I must have dozed off. When I lifted my head my right arm was numb and an IV snaked from it to an unconscious security guard on a gurney while I lay strapped to a dentist's chair. My cigarettes were in his shirt pocket. Rain rattled the window of a butterfly display case hanging over a computer and a WORLD'S BEST DAD mug. I asked for a cigarette but nothing stirred in the man's dented face.

Lightning flashed, momentarily illuminating a set of dentures in a water glass beside me and the distorted shadow of Sheriff Moss as he struck a match for the kerosene lamp.

I nodded at my neighbor. "Did I do that?"

"Nah, Tommy got stabbed at a biker rally and y'all were the same blood type. He'd have done the same for you."

"That's mighty white of him."

Where Jack was pale, Moss was silver-haired in his khaki uniform, army tags, and the kind of deep tan you only get from decades of outdoor labor. A list of fallen comrades tattooed his left forearm. He reeked of woodsmoke.

"Quite a speech you gave earlier." I had vague memories of a hooting crowd as I stood on a taproom table and shouted about the second Civil War while swinging a sword over my head.

"Can I have my cigarettes back?"

"You working with Jack?"

"They're right there in his shirt."

"I asked a question."

"Jack's with the firm in DC. I'm just a consultant."



There was a rustle of fabric beneath my chair but I was too sore to turn my head and look.

"Consultant in what?"

"Communications. "

"That's interesting. I ran your license last night---"

"What day is it?"

"---and nothing comes up on the system. Not a parking ticket. Not a credit report. I got one judge in Tennessee saying you were banned from crossing county lines and then nothing for fifteen years."

"Sixteen. My birthday's next week."

Tommy moaned. Moss laid one hand on his gun like he expected Hell's Angels to burst into the dentist office at any moment to finish the job. "Happy birthday."

My ears perked up at an approaching police cruiser and a dripping somewhere in the room that I couldn't place, the needle jumping in my arm as Tommy turned and sat up and ripped off his vital sensors with a noise like old duct tape. He didn't look any pinker.

"If Tommy's good with his bonus pint I'd like to go home now."

"Jack called, that'll be him now." Moss leaned in, squeezing my arm. "I got nothing against Jack. Don't get a wrong impression. Me and Jack are family. Lots of townsfolk married to miner women around here."

"Keeps the dentist busy." Tommy slurred, eliciting a laugh from the sheriff. My eyes adjusted and I saw the butterfly display was actually row upon row of dental casts with girl names handwritten on sticky labels.

"Sorry about the IV." Tommy gestured down where the tubing connected and my eyes followed. "Budget's been bad all quarter, some months are good, some months the doc and I go dumpster diving for the essentials, it's amazing what you can find behind the dialysis clinic."

I didn't see much in the lightning flash. A skinny woman in nurse scrubs, crouched on all fours, face shining with sweat as her tongue darted between black gums at the slowly widening pool of blood dripping onto the parquet. A shrill chorus of bird calls came from outside, to which she turned her head ninety degrees like a vulture and responded, and when Moss brought his lantern forward the blood was there but she was not.

Tommy appeared not to have seen her. "My girl had hers out at fourteen. Wedding present. Everyone at the station chipped in."

Jack stood in the door and Moss dropped his voice. "If you were to stick around, I might be convinced to do the same."

"Wow, so many big dicks in the room, how's a girl supposed to choose?" I yanked out the needle and let it splatter blood on his boots before edging past Jack to the blacktop parking lot.

"The officer's offered us a ride back." said Jack. The rainy windshield obscured the driver, his window cracked an inch to release a stream of cigarette smoke. Behind it the forest swayed in the wind.

I pulled up my collar. "Let's walk."

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