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Number 5

Working on my fifth book. No title yet, but it’s the story of a hit woman, a musician recently released from prison, and a drug trafficker’s wife.

Prologue
Barefoot, with chubby scraped knees pumping away, Dixie barreled through the tall grass. A monarch butterfly flitted just beyond her reach. Musical laughter unspooled in her wake as thick mud squished between her toes.

Though barely a quarter-acre, the backyard was a sprawling wonderland to her three-year-old eyes; a dense and endless jungle of overgrown weeds, home to grasshoppers, ladybugs, and magic rocks that sparkled when she held them to the sun.

She paused to yank a dandelion from the ground. Without a wish, she blew it bald then continued after the butterfly, chasing it along the fence, little fingers jangling the chain-links as she ran. She followed it round the old yellow truck with its missing hood and corroded engine block that was adorned with beer cans and empty cigarette packs. Majestic wings hovered and flapped against the flattened tires that appeared to be melting into the mud. Then it went up through the windshield, skimming the greenish cubes of shattered glass that spilled across the sun-cracked dash like a cascade of diamonds.

Her outstretched hands opened and closed as she pursued it beneath the rusty chains of the broken swing set, beyond the slumping tin-roofed shed where the black racer snakes lived, and back toward the clapboard house where it fluttered upward on a breeze and disappeared over the roof.

She stood there waiting, hoping it would return but she was soon distracted by the familiar sound of her momma and Chuck wrastling on the couch. They were always wrastling, especially when they gave themselves shots like at the doctor’s office. Once she ran up and tried to push Chuck off, but her momma screamed at her to get the fuck out! That was the last time she tried to help. Maybe her momma liked Chuck but Dixie hated him. He smelled like ashes and socks and he tickled her until she couldn’t breathe.

A paint bucket lay discarded in the weeds. She dragged it over to the house, set it upside down, and climbed atop. Her wobbly legs trembled as she stood on mud-caked tip toes to peek through the open window.

Chuck sniffed the air. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Her momma’s voice drifted toward her, hoarse from a lingering cold.

“Someone’s on the front porch.”

“It’s probably just Dixie,” said her momma. “We’ve been up since Sunday, baby. You know how you get.”

He rose naked from the couch and crept to the front of the house. Scary tattoos of skulls and demons and snarling wolves ripped across his back.

“Here we go again,” her momma mumbled as she sat up and reached for the needle.

A small pile of medicine lay next to a spoon on Dixie’s favorite book, The Little Engine That Could. She hoped her momma wasn’t going to give herself another shot. All medicine made her want to do was wrastle or vacuum or pick at her face until the scabs bled.

Chuck came flying back down the hall. “It’s a raid,” he hissed.

Dixie ducked beneath the ledge, lost her balance, and fell in the grass. The water spigot dripped inches from her face. Popcorn-shaped clouds drifted across the summer sky.

“Chuck,” her momma pleaded, “don’t do this.”

The needle shot from the window over her head like an orange dart, followed by scattershot baggies of medicine and charred glass pipes.

“Get your ass up woman! Move! The front yard is crawling with Feds!”

Airborne paraphernalia continued to fly from the window as Dixie sat up and leaned against the house. She had no idea what a Fed was but she knew that if it scared Chuck, as tall and mean as he was, it had to be pretty scary. He wasn’t even afraid of the monsters that lived under her bed.

“Shit! Is that the muriatic acid from the last batch?”

“Where?”

“On the counter, you stupid bitch! I told you to get rid…” His frantic footsteps faded into the kitchen as a neighbor’s lawnmower sputtered and roared to life.

She strained to hear more but her attention was hooked by the return of the butterfly, hovering near the dripping faucet. Slowly she extended her finger. It seemed to sniff at it for a moment before fluttering off, skirting along the side of the house, brushing the peeling green paint with its wing.

She watched it vanish around the corner and was on the verge of renewing the chase when the men appeared. Three of them. Muscles and veins bulged from tight black shirts. Black boots flattened the grass. Black gloves aimed black guns as they silently approached, their faces grim and terrible.

She scrambled to her feet, burst through the weeds, and darted for the safety of the house.

“Hold your fire!” a voice commanded. “It’s just a kid.”

She was halfway up the steps when the door flew open and Chuck, naked, wild-eyed, pouring sweat, heaved a bucket of chemicals in her face.

It was as if she’d run head first into a swarm of hornets that were then shrink-wrapped to her skin and set on fire, melting it to the bone. She gulped for air and breathed hot nails instead. Her arms flailed as she stumbled backward. A cannonade of shouting voices volleyed over her head but the words didn’t register through the deafening crackle in her ears.

She tried to scream. Only gagged. Then the TV screen of her consciousness dimmed at the corners, rapidly diminishing from a shrinking circle to a single pixel which flickered, glowed, then mercifully zapped off.