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By Joe Pan

By Joe Pan

“She was deadass naked,” said Combs.

“Naked?” asked Kick.

“As a jaybird,” said Combs, pulling the steering wheel. “Junior must have woke her up. Got himself shot right in the leg for it, too, goddamn.”

Combs was going as fast as could, but they were in the hills, racing away from the Hollywood Reservoir and the cliffside estate they’d just robbed.

“You got Abraham on the line?” asked Combs.

“He’s not picking up,” said Kick. “Shit, man, where’s the signal in these hills.”

The tires squealed around the bends. House house house, squeal. To his left the weeds fell and opened to a longview of Los Angeles glinting in the hybrid dark.

“Maybe cut up one of these side roads and pull over,” said Kick.

“You joking? That woman probably already in her car, racing down here with a machete or some shit.”

Combs hit a straightaway and gunned it, only to speed up to another hairpin to wrap around, gravel and dirt spraying over a parked Bentley.

“All this for some goddamn dinosaur egg,” said Combs. “Try and kill a man. I looked that shit up before I even took the job, it aint even worth much.”

“Divorce fucks with your head,” said Kick. “My mama stabbed my pops in the arm right outside the courthouse. Did sixty days and laughed it off.”

“Sounds about right.”

“Besides, man,” said Kick, lifting the egg from his lap. “I’m not sure this is a dinosaur. It’s bumpy and shit. And this part looks like—“

“Stop fucking around and get Abraham on the phone! Seriously. This shit aint funny.”

Kick dialed again. It was ringing.

“It’s ringing!”

“Put that shit on speaker.”


“Abraham! Yo man, our boy got shot!”

“Excuse me, what?”

“Your bitch was there!” Combs shouted toward the phone, careful to not let his emotions ruin his driving—he didn’t want to fly off a cliff. “She shot my man in the legs! He’s back there bleeding!”

“‘Oh god,” said the voice. “But did you get it?”

Combs nearly drove into a house clenching his fist. “Did we get it? Did you hear what I just said? You told me she’d be out of town! Well she was not, and now—“

“Don’t call the police,” said Abraham.

“I’m calling you!” said Combs.

“Okay, well…just bring the stone to my house. That’s what I’m paying you for.”

“A man got shot!” barked Combs.

“Jimmy, we made a deal,” said the voice. “I didn’t tell you to bring extra people, but you did. And maybe, just maybe, your guy decided, Hey, while we’re here, let’s just rob the place.”

This got Combs even angrier, because it was accurate. Junior was off looking for safe money, because the house looked like that kind of residence, while Combs and Kick remained in the living room. Combs wasn’t too worried, as he knew Abraham wouldn’t call the cops. It was still his house, even if his wife was the only one allowed to be there, by law. At least until it sold in the divorce. But she was supposed to be out of town, so this was still partially Abraham’s fault.

“Listen man, I’m done talking,” said Combs. “I’ll throw your fucking dinosaur egg in the reservoir.”

“It’s not an egg,” said Abraham.

“I don’t give a damn what it is,” said Combs. “I’ll sink this motherfucker.”

“It’s my son,” said the voice.

That didn’t square with Combs, and he actually slowed the car, catching a glance from Kick. “What did you just say?”

“He said it was his son,” said Kick.

Combs was shaking his head. These crazy white Hollywood types, man. He peeked over into Kick’s lap. The stone looked like an egg to him.

“What do you mean your son?”

“These courts out here always side with the mother!” spat Abraham’s voice through the phone. “No visitation rights, no nothing! Well let’s see how she likes living without him for a while.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” shouted Combs. The car windows were up and his shouting hurt his own ears, but he was done with this nonsense.

“He’s a stone baby,” said the voice on the phone. “Listen, I don’t have the time to explain this shit, Jimmy. You want your money? Bring the stone to me, and you’ll get your money. And I’ll make sure an ambulance finds its way up to the house for your friend. You got me? Just make sure you’re not followed.”

The call ended.

Combs clenched his lips and raised his palms off the steering wheel. He looked over and saw Kick had lifted the stone right up to his face and was rolling it over.

“A for-real stone baby,” said Kick. “Damn.”

“Say what?” asked Combs, eyes on the rearview. He thought he saw lights.

“My sister’s a nurse,” said Kick.

“My sister sucks dick on Snapchat, so what?”

“You don’t wanna know.”

“No, Kick, I wanna know.”

“This was a baby,” he said. “For real.”

Combs patted the steering wheel. Junior was up on the hill bleeding to death for five hundred take-home and here was Kick talking crazy.

“Explain yourself,” said Combs, slowing at the crossroads, which he recognized. Yes, this was the road that took you down to Holly Drive and under the 101. He peeled out into the turn as Kick cupped the stone to his body, suddenly very protective.

“Yo man, this is a kid. But like, fossilized. My sister had to read these medical books, and she told me about this. It’s rare but it’s real. That woman, she carried this shit in her body. Look here, you can see the skull. This is a definitely an arm or a leg.”

“This boy’s lost his mind.”

“She might not even known she was pregnant. Or thought she miscarried it, and it just died and stayed inside her. These things, they attach to the mother’s skeleton and turn to bone. Like get fused there and calcify.” Kick shook his head. “They had to pull this thing outta her.”

“Are you fucking with me?”

“Naw, cuz, I wish.”

Combs slammed on the brakes and skid to a halt. He hit the overhead lights and snatched up the stone and pulled it close.

Oh man. That does look like a skull. And an eye socket. What’s in god’s green heaven.

After a moment, he said, “This the most fucked up thing I ever seen.”

“We should return it,” said Kick.

Combs stared at him. “You wanna go back, knock on her door? The same woman who shot Junior? You think she’s gonna be cool with this?”

Kick shrugged. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Combs wiped a hand down his chin stubble. It was, yes, the right thing to do. And he wasn’t getting paid but five grand for this heist, but five grand is five grand. And but that woman, that mother, rushing naked out from the bedroom half-awake unloading like she did—she wasn’t going to listen to a word they said.

“We drop it off with Abraham. Let him deal with her.”

“I don’t know—“

“Quiet! Okay listen…I’ll call the police—somehow—and leave a tip. That’s what people do. They leave tips.”

“I really think—“

The passenger side window exploded and a lot of wet hit the side of Combs’ face.

He stamped the gas and fishtailed forward, dropping the stone back into Kick’s lap, which also carried bits of Kick’s destroyed jaw.

The car had crept up on them and now the driver was flashing her lights and honking. She had the gun outside the window, firing blindly forward.

Holly Drive turned into a single-lane at night, as both sides of the road were lined with parked cars, and Combs sped straight down the middle, taking the humps. Before him loomed the tunnel that went under Highway 101. He always thought of this as the Toon Town tunnel from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, because on one side was a regular neighborhood and the other side was the cartoon hell of Hollywood.

His ears rang. He needed to get on the 101, and then maybe he could outrun her.

Kick…he wasn’t going to look. He already felt his mind let go of the boy and all the trauma waiting to get in. No, just stare straight ahead. Into the tunnel, dirty white walls, out of the tunnel. Right turn, right turn. Stamp the gas pass the homeless folks. Shit, he missed the turn. But he couldn’t hook back around, because her high beams had turned his car into an interrogation room.

Combs raced toward the next on-ramp, but suddenly she was beside him, so he swung a left and headed for Mulholland Drive. He heard her tires slide, and his eyes instinctively shot a glance at the stone resting silent in Kick’s lap.

Combs took the curves up along the hillside, heading toward the ridge. He drove along the narrow road that looked out over the city and down the canyons at the large houses and big illuminated swimming pools. Pretty soon the lights were back in his rearview, keeping a few car length’s back, though she did dim the high-beams, which made Combs even more nervous—she wasn’t going anywhere.

By the time he cut across the hilltop and over to the other side, looking down into the Valley, he had formulated a plan. There were several overlooks on Mulholland Drive, places to turn off and admire the view. There was one in particular Combs had been to several times before. At some point he would have to confront this woman, unless he planned to run her off the road, which he didn’t, because all these houses had cameras. Even the doorbells had cameras.

Combs didn’t have a gun, but he did have her baby, and he was a skilled communicator—he knew that about himself. Over the course of his life, he’d talked down emotional people from doing terrible things.

The overlook appeared around the next bend, a dirt shoulder leading uphill to a narrow stretch of fencing. There were no other cars parked along the shoulder, but several passed him on his approach.

Combs didn’t even shut off the car after pulling in—he popped the door open, reached over for the stone baby, squinting his right eye to avoid seeing Kick, and bolted straight up to the top of the embankment, leaving the car door wide open and the headlights on him.

The air was cool at the summit; a hundred thousand lights shimmered in the distance. Combs stepped behind the fencing; there was enough space for a person to stand, but if he were to fall, he’d roll straight down into a dark canyon.

The shadow of the woman appeared in his headlights. Arms raised in that unmistakable bent of someone carrying a gun. She stepped forward and Combs raised the stone baby over his head.

“Stop! Don’t come any closer! I’ll drop it!”

The figure paused. Then resumed, slower. Her open robe fluttered about.

“You wanna test me? I know what this is!” he yelled. “I’ll drop your baby right down this hill, I swear to god. You can go fight the coyotes for him!”

The figure stopped.

“Put him down!” she screamed.

“Drop the gun!”

“I’ll shoot you in the stomach!”

Combs balanced the stone baby with one hand over the canyon. “I don’t give a good goddamn about your motherfucking child! I didn’t know what it was! We was on our way back to your house before you—“

“Throw me your phone!”

It took a second for the words to land, as Combs didn’t understand how this fit into the negotiation for his life.


“Throw me your phone or I shoot! Do it now!”

Combs patted his pocket. Then all his pockets. He shook his head. “It’s in the car. What you want my phone for?”

The woman said nothing as she circled back around. The inside light was on, and the slumped body of Kick was visible. Combs brought the stone baby to his chest, holding it close. He could feel his heartbeat ramping up.

The woman had his phone. She leaned outside the car. “What’s your password?”

“Fuck you!”

She wiggled the gun in the light of the car. “I’m not going anywhere till you give me your password.”

Combs rubbed the stone baby, confused. What was she doing? He searched for options out of this mess. His plan was to escape downhill, taking the stone baby with him. That way he could survive, recoup the money, or even get more through blackmail. But now she had his phone. The car belong to Kick.


“One one one, one one one.”

All he could see was the top of her head as he stood out there in the cold night. Another car passed along the bend and he almost shouted, but what would he shout? Who would get in trouble here?

When she called out the name of his daughter, his insides froze.

“She’s very pretty,” shouted the woman.

“Hey hey, that’s my niece. Wh-wh-why you calling out the name of m-my niece for?”

The woman shouted the name again. “My baby is now six year’s old!” she said, reading his post straight from Facebook.

Goddamn. Combs shook his head. “Listen lady, this got out of hand. We don’t need to do this.”

The woman exited the car and shut the door, thankfully throwing Kick back into darkness. She stepped back in front of the headlights.

“I know your name. I know your baby girl’s name too. I have a very good memory. I know my pig ex-husband sent you to our house. Your friend there is still alive, and maybe he won’t talk to the cops. Your friend here is dead, I’m sorry, but you came into my house and stole my child. It’s not even Abraham’s! I carried him for six years! Your friend deserved to get shot you do too! All of you! But I’m willing to let you live. You can drive out of here, right now. Just set my boy down and walk over to the road.”

Combs nodded, clutching the stone to his chest. He could feel it, the little stone hand. His mind didn’t want to believe it, but he could feel it, and he found himself unexpectedly choked up. Some larger evidence of hell on earth opened up in his heart, standing there in the beams of light, trying to decide between right and best and best for him.

“I got you, lady,” he said, holding up one hand. “We good. I’m gonna put him down right here. You see? I’m sorry this happened. I swear to god, we was told nobody would be home and it was his house. We had no idea this was your child, or you have my word I wouldn’t have touched him.”

He stood back up, completely vulnerable. Fifty-fifty she would plant one in his chest.

“Walk down to the road,” she commanded, and he immediately walked, slowly, down the embankment, away from her and toward the road. He didn’t even look back as he heard her scaling the dirt. He knew she had the stone because she was murmuring to it, like a mother calming a toddler. He continued looking around the bend and up the dark road disappearing into the canyons. He was crying. He wiped his face and tried to calm himself. The lady’s car turned on, and the wind-tunnel sound of an electric vehicle opened to the night air as she backed herself out, turned, and left.

When he was sure she was gone, he hustled back to the car. He got in, careful to avoid looking over at Kick, and closed the door. The smell of human filth came at him strong, but he kept it together long enough to put the car in reverse and turn back onto the road. He knew where he had to go to deposit the car, rolling it off a hill. Twenty minutes away in Topanga Canyon—a long twenty minutes—but the woman had left him his phone, and left him his life, for now at least, and this was a test of the universe, getting to Topanga before any cop pulled him over, this was a test of the universe, and he accepted that and kept to the speed limit.