe it's because the stakes are often so high - freedom/jail, life/death, rich/poor - that getting tripped up by the mundane is a great contrast. I didn't see the twist coming at all, but it fits perfectly (except of course now, I want to know what happens next :) Almost feel sorry for Joey though. That "oops" at the end, such a ridiculous contrast to trying to execute someone :) Thanks for sharing!


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20:46 Oct 18, 2023

What a twist! This was a great fun read , the interplay between the leads was sparkling and vibrant. Didn't expect the reveal at the end. Nice cliffhanger too that leaves for plenty of possibilities. Nice work!


Ken Cartisano
08:04 Oct 19, 2023

Thanks Derrick. I felt the same way, overall, it was pretty funny, and the ending was clever too. Glad you liked it too.


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Kevin Logue
19:56 Oct 18, 2023

I was smiling the whole way through way, two great characters in such a short space, got George and Lenny vibes. Then the last four paragraphs, damn Ken, that was a great flip and a setup for something bigger, or just to leave us wanting and imagining more. Goes from survival comedy to gangland revenge, really enjoyable. Five out of five, would read again.


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Laurel Hanson
21:50 Nov 02, 2023

I had the distinct impression of having commented on this one when I read it last week. Yet, I see that didn't happen. You know how it is when you get older or get interrupted - not sure which happened. Through mostly dialog, you've managed to create two distinct characters and evoke a fair amount of sympathy for Saulie who has to put up with Joey's idiocy. Which by the way, is really well portrayed. I was intrigued the idea of the black rocks sheltering enough grass to look like a field from a distance. Must be a phenomena of the desert re...


Ken Cartisano
23:38 Nov 04, 2023

Howdy Ms. Laurel, This grass growing through the rocks thing is something I actually saw with my own eyes, and it fooled me and my wife when we saw it. We were driving along in New Mexico or Arizona and looking out the window I was treated to this vista of endless prairie. After a few minutes I said to my wife, 'why isn't anyone using this land for something?" All the surrounding towns and villages looked pretty 'hardscrabble' if you get my meaning. A lot of hardship and poverty. Meanwhile, there's this endless panorama of beautiful green p...


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Hazel Ide
14:45 Oct 28, 2023

This was great. I love the banter. Saulie was so ornery, but turns out, he had a pretty good reason to be.


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