Marsha hadn’t stopped smoking cigarettes since we left LA. She was kind enough to keep the window down so her Marlboro Light fumes went out the window, but I couldn’t help but feel like her filthy smoke fumes were drenched in my hair. I had the urge to tell Marsha to tone it down, but guilt stopped me. She had just been presented with divorce papers and a 23-year-old mistress on the same day. She was entitled to smoke as many heaters as she wanted without protest.
Marsha convinced me that an impromptu road trip to Vegas was the only thing that would clear her blues and I didn’t argue. As her loyal friend and co-worker of nearly 20 years, the woman was closer to me than both of my sisters. We would drive out into the hot desert in her 2004 Chevy Malibu without air conditioning on a Tuesday night in July with no real plan and she was already half-way drunk. Viva Las Vegas.
We wouldn’t make it to the California/Nevada border. Our detour started just outside of Barstow when we stopped for gas, snacks, a bathroom break, and some of those little bottles of Livingston White Zinfandel.
I brought the supplies back to the Malibu while Marsha finished throwing up in the bathroom – holding up a long line of road trippers looking to empty their bladders.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” I heard Marsha scream from behind me just after I undid the clasp of the trunk…
The first thing I saw was a virginal white dress splotched with blood. I soaked that in for a few seconds before I even looked further and saw the blued hands, the swollen, beaten and bruised face and took in the death posture, the body stiff and stuck in the sprawled body position you might find yourself in after a brutal night of rage drinking.
The trunk smashed close before I could even try to make out the body’s face. All I had time to take away was the sex – female – her dark and delicate features shined through the sloppy, wet mane of hair that laid across her pale face.
“You weren’t supposed to open that,” Marsha screamed in my face.
I looked to Marsha and saw her throwing her eyes around the dusty parking lot.
“Do you think anyone saw? You think anyone saw?” Marsha rattled out.
I looked around. The four or five travelers being cooked on the asphalt like steaks on a cast iron stove didn’t appear to give half a shit about the two middle-aged women who smelled like cheap wine arguing behind the trunk of a car that was worth less than $1,000.
“Just me. That was too many,” I said. “What was that Marsha?!”
“I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to.”
“Oh my God. What the fuck did you do?”
Marsha’s entire being crumbled right in front of me. Her body slacked, tears welled out her eyes and down her cheeks in streams as wide as a country river.
“Let’s just get in the car,” I offered the only solution I could think of at the time.
The car reeked of body odor and alcohol. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice it before. Then again, maybe it was just the stench of Marsha’s soul sweating out of her pours.
Marsha cried into her hands and tried to tell me what happened. I could only make out about every third word in between the sobs, but it was all I needed, I could fill the rest of the morbid spaces with my own intuition.
Marsha found out about her husband leaving her for the younger woman. She went through every one of her husband’s friends on Facebook until she could figure out which woman it was based on her constant “Liking” of her husband’s Facebook material and by remembering seeing her a few times in random places they just happened to be, as if her husband and the mistress were getting off by exchanging passing glances in public.
Now here is where I’m not sure if Marsha is telling the truth. I am just relaying to you what she said to me. I can’t vouch for how it actually happened.
Marsha was able to stalk the woman on Instagram enough to where she actually figured out where she lived. In a cul-de-sac at the end of the her development on the other side of town. She could actually see the woman’s address in some of her pictures.
Marsha claimed that she confronted the woman at her front door. She said the woman ran away as soon as she started screaming at her and came back to the door with a gun. She claimed the woman pointed the gun at her, she swatted at the gun – a struggle for the firearm ensued and it eventually went off – sending a bullet through the chest of the woman who was in the midst of stealing her husband away from her.
Not knowing what else to do, Marsha threw the woman’s body in her trunk. She then called me up to invite me on a trip to Vegas, but in reality we were going to drive out to the desert in the night and “bury the bitch.”
A sheriff’s car pulled into the gas station when Marsha was halfway telling the story. She panicked and drove out of the station, got back on the freeway and finished her story.
I was trapped. Marsha was driving 90 on the freeway, drunk and swerving around cars in despite supposedly being horrified of the law enforcement that was back at the gas station.
I tried to talk Marsha down. It didn’t work, she just kept begging me to help her bury the body when we stopped in the desert. She knew just the place. She went shooting with her husband there once. There was just sand, brush, rocks, and soon, a dead girl’s bones out there.
Agreeing to Marsha’s demands was my only choice. I could call the cops and say an insane woman had me in the situation I was in, but that risked having her yank the car off the road at 90 miles an hour or shooting me with the gun she told me was in her purse between her legs.
I felt the temperature in the desert plummet as the sun went down, or maybe it was just the rage radiating from Marsha finally simmering down after 40 minutes on the road without a police cruiser in site, silence from me, and our eventual exit from the crowd of the freeway. Either way, I was shivering when we pulled onto a dark dirt road and started kicking up dust as the car slowed down.
It felt like we drove on that unmarked dirt road for 30 minutes.
“FUCK!” Marsha’s scream stung my ear and made me jump in my seat.
I looked ahead to the road and a burnt to a crisp car blocked the path.
“Sheeeeit!” Marsha screamed out again. “We gotta just do this.”
Marsha jumped out of the car and walked around the back. I stayed frozen in the passenger seat until I heard the clunk of the trunk open behind me and Marsha yell out…
I checked my phone. No service. Of course.
The idea of running out into the desert ran through my mind when I stepped out of the car. It was quickly replaced with the idea of the fine line I could walk to get myself safely out of the situation, but also not connect myself to the crime in any way.
I figured the best strategy might be to just speak my peace with Marsha and go from there. I got out of the car and immediately groaned. Marsha was already about 20 yards away from the car by the side of the road, digging furiously.
“Come on and help and we can get to Golden Nugget before last call,” Marsha called out.
I talked while I walked out to Marsha who was digging furiously with a shovel that had been in the backseat all the way out to the desert.
“I can’t help you with this. I won’t touch this thing with a ten-foot pole. I won’t turn you in…”
I had to stop. The power and emotion of the scene was too much. I jaw began to quiver to the point where I couldn’t talk.
“But, I…I…I..can’t…I can’t…”
I heard something rustle behind me. I whipped around, terrified of a rattlesnake or scorpion or coyote or some kind of psycho desert killer (other than Marsha). Nothing there. Just a lazy tumbleweed stuck up against a dead cactus.
I let out a deep breath. I started to turn back to Marsha – not comfortable to have my back to her for so long, but stopped myself.
It wasn’t crystal clear 20 yards across the dark desert, but I swore I could see the light of the trunk of the car beaming out into the darkness.
“Did you open the trunk?”
I turned to Marsha. Still digging furiously. She stopped the second the question came out of my mouth. She ran right past me and to the trunk of the car.
“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!” Marsha screamed out, her rage echoing across the desert.
Marsha turned back to me – the rage which burned in her eyes turned to fear.
“We have to find her,” Marsha yelled.
“No,” I fired back. “I’m done. You gotta go track her down on your own. I want no part of this. You’re on your own running down this girl like a wolf and killing her. I don’t want to go to prison for nothing.”
Marsha stared me down for a few seconds. I waited for her to gun me down like a Wild West outlaw, but she just started to slowly nod her head and crack a little smile. She kicked her feet around the dirt and laughed a little bit. I couldn’t have been more bewildered.
“Fuck you,” Marsha muttered and then took off for the car.
“Wait…I,” I screamed at Marsha.
My plea was useless. Marsha was behind the wheel of her car and speeding away from me before I could get more than two words out. I watched her taillights fade into the darkness and dust. The desert suddenly got a lot colder.
First check, cell phone. No bars. Second check, purse. I had it on me. I had my ID so they would be able to identify my dead body if/when they found it. Then I checked my surroundings. All I could see was desert all around me, glowing in the moonlight without a sign of life.
I figured my best hope was to just follow the road back to the freeway where I would get cell service and/or flag someone down. It seemed like it took us at least 30 minutes to get to where Marsha attempted to bury the mistress, so I figured that walk would take at least a couple of hours.
I started my sojourn with the light of my cell phone leading the way, but I knew it would not last. I had less than five percent battery on the thing. It was going to go out any minute and I was going to be stuck with just the light of the moon.
I was right. That light went out about 50 steps into my walkathon. I was thrown into near darkness. That’s when it started.
The rustling came from behind at first. I stopped, turned around and assessed the land behind me. Nothing seemed to move. I figured it was a jackrabbit or a lizard or something scuttling around. No worries. The scariest thing in the desert, Marsha, was probably already crossing the Nevada state line, or in cuffs.
The sounds came from the side of the road the next time. I stopped and looked over to the eastern-facing desert and saw a shadow off in the distance, half-hiding behind a twisting Joshua Tree.
I opened my mouth, started to mutter. The shadow moved before I could get a word out. It looked like a human, but I couldn’t quite be sure.
I didn’t waste any time running analytics on what it was. I just started running away from it, up the road, praying for a miracle to save me. I was tired, and utterly defenseless in a place that might as well have been outer-space. No one would be able to hear me scream.
I heard footsteps behind me. I tried to run faster, but couldn’t. I was out of juice. Whatever was after me was going to get me at any second.
The sound of heavy breathing came before I felt the slash of the knife and it was almost more terrifying than the pain. The rabid huffing and puffing sounded as if it was coming from some hulking predator. I closed my eyes and tumbled to the dirty ground.
The weight on my back was distinctly human. It instantly reminded me of the last time my sister had tried to wrestle me when I was in high school. I felt small feet on my back. I was seeing stars when I rolled around and got my first look at my attacker – her round features blurred. I couldn’t make out her face before a fist came down and hit me smack dab in the middle of my face.
The woman changed her position, dropped her hand and started combing through the dirt. I saw her pick up a large, jagged rock.
I found some power reserves in my body, rocked side-to-side and wiggled the woman off of me just a bit before she came down with the rock she planned on cracking my skull open with. I heard the rock thunk onto the hard ground next to me as I worked my way to my feet.
I ran off blind into the rocky desert, tweaking both my ankles a couple of times as I dashed across the sloppy terrain until I could run no longer. I collapsed beside a cactus and tried to catch my breath.
The darkness all around made it seem as if everything was moving in the entire world. I swore I thought I saw the mountains off in the distance twitch when I looked up at them sucking air. Maybe I was just delirious?
The only place where things didn’t seem to be moving was the road where I came from. I expected to see the bloody woman sprinting at me with a rock ripe to crack my head open, but there was nothing. Just some dirt and sand.
I took a few moments to recover and collect my head. What the hell was I going to do? I felt blood leaking from my mouth and nose.
A stiff wind greeted me when I started to trudge back to my road. It pushed me backwards and almost knocked me over. I only had the light of the moon and the stars.
I figured I should have reached the road within a few minutes of walking, but that was not the case, about five minutes into my stroll I realized I had no idea where the road was. I was now officially wandering alone in the desert.
I wandered aimlessly for a few more minutes until I realized I might just be getting myself more lost and I stopped. I thought I could see the sun cresting the far horizon past the eastern mountains and feared seeing the egg yolk of the scorching sun rise because it would bake my beaten body at 100 plus degrees as soon as it officially woke up.
The rising sun quickly faded into the background of things I had to worry about. A few more steps with the light of the rising sun cleared my head and showed me I was walking westward and had likely walked past the road, but just not realized I walked over it. My brain probably too twisted to notice.
I turned back around and headed in the right direction. I was immediately greeted by the howl of a lone coyote, followed by the frantic yips of a few more.
The noises stopped me in my tracks. I looked forward across the desert and focused – I could see the animals about 20 yards in front of me. It was a mother coyote with a few pups at her side. They were huddled around something on the ground.
The scene almost looked cute at first. The protective mother looked back at me as she flanked her fuzzy pups. The image plunged into the darkness as soon as I noticed the deep red blood soaked into the mother’s snout and the mangled mess they stood next to.
I didn’t take any more steps forward. I knew what it was. A human body. I instead veered off in the direction where the rising light seemed to reveal some kind of civilization.
My thoughts were correct. It took me what must have been hours, but I eventually reached a deserted road by the freeway just as the sun started to bake me. It only took a few minutes for someone to spot the bloody mess that I was and connect me with an ambulance and a much-needed ride to the emergency room.
The emergency room got me back to homeostasis pretty quickly. I was just a little banged up and severely dehydrated, not even a broken nose or bone anywhere. I believe they at first thought I was just some drunk who got kicked out of her caravan on my way to Golden Nugget, but the desert told another tale once they took a look around where I said I walked from.
Things got interesting a few hours after I was shot up with liquid and pain killers when a sheriff’s deputy walked into the room and took a seat next to me. He started with a line of questioning about what happened out there.
I told him the truth, but he had to stop me about three-quarters of the way through because there was an “inconsistency,” when I told them about the body of Marsha’s husband’s mistress out in the desert.
The sheriff’s deputy warned me to be prepared for some tough news before he said it. The images of the incident played through my head briefly before I agreed. It was still all a blur, I couldn’t make out a single object in my memory of the scene.
It all started to make sense when the officer finally said what he had to say…
“I have to stop you because the body we found in the desert belonged to your friend Marsha Gabbert. We have been unable to find the whereabouts of her vehicle.”