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The Sunday Squirrel (on Monday): the gun

The agent in the crisp gray suit slapped a picture onto the hood of Dustin’s truck. A bloody body lay in a tangle in the dirt, partially covered by a blanket. “This was Arnaldo Jimenez. He was 15.”

Dustin tore his eyes from the photograph and pressed on his stomach. Oh, God, he was going to throw up on the man’s shiny black shoes. Saliva filled his mouth and he covered his lips with his palm. The hot, dry air swirled around him as he took a deep breath and waited for his gut to unclench.

After he graduated he was going to move somewhere cool and humid and never come back to the desert again. Assuming he didn’t get thrown in jail.

“I didn’t know,” Dustin finally whispered, feeling lame. He should have known where the gun would go, or at least suspected it. If a kid asks you to buy beer, he’s under age. If a man asks you to buy a gun for him, he’s a criminal.

But it hadn’t been a man. It had been the hot girl from his Physics lecture.

Dustin rubbed his eyes. He would not cry. “She told me she wouldn’t pass the background check because she’d been arrested for possession of meth. Supposedly it was her brother’s, but it was found in her car. She wouldn’t flip on him, so she took the rap.”

Agent Fernandez held out another photo. “Is this her?”

Dustin’s heart sank and he nodded. Silky brown hair and lean curves mocked him. Every guy in class wanted her. He’d thought he had a chance. Fool. “She said it was for protection. That there had been some break-ins in her neighborhood.”

“Victoria Arenas-Thomas.” Fernandez shook his head. “She’s got a lot more than meth possession on her record. If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the first schmuck she’s suckered.”

Oh, right. Dustin felt so much better now. His stomach heaved and he doubled over, but he managed not to puke. His sneakers mocked him as images of the dead boy overlay the cracked asphalt of the student parking lot.

That’s when the anger kicked in. The bitch had used him and now a boy was dead at the hands of the cartel thugs that held Sonora and the rest of Mexico hostage. He couldn’t change the outcome, but he could try to prevent it from happening again.

He took a deep breath and stood to face the agent. “What can I do to help?”

Fernandez stared at him for a beat. “How are your acting skills, kid?”

Dustin thought back to his starring role in Central High’s production of Death by Chocolate. “A lot better than my taste in women.”

The agent’s lip twitched. “All right then. Give me a minute.” He pulled out a phone and walked a few steps away.

The hot sun beat on Dustin’s neck and he wiped his brow as students streamed into the parking lot from the nearby engineering building. Until three minutes ago, he’d been as innocent and naive as they were. The moron his dad always said he was.

But, maybe, just maybe, he’d do something right for a change.

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