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A star-smeared night, the usual briny and humid haze of the brush country in August, and Dixon was hauling twenty cases of stolen toys up from the Rio Grande valley. They were in the bed of his truck under a blue tarp. He took care to drive the speed limit and flash his blinker. If the border patrol at the Sarita checkpoint asked, he’d claim a delivery mix-up. If the guards were white, he’d blame it on Mexicans.
The toys had been slated for Dairy Queen kids’ meals, a promotion for a book series called Pegaterrestrials in which the characters were half alien and half winged horse, but that morning the office phone rang and a collectibles dealer had offered three grand for the lot. Dixon was forty-two and he’d managed the franchise outside Harlingen for four years. He knew he’d be fired, maybe arrested, too, but he also knew better than to give himself time to reconsider. He loaded the cases into his truck between customers. When the afternoon crew arrived, he went to the filling station to top off the tank. He checked his tire pressure and brake lights. Then he drove home and had supper with his wife, hamburger meat fried with peppers and onions. Afterward, they ate Blizzards he’d brought for dessert and he told her not to wait up.
Dixon pressed his swollen knuckles to the cold paper cup and felt a soothing. Trish saw it, looked away. She said, “You’re doing all this for someone named Cornbread?”
“I’m doing it for the money. Three grand [End Page 150] gets us closer to the twenty-eight days.”
“Three grand from a man named after bread you cook in a skillet,” she said.
“Sounded more teenager than man.”
“Where does a teenager get that kind of cash?”
“Where does anyone?”
Trish licked her red plastic spoon. She said, “Did you put the pistol back in the truck?”
“I’m doing it for Casey,” he said. Their daughter was fifteen. She’d been asleep in her bed since Dixon had carried her there the night before.
“A man got arrested this morning,” Trish said. “He was driving a hearse and had dope in the cadaver, an old woman stuffed full of pot.”
“He didn’t think the creek would rise.”
“I never understand what you mean by that.”
“My father used to say it,” Dixon said. He wanted to get going. The deal was to meet Cornbread at a Kingsville taxidermy shop by ten. He said, “It means we’ll be all right.”
“If your knuckles aren’t broken, they’re getting close. I can put some ice in the cooler for your drive.”
“After I get home,” he said.
“Part of me wishes you hadn’t gone so easy on those boys.”
“I doubt that’s the word they’d use.”
“You know my meaning, Dixie,” she said.
“I need to scoot,” he said.
“The man with the hearse probably figured the cadaver would confuse the dogs,” Trish said. She was rinsing the plastic spoon. Their drawers were full of Dairy Queen flatware.
“What time do they start admitting patients at Bayview?”
“The story was on the news,” she said. “It happened at Sarita. That’s all I’m saying. It happened where you’re fixin’ to go.”
His headlamps washed out on the pavement. The air pushing through the vents smelled of creosote and trapped heat. Dixon wished the truck’s radio still worked. He hadn’t missed it for years, but tonight he wanted distraction. The drive was too flat, too dim and quiet. Occasionally, a sharp and radiating pain singed his knuckles; he should’ve accepted that cooler with ice. He alternated hands on the wheel. Outside Raymondville, plastic grocery bags were snagged on barbed wire fences. They looked like jellyfish.
How long since he’d come up this way? They used to go to Corpus for Casey’s school clothes because the valley stores weren’t up to snuff. There had been trips to...