“Fix the damn tire and let’s get the hell out of here.”
“What do you think I’m doing dipshit? You could get your lazy ass out here and help me!”
“I had to do everything else today. It’s your turn to do some work.”
“Jack, don’t even get me started. I did plenty.” Eli grunted as he loosened the lug nuts on the wheel.
“Oh, yeah, you did plenty. You picked her.”
“I did more than pick her. You wouldn’t have even known about her if I hadn’t been watching and paying attention. You wouldn’t…forget it. I can’t talk about this right now. These damn lug nuts are stuck. Get your ass out here and help me.”
Jack reluctantly opened the door on the tan minivan. He hated the damn van but it was necessary. He came around and saw Eli struggling. “Move out of the way.”
Within a few minutes Jack had the lug nuts off, the flat changed and was putting the tools back up.
“Shit Eli! Did you see this?”
Eli came around to the back of the van. Red lines bled down the back of the van to the bumper. “I thought you cleaned up?” Jack was pissed, and it wasn’t the first time today.
He’d been pissed off since they left this morning. He didn’t know why he kept doing this shit with Eli but they’d been friends since they were kids so he felt like he owed him. It always worked out pretty good in the end, but there were always these little things that drove Jack crazy.
“How many damn times do we have to do this before you understand that there are rules we have to follow? We have to pick her, do the job and clean up! It isn’t hard. It isn’t rocket science. We’ve always kept the plan simple and still you screw it up! I swear Eli, this is the last time – the last time, do you hear me?”
“Yeah, I hear you but I don’t see why…”
Jack slammed the back door on the van and went back to sit in the passenger seat, not waiting for Eli to finish what he was trying to say. Eli hopped back into the driver seat and looked at Jack. He knew he screwed up but he didn’t understand why Jack was so upset over a tiny mistake. He grabbed some paper towels and an old bottle of water he left in the van last week and got back out. He cleaned up the mess off the back of the van. He wasn’t even sure how it got there but accidents happened. He tossed the paper towels in a ditch nearby. Jack looked a little more at ease when he rejoined him in the van.
“Eli, we’ve been doing this how long now? Since we were 15? It’s been 10 years. Maybe it’s time to hang it up. We’ve made a little money, scored some girls off it, had some laughs, but maybe it’s time to give it up.”
Eli started the van. He felt defeated. There was less than a half a tank of gas left. This trip cost them more than the rest. “Maybe you’re right. We haven’t done as well on the last two, and it just isn’t as much fun as it used to be, but I hate to give it up.”
“What choice do we have? It isn’t the same as it used to be. You remember the first time? We couldn’t wait to get there, pick her out, and that was the best part. We’d walk through the corridors, inspect them real good and even feel them over. When we found the right one it was like the biggest rush. And now? We don’t feel of them. We don’t enjoy it. You spot one, I agree and then we do the dirty work. And it’s dirty. I used to like it, but it doesn’t turn me on anymore. Can you sit here and tell me it does anything for you now?”
“I don’t know. I used to love it. I used to love the rush of the whole thing. Some people would think we were pretty sick I guess. That we get off on something like this?”
“Well, that’s the point. We really don’t anymore. It was a childhood fantasy that we’ve continued. It was fun for a while.” Jack looked straight out the front window. He hoped Eli would agree so they could just forget this and move on.
Eli put the van in drive. “So now what? We just ride off into the sunset like old cowboys, forget about all this?”
“I’m an accountant and you’re a friggin office manager. The time has come to let the past go. Nobody would ever believe we did something like this. And you know this has to always stay between us, right?”
“Of course Jack. People wouldn’t understand. After all, we live in the city. We live by the city. We do as the city. If there’s one thing I have learned, cowboys like us don’t fit in but I guess it’s time to assimilate.”
“Assimilate? Shit Eli. We’re just quitting an old habit born from juvenile dreams.”
“Yeah. But are we just going to quit? Think about Rochelle for a minute. She sets us up with a full-out good time, every time. She expects us every year. Hell, we have them convinced we’re pros.”
“Sure, but it’s always the same kind of girls, the same shitty work to prove to them we’re something we’re not and I’m getting kind of tired of the killing. You know what happened the time before? It took more out of me than I want to admit, but I just don’t have the stomach for it anymore. I’ve got a real job, a real life and this shit is getting old. Can you imagine what our friends in the city would think of us? Our families? And that’s another thing – we can barely get away to do it anymore. Debbie was already getting after me to cancel our ‘boys trip’ this time. She’s getting tired of me leaving for a four-day trip with you every year, especially since we had the baby.”
“So that’s it I guess? I know you’re right but we’ve sure had fun picking out the best ones, killing them and tasting the rewards of our work. I know that one got to you a little bit, but she just didn’t want to give up. It was hard on me, too, but she finally went down. You do remember how tender she was though? I mean, son of a bitch, she was friggin tender. Even you said when you gutted her that the meat was good on that one.”
“I remember, but this is it for me. I guess you can keep going Eli but I’m out.”
Eli nodded, understanding this would be their last one, their last trip, and the last time they would pick one out, do the kill and savor the meat over an open fire. It was the end of an era for them. They dreamed of being cowboys all their lives. When they were 15 they took a summer job on a farm outside the city. That’s where they learned about cattle, picking out cows for slaughter and how to butcher them. All boys eventually grow up. Eli drove Jack home, knowing their time had finally come.