At five minutes to twelve, the Cactus Rose Band was rocking-- time for Charlie and the killer to commence their dance of death. The killer had staked out the stool at the far end of the bar, next to the bathroom door. It was just a matter of time before Charlie came to water, and when he did, the killer would be waiting for him. If the gents' room was empty, the murder the murder was a go; otherwise, the killer would have to wait to get the man alone. The art of ambush was nothing new to the killer. He had mastered its unpredictable nuances while serving in the Special Forces in Vietnam. He knew that the key to a successful kill always came down to being in the right place at the right time with an unobstructed line of fire, a clear avenue of escape, and the patience to sit still and wait. The hunted did all the rest of the work.
Charlie stumbled drunkenly toward the bathroom and the killer felt a rush of adrenalin. This was it. The lavatory was empty.
Charlie bumped into the bathroom doorway, looking down to unzip his jeans. He had to piss so bad, he could almost taste it. He quickly opened the flimsy door decorated with charcoal drawings of cowboys and Indians and hurried toward the porcelain urinal.
The killer descended on the unsuspecting Indian like an eagle dropping down on an rodent. Charlie had no chance to cry out in surprise or pain. The killer wrapped his right arm around his victim's neck, chin resting firmly in the crook of the big man's elbow; he grabbed the top of the Indian's head with his left hand and pulled down and to the left with a precision born out of experience. Charlie's neck cracked like a creaky old chair giving way under too much weight. He died without having seen his murderer.
The killer lifted the lifeless Indian in a fireman's carry to a toilet stall. He kicked open the door, dumped the floppy body on the commode, and locked the door behind him. He propped Charlie's legs on top of the toilet paper dispenser, so no one could tell there was more than one person in the stall. He took a deep breath, blood racing through his veins. He had won again. The whole thing couldn't have taken more than ten seconds. He reminded himself not to touch anything; there must be no tell-tale fingerprints.
His victim lay atop the dirty toilet like a bag of bones. Blood trickled from his mouth and his brown eyes looked toward heaven for an answer to his sudden death. The killer pulled a small switchblade from the pocket of his jeans. He flicked the knife open and grabbed a large hank of Charlie's shiny black hair. The clump of hair he removed from Charlie's still warm head was not meant to be a trophy of victory; it was the lasting essence of a man. The killer tenderly pocketed the Indian's hair, slid under the stall, and stood with a smile. He gave the bathroom a final inspection. All was in order.
The killer calmly walked to the front door and stepped out into the cool, crisp Arizona night. He glanced at his watch. It was midnight: less than five minutes. So short a time for such a dangerous act of courage. A life had been taken, the earthly balance suddenly disrupted. But the killer knew the Ritual. He would restore the harmony. He had unlocked the spirit world more times than he cared to remember, but he also knew that it didn't matter how often he opened that door. What mattered was that the Ritual was performed correctly. Do it right and the Gods were always happy. And when the gods were happy, so was the judge.