Jamie felt the muzzle of the rifle dig into his ribs, but still he hesitated.
“This stuff is dangerous,” he said.
The tattoo artist laughed. “That’s what you’re for. Now git.”
Fog rose from the fields that stretched all around them, newly plowed in preparation for the spring planting. There was a barn, empty except for hay, to his left; the farmhouse lay dark and slumbering in the distance to the right.
And ahead, curved and white as the moon, looking like a giant white capsule — a big metal Tylenol, maybe — elevated on stilts was the tank. The tank that held the anhydrous ammonia fertilizer. The stuff Jamie was charged with stealing so that the tattoo artist and his Nazi girlfriend could brew up a big old batch of crank.
Jamie had never been involved in this part of the process before. He was usually up for the smoking, and maybe a little bit of the distribution, with some light assistance thanks to the family pharmacy on the manufacturing end.
But running across farmland in the middle of the night with an empty propane tank in one hand, a cordless drill in the other, and a length of tubing knotted around his neck: That was not his thing.
He tried to tell them that, but they informed him that he didn’t have a thing anymore. He was a slave now, they said. And if he didn’t do what they told him to do, he’d be dead.
He could feel the rifle trained on his back as he rapped on the tank, as they’d instructed, to locate the exact level of the anhydrous. Once he figured out where that was, he was supposed to drill into the metal, insert the tubing, then tip the whole thing ever so carefully to fill up the smaller tank without spilling anything.
A spill would be disastrous, even if it didn’t eat into his flesh or make him go blind or burn out his vocal chords. The sharp smell, the cloud that would form over the whole property, the potential for a massive explosion: These things could attract unwanted attention. And would result, the Nazis told him, in his imminent demise.
I can’t believe they know the word imminent, he mused, as he held the drill over his head and drilled. Well, I guess you need to have a certain amount of intelligence and ambition to brew this stuff big-time. I’m the moron for using it and never making a dime.
Maybe he could run. The fog would provide him some cover. He could run up to the farmhouse, bang on the door, get inside before they managed to shoot him. He felt the drill puncture the tank, exhaled when nothing leaked out. He felt a nearly insurmountable urge to look behind him, gauge the distance between him and the rifles. But he didn’t let himself turn.
He worked quickly to thread the tubing into the hole at one end, the small empty tank at the other. If he got out of here alive, he was definitely going to go straight. He would never touch any kind of drug, ever again. Maybe a beer, once in a while. And the occasional joint. But nothing harder than that.
Now was the tricky part. He was supposed to remove the bricks under the legs on his side of the tank one by one, until it tilted enough to drain the fertilizer into the hose. But he had to do it slowly, carefully, or the whole thing could fall over.
Shit, maybe it would be better just to die. Go down in a hail of bullets, like some movie gangster. And what was going to happen if he succeeded in this little project anyway? His new owners would just force him to do the next, even more dangerous thing.
There was a whistle from the direction of the bushes where the two of them were crouched, and Jamie looked over. He could see the guy’s pasty face plainly there, glaring at him. The guy moved his hand in a circular motion, as if to say, “Hurry it up.”
Jamie really wanted to give him the finger. But you know what? Why fucking bother. He wasn’t even worth the finger.
He’d maneuvered one brick out from beneath its metal leg, and this he tossed to the side, letting the fertilizer tank lurch. He smelled the sharpness of the ammonia but fuck it, who cared, he was not going to do this any more. And he was not going to run, either.
He just started walking away. Walking as if he were strolling across the open land, as if the field belonged to him, as if he had a border collie and maybe a little boy, his own tow-headed son, at his side. He walked as if it were noon, the sun beaming down, the earth newly planted, as if he had money in his pocket and love in his heart.
By the time the two imbeciles realized he was actually walking away, by the time the first shot rang out and the farmhouse lights blazed on and the real live dog started barking, the smell of ammonia was all around him, and the toxic cloud was thicker than even the fog.