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Roland Goity lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and edits fiction for the online journal LITnIMAGE. His stories appear in
dozens of literary publications, including
Fiction International, Underground Voices, Bryant Literary Review, Talking River,
Eclectica, Scrivener Creative Review, decomP
and Compass Rose. www.rolandgoity.com
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Around South Pass City


“Car’s pulling up”, he says, hand shading his eyes as he hunches below the halfway-drawn drape of the store’s window.
“Looks like a rental, Annie. Go check it out.”

“Whatever you say, Hambone. What, ever, you, say.”

I walk out the door and down a pair of wood plank steps to the gravely, hard- packed dirt at the edge of the lot. Two
fellows exit the sedan as if on cue: doors swinging open in tandem, heads popping up in synch, doors doing a double-
thump when slammed shut. Both look to be somewhere in their twenties. Driver’s a smooth-featured blond; other’s a lanky
redhead, taller by a few inches. The guy from behind the wheel, the blond, begins a speedy gait to the door. “Restroom
inside?” He asks, as he passes. I nod only when he’s already inside the store, out of view and earshot. Then I say, “Yep.”

Soon, the other fellow, freckled like Howdy Doody, approaches. He flashes a goofy smile going by, and says, “hey”. Once
again, though, I wait until he’s behind my back and the tinkling of the bells above the door stop ringing after it closes. Then
I too say, “hey”, and begin giving the car — a rental, all right — the old walk-around. All part of a game Hambone likes to
play with the road’s vacationers and travelers, the bulk of our business. South Pass City, the old pioneer settlement, is the
only place around, and it’s not even a real town, only a historic site. What’s more, the highway isn’t on the way to much
local. It’s mostly designed to get people to other parts of Wyoming ASAP. So odds are good customers are just passing
through, never to see us again. And Hambone always likes to mess with ‘em.

When I get back inside, the redhead is slowly twirling our kiosk display of postcards. The scenery of the Wild West is
passing before his eyes. “Where’s your beer at?” He wants to know.

I nod toward the other side of the room, to the corner where the brewskis and soda and ice cream hide behind rows of
paint cans stacked chest high. Soon, he’s investigating every shelf of the refrigerator/cooler, while his friend is nowhere to
be seen. Guess he’s in the can, as the restroom’s one of the leading attractions here. The store’s a bit of everything: bar
and liquor store, grocery and market, hardware supply center. Even serves as the area post office.

Hambone’s behind the register counter, where I go up and whisper, “Sunbird rental. Idaho plate.”

“Good going girl”, he says to me. I see him reach down for the double-barreled sawed-off he hides behind a stack of folded
plaid blankets on a shelf inside the counter.

The gangly redhead has pulled out a pair of bottled six packs. Now he’s fishing around for packaged ice in the freezer area.
“You don’t know how lucky you are, boy”, Hambone’s voice booms once the fellow’s finally gathered everything he needs
and makes for the register.

“Excuse me?” Our customer says, puzzled. He sets everything on the countertop, and I wander over to ring him up since
Hambone has other ideas in mind.

“That a seven or 10-pound bag of ice, you got?” I ask. “Looks to me like a seven.”

I’m speaking rhetorically to interrupt things, tired of screwing with customers, and hoping Hambone might lay off these
guys. Give the game a rest. But I look at him and he’s just getting started, rolling up the sleeves of his flannel shirt to
unveil the cornucopia of prison tattoos on his forearms. It’s embarrassing how proud he is of those tats.

Hambone goes, “I said you’re a lucky bastard. Must have a rabbit’s foot on you or somethin’.”

“What do you mean?”

Redhead’s suddenly fidgety and nervous. Anxious. He reaches a hand to the back of his neck, then takes a look down the
dirty hall to his left and sees the bathroom door’s still closed. His friend’s probably constipated or something.

“You’re lucky all right”, Hambone says, again drawing the young man’s gaze. And I mean this kinda lucky, and he lifts the
shotgun above the counter in full view. Ka-pow, ka-pow, blood-squirting-everywhere kind of lucky.

“Holy shit! What for?”

Hambone pauses, gives me the eye, as if to say, should I tell ‘im? Another of his tricks. I nod stupidly.

“Bank robbery in Farson, ‘bout an hour ago. Got a call from the Sheriff’s office about a getaway car northbound on the 28.
We been on the lookout since, right Annie?”

“Right”, I mumble.

“Farson? I remember the signs. We were passing that town around then. That’s a trip.”

“There’s more. The guys who knocked off the bank were drivin’ a Pontiac Sunbird. Turquoise green, just like yours.”

The redhead reflexively puts his hands up to the side of his head. I’m not sure if he’s about to wiggle his brain around or
has plans to surrender.

“No shit? Man, it wasn’t us. We didn’t even stop in Farson, much less rob their bank. I’m totally serious. We’re just out
here backpacking.”

“Backpacking, huh? In a car going seventy-fuckin’-five on the highway? I don’t think so”, Hambone says over the young
man’s protestations. “But you ain’t who we’re looking for, that’s true. The sheriff said the car had Nebraska plates. You
boys got somethin’ else. What is it again, Annie?”

“Idaho.”

“That’s right. Idaho plates on your Sunbird. Sheriff said the car involved in the stickup had Nebraska tags, definitely
Nebraska.”

The redhead looks like he’s on some cloud or something, stunned to a stupor, as if he’s just gotten word of a death in the
family, or that his lottery number was called. The sound of the toilet flushing and a faucet running break the silence. Then
comes the creak of the bathroom door from where the stocky blond emerges.

“Kenny, get over here”, the redhead calls.

“That was weird; I was pushing out pellets like a rabbit”, Kenny says, loud enough for us all to hear. “Must be all that
freeze-dried food.”

“You won’t believe what almost happened”, his friend says.

“What?” Kenny asks. “You couldn’t get the beer?”

“Oh, he got that, up here on the counter”, Hambone says. “But he almost got a whole lot more.” Hambone takes to
laughing, a big blustery bellow that comes from the gut. Choreographed but convincing on account of all the practice he
gets.

“Something going on?” Kenny asks.

“We almost got shot”, his friend says excitedly, arms gesticulating and the volume of his voice wavering. “Nearly a homicide
case of mistaken identity.”

“That’s sixteen-forty-one, including the ice”, I say, out of the blue, having just realized I still need to deal with the sale at
hand.

Redhead grabs his wallet from his back pocket and finds me a neatly pressed twenty. He gazes at me just a split second
before turning back to his buddy, who is so befuddled he squints his eyes as if the conversation itself has rendered things
out of focus. “Our car”, Redhead tells him.

“What about the car?”

“Matched a getaway car in a bank robbery to the south of here”, Hambone offers. “Same make and model, same color. Only
one difference.”

“The license plate”, says the redhead.

“We were told to look for Nebraska plates”, Hambone says.

“You guys got an Idaho plate on that car”, I say.

Poor Kenny looks as confused as ever now. His eyes had scanned each of our faces as we spoke in turn, but with him
always a face behind. He’s still staring at me a good thirty seconds after I’ve done talked.

“I was prepared to do the unthinkable”, Hambone says.

“The unthinkable?”

“Show him the gun”, Redhead says with an eager smile, and Hambone obliges. Kenny does a double take, turns to his
friend and appears to mouth: “Holy shit!”

Redhead laughs since it’s just what he had said if I’m not mistaken. He’s obviously excited by the whole game we’ve played,
thinking his fate had hung in the balance but that he’s now got a new lease on life, like someone who’s overcome a terminal
disease. Only in this case, the doctor was a quack and the original diagnosis was no better than a kick in the crotch. But, of
course, he doesn’t know that.

For me at the moment, Redhead’s attitude is good to see. If I’m going to get roped into playing the game, I’d rather the
duped contestants come out the better for it. Not like last month one time with the family on vacation from down south
somewhere, out of Georgia, or Alabama, or maybe Florida, it was. They came into the store loud as a New Year’s party, the
kids laughing it up and the parents bickering. The father, a whale of a man, likely three-hundred plus, was already breathing
pretty heavy when Hambone upped the ante and did his thing. The poor Southerner must not have heard the whole spiel,
had thought it wasn’t a could-have-been but an act-in-progress. He either fainted or had a heart attack, we’re still not
sure. He went all weak-kneed and fell back against the whole display of paint cans, knocking over a perfect pyramid I had
built. Hambone immediately applied ice and unscrewed a half pint of whisky, pouring a shot or two down the man’s throat,
which seemed to revive him. His wife has screamed at me to call 9-1-1 and I had pretended to do so. When her hubby
snapped out of it, and Hambone explained to the woman that he’d brandished the gun only to describe what a close call
they’d had and nothing more, and that her husband now appeared ship-shape, the wife forgot about the direness of the
situation, and the supposed emergency call I’d made. Any further noise about things was squelched when Hambone threw
in a twenty-four ounce package of smoked Wyoming trout — on the house — when they finally sought to purchase what
they’d come for. We was lucky.

By now I’ve opened the register and counted out change. “Here you go”, I say, bills in my left hand, coins in the fist I’ve
made with my right.

“Thanks”, Redhead says. He pockets the money and proclaims, “It’s great out here in the Over Yonder. Quite a style of
living you all got.”

“Oh yeah?” Hambone says. “And where you fellas from?”

“California”, Kenny says. “Santa Barbara, more exactly.” He’s now pretty much sidled next to Redhead, ready to drag him
back out the door.

“That’s right,” his friend says. “We’re on a backpacking expedition with a few little road trips thrown in. Flew into Idaho Falls
and we’ll eventually circle back. Three weeks by the time we’re done. We did the Tetons first and then the Wind River
Range. We’re now heading to Yellowstone. It’s sort of a last hurrah.”

“Last hurrah?” I echo. Now I’m getting curious.

“We’re getting married end of summer.”

“Well, well, well. What do you know…?” Hambone says, smacking a thigh. “One of them same-sex marriages, huh? Figures,
you boys from California…”

It’s hard to say who boils over first. But Kenny who looks as if he’s just consumed the winning entry in a hot chili cook-off,
says, “No, man, not to each other. To our fiancées, our girlfriends.“

“We’re just buddies”, Redhead says. “In the old-fashioned sense.”

“Sorry to be so mistaken”, Hambone says, raising a hand to his face to wipe off a smirk.

“We graduated school a year ago, but things are going to be hectic soon,” says Redhead. “In a few weeks I start work at a
consulting firm. It’s run by my future father-in-law. Kenny and his girl are moving to L.A.”

“I’ll be in production at a film studio. Steph is a model: J. Crew, Ann Taylor, and such.”

“So this is our last foray to adventure for a long while,” Redhead says. “Who knows? Maybe our last one ever.”
“And how’s it gone, so far?” I ask.

Our two visitors regard each other quickly, and get giddy. Kenny seems on the verge of laughter before straightening
himself out to say, “It’s been fantastic. Absolutely amazing.”

“Yeah, this is such a beautiful state”, Redhead says. “A few times, though, the wilderness has kicked our ass — lightning
storms, bear encounters, getting totally lost in the middle of nowhere — but that’s all part of the fun, I guess.”

“You two are getting a lot more out of your visit than other folks we see”, I tell them. “Most just drive their cars into old
ghost towns or fish out our creeks. The big spenders go to dude ranches and pretend they’re John Wayne.”

Hambone clears his throat and smacks the counter, never one to sink into the background lightly. “So you like it out here,
do you?”

“Oh yeah”, Redhead replies. “Might go a little stir crazy after a while, but it’s been an awesome place to visit.”

Hambone shakes his head and slides the shotgun back off the table. He returns it to the back of its shelf, burying it back
under the blankets. Then, as the two young men ask me what I know about the lake and campground to where they’re
headed, Hambone grabs a box cutter, ducks into the back, and starts opening the latest shipment of feed and grain that
just arrived. Busy work and nothing more.

“Thanks a lot”, Redhead says, after I hand him a quick sketch of directions to the place. “Shall we?” He asks the other, who
grabs the six packs while Redhead grabs the bag of ice. As they pass back out the door, Redhead turns and smiles at me.
“Thanks for the hospitality, he says. And I sure hope they catch the guys who robbed that bank. We’ll be on the lookout
now, too. G’bye.”

Through the window I see them pop the car’s trunk. They open a cooler, place the beers in, and bust the bag of ice open
and let the cubes rain down on top of the bottles. Then they hop in the vehicle, pull out of the lot, and are northbound on
the highway. Once the sound of their engine fades away all I hear is the sound of Hambone, cutting through packaging
tape and the thwop, thwop, thwop, as he tosses one feedbag after another on the center island shelves we’ve built in the
back.

“They’re gone, you know”, I shout over my shoulder to him.

The backroom suddenly goes quiet and then Hambone boulders in, coming to a rest at the counter only after he’s bumped
into it hard enough he utters a grunt. “What a pair of fools those two were, Annie.”

“You think so?”

“Scared shitless, it looked like. Almost hard to believe they’ve survived as long as they have out there in the wild, the
California dimwits. Surprised they can even build a campfire.”

“They seem to be doing okay for themselves, Hambone. Traveling around, returning home to good jobs and women who
wanna marry them. Even on your days off, you just putter about around here.”

Hambone simply shrugs at me, knowing it’s true.

“And this store is the only thing you know”, I continue. I open my arms wide and slowly begin a counterclockwise gaze
about the place. “Behold your past, present and future. This is your career.”

“You always do this”, says Hambone.

“And we both know I’m the only woman in the county stupid enough to let you touch her, and that won’t last forever.”

“Yeah, yeah”, Hambone says, waving me off like he’s shooing a fly.

A glint of light shines through the window and then we both look up. A burgundy minivan pulls into the lot, kicking up a
plume of dirt. Hambone runs over by the window. Soon the dust cloud outside settles and things are back in view. “Annie”,
he says, “get ready to do your thing. I think we’ve got ourselves another rental.”
Roland Goity