You Kiss Like You Dance

I probably have many “better” short stories, but when it’s for fun I like to give Logan and Jackson some air. This one is for Stevie Turner’s October Short Story contest. Which, as long as it’s under 2k and not too far removed from tasteful (like me), send one.

After four days of hell in the “dressed up party dance” class, where he’d had to repeatedly pay a fine to his full-on “how stupid and clumsy can one human being be” partner every time he stepped on her feet or pinched her or twirled her wrist the wrong way, Jackson needed someplace to Zen. So he went to the one o’clock Saturday open class because when he was the idiot novice in ballet class he had to take everything else in his brain out of gear and just be there.

When class finished he assumed his sweat-drenched, bent over, hands on his thighs posture. His thighs had stopped shaking after the second week and that had been a relief. He kept telling himself one more week, just one more week of this humiliation and he was done. And there they were, ballet feet, interrupting his view of the polished wood floor. He recognized the beat-up toe shoes, one with two strips of kinesiology tape creeping out and around an ankle.

“Hey, Logan.”

“It’s Logan, Jax. Logan Bevan, um…Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns?”

“I’m not mad at you, and I’m definitely not your mom, Logan Nicole. You need help with something? I’ve got lots of —”

“No.” She pushed a greeting card envelope under his bent over nose. “Happy birthday!”

He looked up, watched her embarrassed blush go all the way to ten.
“No shit?” He raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t count if you don’t sing.” He watched her crumple a little. “Just kidding, Logan. Thanks.”

The card had a cartoon of a lady in a produce section holding a melon of some kind, her nose wrinkled.

“My mom said if I wasn’t sure how old something was,
I should sniff it or squeeze it”

He opened it, the cartoon lady still had the melon and also a devil smile.

“Consider yourself sniffed and squeezed.”
Happy birthday, Jackson. Thanks! Logan.

She had started to write ‘Love, Logan’ and caught it, he saw the combo v and g.

“Twenty-three, Logan. Love you, too.”

“I totally dorked that, didn’t I? I should have just said it. Like humongous duh me. Twenty-three? That is so okay. I’ll be twenty-two in September. Last September. I am twenty-two. Shit. Oh-ohhh, I shouldn’t swear, you’ll think I’m one of those girls.”

“What kind of girls? First, you’re another dancer with a guy’s name. Second, you’re another rehabbing real ballerina. From where, New York by way of Seattle? Third, you just gave me a really —”

“Clever.” She poked the card with her finger. “The man at the store? I told him I was totally clueless how old you were, and like I can’t just ask you, right? He said this, that, was a clever card. Clever, like smart. So I bought it. And it is. Clever. I’m not sometimes, right, because I just dance. You told me twenty-three because the card made you. I can’t really squeeze you or sniff you. Well, I could, but you’d be all like what is this ditzy spaz doing, right? Not like I wouldn’t like to squeeze you. I didn’t think you were really old, but, you know, you shaved that beard thing and that was like a major relief and…And, like for real not after class, that would be so seriously ick. I mean me, too, not just…Oh-ohhh, shit.” She turned a little, rubbed her nose with her finger. “Shit. I’m doing it, I know I am. Logan, you are totally wasting out. Stop. Shit.

“You a little nervous about something, Logan?”

“Yes, way. Kenny? She like took over with you. She takes over class all the time like queen bitch, you know? She’s gone, I think. For a while, anyway. Like thank God for another Nutcracker and an oops, preggo Snow Queen, right? We’re different, you know, Kenny and I, but um, we dance a lot alike, but not. We get off the ground the same. She’s more,” she angled her arms, robot Egyptian style. “Mechanical? Um…No. Not technique-wise, what I mean is she dances so like a gymnast sometimes, you know, all boing, boing and everything, so she completely gets all those snotty, techie choreographers with their mega urbano thing.” She rubbed her nose again while she thought. “I’m, I do the, um, she’s a…I’m more of a girl. That’s what I mean. And I get the, well, like I’m a prettier dancer, in a dancer way. Not that I’m prettier, that would be so like a total ego bitch thing to say, but I, well —”

“Logan?”

“Like I am so sorry. I haven’t done it yet, have I?”

“I don’t know. You are a pretty dancer. She explodes into things, you bloom into them. Different girls, painting the same picture with different brushes, playing the same song with different instruments. What haven’t you done?”

The brushes had her thinking, so much so that she was painting the air with an invisible brush in her right hand, a couple of quick strokes, a couple of softer ones.

“That is so totally awesome a way to think about that! Flick, flick and swoo-oop.” She let her imaginary paintings hang in the air, admired them. Snapped herself back.

“So, um, Jackson, Jax, sorry, will you, like, um, go out to dinner with me? For your birthday? Like, you know, thanks for all the help and taping my foot and your birthday and everything dinner…No, that’s like all so monumentally a lie. Because I want us to is why.”

“When would you  –”

“Today? No. Like tonight, I mean? I need a shower yesterday. Whew. I am like sweat-ee ick. And my legs are hairy to the max,” she rolled her eyes. “It must have been days, right? Like I forget because until my tights snag or something or I have a date, right, like that ever happens. I shouldn’t have told you that, but it just like comes out. Girls do that, shave their legs, so it’s okay. It’s not like a secret, you know, that I shave them because you don’t think they don’t magically not get hairy or anything ‘cause we’re girls. Do you? Cause I knew this guy, and —”

“No, I… Jesus, Logan. Yes. I’ll go. I’m yours. Nobody has done anything for my birthday since I was nineteen.”

“Get out! No-oh way! We all knew it was your birthday. Because Madam dance Nazi? She told us two days ago but like no one brought a cake. She wanted us to do something for you, you know because you’ve been like really nice to all of us. But no cake. So, um, we totally kicked you to the curb on your birthday. I wanted to ask you before, you know when Kenny was all Queenie and everything. But she was like so possessive. But, um, you always helped me. ‘Specially after I boiled over on my tape that day and everybody said I was a total crybaby diva bitch and you said like no, I wasn’t, I just had bad advice about tape from somebody. And you like fixed my whole foot and pointe shoe drama with two pieces of tape, and —”

“Logan, even with Kenny here, all you had to do was ask.”

“No way, Hose-A. We knew Kenny would get all that way she gets and like Gack, you know? Who wants to deal with her going total postal bitch, right? Well, like Erica got all Wonder Woman that day right in front of her and asked you to hold her ankle for-ever while you walked her around en pointe. She said you checked her out deep and you didn’t miss a thing and…There I go. Shit. Sorr-eee.”

“Logan, stop apologizing and tell me how we do this tonight?”

“I have a place picked out, to like eat, but um, it’s your birthday, so like am I driving ’cause I asked? I don’t know where you live.”

“Off Broadway, in Long Beach, but I’ll drive. Give me your address and phone number and clue me with a time?”

She put her hand out for him to hold, pulled up her non-taped foot, untied her pointe shoe and pulled out a sweat softened card. “I live with Lyle, she’s in modern and still at SoCal and Erica. We have a three-bedroom not far at all. I wrote it down already, you know, like in case you weren’t like old or weird and said yes. I made a reservation for seven forty-five, that’s all they had, and like it’s so small but way on some list or something. It’s about thirty minutes, maybe?”

“Seven? It can’t be a suit place.”

“No, no. Not jeans is all, and like this year gear is best. I have a way hot new dress. It’s too short. I, um, bought it in case you said yes. It’s really not too short. Yes, it is. I have others, they aren’t new, but I could wear one, you know, if…The new one is fuh-un. I was worried, you know, like about how short it is? And then you see me in tights and they’re like ‘here’s my butt’ all the time.” She pulled on her leotard. “No place to hide in here. They tell us that when we’re young so we get over being self-conscious. But you’re a guy, you know, not a dancer, but a street guy, so it’s different. Or is it?”

“Logan? Wear it. If they don’t like it we’ll go somewhere else. You and I. Your apartment at seven. I’ll be cleaned up.” He leaned into a backstretch before he straightened, threw his sweatshirt around his neck.  “Thanks, Logan. Seriously.”

She tried to get right up in front of him, like an awkward dance partner, tried an even more awkward kiss and missed it. She went to ten on the embarrassed scale again, looked at her feet, popped the sides of her thighs with her palms.

Uhh! Brett said, well, if I could get all the way through and you like said ‘yes’ then I was supposed to kiss you and say ‘Happy Birthday’ and everything and tell them I had a real date and —”

He caught her hand before she could walk away embarrassed, twisted her wrist lightly, just enough, and there she was. Boobs and banana.

“Wha — Oh!”

He kissed her, let her get used to it, leaned into it a little with his hand still holding hers at the small of her back and she warmed way up.

“You kiss like you dance.”

“You don’t!” Her face lit up like she’d just won the lottery. “Like thank God, right?”

 

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RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #23

On Fiction

1

“The original sin is to limit the Is. Don’t.”
― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

2

“If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.”
― Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

 

 

Shootout at the Texian Lodge

“Mornin’, sunshine.” Rip set a cup of coffee in front of me. Through the kitchen window I could see morning sun turning the Eastern horizon a pale yellow. “The Cessna’s ready when you are.”

“Who’s driving?”

“You,” Rip said. “Unless you forgot how to fly something don’t strap to your ass and fly itself.”

He knew what I had flown and could fly. My assumption was that he wanted to be a passenger without flight instructor angst. I’d wanted a flyover of Kerrigan, by myself, since I’d gotten into this alone, but Rip had assured me without the master plan for the robbery all we could do was recon, and his Cessna was side by side seating with better passenger vision. It was faster, had better altitude and if we happened to be seen no one would recognize us. I thought that an unusual comment. As far as I knew no one involved with this slowly emptying clown car of a bank robbery was in Kerrigan yet and in the high plains of the Texas panhandle who’s paying attention to a dot in the sky?

“We don’t know that now, do we. Who’s payin’ attention?” Rip dropped a spy size GPS tracking disc the size of a dime on the table. “Found this in your Cub last night. You fly us out over New Mexico, an I’ll drop this near Roswell. When they go to look, you’re not there,” he shook a little with a silent laugh, “they’ll figure you for an alien abduction.”

“I wonder how many people are tuned in to the Travels with Comparo channel.” I picked it up, flipped it like a coin, Rip intercepted it on the way down.

“Few too many, be my bet.”

***

According to printouts and aerial charts, Kerrigan County was crisscrossed with improved, two-lane roads identified by letters like N, O, T, and a few numbered Texas Farm to Market roads. The population density and improved structures said no one should ever be on those roads except for the occasional cattle hauler, dairy truck or some farm and ranch machinery. But real traffic, as defined by the most minor of metropolitan areas, should be nonexistent.

Kerrigan the town was two streets wide. Four or five blocks if you counted a handful of houses scattered haphazardly off the town center. A bank, a bar, the county courthouse, a one-block stretch of commercial buildings that looked straight out of the 1920s. Not even a grain elevator. Those, like the nearest towns of consequence, the ones with a stoplight and coffee shop, were twenty-five miles in any direction. The Oklahoma border slightly over the same distance in two directions. What most people needed to know about Kerrigan was on Google. That is, unless you were the getaway pilot for a bank robbery.

I dropped down over road T about a mile out of Kerrigan and flew ten feet off the ground for another mile.

“You lose something?” Rip was checking wingspan against tree line. “Lookin’ for loose change?”

“Looking to not drop one of your gear in a pothole.”

“Nice of you, but –”

I pulled the Cessna as close to vertical as it would go and banked hard as I could without pulling it apart, recovered my mile, flew at the pavement slow and low, cut power,  lifted the nose, stalled and dropped soft, hit the brakes on the edge of nosing over and cut the landing distance well under the published 790 ft.

“Fuck me runnin’, you aren’t ever gonna grow up.” Rip let his breath go in a long whistle. “I teach you to fly like that?”

“Somebody had to.”  I throttled up, ran us down the road and cleared an oncoming old green pickup full of hay bales by fifteen feet. The look on the driver’s face said he had a tale to tell no one was going to believe.

“Now where we goin, hot shot?”

“Shamrock.”

Rip didn’t ask why, pulled out a pair of binoculars. “Reckon we can see who’s parked where?”

“I reckon.” I couldn’t see Moreno in a minus four-star motel with the rest of the convicts. She’d need some space keeping up appearances as the Queen of the Kerrigan bank heist with fiancé in tow, but I couldn’t go to fiancé in my head yet. “We should have asked Flyer if Moreno had rented a car somewhere.”

“Black Camry.” Rip trained the binoculars out of his window. “Budget. Amarillo.”

“Surprised they’d rent her another one.”

“Last one was a Fiat, remember? Doubt they considered that much of a loss.”

***

I offered to drop to five hundred feet, there not being any fifty story high-rises in Shamrock. Rip said to stay off the radio with the regional airport, he could see fine from 2,500. I saw the 30-160 on the side of his binoculars. More like a long-range microscope.

He found the van first in a motel parking lot on 12th St, Old Route 66. Across the road from an abandoned red brick motel or restaurant. There was a dirty mid-2000s black Escalade parked outside a rundown doublewide behind the red brick building. Across a gravel and weed parking lot to the east was a rusty roofed machine shop with drilling rig parts stacked in the lot along with randomly parked rusty stock trailers and a big fifth-wheel travel trailer that appeared new among all the dust and rust. The road was two lanes both ways with a center turn lane. One stoplight, a few too many power lines crossing the road. I wouldn’t want to do it at night. I wondered why I even thought about it, but I was always looking for a safe place to ditch. Learn to fly suspect aircraft with Rip Foster and that sort of thing becomes ingrained.

Rip found the dirty maroon Lincoln and a shiny black Camry three blocks east and a block north at the Holiday Inn Express. I could see Moreno in one of their TV commercials, all smiles surrounded by bags of cash saying, “Well, I wasn’t a bank robber, but last night I stayed at Holiday Inn Express.” If she and Tavius didn’t know each other he was running a hell of a risk with proximity. I started to steam up thinking maybe she was too busy with her fiancé to notice. Rip read my mind.

“Three rooms at the Holiday Inn. Birch, Moreno, and Salsbury. Our lawn jockey was the first one to the party, a day early.”

“How do you know all this?”

He showed me his iPhone that had been recording the binoculars. “It’s called a phone. You might turn yours on occasionally.”

“I was trying to stay off the radar.”

“We know how well that turned out. Keep your phone off a little longer, take us to Roswell. It’s time for the handlers to lose you completely for a while.”

***

“Somethin’ in here is bound to suit you.” Rip pushed the door open on one of his outbuildings. We stood in the doorway, and I took inventory. An engine hanging from a portable hoist between an unidentifiable frame on jack stands and a hoodless orange Camaro. An engineless Harley on a bike lift. Several electric Vespa style scooters in pieces, the whole place accessorized in assorted junk. Lots of it. To the right were several of what appeared to be complete cars and motorcycles, a couple hiding under dust covers. Wind whipped our legs and Rip looked at the sky. “The knucklehead is a bad choice, considerin’.”

The knucklehead was a bad choice regardless. Chrome everywhere, pale orange base for a white lace overlay I was told were spiderwebs. I called lady biker doily on it and got no argument. No belt guard for the pants and leg eater. And it issued dragon farts at idle. The perfect ride for discretion.

“This’n runs.” He lifted the corner of a dust cover revealing the front end of a restored, bright red 1970 Plymouth Road Runner. “Fact it hauls ass.”

“I’ll remember that next time I need a speeding ticket. What else have you got?”

“If you’re gonna be that way there’s a ‘95 Ram out back with bad paint and a new hemi.”

“Gun rack?”

“Don’t be a smart ass. You plan on settin’ up in the McDonald’s parking lot, keep an eye on the love nest?”

“Don’t know yet. I also need to borrow –”

“You check your U-Store It in Addison when you were there? No, or you’d know your Browning is here and you don’t need to borrow nothin’.” He slid the door closed, locked the padlock. We walked to the smaller climate-controlled hangar that he unlocked with his phone. The plane I expected to see was gone.

“Where’s the Beech?”

“That’s what I asked the gal when I opened your storage unit.” He flipped the latch on a small, corrugated fiberglass box, about half the size of a Load n Go forklift storage container. “Ain’t much here, but it’s what was left after Christine cleaned you out. Why I canceled that air-conditioned garage. Saw no sense in you payin’ for air.” There was an envelope on the first box. I picked it up, felt like cash. “Pro-rated refund,” he said.

“Should have kept it for your trouble.”

“No trouble, I was down there with a box truck swappin’ out parts. You feel like telling’ me what happened? After what happened, happened?”

“She called about six months after her people cancelled the future, asked about the furniture. I mailed her a key, didn’t expect to see any of it again.”

“That shit was forty grand worth of expensive. She pay you back?”

“No. I ordered it, it was custom built for that condo. What am I gonna do, Rip, be an asshole like the rest of them? Keep it out of spite with no use for it?”

“Like money’s her real problem. Looked like she got some of your mother’s things when she was in there.”

“Good. They deserve each other. Where’s my gun locker?”

***

I had no sooner pulled around the McDonalds drive thru in Shamrock than I got a text from Cav.

            War Paro! Where are you?

It was starting to rain. Big, fat drops that sounded like rocks hitting the windshield. I looked up in time to see Tavius screech out of the Holiday Inn, two-wheel it at the corner. I tossed my coffee, choked down a chicken nugget and fishtailed out of McDonalds after him. That’s a lie. I hit that hemi with no weight in the rear end and did two three-sixties in the middle of Main Street before I got control.

Tavius slid into the gravel parking lot across from O’Doul’s Texian Lodge where the convicts were staying, opened his door and rolled across the ground behind an old galvanized stock tank, his pretty .380 replaced with a .45. I blazed past like I wasn’t interested in two SUVs parked in the middle of Route 66 firing automatic weapons at the motel on one side and the old Escalade that had moved up from the double-wide on the other. I spun a one-eighty in the first intersection past the action, killed my lights.

Whose side was I on? Who the fuck were the automatic weapons people in the middle of the street? What sort of cannon did I hear boom from the motel? The two guys behind the Escalade waited for a let-up in the rain of small arms fire and took off the ten feet to the door of the abandoned brick building. One of them made it, the other fell behind the brick planter on the small porch and didn’t raise up to return fire.

The SUV closest to the motel in the middle of 66 exploded in a ball of fire, rolled on its side. It started to rain like it meant it, the water not making a dent in the burning SUV. I heard sirens start to wail from a ways off. The remaining automatic weapons people blew past me in their bullet-riddled SUV, close enough for me to see blood all over the back drivers side glass and two ski-masked hombres in the front seat cradling assault rifles who paid no attention to me at all. My phone went off again.

Where are you? Road N. 2.7 miles FM86. All night here if I have to. Hurry!

Moreno claimed she was 2 miles out of town, claimed to have all night. I hoped she was dry. Then again, maybe she was wet and miserable. I smiled, idled back towards the scene, now strangely quiet save for ammunition going off sporadically in the burning SUV. I parked out of the rain under the canopy of an empty, dead, whitewashed cinderblock gas station with graffitied up plywood windows, on a diagonal across the highway from the motel.

I stepped out, shrugged into Rip’s rain slicker, chambered a round in the Browning and set off to recon the shootout at the Texian. I checked the burning SUV from a distance. Three dead or wounded in the street, maybe more in the burning hulk. What a fucking mess Moreno’s little bank robbery had turned into. I started for the abandoned restaurant where the Escalade men had gone, heard footsteps behind me, felt a gun in my back.

“Been waitin’ on you, flyboy.”

I wrapped my arm around my chest, gun under my left arm and pulled the Browning’s trigger. Twice. Waited to feel the shot in my back I knew was coming.

Never Land

Tell me where dreams go to die
Make mysticism into physics
Do it for me now
Life has taught me well
Wishes hit the shitter
As time ill-spent hanging out
With the Second Guess triplets
Woulda Shoulda Coulda
But tell me, where do dreams go when they die

Hope hangs from an altar
Surrounded by prayers for understanding
Broken promises
Broken lives
Broken anything, broken everything
Dreams haven’t got a prayer there
Is the hell of never understanding never
Where dreams go when they die

Why is ‘never’ so infinitely finite
How did love become
Too small a word
What happens to dreams
When they die
Are they washed away
In tears that we cry
Stashed away
In words used to deny
The real Elephants in the room
What happens to dreams when they die

When I was young
A barber showed me
Static electricity
Made my hair stand on end
He made the static disappear
From a comb
With running water
Where did it go?
Down the drain?
Up the spout?
Out by Jupiter?
Energy is never gone, he said
So if that’s true, tell me
Where do dreams go when they die

 

 

Rattlesnakes

There was no standoff. When a situation comes down to Mastiff-Rottweiler mixes having your man parts for dinner and a semi-amicable surrender to future business partners who’ve had the opportunity to blow you in half with a shotgun or unleash the hounds and haven’t, surrender becomes a viable option. Muller and Usman walked to the filing cabinet, set their handguns on top.

“You, too.” Rip directed Double Knit by pointing the sawed-off. Double knit released the arm he had around Cav, flipped back his grey and black houndstooth double knit sport coat, showed Rip the gun in his waistband. He looked more uncomfortable than gun savvy. He started the filing cabinet walk and Moreno ripped the gun out of his pants and

BAM!

Dogs were in the room.

Rip barked “Kill!”

The dogs sat.

The sound of the shot in the small room died away.

The gun Cav yanked had gone off through the fly of Double Knit’s pants and into the floor. He was a statue. Bent partially forward, arms out to his side, butt stuck out like he’d poured hot coffee in his lap, staring down at the smoking hole in his fly. He looked ill. Unlike Double Knit, Cav was no virgin to firearms, but she wasn’t a killer. Now that she had the gun out in one of those television ‘don’t anybody move’ moments she was unsure where to aim it. Rip lit another cigarette.

“Gun in your britches with the safety off is an easier way to fuck up your business than the dogs, son. You three fellas step to the door, mind the dogs. Let’s hear what the lady has to say.”

“I…” she glanced at Rip, landed on me. “Paro? Lo siento? It has to be this way. Until…Until we all know. And then you’ll know, and then…Tu entenderás, lo prometo. Comprende?”

“You’re sorry, and I’ll understand, you promise? Understand what, Cav? When?”

“I told you. When I know, you’ll know. Paro, you know…just…por favor?” There might have been a thousand things in her expression. I only looked for one. I didn’t know if I’d found it or wished it. I wanted to say Whatever, Cav. Fuck it. I didn’t.

Rip was still in the game, though, saying “I won’t kill a good-looking woman with brass balls for no other reason than the comp’ny she keeps. No, now stand still, the lot of you. Not killin’ her don’t mean you jokers get your weapons back. Y’all and the lady take a walk backwards to that van where I know there’s more guns than you brought in with you. While you’re walkin’ consider all the kindsa shit could go wrong with your leaving healthy if I see one.” He turned his back on them, ashed his cigarette, flipped a switch on the side of his desk that lit up the front with floodlights. “Remember there’s always the dogs can’t a one a you outrun.”

***

Tavius sat in one of Rip’s office guest chairs, a stackable, gray metal and hard cushion affair, rubbed his wrists from the handcuffing. Rip handed him the wallet he’d taken earlier, along with the .380 and clip.

“I’m extending you military courtesy, son, returning your weapon. I apologize for hooking you up out front like a lawn jockey. I know you’re pissed but it wasn’t meant as an insult, it was what I had to work with. Don’t care who it’d a been or what color, I’d done the same. We clear on that? I don’t need any racist bullshit from someone oughta know we’re all the same color in a foxhole.”

Tave checked Rip’s eyes, let whatever was on his mind go for now. “I could have been some help. None of them are stable,” he glared at me, “including Moreno.”

“Mighta been,” Rip said. “But we know you’re a liar and like to throw your weight around, intimidate people. Not my style.”

“The fuck it’s not. What do you call the dogs and all the goddamm shotguns?”

“Negotiating accessories. Take your wallet and that pretty gun, make the hour drive to Amarillo. Find a hospital, get that buckshot looked after. If flashin’ all them fancy IDs don’t shut ‘em up an they need a witness for a gunshot accident, have ‘em call me.”

***

Rip flooded the hangar with light and we went back to work mounting the Cub’s tires.

“Goddam, Paro. Stop thinkin’ so loud I can hear it. Spit it out.”

“I’m trying to figure Tavius. He doesn’t make sense. I thought he was hooked up to Moreno some way, but I didn’t see it.”

“He wants what she wants. The money.”

“Okay, then what does she want the money for? Or him?”

“Couldn’t say about her. He’s a greedy bastard who wants to live the high life football would have afforded him, he hadn’t fucked up his knee.”

“He’s West Point.”

“Don’t matter. He’s as career military as either of us. Couldn’t give a flyin’ fuck about anybody but himself. He wants the money she’s out to get, so he’s stuck to her ass like cheap gas station toilet paper.”

“I heard that as like a size too small thong.”

He laughed, stopped ratcheting, listened. “Paro, I don’t see you for six, seven months and you show up with a passel of new an interesting friends.”

I’d heard it, too. “Copter?”

“Lakota. A new one. Somebody important enough to have pull and no use for artillery. Or the Lincoln driver got lost and called in Medevac. I’ll turn on another light.”

***

Secret Agent Man, last seen walking toward a diner in Dallas, stepped out of the black, lights flashing Lakota UH 72a helicopter into the floodlight’s circle. He took a leisurely stroll in our direction while the helicopter wound down, lights still flashing in the gathering dusk. I’ve always wanted to say that, even though I haven’t the slightest idea what the hell Dusk might be gathering.

“Pilot says to thank you for the light, Colonel Foster.” He put out his hand. Rip took it. “And you, Captain Riordan. Feeling better?”

“Yes and no.” What the hell, I hadn’t been a Captain for six years and he’d drugged me, but I shook his hand.

“What are you gentleman drinking this evening? If you aren’t,” he produced a bottle of 21-year-old Glenfiddich, “maybe you’d like to join me?”

***

Rip had a cabinet full of motel tumblers, put three on the round table in his kitchen and pulled the icemaker drawer out of his fridge, emptied it in a small cooler saying, “This is your party, Comp’ny man.”

“Brad.” He twisted the Scotch open while Rip dipped the tumblers in the ice. “Everyone calls me Flyer.” He poured when the tumblers landed.

“You a pilot, track star?”

“Neither.”

We let that ride, sipped his Scotch in quiet until he pulled out his phone. “Mind?”

Rip and I looked at each other. “Music,” Flyer said, “not a recorder.”

“You hit Bluetooth in that thing, find JBL. Only rule is no oompah accordion music.”

“Understood. I have two rules myself.” He set his phone down and tasteful ambient with a jazz flavor floated off Rip’s counter. “No radio rock, no bubble gum.” We sipped some more and waited. When glass two got poured Flyer produced a large, flat envelope from his windbreaker.

“Here’s where we are gentlemen. You obviously fared well with Princess Moreno, Usman and the rest.” He didn’t mention Tavius, but he had to know. I left it alone, but it was killing me.

“These are the players.” He fanned out some 5×7 prints, dealt a couple to the side, started there. “These two are already dead.” One was Third Eye horseapple nose, the other an average looking, balding man of indeterminate middle-ish age. “This one,” he tapped Muller’s picture, “he’ll be dead soon, if not already.”

“Moreno said –”

“Yes, I know, Paro. The information is all split up. I’ll believe that when pigs fly somewhere besides a Pink Floyd concert.” He tapped the Double Knit man, who was wearing far better clothes in the picture than what we’d seen. “He doesn’t know anything, so he’s expendable, like you. But not until the job’s done. Usman, and Dawson, the one who stayed in Shamrock, will try to kill each other after the bank’s robbed.”

I spun not so Double Knit’s picture. “This guy, me. We’re expendable but not till later. Why?”

“Usman thinks he’s the alpha in this game. He wants the money, and he wants Moreno. You and this man are…Important to her. Or he needs to think you are, so he can’t risk killing either of you. Yet.” He took a drink, poured a splash of another. It was his turn to finger not so Double Knit.

“A chiropractor. Stephen ‘Woody’ Birch. His real name, I checked. Mr. California. Vitamins and exercise, snake oil lotions and teas and alignment is the path to enlightenment and insurance fraud. Mostly Medicare. He did a plea deal, kept his license, paid back most of the debt by returning what he hadn’t spent and mortgaging everything else, twice. He still did about a year of Federal time. In fact, all these cons are Federal. Woody overheard them talking at Terminal Island about the wet dream bank job, pulled them together when Moreno said she needed some real money. He’s got no skin in this deal except the introductions, and he shouldn’t be here but he’s in love.”

“So how does this job net him anything?”

“Okay, Comparo. Good news, bad news on the Moreno front. He’s her fiancé. Was her fiancé until she found out about you not being dead. She strung him along to keep the convict pool in order until she located you. He’s working the other side of the same street, stringing her along till she’s got the money. As long as Usman doesn’t know Woody and Moreno are done, and that you’re no more than a friend who can fly, he keeps his hat on. The torch job was a warning, not revenge. If any of them had known about you and Moreno in San Antonio, or the trailer, there would be more bodies stacked up, yours among them.” He eyed his splash of a drink, downed it, continued.

“For now, Usman is on hold. Woody thinks she’s still going to bail him out, so he won’t do anything stupid. And if we can get you to abandon the White Knight routine and focus on your job everything stays on track. Until the bank is robbed. After that, all bets are off.”

Great. Something to look forward to. A well-armed cluster fuck shoot ‘em up with psychopaths.

“And what’s your job?” I asked because it had started to sound like Days of Our Lives robs a bank with no set end game save the cluster fuck shoot out.

“My job,” he hoisted his glass, we all clinked, “is to take 32 million dollars out of a gang coalition’s operating fund any way I can without stealing it myself. Maybe point some fingers on the street, start a power war and let some big-city bad men kill each other.”

I shook the ice in my tumbler. “You aren’t worried about collateral damage?”

“Civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time is the six o’clock news, regardless. And it’s a lot less expensive, casualty wise, than a lot of civilians damaged by that 32 million. Even if it is just a drop in the bucket.”

Such is war. The Company, or whoever this guy worked for, would never say who the real enemy was, or the real target. Or the real goal. In my time I got briefed, given coordinates, sometimes not until I was in the air, never knew who I was dropping bombs on. I was told they were sanctioned targets of military value to the enemy. I still had nightmares about blowing up some woman innocently hanging her sheets out to dry when a bomb smarter than all of us decided she was dangerous.

Rip poured himself another. “The West Point slick leadin’ the pack in here today. What’s his game?”

“The same as everyone else’s. This project has been his baby for over two years, waiting on a trigger. Moreno and the convicts decide to rob the bank, game on. Things are happening that don’t make sense, but if you look it at the wrong way, they make perfect sense.”

“Rambo gone rogue in a fancy sweatsuit?”

“He’s my problem, Colonel Foster. However, had you killed him outright this afternoon he’d be off my plate and this would be fifty-year-old Scotch. But you didn’t, so he and his evolving plans remain my problem.”

That was all Flyer had to say about Days of Our Lives robs the Kerrigan State Bank. He picked up his phone, complimented Rip on his speaker. He said goodnight, shook our hands and reminded me to stay in touch when I heard something. The Lakota wound up and he saluted us casually before climbing aboard.

Rip watched the helicopter lift and haul ass west, its lights winking out in the distance. “Nice fella. For a comp’ny man.”

“He left us a little over half a bottle of two-hundred-dollar Scotch.”

“Yep. A real nice fella, that one.” He turned, headed back to the main building. “But then I’ve heard people say the same about Rattlesnakes.”

Out Dogged

I flew over the long hangar with Rip Foster’s Stick It Flight Training painted on top, checked his windsock, and banked easy into a light southwest wind toward the big pond fifteen miles in any direction from a paved road or population of any kind. Rip was a late-in-the-game Viet Nam vet who’d helped evacuate Saigon and didn’t have a politically correct bone in his body. His threshold for bullshit was “lower than snake shit in a wagon rut” unless it was him doing the bullshitting.

I’d just turned fourteen when I told my parents I was going south to Texas and work a combine crew north for the summer, all the way to Wisconsin, make a butt load of money. It was a complete load of crap, but they bought it, happy they only had to deal with my older sister, each other and alcohol that summer. I didn’t give a damn about money or combines, I wanted to fly a bi-plane crop-duster. I was willing to eat SPAM, wash planes, wax propellers, whatever was involved including making a huge pain in the ass of myself until someone working the combine trail crop-dusters took me up.

I soon discovered no one wanted anything to do with me. “A little too short in the britches, arncha?”  “Probly a virgin, arncha?”  “Betcha can’t even drive, can ya?” All true. But I’d worn out Huckleberry Finn and The Reivers and I wasn’t a quitter. After six weeks I was having trouble keeping the quitter at bay when Rip Foster walked up to me, pulled on his gloves, eyed me like a small dog that might pee unexpectedly.

“If you’re the kid givin’ ever’body a case a ass over wantin’ to fly, come on.”

Rip relinquished the go-kart steering wheels of a Beechcraft 17 to me headed west somewhere over Kansas, and then promptly went to sleep. Just before he found nap-thirty he’d done a cursory run-down of the important gauges, nose up, nose down, just hang on, it flies itself.

Bullshit.

I was losing about 500 feet a minute over flat terrain, with Colorado looming on the distant horizon. I pulled up on the wheel and got a couple of thousand feet back punishing the Beech. I pushed down, same effect looking at the ground. I went through the roller coaster until I was seasick and scared shitless. I got it leveled out around two thousand feet for a while, but it still wanted to go up or down and scoot sideways and damn sure wasn’t flying itself. Rip woke up after forty minutes of me living on panic and adrenaline, walked me through a bank around back east and after forty more minutes of full-on ‘this is an airplane’, my very first landing. I remember saying something stupid like “Man, that was cool!” I vividly remember his response.

“No, son. It was suicidal.” But he lit a cigarette, thumped my shoulder saying, “See you at five tomorrow. In the morning. Find some decent sunglasses between now and then.”

He taught me how to fly over weekends and summers for the next three years. By making me fly anything we could find with an engine that would get off the ground. Rip once lit a couple of books of matches, waved them in front of my face and shouted “Fire! May Day! Fire in the cockpit!” when I was trying to land in deep dusk with no lights. We bounced to a stop just short of a river and he said, “It’s not always happy hour. You gotta keep your shit straight, fly through it.” A lesson that came in handy in a burning plane over Columbia. He also taught me the value of shotguns as he saw them. Any length, any gauge. He had them everywhere, always one within reach.

***

We’d pushed the Cub into one of his hangars where he was helping me pull the floats off so that I could replace them with the 26-inch tires that would land me anywhere except water. Like down the street from a middle-of-nowhere bank.

He listened and wrenched without interruption while I ran down my situation. When I finished he continued to wrench on the float struts in silence before he set his ratchet down.

“So, Bo Diddly, tell me. Who do you trust?”

Whoooo do you luh-uve. “I don’t know.”

“Well, we’ll think on it some more. What I do know is it’s hot as hell in this hangar. And pontoons, god almighty, plus a certain fool I know who uses them are the only reasons I don’t ‘doze that pond. Stinks when it has water in it.”

“Never seen it dry.”

“Never has been. Stinks all the damn time.”

I was wondering if I should thank him for the stinky pond while we dropped the floats and carried them out of the way but that thought was interrupted when Rip’s phone made windchime noises. He picked up a rag, dried the sweat off his hands, pulled the phone from his front jeans pocket.

“Comp’ny comin’. Two miles out.” He whistled through his fingers, two short chirps and one long. He checked the phone, handed it to me. “You know a black fella, drives a dirty maroon Lincoln?”

***

“I asked your lady friend in Sugarland,” Tavius said. “You don’t call, don’t answer your damn phone. I’ve been driving all fucking day. Where’s Moreno?”

“I turned my phone off. Moreno, I couldn’t say.” The fucker was lying, selling it like nobody could do math. I’d left Houston with Moreno at 10 AM. Addison by 12:30. Moreno and Secret Agent Man had eaten up another hour. Not quite three hours to Rip’s in a straight line at 105, a trip that was right at five hours by car because I’d driven it before. It was now almost 5:30 PM. Tavius’s total drive time would have been nine hours if he’d refueled without stopping and the freeways had been accident and construction free. No way he was here from Sugarland. But he could have driven from Shamrock in the hour I’d been on the ground. It stunk worse than Rip’s pond.

“Son,” Rip looked up from his desk at Tavius standing by the open door,  “we all know you’re lyin’. Why’nt you tell Comparo where the body’s at, what you’ve done with the knife and what your stake in all this is ‘cause spray paintin’ us with your brand a bullshit ain’t gonna fly.”

“Look, old man, I asked him a simple question.” Tavius’s hand was on its way to his back. A sawed-off 12 gauge swung up from the side of Rip’s chair and blew a hole in the sheetrock next to Tavius, his slick matte nickel .380 stalled at his side, still pointed down. Rip always said a shotgun in close quarters froze time.

“Don’t be cute, son, or you’ll end up like the meth heads show up out here time to time thinkin’ I have somethin’ worth stealin’. Paro, relieve the man of his weapon and his predicament.”

Blood flecks were showing on Tavius’s left arm, the one closest to the blast. There was no hole in the wall, just wasted sheetrock on top of concrete.

“Paro, how long you figure on the van fulla convicts?”

“Maybe an hour.”

“Dandy. Our friend here oughta be done with the sheetrock patch by then.”

***

Tavius was on one knee, a bucket of premix wall compound next to him, an eight-inch putty knife in his right hand. The left sleeve of his silky rayon hoodie was missing and he had half-a-dozen Band-Aids on his arm. Rip was sitting on his desk, shotgun in hand, supervising.

“Now when you’re done an outta here, son, you get yourself to an emergency room or a vet. Somebody knows how to fix huntin’ accidents and pull buckshot. Leave ‘em in there and that lead’ll start a blood infection, kill you as sure as you’d taken a direct hit.”

Tavius tried to be cool, wiped the putty knife on the edge of the bucket, checked his work. “What kind of wall is this?”

“Poured concrete, four inches thick. The galvanized outside helps keep the heat down and has an authentic look to it. The sheetrock is for folks who think it looks finished that way.”

I could see Tavius wanted to ask arrogant survivalist nut case questions, but Rip had kept a shotgun on him the entire time, even when he’d handed me the first one to reload the spent shell. I’d wanted to ask Tave a bucket of questions myself,  but Rip wanted his wall fixed without conversation. I heard the wind chimes again.

“More comp’ny, Comparo. Hook our friend up to the reins rings in front where I can see him.”

“This is going to go down bad for you, old man.” Tavius wasn’t happy about being hooked up like a yard ornament.

“Could be. But it’s my shotgun and my party. I’ll cut you loose when we’ve had our second little get together and you’ll be free to tell whoever you want what happened here. Like you said,” Rip slid off the desk to upright. “I’m an old man and I can’t party like I used to. But you just go along with us an I think we can get through this one without needin’ to kill you.”

I led Tavius out in hands-behind-his-back cuffs, ran the short length of chain between his wrists and through the steel ring embedded in a concrete post.

“Paro, you can’t be doing this. We had a deal.”

“We still do. I’m still Moreno’s pilot. You shouldn’t have tried to pull on Rip, that’s all.”

“It was just to get him to shut up so we could take a walk, talk about Moreno, work this out.” He heard the padlock click, shook his wrists “Motherfucker’s crazy.”

“Maybe.” I shook the lock and the cuffs to be sure. “But he’s got the shotguns.”

***

Moreno was the first one out of the van and led a crew of three to the door, none of them acknowledged or spoke to Tavius. This time they were greeted with the shotgun out. Left to right inside it was Cav, Mr. Doubleknit, Muller the crazy-eyed driver from Corpus and a short man wearing a tweed beret and painters coveralls tucked into black combat boots. I figured him as the import Slovak Firestarter named Usman. He was the first to speak.

“You da pilot?”

“No,” Rip tipped his head slightly in my direction. Usman turned toward me.

“You not get da message, not get too fancy, not think too much? Huh?”

“If you’re talking about the campfire down south, I got that message. Pissed me off.” I lowered my shotgun to his chest height. “But before you and I work that out I want someone to tell me what the fuck is going on.”

Rip rested the butt of his sawed-off on his thigh, pointed at the middle of the crew. “Otherwise we waste the three of you and rob the bank with the woman.”

“You can’t do that,” Moreno said. “We only know a part, each of us. No puedo hacerlo solo,” She looked at me like I could help. “Paro?”

“No honor among thieves?” Rip popped a brief ironic smile. “Imagine my surprise.”

Muller and Usman drew handguns, Rip ignored them, didn’t kill anyone, but he whistled.

“You, you can’t kill us all,” Muller stammered. “You already killed Dwight.” Dwight must have been Third Eye horseapple nose. “We kill both of you, I say we’re even.”

“An I say you’re dead either way.” Rip pointed at the door with his sawed-off. “Turn around, have a look. I’d go easy, I were you.” Behind them, in the wide doorway, were five of the meanest looking junkyard dogs I’d ever seen. Rip lit a cigarette, started talking.

“State troopers, they got dope dogs in their patrol cars these days. For stoppin’ people comin’ outta Colorado might have some pot. Now I was comin’ back, I guess, oh, ‘round April maybe. I’d been huntin’ for a week or so up there an had my dogs in the cab with me. I was probably speedin’ a little, up in the panhandle an believe it or not I fit a profile. Geezers who mighta been hippies, thirty somethins in expensive cars an kids with stupid haircuts in rice rockets.  Anyway, this trooper fella, he lights me up, I pull over an he parks up in front of me, gets his dog outta the back. They train those dogs, you know, and they’re smart as hell. Really smart fuckin’ dogs.” He blew a smoke ring, watched it.

“Where was I? Oh, yeah, the dope dog. This trooper, he walks up, asks do I mind if his dog searches my truck for drugs. I roll the back winda down and it fills up with these dogs here and I say I don’t mind, but you should ask my dogs how they feel about it. Well the really smart dope dog, a big ol’ Golden Retriever, he looks up at the winda and says ‘woof’, more like a dog howdy than some badass bark, an trots his fluffy tail back to the K9 car. The trooper looks at me, an the dogs an back at his dog that’s opened his own door and hopped back inside the cruiser. He thinks for a few an then he says ‘Have a nice afternoon. Slow it down’.”

“For God’s sake, what the hell is your point?” Double Knit had a radio announcer voice that belied his lack of fashion sense. And he had his arm around Cav’s waist.

“Those dogs there,” Rip nodded out the door, “they hear gunfire in this room, and they go straight for the crotch. No matter who’s dead your luggage is gone, y’all bleed to death worryin’ about how you and pussy are done forever. Sorry ma’am.” He blew another smoke ring, watched the facial contortions from everyone but Cav. “My point is, son, see that trooper, he knew I had him out dogged.” He smashed the cigarette out in an upside-down piston head sitting on his desk. “A revelation you fellas should be comin’ to long about now. You can set your weapons on the file cabinet there or I can let go a round and y’all can kiss your balls goodbye.” He cradled the shotgun in the crook of his arm, finger on the triggers. “Frankly, I don’t give a damn one way or the other.”

Chocolate Cigars

Something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I didn’t think love had anything to do with it. Moreno’s question had everything to do with it. What she’d asked me, what she needed, was somebody to trust. Since neither of us seemed to know who that might be, her Plan B, by urgent necessity or design, had been to play the love card. I found it an unusual call based on her history. Her Columbian mission ‘boyfriend’ loved her until he got love, jealousy, humiliation and betrayal over something that only existed in his head all mixed up. Just before he and I thought he’d put two 9mm rounds in her chest. I took his gun away and killed him for that. Looking back, I could honestly say that I did it more out of anger for his killing an attractive woman I might have had sex with again than any higher moral calling like love. Sex and love. With all their unfathomable, unpredictable ramifications and Cavanuagh Moreno was counting on one or both of them. And me.

I was working on all that when a young guy rolled up in a new, white Chevy pickup. From the logo on the door I knew he was there to sell me his brand of expensive covered airplane parking and gas, hustle me off to his boss’s corp jet hanger. ‘Complimentary’ wine, crackers, cheese, fruit and cold salmon dip that would magically show up tacked on to my ‘overnight flat rate’. I made a spontaneous decision while the truck’s window went down. When it was down the kid stuck his head out.

“Hey, man. I’m Jason. With –”

“Fuck that, Jason,” I opened his door. “I need to borrow your truck. And the hat.”

“Caps are swag if you park –”

“We’ve done that. Out. Now.”

“Man, you can’t steal the –”

“I said borrow. You have my plane, I have your truck. I don’t bring it back, who wins?” I grabbed the sleeve of his spotless white coveralls and pulled. He stumbled out, I climbed in, snatched his hat on the way. “Take a break, Jason. Call your girlfriend, play with your phone or your dick or something for an hour. I’ll be back.”

“Dude! What do I tell –”

“What you always tell them when you’ve been out fuckin’ off.” I slammed the truck into gear, hauled ass around the hangars in a failed attempt to beat Uber to Moreno. She’d better be at the other airport or we’d have to toss the whole love conversation and have a serious discussion about reality.

***

Sitting stationary in the “hi honey, bye honey” traffic circle at an airport is a lot easier in a clean, new truck with a corporate jet and FOB services logo on the door and a security pass in the clear pouch stuck on the window. With the flashers on I was extended un-spoken professional courtesy by the “keep it moving” Security that had walked past five times and nodded. I returned the nods, pointed to an imaginary watch on my wrist and offered them a working man’s ‘who the hell knows’ shrug while I kept an eye on my subject. Which was easy because Moreno stood unmoving in the same spot on the sidewalk, convict burn phone in one hand, rolling suitcase handle in the other for at least ten minutes while all the variations of hi honey and bye honey vacationers, families, business travelers and sun burned college kids in wrinkled cargo shorts, hiking boots and T-shirts from far away places swarmed around her. Before I arrived Moreno’s heels had turned into sandals and the silky tank into a long-tailed, high collared, loose, three-quarter sleeve madras thing. I called her from my latest burner.

“Bueno? Who is this?”

“Who’s meeting you?”

“Paro?” She looked around, slowly, like a human radar dish. “How did you get this number?”

“Took a picture when you walked off to make a call in Sugarland. Blew it up.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Okay, I checked when you set it on Gina’s counter.”

“Why?”

“Yes was yes. Who’s picking you up?”

“You’re very sweet, but this isn’t the –”

“Who?”

“The accountant. He’s…I don’t want to be alone in the car with him.” She was still trying to pick me out of the crowd. “Paro, please. Hang up.”

“Give me his number.”

“Paro –”

“Cav!”

I hung up, punched the number she’d rattled off at high speed in Spanish into my burner and saved it. A few minutes later the last thing I expected, and from her face, the last thing Moreno expected as well, was some guy who shopped business casual at Goodwill who’d walked up behind her with a rolling suitcase of his own and started talking. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but they argued at low volume and you could have cut the mutual animosity with a knife.

They were chewing at each other like that when a reasonably new, pewter gray Dodge Caravan with blackout tint signaled its way through three lanes of ‘hi honey bye honey’ to the curb in front of Cav and Mr. Best Dressed 1974. He grabbed Cav’s elbow and ushered her none too gently toward the van. I made the call. Best Dressed didn’t answer, I hoped it was the van driver.

“Rondy.” Some kind of accent. Slavic?

“Tell your friend to ease up on the lady or he’s dead before he gets to the van.”

“Whodafuck?”

“Your pilot. You have,” I made a guess of distance by ground, “just under five hours to meet me at Stick It Flight School in Donley County.”

“Where da –”

“Short detour on your way to Shamrock. You can find it. You’d better find it.”

“The boss,” Rondy sounded antsy, less badass. “She not even know about Shamrock. How –”

“Magic. I’ve dropped bombs on the Taliban and grenades on a cartel coke convoy. You ass wipes are fish in a barrel. Five hours, fuck stick, or I take her away from what’s left of you and we do this job ourselves.” I clicked off the call.

Shit. Now what? I started to pull out behind them when my passenger door opened and Secret Agent Man from Sugarland hopped in.

“Don’t stare,” he flipped his hand like he was shooing a fly. “Drive.” We followed the van toward the airport exit, two cars between us.

“You actually have a weapon on you, Comparo? Leftover grenades?”

“No.”

“You watch a lot of old Cagney movies as a kid?”

“Yeah. And The Untouchables midnight reruns in college.”

“Stoned, no doubt. I know I was. You working a plan?”

“No.”

“It shows. You were supposed to call me.”

“This whole, situation, whatever, was, is…”

“Extemporaneous is the word you’re looking for.” I glanced over and he had a faint smile working. “I told you to stay in bed today. Any thoughts on the double-knit walk up?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing.”

“A UFO then. Facial Rec and security video from the gates are on it, we’ll know in about ten minutes.”

“Is Cav safe?” Her love bit was working, I could hear it in my voice. “She said she didn’t like being alone with the accountant.”

“I wouldn’t like it either. The accountant has been dead for eight months.”

“Then who’s driving the van?”

“Rannindy Usman. An import. Bombmaker, arsonist, small-time domestic arms dealer. We’re coming to the light. If they can use Google Maps they’ll turn right for the interstate. You should get over and turn left, drop me at the QT.”

I did as directed, pulled up beside a Frito Lay truck in the QT lot. He tapped my shoulder, made sure I was listening. “Return this vehicle, immediately, before it’s a mess I’ll have to clean up. Then get that powered kite of yours in the air ASAP.”

“You aren’t coming?”

“With Shamrock out of the bag I need to wake up my surveillance from their donut and coffee in the boondocks stupor. And I’m waiting on intel for double knit. You need to forget all of this, go back to being their attitude riddled and now lovesick pilot and kick it to Stick It.”

“Poetry?”

“Everyone needs a hobby.” He swung out of the cab, held the door. “Usman’s an asshole and likes to prove it. I’d prepare for unpleasant company. With considerably more going for you than your Cagney gangsta rap.”

Secret Agent Bard was walking off toward the Mockingbird Diner, cleaning his sunglasses, when I pulled out into traffic. I broke every traffic law in the book getting out of the middle of suburban Dallas, arrived at my destination in Addison with Lady Luck shining on me. Jason was still off somewhere with his phone or his pecker and no police or airport security types were waiting for me. I started to keep Jason’s hat as a souvenir, but it smelled like young guy man-whore hair products so I propped it on the dash in front of the steering wheel. He’d think I was a gent.

When the Cub was running and ready, I contacted the tower and told them my wife was having a baby in Wichita Falls. They offered their congratulations, said I owed them some chocolate cigars and cleared me immediately. I wanted to ask how they kept those lit but passed.

***

Once again from east to west, I watched the planet go from green to brown below me, five hundred miles north. This time with no beautiful danger onboard, only my thoughts. They were more than enough. A new player had shown up, one that Moreno knew and no one else was aware of. A maybe government agent knew every move I made, regardless of my GPS and the phones I thought he knew about being off. Tavius was supposedly a government agent, and he knew just about as much as the other one, if not more. Because Tave didn’t ask many questions except about Moreno. But he’d gone silent after the body removal. Someone Moreno called ‘the accountant’ wasn’t dead, but the original one was. Did she know about that? Did she know the van driver she called an accountant was really a fire starter? Had she known that when her rental car and most of my Earthly possessions turned to ash?

I had started to feel played. And that pissed me off on several fronts, Cavanaugh Moreno chief among them. Sex? Love? Was that just to keep me reliable? Committed? I needed to keep my big head on and start thinking with it, let the love and bank robbery money chips fall where they may. I’d a lot rather come out of this thing broke, alive and flying, than end up dead in the middle of nowhere fighting one too many of a good-looking woman’s windmills while I labored under the delusion that she wasn’t yanking my chain about the big L.