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Jerry knew the amphetamines were kicking in once he felt the slow, tingling crawl begin to work it's way

like shifting electric spider's legs into his scalp. “What time is it, Sandy?” he asked. The car had no radio so she had to check her cell. “4:16.” she said after fumbling the cheap plastic flip phone from her purse. “Where is he?” “He's always late. Prick'll be late to his own goddamn funeral, I swear to Christ,” Jerry said. He began to sweat. It had become stiflingly hot. He mopped his forehead with the back of his hand. The sun was going down now and it was shining directly into the car. There was no air conditioner either. Jerry flipped down his sun-visor and glanced over to see that Sandy had already done the same. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and looked out over the city. Sheriff Matthews always wanted to meet up here, at The Crosses, overlooking Elizabethton. It was nice in the afternoon. The whole town was cast in shades of orange and red by the dying sun. Jerry's eyes flicked from one landmark to another: The Covered Bridge, the Bonnie-Kate Cafe, and the jail – the largest building in the entire city besides the Wal-Mart – rising up like a great beige eyesore next to the park. It dwarfed it's still-active predecessor, a two-story brick square, which itself possessed a courtyard filled with low, rectangular tin-sided pods that also housed prisoners. The new jail was a sprawling four-story, twenty-six million dollar facility. There were enough prisoners so that it would have been over-capacity even if it were completely opened. As of now, only half of it was in operation due to a number of architectural mistakes still in need of expensive repairs. Prisoners often didn't have beds and slept on mats on the floor. The pods were much worse. They were breeding grounds

for diseases, particularly scabies and staph infections, that were nearly constant. He thought the whole thing was a perfect metaphor for Carter County. “Time is it?” he asked again, unsure how long he'd been in reverie. “4:18,” Sandy said. She glanced at him. She scowled. Jerry felt a flash of annoyance and had to restrain himself from slapping her. He turned around to face his sleeping son, strapped into a car-seat in the back. He didn't understand how anyone could sleep through this heat. He dug about the back floorboard for a minute, fishing for his notebook and then a pen before turning around. He chewed absently at his bottom lip and began to sketch his name in the notebook, already over half-filled with such stylized renditions. Sandy clucked her disapproval. “I hate it when you do that shit,” she said. Jerry didn't respond, just continued to draw his name. He was gnawing furiously at his lip now and he began to rapidly shift the notebook around at all sorts of different angles in order to quickly sketch his name in some new way. He filled up the sheets of paper rapidly. The shuffling of the turning pages and the scratching of his pen were the only sounds in the car for a while. Sandy reached into her purse and pulled out a crumpled pack of Tahoes, offering it first to Jerry. He reached over and pulled out a cigarette with his left hand so he didn't have to stop drawing. He popped it into his lips and waited while Sandy lit hers and then held the flame over to him. He puffed on it a few times and then leaned away. “Roll your window down. Jake don't need to breath that,” she said after exhaling a huge cloud of smoke. Jerry gripped his pen tighter and didn't acknowledge her. “Such an asshole,” she said, looking away. Jerry was briefly furious and didn't think he'd be able to stop himself from hitting her but he was so focused on shading the letters of his name that

he couldn't find the time to interrupt it. His lip was hurting now that he wasn't chewing on it. Sandy continued to intermittently snort her displeasure and mutter too low for Jerry to hear. He smoked furiously at his cigarette, balancing a long delicate ash-trail to avoid having to pause in his drawing. In his periphery, he could see Sandy glowering at the growing ash. Jerry knew that was one of the many things she hated about him. One corner of his mouth quirked up in a slight smile at the thought of her ineffectual bitching. He took one last long drag on the cigarette, now nearly three quarters ash, before cracking his window so he could flick the ashes on the ground outside. “Time is it?” he said. “Like 4:25, Jerry, Stop asking,” she said without checking her phone. Before he consciously registered the action, he'd already slapped her and went back to drawing. “What time is it?” he asked again. She checked the phone. “4:24,” she said. Jerry smiled and flicked the smoldering butt of his cigarette out the window, before rolling it up. Sandy wasn't even half finished with hers. “Roll up your window. I don't want gnats getting in here” he said. The sound of his scribbling filled the car. “Jerry, please, Jake don't need to breathe it,” she said. “Then throw out the cigarette,” he said without looking up from his notebook. She did. She rolled up the window. Jerry's eyes flashed around the car. The upholstery was beginning to sag from the roof. That made him furious. He mopped away the sweat from his face again. He should have made Sandy grab a drink when they got gas. It was fucking hot. He briefly thought about leaving long enough to drive back down to a convenience store to get a beer or a soda, but almost instantly decided against it. It'd be

better just to wait on the Sheriff. The last thing he needed was for Matthews to think he was ditching out. His mouth tightened into a hard line at the thought. Finally, Jerry couldn't take the heat anymore. He threw open the door and swung his legs around so that he was situated facing out with the notebook in his lap so that he could continue to draw. He heard Sandy speak, but couldn't be sure what she'd said. He snapped his head around and fixed her with a glare. She recoiled slightly. “Time is it?” he asked. He could see the tension leave her body as she reached down to check her phone. “4:37,” she said. He grinned widely at her. She looked confused. Jerry turned back around. He felt so much better. He wasn't much cooler than he had been before, but there was the whisper of a breeze tickling him lightly with fresh air. The amphetamine noise in his body was ramping up. He was gnawing at his lip again. It felt like there were a thousand electric pleasure needles lancing his scalp and rotating slowly, fading into and out of one another as they connected. Every nerve in his body and every synapse in his brain was sparking up and firing off connections. The surface of his body felt wired with electric current. He was still scribbling his name with exact abandon. He heard gravel crunching down behind the car on the path leading up to the circular ledge and his head shot up. Dust rose up first and then the Sheriff's car formed out of it. Jerry's stomach tightened into an anxious little knot. He looked back at Sandy. She'd flipped open the mirror on her sun-visor and was pursing her lips and checking her reflection. She'd even pulled her hair back into a long, blonde ponytail. Jerry laughed and Sandy jumped. She reached up and closed the mirror and blushed. The Sheriff pulled up behind them. They were on the right side of the circle, the opposite side as The Crosses,

underneath the “JESUS IS LORD” billboard. Somehow it seemed less wrong to park under the sign than under the three crosses. The Sheriff was driving one of the new Dodge Chargers. It was white and spotless, with Carter County Sheriff printed on a large green decal on either side. Sheriff Matthews shut off the engine and Jerry heard the soft clicking under the hood as it cooled down. His hands were starting to sweat. The breeze was gone now and the thick heat had settled down about them. Matthews opened his door, stepped out of the car, and closed it again. He was wearing dark slacks above shining, immaculate black dress shoes. He wore a simple beige t-shirt with the symbol of the sheriff's office set on the right breast. He was broad shouldered and had thick arms, legs, and chest. He had a round, dumpy, benign-looking face with small eyes set under a thick, prominent brow and close-cropped blonde hair. The wooden butt of a revolver protruded from a holster belted at his waist. “Hey, Sheriff,” Jerry said. He stood up, slid the pen into his pocket, and walked back toward Matthews. Jerry paused to wipe his hand on his shirt before offering it to him. He gripped it briefly and then pulled away. “You're sweaty,” Matthews said as he wiped his hand on his slacks. He looked more closely at Jerry then grinned. Jerry shifted uncomfortably on his feet. “Sorry, it's just so fuckin' hot out here man, I swear to God. I been sitting up here for like an hour. Felt like I was baking to death and Sandy-” Jerry was apologizing and couldn't stop. Matthews held up a hand. “Take it easy, Jerry. Take it easy.” he said. “No-no, no, no, I mean, I'm easy man, I just -” Jerry wanted to explain that he had

been trying to keep gnats out of the car and Sandy wouldn't listen and they'd been cooped up in there so long that they were both sweaty and hot, but Matthews patted the air in front of him and asked him again to slow down, grinning broader all the time. His face was good for smiling. It came easy to him, Jerry could tell. He thought the sheriff looked a little like a lizard when he grinned, like an iguana. Like Rango. “We're good?” Matthews said. It took Jerry a moment to realize it was a question. He tried to swallow his nervousness. His mouth was dry and he could feel his face trying to buzz out from under his skin. He felt filthy and sweaty. “Yeah,” he said. “Sandy, pop the trunk.” She obliged and the trunk opened slightly. Jerry lifted it and winced at the squeal of the metal. Inside were six one ounce bricks of methamphetamine, tightly-bound in cellophane and clear packing tape. He realized he was still holding the notebook and handed it to Matthews. “Hold this,” Jerry said and ducked into the trunk. He grabbed one of the bricks while he pulled a small knife out of his pocket, unfolded it and cut into the tape and cellophane, down to the crystal. “Jesus, Jerry, what kind of tweaker shit is this?” Matthews asked as he flipped through the notebook. Jerry was immediately horrified and tried to take it back but Matthews moved his hands out of reach and continued to scan the pages full of Jerry's drawings of his name. Jerry started worrying at his lip again and stood frozen with the meth. His eyes darted over to The Crosses and across the gravel drive to make sure no one else could see his notebook. The Sheriff looked up at him and Jerry could see the contempt under the smile. Matthews locked eyes with him and threw the notebook into the bushes, still smiling. Jerry just stared after it and felt a moment of anguish so keen that tears started to his eyes.

“Hand me that,” the Sheriff said, indicating the brick of meth. Jerry handed it over without looking at him. Matthews walked back to his car and sat down. Jerry was rooted to the spot, chewing his lip and clenching and unclenching his clammy hands. He heard the Sheriff snort some of the crystal, offer a quick Woo Damn, and snort again. “Bring the rest. Set them in the passenger seat,” Matthews said. Jerry tried to relax the tension in his body and grabbed up the remaining bricks and took them over to the Sheriff's car. Matthews reached over and popped open the door. Jerry dumped the bricks into the passenger seat, closed the door, and walked back over to shut his own trunk. When he turned back around the Sheriff was walking towards him with a different face than before. Jerry's nervous system lit up in an electric warning that shot out through his entire body. “What's the matter?” Jerry said and the Sheriff slugged him hard in the face. Jerry didn't fall so Matthews grabbed the collar of his shirt and threw him down across the gravel and he skidded back towards The Crosses away from the car. Jerry was too bewildered to do more than re-orient himself before the Sheriff walked over to him and kicked him in the stomach, blasting the air out of his lungs and robbing the strength from his arms so that he collapsed back to the ground. The Sheriff hauled him to his feet and slugged him again. “You think you can fuck me, you po-dunk tweaker turd?” he pulled his gun from the holster at his waist and slammed the butt into Jerry's face, shoved him backwards into the middle of the three Crosses and then stepped forward and punched him again in the stomach but caught him before he fell, forcing him back against the cross as he coughed and gagged. Jerry heard Sandy shriek and the car door opened and she was out and

halfway around the back of the car. The Sheriff flipped the gun around in his hand and trained it on Sandy. “Get back in the car, bitch, or I'll splatter your brains in the gravel,” Matthews said. Sandy froze. Jerry tried to speak up and tell her that everything was fine and to just please get back in the car but his tongue got all tangled up on the words and he choked on some blood in his mouth and ended up coughing. Sandy didn't move, just stood where she was, crying silently. The Sheriff rolled his eyes and pulled back on the hammer. A prayer bubbled unbidden up in Jerry's thoughts: God, Jesus-God please don't let him shoot my wife. “Get back in the car,” Matthews said again and at first Jerry thought that Sandy had started bawling, but then he realized that it was Jake, come screaming awake in the back-seat. His stomach dropped and he thought he might vomit. Sandy did move then, opening up the back passenger-side door and crawling in to comfort Jake. He continued to scream as she shushed him. The Sheriff laughed once, softly, then turned back to Jerry. His face had hardened, no longer doughy or soft or benign. It was all drawn back and taut. His eyes were wider and Jerry could see the muscles in his jaw working as he ground his teeth. “You fuck. I could shoot you.” Matthews jammed the gun into his face. Jerry couldn't see anything but the round hole of the barrel, held steady bare millimeters from the skin of his nose. He was near-cross-eyed trying to keep it in focus. He could smell the oil Matthews used to keep it clean. Jerry tried to speak but his jaw was clenched too tight for him to get any words out. “I could shoot you, and her, and the brat, Jerry,” Matthews said. “I could do it

right now and leave one of these bunk bricks up here and not one soul would question it. What makes you think you can put one over on me, you wasted nobody speed-freak?” Jerry actually did manage to begin an answer here but the Sheriff slammed the butt of his gun again into the bridge of his nose and Jerry choked it off as blood squirted from into the back of his throat. “Don't you ever try to rip me off again, Jerry. Don't ever let it cross your burned out little junky brain, because if you try to sell me shit again, I swear to God I'll fucking kill you.” He released his grip on Jerry's shirt and Jerry fell to the ground and his hands flew up to cover his ruined face. He moaned once and heard the Sheriff's receding steps. He thought to say something, but there was nothing to be said. They both knew that the speed Jerry had delivered was just as good as it had ever been. There was the sound of a car-door, his car door he could tell from the whump-creeeaak as it opened. The Sheriff squatted down in the back driver's-side door in front of his still squalling son. Sandy had ceased trying to soothe Jake. She looked at Jerry. He looked back. “Hey there, pardner,” the Sheriff drawled. He still had his gun drawn and held it up in front of Jake. “You like cops and robbers?” Jake quieted down and eyed the silver metal. It shined in the last fiery rays of the sun. Matthews flashed a smile, all teeth, at Sandy. Then he looked around to grin at Jerry before he turned back to Jake. “Where's your gun at, buddy?” Matthews said. It took Jake a second but his face lit up and he pointed a tiny finger-gun at the Sheriff. Sandy was crying audibly now. Her eyes pleaded with Jerry to do something but he just looked at her. “Bang.” The Sheriff said. Jake jumped. Matthews pulled the trigger. Sandy screamed. The hammer fell.

Click. Jake clapped, his face broke apart in laughter and he squealed with delight. Matthews' laugh boomed across the roundabout and he put the gun back in its holster. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a wrapped candy that he handed to Jake and then tousled his hair. He looked back at Jerry again. Then he shook his head and walked to his car. Jerry could hear him laughing, still, as he pulled away. “Momma, cops and robbers,” Jake said, giggling. He turned his finger-gun on her. “Bang!”