“What do you know ‘bout Albagon?” I ask him.
“Albagon? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Up close, I can see that he’s older than I thought, maybe close to 80. His cheeks are unshaved and he’s got a scar on his cheek that’s redder than the rest of his face, which is the color of cheese curd.
“I seen the word painted all over the place. Drawings on barns and on sheds. He signs his name ‘Albagon’. Least I think it’s a ‘he’. That name mean anything to you?”
I been driving with one hand on the wheel, the other holdin’ the gun, pressed against his ribcage. He’s too scared to lie.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I push the snub into his ribs. “Okay, yeah, I’ve seen one of his paintings. Over in Devlon, about 30 miles east of here. The old McKinnley Tool and Die warehouse. Some kind of desert scene, camels and a pyramid, I think. I don’t get over to Devlon much, but I noticed it in the spring when I went to see my granddaughter. Tell you the truth, it scared me. It wasn’t there in February and then it was suddenly there in March… no, it was April. I figured it was a whole gang that put it there. I didn’t see any name on it, just squiggles in the corner.”
“Must have missed that one. I figured he was a local boy. But if that was one of his, then he must get around. I seen a couple of his works ‘bout forty-five mile west. He’s a busy boy.”
Ernie’s lips tremble and he asks me if he can have a smoke.
There’s smokes in the glove compartment and I tell him to go ahead.
He nods and lights one up and offers me one.
There’s quiet in the ‘Bird for a few miles. I look over and there’s a long tube of ash dangling over his lap. “You can use the ashtray, Ernie. I ain’t gonna shoot you for that, but I might if you get any ash on my carpetin’.”
“Listen, mister, I don’t know what you want from me. Randy was just a troublemaker. I gave you all my money and Saddie gave you the money from the till. She didn’t have anything in her purse except for a few pills and maybe a library card. And I don’t have anything else to give you.”
“That’s not what the kid said. Said you were makin’ a bank run. Man like you, you look like you might have somethin’ tucked away in case of trouble. Well, mister, I’m your trouble.”
He blows smoke and shakes his head. “You didn’t have to shoot Saddie. She was a good woman.”
“And now her soul’s with Jesus. Give you a piece of advice, Ernie. Do as I say and I might give you a chance to live another day. Start arguin’ with me, and you might meet up with Saddie and y’all can sit down and have a nice talk ‘bout what you did wrong.”
“Jesus Christ,” he says.
Excerpt from Cronic – Coming 5/1/15