I got home at dusk and saw the shoe box on the steps of my Airstream. It wasn't there when I left. The hackles went up on my neck. I didn't even know I had hackles, but there they were. My trailer park sits on empty desert with nothing but jackrabbits and saguaros for miles around. Nobody lands at Double Wide by accident, unless they're lost or on the run.
The box was a message.
Opal Sanchez hustled up to the driver's window and gripped my forearm with two iron hands. "I've been waiting for you, Mr. Whip," she said. "You're late coming home."
Opal had been my tenant for six months. She showed up on foot, walked straight off the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation. She wouldn't tell me why she was hoofing through the desert alone, anything about her family, or what went wrong at her village. All I knew was that she was seventeen and needed a place.
"What do you mean late? I just went to town for groceries."
She studied the dangerous sky. Hanging black clouds took the tops off the mountains, and a wind had kicked up. Monsoon. That was good news. It had been the hottest day of the summer so far, and a storm would cool things down.
Opal said, "It's going to rain. Hard, hard. It suu-ure is."
"Don't you know better than to stand outside in a storm? Is something wrong?"
Her face looked like the devil had just paid a visit. Her eyes shifted to the box, back to me, and then to the box again.
I said, "Yeah, I'm getting the same vibe," and sat there thinking things over.
The feeling hit that if I knew what was good for me, I'd throw the Bronco into reverse and gun it, leaving Double Wide forever. But lousy decisions had become my trademark. I had to be coming up on the record, and it seemed a shame to stop.
"Tell you what," I said. "I'm going to go eat and not worry about whatever's in that box. Pretend it isn't there. If I don't open it, it can sit there forever, right? Does that work for you?"
Opal nodded, mouth hanging open, eyes bulging.
Supper was leftover steak and refried beans with a bottle of Tecate. I took my time eating and tried not to think about the box. You can guess how that worked out. Every few minutes I got up and peered out the door.
The rain had started, fat drops angling down, popping onto rooftops. Opal was still standing out there. I hollered for her to get inside, but I don't think she heard me over the swirling wind.
Maybe that wind would carry the box off to hell, and I could get on with my life.
The storm roared like a monster. It whipped trailer doors open and shut, rattled the railings on my corral, and generally made it sound like the end of the world had arrived.
With my lights blinking on and off, I sat at the kitchen table sipping my beer. I made a game of it. In the darkness, a sip, and in the light, the bottle went back to the table.
Waiting, waiting. Then the lights flipped off again, and I stole another sip.
They say people don't know how to have fun anymore.
A desert monsoon changes everything. That far-off time before the clouds gathered, all of an hour before, is gone, washed away like a bad memory. Your troubles from the fire of midday have been cleared from the regis ter, and in the liberating cool of the evening, life is completely different.Your second chance has arrived. That's the West for you, the home of second chances.
When the lights came back on for good, I walked outside breathing in as much of that glorious wet air as my lungs could hold. The box was still there, and I'd grown curious.
What could be heavy enough to hold it down against the wind?
See what I mean about mistakes?
A rock kept the lid in place. I tossed it away. Bundle, one of my black Labs, peered out from underneath Opal's trailer, turned his face to the sky and howled. Opal stood behind me, hair matted from the rain, clothes soaked, a specter in the post-storm light.
The object inside was wrinkled and beginning to darken with decay, from canvas colored to blood purple. My first thought was a fish, but we don't get many of those in the desert, and fish don't have fingers.
A glove? That was more hope than reality. I stared a moment longer to confirm that I was looking at a human hand.
That wasn't the worst of it. I recognized the former owner, if that's the correct term. Letters on the back of each of the four fingers of the right hand, between the second and third knuckles, spelled out M-A-R-Y. Between the thumb and forefinger was a small, sharply drawn tattoo of the Blessed Virgin's face.
Years before, at the ridiculous age of seventeen, I signed a contract to play professional baseball. I could throw a BB through a keyhole at a hundred yards. My catcher was Rolando Molina. We worked together beautifully, became close friends.
I last saw Rolando two years ago at the front door of a rehab center in Malibu. Two smiling brutes in lab coats escorted him inside to begin treatment for a serious cocaine problem.
I looked down at his rotting hand, thinking, I don't want the trouble that's coming. I don't want to go back out into the world. I want to stay at Double Wide with my dogs, my tenants who don't pay and my bygone dreams.
But if you live by the known rules of life, the right and wrong of things, some decisions are made for you. Cutting off my friend's hand and stuffing it into a shoe box was all the way wrong. I had to find out what happened to Rolando Molina.
Excerpted with permission from Double Wide. © 2017 by Leo W. Banks. Published by Brash Books. All rights reserved.