Years of watching shitty movies and ignoring the nightly news had convinced Tom that all criminals were clean cut. Handsome. Suave. The man pointing a gun in his face was none of these things. He was thin and lanky, and though his face was covered by a ski mask, Tom could tell by the black stubble on his neck that the man hadn’t shaved in a few days. He smelled like an ashtray. His partner, who was at the back of the gas station filling a duffel bag with liquor and Twizzlers and occasionally pointing a gun at the clientele and telling them to shut the fuck up, wasn’t much better. Short and squat with a body like a mini-fridge. Barbeque-stained sweatshirt.

“Open the fuckin’ register.”

Tom hesitated. He had just started working there a few months back and was still desperately trying to impress the manager, Veronica. Tom pictured himself telling her how he had singlehandedly fended off two armed robbers, Veronica falling into his arms. Then he pictured his brains splattered across the display of Marlboro cartons behind him and he opened the fuckin’ register. The man with the gun reached across the counter and pulled a handful of cash from the till.

“Much obliged.”

The man whistled, drawing his partner’s attention.

“C’mon, let’s go.”

The two men pushed through the glass doors and into the night, leaving Tom alone with the empty register and a collection of terrified customers.


That had been Lewis and Harvey’s seventh robbery together.

Their exploits had made them infamous to the gas station attendants working along the stretch of highway between Ann Arbor and Mackinac. They had a system. Harvey would pull the car past the pumps and up to the curb. Then they would explode through the doors, waving their guns around and making it clear they wouldn’t put up with any shit. Harvey worked the register and Lewis worked the crowd. It worked best that way. Harvey had a knack for staring down teenagers, a skill he picked up in juvie and never lost.

Once the register was emptied, the pair would run back to the car, pull off their masks, and haul ass back to the highway, where Lewis would count the money while Harvey looked for a place to lay low the night. This time was no different. Lewis sat in the passenger seat, leafing through the cash and counting under his breath. When he reached the last bill, he turned to Harvey and asked:

“Is this all there was?”

“No. I left some in the register, I figured he needed it more than I did. Of course that’s all there fuckin’ was.”

“Fuck you, Harv.”

“How much is there?”

“Like 250 bucks.”

“Shit, you probably got more’n that in booze.”

“Fuck it. It’s enough for now. We gotta find a place to hole up, though.”

“What do you think I’m doing?”

They drove on through the night. Pine trees whipped past.


The Best Motel was right off the highway. Seven rooms arranged in an L around a weed-eaten parking lot. Their sign advertised GREAT RATES and FREE CABLE. They checked into Room 105, right in the middle of the long leg of the L. A double suite. There were paintings of the ocean on the wall.

AMC had a Western movie marathon that night. Lewis and Harvey sat on their beds and nursed bottles of vodka, watching John Wayne do his thing. A quarter of the way through Rio Bravo and halfway through his second bottle of Tito’s, Lewis looked to Harvey teary-eyed, saying:

“We’re throwbacks, man. Snakes with legs, babies with tails. This place just ain’t for us.”

“What the fuck are you talking about? What place? This hotel?”

“This whole goddamn country. You ever wonder why neither of us can hold down a job? Why we spent more time in prison than out? A couple hundred years ago, we woulda been cowboys. Heroes, Harv. Now we’re just fuckups.”

“That’s bullshit. If we were alive back then, we’d be in about the same fuckin’ place, ‘cept instead of throwin’ us in jail they’d’ve strung us up by now.”

“Fuck you.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Fuck you.”

“You’re too fuckin’ drunk for me to talk you through this and I’m too fuckin’ tired to try.”

Harvey turned off the television and the lamp between the beds and rolled over. They lay in darkness for several minutes listening to the semis on the highway, and in the moments between the semis to the birds in the pines behind the motel. Then Lewis turned the lamp back on.

“We woulda been heroes, Harv.”

“Go to sleep.”

“I’m tellin’ you.”

Harvey rolled over to look at Lewis.

“You really think John-fuckin’-Wayne woulda pointed his sixgun in some dumbass kid’s face to get at a few hundred dollars and some liquor? We ain’t good people, Lewis. Throwin’ on a cowboy hat and tradin’ the Buick for a coupla horses wouldn’t do a thing to change that. A baby with a tail ain’t a throwback, it’s a goddamned freak.”

Harvey turned out the light again. Lewis left it off.


Morning came hard to Room 105. Harvey woke up with a hangover that made it feel like God had turned the frame rate up on the world. It was a little past eleven. The light filtering in through the blinds lit up an empty bed beside him.