"Remember. If it has tires or testicles, you’re going to have trouble with it."
--from The Prairie Queen’s Guide to Life
by Goddess Jacks
At a little after four a.m. on April fifteenth, Ralphie Styles lay spread-eagled in the middle of an Oklahoma City street, face up, dizzy and bleeding. That was right after the beat up red van rolled over him and drove off.
He heard a groaning sound and then, a moment later, realized the sound was coming from his own mouth. He stared up at the night sky and tried to move his legs. Nothing.
He tried his arms: no luck. His hand. No. A damn finger…
Wasn’t happening. Zero response from the various extremities. The control tower was operating on its own.
The good news was that he felt absolutely no pain.
Or maybe that was the bad news….
He listened. Heard water dripping nearby and a siren, far off, fading to nothing—not coming for him. He smelled asphalt and he tasted his own blood in his mouth.
Darla, he thought, the blood in his mouth mingling with his stunned awareness of her betrayal, making a taste like rusted iron. He remembered. All of it. Every day, every hour, every moment he’d had with her: Darla Jo Snider, who was now Darla Jo Styles.
Ralphie had known a lot of women in his fifty-eight years of life. Known them and loved them. It was his greatest natural talent: to love a woman and love her well. When Ralphie loved a woman, he loved her all the way and over the moon. When Ralphie loved a woman, she was the only one—for a while, at least. And when it was over, well, he went on loving her. Just in a different way.
Darla, though. Darla was…special. No. That wasn’t it. They were all special, every woman he had loved. But Darla? Well, with Darla, Ralphie had been certain that he’d found her at last—found the woman he’d always been looking for, the one he’d hold on to for the rest of his life, the one from whom he would never stray.
A tiny smile tipped the torn edges of what was left of his mouth. He’d been right about Darla. Oh, yes he had. Because in spite of everything, he still loved her. He couldn’t help himself. And since the rest of his life was beginning to look a lot shorter than anticipated, it was pretty damn likely he’d be loving Darla Jo when he died.
Ralphie stared up at the faint, far away stars and managed to whisper her name to the night. "Darla Jo." And he felt pain then, though that particular pain did not reside in any of the broken parts of his body.
It seemed so wrong, for this to be happening. He hadn’t even mailed in his tax return yet. And damn, he could use a smoke. Just one more. For the road…
Ralphie swallowed blood. Everything was kind of slowing down. And he was floating, not exactly able to care much that he was lying in the middle of the street in the darkness before dawn—all alone, bleeding, his arms and legs limp and unresponsive as slabs of raw meat. Yeah. A dead man. No doubt about it. He knew with growing certainty that he wasn’t going to be around to put this current problem to rights. And what would the cops have to go on? His killer was clever. His killer just might get away clean.
But then again…
There was Rio. Mustn’t forget Rio. A good man, Rio. The best—and what about Phoebe?
Phoebe Jacks was Ralphie’s first wife and his current business partner. She’d be in the mix, too. Phoebe was something. You didn’t mess with Phoebe—or with anyone she called a friend.
Ralphie smiled his torn smile again. Yeah. Rio and Phoebe would take care of it. They wouldn’t stop until they got to the bottom of it. And since Ralphie had never gotten around to changing his will as he’d kept promising Darla he would, if this was the end for him, Rio would be his only true heir. Rio would be partners with Phoebe.
That was good. That was the one thing that had worked out just right, after all. Ralphie wished he could be there when Rio and Phoebe came face-to-face for the first time. That would be something. Yeah. Something to see. Sparks would fly…
What was that sound?
Ralphie sighed. Beautiful, the music. Heartbreaking.
It had started far away and it was coming closer. A Bruce Springsteen ballad from the early nineties, If I Should Fall Behind. A woman was singing it…
Phoebe. Oh, yeah. Phoebe was singing that beautiful song, her husky voice so rich and true.
The music swelled in volume and then a vision burst wide open, bright as day, before him.
He saw the Prairie Queens: Phoebe, Cimarron Rose and Tiffany, onstage in their glory before it all went to hell, before Phoebe divorced him and the band broke up. Cimarron Rose on the keyboards, Tiff on bass guitar. Phoebe, who played lead, stood at the mike, the lights catching bright gleams in her long dark hair, green eyes shining as she strummed and sang so slow and sweet.
Phoebe’s face changed and she was Darla, singing just for him. Darla, wearing a long, white dress, her stomach jutting high and proud with the baby she was carrying, a halo of golden light around her angel’s face.
"Darla Jo," he whispered to the darkness and the distant stars. "It doesn’t matter. All your lies. Or what you did. I love you. I’ll always love you. And I’ll wait for you where I’m goin’. I swear I will."
The song faded. The vision melted away. Ralphie Styles let his eyelids droop shut.
He never opened them again.
back to excerpts page