Save the Girl

You take the safety off, hold the gun out in front of you with both hands, and move toward the Firebird, staying as close to the side of the trailer as possible. You are terrified, overcome with dread, but it doesn’t stop you. Instead, the fear, the adrenaline, fuels your movements, heightens your senses.

There he is on the other side of Tony’s car, bent over something, moving toward the shed, his head bobbing in and out of view.

Your legs take you forward more quickly than you intend. Like running down a hill, you are propelled toward your target. As soon as you have a clear shot, you tell yourself, take it. Shoot him like he shot Tony and Bobby. Kill him before he kills you.

The top of his head is never out of view for more than a moment. He doesn’t have a clue you are coming for him, that you even exist. Don’t hesitate, you remind yourself. Don’t give him a second. But as you round the back of the Firebird, your finger on the trigger, and see Tony lying upside down in the dirt with both arms flung loosely above his head …  you do, you hesitate. Timo has him by the ankles, dragging his body backwards across the yard toward the shed. He sees you, drops Tony’s legs, and reaches for the gun in his waistband.

Shoot him! screams the voice in your head. Now!

But Tony continues to stare blankly up at you with one, unblinking eye. The other is missing, a dark and gory hollow in his skull.

Timo raises his gun at the same moment blood sprays from the side of his neck, the shock of the blast only now registering in your ears. He reaches for the wound with one hand, continuing to lift the gun with his other. A second blast jerks him sideways before you realize it’s your gun, your finger pulling the trigger. He drops to his knees as blood spreads from the center of his chest onto his once white t-shirt. Then he collapses face forward in the dirt, a matching stain expanding swiftly across his back.

Something moves at the edge of your vision, and when you swing your outstretched arms toward it the gun fires a third time, hitting the side of the shed with a muted clank. Both dogs bolt past you and disappear into the desert. Still shaking, you manage to click the safety on and slide the gun into the back waist of your jeans.

Avoiding Tony’s vacant gaze, you step past his and Timo’s bodies into the shed and try to make sense of what you see.

Inside, tied with an orange electrical cord to a metal folding chair, with duct tape on his bare ankles and the wrists behind his back, is a dead man in only his boxers. His head is slumped forward and there are three very obvious bullet holes in his chest. Multiple burn marks, each the size of a quarter, cover his legs and arms, the skin blistered, broken, and charred at the edges. Shit, dark and runny, drips from the seat of the chair and mixes with the blood pooling beneath it on the bare-earth floor.

You turn and vomit beer and Doritos onto the oil-darkened surface of the makeshift garage.

When your stomach stops heaving and you can breathe again, you shift your attention to the blue sports car parked inside the shed, a Camaro maybe, with its hatchback up and both doors open. Inside the open trunk space are two duffle bags. One is made of heavy black canvas and the other, only slightly smaller, is red and looks more like something you might keep your PE clothes in. When you reach to unzip the larger bag, you notice the figure inside the car slumped against the sidewall of the backseat. Bobby.

Your hand recoils, but you force yourself to open the duffle. Inside are brick-sized shapes wrapped in plastic and duct tape. The other bag is stuffed with thick stacks of twenty-dollar bills bound with rubber bands.

What did Tony and Bobby interrupt, some kind of drug deal gone bad, a double cross maybe? And what was Timo going to do, put Tony and Bobby inside the Camaro along with his torture victim? Then what, set it on fire, burn the whole garage down? Was his plan to escape with the money and drugs in Tony’s Firebird?

And what did it matter now, anyway? Backing away from the car, you turn to find yourself staring at Timo’s unmoving form lying next to his cousin’s in the sand and you are overcome with a feeling of regret so intense that it steals your breath and leaves you gasping for air. Not for killing Timo. For that, you tell yourself, you had no choice, but for everything else. For coming here. For buying the beer. For following Ruth to the parking lot. For waking up this morning.

You inhale deeply and try to calm the thumping of your pulse in your ears when you realize the sound is not coming from you but from inside the trailer, and you remember the lady beneath the bed.

The back door is unlocked and you enter through the kitchen. Among the clutter of unwashed dishes, a steak knife catches your eye. You grab it on your way to the living room, skirting the worn-out sofa and battered recliner to get to the single door at the back of the trailer. You push it open to find the woman in the same position as earlier, on her stomach beneath the edge of the bed striking her duct taped wrists upwards against the underside of the bed frame.

She stops moving the moment she sees you and her eyes go wide with fear.

“No,” you say, remembering the knife in your hand. “I’m not going to hurt you, I swear. This is for the tape, to cut the tape.”

Her panicked gaze remains fixed on you as you enter the room, her head twisting over her shoulder to watch as you kneel by her side.

“Please don’t move,” you say, even though she is already completely still. Her bruised and chafed arms look to have taken more damage from her efforts than the tape. Careful to keep the blade as far from her skin as possible, you start at the widest edge of her bindings and saw a couple of inches down before setting the knife aside in order to tear away the rest with your fingers. You try to focus on the tape and not the naked skin of her lower back or the lacy waistband of her black underwear.

As soon as her arms are free, you move to her ankles while she works to peel the tape from her face. “Where is he?” are her first words, eyes moving between you and the door as she struggles to sit up.


The look she gives you is answer enough.

“Dead,” you say.

“Jesse?” she asks, with a different kind of urgency. “Jesse? Is he…?”


She stares back at you, unblinking, and you think maybe she doesn’t understand, but then her green eyes seem to shift out of focus and her gaze drifts slowly downward to the floor.

“Are you hurt,” you ask, not knowing what else to offer. “Can you stand?”

“I think so,” she says, pushing herself up with the help of the mattress behind her.

You quickly get to your feet and offer your hand, but she stands on her own without taking it. Her straight brown hair is tangled and matted to one side of her face. She’s older than you, no doubt, but by how much you can’t be sure. The cups of her black bra have the same lacey edges as the waistband of her panties. She catches you staring and you immediately look away, eyes on the front of your own shirt as you begin to undo the buttons.

“What the fuck are you doing?” she asks.

“My shirt,” you say. “I’m giving you my shirt. It’s just that, I thought—”

“Thank you,” she says, crossing her arms over her stomach. The look on her face turns from anger to something else, amusement maybe, as she watches you remove it. She slips into it as soon as you hand it to her but doesn’t bother buttoning it closed. “Show me,” she says, pointing to the door.

You leave first and let her follow. Halfway to the shed, she runs past you to the man in the chair. “Jesse,” she cries, reaching for him. She stops just short of touching his face and slowly retrieves her hand. “You stupid, stupid, fucking, stupid, man,” she says and then begins to cry.

Not knowing what else to do, you step closer but not enough to enter the shed.

“I knew there was something wrong,” she says as if she’s speaking to him. “I heard it in his voice, but what choice did I have?” She turns back to look at you, her face red and wet from tears. “How could I have known? What else could I have done? I never—” She turns away again and buries her face in her hands.

You need to find a phone, to call the police. There must be one in the trailer. Ruth and Joanne are alone out there. You need to find them. But you can’t just walk away from her now.

Not until she finally backs away from the dead man does she turn to discover the bodies in the dirt near her feet. “Who is that?” she asks, pointing at Tony, and then, as if seeing you for the first time, she demands, “And who the fuck are you?”

“I, we,” you stammer. “We shouldn’t have been here.”

 You watch her walk to the back of the Camaro and peer inside.

“He just shot them,” you say. “I’m sorry, he said, and just … killed them.”

The sight of Bobby in the back seat gives her pause. But like you, she remains long enough to look into each duffle bag.

“We were hiding in the car. Tony said it was better. Him and Bobby only, he said. Said his cousin was a little paranoid sometimes, that we should wait in the car. We—”

“We? Who else?” she asks, walking toward you.

"The girls,” you say, glancing in the direction you last saw them. “They ran into the grapes, I was supposed to follow, but…”

She’s standing before you now. “But?”

“Please,” you say. “We need to call the police. My friends are out there all alone, and—”

“Hey.” She reaches out to touch you on the elbow and you glimpse the dark hollow of her navel through the parted curtain of the open shirt. “You’re just a kid, aren’t you?” she asks, sliding her hand down the length of your forearm.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing, I just…” Her fingers curl around your wrist, slip into the palm of your hand.  “What’s your name?”


“How did you know I was in there, Matt?”

“I heard you. I saw you through the window.”

She moves even closer, her green eyes still glossy with tears. “And you came back, for me?”

You feel the heat of her body as it pushes against you. “I, I couldn’t—”

She kisses you, once, softly on the lips. “Thank you,” she says, and then her tongue finds yours as the salty warmth of her mouth covers yours completely. Her arms wrap tightly around you, hands caressing your shoulders, fingers sliding downward along your spine.

 Suddenly she pulls away, steps back.

“And I want you to know,” she says, pointing Tony’s gun at your chest. “That it’s nothing personal.”

“Wait—” is the last thing you say before the flash and pop, the sudden tilt of earth beneath your feet, the blue sky filling your vision from edge to edge, the slow swaying branches of the cottonwood tree leaning into view, and the yellow brown leaf fluttering free and falling, falling, falling.

A) ?
B) ?

​​THE MISADVENTURES OF MATTHEW VAN DER BOOT is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental … no matter how many times you ask.

Books by Philip Hoy