Things had settled down a bit after Jules’ murder by the hand of Tommy. The police had brought Tommy in for questioning, but were forced to release him based on his alibi, which Buck corroborated. Little was spoken about the incident beyond that, save for Buck telling Mable what had really transpired. Naturally sickened by the ordeal, Mable, in a moment of personal clarity, swore to him that she wouldn’t tell the police. “I won’t tell the cops,” she had said, “but someday Nave and his friends are going to pay for treating people so god damn badly.”
“Whatever,” was Buck’s reply.
Today Jules was set into the ground under a brilliant blue sky as the bright green foliage sailed lazily, flittering in the delicate breeze. Jules lived her life much in the same way, brightly colored and flittering in the wind.
How apropriate, thought Jep, standing beside Karen, the tears overcoming her eyes. She had tears for her friend Jules, but the tears were moreover for the way Jep had been treating her lately. Jep continued to be cold and distant toward her, which was causing her great sadness. What she failed to realize was that it brought Jep deep anguish as well. “Straighten up,” he said to her harshly. “You’re carrying on like a fool. It’s embarrassing.”
Her only response was to cry harder, only more quietly.
Beside them stood Nave and Rhoya arm in arm. Rhoya had as well taken to tears for her friend. She wasn’t happy that Jules had been cheating on Tommy, but nevertheless, Rhoya was sad that her friend was gone and in such a violent way. As she cried and trembled, Nave simply held her more tightly. “It’s going to be fine, my love,” he said delicately.
“I love you, Nave,” she replied, wiping the moisture from her face.
On the opposite side of the black mourning vanguard, Mable Jog stood silently beside Buck. No tears had come to her, as she had not known Jules with the exception of serving her drinks last Christmas. She gazed across the burial plot at Nave with disdain. He looked like a salesman who had sold the world’s biggest lie to the woman beside him – Rhoya Tehran. Mable had once been duped by a car salesman into buying a vehicle only to have it break down on her a week later. She hated salesmen. She hated Nave.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” said the priest as Jules floated into the ground.
There she would spend eternity, thought Tommy. “No heaven…and she’s damn lucky there ain’t no hell,” he whispered to himself. He shuddered for a moment. “Guess I’m lucky, too.”
Crocodile tears covered Tommy’s face as he stood up to address the sorrowful audience. “I would like to say something,” he whimpered. From the corner of his eye, he caught Nave mouth something to the effect of “Oh Jesus,” and he continued. “I loved Jules very much and I am deeply saddened by the events that have taken place.”
Jep closed his eyes so the people around him couldn’t see them rolling backward in his head.
Mable grew angrier with every word that Tommy said.
“I don’t know who this Dale French was,” he continued, “but I’d like to take this moment to say that I forgive them both for their trespasses. I have found my peace. May they rest eternally with the serenity that I now know.”
Mable stood stiff with anger as the crowd murmured and made their way down the lush green embankment of the cemetery. She looked like a Greek statue depicting an angry goddess. “I’m going to go talk to Rhoya,” she creaked through her stone jaw.
Buck raised his eyebrow in surprise. He knew that Mable could tell her about the plan, about the murder, but these facts Buck had no interest in. He didn’t care if Rhoya knew those things. He simply didn’t want Mable to know of his sexual relationship with her. Why piss off a perfectly good sex partner with mundane details of the past, he thought. “What do you want to talk to her for?” he asked inquisitively.
“Just want to see how she’s doing, Buck,” she replied. “Is that a problem?”
“Nope. Just don’t go telling her that you fucked Nave. That’d probably piss her off pretty good,” Buck laughed. It was one way to find out if the conversation would lead where he didn’t want it to go.
Mable scrunched her face and scowled at Buck. “Why would I bring that up, Buck?” she lashed. “You’re an asshole.”
“Only kiddin’,” he nodded. “Go have your talk.”
After the burial of Jules Apenroe, Nave suggested to Jep that they take a walk through the cemetery, if for nothing else than to clear their heads in the mild summer air. And so they walked.
The mission that the friends had undertaken was taking its toll on Jep. He was exhausted. In his mind, it was so violent. To Nave, it was simply doing what he felt he had to do. Jep felt like a murderer, although he had no part in Jules or Scooter’s deaths. He wondered if other men felt the remorse that was inside of him. Did Charles Manson feel it? Did George W. Bush?
Passing a headstone under a willow tree, Jep cringed as he read the marker. “That person’s name was ‘Badman’,” he whimpered.
“What person?” Nave questioned.
“That stone over there,” Jep whimpered again, pointing to the stone. He felt as though he could be under that moniker.
Turning and spotting the grave, Nave laughed. “That stone should be on most of the sons a bitches dead in the world. Don’t know too many ‘Goodman’.”
“Well, we never were the ‘Bestman’, Nave, but I’d agree, we’re not ‘Goodman’ anymore.” Jep paused for a moment and stared at the gravestone again. “We could’ve been, but now we’re ‘Badman’ too, just like this poor bastard.”
“We are not bad men at all, Jep.”
“Well, then how would you define yourself?”
Nave laughed, rubbing the headstone that read ‘Badman’. “I wouldn’t define myself at all. I’m still alive, so I can only describe myself. Definitions are so permanent. They’re for dead people. A description can change with time, like a person. You know what I mean?”
“Ok, I get it,” Jep replied. “So describe yourself.”
“Right now, I’d say I’m angry. But that’ll soon change, I promise that. As far as a definition, Jep, I’ll let the world do that when I’m dead. Just like ‘Badman’ here.”
“Maybe your tombstone will say ‘Happyman’ then.”
“You bet it will, brother,” Nave replied.
“Time will tell,” Jep said, praying in his mind that it would. “Not to change the subject, but I saw Mable and Rhoya leave together,” he spoke again for want of lighter conversation. “What’s going on with that?”
“I dunno. Think Mable’s just trying to be her friend.”
“That’s good, I think.”
“Well, I hope she doesn’t get home too late.”
“Why,” Jep replied, intrigued, “feel like getting laid or something?”
Nave stopped his stroll in front of a headstone pulling himself on top. He was sitting on ‘Badman.’ A look of exultation beamed from his face. He looked like a man standing on a cliff over the valley of absolute peace. And it was time to jump. “I want her home early,” he beamed, “because tonight is the night I break up with her. Tonight is the night that you break up with Karen, too. Then tomorrow we pack our bags, head out of town, and let the girls decide their own ends.”
Jep stood in silence for what could have been a thousand years. Nave’s words replayed in his mind. They were a ball on an elastic string, his skull the paddle. Relief and dread flooded his system. It would now be up to Karen to decide his fate by way of deciding her own. He had come to terms with the fact that she would no longer be his lover, so long as she lived. This fact was out of his hands. He knew that he could simply tell her everything tonight. But that would betray his first loyalty. Sadly he thought, he was committed to the very end with his friend, his brother – Nave Mitchell Bruno. “Tonight it is,” he finally spoke despondently.
Nave jumped from his headstone throne embracing Jep’s limp body. “Jep,” he exclaimed, “cheer up! Have you forgotten what these women did to us in the first place? You may have lost sight of it, but like it or not, Karen fucked another guy. Rhoya too. It’s our turn to hurt them. Can you not feel the peace, the serenity, at hand? These god damn women love us, and now they are our playthings to destroy. It’s perfect timing if you think about it. They’re already a god damn wreck over Jules.”
Jep struggled to stand on his own two feet. The final solution had come. The day that he had most feared had arrived. “Ok, Nave,” he struggled, “tonight’s the night we end their lives.”
“We are not ending any lives, Jep. We’re just handing them the gun. If we did our jobs right, they’ll know what to do with ‘em.”
“Let’s hope so,” Jep replied, staggering down the gravel path.
“I know so, old friend,” Nave yelled after him.
Nave took a long stretch reaching his arm over his head toward the azure sky. He was certain that he felt God give him a high-five, and he laughed. “Well,” he said, patting the gravestone in front of him, “we’ll see you around ‘Badman’.”
Against the wrought iron gate of the cemetery, Rhoya wept in solitude, as Mable Jog approached. The sun glaring overhead, she appeared brilliant and white, a sorrowful feminine version of St. Peter at the gates of Heaven.
“Hello, Rhoya,” Mable said with a smile, arriving as Rhoya wiped her last tear, the final goodbye, from her face.
“Hello,” she replied happily. “Mable, isn’t it?”
“That’s right. I’m very sorry about your friend.”
“It’s a terrible thing that happened,” Rhoya replied, tears returning. “I’m more sorry for Tommy. I know he really loved her.”
Mable cringed. She knew the truth and she wanted to blurt it out then and there. “Yeah,” was all she could manage to muster.
“I saw you at the burial with Buck,” Rhoya went on, changing the tone. She hated to see Buck’s face. When she saw that face, it shamed her. It was the face that brought Nave so much sadness. How magnanimous Nave had been to forgive them both, she thought. Nonetheless, she hated Buck.
“Yeah, we got together a couple of months ago,” Mable replied unenthusiastically. To her, Buck was merely a placeholder for the next, best thing.
“I’m glad to know you’ve got somebody, sweetie.”
“He’s better than nothing for now,” Mable laughed. “For now.”
Rhoya smiled. It was a sad statement to hear. “Eventually, Mable, a man will come into your life that you couldn’t picture being without. I was lucky enough to get my second chance with Nave.”
Mable placed a cigarette between her smirk. “How is that going by the way? I remember you saying how much in love the two of you were.”
Mable reached into her purse gracefully. She was a graceful woman. She retrieved a lighter, lifted it to her cigarette, and paused. “You know,” she said deviously, “Nave and I used to fuck.”
Rhoya was shocked. She stood there frozen, her heart on fire. She had no reply.
“Did you know that?” Mable persisted.
“Why are you telling me this, Mable?” Rhoya demanded angrily, restraining herself from the violence that she felt.
“Because I want you to be angry with Nave.”
“Why Mable…I love him.”
“You need to get away from him. He wants to hurt you.”
“What are you talking about? He loves me. Can’t you see that? Are you jealous because you’re with an asshole like Buck? What are you trying to prove?”
“I’m not trying to hurt you, Rhoya,” Mable said calmly. She truly wasn’t. “I’m trying to protect you from a wicked person.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Rhoya yelled, exasperated and confused. “Nave loves me!”
This was Mable’s moment of retribution. This was Mable’s answer for Nave’s transgression against her. This was Mable’s finest hour. She felt peace like she never had before simply by having the revenge she didn’t think she was capable of committing. “Nave is only with you to break your heart,” she said fighting a smile. It wasn’t a smile because Rhoya was hurting. It was a smile because Nave soon would be.
“I don’t understand what you mean, Mable,” Rhoya replied, heart pounding.
“Nave got back together with you because he wanted you to fall in love with him.”
“Isn’t that what any man wants his girlfriend to do…fall in love with him?”
Mable reached for Rhoya’s hand and took it into her own. In that moment, she hated herself for hurting Rhoya, but she knew that she had to. In that moment, she felt an abyssal bond with Rhoya. “He wants you to be in love with him, only to hurt you,” Mable said softly.
“When he knows he’s got your heart, Rhoya, he’s going to leave you.”
“What does he hope to accomplish by doing that?”
Mable paused and stared into Rhoya’s eyes. “He hopes that you’ll kill yourself. He wants you to kill yourself.”
Rhoya burst into tears. She couldn’t believe what Mable had said. She loved Nave. She was now broken. “But Nave loves me so much,” she cried.
“Nave doesn’t want you…he doesn’t like you,” Mable replied with trial. “He hates you.”
Rhoya thought back to the puppy she once murdered for no reason other than the fact that she didn’t want him. She was that puppy now. “I had always wondered why Nave was so quick to take me back,” she lamented, eyes closed. “He went from hating me to loving me in an instant.”
“Well, now you have your answer.”
Rhoya’s tears were a rainstorm. She was an abandoned infant now. “I fucking love him,” she wept. “I can’t live without him.”
“Well, you better learn how to live without him,” Mable said, walking away. “Or else he wins.”