Tidbits from Gary

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Truth of Rialto

“The Truth of Rialto”
a short excerpt
Gary Baker, December 2013

Amir vaulted over a fallen cactus arm and felt his ankle slide open where the hand-length needles had grazed him. His heart hammering the tattoo of a Beethoven battalion, he barely noticed until he had gotten another seven steps further.

When he did stop it was beneath an acacia something-or-other that he only remembered from Mexican travel guides, as though he'd seen it when high as a kite, feeling none of the awe that he would have felt at another time, had things been different. Instead he felt the rough bark beneath his right palm and the airless breeze wreak havoc on his wind pipes as he fought to stay in control, as he fought to regain his composure, and knew this was it.

Hawkins -- Rialto, Amir had to remind himself -- was out there, in the desolate darkness, searching for him. He couldn't afford to stop.

"Shit," the taxi driver grabbed the breast pocket of his jacket and yanked the inhaler out after a minor struggle, "shitshitshitshit." He drew a puff and an inhale deep into his abdomen where he held it like a dying man would hold onto his life and instantly his body tried to refuse it, making him gag until at last the convulsions won over and he released a bit of clear bile onto the stony sand at his feet.

Great, he cursed himself. Another sign for Rialto to use to track him. Perfect.

"Amir!" The echo came with the wind, seemingly coming from every direction at once, stilling Amir's heart in a moment of electric fear. "Amir, don't you leave me, now, you hear?!" There was a pause, Amir feeling the wind chill in response to the icy cool sensation that he knew was coming for him, as though his reaper was only paces away.

"You've got me all wrong!" The man played, "I didn' murder nobody! Just listen to me!"

Amir knelt to the ground slowly, ever so slowly, thankful for once that the moon was in the darkest phase for this one night, and that the stars made no headway for his murderer. In the shadow of the acacia, Amir shifted the closest shrubs to cover his legs with the haste of cold molasses, then tried to wrap the fallen branches of his protector around to conceal him even further.

He found himself thankful for his boss, Gerald, as well, for the deep navy uniforms they were forced to wear each and every waking hour on the job. He couldn't help but feel that if he'd been a taxi driver for any other city or state, such as the Big Apple, perhaps, then he'd be out here in neon yellows and whites.

"Ami-r," Rialto sang, his deep voice even closer now, "I know you're out there, buddy." Amir heard a twig snap nearby, almost too close for comfort, and was instantly curious as to how there would be a twig out in the middle of the desert without-- oh!

Rialto snapped out in front of Amir with the gleaming silver nine millimeter aimed at the dead-frozen driver. The man looked the part of a mad murderer more than ever just then with his boots scuffed with mud and thorns, his coat shifting like a drunken gunslinger's in the wind, and his unruly long hair winding itself about his shoulders like the snakes of Medusa. Rialto's dark eyes sought Amir's from beyond the nose of the gun and held him there, fixed in his gaze, letting the soon-to-be-victim see into the cold, desolate soul of his reaper.

"Gotcha!" The rugged man breathed with a snarl.

Suddenly it felt like he'd been in a coma for so long that his heart simply forgot how to beat. Here he was, in the middle of a desert in the middle of nowhere, with a silhouette of a man with a pistol aimed at his head and, oddly, he felt his death had already come.

There were no words that could have prepared him for this, no amount of warning that could have done any more than what Gerald had already begged of him to do. No, he didn't turn around. No, he didn't listen when his boss had ordered him to drive to the nearest police station and turn Rialto in while he had the chance.

And no, he didn't think this would turn out any better than it had quickly become after that little debate back at the motel.

"You done acting like a sniveling little bitch?" The shadow holding the gun shifted on his feet, relaxing a little as he prepared to do his worst to Amir.

Yet the fact that he felt dead already seemed to give him courage. It was as though he knew the pain would come, but that somehow the friendship they had acquired so far on this trip would compel the man to be easy and make it quick. "I'm not a little bitch," he pouted from beneath the acacia debris that he'd once thought would hide him from view.

"Oh, believe me: you are," Rialto motioned with the gun for Amir to stand and tossed him a bottle. "Drink this."

Amir felt the urge to comply, but also tiptoed on the verge of child-like defiance. He wasn't any sort of man to become another victim, not after he'd faced plenty of NSA guards calling him a terrorist just because of his skin color and name, not after he'd put up with far too many racist comments about his being a taxi driver 'just like the rest of his ingrates'. He'd practically been born a victim, so what purpose would he be serving to act like one in the face of death? "Why?"

Rialto's face contorted with annoyance. "Because I've got the gun and you don't. That's why." His free hand shot to his forehead and he scrubbed his fingers through his greasy hair in frustration. "Dammit, Amir, I'm trying to show you that I'm not as bad as you think!"

Amir lifted his eyebrows and stared at the nose of darkness within that silver gleam. "Not as bad... and yet you have a gun aimed at my head. Very nice touch, Rialto."

"Hey," he urged, "the name is Jonathan. I thought we were in a first-name basis, here."

"Well we were... until you brought a gun up to my face."

Rialto looked taken aback, reeling from words that seemed to physically injure him. "Are you serious?" The gun lowered, just slowly enough that Amir knew there was no way in hell he could escape without it snapping up in time to get him in the throat or something. "I only have the gun to keep you where I can see you so I can explain myself, man. What the fuck." He paused in thought for a moment, biting his lip like he did when trying to decide something. Amir had seen him do it too many times on this trip so far to not see it, to not see the definite consideration behind Rialto's off-kilter stare. "No, you know what? Screw this. Screw this and screw you: I don't need to validate myself to the likes of you." The gun dropped back to his hip and he turned to begin walking back toward the cab which he now had the keys to.

Amir was just beginning to loosen up as his legs thawed with the fear abated when the man stopped again. He could just make out the mumbled "no, I've got a better idea" when Rialto spun on his heels and brought the gun back up to his former driver. "Call the cops on this, you fucking terrorist," and the air crackled with cloudless, hand-held thunder.

* * *

Amir Karam Rahat floated in a cold tuft within a desert in New Mexico trying to figure out what just happened. The stars had gained a luminosity not there moments prior, and the shadows had inched away ever so slightly. He felt the heat of the day-just-passed as it tried once more to overtake the arid climes of wasteland flora and sand, and witnessed the way it slowly lifted as a blanket of cold crawled in and took refuge in the dips beneath the cacti and coyote bushes. At the roots of the occasional acacia, the warmth held on for just moments longer, as there were no dips for the cold to seep into. It was like watching the tides with LSD coursing through the veins.

He knew what had taken place, and knew that somehow he hadn't felt a thing, but when he looked to where Jonathan Rialto was standing, the man grinned like the devil he was. "You really thought I would shoot you, didn't you?"

Wait-! Amir looked down and saw no body laying at his feet, no indication that he had fallen where he'd been shot and had become another body to be buried by the winds and eaten by foraging coyotes and vultures. He lifted his gaze back to Rialto and spotted the slight tilt in the posture of his out-held arm, bringing the nose of the gun just askew enough... to hit the tree behind him.

Amir spun around and saw instantly where the bullet had gone in, having left a fist-sized nock of fractured wood and bark driven into the acacia trunk as though by a steel cone. "You mean... you...." Amir could barely breath again, but his inhaler had been lost in the darkness when he'd been shot at. It was eerie how his body was both panicking and floating in a fear-induced state of calm all at once.

"You fucking hypocrite," Rialto breathed at last. Amir heard the shush of bushes between the murderer and himself and turned back toward him to find the silvery nine-millimeter in the sand just a few feet away. Rialto threw up his hands, exasperated, "that's it: I'm done. I am so done. Call the cops already, Amir, I'm so done right now that it's not even funny."

Confused, Amir stared at the pistol through the thorned branches of a dead bush. "What would I say?"

The driver's would-be reaper brought out a lighter and a cigarette form his coat pockets, and proceeded to set it ablaze between perked lips. "The truth, man: that I fucking shot at you and somehow missed after chasing you through the desert for what? Three hours?" He drew on the glowing embers and jetted the combustion from his nostrils like a malevolent beast of legend. "By the way, you've got some serious endurance, there. I don't think I want to know where from, either, guessing by where you're from."

Even still, Amir couldn't place his thoughts into a coherent idea of what was going on. "But... why?"

"Because her death wasn't my fault!" He roared.

The driver gaped as the infamous killer panted through his anger, using the nicotine as a crutch to regain his composure. It took several moments before the man's breathing returned to normal and he motioned to Amir with an empty hand. "Gimme that damned bottle, Amir."

He looked down to his hands and set eyes upon the bottle Rialto had been urging him to drink earlier. He'd thought it was some lurid way of making fun of a victim before death, that it was a bottle of urine or gasoline or some horrid, unspeakable liquid to torment him with... but, no: it was simply an unopened bottle of water. He hefted it across the gap and watched the man take a long swig.

"I don't get it," Amir finally let out, "how was it not your fault?" He remembered hearing the news, remembered seeing the coverage on Fox and CNN as they both agreed for once in the fact that one, Jonathan Rialto, was a heartless killer and should be locked up for good. He had seen the blurry photographs taken by hidden cameras in central park that revealed the unruly man holding a thin, pretty woman on his lap. He knew how it had ended, how Rialto had then snapped the woman's neck and left her to rot where anyone could see.

Days later a man named Jeffrey Hawkins had arrived at Amir's HQ with an offer of over ten grand plus gas to take him to Los Angeles as fast as possible. He'd been too innocent, then, to realize what was really going on. Again he pressed for an answer, "how is it not your fault, Rialto?"

Rialto met his eyes with a cold, hard glare, "because she had brain cancer, Amir." He took a draw that lasted the length of the cigarette, as deep as seemed able to inhale before choking, and let it out slowly, smoothly, contorting his features as he tried to keep the effects of the nicotine working. Finally he whispered into the desert, barely audible and probably for the first time since it had happened roughly one week ago, "she ordered me to do it, Amir, and I was so enwrapped in her that I obeyed."

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