Rage Against the Dying - By Becky Masterman


From his idling van atop the Golder Ranch Road bridge, Gerald Peasil examined his next girlfriend. With his elbow leaning out the open window, and his face resting on his forearm, the slide of his lips back and forth on the hair of his arm aroused him a little, that and the salty sour odor of his skin. No hurry to introduce himself. Savoring the anticipation of meeting was part of the thrill

The little woman would have been poking among the rocks in the dry riverbed below, too busy to spot him. She didn’t have all the qualities that her picture promised. Sure, wisps of gray hair snuck out from under her khaki canvas hat, and she leaned on her walking stick whenever she stopped to examine a rock, but her body was so erect she could almost pass for hot.

The idea of a hot granny frightened Gerald a little, but no matter. It had probably been a lifetime since she got any, and she’d welcome the attention of a younger man. With his free hand Gerald rearranged himself through his thin nylon workout shorts and thought about his own mother. Mom used to grab him there really hard to discourage him from touching himself, until he got big enough to smack her across the chest with her prize Amway skillet. Dad thought that was pretty funny, only told him he should pick on someone his own size. But anybody telling Gerald not to touch himself from then on was asking to swallow their own teeth.

Gerald turned the van left at the end of the bridge and eased down the steep hill that stopped at the edge of the dry riverbed, what they called a wash here. He paused again and looked up and down the wide expanse of sand that was the color of wet concrete.

It was mid-August hot and not a dry heat by any standard. The summer monsoons had pummeled the desert in the last couple of days, so the usually dry sand showed dark rivulets where the rain saturated the ground. Another storm like the one last night, especially in the Catalina Mountains to the east where the river started, and the wash would fill with water, would “run.”

But today you could walk in the riverbed, as the woman was. While Gerald watched, she shifted her exploration to underneath the bridge and faded from his sight. He was unconcerned; she couldn’t see him either and that gave him all the time he needed to plan what he would do next, and next, and after that.

Gerald put the van in gear and turned at the end of the bridge down the dirt road that led to the very edge of the wash. He stopped just before the packed dirt became tractionless river sand and maneuvered a careful three-point turn so he faced back up the hill. That way the back of the van was open to the wash for ease of loading, and, if they had unexpected company, he’d be able to get the hell away. He didn’t worry about whether she could hear the engine. A second dirt road that ran along the side of the river meant other cars sometimes came this way, so she wouldn’t be alarmed at the sound of his. Besides, she was likely hard of hearing. At that thought Gerald blew a little puff of air out his nose, in a kind of laugh.

He jerked up the emergency brake, got out, and made sure the blue plastic shower curtain was smoothed out on the floor of the van and the restraining straps within easy reach. He picked up a set of pliers that had fallen from their niche on the side of the van. A place for everything and everything in its place. When he had tidied up and made his preparations, from a small box he pulled a roll of duct tape and yanked off a six-inch piece that he stuck lightly on the front of his sleeveless T-shirt so it would be at hand when needed. Then he pushed the doors shut but didn’t close them altogether.

Gerald stopped once more to check out the hillsides on either side of the wash. Just a few prefab houses clinging to the side of the hill. Sweet location, from a made-to-order wet dream. There wouldn’t be the fuss there was sometimes getting them into the van. He fingered the square piece of foil attached to a string around his neck and stuffed it