Contemporary Crime


He paces. Short choppy steps, pivots, begins again. His left hand holds a red plastic poker chip, the top grooves worn smooth by incessant rubbing of his thumb. His intensity bleeds through the walls.

           Upstairs, she adjusts each arm of her blue sweater before folding the bottom edge precisely even with the tips of the shoulders. She is in no hurry. Nine hours through the California dessert. Miles of brown grass with an occasional Burger King sprouting up like a shrine .

     She places her one-piece bathing suit on top of the sweater The size eight still fits. Life is lived month by month The daily injections, the cramping. Her period is her prime meridian. Yesterday, the inevitable crimson stain in her underwear.    

He looks up to see her coming down the stairs. He loves how her brown hair hugs the bottom of her chin. The delicate way she points her toe to find the stair. His Emily. Lately, he misses her smile, her laughter. Barrenness is leaching her away from him one month at a time.

  He locks the front door. The morning air is crisp and cool. The last purple clouds of dawn cling to the bottom of the horizon. They get in the car.    He waits for the sharp click of her seatbelt before he pulls the Acura out of the driveway. He turns on to the 405-freeway setting the cruise control at 95. The inevitable speeding ticket from a stern-faced highway patrol officer is part of his ritual. The clock on the dash said 6:16 am, with luck they will reach Vegas by 2:00 this afternoon. .

Eight years ago, in his first Binion Poker tournament he won $17,348.21. He took his winnings in cash. They had $600 dinners. He bought a $5,000 set of golf clubs. They stayed in a deluxe suite for six nights.

 She lays on her left side knees half curled; beige linen pants hike up around her calves in soft wrinkles. Despite the early hour, she wears mascara with a soft rose lipstick. He appreciates that, she always dresses like the wife of a top-selling agent.   Morning light and the lipstick give her face a soft glow. He can’t remember the last time she looked so peaceful. 

   Thank God she had agreed to come. He knows after seven years; she dreads the tournament. Endless hours of watching. He gets bleary eyed and cramped from playing but there is a loosening in his shoulders when he sees her in the gallery chatting away with another poker widow. 

  Outside of Bakersfield she stirs, stretches and rubs both fists into her eyes. “Stop at the next rest stop, I have to pee”

“Didn’t you just pee three days ago?”, she punches him playfully in the arm.

 “Just pee, don’t get your hair and nails done”, she laughs and slams the car door.

          9:20 a.m., the heat shimmers above the concrete walkway. Beads of sweat began forming between her breasts. Flinging open the heavy concrete door, she is assaulted by  a sickeningly sweet mixture of disinfectant and mold. The concrete walls are cool, the restroom dark. A dingy porcelain sink holds a dripping faucet. The graffiti covered paper towel dispenser is empty.

“Watch it” “a raspy voice growls.

Emily can barely make out the figure sitting on the floor. Her back is against the wall, legs splayed out in front of her. Her head flops from her neck, obscuring her face. Streaks of greasy brown hair are clotted around her head. Her muscles sag as if someone has beaten her then tossed her against the wall. The flickering fluorescent light makes her pale skin a sickly green. 

       She wears an ancient pair of blue jeans unbuttoned to her pubic bone. A pink cotton t-shirt with Heather in green fluorescent sequins stretches across her protruding belly. A torn navy-blue canvas sneaker falls half way off one foot. She cradles a filthy Raiders backpack. She could be sixteen or thirty. The floor is filled with half opened bags of trail mix. Her legs are littered with blue M and Ms.  Sixteen cans of diet coke are stacked four high against the wall.

“Sorry, didn’t see you ” Emily says stepping delicately over the scattered food and into a barren stall and closing the door.

She’s pregnant, !!!!. She wants to beat her fists against the door of the bathroom stall. She wants to march over and slap her. I am the one who should be having a baby.  I work out faithfully, I take vitamins, hell I haven’t had a god damm cup of coffee in two years. There is a bedroom with a white crib waiting at home. 

She uses the bathroom and goes to the sink to wash her hands. 

“Due soon?” she asks.

“ What’s it to you lady, you look like you got no damn problems”

She flees the bathroom and runs to the car . 

“You, okay?” He asks as she slides in, his hand gently caresses her knee.


“Yeah, just groggy from sleeping”.

Pulling back onto the highway, his mind churns with strategy? She stares out the window and wonders for the thousandth time, why not me?

       Sixteen days later, he places third in the tournament, $68,456.32 dollars richer. They stand in the hotel parking lot. She glances at him, still wearing his lucky blue jeans. The fingers on his left-hand twitch, as if they cannot exist without the caress of cards. He runs his hand through his itchy beard. She thrusts her suitcase at him. 3:45 a.m., it has cooled to 94 degrees. He loads the suitcases into the trunk. She climbs into the driver seat starts the car, guns the engine, desperate to escape Vegas. He is sleeping before she reaches the on ramp. Thin lips parted, barely a snore with each breath, a sleep so sound she can feel his contentment. He could be dreaming of exotic islands or Spiderman.

  Three hours later, she pulls into the rest stop. She unlatches the car door. He stirs but does not waken. Reaching the bathroom, she tugs open the heavy metal door, Putrid air assaults her. The stench almost doubles her over.    Heather is flat on her back, laying in the only place on the floor not filled with bloody rags, spilled diet coke, piss. An infant wrapped in newspapers lays on her stomach. A thin line of drool seeps from the corner of her mouth. Gingerly stepping around the garbage, Emily kneels down to look at the baby. Dried blood encrusts his chubby face, fist clenched, he snores quietly.


 “What the hell are you doing? Heather demands pressing the baby closer.

“ A boy or a girl? She cannot stop herself from asking.T he fluorescent bulb is burned out, they face off in the dimness until Heather says "boy “She begins to bounce him in her fleshy tattooed arms.


“Feels about six pounds”

“You had him in here?” Emily asks.

“ No, I had him in the Taj Mahal.” Now I’m just waiting for the limo to pick me up”

Emily stands up, stalks back to the Acura, lifts the lid of the trunk. There are piles of cash in the green nylon gym bag. After snatching two stacks of hundred-dollar bills, she grabs water and a bag of nuts. She ties a handkerchief over her mouth before returning to the bathroom.

“That’s a good boy, that’s a good boy” says Heather.

“How long were you in labor?” Emily asks shoving the bottle of water toward her. Heather grabs the water gulping it down so fast Emily fears she will choke.

“Don’t know, maybe three hours?”

“That’s pretty fast”

“More you have the quicker they come”

“This is my fourth” “But you’re the prettiest one, aren’t you?” she says raising him to eye level.

  Emily steps around a bloody rag, kicks away an empty m and m bag covered with ants. She lays a stack of bills down next to Heathers thigh. Taking one hand off the baby Heather reaches down and taps her index finger on the stack of bills. Snapping her hand away, her head jerks up, her eyes flash.

“Don’t need your money, my boyfriend will be coming for me.”

Emily listens to the dripping faucet, the metal door hinges creaking in the wind. She hands Heather the package of nuts. Heather rips the package open with her teeth, pours the entire package into her mouth. Flecks of nuts stick to the edges of her mouth. She chews quickly, swallowing the entire mouthful. Heathers tired eyes dart between the baby, the money. Her shoulders sag. As if her hand is not her own, she reaches out again, running an index finger crusted with grime along the stack of bills.

 “You think just because you have money you will be a better mother.  Screw you and your money. Just get out of here, this baby is mine!” 

Emily stands up and pulls the stack of bills out of her back pocket, places it on the floor, beside the first stack. 

“I told you get out of here”. 

 Emily’s voice is barely above a whisper.

“What happened to the other three?” 


  The crack of the punch explodes off the concrete walls. Emily's jaw explodes. She falls backward, her teeth bite into her tongue, her mouth fills with blood. She spits blood onto the floor. She spits again, rubs her jaw. Heather is wild eyed; she sits up puts the baby on her knees, rubs her knuckles.

“I told you to get out of here”

Emily doesn’t move.


Heather pulls back her fist. Emily leans out of reach. Heather sighs so deeply it seems to come from another world. Thrusting the baby at Emily, she grabs both stacks of bills, yanks down her shirt, rushes out the door, never looking back.

        Emily runs to the car and opens the passenger side.

“Move over you need to drive!”

He jerks up. “What’s going on are you okay?”

  She shoves him, his long legs get tangled in the clutch Slipping into the passenger seat, she pulls the lever, the seat reclines until she is prone. Placing the baby on her chest, she begins rubbing small circles into the small of his back.

“Yeah, baby, that’s a good baby”. She places her finger in his mouth and he begins to suck. He has green eyes.

“Drive Now! we have to get out of here!”. She snaps her head up to glance at the bathroom door

“I am not driving anywhere till you explain to me what the hell is going on.”

“You are bleeding are you hurt?” he asks.

Her tongue probes the inside of her mouth. She feels a loose tooth.

“I’m fine ”“No one needs to know” she is gasping. Chest heaving from the weight of the baby. Her cheeks are flushed, sweat plasters her bangs to her forehead. “We signed up for adoption years ago , they found us a baby” That’s why we came to Vegas to pick up the baby.” The words fall out of her mouth, scattering on the car floor in all directions.  “We will say we didn’t tell anyone because we were afraid it would fall through”.

“You don’t know anything about this child, it could be drug addicted, sick, you don’t, we can’t do this”.

“This is not, an it, it is a he,” she lifts him slightly off her chest, “Jason” He shakes his head no.

“ Next year when we come back “………

 A purple bruise is forming under her left eye. Her pupils are huge.He stares at this woman he has never seen before. The baby holds out a chubby fist and grabs a handful of her hair.  She has never smiled at him that way. He eases the car onto the highway. Peering into the vast California dessert, he knows it is not big enough to hold all the lies he will be forced to tell.


January 07, 2022 00:08

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Craig Westmore
18:28 Jan 14, 2022

Great story Lisa! Even more surprising to know it was based on something that happened to you. I love your descriptions. You've got a real talent and an eye for detail.


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00:46 Jan 09, 2022

A powerful story Lisa and well written, too. I was actually happy when Emily got the baby out of the rest room and away from its poor old mum. And the predicament of Jason, too...he sees Emily in all her desperation as if for the first time...what now what is in store for all of them? Nice work!


Lisa Roberts
14:50 Jan 11, 2022

Thanks for that comment I appreciate it. It actually was a true story. I had to drive to Bakersfield every week for a couple of months and there was this pregnant woman in the rest stop. I saw her about five times then she was gone and I always wondered what happened to her.


05:32 Jan 12, 2022

Wow, yes somethings stick in the memory and I think writing about it is a good way of deal with its unsettling effects.


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