Frank Green made a left on Las Vegas Boulevard and headed out of town. There they were in groups of two and three, hanging out in front the Greyhound bus station, the cheaper casinos and the coffee shops. None of them noticed the non-descript late model Rambler as it slowed slightly. None of them noticed the middle aged man give them a quick but efficient glance, enough to weigh them in, size them up, circle their prime cuts in chalk.
The sun was setting behind the mountains. There were still diners and gas stations this far out, but the hitchhikers were solitary now. Long greasy hippie types, men with short hair donned in air force blue. Frank whistled a meandering tune and leaned his arm on the open window. Soon. In every other town in America, this was closing time. It was a perfect time to pick up a sleek young thing with long legs in a short skirt. What were a few extra miles on the road to a tired businessman on his way home to the wife, kids and color television? The kids knew how it worked in America. Las Vegas was different; it awoke at dusk. It was time for Frank to go to work.
The service station was a leftover from an earlier era. The clapboard building had once been gleaming white, the pumps painted in a patriotic red, white and blue. Frank pulled in and heard the bell ring in the garage. He pulled the lever to open the hood and waited. A girl with long straight hair stood by the bank of telephone booths under the tall sign. Frank watched her in his mirror as she looked at his car, the long road stretching out in both directions and back at the car. Frank glanced at the service station. The attendant hadn’t gotten up from his chair yet.
“How far are you going, mister?”
Frank turned around and acted surprised. “I’ve got a meeting in Barstow in the morning. I’ll probably drive all night.” He smiled. “You need a lift?” She smiled back, crinkling her stub of a nose. Her teeth were straight, but she had a wide gap in the front.
She was well situated by the time the attendant finally came out to clean the windshield and check the oil. He barely acknowledged Frank in the driver’s seat and didn’t seem to notice the girl at all. There had been eleven hitchhikers go missing on the desert roads outside of Las Vegas in the past four years, not that anyone was keeping count. Las Vegas was a “company” town. It was considered bad taste to report on a murder in the papers, bad for business.
“I’m Mary,” she said, “but they call me Saffron. Our bus broke down while we trying to get back to the ranch.”
“Your family?” he asked. She giggled. There was an odd light in her eyes.
She rummaged through her bag. “I don’t have any money,” she said, smiling, “but I do have this.” She handed him a small clear bag with some light powder at the bottom. Frank slowed the car to look at it.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Great stuff,” she said, “instant Karma, man.”
Normally, Frank barely acknowledged his prey. They were uniformly uninteresting. They spoke of love and peace and college back east and home and sometimes they cried, but that was usually only at the end. This one was different though. She sat close to his side and her leg would touch his every time the Rambler hit a bump in the road. He could smell her: flowers, dust, sweat – but not fear. He looked over at her and was surprised to see her looking back at him, appraising him. Her eyes were large and blue. She had a sprinkling of small freckles on her cheeks and nose. She smiled again.
“If you don’t use,” she said. “You can probably sell it.”
“Oh, no,” he said, “I use. Of course I use.” She laughed and placed her hand on his leg. Frank tried to return his attention to the road.
“It’s always better with a friend,” she said quietly in his ear. There was a turn off about a mile ahead. The narrow road wound up into the mountains on the Nevada side of the state line. There was a long stretch of flat sand and a good view of Lake Mead at the top. Frank had never seen Lake Mead. The moon was out, bathing the desert in a cold blue glow and stretching out the shadows of the rocks. Frank angled the car on the shoulder and turned the motor off. The engine ticked under the hood.
“This goes well with coffee,” she said.
“I’ve got some water,” said Frank.
“Karma Kool-Aid!” she laughed. “Far out!” Frank reached under his seat and found the Thermos of water next to the spade handle. She pried off the cup and unscrewed the cap. “Do you know about Karma?” she asked.
“No, can’t say I’ve ever met,” said Frank.
She laughed again. “Karma is the seed. The seed of which all things we do, grow into the fruit of our lives and experiences.” She poured some water into the cup and handed it to him. He opened the bag and took out a pinch between thumb and forefinger. It didn’t have a smell.
“We reap what we sow, huh?”
“It’s true,” she said with wide-eyed wonder.
Frank sprinkled a generous helping of Instant Karma into his cup and stirred it with a finger. He shook his head in amazement. Karma had never bothered him of course, though he did assume one day the authorities (whether earthly or ethereal) would catch up with him.
“In that case,” he offered a toast, “to Karma.” He drank down and made a face. “Karma’s kind of bitter.”
“Oh, Karma has no physical form or taste,” she said. “The bitterness is probably the rat poison.”
“Huhrat?” The muscles of his throat were already out of his control. Frank flailed for a moment and fell against the driver door. Saffron put her hand back on his leg, felt it stiffen and then relax completely. Another spirit had been released from its mortal prison. The Family would be proud. Charlie would be proud. She opened the car door and let Frank’s body fall out. Reaching underneath the seat, she found the shovel just waiting for her to ask for it. The hole would be easy to dig, she said to the moon and stars, for this was Karma indeed.