The Cage Keeper
my wallet and only pauses to look over my firearms identification card. Then he finds the Brandt Studio picture of me and Dad and Mom and Mark. He holds it up in the light.
    “Pretty lady.”
    “She’s dead.”
    He cocks his head at me, his slits-for-eyes weighing the possible truth of what I just said. He puts the picture back in my wallet, drops it on my tied-up hands, and starts tapping the steering wheel with his knife. He looks out the windshield at the lights of the 7-Eleven on the other side of a snowbank and shakes his head. “Allen Norton. Why, oh why, don’t you have any credit cards? How in
are we going to get to Saskatchewan like this?”
    I don’t say a word.
    “You’ve heard of the seven
’s, haven’t you, kid? Well, I could have planned this escape just a wee bit better, but I thought for damn sure you’d be a credit card carrier. Well, that’s that. We’re going to have to resort to the Desperate Clause.”
    “Excuse me?”
    “That’s right, Al. We are goin’ to have to commandeer some cash.”
    “Count me out.”
    He lifts his knife and studies the way the fluorescent light from above the gas pumps hits it. He takes a deep breath and lets out a lot of air. “Allen, do you really think I killed a man ‘just for the hell of it’?”
    He’s holding his Bowie the way schoolyard bullies hold loose-clenched fists just before they sucker you. I don’t answer.
    “Do you?”
    “I didn’t read all of your file, Elroy.”
    “Is that what you do to understand a man; you consult the written records of the powers that be?”
    “I guess not.”
    “You guess not.” He turns to face me. “You’re going to get us some cash.”
    “No, I’m not.”
    “Yes, you will.” He reaches over and turns my tied wrists until he can see my glowing watch. “Eight thirty-four. We’ve got a three-and-a-half-hour wait.” He digs into his pants pocket, pulls out the rest of my money, and counts it. “Two dollars and seventy-seven cents.” He gets his wallet from his back pocket and takes out four ones. “We’ve got enough for a twelve-pack anyway.” He tugs my cap down over my swollen and throbbing left eye, then drives away from the pumps into the 7-Eleven lot and parks right next to the snowbank away from the light of the store where he turns off everything then sticks all of that Bowie into a hole in the inside lining of his jeans jacket. He looks at me, takes my cap, then puts it on his head and rolls it up tight around the edges like sailors do. Flipping up his jacket collar, looking at himself in the rearview mirror, he rubs the white stubble on his chin. “Handsome motherfucker, don’t you think?”
    I watch him with my good eye as he enters the store and walks down one of the aisles to the glass beer coolers in the rear. There’s a heavy middle-aged-looking woman with black frizzy hair sitting behind the counter. She turns her head to Elroy a second then goes back to watching the tiny black-and-white TV on top of the cash register. Elroy takes a twelve-pack out of the cooler then turns and walks to the other side of the store where I can’t see him. I imagine he’s checking out the camera situation or something. My eye really aches now. God
where are the police when you need them? Go on Elroy, do something in there that’ll make that woman call the cops, anything, you half-assed murdering prick. I see him again. He walks to the counter, places the beer on it, and pulls the last of my money, and his, out of his front jeans pocket. The fat woman rings up the amount then takes the money and bags the beer without even looking at Elroy. She sits down and glues herself back to the TV as he picks up the bag and leaves the store.
    Back in the car, Elroy pulls out two beers and drops one in my lap.
    “I don’t want it.”
    “Suit yourself.” He pops open his, downs half of it, then wipes his mouth. “It’s awful quiet in there, Al.”
    “Don’t get mouthy with me,

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