Dimebag sat in the front passenger seat of the stolen red Camaro, his 9mm Glock heavy in his overcoat pocket. The gun was his favorite piece since he’d pried it from a dead man’s hand on his first robbery. Another souvenir had been a multi-colored strand of Santeria beads, ripped from the clerk’s neck. He figured the necklace would make a nice present for his girlfriend, but had never given it to her.
His partner, Jacker, sat behind the wheel, keeping the engine running--ready for raw speed. “This is going to be number thirteen,” Jacker said. “Not a good omen.”
“Don’t matter,” Dimebag said. Every robbery since that first one had gone off without a hitch. In his mind, his trophies had brought him luck. One day, he meant to
find out what the dying man’s last words had meant; ”La Muerte te Encuentra,” not that it was important…
The power of life and death intoxicated him. He pulled up the collar of his navy pea coat, adjusted his shades, and pulled a baseball cap low on his forehead. He opened the car door, slid out, and approached Lee Chung’s. Dimebag’s oversized hip-hop jeans dragged the floor as he entered.
Strolling casually down the isle, he checked out camera positions, taking his time to allow the last two customers in the store to leave. With the coast clear, he made his move, grabbing a six-pack of malt liquor, a bag of chips, and a handful of beef jerky.
Reaching into his pocket he clicked the safety off the Glock. Bolstered by its presence, he made his way toward the register at the front of the store.
A little old Chinese man with a white wisp of a beard waited. Further down the counter, his gray-haired wife stocked cigarettes. The old man was attentive, his wife openly suspicious, but then, she might be suspicious of everyone. Dimebag deplored the loss of trust in one’s fellow man.
They were perfect for his purpose. Targeting small, ethnic-owned stores worked to his advantage; language barriers and the difficulty of cross-cultural identification had often saved his neck.
As he passed mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard jars in the sixth aisle, they rattled on the shelf. The condiment’s dance grew more excited. Several jars rolled off the shelf and crashed to the floor. The sound of breaking glass made a terrible racket.
The old woman came out from behind the counter, yelling loudly in broken English. ”You breakee, you payee, whatsa matter you?” The old man held her back. “Me calle police,” she threatened.
Dimebag protested. ”But, I didn’t even touch them lady, I swear.” Rattled by the whole thing, he sheepishly paid for the beer, chips, beef jerky, and even the broken jars so he could leave in a hurry.
Outside, cursing, he jumped into the car.
“Got it?” Jacker asked.
“Wuz up, hommie?”
“Freakiest thing I ever seen. Stuff started jumping off the shelf. Guess I got rattled.”
“Ah, not you, Man! You’ve got nerves of steel. What’s really wrong? Goin’ soft?”
“Hey, it happen just like I told you!”
“Sure. Lets just call it a night, go down to the beach and work on some brews...huh?
But he couldn’t drop it. As they pulled into traffic, Jacker started muttering to himself. “Man, you let some old china people chase you off like poor-white trash. You need a new set of balls. What a pussy.”
Dimebag put his hand in his gun pocket and the teasing stopped abruptly.
He thought of his old lady, Rita pacing back and forth in their cramped, one-room efficiency. Last he’d seen her; she’d smashed a cockroach with her heel then flicked it to the corner with her big toe, then cursed, shaking from withdrawal before an open window.
“Two days without a fix!” Her voice had been mean and nasty. “You got to get me some cash so I can score. Put that luck of yours to work for us so we can blow this dump tonight and move down to the City where they don’t cut the shit so bad.”
“We can’t pack it in, Jacker. If I don’t make good tonight, my old lady’s gonna kill me. You know how Rita gets when she’s sick.”
“Alright Dog, we’ll try it again, there’s a Pakistani joint on 34 th we can check it out.” Jacker shifted the Camaro into third, popping the clutch, burning rubber on the road.
Upon arrival Dimebag stared through the plate glass window at the proprietors. “Jacker, I don’t think this is the right place. These people got that look, like they’d rather die than give up a penny. I don’t mind shootin’ them, but there are easier and less messy targets around.”
Jacker’s face twisted with annoyance. “Dimebag, don’t be a pussy. Come on, man. Let’s just do it.”
“ Shitshitshitshitshit!” He got out of the car and walked across the parking lot. I can do this. I can! He entered the store and his senses cranked up to full. He smelled curried chicken from the deli and eastern spices.
The air-conditioning sent a chill through him. It’s not fear, he told himself. I’m not afraid.
Two large Pakistani men were behind the counter, one bearded, the other with a scar under one eye. Dimebag’s adrenaline pumped through his veins. His heart pounded hard and fast. He walked toward the Deli, like a man who knew what he wanted.
He ordered the first thing he saw, then gazed around nonchalantly. Waiting, he felt sweat gather under his arms. A few minutes later, his order arrived in a Styrofoam container, handed to him. He drew a deep breath and headed for the register, passing a row of canned goods. Thankfully, they didn’t jump him. He began to feel better.
Next came the baking goods section. A five-pound bag of flour levitated off the shelf, rising above his head.
Transfixed with wonder, he stared. The bag burst like an artillery shell, covering his face with white powder.
He wiped his face, staring at airborne particles that still swirled. The cloud became a vortex, then a face--the face of the man he’d killed in his first robbery.
He dropped his deli order, choked with fear, and ran out of the store with the Pakistani’s in pursuit, yelling and shaking their fists. “You need to pay for that!” one of them insisted.
Dimebag jumped into the car, head first through an open window. “Gun it, Jacker.”
Screeching tires and the engine roar drowned out his partner’s curses. The abuse turned into laughter after Jacker got a look at Dimebag’s powdered face.
“What the hell happen in there, homey? You look like a damned ghost, fool?”
“The Ghost is still in the store, I hope.” He scooched around, righting himself in the passenger’s seat.
“Either that, or the smoke I been doing’s been laced with acid.”
“If that’s so,” Jacker took a turn sharply, “wouldn’t Rita be trippin, too?”
“Maybe she is. I ain’t seen her for a while.”
“Look, dude, this is just a slump. You gotta work through it.”
“No, Man. I think I need a specialist; Momma Rosa.”
“My mom’s spiritual advisor? You want to burn some candles and stare into tea cups?”
“Whatever it takes. I think I’m cursed.”
Jacker and Dimebag drove over to Momma Rosa’s storefront. A red neon light flashed in the window: Palm Reader & Spiritual Counselor, open twenty-four hours, Visa/MasterCard accepted. A chime hanging from a dream-catcher jingled has they entered. The dimly lit outer room reeked of incense and scented candles.
Momma Rosa sat at a table, reading tarot cards in the inner room partitioned off by long string beads.
“How’s your mother Jacker?”
“She’s fine Momma Rosa, just fine.”
“Come sit and tell Momma Rosa what brings you boys here tonight.”
“My friend here got a problem and thought maybe you could help.”
She took a long hard look at Dimebag and pushed her cards away. “I can see that. My fee is twenty-five but since I know your Momma’s such a good customer, this one is on the house.”
Momma Rosa reached out grabbing hold of Dimebag's hands pulling him in close to her and looked deeply into his eyes. She read his palms and stood up making a circular motion with her hands around Dimebag’s head and body. She sat back down taking a deep calming breath.
“You should be more careful with the company you keep Jacker, this boy is in a heap of trouble.”
“Tell me what to do to fix it.” Dimebag pleaded.
“If this can be fixed at all, there is only one thing you can do son.” Momma Rosa said.
“What Momma Rosa, please tell me what.”
“You carry a cursed thing that brings a spirit to trouble you. You must appease the spirit and return what you have taken,” her sage voice carried a commanding tone of utter certainty.
Not about to change his line of work Dimebag agreed.
“Of course, Momma Rosa. I will.”
“Jacker, please tell your mother the spirits have found favor for her last request, now don’t forget.”
“I won’t Momma Rosa...thanks.”
Dimebag and Jacker left in a hurry. Outside, the air had turned cold with night’s encroachment. The moon rode full and high over their heads as they pulled away from the parking lot. “How do you suppose your going to return stuff to a dead man Dimebag?”
“I got a plan. I’m going back over there and leave the gun and beads in the store. That should be enough.”
“You’re crazy, Man, I’m not going back over there,” Jacker protested.
“Who’s being a wimp now? Jacker? But that’s all right. I don’t need you. I can do it myself.”
The next evening, Dimebag walked into the “La Caridad Market” on sixty-sixth and Vine with the Glock in his waistband and beads in his coat pocket. He was determined to shake the awful curse.
He approached the counter and noticed the clerk sweating, breathing heavily--nervous as hell with one hand in the open register. Damn maybe this dude has recognized me somehow. Will this sour streak of luck ever break?
Strolling closer, about to ask for cigarettes, he saw a body on the floor, behind the counter.
Damn! I’ve just walked into someone else’s robbery!
Dimebag pulled the haunted gun from his waistband. Time slowed to a torturous crawl. The other man whipped a .38 up into view. There’s thunder. It shakes the world. Dimebag can see the bullets coming straight at him, propelled by the muzzle flash. Fire and pain merge together, burning holes through his chest. Hit, he collapses to the floor, blood spurting heavily, turning his shirt red.
Paralyzed, he lays there, gasping for breath. He sees the gunman jumping over the counter, bending closer. The
man pries the haunted gun from stiffened fingers. Hands search his coat, taking the Santeria beads, throwing them into a brown paper bag stuffed with cash. Fading into eternity, Dimebag hears the man say,
“Man, you just can’t beat my luck, I’m gonna live forever.”Dimebag used his dying breath to cough a laugh. “ That’s what you think, mutha f ---!”