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"What?" the kid said.

"Can we use your rest room?"

"Yeah, sure. You want any gas?"

"No." Lester got back in the car, leaving the kid standing there, and backed the car around the side of the station, out of the light, to the men's room door.

Tee Beau was awake now, staring out into the darkness. In the headlights I could see a tree-lined coulee, with canebrakes along its banks, behind the station. Lester cut the engine, got out of the car again, unlocked the back door, and helped Boggs out into the light rain by one arm. Boggs kept breathing through his nose and letting the air out with a shudder.

"I'll unlock one hand and give you five minutes," Lester said. "You give me any more trouble, you can ride the rest of the way in the trunk."

"I ain't giving you no trouble. I told them all day I was sick."

Lester took his handcuff key out of his pocket.

"Check the rest room first," I said.

"I've been here before. There's no windows. Lay off me, Robicheaux."

I let out my breath, opened my door, and started to get out.

"All right, all right," Lester said. He walked Boggs to the rest room door, opened it, flipped on the light, and looked inside. "It's a box, like I said. You want to look?"

"Check it."

"Bullshit," he said. He unlocked Boggs's right hand from the manacle attached to the waist chain. As soon as Boggs's hand was free, he combed his hair back over his head with his fingers, looked back at the car, then walked inside the rest room with the short, mincing steps that the leg chain would allow him. He clicked the bolt behind him.

This time I got out of the car.

"What's the matter with you?" Lester said.

"You're doing too many things wrong." I came around the front of the car toward him. The headlights were still on.

"Look, I'm in charge of this assignment. You don't like the way I handle it, you write up a complaint when we get back."

"Boggs has killed three people. He killed the bar owner with a baseball bat. Does that tell you something?"

"Yeah, that maybe you're a little bit obsessive. You think that might be the problem here?"

I unsnapped the holster on my.45 and banged on the rest room door with my fist.

"Open it up, Boggs," I yelled.

"I'm on the toilet," he said.

"Open the door!"

"I can't reach it. I got the shits, man. What's going on?" Boggs said.

"You're fucking unbelievable," Lester said.

I hit the door again.

"Come on, Boggs," I said.

"I'm going to get some cigarettes. You can do what you want to," Lester said, and walked toward the front of the station.

I stepped back from the door, rested my palm on the butt of the.45, and kicked the door hard under the knob. It didn't give. I saw Lester turn and stare at me. I kicked it again, and this time the lock splintered out of the jamb and the door crashed back on its hinges.

My eyes saw the paper towel dispenser torn apart on the wall and the paper towels scattered all over the floor even before I saw Boggs, his knees squatted slightly in a shooting position, the links of chain crimped tightly into his body, one manacled hand frozen against his side like a bird's claw, his right arm outstretched with a nickel-plated revolver. His spearmint-green eyes were alive with excitement, and his mouth was smiling, as though we were in this joke together.

I got the.45 halfway out of my holster before he fired. The report was no louder than a firecracker, and I saw sparks from the barrel fly out into the darkness. In my mind's eye I was twisting sideways, raising my left arm in front of my face, and clearing my holster with the.45, but I do not think I was doing any of these things. Instead, I'm sure that my mouth opened wide in disbelief and fear as the round struck me high up in the chest like a fist that was wrapped in chain mail. My breath exploded out of my lungs, my knees caved, my chest burned as though someone had cored through sinew and bone with a machinist's drill. The.45 fell uselessly from my hand into the weeds, and I felt my left arm go limp, the muscles in my neck and shoulder collapsing as though all the linkage were severed. Then I was stumbling backward in the rain toward the coulee, my hand pressed over a wet hole in my shirt, my mouth opening and closing like a fish's.

Lester had a.38 strapped to his ankle. He had once told me that a cop he knew in Miami Beach carried his weapon in the same fashion. His knee came up in the air, his hand dropped toward his shoe, and in the light from the filling station front window his face looked absolutely white, frozen, beaded with raindrops, just before Jimmie Lee Boggs doubled him over with a round through the stomach.

But I wasn't thinking about Lester, nor in honesty can I say that I cared about him at that moment. Amid the pistol shots and the pop of lightning on the horizon, I heard a black medic from my outfit say, Sucking chest wound, motherfucker. Close it, close it, close it. Chuck got to breathe through his mouth. Then I crashed backward through a canebrake and tumbled down the slope of the coulee through the reeds and tangle of underbrush. I rolled on my back, my ears thundering with bugles and distant drums, and my breath came out of my mouth in a long sigh. The limbs of oak trees arched over the top of the coulee, and through the leaves I could see lightning flicker across the sky.

My legs were in the water, my back covered with mud, the side of my face matted with black leaves. I felt the warmness from the wound spread from under my palm into my shirt.

"Get in there, you sonofabitch," Boggs said up in the darkness.

"Mr. Boggs," I heard Tee Beau say.

"Get the car keys and open the trunk," Boggs said.

"Mr. Boggs, they ain't no need to do that. That boy too scared to hurt us."

"Shut up and get the guns out of the trunk."

"Mr. Boggs…"

I heard a sound like someone being shoved hard into a wall, then once again the report of the pistol, like a small, dry firecracker popping.

I swallowed and tried to roll on my side and crawl farther down the coulee. A bone-grinding, red-black pain ripped from my neck all the way down to my scrotum, and I rolled back into the ferns and the thick layer of black leaves and the mud that smelled as sour as sewage.

Then I heard the unmistakable roar of a shotgun.

"Try some Pepto Bismol for it," Boggs said, and laughed in a way that I had never heard a human being laugh before.

I slipped my palm away from my chest, put both of my hands behind me in the mud, dug the heels of my shoes into the silt bottom of the stream, and began to push myself toward a rotted log webbed with dried flotsam and morning glory vines. I could breathe all right now; my fears of a sucking chest wound had been groundless, but it seemed that all my life's energies had been siphoned out of me. I saw both Tee Beau and Boggs silhouetted on the rim of the coulee. Boggs held the pistol-grip twelve-gauge from the car trunk at port arms across his chest.

"Do it," he said, took the nickel-plated revolver from his blue jeans pocket, and handed it to Tee Beau.

"Suh, let's get out of here."

"You finish it."

"He dying down there. We ain't got to do no more."

"You don't get a free pass, boy. You're leaving here dirty as I am."

"I cain't do it, Mr. Boggs."

"Listen, you stupid nigger, you do what I tell you or you join the kid up in the can."

In his oversized clothes Tee Beau looked like a small stick figure next to Boggs. Boggs shoved him with one hand, and Tee Beau skidded down the incline through the wet brush, the branches whipping back across his coat and pants. The pistol was flat against his thigh. He splashed through the water toward me.

I ran my tongue across my lips and tried to speak, but the words became a tangle of rusty nails in my throat.

He knelt in front of me, his face spotted with mud, his eyes round and frightened in his small face.

"Tee Beau, don't do it," I whispered.

"He done killed that white boy in the bat'room," he said. "He put that shotgun up against Mr. Benoit face and blowed it off."