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The Long Way to Austin

suspense by John Jasper Owens

I never knew why Jake kept me around.

For laughs, maybe, or because I’m smarter than most in Swain County. I’m not much to look at, but Jake had that part covered for both of us. Could he wear clothes? Silk shirts with pearl buttons, creased jeans, gold buckles, they’d call me all kind of names if I tried to pull that stuff off. But no one messed with Jake.

On my side, I guess it goes back to that time some Konache boys caught me switching dice out back of Fuller’s Market. I was about to get cut bad. All of a sudden, there was Jake and a flash of cruel jabs. Two of them hit the pavement.

His shirt wasn’t even mussed.

“Give ‘em back their money, JC,” he said, and I did.

He put one of those big arms around my shoulder and led me out of there, through those other boys wanting my hide.

“You’re Pike Logan’s son,” he said, matter-of-fact. “I’m gonna take care of you.”

Jake was always respectful towards me, even around Kelso, Marcus─ all those boys who used to kick my ass back in school. He’d ask me questions about jobs and strategy, and I’d tell him things my daddy taught me before they put him down in Parchman next fifteen or so.

Plus, he stayed respectful around Emma, never so much as a hand on her shoulder.

I was grateful for that, because Jake could have any woman he wanted, and he did. I could tell some stories. But the fact that he left off Emma, even though she went all moon-eyed around him, made me like Jake even more.

Well—that plus the money we were making.

Emma Detchwit was the best thing that ever happened to me. She was the only girl who ever gave me the time of day, and if I could’ve picked any girl in the state to be mine, it would’ve been her.

She hid her pretty─baggy clothes, glasses, to hell with her hair─but the boys could tell anyway. Sat off by herself; always had her nose in a book. She’d read all the Stephen Kings, Dean Koontzes, and then went on to those I’d never heard of. Mark Childress. Donald Westlake.

Emma wasn’t even out of school yet, but legal. She came up to me at the library and introduced herself. I’m not good at talking to girls, but Emma made it easy. At the movies that weekend, she put my hand on her breast and her lips on my neck.

Right there’s the happiest I’ve ever been.

Her parents worked second, so we had our evenings alone. I never had the guts to tell her she was my first; I made up stories about all my conquests back in high school.

“Why are you my girl?” I asked. I couldn’t help it. We were in her bed, naked on the covers.

“You’re my ticket out of here, JC.” She held my face. “You’re gonna get me to Austin.”

I laughed. “I don’t even have a job, Emma.”

She turned over on her belly and grabbed a Patricia Cornwell off the nightstand. I stroked her back, her beautiful behind.

She cut her eyes.

“I know what you do for money.”

Damn. And I thought we’d been careful working a few counties over.

No one robs banks nowadays. The cash is in armored cars, supermarkets, fancy restaurants. Anyplace with a fat safe you can whip some manager into opening. Banks are hard. You want the teller money, you can go in and get it, along with some FBI for your trouble. The score’s the same pointing a pistol at some dope who’s been selling car parts all day.

Jake planned it different.

He had me research Glenn Falls National, print the maps, the routes out.

“We go in at four,” he told us. “There’s three million in there, and I know how to get to the safe.”

“Cameras, Jake,” I said. “Police sub station next block over.”

Kelso and Marcus hooted. They probably thought a sub station sold sandwiches. Jake bent and pulled me close. “I’m banging one of the tellers. Trust me on this. I told you. I’m gonna take care of you.”

Jake always wanted me outside. “You’re the smart one, you don’t get rattled.” He’d grin down at me, that square, handsome face. “You can think on the fly, something goes wrong. And you drive like the devil.”

I admit, I’m good behind the wheel.

I was behind the wheel when I drove up on Jake’s house night before the job, watched Emma scurry out of there about dawn.

I guess there’s more than one way to Austin.

I swear, I didn’t have any more plan than to leave Emma where she was and take off by myself with my cut. But then I heard the shots in the bank, and Jake came hauling ass out by himself, a satchel on one arm and no Kelso or Marcus.

He was bleeding bad. Took one in the arm, one in the thigh. Nicked the artery.

I drove.

We had the law on us, but there are no copters in Glenn Falls. I hit the back roads to the switch car. Had to carry Jake over to it, practically.

That silk shirt was ruined.

Must be a quarter million in that satchel.

“God damn, JC. I need a doctor,” Jake said.

I nodded. That’s what he needed all right. He’d lost a pound of blood. Could barely keep his head up.

Of course, I could’ve staunched it, if I wanted. Daddy taught me all kinds of things.

“Where we going?” he mumbled. All his fight was running out.

“Up to the quarry, maybe five more miles,” I said. “There’s a deep hidey-hole no one knows. You’ll be happy up there.”

I drew my twenty-two and polished him off.

Then I said, to no one in particular, “That’s where I left Emma.”

Copyright October 2009 by John Jasper Owens

John Jasper Owens lives in the South. Look for him in print, October and November 2009, at Out of the Gutter, A capella Zoo, and Bards and Sages Quarterly.

[Return to the October 2009 stories]

16 Responses

  1. Great story. Like Hitchcock in the old days. Maybe better.

  2. Finally, someone who sounds genuinely southern.

  3. I love the slow matter-of-factness of the protagonist, the “family business” taken up . . . it is, indeed, genuinely southern.

  4. Wonderful. Never skipped a word, drew me in and held me there. Great first line, even better last.

  5. Taut without seemingly so, because the narrator is so mellow in his storytelling. Excellent.

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by littlefluffycat: NEW story from my awesome crit partner, John Jasper Owens! Content worth reading is worth paying for!…

  7. Loved that last line!

  8. Well done. Tight, well crafted story, no unnecessary lines. I enjoyed reading this and look forward to more of your work.

  9. Damn, you’re good. I didn’t see that coming at all.

    I love the voice, too.

  10. “I guess there’s more than one way to Austin.” – great line.

    Very engaging read! Look forward to more.

  11. Enjoyed it. Nice matter of fact tag line.

  12. excellent write john. a good revenge piece.

  13. Where has this genius been all my life?

  14. Hey Johnny, great story. I knew I find you sooner or later. Keep in touch my friend!!!

  15. I was hooked from the first sentence. Another reminder of why I love Flash Fiction

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