I found this story fragment in my Twitter archive. It’s of interest only because it was composed to order. The protagonist had to be a cactus called Johnny Ninefingers who investigates roadkill incidents.
Ninefingers wakes up in the desert. He’s got two limbs missing. Some kind of oozing going on. He figures it didn’t work out with Carmen.
“You need some help, old timer?” Some junkyard lifer. Maybe nine years old.
“I fucking ask you? Go to school. Get a shirt on first.”
“Suit jourself. Not like you got a arm problem, right?”
Cute. Ninefingers has seen cute. Cute gets you bagged. Cute gets you slabbed.
Ninefingers steadies himself, draws out his hipflask. It falls immediately to the desert floor. The kid picks it up, slugs from it.
“What’s your name, kid?” The kid wipes her mouth with an ancient baseball glove. She spits Wrigley’s and vomit on a rock.
“They call me Esperanza,” she says. “It means fuck you.”
“There a diner around here? Some place with a phone?” Ninefingers asks the kid.
“Depends if you got ten bucks,” Esperanza says.
“I’ll buy you a milkshake when we get there.”
“Lactose intolerant,” says Esperanza.
“Ah, bullshit,” says Ninefingers. “You just ain’t doing it right.”
Esperanza scratches her bellybutton with a spork.
“Why can’t you put a shirt on?” says Ninefingers. “It ain’t right.”
“Fucking Taliban up in here,” says Esperanza. “I’m nine. It’s hot.”
“Anyway,” says Esperanza. “Real reason is I got this.” She turns and shows him her back. A tattoo of a butterfly, the size of a man’s hand.
“It sure is pretty,” says Ninefingers. “It means change, right? Butterflies?”
“It means I got fucked up in Tijuana is all.”
Esperanza starts walking. “It’s this way. Maybe three miles. Meter’s running, man.”
This kid is something new. Ninefingers follows her.
When they get to the diner, Ninefingers calls it in. Coyote. Two hours, maybe three. No, he can’t be more goddam precise.
When he gets back to the table, Esperanza is emptying his hip flask into her milkshake. She glances up. “What up, Ninety-Nine?”
“You wanna lay off my booze? It’s eleven in the morning. Also, you’re nine.”
“I’m just taking the edge off. Off this nasty-ass milkshake.”
“The fuck you using payphones for anyhow?” Esperanza says. “Y’all can’t use a Blackberry?”
“I stay off-grid. Plus, I’m a cactus.”
Esperanza downs the milkshake. “Shit. Taste like a cow once saw a fucking Hershey bar. What you investigating anyways?”
Ninefingers looks at her. “What do you care?”
Esperanza shrugs. “I had my way, I’d be on TMZ or some shit. But we here, right?”
“Roadkill,” says Ninefingers. “I’m investigating a roadkill case.”
“The fuck out of here,” says Esperanza. “Who pays for that shit?”
“Maybe I’m doing it pro bono,” says Ninefingers. “You know what that is?”
“Fuck you,” says Esperanza. “He’s that little blind Irish dude.”
Ninefingers looks out at the desert. He feels like he’s on the road. On the way to someplace he doesn’t like. He feels old.
“Esperanza finishes her milkshake and lights a Kool. “So, what was it?”
“What was what?” Ninefingers says. “And put that thing out.”
“The roadkill. What all got killed?”
“Coyote. Young one. Are you blowing rings? What the hell is wrong with you, child?”
“They menthol. I was in a hurry this morning. Forgot to brush my teeth. What you care about a coyote? They endangered or some shit?”
“No, they’re not endangered. But this one shouldn’t have died.”
Esperanza blows smoke at her bellybutton. “He gonna cure cancer?”
“She. No, she wasn’t. Listen, we got to get into town. There’s this guy I need a favour from.”
“He a cop?”
“Pet store owner.”
“So,” says Esperanza. “Y’all need a ride.” She turns to scan the parking lot. The butterfly wings on her narrow shoulders.
“You know somebody might give us a ride?”
Esperanza turns, slides from her seat. “More like I know some things might give us a ride.”
“Ninefingers sighs. “I can’t be a party to that.”
Esperanza’s butterfly shrugs. “Sit tight, then. Maybe FedEx do a special on cactuses.”
Ninefingers takes a drink. The tequila tastes like somebody crashed a fucking Camaro into the agave first. He follows Esperanza outside.