THE VIEWING

Grant Pope straddles a rickety stool, parked on the left side of Russo Funeral Home’s little chapel, which is where the home does viewings. His little brother Benjamin Pope, Benny to those that loved him, lays in the casket arranged in front of Grant’s parents at the front of the room, dressed in his high school football jersey with his arms together in front of him and a single white rose slumped against his chest.

His parents sit in a pair of mismatched dining room chairs, probably bought at some high-priced main street antique boutique. His mother is crying. She hasn’t stopped crying for three days (this is the third day). She cups tissues in her hands, with a pile at her feet. Her clothing is disheveled—black OSU sweatshirt, blue jeans—not what she ever said she wanted to wear to a viewing, especially her youngest’s. His father is stoic, with his salt and peppered beard hiding his compressed lips and red cheeks. After the police left yesterday, he drank a fifth of Crown all afternoon. Today, he’s dressed in a creamy western-style shirt with dark blue Levi’s. His mandatory ball cap, with the perfected curl and company logo stenciled on the front, rests in his lap. He’s barely said five words since the police left their home after telling them what happened. All his mother says is it’s my fault

Grant rests his back against the wall and inhales deeply through his nose letting the din of voices expressing condolences to his parents wash over him. He shuts out the sounds and focuses on who his brother was before addiction, not that he lived much of his life without it; the smiling brother in the high school photos on the easel near the casket. Injured at sixteen—ankle was broken playing football, lineman, and given OxyContin—dead at thirty-two of a suspected opiate overdose. Accidental the police say. 

Grant is dressed in a flannel shirt, white against baby blue squares, with thin orange line borders. He’s husky but in shape, strong, with the body of most Veterans who have returned home and found hard-working jobs. The work boots on his feet helped him match his brother’s height, he liked that, always made sure to wear them when he saw Benny.

The chapel is crowded with people, all here for the viewing. Rows of pews create space but fill the room. The color scheme consists of beige carpets, with lacquered wood accents. The decor is death, which Grant guesses is appropriate. A sculpted wooden Jesus stares down from a cross at the head of the room. There’s a painting of Jesus carrying the cross to Golgotha, and another of Jesus weeping as the frame captures his face in rapture under the weight of the crown of thorns. Flowers in pots, dying slowly separated from their roots, hang like torches on the wall, interspaced with portraits of the past Russo family members, captured in black and white shots, showing those who started this family business and stewarded it through its hundred-year existence. The wall to Grant’s right is full of windows. Outside Main Street Coweta splits off into residential housing. A set of double doors centered among the windows opens and closes at random as neighbors and friends enter and leave, wearing solemn expressions and dour dispositions. 

Every few moments, someone Grant knows but doesn’t want to speak with, takes the awkward, hip bumping, trek down the thin aisle toward him, telling him how sorry they are. Asking if there is anything they can do for him. Praying for him. All Grant can do is politely smile and nod, whisper a thank you, and hope they don’t take offense with his indifference. His mind is someplace else, and certainly not here. 

Grant’s daughter runs up and down the aisle, playing with her cousins, who chase her in adolescent innocence. She squeals in delight as her older cousin Jessica, age 12, tags her shoulder and then turns to run in the opposite direction. His daughter sprints after Jessica and her four-year-old little brother. His wife Rielly shepherds the children, leaving Grant alone to speak with Benny’s ex-wife—his soon-to-be-ex—he guesses she’s still his wife. She sits next to him, with Benny’s two-year-old daughter hanging off her shoulder, drooling on her mother’s teal dress, fast asleep. The child’s golden curls are a bristled chestnut nest next to her mother’s pale skin.

The child stirs. “I wanted a divorce, custody of Seguin,” Stephanie says, “but I didn’t want this. She shouldn’t have to grow up without her father.” Stephanie pats Seguin’s back lightly and rocks her, gently. 

Grant tells Stephanie, “Benny struggled with the addiction early on. I feel like maybe…maybe we could have done something then…if we saw it. Understood it. But like everyone else, it wasn’t supposed to be that way so we didn’t see it. Didn’t think this would happen. I had an idea what might be happening but I never challenged him on it. I kept silent.”

“I had no idea he had been using it for as long as he had. We had our problems, I always thought it was the drinking.”

“Drinking didn’t help,” Grant says. “Masked it maybe. I thought maybe he would kick it, you know, for you…for her…but he didn’t. After that court hearing, he didn’t come around much. But you know how it is, brothers are brothers and even in his darkest times Benny would surface for air and see me, see our parents, his child, see what life was like and what was waiting for him if he went to rehab. That was mom’s condition. ‘We are all here—all you have to do is get help.’ But Benny never asked for help. Growing up, if there was a problem, lawnmower wouldn’t start, girl problems, Benny kept it to himself. He never came to me. Never asked our parents. But they did most things for him anyway so maybe in a way…it is their fault. Maybe it’s my fault. That’s what mom keeps saying, it’s her fault.”

“She told me about his using–she had no idea it was that bad—and then she told the judge about the drug use. She felt like she had to. Found him passed out behind the wheel of the truck in the driveway, foot on the brake. Truck in gear. Child in the back. She had to.”

“She felt terrible about it.” Grant says, remembering the episode, how conflicted his mother was and how everyone told her she was doing the right thing. “But she thought if the judge took you all away from him, prevented him from seeing you then maybe he would wake up.”

“But he didn’t.”

“I just don’t get it. It didn’t have to go this way. He could have…” Grant lets it go. “Could haves” exists in a different place. He needs to keep his mind in the present. “Mom started carrying Narcan after that—bought us all some. Said it helps with an overdose. Made sure we had it on our person when we knew he would come around.” Grant pats his pocket where he keeps the Narcan, next to his snuff. “Cops said Benny was Narcaned on Christmas.”

Stephanie blows a strand of child’s hair out of her mouth. She asks, “did they ever find the car?”

“Sorta,” Grant says, rolling his phone in on the crest of his knee, pinched between his forefinger and thumb. “I kinda know where it is or how to get a hold of it. Yesterday, after the police left my parents’ house I got a phone call from that Mike guy Rielly told you about. I’m waiting for him to call me back. He says he knows where the car is, says he can get it for me, get the guy that has it to give it back, but I don’t know. He seems sketch. But the police said if there’s anything of Benny’s we want back and get the opportunity to get it, get it because in this life—their words—it’ll disappear and be gone forever.” Grant adds, “I don’t know how people live like that.”

Stephanie listens to him, facing away from him. When he stops talking she turns toward him. “Who called you to the hospital?” she asks, adjusting her daughter’s weight in her arms, bouncing the sleeping toddler up a few inches to get her back in the position she started. 

“A friend of mom’s,” Grant says. “I was at work, but she called me. Said Kathy, a friend from church, called. Kathy told her Benny had been dropped off at the ER and we needed to get up there.”

As he speaks, Stephanie doesn’t look at him, she looks away again, at the room, at anything but Grant, because Grant looks like Benny. He, his brother, and his father are generational clones. Stephanie doesn’t ask for any more details. She’s heard them but she’s not heard them. 

Grant says, “And dropped is a kind way of saying it. More like dumped.”

Stephanie says, “Did Kathy know then?”

Grant nods once. “I think so, why else call?

“How could this happen?”

“He had an addiction.”

“It shouldn’t have gotten him killed.”

“Police said it’s happening all the time. Fentanyl. Said it’s an epidemic.”

“How could this happen?”

Grant isn’t sure he understands her. He just went through it. He scratches his thick beard. 

“He took something, I assume that’s what happened.” Grant glances at his mother. “Mom couldn’t understand what had happened either. She kept asking the detectives if Benny shot up heroin or what. They—it was two of them—just looked at each other and said they don’t know.”

“How do they not know?”

“They said he was dead when they got there.”

“So this Kathy…this friend from church …she knew he was dead.”

Grant thinks so but he says, “Mom didn’t say and she’s not really in a state to say.”

Stephanie looks at Grant. “Tell me you found the photo?”

“Mike has the photo,” he says. “And like I said, I’m waiting for Mike to call so I can get the car. I’ll get the photo then.”

“I didn’t even know he had a car. The last time I saw him, he had a truck.”

“He sold the truck when he quit his job and started hanging around with those people. He said the car got better gas mileage.”

“What was he doing? What was he thinking?”

“He was going to the casino,” Grant says but he doesn’t say his brother wasn’t thinking. He was surviving, flirting with oblivion. “I ran into him at Hard Rock a month ago.” 

Grant doesn’t tell her how rough his brother looked, with his vacant eyes, sunken stare, skinny. He didn’t understand. Benny reminded Grant of those pictures of prisoners of war found and released. He can’t imagine how people do that to themselves, lose hope, die slowly, then die quickly–mistakenly. But those prisoners died at the hands of other people’s decisions and yet, here’s his brother, and people like them, flushing their lives down the toilet, chasing something they’ll never find, chasing the wrong thing. Maybe Grant’s too rough on his brother. Benny never faced life or death like Grant has, Benny’s never been shot at, never had a gun pointed in his face, or was in a fight. 

He says, “He was with some girl and a black guy.”

“Same one from the hospital?”

Grant shrugs. “Maybe, I’ll talk to Mike about it. He seemed to think this Kelso was the one that dumped him at the ER.”

“Who was the girl?”

“Same one that showed up later at the hospital,” Grant says. “Grandpa was up there, talking on the phone to his cop friends, trying to figure out what happened because the police hadn’t called us—“

“No Kathy did,” Stephanie says. 

Grant continues. “The hospital wouldn’t let us see him. They said no one could go into the room. They were treating it like a crime scene.”

“But the police had left?”

Grant says they had. “According to the detectives they left and went up to the motel down the road to find the car and the guy who left him there. That’s where Benny had been staying, they said he overdosed on Christmas. What was that like five days ago? No…it was five days then…I don’t know, less than ten now. Seems like months ago.”

“How do you just leave your friend to die?”

Grant shrugs. “Detectives said the friend ran into the ER, claimed to have found Benny behind the wheel of his car, overdosing, pushed him over to the passenger seat, and drove him there. Once they had Benny out of the car and in a wheelchair—“

“The friend left in Benny’s car—with his stuff,” Stephanie says. “Why? Why would he do that? Where were they? Who is this guy?”

“Police wouldn’t say but they described him, it sounds like this Kelso guy. That’s what Mike said too. Last night when he told me he might know where the car was or could find it. He said he heard Kelso rushed back to the motel and hid in some person’s room. Said Kelso gave this person—Dwayne is all he would say—gave Dwayne the keys. Dwayne has the car. Mom wanted to report it stolen. The police seemed to think they knew enough about it to find it but I don’t know.”

“What about the girl? Rielly said she claimed to be Benny’s girlfriend…she’s a whore?”

“I don’t know,” Grant says. 

“That’s what Rielly said,” Stephanie says. “She said there were some photos?” 

Grant nods. “Naked ones on some website. Looked like an advertisement. She looked better in the photos. I don’t know what Benny saw in her. She wasn’t you.”

“Clean?”

“There are things even you don’t want to know,” Grant says, really telling her to drop it. “She said they met a month ago and have been hanging out. Kelso seems to be the common denominator. She seemed pretty shook up when we saw her at the hospital. She claimed someone had told her Benny was there.”

Stephanie says, “What I don’t understand is how’d she know?”

“She didn’t say. One moment we are all out there talking and the next she’s walking up to us crying, and grandpa asked her what was wrong. She said her boyfriend had just died, drug overdose. He told her we were there for Benny. She wailed. Mom hugged her. They cried together for a while. Rielly and I gave her a ride back to where she said Benny had been living for the last few months, the motel. She made some phone calls, that’s how we got to Mike. She said Benny had been working with Mike and staying with him when he wasn’t with Kelso. She put Mike on the phone. Mike told me to call him back later after we lost her. He said he didn’t trust her. Called her a friend of Kelso’s. Told us to look up her phone number on Google.”

“Where’s the photograph? Seguin should have a photo of her father. Or at least one where he’s happy.”

“He’s happy in the photo,” Grant agrees. “Nick Saban shaking Benny’s hand before Saban was Saban.”

“I remember that summer. That’s the year we met.” Grant tracks her eyes as Stephanie looks over at the casket. “He was something else to watch on Friday night. I was on the color guard, played in the band before that, had to go to every game and I would sit on the sidelines staring at him. It’s funny how things change. What seems important then isn’t now. God, he was big, at least to me.” 

“My little big brother,” Grant says. “Six five, two-fifty, hit like a truck.”

“You’re not exactly small either,” she says. 

“But I’m not like him. He was a big guy.”

“How much do you think he weighs now?”

Grant read the preliminary paperwork given to the funeral home for transportation after the Medical Examiner’s office released his brother’s body. “Two ten or so,” he lies, adding twenty pounds to the official figure. Whoever his brother was, the body in the casket is a shadow, a husk.

Grant read the paperwork. He signed most of the paperwork because his parents couldn’t. They were there in the room talking to the Russos but they couldn’t make decisions about this stuff. The funeral. The expenses. The type of casket. All of it. They left it up to Grant. Grant who has gone to war, three tours, one in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, not that he talks about them much to anyone except for the occasional admittance he doesn’t like fireworks and sometimes on July Fourth they remind him of the base being mortared and how deep down he knows they aren’t the same thing but still the sounds make his heart race. 

Stephanie closes her eyes. Inky tears leak from the creases in large blobs. “I didn’t want it to go this way.”

Grant can’t watch her cry, not right now, not with work to do later—get the car; find the photo—he stares straight ahead so her emotions don’t infect his emotions. “I don’t think anyone did.”

His phone rings. 

***

Grant knocks on Mike’s motel door, second story, a place named after another place, built fifty years ago next to the expressway. The area around the motel has changed, grown, been reshaped, but the motel’s stayed the same; L-shaped, two stories, surrounds another equally shitty motel, parking outside. The wind licks the hairs on the back of Grant’s neck. He knocks again, hears movement on the other side of the door, and shoves his hands into his jacket pockets.

The voice on the other side of the door yells out, “Yeah, who is it?” 

Grant spots the curtains moving in the window. 

“Benny’s brother,” he says. He steps back from the door. The sun washes out his right side, blasting his vision from the west. 

The door opens. Heat escapes into the evening. A man appears at the threshold. The room’s darkened behind him. The man’s skinny, as skinny as Benny had been, tall, not as tall as Grant, but otherwise healthy-looking. He has the taint and age of past drug use on his face. Wears a forest green long john top with jeans. Shoeless. 

“Mike?”

Mike glances at his phone and then at Grant. “You look different in your picture.”

“It’s a driver’s license. I think that picture was taken three years ago.”

Mike smiles, he’s missing an incisor. “You look like him, like Benny. Even with the beard, he didn’t have one of those, but you look alike.”

Grant nods. “You have the photograph?”

“Oh, right, it’s right here. You want to step inside? I have some of his other things. I’d prefer not to do this in the doorway.”

Mike backs away from the door. Grant steps inside. Shuts the door behind him, mostly, leaving a crack for fresh air. The room is maroon in color, the walls stained with dark spots, smells of stale cigarette smoke, and all the furniture and clothing tells Grant Mike’s been here a while—the motel room isn’t temporary any longer. Mike’s stacked the two twin beds in the corner, and lined the wall with the pillows. If it wasn’t for the dirt, grim and overall skuzziness of the room, it’d remind Grant of a dorm room. A small, brindle puppy wags its tail inside a small metal cage that’s next to the door. The dog scratches at the bars. The only lights come from the ghostly glow of a muted television, Sportscenter playing on the screen, and from the bathroom area.  

Mike retrieves the photograph of Benny and Nick Saban from the corner of the room. The photo was taken at a summer football camp in Alabama. It’s a generic-looking photo to Grant, the type of obligatory handshake necessary when you host a couple hundred high schoolers from all across the country, but Stephanie wants it back. Saban probably shook hands all day. 

“He always liked this photo,” Mike says, trudging back to Grant, hand out, offering the photograph. Grant accepts the battered frame. “There’s some of his clothes there in the corner. They’re in those sacks. He had some other stuff, I got what I could out of the room he had been staying in, but Harley took some things. I don’t know what. When he wasn’t with Harley, I looked after him. I liked Benny. He was kind. He worked hard. We talked a lot about his use. Why he was using. What he used. A lot. I guess I’m some sorta half assed sponsor, I guess that’s what you could call me. I didn’t judge him. But I didn’t let him stay here if he was using. I can’t be around it. I try, you know. Maybe if I did let him crash here, he’d still be here. But he was hooked, you know. Kelso provided it, and he liked that. Harley gave him other things. He liked that too.”

“How long have you been clean?” 

“Five years since my last relapse,” Mike says. “I was in prison for some of that time. Been free for about a year. Still trying to get back on my feet, but I’m getting there.” The dog scratches the bars again and starts whining. “Mind if I let her out?”

“I don’t mind.”

Mike releases the dog. He picks her up and sets her on the double-stacked twin bed, which is almost even with Mike’s waist. The dog immediately jumps down, runs to Grant’s feet, and looks up at him, tail wagging. Grant bends down and scratches under the dog’s chin. 

“Sorry about her,” Mike says, moving to pick the dog up.

“Don’t worry about it. She’s fine. I won’t be long.”

Mike stops. “She liked Benny too. Everyone did.”

“Where’s the car?”

“Word has it, Dwayne’s got it. He needed a car. Dwayne said Kelso gave it to him. He didn’t know it was Benny’s.”

“Which one’s Dwayne’s room?”

Mike goes to the window, pulls the curtain back and points to the bottom corner of the L. “That one right there, but I don’t think he’s in there right now. I haven’t seen him. I think he’s with Harley.”

“Where’s Harley?”

“Room on the backside, Kelso’s room.”

“Dwayne knows I’m coming?”

“I texted him, set it up. He said he’d give you the car if you can prove you’re Benny’s brother, why I needed the license. Dwayne never had a problem with Benny. He shouldn’t have one with you.”

“You make it sound like everyone liked Benny.”

“Didn’t they?”

“I guess so.”

“The funeral’s tomorrow?”

Grant says it is. “Viewing’s tonight. I plan on going back when I’m done.”

“Hope you don’t mind,” Mike says, checking the window again. “How’d you get here?”

“Friend dropped me off.”

Mike tells Grant what room number to find Harley. “Don’t trust her, okay, don’t trust any of them.”

***

Grant stands in front of Harley’s door waiting for it to open. A black man pokes his head out, looks at Grant, looks high, Grant says he is looking for Harley, and the man wordlessly shuts the door. Next thing Grant hears are voices angrily arguing in hushed tones, and then several toilet flushes. Grant removes his hand from his pocket and he sets the photo on the ground next to the brick wall. He tucks his elbows into his side and keeps his hands at the ready. 

The door opens again, and Harley steps out wearing too many layers under a sweatshirt, making her look frumpy. Under the stalking cap, her hair’s a frazzled mess, greasy too, needs a wash. She needs a wash. There’s an open sore on her lip and she only comes up about chest high on Grant. Looking up at him she says, “you really are his brother,” as if she can’t believe it.  

“I’m looking for Dwayne,” Grant says. “He in there?” 

“No,” she says. “He’s not here yet.”

Her eyes scan him head to toe. She keeps biting her lip, teeth near the open sore, chewing on it, and glancing to the side. 

“Who’s in the room?” Grant asks. She doesn’t answer. “That Kelso?”

“Could be,” is all she says. 

Grant doesn’t know what else to say. He doesn’t know her. Doesn’t know what his brother saw in her or why he saw anything in her. She certainly isn’t Stephanie. 

“Dwayne going to be back?”

“He’s on his way,” she says. “I didn’t expect you to come knocking. How did you know what room?”

Grant doesn’t answer her question. “How’d you meet Benny?” 

She gnaws the lips some more, eyes blinking, body trembling. “Real answer, no bullshit, cause I think it’s shitty what Kelso did, dropping him off at the hospital like that, we met through some friends. He paid for the first time. It was fun. He was sweet.”

“He paid?”

Harley shakes her head. “Kelso did. Said he wanted me to cheer up his friend. Gave me some pills if I entertained him. That’s like paying.”

“Did you all…I don’t know…talk? Get close?”

She nods. “Yeah, we did. We spent a lot of time together. He talked a lot about his kiddo, his wife, your parents—you. Sounds like you two were close once and then aren’t now. That sound right?”

Grant nods and only offers, “Things change.”

“He was pretty upset about that. Said you just left him. Said when he needed you, you weren’t there. Why weren’t you there?”

“Life took me in a different direction. I was older. I joined the military. I walked my own path.”

“Benny felt like you abandoned him and he was trapped. Your parents expected so much from him. Expected him to run the family business. Expected him to always make the right decisions. Expected him to be like you. Expected him to go out and be something and Benny realized early on, he was no one. Figured he would never leave…live anywhere else but within thirty miles of where he was born and felt like there were no options. His life was over before it began. You know what I mean? He and I talked a lot about it. I know what he meant. I feel that. He said he never meant to get in all the trouble he did. Didn’t mean to hurt his wife’s feelings or destroy their relationship the way he did. He said if he could have…he said a lot of things. Them taking the kids away from him, that really messed him up.”

Harley stares past Grant at the construction going on next to the motel. 

She says, “We were supposed to be together the other day. I was on my way to see him. He called me from the mall and said he and Kelso were going to run an errand, run by this guy’s place—Kelso’s supplier—and then they’d meet up with me. We’d go to the casino…” she pauses, “…I was with a customer that morning.”

“How did you hear about Benny?”

“Kelso called me all frightened. Said he just left Benny at the hospital. Said he found Benny overdosing off some pills he gave him, but he couldn’t believe it. They weren’t supposed to be those types of pills. Supposed to only be Xanax. That’s all I do. That’s all Benny was trying to do. He wanted to get clean for his kid, you know.”

Grant asks again, “is that Kelso in there?”

Harley’s about to answer when Grant feels a presence to his side, and then feels something heavy and metal shoved into his temple.

“You the brother?” a hefty voice asks.  

***

Grant fights every instinct to turn and face the voice. “Point that someplace else,” he says.

The gun doesn’t move. It stays steady, too close. 

“What, does it bother you?” the voice growls, teasing. 

Harley says, “Dwayne, I don’t think we should do this.”

Dwayne steps into view. He is bald, forehead glistening with sweat, skin dirty and dark, hardened by work and the weather. He isn’t an opiate user. Meth is his drug of choice, evident by the bulging veins, corded muscle, and bloodshot eyes. “Benny owed me money. Kelso owes me money. I’m keeping the car. That’s how Kelso paid, but Benny didn’t pay. His brother can go get me the rest.”

Grant says, “Whatever my brother owes you, I’ll pay, but point the gun someplace else.”

Dwayne says, “I don’t think I will.” He taps the barrel against Grant’s head. “See, everyone liked your brother. I didn’t. He was a worthless piece of shit. Always hanging around. Always around Kelso, always using. Using like he was dying, you know? Well, those two shit sticks owe me money.”

Grant, in a steady voice, says, “how much did my brother owe you?”

“Couple hundred.”

“Don’t shoot me,” Grant says, tone telling Dwayne to hold it, he’s going to do something. Grant reaches, slowly, into his back pocket and retrieves his wallet. He clasps it with his thumb and forefinger and brings it around front, deliberately, showing Dwayne what it is. Grant asks, “How much exactly?”

“Three hundred for the pills he bought and didn’t sell,” Dwayne says. 

“The pills that killed him?”

Harley talks quickly, rambling, as she says, “Kelso’s got the bag, he said he’d give them back to you. They’re in the room.” She reaches for the handle. “He said he took some, couldn’t believe they killed Benny. They took them at the same time. Nothing happened to him—”

“Don’t!” Dwayne yells, slapping her. Harley falls against the door, causing the door to open. She falls to the floor. She looks up at Dwayne, and runs the back of her hand across her mouth, wicking away a thin trickle of blood. 

Dwayne turns his attention back to Grant. “Like I said, three hundred.”

Grant opens his wallet with both hands. “I’m going to pay you what Benny owes, what Kelso owes, and then I’m going to leave in Benny’s car. You’re going to give me the keys.”

Dwayne laughs. “Am I?”

“You are but before any of that happens you’re going to take that gun out of my face. You’re going to put it away.”

Dwayne smiles crookedly, and starts to shake his head, saying, “fuck that—” but as soon as his face twists into a negative response, Grant drops his wallet; windmills his left hand, reaching for and batting the gun away and out of his face. He rips the gun out of Dwayne’s grasp and then jabs his right hand into Dwayne’s throat driving through the soft flesh, unconcerned with whatever damage he might cause, further separating Dwayne from the weapon. Then, Grant delivers a vicious elbow across Dwayne’s cheek, shoving the man into the open door. Grant’s massive hand curls around Dwayne’s head, cupping the crest of the man’s skull and he delivers three well placed knee strikes to Dwayne’s midsection. Grant hears the grunt and hiss of solid contact as he propels the air from Dwayne’s lungs. Dwayne plummets to the ground. His body tenses as he collects himself starting to rise but Grant doesn’t give him an opportunity to get up. Grant stomps on Dwayne’s face; his body crumbles under the blow. Grant stomps again. Dwayne stays down. 

Grant squats down, hovers over Dwayne, and pats at Dwayne’s pockets, until he finds the lump he’s searching for. He recovers the car key. 

Grant stands, slipping the key into his pocket, and retrieves his wallet.

With Dwayne in the doorway keeping the door open, and Harley getting up from the floor, Grant notices for the first time the black male laying on the bed, not moving. 

Grant drops the magazine and slips it into his pocket, then starts disassembling the gun. He separates the slide from the frame, tossing the handle into the room. He points to the body on the bed “What’s wrong with him?” He chunks the barrel behind him into the parking lot. He throws the spring down the stairs and drops the slide on Dwayne’s unconscious body. 

Harley, on her knees, says, “he took one of the pills.”

“What pills?”

Harley gestures to Dwayne. “The pills he and Benny bought from him.”

“Where are the other pills?” Grant unloads the magazine letting each cartridge fall on Dwayne’s face. 

“He flushed them. He thought you were the police. He didn’t want to go to jail for killing Benny.”

“With this beard?” Grant says. Once the magazine is empty he flings it into the room. “Why’d he take one?”

“Like I said, he couldn’t believe he killed his friend. They both took them that day. Kelso was fine. Said it was like normal Xanax. He couldn’t believe Benny’s wasn’t. It was an accident.”

“Shit,” Grant says and thinks of his mother, of his brother, and of the Narcan. He reaches in his pocket, grips the plastic bottle, looks like a container of whiteout, and lobs it at Harley’s feet. “Hit him with that, squirt it up his nose.”

Supporting her body with her arms behind her, Harley just blinks, frozen, eyes asking why, imploring.

Grant bends down, picks up the photograph, and leaves.

***

Grant returns to the funeral home. Stephanie notices him step inside the glass doors. He throws his chin toward her, getting her attention, and steps back outside. She joins him. It’s windy and dark. Under the orange glow of the porch light, she crosses her arms over her chest to fight the winter cold. 

Grant sniffs once and then extends her the photograph. She accepts it. Then he drops the keys in her open palm. He tells her some of what happened. He met with Mike. Met with Dwayne. Got the keys. He leaves out a lot. Doesn’t leave out Kelso. “Maybe it’s too late for him. Maybe it isn’t. But my mother made us carry the Narcan.”

Stephanie listens without looking at him. She’s staring at the photograph. At Benny’s smile. His face. She says, “Maybe God put you there, so that at least Kelso has a chance when Benny doesn’t.” Then she echoes his mother’s last statement to the detectives before they left their house yesterday. “It’s something you hear about, you know, but never in a million years do you think it will happen to you, happen here…”

— Mark Atley is the author of The Olympian, American Standard, Too Late To Say Goodbye, Trouble Weighs a Ton, and the forthcoming A Bright Young Man, as well as a handful of short fiction. Mark works as a detective for a suburb of Tulsa, OK, and has dedicated his life to crime. Check out markatley.com for more information or follow him on Twitter: @mark_atley.