Ray looked at Benny in the rearview mirror. The boy's straw cowboy hat rested low on his forehead and he sat back with that smile of satisfaction he always got when he accomplished something nobody expected him capable of doing.
He robbed the store for sure. "Open the bag, Grace."
She picked it up off the floor and unzipped it. "Oh." She lifted out a neat, green bundle of twenties. "Oh, my."
"Don't wave it around for the whole world to see." Ray fixed his gaze on the highway and muttered, "My son robbed a store." He couldn't stop saying it, couldn't stop hearing Louise's voice in his head like a skip in the movie track. You robbed a goddamn store? Thelma...
"No, Dad." Benny leaned forward. "I found the money. In the garbage."
"Don't lie to me, son. I've seen the movie almost as many times as you. And give me that gun."
"I said give me the damned gun!"
Benny started crying.
"Don't swear at the child," Grace said.
"That child just committed armed robbery!"
"We'll go back. Return the money. Explain to the store manager that it was all a mistake. The boy didn't know what he was doing. Given his disability – "
"No!" Ray shook his head to shut her up. He hated people talking about Benny's Down syndrome like it was a handicap, especially in the boy's earshot, and especially as an excuse for bad behavior. Virginia made excuses for their son. I just don't know what to do with Benny. I expect too much from him. He'll always be a child. She'd babied him. That always rankled Ray.
"No," he told Grace, quieter this time but with no less insistence. "Benny knew what he was doing. It's my fault for not keeping a closer eye on him. It's my fault for letting him get his hands on a loaded gun."
Exactly why Virginia hadn't wanted it in the house.
He looked hard at Grace and lowered his voice even further to make sure Benny couldn't hear. "That handgun is unregistered and I've taken it across I don't know how many state lines. I'm the one they'll arrest, and then what happens to my boy?"
The change in her eyes told him she understood. Benny thrust the gun past her face and she yelped.
Ray reached over his shoulder and took the gun by its barrel. "Put your seatbelt on, son."
"Grace, take the wheel."
She did without question. Ray opened the revolver's cylinder and ejected the rounds. No empty casings. Thank God. He put the rounds in the breast pocket of his t-shirt and snapped the cylinder into place. Then he took the steering wheel from Grace and handed her the gun.
"Put that away," he said. "We're gettin' the hell outta Dodge while I think about what to do next."
Grace felt better knowing the handgun was unloaded as she placed it back in the glove box. She never had much use for guns. Papa carried a .38 derringer in his vest pocket and insisted she know how to fire it. She was ten at the time. Mother sucked her teeth in disapproval, which was all the incentive Grace needed to give it a try. Papa set an empty Orange Crush bottle on a rotted fence post somewhere outside of Chicago and Grace shattered it with her first shot. Deadeye, Papa called her. The recoil about jerked the small pistol from her grip and her hand shook uncontrollably as she gave it back to him. She never wanted to shoot it again. Papa didn't push the issue.
She sold the derringer after Papa started getting bad off enough that she feared he'd try to use it on himself.
The big car ate a couple more minutes worth of two-lane before Grace chanced another look in the bag. Stack after stack of bundled twenty-dollar bills. The Lord shall provide went through her thoughts but she quickly hushed the notion. "What's a small market out here in the middle of nothin' doing with this kind of money?" she wondered aloud.
"What're you saying?" Ray asked.
"Maybe the child's telling the truth. Maybe he did find the bag."
Grace could see Ray chewing on the idea, his eyes no longer focused on the road but turned inward on his thoughts. Finally he admitted, "Benny's never been able to lie worth a damn." He looked in the rearview mirror. "Where'd you say you got this bag?"
"Garbage can," Benny sulked.
Ray shook his head. "That don't make sense."
"I did!" Benny's voice hitched on a sob.
Grace's heart went out to the boy. His father, his best friend and hero, didn't believe him. "Suppose somebody put the bag there by mistake," she offered.
"It'd take a real idiot to accidentally throw out – " Ray cast her a sidelong glance. "How much money are we talking about?"
"Looks close to a hundred thousand."
Grace continued her conjecturing. "Could be drug money. Maybe Benny interrupted a switch, a payoff, a whatever-you-call-it." She looked around at the no-man's land of scrub brush and horizon speeding by. "But why out here?"
"Well hell, how should I know?"
"Either way, we should put it back, in case whoever it belongs to – "
"No!" Benny cried. "Finder's keepers!"
"There's still the little matter of the gun," Ray reminded her. "I doubt that clerk appreciated having it waved in his face. He's probably called the cops by now."
"How can you be sure he even saw the gun?"
"I know my son." Again Ray looked in the rearview mirror. "Did you try to rob the store like Thelma?"
"Did you hold the gun out where everybody could see it and tell them 'Simon says,' like Thelma?"
Grace frowned. "Who's Thelma?"
"Thelma & Louise? You know, the movie?"
"Yes, I know the movie." A feeling of unreality came over her as everything began to settle into place. "That's why we're not going through Texas?"
She remembered only snatches of the story. Her youngest daughter, Olivia, had insisted she watch the movie with her. Grace found it a little too farfetched for her liking. The ending, though – the women holding hands as they plunged into the Grand Canyon – was entertainment legend. She studied Ray's determined profile and wondered just how deep his grief went. She remembered the times Papa railed because he couldn't find his derringer. When Grace asked him what he wanted it for, he shaped his fingers into a pistol and pointed at his temple.
Was Ray suicidal?
Grace swallowed the wad of cotton in her throat and slanted him a look from the corner of her eye. She carefully asked, "What do you boys plan to do when you get to the Grand Canyon?"
Her voice must have given her away, because Ray looked at her like she'd gone mad. "Good God, woman. We're not plannin' to drive off the edge."
Benny thrust his face between the bucket seats, his red, puffy eyes a contradiction to his huge grin. "We're gonna fly."
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