coy hawkins stands behind nikki with his arms laid over her arms, his hands cupping her hands, his fingers on top of her fingers. As they pull the trigger he rams his shoulder into her shoulder.

‘Don’t flinch.’

He lets go of her. He picks up his beer and points with it.

‘Go ahead,’ Coy Hawkins says.

Nikki raises the gun at the big house again.

 

 

 

she watches him push a brush through barrel. She watches him drop oil on a rag and shine the black metal. The parts fit back together in hard snaps and the magazine clicks in last. He wipes his hands on a rag.

‘The first time’s the worst,’ Coy Hawkins says.

‘I done it before,’ Nikki says.

He cuts his eyes to her.

‘Wesley Harrell,’ she says.

Coy Hawkins points his clean gun at one of the walls of the kitchen.

‘Oh yeah,’ he says.

 

 

 

she looks at him. She is startled by the bandanna around his face. A second ago he wasn’t wearing it. He pulls up his hood. He nods at her.

She knocks on an apartment door, the welfare apartments in town that are grey and wooden and drop down to the riverbank.

When the peephole darkens she takes one step back. The door catches on its chain.

‘Hey,’ Nikki says.

A man stares at her.

‘Who are you?’

‘Nikki,’ she says.

‘Who?’

‘Can I use your phone?’

‘What?’ he says.

Nikki holds up Coy Hawkins’s cell.

‘Mine’s dead.’

The man’s eyes flick up and down. Nikki smiles at him. She’s wearing a dress with see-through parts. Her cat’s eyes are slightly crooked but her lips are very red.

Nikki jams her knee inside and touches his. He’s older than Coy Hawkins. His cheeks are cut by two deep lines.

‘Hold up,’ he says.

As soon as he slams the door Nikki takes two steps back, and when he opens it again, wide, unchained, Coy Hawkins pivots off the outside wall and slugs a baseball bat into the man’s gut.

‘What the fuck,’ the man grunts.

She crawls underneath the man while Coy Hawkins smashes him over the back.

No one’s in the living room. She turns a right for the kitchen like Coy Hawkins said. The other man, the important one, is sitting at a table. His name is Lee Church. He is nothing like she pictured him. She raises the gun and surges at him.

‘Drugs and cash,’ Nikki says.

He looks surprised.

‘Drugs and cash.’

He just sits there. She starts to panic. She hears Coy Hawkins’s bat behind her. She stomps her high heel on the linoleum and lets out a little shriek.

‘Are you stupid? This is a motherfucking stickup.’

Lee Church puts his cigarette in an ashtray and then he puts his hands up.

 

 

 

they’re pulled off in the woods, out in the country. Coy Hawkins has a Ziploc bag of cocaine in his lap. Nikki has rubber-banded bills between her feet. That went well, Nikki thinks.

‘Don’t use your real name next time,’ Coy Hawkins says.

‘Why not?’ Nikki says.

He dips the pickup key in the Ziploc. He looks at her. In the overhead light his face is like wax.

‘Bump?’ he says.

 

 

 

cokes smells cold and chemical like the inside of a refrigerator. It’s what back then smells like, now when she thinks of it. Nikki takes a drag off Coy Hawkins’s Kool and its blast of menthol is the best thing that’s ever been in her mouth.

The interstate reels out. The sign says thirty miles to Charlotte. Coy Hawkins has called somebody on his phone. It’s not really dead. This time he is going to sell, Nikki thinks. She is giddy and she can’t feel her teeth.

They have already passed over the service road. They have already passed over the gorilla pimp. They could be going anywhere.

 

 

 

she looks around alertly. She sniffs drip up her nose.

‘Where are we?’ Nikki says.

‘Kannapolis,’ Coy Hawkins says.

‘Where?’

On both sides of a wide street every house is the same. They glow up in the headlights of the pickup, white and sagging. After a while Coy Hawkins stops in front of one.

A Mexican man opens the door.

‘Where the fuck you been?’ he says.

Coy Hawkins shrugs.

‘Trying to stay out of trouble, man.’

Nikki follows him in. The house’s living room is strewn with little girls’ toys. There’s a blow-up castle in the middle of it. Coy Hawkins and the man go into what must be the kitchen. They close a bed sheet behind them.

‘You can’t go in there.’

Nikki looks at her. The little girl is curled on the couch, holding a baby doll and wearing a tutu. She is five or six. Nikki puts her hands on her hips.

‘Why not?’

‘You’re not supposed to,’ the little girl says.

‘Why?’ Nikki says.

‘Because you’re a girl.’

‘What?’

Nikki thinks she sees the little girl smirk.

‘My mom can’t even go in there,’ the little girl says.

Her tutu is much pinker than Nikki’s hair used to be. Nikki kicks a Barbie Corvette out of the way of her feet.

‘Hey,’ the little girl says.

Nikki sits beside her.

‘My mama’s dead,’ Nikki says.

The little girl makes a face.

‘She killed herself,’ Nikki says.

The little girl drops her mouth on the doll’s head.

It’s probably four in the morning. They watch TV. Nikki doesn’t understand because it’s in Spanish.

‘She left me when I was a baby,’ Nikki says.

She doesn’t know why she just said that. She smells something like burning ketchup.

‘You smell that?’

The little girl says nothing. Nikki looks at the bed sheet.

‘What is it?’

‘Papi,’ the little girl says.

Nikki stands up and the girl cuts her eyes from the TV. For a second they stare at each other. The little girl is not going to be as pretty as her. If she touched the little girl she would be gooey, Nikki thinks. Nikki sits down again.

When the bed sheet opens Coy Hawkins is carrying a different grocery bag than the one he came in with. He snaps his fingers at Nikki.

‘My daughter,’ Coy Hawkins says.

The man looks at her briefly.

 

 

 

how much did you get for it?’

‘Half a ki of heroin,’ Coy Hawkins says.

Nikki’s eyes dart to the bag between her feet.

‘What?’

On the way home they stop and buy party balloons.

 

 

 

the heroin is black. it’s sticky. it’s shiny.

‘What’s wrong with it?’

‘Nothing,’ Coy Hawkins says.

They’re in the kitchen. They’re sitting at the card table. Coy Hawkins has ripped open the bag of party balloons.

‘It ain’t white,’ Nikki says.

‘It’s black tar.’

‘It’s what?’

‘Mexican shit,’ Coy Hawkins says.

He breaks off a tarry black chunk.

‘You got everybody up here snorting pills and paying what?’

Nikki shrugs. Coy Hawkins answers his own question.

‘A dollar a milligram. Eighty dollars for one fucking 80,’ he says.

He nudges the black chunk onto a balloon’s head. He turns the balloon inside out, knots it, pushes it through so that it’s right side out, and knots it again. He holds it up.

‘How much you think this costs?’

‘I don’t know,’ Nikki says.

‘Ten dollars.’

‘What?’

He clips it to a scale and hangs it before him.

‘Tenth of a gram,’ he says.

He tosses it to her.

‘Whoever brings this shit up here first is gonna make a killing.’

Nikki just stares at him.

‘I’m trying to teach you something,’ Coy Hawkins says.

She is not paying attention. She is thinking about how much better it would be if the table were covered in cash. She looks at the black lump. It doesn’t even seem like that much. Her jaw is still going from that one bump.

‘Pills are the same as heroin?’

Coy Hawkins laughs.

‘Yeah,’ he says.

The balloon is blue. It’s tiny. Nikki looks at it again.

 

 

 

she yawns. When she stumbles into the kitchen a man and a woman are sitting there. They turn to her. Then they turn to Coy Hawkins.

‘It’s cool,’ he says.

He has a roll of tinfoil.

He tears off a sheet. He quarters it and rips it into squares. He burns the side of one piece with his lighter. He sticks heroin to the other side. He wraps another square around a pen and pushes it out to make a straw.

He holds up the heroin foil. He flicks his lighter under it. There is a long crackling as he pulls up smoke. He lifts his head with the straw between his lips. He blows out and the whole kitchen explodes in burning ketchup.

Nikki leans against a wall.

Coy Hawkins fixes a second foil and passes it to the woman.

‘See how it slides. Chase it,’ he says.

The woman waves her hand.

‘I smoked Oxys before,’ she says.

‘That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,’ Coy Hawkins says.

She looks insulted but when Coy Hawkins flicks the lighter she lowers her head.

The man peers over the woman’s shoulder. When the woman has a coughing fit the man takes the foil from her and lights it for himself.

‘Shooting’s better,’ Coy Hawkins says.

He shivers.

‘You get that rush.’

The woman shakes her head.

‘I don’t fuck with needles.’

‘You’ll get over it,’ Coy Hawkins says.

‘How much?’ the man says.

Coy Hawkins throws out a handful of balloons.

‘Tell your friends,’ he says.

The man is picking up the balloons that fell on a floor. He’s stuffing his socks with them. Nikki feels light. She watches the burnt-ketchup smoke settle onto everything, onto a missed patch of hair on the man’s shaved head.

Nikki drops her foot on a yellow one. She curls her toes over it. The man looks at her. He narrows his eyes. She glares back at him.

‘What?’ she says.

The man scratches his leg. He sits up.

‘Fucking Coy Hawkins. In the flesh,’ he says.

 

 

 

nikki sits on the bathroom floor to concentrate. Smoking heroin’s harder than it looks.

She burns herself. Her mouth fills with bitter, vinegary smoke and she coughs. The heroin slides in a brown streak over the lit foil and she chases it. Finally it stops rolling. It blackens and pops.

She leans against the shower with the straw in her mouth. She feels nothing.

 

 

 

she pukes in the toilet.

 

 

 

nikki wanders into the kitchen. There are different men and women. She’s never seen them before.

She wants something to kill the taste in her mouth. She stands in the open refrigerator staring. A man asks her something and before she can answer asks her something else.

‘What?’ Nikki says.

She feels a pinch on her arm and after she turns around she sees Coy Hawkins. She looks at him like she would anyone. She doesn’t even care.

‘You seen that other roll of tinfoil?’ he says.

‘What?’ Nikki says.

She is made of air.

‘Go sit on the couch,’ Coy Hawkins says.

On the couch Nikki scratches up and down her shins. She scratches her arms. She scratches her neck. She scratches especially behind her knees, the backs of her hands just brushing the plaid of the cushions, and murmurs to herself.

She’s itchy like she’s been snorting pills but heroin is a real drug. Real drugs are a secret. Nikki has always loved secrets. Back then was full of them.

Nikki blinks at the TV. She sees her palms open in her lap. Bewildered she looks all around the living room but there’s no
one there.

Her head droops again. Her eyes close. It’s okay, she thinks, everything.

 

 

 

on heroin she dreams. She dreams a wild dream she can’t control. Mostly a mutant tries to eat her. Nikki snaps awake.

 

 

 

in the kitchen coy hawkins is talking to a man. Nikki stands there a second.

‘Plus it’s more cost effective, shooting it,’ Coy Hawkins says.

‘We’re gonna make a killing,’ Nikki says.

They both look at her.

‘What?’ Coy Hawkins says.

‘Us.’

Nikki says this only to him. Coy Hawkins puts his fingers up to his lips.

‘We’re gonna bring this shit up here first and it’s gonna be like back then. You’re gonna be the biggest in the county again.’

Coy Hawkins stares at her. Then he drops his hand from his mouth and starts laughing. The man looks at Coy Hawkins. He starts laughing, too.

 

 

 

nikki washes her hair. She shaves everywhere. She brushes her teeth and spits out blood in the sink.

She opens the cabinet underneath. She pulls out the hairdryer and flat iron and the whole pouch of make-up.

She looks at her face in the mirror. She does not see a stupid little girl.

 

 

 

she has to walk almost all the way down to the bottom road before she gets reception on coy hawkin’s phone.

‘its nikki. hey,’ she texts.

She drops the grocery bag between her feet. She keeps looking over her shoulder. The phone lights up.

‘what?’ Wesley texts.

‘i wanna see u,’ Nikki texts.

‘why’

‘??’

Nikki rolls her eyes.

‘just come get me im at my dads.’

‘u owe me,’ Wesley texts.

Her pulse picks up.

 

 

 

wesley locks and chains the camper door. It’s just the two of them. Nikki peeks around the curtain at the air mattress to make sure.

‘Where’s old girl?’ Nikki says.

‘What do you want?’ Wesley says.

Her hair is huge. She’s wearing the best of the dresses and she’s brought balloons. When she dumps out the grocery bag onto Wesley’s table ten or so tumble out.

Wesley comes close to her. He chins at the table without breaking his stare.

‘What the fuck is that?’

‘Black tar heroin,’ Nikki says.

He grabs her by the back of the neck. He slams her forehead to her knees.

‘Quit it,’ she shrieks.

‘You wearing a fucking wire?’

‘No, get off me.’

‘Where the fuck you get it?’

‘From my daddy where you think?’

Wesley pulls his hand out of her dress. He lets go and she shoves him in the chest.

‘Asshole,’ Nikki says.

She slouches back on the couch. Wesley sits down beside her and picks up a balloon. He weighs it in his palm.

‘It’s the same as pills.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ Wesley says.

‘Except it’s way cheaper and better,’ Nikki says.

‘You done it?’

Nikki kicks under the table at the bag of Mama’s clothes.

‘Yeah,’ she says.

Wesley gets up. He steps around the table. He opens some drawers. He steps back with a roll of tinfoil.

‘Right?’ he says.

‘It’s better if you shoot it,’ Nikki says.

She shivers.

‘You get that rush.’

Wesley kind of laughs. He sits down and opens the balloon with his teeth. He tears off a piece of foil and smudges the heroin onto it and it gleams.

‘No,’ Nikki says.

‘What?’ Wesley says.

‘You’re doing it wrong.’

‘I’m doing it wrong?’

‘You gotta burn off the shiny side.’

‘Why?’

‘Because.’

Nikki sighs. She unfolds her arms and takes the foil from him.

‘You gotta pen?’ she says.

She shows him.

She makes a straw. She fixes a foil and lights it. As the heroin rolls she chases it. She lifts her head with smoke in her mouth and Wesley’s eyes glint.

‘What?’

Wesley shakes his head.

‘Nothing,’ he says.

She makes one for him. She stares at his bent head while he smokes it. Like this is hard, Nikki thinks.

‘You heard about Lee Church?’ Nikki says.

‘What?’

Wesley’s coughing.

‘Lee Church. He stays in them Glenhaven apartments.’

Wesley blows burnt-ketchup smoke out of the side of his mouth.

‘I heard he got robbed.’

Nikki gathers all her hair to one side. She pulls her fingers through it and tilts her head and looks at him.

‘By a couple Mexicans,’ Wesley says.

‘Mexicans?’

He’s looking at the foil straw.

‘No, it wasn’t,’ Nikki says.

‘I heard it from Lee Church himself. The fucking cartel,’ Wesley says.

 

 

 

there are three of four strange cars in the yard. 

On the couch there are strange people nodding out.

‘Where the fuck you been?’

Coy Hawkins leans out of the kitchen.

‘Like you care,’ Nikki says.

She goes down the hall. She slams the bathroom door as hard as she can.

 

 

 

later she sees him go into the bedroom. She goes after him. His hair is wet and in the mirrored closet he’s combing it. Nikki sits on the bed, watching him. ‘Lee Church is telling everybody it was two Mexicans that robbed him,’ she says.

‘So what?’ Coy Hawkins says.

‘So why would he say that?’

In the mirror Coy Hawkins’s eyes shift to her.

‘Why do you think?’ Coy Hawkins says.

Behind him Nikki looks at herself. Then she looks at the green carpet. It’s so ugly, she thinks. She shoves her toes into it. She crosses her arms over her chest.

‘You think I’m just bait,’ she says.

‘No,’ he says.

He turns around and looks at her. He grips the towel around his waist by its knot. She stares at Mama’s name on him. It’s almost gone, too. He throws his comb on the bed and holds his hand out.

‘Give me my phone back,’ he says.

Later still a man walks in on her in the bathroom. She rips her dress down but he just stands there. She doesn’t know what to do. She nearly hisses at him.

‘Get out,’ Nikki says.

The man leans against the wall on one hand.

‘Calm down,’ he says.

She wiggles out under his arm.

 

 

 

‘is there a nikki here?’ a woman says.

From the couch Nikki glares.

‘Yeah. What?’ she says.

The woman starts scratching her arm. She closes her eyes.

‘Some guy’s looking for you,’ the woman says.

In the yard is Wesley. Nikki freezes on the trailer’s top step. She thinks about calling Coy Hawkins. But Wesley is alone this time. He’s looking around at the other cars.

‘What happened to my ride?’ Wesley says.

Luckily she hasn’t changed. The best of the dresses laces up the sides.

‘We didn’t want it no more,’ she says.

She reties two bows.

‘What are you doing up here?’

Wesley puts his hands in his pockets and shrugs.

‘I wanna buy an ounce,’ he says.

Nikki tries to hide her grin but can’t. She opens the trailer door and looks over her shoulder.

She kicks everybody out of the kitchen. Then she shuts the accordion door. She grabs a beer from the refrigerator and cracks it and sets it on the card table in front of him.

Wesley tilts back in his chair and crosses his arms behind his head.

‘Where’s Coy Hawkins?’ he says.

‘Why?’ Nikki says.

He looks at her. She puts her hands on her hips.

‘Just one, right?’ she says.

Wesley laughs. He lets his chair bang the floor. He takes the cigarette from behind his ear and sticks it in his mouth.

‘Wait here,’ Nikki says.

She goes into the bedroom where the bigger chunks are stashed. They’re stuffed in the toes of Coy Hawkins’s boots and wrapped in cut-up grocery bags. She pulls one out. Coy Hawkins is lying on
the bed.

‘What are you doing?’ he says.

‘Selling an ounce to Wesley Harrell.’

She nearly bounces back to the kitchen. She closes the accordion door behind her. She tosses the chunk on the card table.

‘One piece,’ Nikki says.

Wesley stubs his cigarette out.

‘That’s what you call heroin ounces,’ she says.

‘Okay,’ he says.

He has his own scale. He pulls it out like a gun. Nikki perches on the chair across from him. She puts her face in her hand.

He takes the chunk off the scale.

‘It’s short,’ he says.

He puts it on again.

‘It’s twenty-five.’

‘I know,’ Nikki says.

Wesley looks at her.

‘There’s twenty-eight grams in an ounce,’ he says.

‘It’s heroin weight.’

‘What?’

‘It’s a Mexican ounce,’ Nikki says.

‘A what?’

Nikki racks her brain for all the other things Coy Hawkins
has said.

‘It’s the metric system, dumb ass,’ Coy Hawkins says.

Nikki flicks her head. He’s standing with one arm folding the accordion door open. After a second Wesley nods at him.

‘Makes sense,’ Wesley says.

He reaches in his pocket and then he looks at Coy Hawkins.

‘How much, man?’ he says.

Wesley’s beer is still where Nikki put it. She picks it up and hurls it at the wall.

 

 

 

she stalks down the hall. In the bedroom she bangs the door behind them. Coy Hawkins goes over to the bed and sits on it. He looks up at her.

‘That’s my money,’ she says.

He counts out half the twenties and pushes them across the mattress.

‘You need to be careful,’ he says.

‘Of what?’ Nikki says.

Coy Hawkins shakes his head. He snaps towards the kitchen.

‘Go clean up that mess.’

 

 

 

nikki tucks the straw behind her ear. She smiles at herself. Her pupils are the tiny heads of pins. Her eyes are the bluest blue. She reaches up and rests her arms on top of her head and she can count all her ribs in the bathroom mirror.

She thinks she looks great. But her hair is brownish again. Under the sink is a bleach kit.

When she comes out the trailer’s dark. She wants to show someone. She finds him in the living room. He’s stretched out in his chair. She turns on the floor lamp and grins.

‘You like it?’ Nikki says.

Coy Hawkins squints at her. He feels for his cigarettes.

‘Not really,’ he says.

 

 

 

there is a man with a needle. nikki watches him. 

He pushes the black tar out of a balloon and into a bottle cap. He adds a splash of water and burns his lighter underneath. The bottle cap is metal. The heroin starts to bubble.

He pulls the head off a Q-tip. He drops the cotton in the cap and pushes it around with the needle tip. He pulls the plunger up with his teeth.

He has a rubber tie like a nurse. He yanks it around the woman’s arm. Big green veins stand up when he slaps her. He rubs his thumb over one.

He jabs the needle in and then he wiggles it some. Blood blooms into the syringe. Slowly he pushes the plunger until all the black-red liquid runs in.

Nikki watches the woman’s head fall to her chest and stay there like it’s broken. Nikki sits down in the other chair. She puts her arm on the card table.

‘Do me,’ she says.

The man stares at her.

‘Ain’t this your daddy’s place?’ he says.

Nikki shrugs.

‘So?’

‘So you’re how old?’

Nikki stares back at him.

‘Sixteen,’ she says.

She’s thirteen.

The man takes off his baseball hat and turns it around the other way. He pulls it low over his eyes.

‘Shit,’ he says.

He holds her arm by the wrist and tears opens another balloon. She can see into the living room from her chair and down the hall to the bedroom door. She waits for Coy Hawkins to open it.

The needle pricks going in. After he slides it out Nikki’s arm flares with a white-hot itch from shoulder to fingertip.

 

 

 

she careens through the dark. She can only see the dashboard before her. She is not driving and she cannot wake up but she knows she is being chased. The road breaks.

 

 

 

heroin is the most secret of them all and needles are the secret part and she has always loved secrets ever since she was a little girl. 

 

 

 

she dreams that coy hawkins is strangling her. She goes into the bathroom to look at her neck and there is a purple ring around her throat. She is overcome with the feeling that her skin is quivering three inches from the rest of her and if she touched it would give like a sponge. It’s a fat girl’s neck that doesn’t belong to her. She has to squat down to keep from puking. A loud noise jerks her up. She is awake. She is sitting in the kitchen chair.

‘Damn, she looks like she just got her wings,’ somebody says.

 

 

 

coy hawkins is sitting in the other chair. Where the man used to be. He’s looking at her arm. Nikki looks at it, too. There’s dried blood in the crook of her elbow.

She blinks at him. She thinks she sees something flicker across his face before he goes back to looking at her like always.

‘You’re fucking up.’

He says this and gets up.


 

Image © Stacy Kranitz

The Damned and the Beautiful: Patagonia Without Dams
Off the Road