Bernie pulled the door open and her loose fitting, wide-legged cotton lounge suit swirled around her. “Hey.” She waved Bobby inside. “You can sleep on the couch over there. I bought it comfy on purpose for Hotel California moments like this.” Bernie caught Bobby’s hangdog expression, screwed up her lips, shook her head. “It’s one night, Boudreaux, not like we’re living together. Lighten up.”
“Right.” Bobby had never been in Bernie’s condo before. He checked out the sleek, brushed chrome, wire and bleached-wood décor of Bernie’s living room, the angular red leather couch that that looked anything but “comfy”, and lamps that all reminded him of modern art sculpture. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but Bernie’s was cleaner and more streamlined than any place he’d ever been except an art gallery.
Bernie’s voice was lightweight actor gravelly when it floated out of the kitchen. “I made some vegetarian pasta with Black-eyed peas in a light, fresh peppered up Tony Chachere’s gravy, and coleslaw you’ll never forget. It’s a day early but we’ll be on a plane tomorrow. Did you pick up the French bread?”
“Yeah.” Vegetarian spaghetti? Bobby didn’t have much choice. He was out of his rented apartment in Huntington Beach, Mick had gone off the radar in Texas and Creighton was in North Carolina looking for Mid Atlantic burger joint investors. What Bobby wanted was to go home. He really wanted it not to be New Year’s Eve without Carrie Louise. New Year’s was something they’d celebrated together since he could remember. In the good times when they were little kids, through the rough times, even last year in the middle of Swamp Vue. Now she wouldn’t answer her phone. And football on the first without Mama Roche’s coleslaw had to be against the law. He set his gym bag on the floor, pushed it down the side of the couch so it looked less like Aqualung in a convent.
“Did you put onions in the black-eyed peas?” He toed the bag back a little further.
“For a fact. Red pearls. I know what I’m doing in a kitchen. It might not be on the table at five for some sweet-lovin’, hard-workin’ man, but when I get to it, I’m all that. You said yourself my trinity shrimp should be on the menu at Mick’s.” She dried her hands on a dish towel, stepped out of the open kitchen. She grabbed his hand and pulled him onto the couch, took the French loaf out of his lap, set it in her own.
“Look, Mr. B.” She smiled like the sister he sometimes wished he had. “Tomorrow we fly commercial to Houston, get on a looks-like-a-charter FBI King Air to Lafayette. We pick up the money and an unmarked escort Tuesday morning, drive over to the Big Red Stick. We hand off the money, drag your sweetie out of her crooked aunt’s office, kicking and screaming if we have to, tell how the hog ate the cabbage. Done deal. Stop worrying. Okay?”
“Yeah…Are you sure she’ll be there?”
“Louisiana girls always know where the competition’s at, Boudreaux.” She smiled again. “What did I tell you?”
“It was an order, not a question.” She popped his thigh with her palm, stood up. “Take your shoes off. I’ll heat the bread, you pick a bowl game. Somebody kickin’ anybody from Florida’s ass, or anywhere north of the Georgia-Tennessee line is good.”
“Paris” checked her lipstick, smacked her lips in the mirror of the dancer’s dressing room in a topless bar two blocks south of the Houston Galleria. She hooked a thumb in front and back of the bottom of her holes-hooked-together-with-thread body suit, squatted slightly, tugged and cleared her wedgie. “What’s with the sad dude, Brandi? He looks like somebody I seen before.”
“He’s in one of those car tv shows. He says anyway, right? He’s getting too drunk and I’m not in the mood. It’s a front and back, bend and shake my ass night before my period starts like better be soon, and every time he grabs my shit I wanna scream and slap the whiny bitch. Maybe if he was getting me drunk, but he’s like a major tight ass. Dance, dance, dance. While he drinks and whines and gropes. Happy New Year me. Not.” She tried her own lipstick re-do in the mirror.
“He does look like the car dude, though, you know.” Paris swapped lipstick for a hairbrush. “I seen that show like a thousand times. I was dancing in this place on the two lane, thirty whatever? There outside Tyler? And the bar manager maggot, he like recorded all them car shows on his computer somehow, played them all day. That was before the Cartel dudes kidnapped him. And then this bitch from Charlotte, she like said all them crazy Cartel dudes was coming back to get us girls. So I gassed up at the Exxon where the Wendy’s is at and beat it here. I think the whore was jealous, you know, ‘cause she was like the ugliest bitch in the place. The DJ like paid her not to solo main stage, you know. I think the Cartel coming back was like too deep. A lie, right, to get us gone so she could make some Skittles coin for when her ugly skank ass got home she hit the trailer flying.” She paused, tried not to look too eager, caught Brandi’s eye in the mirror.
“So like, um, if you’re not down for the car dude’s ‘tude and all, I’ll take him, you know, ‘cause after all that shit in Tyler went down I need to bring daddy some money.” She did a both hands, both boobs adjustment, tilted her head side to side, checked them out. “And like my titties aren’t sore yet or nothing, and he ain’t getting to nothing else ‘cause, no offense, who knows where his hands have been.”
“Take him.” Brandi frowned into the mirror, shifted her own lips, side-armed her lipstick across the room and into her locker. “Him and his two million dollars some hillbilly Bumble Bee is carrying around in a briefcase bullshit.”
“Say wha? A bumble bee with two million? Girl, you high?”
“No. All he can talk about.” She shifted into a schoolgirl nyah-nyah voice. “‘Bumble Bee has two million dollars, Bumblee Bee has two million dollars.’ God. You listen to that if you want and get groped out. I’m gonna go get fuck-my-cramps shitfaced at the upstairs bar, lean over the rail and make fun of the rest of you whores till I can tip out of my shift.”
Mick stumbled out under the buzzing neon lights and into the humid Houston night, shuffled flatfooted over the crumbling asphalt past the valet parking stand, his left arm around Paris’s shoulder. She had both arms around his middle, her knees bent in a lift-then-drag move. At the far end of the parking lot, out of sight of the security cameras and away from the screaming neon lights, she passed him off to one of two guys standing at the back of a butterscotch and primer gray Eighties scoop-nose Cutlass with the trunk lid up.
She straightened the satin shorty robe over her lace body suit, all she had on except platform flip flops with big turquoise flowers on the toe straps, copped some attitude and got in the handoff guy’s face.
“Da fuck, Cletus. One of you could help a girl out.”
“Da fuck yourself, girl. Oughta be able to carry a man, you want easy money for his drunk ass bad enough.” Cletus eyed the semi-limp and sloppy drunk version of Monterrey Mick. “You sure this the car dude? Looks like one of the Beach Boys, only all fucked up an shit.”
The other guy grabbed one side of Mick, helped Cletus prop him up on the bumper. “What do you know ‘bout the Beach boys?”
“Enough to know this could be one of them.”
“Hell, them dudes is older than dirt. Old as the Stones, even. No way this dude’s that old.”
“Shut up and pay the girl, Orrin. And get off the Stones like now.”
Orrin handed Paris two Benjamins, she took them, spun around, flicked him on the nose with them.
Orrin smacked her butt. “You got two more hours, girl. Better turn that ass into a cash register ‘tween now an then or your daddy’s gonna be pissed he finds out you wastin’ time with us. Go on, we got this.” Orrin held Mick in place with his leg, cupped his hands around a match for the cigarette he’d left hanging unlit during the Mick hand off, watched Paris weave the walk back through the parked cars towards neon wonderland.
“You think this asshole knows a bumble bee with two million dollars?”
“We find out in the A.M.” Cletus clipped Mick on the back of the head with the barrel of his generic 9mm, shoved him backward into the trunk.
“Damn, Clete. Why’d you hit the man? He ain’t done nothin’ to you yet.”
“He’s fuckin’ drunk, an gonna puke up the trunk of my ride. I’d hit him for that later anyway. Now it’s done, I don’t have to do it when it’s later.”
“You been watching that time management woman looks like a Q-tip on PBS again.” Orrin slammed the trunk, walked around and opened the passenger side door. “Must be pledge drive time. One of these days you’ll be watchin’ a pledge drive an all them old folk singers be dead an the Stones gonna be on there in walkers, more wrinkly an fucked up than they are now, all asking for money an shit for a DVD from back when they weren’t droolin’, or a coffee cup with that stupid tongue on it.”
“Only time they play anything worth watchin’ is pledge drives.” Cletus dropped into the driver’s side, waved the 9 at his partner. “Fuck a DVD, I’ve seen ‘em like thirty times. But I’d drop fifty for one of those cups if they had one. Lighten up on the fuckin’ Stones, man. Seriously.”