Lucky by Hugh Keith-Johnston

Lazarus Jones brought the rock down on to the scorpion. He watched as the melange of shell and innards dried in the hot sun, before lifting himself to his feet.

The arid scrub reached out before him, interrupted by a strip of asphalt that shimmered black in the distance. America. The land of his birth, the one he had run from so many years before. The sanctity and graciousness of Mexico had saved him, kept him from the long wait on Death Row, and the ministrations of those who would take his life. He himself had killed, but not the man whose life he had stood trial for. No, it had been a cop he had shot, one foolhardy enough to try to thwart him in that providential escape so long ago.

As he neared the highway, he past a border patrol sign, and took comfort from the thought, that if stopped, no one was going to question the origins of a middle-aged and ragged African-American male. He stared up at the blistering sun, and remembered the words of the taco vendor on the other side, “Don’t make the journey in this heat, it’ll kill you.” He’d read about those who’d suffocated in freight cars in these parts and was glad to take his chances in the open.

It was an SUV that finally pulled over. Lazarus climbed into the air conditioned chill and gulped thirstily from the water bottle offered, as his savior, a Chicano with a beer belly and a barrage of digital snaps, waxed lyrically on the joys of fatherhood and the pros of the Chevy Suburban. Lazarus pushed back into the seat, as the blur of sage and cacti gave way to insurance brokers and car dealerships and fast food restaurants.

He climbed down into Lucky’s central intersection, thanked his host, and walked to the corner of Main. The dance hall was still there, where he’d listened to Marvin, where Smokey had lifted his young spirit and exorcised his fears. Linda had been the object of his attention then, a kiss from her had been the benediction he had later sought in scag and booze and coke. He recalled that night, that Friday, that was different from any other Friday that had been before or would be again, when he had come back to the house to find her dead, and the joy in his life gone forever.

Thirty years had brought changes. The bus station was still there, and the drugstore looked much the same, but little else that had been on the street remained.

He stepped into the slab-like entrance of the library and made his way through to the reference section. A librarian, a black woman, peered at him from behind the desk. African-Americans had before been restricted to the blocks bordered by Rosales and Houston, and no one had foreseen the day when an old black woman would rule the referential roost, and an African-American would be mayor. He picked up the telephone directory and searched for the address he wanted.

Lazurus watched the jardineros clip away at the rose bushes in front of the large house, and recalled that the part of town where he now stood hadn’t existed three decades before. The expanse of land then known locally as “the waste” had been the domain of snakes and prairie dogs and itinerant buzzards. Not much had changed, he reminded himself, as he waited. Two hours passed, before an expensive sedan pulled into the drive, and Leroy Watson, former Baptist minister and mayor of Lucky, got out. Reverend Watson, the pillar of the community, the man Lazurus’s mother had believed would save her son. He remembered the day, alone in the cell, when Watson had, “given him the facts”, told him how he had given Linda “a seein to”, told him how she had wanted it, and how it was he who had killed her and how sweet it was that “a damn fool kid” was going to take the rap for him.

The heat of the day had yielded to the fever of night, when Lazarus climbed the gate that sided the house. Luminescent spots threw shards of brightness across the pool as he peered through the darkness into the light of a large room. A giant TV screen flickered within, and Lazarus hoped that Watson was alone. He edged closer and could make out Watson inside. Suddenly he heard a noise behind him, and spun around. A cat stared up at him with feline dissention. When he turned back, Watson was gone from sight. He pulled the .45 from his pocket and edged closer. Again, he heard a sound, a footstep this time, and turned around. A young African-American man had a gun leveled at his chest, “Drop it!,” the young man said. Lazarus thought he saw a movement inside the house and squeezed off a shot through the window. All of a sudden he felt a searing pain, and fell backwards from the force that struck him. He looked up as the young man stood over him, “Why’d you make me do it?” The kid asked. Then Lazarus sensed another presence, older, bigger, more malevolent, and saw that Watson now stood next to the boy. “I done killed him.” Lazarus heard the youth say. And he remembered something he had read before, about dying being lucky, and he struggled to recall the meaning of…lucky, but he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember anything at all.

The End