This is a preview of my third, full-length novel, Scale the Hanging Tree. For additional content or publication interest, please contact email@example.com or via Twitter.
Content Warnings: Death, drug use, sexual content, graphic language, and violence.
Scale the Hanging Tree
13:26. July 15. The summertime sun thickened nose blood that dotted the Mitsubishi Mirage’s left headlight. New sidewalks lined with tall trident maples shaded stroller bound packs of mothers in bright heels and pants tight at their ankles. Birds hopped across manicured green lawns picking at worms in aeration pits. Beaux art streetlights curved with pretentious numerals with no adherence to a sequence. Beto and Ashley watched the women pass, and when the women looked back, the two men waved and smiled. The women walked faster then. The inside of the car smelled of musk cologne and copper. Ashley picked at wayward spinach stems in his teeth while Beto read over the town’s failing paper. They wore fitted suits and thin ties. Long Distance Moan played on the radio.
They got free animals at the shelter til the beginning of August, Beto said.
So, Ashley said.
So, in case you wanted a dog or somethin.
Ashley pulled his finger out of his mouth and said, What the fuck am I gonna do with a dog?
Beto shrugged and turned the page.
What, I’m gonna walk a fuckin dog around waitin for it to shit? I spend enough goddamn time waitin for my own shit to come out. Gettin fuckin old.
You’re younger than me, Beto said.
Well, you're old as fuck too, Ashley said, and he laughed.
Beto brought the paper closer to his face, and when he talked into it, the paper rattled.
If you could fuck any animal, which one would you fuck?
You musta lost your goddamn mind, Ashley said.
Serious, which one, Beto said, and he pulled the newspaper down.
I ain't fuckin no animal.
Well, I know you ain't fuckin no animal. What I'm sayin is which one would you fuck if you could fuck it?
Ashley shook his head and leaned against the driver's side door and stared out the window at the house across the street and said, I could damn well fuck any animal I wanted, I suppose. I could, you dumb bastard. Ain't a matter of could or couldn't. It's a matter a not wantin to fuck a goddamn animal. That's how you end up with hantavirus. Shit's like the black plague, mother fucker, and I done dealt with that shit my whole life.
Oh, I see. Because you’re Black, Beto said.
Ashley looked to Beto and stared at him with a stiff face and said, You’re a goddamn savant. Sometimes I wonder why you’re in this lowly ass business and not a professor in the savant school of the mother fuckin savants.
That ain’t even a real school, Beto said, and he turned a page and opened the paper to a small comic section with bad jokes.
The song ended, and another cried on. Ashley tapped a long dark finger against the driver's side window and pointed at the house across the street. The drop off point. The house mirrored every other house on the street. Prairie style homes with slatted tiers of jutting roof like polypore mushrooms. Brown then gray then tan and repeated on and on. No children were outside though reflective yellow signs indicated they existed and were at play.
You ever wonder why this mother fucker collects here in the middle of this suburb? Ashley said.
I don't try to get why White people do what they do no more, Beto said.
My Black ass don't need to be draggin someone else's dead ass across the street out here in the middle of White America.
Probably more of my people than their people here with houses this size.
Those bitches don't clean themselves.
Ashley paused, then laughed, and Beto joined. They sat quietly for a minute. Ashley nodded toward the house across the street. Beto smashed the newspaper into a wad and threw it to the Mirage’s floorboard. Ashley turned off the ignition and opened the driver's side door as Beto opened his side, and they stepped to the back of the Mirage after closing the doors behind them. Ashley pulled the key fob from his linty jacket and held the trunk button until it beeped, and the hatch popped open to a folded purple triple jogging stroller and a lumpy Winnie the Pooh blanket. Beto popped a cubed piece of gum into his mouth and churned. Ashley put a hand against his forehead.
You're a twisted mother fucker, you know that? Ashley said.
Beto shrugged and said, It was the only one they had.
You're tellin me they didn't have any other blanket in there with any other character on it?
It was this or Shrek, and I like Shrek.
Ashley shook his head and pulled the triple stroller from on top of the blanket, and Beto grabbed the other side, and it accordioned open. The inside partitions were removed, leaving a narrow and open cavity. They placed its sixteen-inch wheels down onto the street, and they looked around. A woman jogged the sidewalk in mesh cut workout pants and a black tank, perfect hair, perfect makeup, Bluetooth enabled synergy while the men smiled and stood in front of the blanket. She eyed the empty triple stroller and the men but jogged on. They both turned back around and grabbed one end of the blanket.
So if you had to fuck an animal, which one would you fuck? Beto said.
You fuckin serious? Are we still talkin about this?
You said it wasn't a matter of could. So if you had to, then which one?
You some kind of fuckin creep, Beet? Ashley said, and they whispered a one, two, three, and pulled the blanket and the body beneath into the stroller and tucked away loose and hanging appendages. They adjusted the Winnie the Pooh blanket and closed the hatch.
How about I start? Beto said.
Ashley shook his head and pushed the stroller across the street, and Beto followed behind him.
I'd fuck a dolphin, Beto said. For sure.
Ashley stopped and looked back at Beto.
I ain't even gonna ask, Ashley said.
They're smooth. Like freshly shaven legs. And they're smart.
At least one of you two mother fuckers will be.
What, you don't think I'm smart? Beto said.
I think your momma smacked you too many times with that switch cord, Beet. That’s what I think.
A brown-haired woman walked down the street, pushing a twin stroller with a young child behind her in tow. She wore a black shirt beneath a black knit cardigan and a long floral skirt that swung around her ankles. Her simple black sandals slapped against the gray concrete. The child wore a monkey-shaped backpack, and its long tail wrapped around the handles of the stroller like a leash. The child jumped and ran within his small territory, and the woman watched the two men warily at first but smiled when she noted the large triple stroller and waved at Beto and Ashley as they pushed the bulky stroller toward the sidewalk in front of the drop off point. They tried to keep going, but the woman called out.
Oh—my—goodness, triplets, she said, and her voice was attuned with firmness from regular disciplinary shouts and provincial politics.
Both men stopped and turned to the woman, and they stepped in front of the triple stroller and struck the same pose of feet shoulder length apart and hands together near their waist. The woman paused at the accidental symmetry of their stance, but she kept on until the two parties stood face to face. The child latched on to the back of his mother's leg, and fussing came from the two infants inside of her twin stroller.
Tough having more than one baby, huh? I’m exhausted all—the—time. Pearl and Cale have been a handful since they were born, but they're worth every second.
Yeah? Beto said at a higher pitch than he expected. So have um—and he looked back at the blanket and triple stroller and shoved his tongue against the inside of his cheek. Then he said, So have Apple, uh, Mona Lisa and—
Lequice, Ashley said.
Oh, the woman said. Apple, Mona Lisa, and Lequice, you said?
Both the men said yeah at the same time.
Mommy, the boy said into his mother’s thigh, and he put his forehead against her and covered his face.
Really, uh, beautiful names. Can I see them?
Both the men said no at the same time and closed the space between each other.
They’re sleeping. Don’t want to wake all three of them up, you know. That would be a fuckin nightmare, right, with three babies screamin and everything? Beto said and laughed, but he cut himself off.
The woman backed up and blushed, and an open hand went against her son’s head and then over his right ear.
Ashley licked his lips and exhaled through his nostrils. He rolled his wide, glossy eyes toward Beto and blinked and said, I think what he meant to say is that we don’t want to—disturb—the children.
A black SUV turned a corner with black tinted windows, humming the bassy vibrations of radio jazz. A plump, goateed White man with dark hair and gold-framed aviator sunglasses drove toward them down the street, and Beto turned from Ashley’s stare to watch the driver. Beto reached beneath the back of his coat and grazed his fingertips along his gun’s black handle. Ashley’s stare peeled from Beto and followed the SUV until it passed the group on the sidewalk, and Beto’s and Ashley’s eyes landed on the woman in front of them. A breeze tumbled in the SUV’s wake carrying dried leaves, and Beto interlaced his fingers in front of him again. The smell of light exhaust passed across their noses.
I don’t think I’ve seen you two around before. You live around here?
No? Beto said.
Just friends of some people in town, you know, Ashley said.
Oh, okay, the woman said. I know pretty much everyone here around this block.
The woman pointed to a house across from the drop-off point, on the other side of the parked Mirage, and said, Marty there is a retired police officer. Known him since I was a little girl.
No kidding, Ashley said.
That is an interesting fact, Ashley said.
Are these your babies? the woman said.
Oh no, Beto said, and Ashley shook his head back and forth too.
Babysitters, Beto said.
Babysitters? From an agency? Dressed awfully nice for babysitters.
Suit, Beto barked. Suit uh—Suit Sitters.
Suit Sitters? she said.
Very professional business, Beto said. We wear suits.
Primo, Ashley said with his thumb and index finger in a circle out in front of him.
The woman ignored the nagging child hugging her leg and narrowed her eyes on the men. Her painted mouth opened into a thin oval, and she scratched its corner as silence hung between the group. The chatter of twin babies brought her to push the stroller back and forth within a few inches until she smiled.
You two have a business card? she said, and her head cocked a bit to the side. If I was interested? You’re obviously experienced enough to handle twins if you can handle triplets.
Ashley patted his chest and looked back at the car and said, You know what? I think I’m fresh outta cards. Beet, you have any cards?
No cards, Beto said, and he patted his chest and pockets.
No cards, Ashley said, and he shrugged as his arms fell limp to his sides.
Google it, though, Beto said.
Ashley shoved his elbow into Beto as the woman looked down at her whining young boy.
Will you please cool it? she said. We’re about to go. She looked up, and her expression was flat but livened with a practiced smile, and she said, Kids, right?
The men both nodded with big toothy smiles.
Well, we better get going. It was so good to meet you two. Suit Sitters?
That’s the one, Beto said and smirked. He pointed two finger guns at her.
The woman grinned and tugged on the monkey tail leash and pushed the twin stroller around the two men. She eyed the Winnie the Pooh blanket as she passed, and the men circled the triple stroller as she went around it, obscuring her view. They waved and smiled until the woman was down the street, and the same hand Ashley waved with backhanded Beto’s chest.
You’re a goddamn blockhead, you stupid son of a bitch, Ashley said.
What? Beto said. I thought that went pretty well.
Oh, yeah, a Black man and a Hispanic man in suits, strollin through the neighborhood with triplets named Apple and Mona Lisa, from Suit Sitters, a—highly professional—babysitting organization servicing suburban White America.
And Lequice, Beto said as he adjusted his suit. Don’t you forget about baby Lequice.
I’ll be damned if I didn’t have to save your ass from yourself. Might a called the third one Tree or Walnut or whatever other goddamn brands a flora your dumb ass woulda thought up. I at least gave the baby a normal ass name.
So we got us two White babies and a Black one, huh? Beto said.
How do you know which one is which color?
Oh, you met a Black girl named Apple before? Beto said. Or a White one named Lequice? Oh, and what about that Primo shit?
What about it?
Primo, Beto said, and he held the O sound and bounced on slacked knees and made circles with his thumbs and index fingers.
Shut the fuck up, Ashley said, and he turned toward the house.
You said that shit like an alien, man, Beto said. Like you ain’t even heard how the word is pronounced here on the home planet.
Ashley shook his head and pulled out a pair of sunglasses and put them over his eyes. He looked up to the thick green leaves that shook with the skipping of singing birds. He rocked back and forth in his polished leather wingtips and glanced back toward the woman as she turned the corner and left the street. Wisps of the woman’s floral perfume lingered and fragranced the air until the wind carried it away.
That bitch is gonna Google Suit Sitters, and our police sketches’ll end up in the evening news, Ashley said.
Let’s just get this fucker to Hank and get the fuck outta here.
Ashley began toward the house with long strides, and the men moved in step. Ashley stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked in both directions down the street. Beto looked the house over and pushed the stroller along a narrow limestone path that led to the red wooden front door and moved around a missing slab in the path, fresh with dark dirt and skittering bugs. Rock gardens filled beds on each side of the path, adorned with flowering succulents and a miniature water fountain of a pissing baby angel. A large security door framed the front door in glass and a mat on the ground read Yo.
Beto’s brows lowered, and he looked over at Ashley, who was staring at the mat too.
Fuck if I know, man, he said before shoving a finger into the doorbell.
The doorbell chimed out a synthesized version of Beethoven’s Fur Elise for a full minute, and the men shook their heads in unison to the extraness of it all. When no one came, Ashley rapped his knuckles against the polished glass pane of the security door.
This bitch better be home, or I’ll be damned if I won’t leave this dead fucker right here to rot, Ashley said.
We ain’t gonna get paid that way, Beto said, and then he knocked against the security door himself.
The door opened to upbeat electronic dance music. A bright blue-eyed man with two white tufts of hair protruding from his head like devil horns peeked around the red door. His thin fingers curled around the door’s edge one by one, and they tapped in an erratic wave, and he watched Beto and Ashley. He sniffed hard.
Yes? he said with his mouth behind the door.
Beto and Ashley looked at one another, and both had flat, expressionless faces. They looked back at the man.
Delivery, Ashley said.
Oh. What is it?
Ashley pulled his sunglasses off and put them into his jacket and moved near enough to the security door to fog it with his breath and said through his teeth, It’s a fuckin delivery.
The man pulled the door open. His thin mousy face summited a long dorsal nose that tipped downward. He wore a blue and white Hawaiian shirt with the top buttons undone, revealing a patchwork sunburn defying reason around a chest of white hair. Khaki shorts just longer than the shirt’s length gripped thin red thighs. Unclipped yellowed toenails crested bare feet.
Ashley opened the security door, and Beto wheelied the stroller back enough to get the front wheels over the metal threshold of the door. A dead and hanging arm fell from beneath the blanket, and the man tucked it away, and Beto pushed the stroller into the house’s small foyer. Ashley followed and closed the doors behind him.
The music buzzed in spastic bursts like a cosmic heartbeat, sweeping from guttural bass grinds to wailing sirens, from islandy and incoherent vocal hooks to impulsive shouts. It all made Hank’s blue Hawaiian shirt viable in a universe different than the one outside the red wooden door.
Good to see you again, Hank, Beto yelled over the music.
Sure, Hank yelled back, and he shook his head and looked at the stroller and blanket.
I can’t hear shit, Ashley said. Can you turn down the music?
We can’t hear shit because of the music, Beto said.
Oh yeah, Hank said. This is Knife Party.
I said this is Knife Party. They’re fucking amazing.
Hank jabbed the top of a closed fist into Ashley’s side in a mock stabbing, and Ashley put a hand against Hank’s shoulder and shoved him away. Hank stumbled and laughed and stepped through the foyer and into a large living room. He returned with a bobbing head and a mashing thumb against a white cellphone with a fake teak wood case, and the volume lowered.
So? Hank said and tipped his chin toward the stroller. Is that him?
Is that a fucking Winnie the Pooh blanket? Hank said.
Ashley smirked and nodded toward Beto.
Hank burst into laughter and slapped the house’s white textured walls and then each of the men and he jumped in place once and said, That is fucking—insanity—and I love it. You two, he said with a finger pointed at each of the men. His finger bounced with each word, and he said, You two are special, and that’s why we work so well together, don’t you think?
Beto nodded once with wide eyes and tight lips, and he side-eyed Ashley, who remained still.
Let the examination begin, Hank said with a dramatic roll of his hands.
Ashley took a long breath as Hank sped back into the living room. Beto pushed the stroller behind Hank until he reached the end of the tiled floor, and Hank leaped back toward them and lifted a hand.
Don’t you dare bring that stroller onto my floor, Hank said. These are wool carpets, and they’re worth more than your hopeless, insignificant fucking lives. Get him out of that thing and bring him over here. Not a drop of blood, you hear me?
The living room and the house’s walls were painted a matte white. White vases, white carpets, white furniture except for a red coffee table that matched the color of the front door. Carved Celtic accents framed the table’s surface, and a large polished mirror centered the detail. A 😊 drawn of fine white powder ran the horizontal length of the mirror. A framed image of Hank in a pretentious yacht captain’s regalia hung over a spotless white sectional, and the image looked like an enlarged filtered photo more than an authentic painting. It lacked texture but for the canvas crosshatch. The photo’s frame was spray painted gold and ornate with faux carving.
Ashley and Beto took opposite sides of the stroller. They pulled the Winnie the Pooh blanket from the top of the stroller, and the thin, sneering dead man stared up at them with bloodshot eyes, and gray skin, mouth agape to the blackness of death and his tongue was dry. They whispered a short count before they lifted the body from the stroller and lugged it into the living room by its arms and legs.
Where do you want him? Ashley asked.
Put him on the coffee table here, Hank said, and he patted the corner of the table.
Wait a minute, Hank shouted, and his hands shot up into the air. Hank skipped toward Fung Shui aligned, toneless white furniture and plucked away colorful Kachina dolls and glossy magazines. He lifted red stained wine glasses ornamented with jade bobbles and flipped concrete faux marble coasters. He then slapped his open palms against his chest.
Beto and Ashley readjusted, and Beto started sweating and breathing heavier.
Ah, here it is, Hank said, and he jerked a black porcelain tube with the word SURRENDER printed in a bold vertical font out of the front pocket of his blue Hawaiian shirt. He went to the coffee table and leaned over it and stuck the tube into his gaping right nostril and inhaled the smiling mouth of white powder, and stole its happiness. He vacuumed up each dotted eye before he shot up rigid and stiff with a twisted face and said, Fuck yeah—oh fuck yeah—that—that is the shit, my friends. Woo. Oh, like a fuckin wrecking ball to the nuts. I love it.
You want us to stand here with this mother fucker all day, or can we put him down, Ashley said. He ain’t big, but he ain’t fuckin light.
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah, put him down right here, Hank said. Right here and let me get a look at this ugly, dead son of a bitch. Yeah. That’s right mother fucker. This is for taking the Uber without me in Reno. Yeah.
Ashley and Beto carried the body to the coffee table, and they placed it down across the table’s surface and stepped back. Hank loomed above the body’s head and slapped its cold cheeks, and its head rocked back and forth.
Not looking so good, Pooh, Hank said. Not looking good. Two ferrets with one carrot, killin this son of a bitch.
What? Ashley said.
That’s my new spin on two birds with one stone.
Beto looked at Ashley and said, Do ferrets even eat carrots?
Who gives a fuck, huh? It rhymes, don’t it? Hank said, and he laughed into a coughing fit. You two mother fuckers are too serious with your suits and your dead bodies and baby strollers. Oh. Oh, I have an idea. How about we do a bump, huh? Maybe suck on a little Molly and fuck something? I can call some of these escort cunts I hooked up with the other day. Big round asses and smelly belly buttons, I’m tellin you, couldn’t even miss em with your little Mex-i-ca-no dick, Beto.
Hank snorted and slapped one of his red knees.
Beto narrowed his eyes on Hank and glanced at the dead body. He gestured to it and said, How about you give us the payment for the delivery, and we get out of here. Two ferrets with one carrot.
Ah, Hank said. I like it even better coming from you with your little accent.
I don’t have a fuckin accent, Beto said.
Ashley tapped Beto on the side, and Beto turned away from Hank, and Ashley took his place.
Listen, man, we ain’t got all fuckin day to sit here and listen to your quips and bullshit attempts at enlightenin the English language. We came here to deliver this dead mother fucker and get our money, so we delivered the dead mother fucker, and now we need the money. You understand?
Oh shit, all business. Alright, payment. You got it. Listen, you two just stay in here with him and make sure he doesn’t jump up and go zombie mode on Whispering fucking Lakes outside, and I’ll be right back with the money. Sound good? Then we can all get on our way.
Ashley nodded and stepped back. Beto turned back to Hank as Hank stepped around the two men with his hands up and palms toward them. They watched him as he disappeared into a hallway.
Ashley crossed his arms and leaned toward Beto and said, This asshole is more of a liability than an asset.
Let’s see if you say the same thing with that money in your face, Beto said.
A crash came from somewhere down the hallway, and Beto and Ashley ran toward an open door. Inside of the room, Hank was pulling out dressers and flipping mattresses and cursing.
Something the matter? Ashley said over the noise.
Is something the matter? Hank said, and he turned to Ashley and approached him with his shoulders low and his eyes wide. Is something the fucking matter?
Ashley stood taller as Hank neared, and Beto stood on his toes to look over Ashley’s shoulder to see what was happening.
Where’s the fuckin money, man? Where’s the fuckin money at, huh? Hank swung back around on his heels, and his arms shot out in front of him and swept over a room with demolished glass lamps and collectibles, turned furniture, and scattered paper.
Yo, you don’t have the money? Beto said.
I have the fuckin money, you shit cock. You think I would lose that much money? Hank said, and he resumed ripping the room apart.
Did he just call me a shit cock? Beto said.
Sure the fuck did, Ashley said.
Where is it? Hank said, and his voice quivered and waved from shouts to whispers. Where the fuck is it?
Beto shook his head and turned away from the room. He stepped into a long and narrow hallway. Halfway through the hall on his left was the living room, and on his right was a large doorless room full of foreign instruments, from sitars to Aztecan death whistles, hidden behind a web of strung beads hung at the room’s entrance. Psychedelic posters of Hendrix surrounded by puffy clouded text and peace signs hung from the walls of the room. The hallway walls were bare. Beto went to the opposite end of the hallway and into a bathroom. He stood with his chest out in front of the mirror and ran a hand through his black hair and spanned two fingers over his patchy mustache. He pulled his gun from his belt and put it down on the vanity and closed and locked the bathroom door. He pulled his pants down and sat on the toilet seat, and across from him was a white Whirlpool tub full to the brim with water. A black suitcase floated on the water’s surface, and a yellow rubber duckie bobbed on the suitcase’s dry side. Beto shit and stared at the suitcase through the cacophony of things breaking beyond the door and Hank’s incoherent strings of profanities. The suitcase slowly twisted on the water. Beto wiped and put his hand on the toilet lever but stopped before flushing the toilet and instead lowered toilet cover.
Call me a shit dick, you dopehead mother fucker, Beto said. He walked to the bathtub and peered into the water, and a naked and wide-eyed dead woman anchored to the tub’s bottom beneath a limestone slab stared back. Beto reeled back into the vanity and reached for his gun. When he had it, he lifted the gun toward the bathtub, and his hand shook, and he made exhaustive and confused sounds. He stepped toward the tub again. When he was over the water, he looked down at the woman, and her eyes took on an eerie blue, and her skin was bright white. The suitcase floated over her face, and she became a headless body below it. Beto kept one hand on his gun while the other reached for the handle of the suitcase and when his fingers curled into it, he snagged it out of the bathtub, and the duckie splashed into the water with a soft squeak. Beto turned away from the tub and unlocked and opened the door. He called out to Ashley with a gun in one hand and the suitcase in the other.
Hey, is this the money? Beto asked, and he lifted the black suitcase. His hand shook.
The destruction ceased all at once, and Hank poked out from around Ashley and looked at the dripping suitcase, and his face softened, and the redness in it went away.
Holy shit, Beto, Hank said. Beto, my man. Were you two fuckin with me this whole time? Whew, alright. Let’s have it, Hank said, and he waved his hands toward himself.
Beto stepped toward Hank and extended his arms as far as he could and handed the suitcase off. Hank looked down at the gun as he took the suitcase and then looked up a Beto.
You tryin somethin? Hank said.
No, Beto said.
Hank’s eyes went from Beto to the gun for a few seconds while he held the wet suitcase against his chest, and it left a damp square stamp on his blue Hawaiian shirt. Hank stepped out of the hallway and into the living and went toward the red coffee table. Ashley looked down at the gun and then up to Beto’s eyes before he followed Hank. Beto put a hand on Ashley’s arm before he passed him.
There’s a dead person in the bathtub, Beto said.
What? Ashley said, and the word spat out.
Shut the fuck up, Beto whispered. There’s a dead bitch in the fuckin tub is what I’m tellin you. There’s a rubber duckie and shit.
Ashley looked down the hallway toward the bathroom and then the entrance to the living room.
Hank slapped the wet suitcase down on top of Pooh’s dead face and popped two golden clasps open. He opened the suitcase and pulled out a wad of hundreds and waved it around. Beto shoved his gun back into his belt and stepped out of the hallway behind Ashley.
It’s all here. Ding ding ding, come and get it, Hank said, and he cackled and tossed the money down into the suitcase.
Beto and Ashley stepped around the side of the coffee table and looked at the suitcase and Pooh’s gaping mouth below it. Wrapped hundreds filled the suitcase. Ashley nodded, and Hank closed the suitcase and handed it to him.
Now get the fuck outta here, Hank said. I’ll call you if I need anything else, and you’ll answer, right?
Ashley nodded, and Beto stared, and the men stepped back a few feet before they turned and went toward the front door.
Hank pulled his cellphone from his pocket and cranked up the music volume and said, Oh, hey, by the way. If you all decide you want to get your dicks wet after all, you come back, huh? Ain’t no party like a Hank party, because a Hank part don’t—
The men went out of the front door and slammed it behind them.