Ray looked around the room. There were young guys leaning against the perimeter walls nursing their drinks. A handful of strippers were parked at the bar in various states of undress, yakking with the bartender. The crowd around the main stage were all standing and loud. Ray couldn't see the act through the wall of man-asses.

A young woman sat down beside him and waited for Ray to notice her. "Hi," she said.

"Hi," said Ray as he glanced over at the girl. She was wearing a thong and high heels.

"Buy me a drink?" the girl asked.

Ray swiveled in his seat to face her. She was cute and freckles spilled down her chest. Her little pink-tipped titties stood out pale and unblemished. He said, "What's is your name?"

"Candy," the girl replied.

"How old are you, Candy?" asked Ray.

"Eighteen," answered Candy.

Ray looked down for a moment and felt a little burning inside. She was probably a student out of Lincoln, working to pay for tuition. Maybe she was a farm girl trying to buy a bus ticket to the city. Either way, she just made him sad. He reached into his wallet, pulled out a bill and handed it to her.

"Candy," he said, "You are not my type, but thank you for the conversation. Have a nice evening."

The girl pursed her lips, took the tip and left his side.

"Hey you!" came a shout from the stage.

Ray turned and blinked at the bright lights. The wall of men had parted and a single woman stood on stage above them. It was Brooke.

"Ho.. Lee.. crap" mumbled Ray.

"Hey you!" Brooke yelled again as she pointed at Ray. "Come up here!"

The loud music seemed to fade to a dull thumping as Ray shuffled up to the stage. The men around him parted as he approached. Brooke was smiling and curling her index finger at him like she was scratching and invisible chin. She was wearing nothing but a thong and that beautiful body he had glimpsed before was now on full display under hot stage lights.

As Ray's thighs touched the stage railing, Brooke knelt down and pushed her chest into his face. She shook her shoulders and slapped his cheeks with her tits. Ray looked down her taut belly and saw her thong was stuffed with small bills- and a single $20 stood out on her right hip.

Brooke pulled his head up by the ears and said, "Hi, baby." She was smiling broadly, obviously enjoying herself. She leaned forward and whispered in his ear, "Trust me." as she grasped Ray's shoulders and twisted him around. She pulled him back onto the stage, till he lost his balance and fell flat on his back with his feet hanging over the edge.

The crowd roared with salacious delight. They roared again, when Brooke ripped open Ray's shirt and sent buttons flying across the bar.

On her hands and knees, Brooke ran her hand gently through the gray curly hair on Ray's chest. She crawled over him and stroked his torso with her tits, and with even more applause from the crowd, pulled at the tented fly in his pants with her teeth- waggling her head from side-to-side like a dog with a ragged doll.

Ray didn't know what to do with his hands. He truly wanted grab Brooke and pull her pussy down onto his face. That thong wasn't covering much and, there it was, just hovering a couple inches over his mouth. Did this club have a 'no-touch' policy? Did Ruby's have ANY policies?

There was a shout from across the bar, and the crowd parted again like the Red Sea. "What the fuck are you doing!" shouted a drunk guy in overalls who was rushing the stage. Brooke rose on her knees and fell backward. Ray was almost back to a sitting position when the drunk guy sucker-punched him. Ray fell back again flat on his back.

"I go to the john for five minutes, and this old fucker moves in on my girl!" the drunk guy slurred at the crowd. His face was red. Spittle flew from his mouth and dribbled down his beard. A few guys stepped forward to restrain him, but he shook them off and pounced on Ray in a rage, grabbing the remains of his shirt and pulling him to his feet. Brooke was scrambling around on her knees scraping up dollar bills that littered the stage.

The drunk man pushed Ray through the crowd that parted to create an open space. They started chanting, "Fight, fight, fight" and the man stepped back to get a better shot at Ray. Ray leaned forward into him. As the man tried again to push him away, Ray hit him hard in the gut.

The drunk man hit the floor like a sack of potatoes, gasping for air and writhing in pain.

The front end of the Duster lifted off the pavement and the back tires squealed as Ray mashed the gas pedal, leaving Ruby's behind. Acceleration pushed them both back in their seats. At 90 MPH, Brooke twisted around and peered through the back windows.

"Uh, oh," she said. "I see lights behind us. Looks like it might be a truck."

Ray nodded and pressed the accelerator a little harder, the old Plymouth hit 110. As soon as he was far enough ahead that the trailing lights could no longer be seen, he watched for an exit from the highway. A gravel county road came up quickly on the right, so Ray hit the brakes, downshifted and fishtailed into the turn.

There were no street lights, so he was flying blind up between two fields of mature corn- looking for a place to hide. Then he found it- A derelict homestead with a ramshackle barn. He swung through a fallen gate and drove through waist high weeds to the back of the barn. Satisfied they wouldn't be seen from the road, he hit the lights and killed the engine.

Except for the ticking of the car's hot exhaust and a wee bit of moonlight, Ray and Brooke sat in complete silence in the dark.

"What the fuck!" exclaimed Ray. Then, he started laughing.

Brooke pulled out a fist full of bills and started counting in the dim light. She giggled, then started laughing too.

"Did you know that guy?" asked Ray, rubbing his eyes.

"Never seen him before," she answered. Then she added, "Sometimes they get a little possessive after they've handed over a bunch of cash."

"Sometimes? You mean to say, this is what you do?" asked Ray.

Brooke didn't respond right away, but then she said, "Yeah, it's what I do."

She handed the whole wad of cash to Ray and said matter-of-factly, "Gas money."

Howard Deahl was up early feeding livestock and as sky was just starting to lighten, he noticed a car parked over at the old house. He put down his buckets and walked across the field to get a closer look.

A heavy dew had fallen overnight that the car was completely beaded up, so pulled a rag from his chore coat and wiped away the moisture on the passenger window to take a look inside. There was a pretty naked blond girl straddled across a naked guy with hairy legs in the back seat. Dollar bills were scattered everywhere.

For a moment, he recalled a time when he and Roberta had done something similar in the old Studebaker. It was a long time ago. It made him smile, and he considered leaving them be, but there would be farm hands coming by soon. These folks should probably leave now. He wrapped on the glass with work-hardened knuckles.

If Brooke was embarrassed at all to be dressing with an a old farmer ogling her, she didn't show it. She casually stepped into her pants and pulled on a tight t-shirt, all under the farmer's attentive gaze. Ray, however, struggled to pull on his clothes on the far side of the car, hanging half in the driver's seat and half in the weeds.

Noticing but ignoring Ray's graying hair, Howard offered some stern advice about the benefits of fucking at home versus behind someone else's barn. "You should know better," he said.

As the fancy car rolled through the gate back onto the road, Brooke waved a neighborly goodbye. Farmer Deahl suddenly had a notion to go home and wake up Roberta. He scooted across the field as quickly as his boots take him.

In the early morning light, the Nebraska Sandhills could be mistaken for the surface of the moon. If there is a more desolate and lonely place on earth, it might be above the Arctic Circle or in the Sahara desert. Brooke had seen neither but this place depressed her and she prayed they would pass through quickly.

She looked over at Ray, who was in a dark mood. In his face, she could see hardened resolve and he was driving as fast as the loopy two-lane blacktop would permit. Except for an occasional scratch at a chigger he likely picked up back at the farm, his arms and legs were fully committed to operating the car.

Brooke closed her eyes and thought about the previous day. There was an ember of something still smoldering inside her that she didn't recognize. She felt safer with Ray than she had ever felt with any man before; and she was developing strong feelings for this guy, but couldn't explain why.

As the Duster blew by an old, first generation Walmart, Ray slowed the car. He looked over at Brooke. The girl face was red and streaked with tears.

Ray downshifted, braked and pulled over to the side of the road, and turned the car off. He walked around the car and opened Brooke's door. Ray took Brooke's hand and led her out to broken up pavement on the shoulder of the road- and hugged her.

They stood, embraced by the side of the road.

It was ten minutes before another car came by. It swept up dust and heat from the asphalt that rolled over them. They let each other go, and returned silently to the car.

Ray drove the old car more sedately over the next fifty miles as they passed through the Pine Ridge reservation. There was so much desperation evident, that pushing the Duster through at top speed seem somehow irreverent.

Ray looked over at Brooke and said, "This is something, isn't it?"

"Yeah," she responded.

They remained silent for the next few miles, and it was Brooke who spoke again.

"Ray," she said, "I've enjoyed our short time together, have you?"

Ray turned, offered a lopsided grin and replied, "Yes, it's certainly not what I'm used to."

A tumbleweed rolled across the road up ahead into into the front yard of a low wooden house. There was a child in a ragged party dress playing with a doll on the front porch. She stared at them as the Duster rolled by.

Brooke said, "OK, I'll say it. Ray, I feel very comfortable with you. You make me feel something, something I have been missing. Do you think it's possible two people like us... I mean, you and I could ever be together?"

Emotions spun across Ray's face like the numbers on a roulette wheel and Brooke watched expectantly, waiting for the ball to drop. She'd put all her money on Red 7. He blinked rapidly as if something inside was struggling to get out.

Ray said, "I...I mean...I guess we could..." Finally, he said, "yes." but his head was shaking side to side. He turned away from her and put his eyes back on the road. Brooke could tell he was thinking through something new, an unconsidered scenario, a new commitment.

Brooke decided to slather on some incentive to guide his thoughts, "Ray, I know there is an age difference, but I don't care. I think you are drop-dead sexy. You're a confident man, a decent guy with a good head. All I have to offer is what you see. I hope you don't think less of me for what I've done, but I have so much potential, so much life to live and I want to spend what I can with you."

Ray blew out a breath he'd been holding and said, "Brooke, wow. That's a lot to take in. I have...I have things to do. I don't know..."

Nonplussed, Brooke touched Ray's arm and said, "Then we can do them together. We can make this work."

Ray put his hand to his forehead, apparently overwhelmed with Brooke's suggestion, and finally said, "Brooke, we'll stop in Gillette this afternoon. I have a friend there I trust, and she will put us up for the night. I think you are an amazing woman, and I just need... just need to think about being that man you need me to be."

Brooke reclined in her seat, satisfied that she had made a dent in Ray's psyche and she didn't want to press him any further. Another question entered her mind. 'Who is this woman in Gillette?'

Who is 'she?'

"Do you love him?" asked Dorothy uncomfortably directly.

The two women left Ray out front washing the Duster, and carried their glasses of iced tea through the house to the back yard. Dorothy's home was an eclectic mix of mismatched furniture and knickknacks. Apparently, she loved ceramic tea pots. They were everywhere.

"Yes, yes I believe I do," replied Brooke.

Dorothy stopped a moment and looked in Brooke's eyes. Then she nodded and continued out to the patio. Two cats scurried through the open door.

"You know, Ray is a complicated man," said Dorothy as she folded back the insulated top of an enormous hot tub. "He's experienced life, love and loss- I'm sure, much more than you know."

"Yes," said Brooke

"For him, it may be like starting over, I suspect," said Dorothy as she casually unbuttoned her mu-mu and let it drop to the patio bricks. She put her foot on a small plastic step, lifted the other into the tub and then eased herself down into the swirling water. Her long boobs appeared to float among the bubbles. "Please! Please join me," she urged with a commodious grin and a wave.

Brooke looked around. There was no privacy fence, but there didn't appear to be any prying neighbors either. She stripped off her clothes quickly and hopped into the tub as well.

Dorothy eyed Brooke slyly as she took a sip of tea. "Yes, I can see what Ray sees in you," she said with a wink and a grin.

Brooke took that as a compliment, no matter how it it was intended. "Say, Dorothy, tell me about Ray. He seems to be driven to- something. I don't know what, and he won't tell me."

Dorothy eyed Brooke and hesitated for a second before responding. She asked, "Has he said where he's headed?

"No. Only that he's headed west," Brooke replied.

A frown crossed Dorothy's brow. "Did he say anything about Cody?" she asked.

"No. Who is Cody?" Brooke asked.

"Not who. Cody, Wyoming. It's at the other side of the state." said Dorothy, clarifying.

"Never mentioned Cody. He just said he owed somebody something," said Brooke.

Dorothy paused again and her brow furrowed even further. Speaking to herself, she said, "It must be. He'd have no other reason."

"Excuse me," said Brooke waving from across the hot tub. "What are you saying?"

Dorothy straightened up and her boobs bobbed up out of the water momentarily before settling back down. She cleared her throat and said, "Ray used to be married. Phyllis was a wonderful woman. In fact, she looked a bit like you. Ray was deeply, madly in love with her..."

Brooke was concerned where this was going, but she remained silent.

Dorothy continued, "She was killed in a car accident two years ago. Drunk driver. Charges were dropped. Clever lawyers, you know."

"And?" asked Brooke.

"The man who killed Ray's wife, lives in Cody, Wyoming," finished Dorothy.

"Oh, my God!" said Brooke, covering her mouth.

"Let me ask you, honey," said Dorothy. "Have you seen a gun in Ray's car?"

Brooke confessed that she had.

Dorothy paused a moment before continuing. "Well, in case Ray never told you, he is ex-Special Forces. He knows 20 different ways to kill another human with his bare hands. If you've seen a gun, that is likely for him. If he completes his mission, he won't be going to jail, and he won't be coming back."

Brooke was stunned. It never occurred to her that the man to whom she was so attached was on a mission of revenge, a suicide mission.

Dorothy leaned forward till her face was inches from Brooke. Her dark eyes blazed as she said, "Little girl, we need to pull him back from the inferno. You and I. I will remind him of the good times in the past over dinner, and tonight... YOU must show him goodness of what is yet to come."

"But, but how will I do that?" asked Brooke, quaking despite the heated water.

Dorothy answered by standing up in the hot tub, opening her legs a little to expose herself, and gently caressing her untrimmed, dripping pussy. Her eyes drilled Brooke to confirm the message. Satisfied, she stepped out of the tub. Yes, Brooke new exactly what to do.

Ray had crashed in the second bedroom and was turning fitfully at the edge of sleep. Brooke's clothes sat in a heap on a side chair and she stood naked beside the bed. It was now or never, she thought. She pulled aside the covers and slid smoothly in, pressing her body against his.

Ray rolled back, perhaps sensing the girl by his side, but his arm stayed across his forehead. Brooke snuggled her face into his chest, and gently slid her fingers over his hip to his flaccid cock. She heard Ray catch his breath as she massaged and stroked, and she knew he was coming back to life. She could feel it- right there in her hand.

Brooke swept back the covers, threw her leg over Ray's torso and neatly inserted Ray's erect penis in her pussy. Feeling his gratifying length and girth stretch her, she sat down ever so slowly till her clit was pressed fully against him.

Ray's eyes opened as if in a dream to see strawberry blond hair streaming over him and tits swaying inches over his face. "Oh, baby," he said.

"Yes, I'm here, Ray," said Brooke, "I will always be here for you." She rocked forward and backward building momentum. Seeing that Ray was fully awake and engaged, she leaned forward and hoarsely whispered, "I will always do this for you." She put her hands on his chest and held herself stiff-armed to concentrate the movement of her gyrating hips.

In the next room, Dorothy flipped over the cover of the book she was reading in bed. 'The Joy of Complex Fluid Dynamics' she decided was not a very entertaining read. She expected more sex, but disappointingly, there was very little.

About that time the pictures on the wall behind her began rattling. Then she heard Brooke shrieking. Then she heard Ray yelling. And, that rattling noise became a persistent bang bang banging. She smiled, switched off the bedside table lamp, snuggled down under the covers and reached between her legs.

An hour later, three bodies lay still, sweat evaporating, flushed skin cooling, hearts resting. There was silence in the house except for the ever-present crickets outside.

Brooke dreamed of swimming in oceans and watching birds fly through green mossy forests with her lover at her side. She slept soundly till the sun peeked through the curtains in the morning. She reached over to touch Ray, but realized with a start, she had completely and utterly failed him.

The western slope of the Big Horn mountains are deep carved canyons with thick ridges of wind whipped spruce and juniper. The morning sun was lighting the tips of the trees but Ray's Duster sat still-shaded at the gravel turnout overlooking the plain below. Ray leaned on the hood of the car deep in thought.

What had seemed so right and so obvious to him three days ago, was now blurry and confused. He had been in pain for so long, this seemed to be the only path to freedom. He thought about the gun in his glove compartment. Maybe he could just end it all here, right now.

Then Brooke popped into his mind. The hitch-hiker. The stripper. The woman. She's forcing herself on me. More responsibility and another future loss. But, how could she need me. Who would want me? Argh, why is she doing this?

He banged his head with his fists in frustration.

Ray heard whistling coming up from below and noticed an old man walking with a cane up the slope. He walked slow, but with purpose. Ray stopped his deliberations to watch the old guy walk the steep roadway expecting to see hesitation or faltering, but there was none. He walked with grace and confidence.

As the old man passed the "Scenic Overlook" sign, he tipped his cap to Ray and said, "Good Morning" with a smile.

"Morning," said Ray.

The man stepped to the side of Ray and looked over the scene below. For a few moments, they stood in companionable silence.