When Carlos Tejada and Loriana Gonzales first saw the girl in the crowded street, Carlos knew right away she was going to be the one.
The girl was wearing stonewashed blue cut-off jeans and dirty white sneakers and her tight black t-shirt left her belly button exposed. She didn't seem to have any friends with her, none that Carlos and Loriana could see.
It was early Friday night and the sun was descending in the western sky as packs of rowdy college students began to fill the street.
On weekend nights the street was closed to traffic from Red River to Congress and the road teemed with drunks and people-watchers and tough guys looking for trouble. There were bars with live music and run-down convenience stores and trailer carts with men selling sausage-and-pepper rolls and bratwurst with onions.
They followed her at a distance as the girl entered the tattoo parlor and they watched her through the front window while she spoke to the long-haired man at the counter. The girl seemed to be making an appointment, but Carlos and Loriana knew it was best to wait outside.
Soon the girl left the tattoo parlor and began walking through the crowd and they followed her until they were sure she was alone.
It was Loriana who made the first move.
"Hi," said Loriana in a friendly voice. "I really like your tattoo."
The girl lifted her left foot and turned her ankle outward so she could look down herself at the orange-and-black scorpion on her lower calf. It was as if she had just remembered it was there.
"Thanks," she said. "I got it last year at Diablo Rojo."
"It's so cool," said Loriana. She extended her right hand. "My name's Loriana. This is Carlos."
Carlos stepped forward and shook the girl's hand and when she smiled at him he realized for the first time how beautiful she was.
"Hi, I'm Monique."
Carlos could feel Loriana watching him out of the corner of his eye. The softness of the girl's skin and the fact that Loriana was watching excited him and he could feel his penis swelling inside his pants.
"You're very pretty," Loriana said and the girl named Monique blushed. Carlos noticed that she had the whitest teeth he had ever seen.
"Thanks," Monique said to Loriana. "So are you."
There followed an awkward silence which Loriana finally broke.
"We were thinking about smoking some kind bud," she said. "You wanna join us? It's boring if you can't share it with a friend."
"I don't know. I'm supposed to meet someone in a little while."
"It's really good shit," said Carlos and they all laughed.
"Well, okay," said the girl and Loriana took her by the hand. They walked together toward the east side where Carlos's car was parked in a crowded lot beneath the highway.
They got in and Carlos pulled his car out of the parking lot and they cruised south toward the river as the evening sky grew dark.
Loriana took a hit from a small glass pipe and coughed out white smoke in a violent burst, then she passed it to the girl named Monique.
"Thanks," said Monique. She smiled at Loriana as she put the glass pipe to her mouth.
Soon both girls were coughing and laughing and having a good time. Carlos parked the car in a pecan field near the river and then he took a long hit of his own. He turned the radio low and they finished the pipe with the windows rolled down, then Carlos packed it again as they watched the bats come flying over the river like a long dark cloud of smoke.
They were stoned now so they decided to leave the car and walk down closer to the river. Loriana and the girl were talking and holding hands as Carlos watched them disappear into the darkness.
The girls had taken the glass pipe with them but Carlos waited behind and took a long piss. Then he zipped up his fly and reached down inside the car.
When Carlos finally joined them near the bank of the river he could see Loriana pull the girl close in the moonlight and kiss her softly on the mouth.
When the girl named Monique backed away slowly she didn't see Carlos swing the baseball bat which caught her above the right eye and knocked her to the ground.
Carlos lifted the aluminum bat high above his head and came down with it hard. He could feel the girl's skull being crushed as he swung down repeatedly, again and again.
Loriana had run back to the car just as Carlos started swinging and now she returned with a container filled with gasoline. She poured the gasoline over the girl until the container was empty, then she stepped back as Carlos tossed down his lighted Zippo and they watched the girl erupt in orange flames.
"Take out your wallet," said Carlos.
Loriana did as she was told and dropped her wallet near the edge of the fire. They knew the girl had no identification of her own, no wallet in the back pocket of her cut-offs and no purse.
The girl named Monique was now Loriana Gonzalez and Loriana had just become someone else, someone with no name and no criminal record and no deportation orders hanging over her head. The new Loriana was a dead girl burning in a heap by the river and the old Loriana had just been reborn.
They would have to find a new identity for her, a new name, but for now she was nameless and without history, free to choose her own destiny and to make her life anew.