San Leon, Texas on a too-dry July night.
“The stars. You can really see ‘em tonight,” Tibby said.
Choco tilted his head up from the fire and squinted. He could only see the red spill and occasional spark jumping from the thick smoke.
“I can’t see shit,” he said finally.
“’Cause you ain’t blinked since that fire got lit. You been dead-starin’ at it.” Tibby spat and it hissed on the skin of the fifty-five gallon drum that had once been enameled blue. It boiled for an instant.
“Yeah, well we don’t get to set a fire every night, do we? That’s kinda rare and beautiful, right? Stars is out all the time.” Choco finally saw them, swimming out of the fading bloody haze, swimming as if alive. His eyes were slow to adjust to the dark.
Heat washed his face, billowing on the burning gasoline fumes. A dull, wooshing roar drowned out the sound of the nearby Rio Grande. Chaparral, thick from the river and oily in full bloom, stood motionless and spiny.
“Can’t usually see the stars like this,” Tibby corrected. He used his older brother voice, the one that threatened a backhand. “It’s like they don’t wanna come out most of the time.”
“They ain’t alive. That’s bullshit. Next you’re gonna tell me that they’re angels or come crap.”
Something inside the drum popped like sap-filled branch exploding on a campfire. Which was unusual. Mostly they just burned silenty inside, only smoke to give it away. Which is why they burned at night.
“You left the stuff nearby, right?”
“Stop being such an asshole, Tibby. Of course I left it where we always do. It’ll get found.”
“Last time, it took a couple days to get all put together. That’s too long. Heard they got prints off it too. Sloppy twice.” Tibby scratched idly at his neck. The tattoos were gone now, unless you looked real hard. It was one thing to be known, another to be identifiable. It still itched in the heat though.
“You saying I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing?” Choco’s growl stalked out of his throat but he refused to turn to look at Tibby. “Not yet,” he thought. “But maybe tonight.”
“Just sayin’ that its been seen.”
Something rattled in the drum, nail-less fingers scraping on steel.
“You hear that?” Choco asked.
“Dude, you don’t hear nothing. That’s your problem. Lotta people talking to you and you don’t hear it.”
Choco wiped the sudden sweat from his face. He wanted a hit but didn’t have any, last crystal gone hours ago.
The fire went back to its whispering hush.
Tibby thought about asking again, but it wasn’t any use. Choco wasn’t going to go any further. He’d done everything he could, climbed as far as he was going and couldn’t take another step.
“Sure is pretty,” Choco said without thought. “Wonder what makes it that color?”
“Something in the fat or the bones.” Tibby got up, river gravel crunching under the ostrich boots. Everything was the same pinky orange, like the moment before sunrise, only with asphalt black shadows now.
“Where you going?” Choco continued to sweat, locked on the fire.
“Just going to take a leak. But I gotta get out of here after that.”
“What about me? You gonna give me a ride back into San Leon?”
Tibby slid the weight out of its sheath and hid it behind his right hand so the firelight wouldn’t flash off it.
He grunted as the blade sunk into the soft spot between Choco’s skull and neck.
“Naw. You’re too heavy to drag back,” Tibby hissed by way of answer. “But you just keep watching that fire. I’ll keep my eyes on the stars.”
Crackling, the bones would burn down to ash.