Above an endless range of silhouetted mountains, the cotton candy clouds lounged in an orange soda pop sunset. Jimmy Momson stared at the stationary pink swirls for a long while, then turned back to the western playing on what was supposed to be the gas station's security monitor. It was that old manifest destiny thing --- roughnecks and their families in covered wagons vs. the inscrutable savages riding bareback, plus an added twist of small town sheriff vs. cosmopolitan rogue. The Indians were just white men wearing loin clothes and a darker shade of makeup, but you didn't notice that so much on the old black and white TV. Anyway, black and white was all Jimmy needed to tell the good guys from the bad.
But Jimmy wasn't really watching the video, either. He'd seen it all before, just as he'd seen all the other movies the station had for rent, just as he'd seen that blazing orange sun sink into its sweet pink bed on top of the purple mountains. There was nothing to do there but wait. He had already waited all afternoon without a single customer, and he could feel the lonesomeness of the night beginning to blow in on the evening breeze. So when an avocado-green Eldorado cruised up to the pumps with a cloud of dust on its tail, Jimmy reached for his ten- gallon hat and stepped out the door with the smile already stuck on his lips.
The airborne dust had overtaken the parked Caddy and was settling all around. Out of it emerged a short plump bald man wearing sandals, shorts, and a striped polo shirt. The black and white stripes made a sharp contrast with his deeply tanned skin, but they harmonized with the lines on his round forehead. He spoke with a heavily Frenchified Castilian accent. ``Hoowayer is zee head?''
Jimmy adjusted his glasses under the brim of his hat and stared at the little round man as if he were green and had said in a strange monotone, ``Take me to your leader.''
The man stared back and insisted, ``Le jean, s'il vous plait!''
Jimmy reckoned that the man was probably just Mexican. ``Oh, you mean the john,'' he replied. ``It's just around to the side. Fill'er up?''
The bald man pecked at him with his parrot-like gaze, ``Oui, Monsieur, feel'er up!''
Jimmy fixed the nozzle in the gas pipe behind the Eldorado's license plate and went back to waiting. The orange sunset had hardly changed, but to Jimmy it seemed carbonated with fire. Eventually the pump cut itself off with a heavy ker-chunk, and then he heard a clapping sound wafting in across the desert sand. He turned to see the little bald man round the corner and walk briskly toward him. The clapping was just his leather sandals striking the blacktop; the sound had echoed off the side of the station. Jimmy was a little surprised that he hadn't heard the flushing of the john, but was much more surprised when from back around his stripes, concealed in the place where the devil keeps his tail, the little fat man drew out a huge revolver and pointed it at Jimmy's face.
``Nunc f\"ur zee monee,'' said the man, and he gestured toward the station door.
Jimmy was petrified.
``Allons! Donnez-moi!'' shouted the man.
Jimmy snapped out of it and marched into the station with his hands high over his head. As he rounded the desk, he looked instinctively at the TV monitor. There, in living black and white, an Indian sporting a Mohawk was waving his pistol at a Gringo topped by a cowboy hat.
The Franco-Spanish villain glanced up at the monitor and instantly began waving his gun around in the same way as the mohawked TV Indian, screaming ``Zo you zink you will catch me wiss zee tee vee!''
Jimmy's eyes jumped incredulously back and forth between the black-and-white-striped bandit and the black-and-white TV, not sure which he believed less. ``No, no,'' he whined in feeble denial, but it was too late.
The bandito-sans-mohawk raised his pistol and fired, once, twice, three times. The first slug hit the white man square in the eye, punching a jaggen hole in the middle of the curved glass and blowing the big cowboy hat to kingdom come. That must have been an extremely lucky shot, for the next one ripped through the two-gallon tub of truck-grade motor oil that sat on top of the TV, and the last bullet missed everything but a hanging display of windshield wiper blades. Thick brown motor oil glub-glubbed out of the ruptured tub, crawled down the spider-web-cracked TV screen and oozed into the still playing VCR. Jimmy staggered back and nearly tripped on a case of anti-freeze. Realizing that the striped bandit meant business, he pulled himself together as best he could, and quickly set the entire contents of the cash register drawer onto the counter, including the rolls of quarters, dimes, and nickels.
``Zats butter,'' said the bandit, and the money all disappeared into his pockets. ``Tell me, what is zee name!''
``Jimmy,'' said Jimmy.
``Very good, Jimmy. Call me Pablo.'' He waved his gun and smiled, ``Pablo Picasso.''
Jimmy's head bobbed up and down. For a second, he felt much better knowing who he was dealing with. Then he remembered something he had seen in one of the rental videos: now that he knew the bandit's name, the bandit would have to kill him.
``Now, Jimmy, hands behind zee head! You come wiss me!'' The rolly polly bandit prodded Jimmy with the revolver and then kept it stuck into the back of his ribcage as they stepped around the corner and approached the john.
Jimmy's eyes grew wide; the end had come. He was sweating profusely and the desert was undulating in the twilight, a sunless mirage.
The black and white villain pushed him into the men's room door and said, as it gave way to Jimmy's sagging body, ``You lie on zee flewer.''
Jimmy closed his eyes and fell to his knees. He had cleaned the toilet only the day before yesterday, but now the stench was unbearable. This can't really be the end, he thought, but it is . . .
``I donut want you calling zee sheriff,'' said the bandit.
. . . Please, dear God, don't let this happen!
``Sorry I make zee big mess.''
Please, God, please ---
BLAMMO! The large caliber slug slammed into the glistening white head and sent up a geyser of brown slop.
PING! The next bullet ricocheted off the floor and smashed the mirror.
POW! The final round shattered the porcelain tank and ten gallons of water gushed out to join the unspeakable mess already on the floor.
Jimmy's consciousness was fading fast. It was like returning to the womb. He felt his hands, his fingers, his whole limp body being pushed and pulled around as in a chunky primordial soup. Then all went blank.
A few minutes later, the little bald man calmly pulled the door shut and strode out to his avocado-green Eldorado. He wiped his sandals in the dust and casually tossed the gun onto the passenger's seat. Then he donned dark glasses and drove off into the last rays of the cotton candy and soda pop sunset, never to be seen in these parts again.
It was all the way dark before Jimmy woke up and gradually realized that he was not, in fact, dead, but merely half-drowned in a hearty shit soup. He took a long time washing himself off, changing into a spare uniform, and burying the old one out back. Having slipped dicreetly into the ladies room, he used up two bars of soap and a whole can of Lysol disinfectant spray. He replaced the oil-soaked video western with the security tape that was supposed to have been there. Only then did he call the police.
The sheriff examined all the physical evidence, painstakingly reviewing the oil spillage and the murdered TV monitor, the broken windows and mirror, the excrement that was still spread all over the floor in the men's room. ``That shithead was one hell of a lousy shot,'' he concluded. He drew closer and sniffed Jimmy's remarkably clean uniform. ``So, I think I understand what happened to the security tape. But there's another thing that's been bothering me. I still don't get it.''
Jimmy tried not to swallow.
``What were you doing all that time before you called? --- You said he pulled in here at sunset.''
Jimmy looked away from his ten-gallon hat, which he'd noticed was still a little damp in the brim. ``Listening,'' Jimmy stammered, ``he was just standing there talking at me, waving his big gun, and here I was, listening.''
``Listening?'' echoed the sheriff, ``Listening to some round little guy who called himself Pablo Picasso?''
``Why yes, sir,'' Jimmy lowered his voice, trying to make himself sound convincing. ``That asshole really knew how to shoot the shit.''
The sheriff gave Jimmy a long, pitying look.
Jimmy looked down at his shoes.
``Well, you got that right, son. Pablo who? ''
Jimmy examined his fingernails just to make sure. The flecks of brown were all gone.
The sheriff shook his head, climbed into his sandblasted old pickup truck, and started her up. ``You sure you're alright now . . .''
Jimmy nodded. Then he just stood there. He watched the sheriff's tail lights slowly fade into the invisible horizon like a pair of red, sleepy eyes.
When he finally went back inside the station, he found the sheriff's long silver flashlight lying by the phone. He gazed toward the bucket and mop, then picked up the flashlight and walked out the door. He went around to the side of the building, switched on the flashlight, and, using his foot, pushed open the men's room door. Illuminated only in the narrow beam of the flashlight, the stinking john seemed like the interior of a cave. Jimmy shone the light on the floor, still covered with piss, shit, broken porcelain, and soggy toilet paper. There were drag marks made by his own fingers, as if the bandit had used Jimmy's arms and hands to fingerpaint with shit for pigment. The sight of it disgusted him so much he thought he was going to puke, but at the same time it frightened him, and that made him swallow, hard. He felt anger rising in his throat, but there was also something more, something that wouldn't let him turn off the flashlight or look away. Out of all that mess, he began to sense, vaguely at first, some kind of form. It gave him an eerie feeling, but the more he waved the light around it, and the longer he stared, the clearer it became. It was the shape of a human, only its head was way too big, and even as he looked, it seemed to grow horns. Like a man with a buffalo head. Jimmy didn't know whether to laugh or to scream. he had always loved paintings of cows, horses, and especially of buffaloes, but now he was beginning to shake just from looking at this . . . this . . . THING!
It's only me, he reasoned with himself, it's only the outline of my own body when was I down and that asshole was pushing me around in it. Kind of like a snow angel --- or --- could it be anything else? --- it's the opposite of angel! He felt himself breaking out in a cold sweat. He wiped his brow. No horns, he reassured himself, but now he was deathly afraid. He tiptoed backwards, keeping the light fixed on the buffalo-man-thing's head and feeling the cold night air close in around his neck. Then he turned and ran back into the station, locking the door behind him.