That Which Cannot Be Broken

When Carrie heard the roar of the motorcycles outside the bar, and the booming voices of Jonah and the gang, she wondered if she would make it home in one piece tonight—or if that also didn’t matter anymore? After all, it felt like so long ago already that she had broken with Jeremy, stopped believing in his lies. Now, though, she had spent her reserves. All she had left once again was the feeling—as black and acidic as ever—that the world would be better off if she was just … not in it anymore.

The Anaconda Bar was one of the most run-down bars in which she had ever tried to douse the black acid feeling inside with generous amounts of whiskey, and she had tried this in many bars. Lighting in a morgue was more cheerful and there had been cleaner air in the 5-hour traffic-jams back in L.A. Beer splotches and cigarette ash littered the plank floor, and stains of an unknown origin dotted the vomit-green wallpaper like pimples. In a corner near the front door stood an empty jukebox, which now served as an extra shelf for a row of brazier candles on tin foil. The only redeeming feature of the room was the framed black and white photograph above the jukebox, showing two young GIs smiling broadly to the camera with an idyllic Mediterranean village and sea vista in the background. One of them was an American Indian, looking slightly out of place in the World War II US army uniform. There was a faded writing on the photograph: ‘Salerno 1943’. Although she liked looking at the photo now and then, the two men’s confident smiles barely distracted Carrie from the flaming feeling in her throat each time she gulped a bit of whiskey, as if there were still pieces of unground grain in it and twice as much alcohol as there should be. She would not be surprised if they refilled the bottles here with home brew from out in the back, or if she went blind from drinking it. And yet, Carrie returned to the Anaconda Bar every night because she wanted to forget even worse things—so badly, in fact, that the local whiskey seemed worth the risk.

She glanced back over her shoulder. Yup, Jonah and his friends were still out there, chain-smoking, bragging loudly about something to do with their sparkling Harleys—and they had all the time in the world. Was Jonah still pissed about last Friday, when she had given him the cold shoulder? He reckoned he pretty much owned everyone in this town, especially the female of the species. Perhaps he did. However, if there was one thing Carrie did not want to be again, it was owned.

If only the voices of Jonah and the others weren’t so awfully loud now. They sounded drunk already. There was also something in their laugh—maybe the volume, or the amount of time it took for it to subside—which unnerved her. Why did they laugh in that high-pitched, creepy way? Carrie drank again, and again the fire in her throat dissolved everything; those few precious seconds of oblivion. Nevertheless, an involuntary shiver ran down her spine. Aside from Doris, there were only two other people in the bar, so for all intents and purposes she might as well be alone if it came to another confrontation with Jonah. I really ought to split, Carrie thought. That would be the smart thing to do.

“Let me have another one,” she said to the bar dame.

Doris crossed her arms: “You’re gonna kill yourself if you keep drinking like a bloody lumberjack.”

Anaconda Bar’s resident matron was a plump 40-something with fiery red hair. Back in the late eighties she had migrated from a small rural town Down Under after she had met and married Mike Denham, a local Anaconda business man who at the time worked for a real estate company in Darwin. After Mike went into business himself and took over the proprietorship of the Anaconda Bar, Doris had worked overtime there ever since. She also worked overtime to quench her own innate good nature by taking on the bitch role whenever she had the chance. But from the start Carrie had her pegged for her soft heart. Who else but a softie could display such fondness for playing her native CD collection of insipidly PC rock music from Midnight Oil—over and over again?

“And you’re … going to ruin your sales,” Carrie answered half-heartedly, after searching for a smart answer and not really feeling that she was capable of coming up with anything remotely in that category.

“Look,” Doris said, leaning over and trying to catch Carrie’s eye “—I appreciate selling liquor—but not to people who don’t know when to stop. I don’t want to have to call Sheriff Jenkins to come and carry you away in a couple of hours.”

“Yeah, this isn’t exactly a place you’d like to let the sheriff in too often, is it?” Carrie said and added a defiant glance in the direction of the illegal gambling corner. It was a backroom, which you arrived at if you walked to the right past the bar and through the small door next to the toilets. Okay, Carrie had no tangible proof that it was illegal, but she didn’t need it. One learned to spot things like that when one had been drifting for as long as she had in the underbelly of this country; like a bacteria that couldn’t seem to make up its mind about whether or not it wanted to feed on what was there or if it just wanted to find the nearest exit. At least that’s how she felt more and more often.

Doris guessed Carrie’s thoughts about the room instantly. She crossed her arms again: “We’re fully legit. You can ask the sheriff next time he comes in to have his regular.”

Carrie shook her head to herself. Okay, but maybe the sheriff got a percentage as well. Anyway, who was she to argue with such an arrangement? Doris and Mike probably had enough problems just getting enough regulars to pay the bills. Moreover, if anybody here knew that it was sometimes necessary to bend the rules a bit to get by, it was Carrie.

Doris softened her stance a bit, and again she tried to catch Carrie’s flickering eyes:

“I am sure Jonah hasn’t seen you yet. You can slip out the kitchen door before they make up their minds and decide to come in.” She added a meaningful glance in the direction of the front door. For the moment the high-pitched palaver was still going on outside.

“You care too much,” Carrie said, feeling slightly uneasy.

“I try hard not to,” Doris said and sent her a smile that was intended to come across as if she was annoyed with herself.

“Hey—I know you do,” Carrie said and briefly returned Doris’ smile.

“Look, just go, okay?”

“I’m not afraid of him.”

Doris took a deep breath: “You should be. I don’t know what he’s been planning for you in return for the insult you gave him last time. The only reason he didn’t do anything about it Friday was because Paul—Sheriff Jenkins—had come down to water, too. Fortunately, it was the wrong time for Jonah, and the right time for you. You won’t be so fortunate again.”

“If he really wants to fuck me, he’s gonna have to have the balls to come in here and haul me out,” Carrie said through tight lips. “A real man, which I reckon he considers himself to be, should at least have the guts to do that if there’s something he really wants.”

“I admire your determination,” Doris said and went back to polishing glasses, but frowning even more now. “But you don’t play like that with Jonah.”

Carrie just shook her head, as if she still didn’t care what Jonah was going to do, if he came in, but the truth was that she was already beginning to consider Doris’ proposal for a discreet exit. Okay, so there’s my answer, she thought gloomily. It matters. Tonight at least … I still have that much self-preservation left in me.

Then suddenly it sounded as if the bikers were walking … away. After half a minute or so there was no sound of them at all. Both Doris and Carrie strained to hear. There was nothing, just the distant surf-like whoosh when a car or a truck passed out on the highway. Then Carrie slowly turned to look. It was difficult to see through the windows, though. There was one on each side of the bar’s front door, but the glass hadn’t been polished for ages and it was pitch black outside. However, now Carrie wasn’t in doubt either: Jonah and the others had chosen a different hunting ground—for whatever reason.

“Do you think … they went down to Harry’s?” Carrie asked hesitantly.

Doris looked straight at her again: “I don’t know but I know where I think you should go. They’ll be back for their bikes.”

“I think they went down to Harry’s,” Carrie said, but more to herself than to Doris. “That’s their preferred hang-out. They won’t be back for hours at least. And I really, really need one more, Dorrie—then I’ll go. Pleease?”

Doris looked uncertain about what to say. Then she went around the bar, to look through one of the windows. She surveyed the night-filled parking lot for almost a minute.

“All is clear,” she then noted and withdrew from the window. “They must have gone to Harry’s instead. Dunno why the hell they parked here, though.”

“Me neither, but I know I have time for one more,” Carrie said.

Doris sighed and went back to the bar: “Just one more then.”

“You’re an angel,” Carrie said and received a new glass of whiskey.

“Either that or I’m a greedy bitch who’ve just made a mistake you’ll be real sorry for,” Doris said in a resigned voice, serving her another whiskey and then going on to polishing a single glass again and again even though it was already quite clean.

“I can’t blame you,” Carrie said, “Mike told me a few things the other night—about the bar. It’s not been an easy year for you guys.”

“I don’t want to have to give that as a reason to the sheriff,” Doris said, “for why you got yourself in a real bad fix.” She put away the sparkling glass but immediately took up another and started polishing it instead.

“You won’t have to,” Carrie assured her. Nevertheless, she felt an indeterminable chill in the bar now, one which hadn’t been there before. Even more reason, she figured, to make this glass of firewater the very last. Or maybe just make it last? After all, she didn’t care to think about the prospect of sitting alone back in her shady motel room now. Right now that somehow felt more frightening than anything else.

“You should take Dorrie’s advice,” a hoarse, sandpaper-like voice came from down in the corner, breaking off Carrie’s reverie. It was old man Eisenhower. Well, everybody called him Eisenhower, but Carrie knew that wasn’t his real name.

Abel “Eisenhower” Battenberg was 82. He had made a living as an electrician after the war. He lived in a small trailer community a few miles out, not far from Silver Lake. He had done and still did a lot of work free, especially for people who couldn’t afford much. He came down to the Anaconda Bar, every evening out of personal allegiance to his brother, Tim, who’d started the bar before Doris’ husband became proprietor. Tim had left Abel all his money after Tim himself died in a car accident. At least that was what Ike had made quite sure to tell Carrie on the first night she came in to drink.

Carrie tried to smile at him: “I can take care of myself, Abel.”

“Sure you can,” the old man replied drily, “only I wish you would try harder.”

Carrie didn’t say anything to that. She couldn’t help having her attention slide to the Native fellow who was sitting at the table to Eisenhower’s left, closer to the gambling room. Was he listening? Would he join in, too, and complicate things? After a few seconds, she concluded with relief that he probably wouldn’t. He was the only other patron in the bar that night, and he had been quiet as a tomb all evening, hardly touching his beer. In fact, now that she looked real close at him she had to confess that he didn’t even seem to be aware that there was a conversation going on now—between someone other than Carrie herself and Doris. Eisenhower, however, didn’t pay attention to the Indian at all. He kept smiling genuinely at Carrie instead. His teeth were surprisingly healthy for a man his age. Their pristine whiteness made a strange contrast to his sunburned, wrinkled face.

“I don’t wanna see you in trouble again with Jonah,” he then said quietly. “He is a goddamn redneck.”

“What’s it to you?” Carrie asked, not trying to feign enough surprise to please him. “You hardly know me. I only came to your little town two weeks ago.”

“Then it’d be a shame if they have to carry you out in your third week, one piece at a time, wouldn’t it?” Eisenhower said, his bright smile making the rather serious question seem less ominous that it actually was.

“You’re already fussing about me,” Carrie retorted, “as if I was a ten year old or something.” She tried to make it sound as wry as she possibly could, but it was hard because she actually had taken quite a liking to him in the few days she had known him.

“When my daughter was ten years old she was considerably wiser than you,” Eisenhower said, smiling smugly. “She knew when to fight and when to run from the bullies at school.” Then he shook his head and stared into the golden crown of his beer for a few moments as if there was some memory he had to put to rest before being able to find out what to say next.

“Look—don’t worry about me, okay?” Carrie said, seizing the opening that arose from his hesitation. “Jonah may be a big shot here, but he is not stupid. He is not going to barge in here and do something he’ll regret.” She quickly turned back to lean against the bar counter, so she didn’t have to look Eisenhower directly in the eyes anymore. They were as blue and intense as any set of eyes she had ever seen on a younger man, and she felt uneasy looking into them for too long. Eisenhower had taken a special interest in her from the first night on, but not in any lewd way. In fact, it seemed more as if she had reignited a fatherly, or perhaps grandfatherly, mission for him, which he had given up on long ago.

So after only a week she knew about how he had a daughter out of marriage who now lived in Phoenix, worked as a dentist, and didn’t want to answer his letters, because he didn’t answer hers for the first ten years of her adult life because of some misunderstanding, or depression, or whatever. It was never entirely clear. However, what was clear was that she knew that he regretted this course of events much more than anything else. He said he sometimes regretted the killing, too—even if it was war. And he remembered the war vividly enough, because he had already told her the story at least thrice about the first time he had taken aim at a man with a weapon and killed him, just when the other man was close enough that he could see his eyes. It had been the right time for the kill—so his sergeant had said. But it was something Eisenhower could never forget, and it was the beginning of a lot of other memories – of many other young men his own age from Germany and Italy, men like himself—that he had had to kill, too—back in “The Big One”.

Sometimes Carrie wasn’t sure he was telling her everything, though. She suspected he was at least modifying the old war stories, because she had already caught him in two or three inconsistencies. However, she didn’t say anything. Maybe the inconsistencies were just due to the usual lapse in memory that comes when you have 60 years to remember, she thought. Some of the other regulars certainly didn’t seem to believe a word that Eisenhower said, though. They just rolled their eyes, when he began talking to her, and gave her looks which resembled pity, as if they were going to say, ‘There, old Ike has snatched another one’. It didn’t matter to Carrie. It didn’t matter what was pure truth and what was just imagined truth. The fact that Eisenhower so obviously, and sometimes clumsily, wanted to protect her from herself—that mattered. It mattered even more because she knew she wasn’t going to give him the chance. She couldn’t let him. The latter was a decision that felt like cutting oneself with a razor blade, but as with people who committed just this kind of self-mutilation it couldn’t always be helped.

For a while nobody said anything. Then Carrie heard Eisenhower mumble something to the Indian. The Indian grumbled something in return, sounding slightly irritated. Eisenhower said something again, but Carrie still couldn’t make it out. It was as if they were having an argument, but on a whisper-level. In the end, though, she heard the scraping of a chair against the dirty floor. She glanced over her shoulder. Sure enough, the Indian had moved his chair out. He stood up and began walking over towards the bar in a way that seemed anything but willingly. It even looked as if he was limping slightly.

Carrie tried to remain indifferent. Tonight was the first night she had seen this guy in the bar, so she didn’t know what to expect. Nevertheless, Ike had seemed to have a relation to him, so she guessed that he was probably a friend of Ike’s, and therefore not dangerous. That would also explain what appeared to be the mutual understanding that it didn’t matter if the Indian sat by a table in Ike’s favorite corner, as long as he didn’t try to start a conversation, and just let the old man enjoy his beer all evening, and the memories. Ike usually wasn’t quiet about it when regulars, and especially non-regulars, took up a table next to ‘his’.

The Indian chose his spot at the bar—but in respectful distance from Carrie. Even so, she felt that he was standing too close to her by any measure. Perhaps that kitchen door was still a good idea? But she really, really needed that last drink …

“The usual?” Doris droned, not even looking at the Indian.

The stranger nodded: “The usual.” Apparently he was not a stranger to Doris, either.

Carrie allowed herself a discreet glance at him. Hmm … what a cliché, she thought: Big cowboy-hat, long dangling earrings that looked like they were made of bone, short cropped hair, red brown shirt and new boots to match. The guy had to be at least 60, and with a rather generous amount of liquor under his own belt—judging from the size of his belly and the stony rifts on his nose. But at least he doesn’t look like trouble.

“I think our lady-friend here has drunk most of my whiskey,” Doris then said, sending Carrie ‘that glance’.

“I’ll take one from your hidden reserve,” the Indian said.

“I’ll see what’s left.” Doris turned towards her rather limited collection of bottles. The night before a traveling salesman had come in and asked for gin and Carrie had immediately heard Dorrie snap: “If you want a fuckin’ martini, head to New York. This is a whiskey bar.” So Carrie had found out, too, when she landed here less than two weeks ago, but that was a smaller problem for her than it had been for the salesman. Doris searched a little more and then found a half-empty ‘Old Thompson’ on the lowest shelf. With a professional twist of the bottle she poured exactly the right amount in a tiny glass, which she then passed to the walking cliché. He took it and turned towards Carrie, leaning on the bar counter with one elbow:

“Howdy …” he said to her in a restrained tone. “Ike thought I should make a final attempt of convincing you not to hang around here anymore.”

Carrie bit her lips, and didn’t look at him: “Everybody’s so concerned about my health tonight,” she just said.

“It seems a shame to waste it,” the Indian said, “for such poor reasons.”

“You thinking about the brew or Jonah?”

“Both.”

She nodded and looked at her glass, wanting to take another gulp but feeling something in her resist. “Look,” she said, after long seconds of silence, “believe it or not, I do appreciate the concern. But I’m really not sure I should be concerned myself. Not anymore. I’m not going to back down for such a type as Jonah.”

“He is dangerous,” the stranger said.

“Yeah,” Carrie said reluctantly, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know.”

“So you got some other reason for staying then?” the stranger asked mildly.

Carrie held her breath for a moment, and then she said: “Let’s just say that I’ve got lots of reasons … For example, there was this guy I was with. He wasn’t Hulk-sized like Jonah, and much more intelligent. But he was just as bad company, maybe worse. Then there was the … snow, a lot of booze, and a lot of other guys who were bad company, too. I don’t feel like talking about it, but that’s what it’s about. And I should never have been in it.”

“Where then?”

She hesitated. Something suddenly stung in her throat. “I should have been better than that,” she then managed to say through firm lips. “I should not have let them treat me like … There’s no excuse. Not for that.”

“I know how you feel,” he said.

“You do?” Carrie smiled weakly at his attempt to show sympathy. Even if he was every bit as clumsy at expressing understanding with a young blonde woman as one would expect a lonely guy his age to be, she didn’t mind. At least not right now.

But he surprised her: “I was up in Yellowknife once,” he said calmly. “Got into some trouble with a couple of whites who said I had taken their favorite spot in the bar. I said they could go to hell. They broke both my legs—that’s why I still limp.”

He turned to look directly at her. She thought he was about to chuckle at her bewilderment, but instead he just said, in a very firm voice: “I should have stood up to them, or at least that’s how I felt at the time. It cost me a lot.”

“But it also cost you that you didn’t win the fight,” Carrie said quietly. It was not a question, and he knew it for he just nodded.

“It did. I felt like half a man afterwards. First for making the mistake of choosing a fight I would probably loose, second for losing it. But my father always told me that I was a warrior and that I should never forget that no matter how much the white man tries to let us feel otherwise. I believed him.”

“Do you still believe him?”

He looked at his drink for several long moments. “I still believe him,” he then said. “The trick is to know when to make the decision to fight—and when to choose a cause that’s worth fighting for. Pride is seldom a good reason, nor is a heart that’s been driven through with spikes of ice. Or feels like it …”

Carrie shuddered. She dared not look at him.

“You don’t have to tell me anything,” he said, sensing her discomfort immediately. “It’s none of my damn business anyway.”

“No …” she said, her voice very thin now, “I think I should …”

Somehow, she managed. She started telling what she had sworn several times she would not tell anyone—especially not someone like him. She couldn’t make herself talk about Lin, though. But Ike’s strange friend had given her an opening and she felt obliged to give him something in return. So she did—in bits and pieces, with many pauses and many more gulps of whiskey in between:

“I … hitch-hiked from Ohio to Florida and nothing bad happened, until I made a really bad call: I got together with a man who hit me whenever he felt like it, but since I felt I deserved it I stayed with him. It didn’t help matters that meanwhile I had done some coke myself, starting one night at one of my boyfriend’s infamous parties. It was a night when I was particularly angry and wanted to ‘prove’ that … someone I once knew who had … left me … that she had been weak, that she should have been able to cope … or some other idiotic reason.”

She looked at him hesitantly: “This makes no sense at all, does it?”

“On the contrary,” he said. “It makes too much sense.”

Carrie swallowed hard, but she forced herself to relax. It had not felt as bad as she thought it would to say this, and she didn’t even feel like she had said too much. Perhaps it was because she didn’t know the guy. She had once talked to a construction worker on the bus from Reno to Vegas and told him pretty much her whole life story. It was mutual. Then he had gotten off the bus and she had continued. They would never see each other again. Why would this be any different? She concentrated and tried to find the right words. She wasn’t sure they were. How could she explain all that bullshit that she allowed herself to be dragged into?

“So …” she said, almost regretting it but then going on anyway, “… this single really piss-poor decision to ‘just do it’ led to another, and another, and it all continued as a weekend-escape and ended in full-blown addiction. My boyfriend was the only one with the money to pay for it. I tried to get clean three times, and one of them nearly killed me. But I failed each time, and wound up with him again … and his abuses.”

The Indian listened on in silence. He didn’t comment and he didn’t look as if what she said made him look at her in a different way than he had done the whole time. Back in his corner, Eisenhower was again sitting quietly, pondering something over his beer—as if he was already far away on a beach at Salerno or Anzio. As for Doris, she had retreated to a corner of her bar and looked as if she was checking something at the register. Outside there was only the grumble of a big truck as it drove back and forth at the adjacent lot for large vehicles, apparently trying to find a place to fit but without much luck. Carrie stared hard into her drink, and then decided that she might as well finish her little tale. She had come this far, hadn’t she? He would need to know that she wasn’t worth his ear anymore. Then perhaps he would leave her alone:

“One day,” she said, “I found a little spark of … something … inside myself which I didn’t even know I had left … perhaps it was desperation? Anyway, I finally slammed the door on him. I got away. I got clean, too—in my fourth attempt—or as clean as you can get if you’re me. I hadn’t stopped drinking, for I felt more than ever before that I had been a fucking coward … that I had let Jeremy and his damn friends do everything they had done to me, and that I had nothing left to offer anyone anymore. So I kept on drinking.”

When he still didn’t answer, she turned to look straight at him: “So you see, mister, why I’m not worth your time. In fact, I think you’ll do yourself a favor if you split before Jonah comes back. I’ve heard that he hates the Natives.”

“Oh, Jonah hates everything,” the Indian said, shrugging.

Carrie frowned: “You sound as if you know him?”

“Not personally, but it’s hard not to know a man like Jonah if you come here once in a while.”

“You do come here at other times then? I haven’t seen you around,” Carrie said.

“I’ve been up North for a good while,” the Indian said. “Canada.”

“And I’ve only been in Anaconda a couple of weeks,” Carrie added. “Guess it’s not such a big mystery why I haven’t seen you before, huh?”

“Nope,” the Indian said, not bothering to disguise a broad smile. Then he extended a weathered hand: “I’m Zeke, by the way.”

She hesitated a little, but then she allowed herself to receive the handshake: “I’m … Lea.”

There was no reason for him to know her real name. Jeremy might still be looking for her. Maybe he wanted to get the money back, or maybe he just wanted to get with her for humiliating him by leaving him? In some ways she feared such a meeting even more than anything she could possibly imagine Jonah doing to her. So ‘Lea’ it was, just to make sure. She had used the name before.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Lea,” Zeke said with what she reckoned was genuine sincerity. “It’s not often we see strangers in Anaconda. Most of the time we have to put up with Jonah ‘Deathman’s Head’ and his boys.”

“Is that a name?” she asked.

“It’s the name of the gang.”

“Christ …”

“I thought you knew?”

“I didn’t.”

“That just goes to show. You haven’t been in Anaconda long enough, Lea.”

“I’m not sure I intend to stay much longer either,” Carrie said. “‘Deathman’s Head’,” she repeated to herself. “Jesus Christ …”

Zeke shook his head with something resembling sadness: “Your favorite carpenter from Nazareth had nothing to do with it.” He then emptied his whiskey in one gulp. “In fact—” he concluded after placing the glass firmly back on the bar desk “—I’m not even sure Jesus would take a second look at these clowns before he assigned them all to their appropriate place in the Netherworlds.”

Carrie couldn’t help smiling: “Don’t tell me you’re some kind of witch doctor?”

He cocked a brow, as if it was odd that she hadn’t already guessed this: “As a matter of fact,” he said, “I am a Sihásapa Sioux medicine man, or shaman, if you will. I do exorcisms, healing, divination and all those sorts of things you whites don’t believe in, except when you curse your horoscope every Sunday for being wrong about your future.”

“I never read horoscopes. I already know my future.”

He chuckled: “Oh—didn’t see that one coming.

She didn’t react to his attempt at cracking a joke. Instead, she just stared hard at nothing in particular in front of her; as if there was a mist there she was trying to see through. Suddenly she felt bad again, although the conversation had managed to cheer her up a little before. She raised her glass, then stopped halfway and placed it gently on the counter again without touching its content. Her voice was thin as a gossamer thread: “My future is easy to divine: There is none.”

“You could have fooled me.” Zeke breathed deeply. He frowned, too, as if his mood had also shifted. Then he ordered another whiskey. There was something in his tone, which left her feeling guilty for that last remark. She tried to make up for it. She didn’t want to sound like a whiner:

“So … uh … you live here?” she asked cautiously “—In Anaconda? When you’re not in Canada and getting into fights, I mean?”

She regretted that the instant she had said it, afraid he might take offense. However, Zeke relieved her with a quick smile: “Oh, I’m not in Canada all the time,” he said, “mostly I’m just drifting. Canada, sure—but lots of other places, too.”

She nodded. Drifting … She could relate to that. Yes, she could relate to that very well indeed.

“Look,” she then said, “It’s been nice talking to you, and it’s nice of you to take interest but …”

“—But you’re gonna stay here and drink after all?” Zeke finished for her.

“That’s right,” she confirmed, but not feeling all too sure about it.

“You’re not the least bit worried about Jonah and his boys?”

“I am … but I shouldn’t be. As I said, there have been worse things. And … what if I went back to my motel room? What then?”

He looked directly at her again: “You tell me. What then?”

“Then I’d just drink there!” she blurted. “I’ve got a little sample of absinth in my bag—” she nodded towards her handbag, which was placed on the floor, under her legs “—but back there, in my room, I got the whole stock, if you know what I mean?”

“I think I do.”

“And I don’t think there’s much preventing me from going overboard in that, too, if you know what I mean?”

He nodded gravely now. “I still think I do.”

“So you see, it doesn’t really matter where I am,” she concluded. “There’s no reason whatsoever for me not to just … finish it.”

“I see,” he said quietly. Then, after a few moments, it was as if he had reached a decision:

“You’ve been through some pretty rough times, Lea. I can only say this again: There are good times to fight and bad times to fight, good reasons and bad reasons. There are no reasons tonight, though … and … I think you’re worth more.”

She shook her head, as if he had just slapped her in the face. “No,” she said firmly. “I am not.”

For a while none of them said anything. It was as if the air had gone heavy, a lot heavier than it usually was in the damp bar. Doris looked at Carrie from the register, her lips a thin line now. She had put the CD back on, from the beginning. Somebody was singing about rusty-red cliffs, Aboriginal land rights and dream worlds lost and found—again.

“Aren’t you ever gonna play a different one?” Carrie snapped, feeling both sorry for herself and angry now.

“No,” Doris snapped back. “If you don’t like the music in this bar, go to New York. They got plenty of boring American rock’n’ roll in New York.”

“You always say that,” Carrie said, a rising antagonism in her voice. “You always—”

“Don’t sidestep the topic of the evening, lady,” Doris cut her off immediately, her eyes narrowing. “Zeke here is actually trying to help. I think it’s the last genuine offer you’ll get tonight.”

Carrie looked at Doris, then at Zeke. He returned her glance briefly, but quickly refocused on the bottles on the shelf, as if he was searching for a specific one. His brow looked extra furrowed now, however. Perhaps he really does care, Carrie thought. Perhaps Abel had known that he would be able to say something to her … something that actually made her spill the beans, something that might make a difference. Pity that I don’t care enough myself. They are wasting their time with me. But she had to admit that deep down she was afraid of what would happen if—or when—Jonah came back, no matter how much she tried to deny it to herself. Furthermore, it felt too uncomfortable staying here now, talking more. It had begun okay, she supposed, but now she had screwed it all up … as usual.

“Okay,” Carrie said mutedly. “I’ll go now.”

Zeke didn’t say anything. A faint relaxation of the lines on his brow seemed to show for a moment, but that was all. Carrie turned to walk around the bar to get to the little swing door at the end of it, so she could slip out the back. And that’s when she almost … dropped like a dead tree.

In fact, she would have dropped just like that if Zeke’s surprisingly strong arm hadn’t caught her around her waist.

“Careful now, miss Lea.”

“I am careful!”

“If that’s the case, I’d better walk you home.”

“No! It’s okay … I-I can manage.”

Doris leaned over the bar behind them, shushing nervously:

“Whatever you do—just get out now, okay? I think I just heard—”

However, at that moment the main door to the Anaconda Bar swung open and the real chill from the Montana-night came stomping in:

Jonah and the bikers were back.

They greeted Doris with a couple of worn-out obscenities, and then demanded a “shitload of vodka”. The front man was Jonah ‘Deathman’s Head’ himself. He was a giant: 7 feet tall, looking extremely strong; muscles straining his black leather vest and the t-shirt underneath. There were skull and bones all over both; she even thought she saw an earring skull. Next was a big fat wrestler-type, dome-headed, who sported an enormous red beard. He wore the usual black leather motorcycle outfit as well, but without the skulls. Last up was a smaller, slightly hunch-backed guy, who could have been Steve Buscemi’s cousin, except that he looked more muscular than the actor—in a wiry sort of way, and had pale blonde hair. Of the three she had only seen Jonah before.

Just when they entered, it appeared as if they were all heading towards the mysterious tables down in the back room. Carrie forgot all about her previously staunch refusal to care and found herself wishing hard that they would just pass; that they really were as fixated on the gambling room as they appeared to be; that they would, by some freak divine intervention, not notice her and Zeke at the bar. But it wasn’t the time for miracles yet.

Jonah looked at Carrie and Zeke and grinned rustily: “Hey—hey! What have we missed, guys? Huh? What have we fuckin’ missed?”

“I say we missed a fuckin’ injun carrying away your girl, Jonah,” the wrestler-type answered in a voice so gravelly and muffled that Carrie couldn’t help imagine that his huge beard was growing from inside of his mouth as well as all over the lower part of his face. The biker with the pale blond hair watched the other two expectantly. Carrie sensed that he would be ready for anything his mates said he should be ready for. Her stomach filled with icy needles. She staggered and Zeke’s grip tightened around her waist.

“Easy, there, Lea. Why don’t we leave now?”

“I …”

But it was too late. Jonah was already striding towards them, and the others fanned out so Carrie couldn’t run past them, even if she had been able to run. She thought for a split-second about the kitchen door, but her legs felt too much like jelly to move her anywhere now. She doubted she could reach the end of the bar, to get around it and reach the door, before Jonah blocked her way. She doubted even more she could jump over the bar. For the moment, just standing upright was a main priority. On Doris’ vintage CD player a bitter, defiant vocal reached a crescendo.

Jonah now hovered over the elderly Indian and the shabbily dressed young woman, regarding both with perverse relish:

“So where you goin’ with my girl, injun?” he bellowed.

His two companions laughed hoarsely from behind him. No need to butt in yet. Let the leader play a little with the prey first, then they could always divide the carcasses. Doris had frozen completely behind her bar. And the only other patron in the bar at this hour was Eisenhower, and he was just as frozen as Doris.

“—I asked ya sump’n, ya red piece of shit!” Jonah spat.

But Zeke just stood there, his surprisingly strong right arm still around Carrie’s waist, lending her that balance the last five whiskeys had stolen from her. He just stood there, like a statue. In the end Carrie managed to croak:

“ … I, uh, asked him to help me home.”

“Izzat so?” Jonah smiled wolfishly. “I didn’t know you liked injuns so much, Lea-baby.”

“I don’t.”

“No, you like me better. Isn’t that right?”

“I—” She cast her glance down.

Jonah looked directly at Zeke now, smiling. “I thought so. This piece of shit is below even your standards, honey.”

Jonah obviously meant that last remark to be a threat, but Zeke still just stood there, looking through the big biker as if he was made of air. And that’s what really pissed Jonah Deathman’s Head off:

I’m gonna—”

Zeke raised his hand.

“I know what you’re going to do,” Zeke said with unfathomable serenity. “You’re going to beat up the injun slob which I am—and rightly so. I am trash. I don’t deserve anything less. And you’ve been waiting for it, haven’t you?”

Jonah’s mouth opened a bit, but then it closed again. His mates even stopped laughing for a moment, as if they had to cough something up before they could go on.

“Yeah, you don’t come here often,” Jonah growled, “but even a few times a year is more than enough!”

His arm shot forth and he grabbed Zeke by the throat. The huge biker pulled in the overweight, elderly man, like a fish on a hook. Then he whirled Zeke around and caught him in a chokehold. Obviously, Zeke couldn’t hold on to Carrie and she reeled, barely managing to grab onto the bar instead.

“—Jonaaah!!” Doris wailed, coming out of her trance. “I’m gonna call Sheriff Jenkins if you—”

“You’re not gonna do shit, Dorrie!” Jonah rasped. “Or you’re gonna regret it, much more than the chief here. I mean it.”

Jonah tightened his grip around Zeke’s throat. Suddenly he flicked a switchblade out of nowhere, stopping it only an inch away from Zeke’s left eye. Zeke didn’t even blink. Carrie, however, felt instantly nauseous. Something warm and liquid spread just as instantly in her old jeans. It stank. She had pissed herself. With the humiliation also came a realization so painful that it made her feel as if the blade had already stabbed her. There was a world of difference between being determined to face anything when you were alone with a glass of whiskey—and—your natural instinct to run for your life when that ‘anything’ suddenly became something very real … something which with absolute certainty could and would kill you.

Over in his corner, Eisenhower began to rise from his chair, but the follower stepped closer to him and flashed his own switchblade. He shook his head at the old man, smiling a vicious invitation at the same time, as if he was daring him to try anyway. Eisenhower sank back down in his chair, his face ghostly white. The follower put the blade back within his vest. Ike looked as if he was trying to say something, but not a word came over his lips. Jonah, however, did not have that problem:

“So you were gonna shove your dick into my fine little girl, weren’t you, injun?” he went on, more and more erratically, holding Zeke firm in his steel grip. “Weren’t you?! Don’t lie to me! Don’t lie to me, motherfucker, or I’m gonna shove this little cutter into you!”

Now it dawned on Carrie: Jonah was crazy tonight. Artificially crazy, that was. She of all people should know the signs … the way his smelly breathing was into overdrive—almost hyperventilating. She could hear it in the way he bellowed and roared, like a maniac, seemingly for no reason at all. He was high on something. It was probably crack, she thought, maybe a mix. From the creepy, tick-like way his mates laughed, Carrie also gathered they all had shared a big pot of candy before coming here. In other words, they had already had their ‘Carrie’. She was high on adrenaline herself, heart hammering, hardly able to breathe; but when that particular realization hit home, for a moment something in her gave way, something that made her able to pull out of her mind the imaginary blade:

“—Stop it!!” she cried.

Jonah regarded her slightly amused—like she had been trying to bark like a puppy, and that it mattered as much. She forced herself to ignore it:

“– D-do anything you want to me,” she heard herself say, shaking. “Just let him go.”

“Who sez I want you anymore, Lea?” Jonah drawled coldly. “You look like you’ve seen better days.”

“Hey, I’ll fuck her!” Beard Mouth yelled, and immediately the follower lapsed into a nigh-hysterical laughter.

“I’ll fuck all of you … all night,” she blurted again, trying desperately to sound calm and not pathetic. “Just let Zeke go.”

Now both Beard Mouth and the follower seemed on the verge of collapse from laughter. Doris, who until now had been standing almost frozen behind the bar, couldn’t help herself any longer: She began to sob.

“—Quiet!” Jonah roared.

“I mean it …” Carrie tried again “… I’ll do whatever you want.” However, while she said it she felt infinitely weaker. The fear she was trying to fight had begun to infect her again. Moreover, she had to cling to the bar once more, because the floor seemed like it was constantly trying to move without her permission.

“—I’m not sure I would like to fuck anyone who stinks so much of piss,” Jonah grunted, not trying to hide in his tone that he had had way more creepy fantasies.

“Maybe I should just do both?” he then mused. “I could whack the injun and then take you, Lea-baby.”

“You … should … just kill me …” Zeke rasped.

“Shut up!” Carrie cried “—I’m going to give them what they want—so shut up!”

“They don’t … want you,” Zeke kept on, his coarse voice straining more and more. “ … Don’t even want to kill me … Don’t know … what they want … they feel sure nobody’s ever going to want anything … valuable from them … that’s why they decided … might as well just … kill all—urgh—”

That was the end of the speech. Jonah squeezed Zeke’s throat so hard the old Indian’s voice disappeared mid-sentence.

“Ya fuckin’ piece of filth,” he growled.

“Cut him, for fuck’s sake!” Beard Mouth bellowed. “Do it!”

The follower found this remark so amusing that he almost fell over on his ass from just laughing. He didn’t fall, though.

Someone else did.

Suddenly Eisenhower gasped loudly and clutched his chest. For an instant, it looked as if he was trying to cry out something … but the gasp was all that came from him. Then he keeled over, fell to the floor, knocking over his chair. Doris screamed.

“Shut the fuck up!” Jonah rasped. “Mason—get over there!”

Beard Mouth lumbered past Jonah, and stopped at the lifeless old man.

“ … Cardiac … arrest …” Zeke coughed.

“Wha—?” Jonah began.

“He’s having a heart attack, you asshole!” Carrie blurted, totally forgetting that if Jonah decided to feel even more insulted for that particular denominator, a heart attack would be the least of her problems.

“I’m—g-going to c-call an ambulance …” Doris tried, getting a grip on herself, and reaching for her cell phone, which she had put on its usual shelf below the counter.

“You do no fuckin’ thing, Dorrie!” Jonah interjected with venom in his voice. That stopped Doris again, as effectively as if he had thrown a real rattlesnake between her and the phone. Jonah turned to Beard Mouth:

“Mason?”

Mason was on his knees before the fallen old man, looking positively out of his element. “—The old geezer’s not … breathing,” he said, sounding like he had difficulty breathing himself.

“We have to call an ambulance!” Carrie tried again “—or he’ll die!”

“He’s already dead,” Jonah said, his gaze beginning to flicker.

“Not … if … C … P … R …” Zeke rattled, still firmly within Jonah’s grip.

“Yeah, you gonna need fuckin’ Cee Pee Are yourself, injun!” cackled the follower. However, nobody seemed to be listening to him any longer. Mason Beard Mouth looked up at Jonah once again, something strangely pleading in his pig eyes.

“No—” Doris cried “—Eisenhower can’t be dead!”

“He is dead,” Mason Beard Mouth said and found the strength to heave his blob-body up from kneeling position.

“‘Eisenhower’? ‘Dead’…?” Jonah shook his head, like somebody had punched him.

“At least we won’t have to hear about his bullshit stories anymore,” the follower commented coldly.

“It wasn’t bullshit,” Doris retorted, through several sobs. “H-he showed me a picture once, of how he met Eisenhower, and got a medal …”

“Well, he’s gonna meet Eisenhower again now!” the follower couldn’t help chuckling.

“Shut up, Rex!” Jonah barked. Rex snapped shut, as if somebody had pushed a remote control button.

“You’ve got to let Zeke help!” Carrie tried again, and at the same time tried to keep her voice from breaking.

“—That red shit?” Jonah studied his prey once more. Zeke had almost gone limp now.

“You can do … CPR?” Jonah asked, looking directly at Zeke now.

“If … you … put the blade away, amigo …”

“No way! You’re fucking with me …!”

“No!” Carrie blurted again “Zeke IS a doctor. He can save Eisenhower!”

“Yeah, yeah—that’s, uh, right”, Doris acknowledged, after a few seconds of tear-wiping.

“Insult me again with shit like that,” Jonah snarled, “and I’ll gut you two girlies after I finish him. The only medicine this chief knows is the bottle.”

Carrie couldn’t imagine that it was possible to move the knife’s blade any closer without puncturing Zeke’s eye, but Jonah did just that. Now, if Zeke nodded merely a tiny fraction of an inch, the switchblade would dip into his eyeball. Carrie stared mesmerized at the blade. She couldn’t help seeing in her mind’s eye just what would happen when Zeke moved … She staggered, and reached for the bar again for support. Her flash of self-destructive altruism from before, or whatever it was—it had begun to drain rapidly. Cold, naked fear wedged its way into her heart again: Yes, there had been a brief aberration—her choice to ‘offer herself’ to Jonah—but now the fight or flight-response was winning.

“Shiit …!” Mason suddenly blurted.

“—What the fuck is it now?” Jonah rasped.

Mason pulled something from the vest of Eisenhower.

“He wore this …” Mason mumbled “… this medal. The old fart did get one.”

“You knew that, Dorrie?” Something strained in Jonah’s voice again.

“N-no—” Doris started, “—I mean, yes! He always talked and talked about it, when we were just us, I mean …”

“Talked about what? That he really got a medal for something?”

“In the world war, yes—”

“Where? When?”

“I’m no good with names … Think it was Kesseling or something.”

“Kasserine …” Zeke managed with the last ounce of strength “… Tunisia … first encounter with Germans … Got our asses whooped.”

“We didn’t get anything ‘whooped’ by any stinkin’ Nazis!” Jonah retorted instantly. “We killed them Nazis good!”

“Only later …” Zeke pressed; sweat glistening everywhere on his furrowed face. “We … underestimated them … but learned our lesson… came back and won … my father there, too …”

“An injun servin’?” Jonah looked like Zeke’s revelation about his father violated a sacred principle of physics.

“Yes … but killed … just after Salerno …”

That was it. Zeke collapsed like a sack of stones, and Jonah—despite all his raw, cocaine-induced strength—had to let go. Now they had two bodies. Carrie felt the panic, raw and real, but couldn’t help herself. She let go of the bar and dropped down beside Zeke, as if somebody had pushed her. Carrie couldn’t determine if he was breathing. She was on her knees now, cradling his head in her arms, frantically searching for a sign—she thought he might still be breathing, but she was not sure. She was not sure!

“Get up, bitch.” Jonah commanded through gritted teeth.

She just shook her head, as if in a daze.

Jonah wanted to say something again, but found that he couldn’t decide what. He looked over his shoulder, with a vague glint of awakening in his eyes. However, he didn’t see anything that helped his decision. In his paw Mason still dangled the brightly polished medal that he had snatched. He didn’t know what to do either—with it—or with anything else it seemed:

“—Boss—uh—what the fuck do we—” he began.

“Shut up, Mase! Just shut the fuck up!! Let me think, okay!”

Jonah then turned slowly, hesitantly back towards Carrie and Zeke. His fist tightened around the switchblade handle.

Just then, the door to the Anaconda Bar flung open again.

A man stood in the door. He sported a dirty General Motors cap and wore ruffled cowboy jeans, boots, a yellow shirt and leather vest; one of the truckers from the truck parking lot, which was adjacent to the one for cars. The man’s eyes widened when he saw the spectacle. Then his jaw dropped and he blurted the only thing he could:

“—What the fuuck?!”

Jonah swirled towards him. It was a perfect diversion, but Carrie didn’t have the wherewithal to take advantage of it. She stared dumbfound at the trucker, as well.

Zeke, however, was another matter. Until now he had been lying dead still in Carrie’s arms, but suddenly he kicked out furiously—as if an electric shock zapped through his body. He aimed for Jonah’s knee, but only hit the side of his boot, near the ankle. It was enough to make the big biker stagger backwards, though, but he didn’t fall. Zeke was still too drunk, too weak or just too much out of range to put enough force into the kick. But Jonah howled … and dropped the knife. Then the trucker in the yellow shirt turned and slammed the door hard behind him. They could hear him yell and curse from out in the parking lot as he ran for it:

“I’m gonna call the fuckin’ sheriff—gonna call—”

“Shiit!” Rex the follower squeaked, like the gravity of the situation that his friends were responsible for finally dawned on him. He hesitated for about two seconds, then turned and ran for the door, too. Jonah yelled at him, but it was too late. Rex ran just as fast—if not faster—than the trucker.

Zeke took the opportunity to scramble over the beer-stained plank floor, reaching for the switchblade. Just when he was almost able to touch it with his fingertips, there was a sickening sound of crushing bone when Jonah’s boot heel ground down on his hand. Zeke screamed. A deep guttural scream, which made Carrie freeze. She felt herself going numb, too, as if she was about to faint. It was in the exact same second that Doris’ CD player was stuck, looping endlessly at the perverse line:

That cannot be broken … That cannot be broken …. That cannot be broken … That cannot be—

Jonah kicked Zeke hard in the head, and he fell back on the floor with a heavy thud, unconscious. This time he didn’t seem to be faking it. Jonah didn’t check. He reached inside his black leather vest.

“He’s got a gun!” Doris cried and dropped behind the bar, as if somebody had yanked the legs out from under her.

It was a tough decision for Jonah Deathman’s Head now: Should he put a bullet in the red bag of garbage first or in the blonde piece of trash? He hesitated for a split second.

Carrie saw herself, as if from a distance … She saw herself diving—for the knife, which was still lying on the floor where Jonah had first dropped it. Just within reach. So close.

She saw her hand close around it.

She saw herself twisting round, lurching forward, and hacking clumsily out for Jonah’s gun arm.

Out in the dark and rain-wet parking lot the trucker in the yellow shirt had just gotten far enough away, so he felt it was safe to duck down behind a car and pull out his cell phone. His hands were still shaking as he tried to flip it open with one hand. He heard the roar of Rex’s motorcycle as it sped away, and for a moment he thought it was going towards him. It wasn’t. Rex was heading for the highway.

The man felt himself able to breathe again. He got the phone open.

He didn’t get to dial the number, though … then he heard the loud clap of the gunshot from inside the Anaconda Bar.

 

***


“So, Dorrie, we know by now that her name’s definitely not Lea. You never asked if she had any other name—the blonde woman?”

“No, Paul.”

“Where she lived?”

“No. I ask a lot of questions of my new customers but not those kinds of questions, you know that.”

“I wish sometimes you would … anyway, go on.”

“Yes, ah, she … the blonde …”

“Just keep calling her Lea … Guess that’s easier for all of us.”

“Okay, ah, Lea … she threw herself into Jonah’s line of fire, in front of Zeke—but miraculously she wasn’t hit. It was like he was firing with his eyes closed or something. Then Mason ran for the door, too. Jonah stared at Lea for a moment, I think. He still had the gun. She hadn’t even strafed him with the switchblade.”

“Lea was trying to cut Jonah with the switchblade?”

“No, well, yes—I suppose. She reached for it, and had a swing at him, but he shot her first.”

“Except that he didn’t shoot her.”

“Yes, of course—how many times do you want me to repeat it?”

“Until I get all the details right. What then?”

“Well, she was sitting on her ass. My ears were ringing, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for her, being so much closer to the gun. Then he said ‘I’ll kill you, bitch’ and … and aimed the gun at her brow. Oh, God I …”

“It’s all right, Dorrie.”

“No, it’s not. I should have done something.”

“You just go on telling me what happened, and then we will take care of the doing. You can be assured we ain’t gonna let those guys off easy, if we have your testimony.”

“Well, the blonde—Lea, I mean—”

“Jonah aimed the gun at her brow. What did she do?”

“She said: ‘I’m going to save Eisenhower.’”

“That’s what she said?”

“Yes, it sounds crazy when you tell it like that, but she did. It was strange. She had been panicking just before, I think. I thought she was close to crying or something, but now her eyes were … blank.”

“Yeah, all right—but what did she do?

“She … rose, slowly. All the time Jonah was pointing that gun at her head … Then, as she rose higher … he pointed it at her heart.”

“Go on.”

“He said: ‘Stop right fuckin’ now—or I’m gonna put a bullet in you, you little whore.’”

“Did she draw back then?”

“No.”

“She didn’t?”

“No. She just repeated what she said before, yelling it: ‘I’m gonna save Eisenhower.’”

“Okay.”

“Then Jonah … well, they just stared at each other, like wild animals. It was a crazy sight. She wasn’t the smallest girl in the world, but he towered over her, you know how damn tall he is.”

“I know.”

“A-and I just knew that she had made her decision there and then, that crazy blonde. I knew she was suicidal.”

“You ‘knew’? Did she indicate that she wanted Jonah to shoot her?”

“ … No … but she yelled at him, like—”

“So you don’t know if that was the case, if she was suicidal?”

“No … Paul.”

“Let’s keep to the facts. What happened then?”

“That’s the most insane part. He kept roaring ‘I’m gonna kill you, bitch or ‘Lea bitch’ or something like that. But she just stood there, right in front of him, and she kept on screaming: ‘I don’t care—I’m gonna save Eisenhower. I don’t care. I’m gonna save—’”

“Okay. Okay. What then?”

“Jonah lowered the gun.”

“Excuse me?”

“He did, lower and lower, the … the more she screamed at him, it seemed. Then finally he just pointed it at the floor. And that’s when Lea rushed past him … over to Ike—.”

“And … then?”

“… Jonah finally ran for it. Lea was already trying CPR—but it didn’t look like she knew how to do it properly, though. I got myself together … enough to make that damn call to you.”

“For how long did she continue CPR?”

“For very long, it was almost like she was possessed. I tell you—but …”

“So you have no idea exactly when she stopped?”

“I-I’m sorry, no. I ran out in the back. Mike has the flu, so I was the only one working. I ran around and looked for something that might help … a blanket to put over him or something. Silly, wasn’t it? I knew—I mean, I just knew, Paul—that he was dead … Eisenhower.”

“Drink this, Dorrie.”

“T-thanks.”

“Okay, and when you came back she was gone. And so was Zeke?”

“Yes … Paul, there wasn’t anything she could’ve done, was there? I mean, he was dead—Eisenhower—wasn’t he?”

“I think we can be quite sure of that. Doc Martin says it was a full-blown cerebral aneurysm. And even if it had just been a heart attack, Jonah and his boys stalled everything so long it wouldn’t have mattered what the hell she had done.”

“Paul?”

“Yes?”

“When you went over the bar—I mean, when you did all the investigation and all that—did you … by any chance find Eisenhower’s medal?”

“No.”

“Did Mason have it, when you arrested him?”

“No.”

“I wonder where it is …”

“I’m afraid I don’t know.”

“Perhaps she took it? Or Zeke? Have you found them yet?”

“We’re still looking.”

***

When she had come to her senses and turned away from Eisenhower, she was alone. Zeke had gone. Doris had been rampaging through the kitchen. Then she had heard sirens, and she knew she had had to go as well. What if they arrested her, found out about the money? She would rather die than go back to Jeremy.

She exited through the bar’s front door and then hastily walked around the building, into a small grove of trees. She stood there for a while, in the dark, shaking, not knowing what to do. Then she began running. There was a small path, which she knew led further into the hills north of Anaconda. It was a cold night, but she kept on running. She didn’t stop or go back to the motel to pick up anything. All she had now was her handbag, with her money, make-up, and condoms, and a small bottle of absinth, all of which she had brought to the Anaconda Bar tonight, as usual.

She ran for a long time, until she came to a small gravel road. She slowed down. The rush of adrenaline had faded. Now she felt heavier than she had ever felt before. So she sat down against a tree and just waited. She must have blacked out for several hours, because when she woke up again, the light of dawn was beginning to seep through the tree crowns overhead, and she felt frozen to the bone. She had only worn her faded red blouse.

She didn’t think about how lucky she was that the cold hadn’t killed her yet or that she could hardly feel her legs. Right now she didn’t care if she ever got up again. She had stayed in the bar against all reason, when the bikers had pulled up outside, because she wanted to prove she wasn’t afraid anymore and then, when all hell broke loose, and Abel had the heart attack … then she had not been able to save him. She might have, though, if she had not run away. Once again, someone had died and she could have prevented it, and the thought of that made her despise herself more than ever. She fumbled in her bag for her final bottle of absinth. It was still very cold, and she still had a lot of Doris’ booze in her blood. So she figured if she drank enough of the absinth she might just black out again for the final time. She deserved it …

But Carrie’s fingers didn’t just find the small bottle’s well-known surface when she reached into her bag. They also found something hard, round, metallic, slightly spiked. Confused she pulled it out … It was the medal. Somebody had apparently snatched it from the floor where Mason must finally have dropped it. Was it Zeke? But she had left her handbag at the bar, only a few meters away. She would certainly have seen it if Zeke had … No, she might not have seen anything after all—for several minutes she saw nothing but Eisenhower, and her own frail hands hammering on his chest, trying to give him a heart massage, utterly clueless about whether or not she was making any difference or just making things worse. She stared at the medal for a long time. It was a gold star surrounded by a wreath, topped by an eagle on a bar inscribed with a single word. The word was “Valor”.

After a while, she decided to try to get up.

***

The Battle of Kasserine Pass was a battle that took place during the Tunisia Campaign of World War II in February 1943. It was a series of battles fought around Kasserine Pass, a 2 mi (3.2 km) wide gap in the Grand Dorsal chain of the Atlas Mountains in west central Tunisia. The Axis forces involved, led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, were primarily from the Afrika Korps Assault Group, elements of the Italian Centauro Armoured Division and two Panzer divisions detached from the 5th Panzer Army. The Allied forces involved came from the U.S Army’s II Corps commanded by Major General Lloyd Fredendall, and the British 6th Armoured Division commanded by Major-General Charles Keightley, which were part of the British 1st Army commanded by Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson.

Significant as the first large-scale meeting of American and German forces in World War II, the relatively untested and poorly led American troops suffered heavy casualties and were pushed back over 50 mi (80 km) from their positions west of Faid Pass in the initial days of the battle. Despite early defeats, elements of the US II Corps, reinforced by British reserves, rallied and held the exits through mountain passes in western Tunisia, defeating the Axis offensive plans. 

(Wikipedia)