Used Dog Food

According to a good many modern authors, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” changed how dialog drives story. Even new guys like David Levine and old hats like Nelson Demille. So if you can do this bit at 65% narrative, without travelogue and excessive tags, and keep the people personal I’d like to see it. Otherwise, save the lengthy bear chased the dog sled over the hill and through the woods for Jack London. My people talk because they can tell their stories better than I can.

Jackson’s  old apartment, Long Beach, CA – late summer 1982

“There’s a long story about why I hate musicians, Jackson.”

Kaitlin Everson, the actress responsible for the lawsuits that roared like background noise on cheap tape through almost five months of his life stood on the other side of his small kitchen divider, nervously tapping her fingers on the tile top. She looked good. Dangerous. The perfect, swept up cascade of ringlets over dark waves, sprayed-on yellow capris and a snug, lacy sleeves to her elbows top. He stayed with his back against the counter on the opposite wall of his narrow kitchen, arms folded like a shield. As if it would help if she went full Tasmanian devil.

“I’ve heard some of them. Variations on a theme of the real one, probably. That’s why you’re here, Kait? To tell me a long story?”

“Alix didn’t call you?”

“She said ‘My love, the delightful Kaitlin has telephoned. Speak with her, s’il vous plaît?’ No one living has ignored Alix’s s’il vous plaît. So here you are. We could have gone neutral somewhere. Or was that the point, to stay out of public places?”

“No. I heard about this old apartment of yours. What happens here. How comfortable and real it is. The open windows, the sounds, the sweet monster dog. I heard you put eleven top-shelf L.A. women in here on Saturday mornings all summer and there was no trippy bullshit. I wanted to see it.” She stopped her fingers, took a surprise deep breath for someone usually cooler than a bucket of ice. “I sat with Randi Navarro and Cicily Warren at a Women in Broadcast lunch last week. They showed me their personal bio packs and they were the shit. The real shit. Custom color folders, custom cards, embossed calligraphy, perfect complementary colors, not overdone. Definitely not office supply print shop ready-to-wear. They said massive taste, and they would be the first ones out of any pile. I asked Randi where it came from and she said you were involved and that…That I should contact the French lawyer who untied our two-little-bitches-in-Hollywood knot, and you might let me in on who does their work.”

He got close to “Your little bitch in Hollywood knot” and let it slide. “Any of them could have sent you straight to the source. No one needed to send you to me like I clear who gets access to that talent. It doesn’t matter how you and I feel about each other, the point is that a talented person who has something to offer and could make a difference gets what they need to advance their career.” He turned, put the unopened beer he’d been about to drink back in the fridge. “If I had to be ape shit happy with everyone I worked with I’d be screwed. And so would you and so would everyone else in this town.”

“How do we feel about each other?”

“You carried the movie that made us both temporarily insane, and at long last, some money. You’re way too good looking and too talented and your bitch factor is too high for you to disappear. And you’re too smart not to care about something. So I’m down. Like I said, not that it matters what I think.”

She’d leaned both arms on the divider, he stepped up to the counter attached to the other side, thought for a second.

“Look, Kait, I was a green, dopey, shaggy flatland college boy with a deal that fell in my lap. You gave me that shit on your shoes look the day we met Shannon and I figured okay, fair enough. I’m not actress bait, drop it and get on down the road. I always wonder why girls who bail on me do it, but I get it. It’s happened so much my dude to dude failure excuse is that I’m an acquired taste.” They looked at each other for few, like a lion tamer and a lion, trying to figure out who was which.

“It wasn’t personal, Jax. Musicians were like a bad habit until I started getting real work.” She did that thing he thought was a universal girl move, averting her eyes to look at her fingers absently doodling on his tile-topped divider. “After I got the job on the soap and I put that part of me down, some of those guys did some really stupid, mean shit. I went off on one at the Whiskey one night and it got turned into ‘ex-groupie soap star goes off’ press. With pictures of me looking fucked up and mad as hell screaming about all their lying bullshit. I had to sue them all to stop it.”

“So suing musicians is just how you get through your day?”

She didn’t want to buy it. The humor in his voice, his eyes. “Randi warned me you’d find a way to get around me, no matter what I put up.”

“Randi warns every female that’s about to talk to me.”

“She should. And Cicily told me what you did to that piece of work pussy-bait lover boy of hers. I worked a laundromat-on-acid fabric softener spot with that rat fart when I first started, back in high school.”

“Whoa. No shit? The one where the girl pulls her clothes out of the dryer, a guy dumps his clothes all over to run help ‘cause she’s so cute and her clothes smell so good, everything goes all wiggly and BAM, they’re holding hands in a field somewhere?”

“You saw it?”

“Hell yeah. I can’t believe that was you and Gibson. That’s sad, because a lot of us guys wanted to be the dude in the laundromat. You probably started a whole humongous urban myth about picking up chicks with fabric softener, being way wet-dreamable in that almost see-through dress. In fact, I need to call a couple of people and tell them the ‘Smells like sunshine and happy’ chick filed a lawsuit to keep from going out with me.”

“You’re not supposed to be funny, Jax. Or nice. Or easy for me to be with, or work with. I emptied my humility piggy bank and rehearsed some deep southern fried Scarlett O’Hara damsel in distress for this.” She crossed her arms, grabbed her blouse with both hands in the center of her chest. “Oh puh-leeeeease, Mistuh Jay-uc-son, you just hay-uv tuh help poor little ol’ me.” She let go, relaxed her arms back onto the divider.

“That has to be the smallest humility piggy bank on the planet and the best Scarlett O’Hara I’ve seen since some guys explained cotillions to me when I was sixteen. You’re helped, Kaitlin. The only rule is don’t try to be smarter than the people who will help you. That about killed the control freak in Navarro, but if you like her package, that’s how it happens.”

“Screw that stress. Let whoever it is clean up my press world and drop a quarter in my direction when it’s time to pick it up.” She tapped the counter again, caught herself, took another deep breath. “Okay, coming here is what about killed me. And that’s all there is? No ‘who’s on top now.’ No insincere apologies, no games? No pinch my left butt cheek until it’s purple?”

“That’s it. Well…”

She raised one eyebrow.

“Is that your hair?”

“For fuck’s…Yes it’s mine. It’s cut longer down the back so I can put the center curls in and it balances. If I don’t put the curls in I have to do all kinds of crap with clips or my hair looks like a horse’s ass from behind. Godammit, I see it. Don’t you even think it. What is it with everyone and my fucking hair?”

“Everybody says it’s a fall. That bass player you got so pissed off at had a curly fall just like your hair tied to his antenna and lime green crotchless panties taped to his back window. He said both of them belonged to you.”

“They weren’t mine. Not my hair, for damn sure not my panties. I mean give a girl some credit for taste. And that waste of air with all of his phony Kaitlin’s groupie swag taped to his car got his ass sued with the rest of them. I am not a groupie and never was and this is my hair. Once upon a time I liked to hit a fatty and dance and I liked to go out with band guys. Until a few years ago turning twenty-one and regular employment raised my IQ.”

“So you didn’t pull a train after the —”

“NO!” He thought her eyes might catch fire. “You can eat shit and fucking die, Jackson. You’re as bad as all the rest of them.” She spun, steamed for the door.

That’s the Kaitlin I know.” He couldn’t hold the laugh. “Day-um, bitch. Chill. You hungry?”

She stopped at the door, turned halfway around. “You hillbilly asshole. I’m starving.” She did the index finger flip between them. “You? And me? Now?”

“Let’s go. I can hang with a hot actress, and we can bust each other’s chops a little longer. You forgot these.” He held out two business cards, tugged on her ringlets when she got close enough to take them. He laughed again, she yanked the cards with one hand, punched him on the shoulder, hard, with the other.

“Fuck you, you, you,” a laugh of her own got out. “You goofy, pickle dick hick.” She shook her hair, checked out Paula’s and Stacey’s Morisé Women’s Initiatives cards, dropped them in a clutch not much bigger than they were. “You’re driving. Because I like your old car and want to be seen riding in it. Since that is so incredibly shallow of me, I’ll buy. But only if you take us somewhere in Hollywood or Beverly.”

She looked up, caught him grinning. “And all that ‘I’m really just a cute, fun guy’ shit you’re working like it would make La Brea belch Elvis back? Buy it a coffin. If anyone asks? We still hate each other. Got it?”

***

Morisé – 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower

“Kaitlin Everson?” Paula set the folder on top of everything on Stacey’s desk. “I missed the legal do-si-do, but I got the word upfront from Studley. Do we have right of refusal?”

“Alix said that we all underestimate the Director of Women’s Initiatives. That he has turned a negative into a positive and has now completed the process for which he has been in training.” She watched Paula’s face go question mark. “Yeah, me neither. Something about forgiveness and the big picture. Shannon has thinned Kaitlin’s bio to bullet points for me, and Kaitlin is ready for the initial preferences call. Which is you. They’ll shoot the interview in Zane’s green room, edit her aircheck, Jackson will smooth it out next door at Air Biscuit. It’s a genuine project.”

“Don’t you think it’s amazing how they do those interviews? It’s just two people in chairs in Tits’ small warehouse and it looks like someone’s badass living room or the Parthenon or some beach that’s too clean to be real.”

“What is more amazing, Paula, is that Alix threw him and Kaitlin together without an ambulance on standby and that you get away with calling Zane Rialta ‘Tits’.”

“Studley says Alix sent Kaitlin to him with a s’il vous plaît, and everybody out there calls Zane ‘Tits’. It’s like her unofficial celeb toe tag.”

“I’m not sure about the toe tag, but the s’il vous plaît explains this.” Stacey handed Paula a copy of True Star that had landed with the morning mail. “They’re a quarter page in the gossip section, on the patio at a burger place. Smiling. He must have had to send his soul out to the cleaners after.”

“The smile tells me the picture is doctored.” Paula pulled on the sides of her mouth with her index fingers and made a face before she opened the paper, shuffled through to the middle. “‘Heart Throb Actress Starring in Real-Life Romance!’ Who writes this used dog food?”

“People like us who don’t quite have total autonomy about what they publish?”

“Somewhere in that, I heard ‘We’re doing Kaitlin Everson, Paula. Get over it’.”

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 8 or 9 or 10 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Say a Little Prayer

“Rise and shine, party boy.”

Gina? I rolled over, squinted at the sun coming through the open door. The fuzzy girl standing between me and the sun wasn’t Moreno.

“Sorry, mister sir, she say you stoled her truck and was gonna call police I doan let her in.”

“What the hell happened to you?” Gina yanked the bedspread I must have wrapped up in. “We had to bring the spare key to pick up the freakin’ truck this morning.”

“CIA…propo… porpo…” Her hair was more like hair now, and less like a Mad Max extra. “What happened to fresh fucked?”

“Please, honey. C I Ay? C U this.” She touched her lip. “He gave me this. Roger. Fucker. I’ve never had a fever blister in my life. Spend a weekend on that moldy, stinky piece of shit with vinyl mattresses he calls a boat and I get this.”

“Don’t poke on it. It looks more like a zit. Or a bite, or an ingrown hair. Fever blisters are crusty. That’s just a red bump.”

Zit? Ingrown hair? I’m too old to break out and I pay good money to wax…” She walked over to the mirror, pushed her lip around with her finger. “I squeezed it earlier, like you do, you know? And it hurt like hell but…You think not, babe? I had a brow and facial yesterday…Seriously. You think maybe not on the fever blister?”

“I think seriously maybe probably not.” I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. No shit halo effect. “Do I have gas?”

“I don’t know, honey. Not pullin’ your finger to find out. Get dressed, I’ll run you back to the field.”

“I need a burn phone. And a pay phone. And an iPhone charger.”

“Baby, you tried to find a pay phone lately?”

“No.” I pulled my clean cargos on over the new underwear, picked up my sock stuffed boots.

“Well, they’re gone. Pimps and dope dealers and other undesirables were making nuisances of themselves using them. They’ve been ordinanced and legislated out of almost everywhere.”

“So now the undesirables can buy burn phones and won’t be visible doing their pimping or dealing standing outside 7-11, or tied to a location? But still be nuisances to the general population?”

“Your tax dollars at work for you. Why do you need a burner, babe? This bank robber hottie of yours got a man? You got a girl doesn’t need to know about her?”

“Do I look fresh fucked to you?”

“Nope. Fresh fucked up, yes.” She laughed, handed me a brush out of her purse, handed the housekeeping girl a ten on her way out the door. I handed the same girl a Wal Mart bag with a twenty dollar burn phone and a prepaid timecard inside because I knew Secret Agent Man had run it before I came to.

Houskeeper checked the bag’s contents. “Are you two married. Or sum-ting?”

“No.” I raised my voice enough for Gina to hear me. “That’s my mother.”

“In your dreams, baby. And you can whistle through your butt for that trip to Wally World now. Will you get the freakin’ lead out? I need to go apologize to somebody about a zit with a mistaken identity and you’re draggin’ ass.”

I wanted to make another anchor joke, but like a lot of things this morning it just wasn’t there.

***

I broke the drug funk with an Egg McMuffin and two cups of Gina’s coffee, which I drank while she ran off in heels, spandex and a long-tailed, cleaners-crisp white shirt to square things with moldy vinyl mattress man. I figured unless he was dumber than a box of rocks, he’d accept her apology without making her work for it. Because that shit would blow up in his face. Like I knew the zit that wasn’t a fever blister had.

I used the computer in the business services closet to run a search on Cavanaugh Moreno while I waited for the coffee to kick in. I found a lot of hyphenated Cavanaugh-Morenos. Several articles about an ex Mrs. Francisco “Frank” Cavanaugh-Moreno and their big divorce settlement and a year later when she became Mrs. Cavanaugh-Wycliffe and moved into a sub-division with a Spanish name that meant Taste of the Sea, in an ‘affluent San Diego suburb’. Sounded more like a trendy restaurant or canned tuna than an affluent suburb to me, but I don’t have affluent suburb money so what did I know? Frank Moreno was an international banker and looked like an over the hill Latin Gigolo in an expensive suit and spent a lot of time shaking hands with blank-look-on-their-faces foreigners. The other Frank Moreno, misspelled from Morino, was a 70s guitarist who claimed to channel the ghost of Jimi Hendrix. Right. The 70s.

By page five I was tired of Morenos Morinos and Cavanaughs that had nothing to do with what I was looking for when my phone that rarely went off scared the shit out of me. Literally. On my way to the men’s “lounge” I checked the text.

Reminder that your RX is ready for pickup at Walgreens.
Call 832-555-3344 with questions.
Reply HELP for assistance, CANCEL to cancel.

I didn’t have any prescriptions ready for pickup. Or at all. After Secret Agent Man’s short trip to nowhere with a lingering twelve-hour hangover I sure as hell wasn’t going to go in blind somewhere to pick one up, either. Reverse lookup on the number took me to a me-too cell company, not a pharmacy, and the goddam door to the men’s “lounge” was locked. I knocked on the door next to it. No answer. In I went. Sorry, ladies.

***

“No.”

“But Paro –”

“NO. Drop the car at Hobby, I’ll come get you. Throw the phone away.”

“You don’t…Hobby?”

“Google is your friend. Then toss the phone.”

“I need this phone, Paro. Don’t tell me what to do.”

“Throw it away, Cav. I know my phone is on the big screen in the sky and you just sent your number to it.”

I hung up, looked at my second twenty-dollar burn phone in eighteen hours. I’d throw it out the window on the way to pick up Moreno at Hobby Airport. Because she had to turn her current rental in somewhere it looked like she could catch a flight out. So more people I hadn’t met yet could drug me, threaten me, ask me where the hell she was. She could buy us both new burners on the way back to Sugarland.

***

Gina handed off my iPhone that I’d intentionally left on and charging behind her desk at Sugarland, kept her eyes on Moreno pacing the FOB lounge. Cav was talking fast and quiet on her old burn phone she’d refused to toss. Gina leaned into me from the side and whispered “If I was a man? I’d rob as many freakin’ banks for her as she wanted.”

“Yeah. That’s the problem.”

“You callin’ what she’s got goin’ on a problem, babe? I should have her problems.”

“She’s a magnet for all the wrong people.”

“Better put yourself in that suitcase with the rest of them, honey. You’re gassed and good to go. Flight plan?” She waited. “Thought not.”

***

I’d gotten a quick hug in front of several Budget security cameras and since then Cav had said exactly five words. “Thank you,” and after climbing back in Gina’s truck from a Target stop on the way back to Sugarland “Here’s your phone.” I’d shut off my phone and glass instrumentation, checked my backup analog gauges. Airspeed, compass, altimeter, a tach and fuel gauge, all in a small flip-up cluster and was flyin’ a la crop-duster. A blip in the sky. The tower told me there was a decent southwesterly breeze full of moisture, no weather until Kansas. Gina had the tower insert me in front of a pair of Gulfstreams to “get the puddle jumper out of the way” and we were off.

Cav and I were still on that five-word-count for conversation when we crossed Interstate 35 between Temple and Waco. Averaging 96 MPH to keep the engine load down, that was over an hour of her periodically wringing her hands while staring out the window.

“Went looking for you on the internet.”

“Find me?”

“No, you called. Saved me the trouble.”

She squeezed my shoulder from the rear seat. “Sorry. Who’d you find?”

I told her about the ex Mrs. and the banker and the church music director, kid rapper, Irish fisherman. Left out Jimi’s ghost guitarist.

“The ex. That’s Mamá.”

“Tu Padre Frank?”

She snorted. “Si. My father is Francisco.”

“So who are you?”

“I was christened Siobhan Maria Cavanaugh-Moreno. With my confirmation Patron Saint it’s…un bocado grande. By third grade I was tired of correcting Shovahn from See-o-ban.”

“Sounds like a deodorant.”

She laughed out loud. “I love you, Paro. Nothing is sacred. Someday I will tell you my thoughts on a world without need of another dark-haired Irish senorita with a Coppertone tan named Maria.”

“You just did.”

I tell you everything, even when I try not to. I became Cavanaugh Moreno, no hyphens. I told my teachers, my parents, everyone.”

“But you never changed it, legally?”

“No. My mother said I needed all the guardian angels that would have me. I couldn’t risk pissing off St. Valentine or my Grandmothers by denying them further, could I?” She squeezed my shoulder again. “Paro, can you take me to Dallas?”

A destination at last. “No. Addison?”

“Donde?”

“North Dallas. Restaurants, condos, an airport. You have to tell me why, Cav. The government guys drugged me last night. Everybody’s looking for you. And what the hell is the connection with the convicts? One of them is –”

“Dead. Si. I know.”

“Were you there?”

“No. I was in Houston. I got a call.”

“Okay.” I’d give her that one. “How the hell did you know your car needed to be stolen in San Antonio?”

“What are you saying?”

“Your Fiat, Moreno. You reported it stolen from San Antonio on the way to my trailer.”

“I never. I, they told me not to worry about going back for it, it was ‘handled’.”

“‘Handled’ along with my trailer and truck. Nothing but ashes, Cav. Talk to me.”

She swore on her grandmothers and her patron saint that she hadn’t reported the car stolen, didn’t know it had been torched along with my trailer and truck. She’d ridden all the way to Houston from San Antonio in that fucked up van with Muller. Who’d dumped her at an Embassy Suites to get her away from me and off everyone’s radar until the bank job was solid and I ‘understood how it was.’ Said he’d given her a grand in cash, taken her phone, told her no credit cards. A rule she’d broken to rent another car. “I don’t like being told what I can or can’t do.” Really?

She’d texted me as Walgreens from the burn phone Muller left with her hoping I’d get curious and call. So she could ask me to come get her when she’d gotten her marching orders to Dallas. And claimed to have no idea I was so close.

I didn’t like it either, being told what to do. But one of the convicts was meeting her in Dallas to take her “within range” of the Kerrigan job. Probably the dump motel Secret Agent Man knew about. The convict told her to fly Southwest and instead she’d called Comparo Airlines. Like I was going to land between the big boys in their 737s without telling anyone I was on the way.

“How do I tell them, how will they not know I was with you if I’m in this other place?”

I told her she could shuttle or Uber to Love Field, stand outside bag claim with her stewardess size bag and call whoever was meeting her. It was such a cluster they’d never know the difference.

“Okay. Where will you go?”

“I’ll tell you that when you tell me about the bank job. Until then? I’ll be ‘in range’.” I held up my latest dispoza phone. “Got the number?”

“Leave it on, por favor?” For the first time since a fleeting moment in Columbia she sounded like she’d rather be anywhere but in the middle of what she had started. That was all she said until I killed the engine in Addison, climbed out to help her down where she got inches from my face.

Me amas o no?”

Did I love her or not? What the hell? “Yes.”

“Yes yes, or yes no?”

“Yes is yes.” Jesus. Why now? She tried a smile but it got lost on the way out. I didn’t think I’d ever seen anyone look quite so alone.

“Say a prayer for me, Paro.” I got a quick peck on the cheek. I caught her hand when she walked away. She turned. “Say another one, por favor. For us.”

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 8 or 9 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Sugarland

I couldn’t argue with myself about destination for very long with what the avionics were saying my useful range was. Three hundred and two miles. No way I was getting to where I wanted to go. My better judgement said Waco at 271. Gas, a cheap motel and Rip Foster’s by tomorrow morning. Sugarland was showing two miles further at 273. Curiosity and good sense got into it for about 10 seconds before it was time for a decision, and a reality check on this show won. Plus it would look like I was being a good boy.

Sugarland is where I’d go if I got a tip from Gina at flight services about a concrete jungle solo angler or hunter that wanted to try their survivor skills or get out of the house or off the grid for a few days. Where I flew in from my nowhere lake to make food and beer runs at the Sam’s just south down Highway 6 and do laundry back north of the airport at the $44 a night Budget Host. Five-dollar discount for veterans. I don’t know if you travel much, but the rate should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the accommodations. And Houston is about the size of New Jersey, only in Houston you can make a left turn, so I got a dose of big city. I landed easy and long with the floats level and took too much time getting out of the way of a herd of private jets lined up who were probably less than happy to wait for me. I handed off the Cub and walked through a sticky Gulf breeze to the FBO lounge.

“Comparo, baby!” Gina flew out from behind the flight services counter, made a face, stopped short. “You need a shower, honey. Somethin’ awful.” Gina was five feet even of once upon a cheerleader, mid-fifties going on sixteen. A woman without a filter who said what she thought. About everything. From politics to fashion, sports, sex and binge-worthy streaming content. She didn’t care if you agreed with her or not because you couldn’t wedge your opinion in between hers with a three-foot pry bar.

Someone came in behind me and broke our standoff. She ejected herself to call whoever it was baby and honey. I stepped aside and she took a purchase order for Jet A from a slick, cologned, uniformed private pilot closer to her own age. They talked for a few while I wandered through the FBO lounge, stared for a minute at what someone decided was art and thought how oiled wood and glass and upholstered lounges with indirect lighting, backlit ads for expensive heart attack food and art that belonged on a refrigerator, not in public, were all signs of progress. How “greenspaces” were the new picnic areas. How the “don’t” rules had risen from Don’t Run, No Littering, No Glass Containers to a bulleted list of eight, including an eighteen-word phrase to replace No Littering. How picnic tables were now defined, like public sports complexes, by rubberized extruded steel fixtures bolted to a concrete slab, covered by a cedar pergola.

“Whattaya think?” Gina was back, arm’s length away, posing left, then right, her hands fanned out by her head like a Forties pin-up. I hate these kinds of questions.

“Well…” Her hair was short and white blonde. Not military short, female short. Maybe two, two and a half inches, styled with hair stiffener and a blender.

“This is my fresh fucked look. Like it?”

“Looks good on you.” I stalled, looked it over. “Not everybody could pull it off.” If that was wrong she might reach out and pull mine off.

“Thanks, babe.” She popped her gum, happy. Hurdle cleared.

“You have a sunburn or was Mr. Right with Jet A all that?”

“Yeah, right.” She reached, pushed on my arm with her fingertips. “Married or gay or my-world narcissists. The cute, clean ones all are these days. You meet Roger last time?”

“Roger…The King Air guy, maybe sixty, gray flat top, works out, never ties his boots?”

“Fifty-seven, baby. How do I know? It was his birthday last weekend and we spent it on his boat.”

“Planes and boats. I’m impressed. He drop anchor for you a few times?” She got redder. “Damn, Gina. I thought it was impossible to embarrass a woman over forty-five.”

“Honey…” She snickered, checked the empty lounge. “I have sunburn in places that haven’t seen daylight in ten years.” That explained the celebration hair. “What are you doin’ here, babe, got a job?”

“In a way. I need gas, then I’m going north. To rob a bank with a lady I thought was dead. If I can find her.”

“She’d better be hotter’n hell and you’d better get laid. Robbin’ a freakin’ bank?”

“Gotta do what I gotta do. You know,” I winked, “since I don’t have a boat.”

“And not near enough anchor. Who tied you off?”

“Mick. I told him I’d be out with the sun tomorrow.”

“I’ll waive the park and tie-down. Cash, plastic or credit on the gas?”

“Plastic. Proves I was here in case anybody’s looking.”

“Trust me, baby, nobody’s lookin’ for you.” She fanned the air in front of her nose. “Damn sure not till you take a shower.”

“Can I still borrow your truck?”

“Hell no. Go see Mick, use one of the service trucks. Fumigate it before you bring it back.”

***

I’d bought a burn phone, a couple of four-dollar t-shirts and a three-pack of “moisture-wicking” boxer briefs I knew I’d wear once and toss. I don’t like to wear new clothes until they’ve been washed. People have laughed at me about that but how do I know inspector 47 hadn’t been scratching their ass, or worse before they packed my stuff? I was wearing a pair of them anyway, unwashed but new and a scratchy t-shirt while I pulled my clothes and the remaining newbies from the three-quarters-is-never-enough-to-get your-shit-dry dryer at the motel when someone grabbed me from behind in a vice grip. I felt a burn in the crook of my left elbow and the lights went out.

***

Cavanaugh Moreno was standing in front of the moon, its glow made her gauzy, her silhouette edgeless. I heard a voice from deep in a canyon say, “Too much to drink.” There was laughter in the canyon. Fuzzy lights replaced Moreno. I floated down on something soft. From the canyon came “Are you with us, buddy? Don’t roll over, face up.” The canyon laughed again, only lighter..less…ahhhh, shit.

***

I smelled coffee, opened my eyes. I was sitting up on the bed in my motel room, someone was holding a steaming, topless Starbucks under my nose. He looked serious but pleased with himself. So clean-cut he might have shaved twice. I could count the hairs in his nose. My first thought was to shove the hot coffee in his face and run until I saw the other two on either side of the room and they were dead solemn serious.

“Where’s Cavanaugh Moreno?” His manner was kind, not demanding. I got the feeling he could lean into demanding if needed.

“Dunno.”

“Well,” he set the coffee on the nightstand, “that’s what you said before you were back with us, so I’ll have to take it. Where’d you see her last?”

“Santone…” Jeez-us my mouth was dry. I reached for the coffee.

“There’s Pepsi in the machine if you need sugar with your caffeine. I can send somebody.”

I shook my head no. Bad move. “Whadafuk?”

“Propofol. Fast, wears off quick. Halo effect hangs around a while. We weren’t sure of your cooperation level, and you could have been armed.”

“Dewin lawnry? In mahunnerwear?”

“Never know. Good for you we under-guessed your weight, or you’d still be out.” He checked one of those government Dick Tracy watches. “Eighteen minutes. We were shooting for twenty. You need to update your weight on all your licenses.” He sipped his own coffee. “You remember me? I pulled you off the side of the road ahead of some pissed off Nacionales?”

It started to come back. Columbia. “Okay. Right. Cut me out of the parasail.”

“Hard to run dragging one of those.”

I agreed and we sat in silence except for the filtered traffic noise leeching in from outside and the whine-thump of the air conditioner. Some time passed, I started to feel better. “Why Moreno? What’s Moreno…” I knew what I wanted to ask but couldn’t find it.

“We don’t work with Ms. Moreno if that’s what you’re asking. That’s why I was hoping you’d know where she was.” That was good, I’d heard it twice now. “We find Ms. Moreno’s passions…Useful? Her larcenous intentions are altruistic, from an intent standpoint, and very disruptive when she tries to pull them off. She also plans well, if too trusting. Manages to keep the target off her own back. We like to see those disruptions. It’s a shame none of her Robin Hood escapades will ever succeed as she intends, but the mess she makes on the way…Very useful.” He set his coffee down on the wobbly round table every cheap motel room has.

“Who got the Cartel’s money?”

“We did. Blamed it on Moreno and her dead boyfriend, threw their bodies in the back of a truck. We made ‘splinter group of unknown accomplices in a Jeep got away with the money’ noises. They went thataway. Haul ass, maybe you can catch them.”

“I did you a favor, then, killing Moreno’s non-boyfriend. So why’d you strip my flying licenses?”

“I wasn’t aware of that, about the licenses. When we debriefed, I told you that you were an international diplomatic incident with feet and if you opened your mouth or leaked a fucking drop a lot of people would end up dead.”

“Me being high on the list.”

“You being at the top of the list. You kept quiet, got a direct deposit for the Beech that went down in flames, even though the little grenade run wasn’t something we anticipated or would have sanctioned. Then you quit flying, fell off our radar. So to speak.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out the same four-panel convict cards Tavius had shown me. I started to blurt that out and stopped. Was I in the middle of the government’s left hand not knowing what the right was up to? Or a test? If so…Fuck. That. Been there, got shot at, no thanks.

“Have you seen any of these men? Had any contact with them?”

I thumped the same two I did for Tavius. Muller and Third Eye horseapple nose.

“Where?”

“Corpus Christi. Before Cav…before Ms. Moreno disappeared.”

“This one,” he tapped Third Eye, “has gone AWOL. He was inside. Any idea where he went?”

Well sure, Mr. Secret Agent Man. He was on the floor of a deserted hangar not far from the Mexican border with a knife that probably still has my prints on it buried in his throat.

“No. He and the other one, Muller, were alive and well, but not too happy when I borrowed their van in Corpus.”

“They got it back.” He rubbed his double shaved chin with his thumb and forefinger. “The van, and the other three are at a minus four-star motel in Shamrock. Waiting on Ms. Moreno and you.” He pulled his phone, tapped it and mine buzzed. “That’s my number. You hear from Moreno, let me know. Everything you know, got me? Or you will lose your licenses.”

He stood, I thought about joining him. No way.

“Don’t get up. Get some sleep. I’m not the FAA but if I were you I’d wait a day to fly. And file a flight plan when you do.” He followed the other two to the door, stopped on his way out. “I can count on you to keep this conversation confidential?”

“What conversation…” Flight plans, confidential, convict foldouts…Fuck you guys. I drifted off and there was Cav in front of the moon again, her hand out toward me. We were angels. There was a river at the bottom of another canyon. More voices, more laughter, blackness…

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 8 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Grape Skin

“I can get a FEMA trailer over here,” Tavius had his phone out, tapped on it. “Might take a few days to find you.”

“No thanks.” Several things about the fires weren’t right to me, but that wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have right now. I’d also considered had I been here, what was left of me would be in the ashes somewhere. I’d taken the whole thing as an un-invitation to stick around. As for the remnants, if anyone were to stumble on this place and decide to investigate, the trailer had been weather salvage. Cash, no paperwork. If whoever was interested could find the serial number, it would trace back to an insurance company loss write-off. The VIN on the pickup would send anyone interested to me, someplace I wasn’t. And Cav’s Fiat…

“My shit’s no real loss. What about Moreno’s car?”

He looked up from his phone. “Belongs to Budget.”

“You plan on reporting it for her, since she’s –”

“Otherwise occupied? She doesn’t work for us, we just need clean disposal around this operation. There’s a box truck on the way to load it, drop it somewhere more likely for a strip and burn from San Antonio.”

“So you’ll report it after the drop?”

“No report to it. The car was reported stolen, by her, off the street in front of the Hotel Contessa, San Antonio. 2:10 PM, two days ago.” He looked up again from deep study on his phone. “That would be just after you two left the hangar for Comparo’s Holiday Park.”

Shit. The Contessa wasn’t where we’d stayed, and they weren’t sanitizing my presence. “You have a car?”

“You have an airplane. You need a ride somewhere?”

“I need my toolbox from the hangar. It’s small.”

“I heard that. About your tool box.” He checked the Dick Tracy watch like it kept time. “Recon at…15:35.” He walked his catlike walk to the raft, climbed in and sat. “Yo, Paro. Little help here?”

Mu-ther fucker. I would’ve hated for him to get his shoes any dirtier than the ashes had, so I pushed the raft off for him, watched him glide away. Thought I should have one of those rafts, maybe a two-seater. For what I don’t know, but how handy can you get?

On the subject of convenient – The burn-out behind me was no amateur can of gas and a match job. Everything cooked had cooked in place, no wild flare-ups, no collateral damage to surrounding vegetation. Even the clumps of dried sawgrass between the fires were untouched. Cav had known her car needed to be stolen at least a day in advance of cremation and the event eraser spooks were on the way to get it. Wouldn’t insurance or the police check security video? No, the spook crew would have seen to a video’s demise as part of the ‘event cleaning.’ Now Tavius had gone military mode on me and taken off in a one-man raft, ostensibly to get his ride. Maybe. A ride that was stashed somewhere out of sight of the eyeballs I’d missed that had been burning a hole in my back. I was homeless and truckless. Unarmed. Alone. Traceable. Disposable. Mu-ther FUCKER.

 ***

Tavius returned on time in a filthy Maroon-ish Lincoln covered in the red and gray dust of south-central Texas, complete with bug guts smeared windshield and chalky brown muddy wheel splatter. But the air conditioner worked better than my last refrigerator. We pulled up in front of the hangar, I climbed out into the heat with a feeling of minor regret, pushed the sliding door open, and my feeling of regret went over the top. Just inside, covered in flies and surrounded by a pool of congealed blood was Third Eye horseapple nose, the camo handled lock-back game gutter stuck in his throat. Exactly where I’d said it would be if I ever saw it again. Buried at the end of a bloody gash that started under his right ear and ended under his left.

Tavius kept his distance, expensive white workout shoes and all. I brought him an oversized pair of Halliburton rubber boots that had come with the hangar, dropped them in front of him. Enough of his no pearls before dead swine routine.

We squatted down and discovered two small-caliber holes in the body. One in the chest, one over his right ear. The gash, like the fires, was for me. By way of Muller. Or Moreno, or the burnout banditos. I ruled out the waitresses and the busboy.

“My prints are all over that knife.”

“Whoever did this probably wiped it first, wore gloves.” Tavius was gingerly lifting blood-soaked cloth looking for ID or signs of a booby trap.

“That’s a hope,” I said. “Not a certainty.”

“It is. But to get to a print they need to get the blood off and with that goes other leave-behind material.”

“Can’t they do some scientific thing now, bake it off, super glue fumes or –”

“Seems like a lot of time and expense for a dead ex-con in bumfuck.” He stood, balled up his black nitrile gloves. “He won’t be here long enough for anyone to find.”

I got my small toolbox loaded, had just slammed the trunk and gone back inside for a quick look, like checking out of a motel scan, when a County Mountie rolled up real slow. He stopped, told Tavius through a bull horn behind the grill, “Sir, put your hands on top of your vehicle, don’t move.” The Mountie did a little jack-in-the-box hop out of the car, crouched behind the door, pistol in a double grip, forearms on the edge of the open window.

“Is that a body I see on the floor in there?”

“It is indeed, Sherlock.” Tavius hadn’t put his hands on the Lincoln. I stayed out of sight in the hangar. The county cop waddled toward Tavius in a duck walk that morphed into standing.

“I told you, put your hands on top of your vehicle. Who the hell are you?”

“No way in hell I do that and none of your goddam business is who I am. This is a federal crime scene and you’re fucking it all up with your tire tracks and footprints.” Goddam, Tavius, lighten up. Country cops are whack jobs.

“That so?”

“It is.”

“I got a call to investigate a –”

“Fuck your call. Don’t you see it was whoever did this trying to screw my crime scene with an invasion of clodhopper cops?”

“You oughta watch your mouth.” The cop thought for a few. “ID?”

Tavius used the two-finger don’t-shoot-me-pull on his thin leather ID wallet, split it open with his index finger. I watched him inflate into his full-on West Point you are the shit on the shoes of my universe persona.

“Set it on the hood.” The cop came around, weapon still leveled, eyed the IDs.

“Bang.” Tavius had drawn a pocket-sized .380 from somewhere in the time it took the cop to glance at the ID wallet. “If I had been a real bad man, you’d be dead. Holster your weapon, read the cards.”

The cop read, his pistol down but still in a double grip. Like if he was going to die, he’d by God do it with his gun out. Which was stupid because if he was going to die, he’d already be dead. With his gun out. Unfired.

“Salsbury, Tavius L. Major, United States Army. Salsbury, T.L., Central Intelligence Agency. The sheriff holstered his hip canon. “Salsbury. That like the rubber steak in them hungry fella frozen dinners?” I was thinking it was the ground linoleum smothered in Teflon infused mushroom gravy the Air Force fed us for lunch.

“Funny.” Tavius slid the pocket gun behind his back. “You need to beat it.”

“I need to call somebody.”

“You need to beat. It. Before I call somebody.” Tavius picked up his ID. “We understand each other?”

“Not yet.”

Tavius sighed, put on his frustrated-to-be-talking-to-you-because-you’re-an-idiot. “Look, do I need to explain to you the various scenarios of an executed ex-convict in a hangar on a supposedly abandoned airfield? This close to the border? Explain to you why we do not need you to turn this into a fucking backwoods rednecks playing at cops and CSI circus? This is a government operation, way above your piss-ant need to know clearance. So back the fuck out of here, now. We’ll brush your tracks with ours. Beat. It.” I was waiting for him to moonwalk.

The cop walked back to his car, sat with one leg still on the ground and made radio noises back and forth for about a minute before he gathered himself, slammed the cruiser door and rolled out as slow as he rolled in. He left his window down long enough to give Tavius the finger before turning right on the farm road that would eventually lead to a two-lane state highway and further down the road. Most likely to an ass chewing for messing with the government. An act that always meant someone was going to be filling out forms for a month.

***

Tavius and I waited at the hangar for the box truck spooks after they’d somehow let him know Moreno’s Fiat was loaded. They showed, dropped out of the cab dressed in black everything, including the baggies on their feet, opened a body bag and stuffed Third Eye horseapple nose into it. They zipped and loaded him up along with my nothing important in them filing cabinets and old maps and drove off. Not a word spoken by any of them. Or us. They drove out, turned right, we followed to the road, turned left. The A/C felt good after an hour sweating in the hanger.

“Every time you show up here somebody gives you the finger, Major. Me, the cop. What’s the L for?”

“Why?”

“I’m writing a book?”

“LeJay. Louisiana slave name. Do it now with an apostrophe, no e.”

“You from Louisiana?”

“No.”

“Ever been a slave to anything but fashion?”

“Fuck you, Comparo. We almost got outted back there by Sheriff Moron and you’re fucking with me about the legitimacy of my heritage?” He checked his mirrors more for show than safety on a deserted farm road. “Stupid fucker’ll be back.”

“With reinforcements. And they’ll find a puddle of dried blood and the biggest mystery in the history of the county. One that we’ll see on Alien Encounters Season 12.” I looked out the window for my own dramatic effect before I dropped “I didn’t see the knife when they loaded the body.”

“Don’t worry about the knife.”

That was the moment I started to worry about a lot of things. Him, the knife, Moreno. Muller and the other two stooges I hadn’t met, the dead stooge I’d threatened, the controlled burn at my place. “You’re the boss.”

“Finally. Be good for you to remember that. Now you know the rules, where you off to?  Moreno will surface sometime soon and we’ll need you.”

“The show goes on, huh? Houston. Sugarland.” I let myself out of the Lincoln, bent in, did the thumb and little finger to my ear ‘call me’ riff. “You locate Moreno, my phone’s on.”  I closed the door with Tavius idling off telling me I’d better file a flight plan.

Fuck him. Like hell I was going to Sugarland or file a flight plan. I needed to get the floats off and short field tires on the Cub and a look at Kerrigan from the air, by myself, just in case. And a Cessna I could grab on short notice if I needed to disappear. Or, if found, I could use it to carry more bank robbery loot than my Cub was capable of. And a car. And a burn phone. And a place to take a shower and think. And last, but not least, my Browning. None of those things were close to Houston. Well, I could buy a burn phone almost anywhere. Maybe a Browning, too. Both no more trouble to find in Texas than hitting a town big enough for a gas station with microwave pizza and DVD rentals.

I got the zip lock from the Café DuMonde tin, dumped the remaining few buds in the tin and bagged a clump of headliner from the truck and a small, gooey piece of what had been the wall of my trailer. I zipped it, dropped it back in the tin, untied the cub and waved goodbye to Amos the tree and my lake. I pulled the cub’s nose up headed due north thinking I should add clothes to that list of things I needed because my Jockeys were starting to feel like the skin on a grape, and were probably going peel off the same way.

 

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 3 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Free Sex

I sat in my faded cushioned, peeling Adirondack and stared at the lake. The charred outlines and burnt-out hulks of my old Airstream, the older pickup and Cav’s Fiat fifteen feet behind me, the Cub sloshing quietly ten yards in front. Slosh meant someone was on the lake. You know a lake is small when it sloshes from a bass boat or someone trying to ski on the other side. I felt the passage of time as the thermostat that turned a Texas afternoon, even in the shade, into a blast furnace while I continued to find more questions than answers for the last two days.

I must have replayed Corpus a couple dozen times. In the diner, after I’d relieved Third Eye horseapple nose of his knife and used it to coerce the one called Muller into giving up his knockoff Glock, Cav had taken several of the hundreds she’d re-stuffed after finding them feeble in the face of the rich guy’s real estate and dealt them out to a couple of waitresses and the busboy who’d brought towels and ice. None of them found Franklin’s pocket portraits feeble and were ecstatic to be deaf dumb and blind kids during the ten minutes that preceded the cash. She’d also picked up the tab for an old couple who thought they were on candid camera, and that the two freak show escapees covered in tattoos done by a drunk blind man were actors. I made a big deal with my phone out of how small cameras were these days and let them believe it.

We hustled out, though, in case someone had actually called the cops before Cav started waving money around, and all piled into an 80’s Ford Econoline XLT that had once been metallic blue, and probably once had upholstery instead of a collection of truck stop Indian blankets held in place by colorful bungee cords. It smelled like cigarettes, sweat and a sticky sweet but foul odor somewhere between cheap cigarillos and bleu cheese that I couldn’t place but made me want to puke. We bounced down the street in the van, Moreno and her business associates trying to sell me on what a great idea it would be, you know, since we were all friends now, to return their weapons in a gesture of trust. I stuck the counterfeit Glock in Muller’s ear, told them to eat me, find Cole Park and maybe I wouldn’t feed them their weapons after I heard their bullshit. Cole Park because I knew I could find my plane from there and it was public. Cav let me know how much my attitude really pissed her off. I wasn’t sure if she was posing for the business associates or being genuinely stupid. I knew she hated taking orders from anyone, particularly a man, more particularly me, regardless of how open to direction she’d been the night before. This was her game, and I seemed to have taken over, if only momentarily. But when it comes to weapons and people I don’t trust, even people I do trust, I like to at least feel that I have some control over my destiny and she could stay pissed until everyone walked away from this encounter with no chance of being shot or sliced. Except by me.

Muller found Cole Park and we convened at a picnic table not far enough away from a large Hispanic family birthday party full of Cumbia being bluetoothed through a Costco Karaoke/DJ rig, three dozen screaming kids, a couple of pinatas and plenty of young women in at least one size too small clothes pointing phone cameras at everything, including us.

After half an hour I still didn’t like what little I’d heard about the bank robbery in Kerrigan. I still didn’t know why Kerrigan. There were vague references to twenty million “or so” dollars. What denominations? It didn’t matter. The hell it didn’t matter, weight was everything in flying out of there with it. Where did it come from? Who were we pissing off…Whatever I asked? It didn’t matter. They made it clear Miz Moreno brought me in because I saved her life and knew how to fly. Those qualifications bought me a ticket to ride, no more. I wondered why Cav would lie to them about me. The truth was closer to ‘I got her killed trying to screw her out from under her non-boyfriend.’

More than once I got called a pussy, pussy with superfluous profane modifiers, for not liking helicopters. Not being a helicopter man really sucked to these guys because the job, the way they saw it, was made for a helicopter. Maybe two. Both stolen. Someone not present could fly the other one. That was the entire sketchy bucket of talk that went around until I was dizzy with stale air and tired of being a helicopter pussy so I called it off.

I walked from the picnic table across the paved hike and bike path toward the sea wall, waited for a heavy-set twenty-something female in a red windbreaker and too short jogging shorts to pick up her Golden Retreiver’s recycled breakfast with her hand in an inside out WalMart bag. She smiled like I should be enjoying Rover’s dump as much as both of them were. I smiled back. Maybe I leered because she took off, pulling on the bottom of her shorts. Wear them longer of you don’t want strangers checking out your gibbles. I ejected the chambered round from Muller’s cheapo pistol, popped the clip and tossed it and the single round in the Gulf. When I got back I handed Muller his empty gun and Third Eye horseapple nose his knife, told him if I ever saw it again it would be sticking out of his throat. I took the van keys, said they could have it back less than a mile south on Ocean, bye. Cav raised hell, again putting it on for the Bozos or legitimate flight of stupid. Flight of stupid. Anybody ever writes my biography, there’s the title.

The slosh around the Cub grew into ripples and then a small wake until a figure appeared out of the heat waves in an inflatable raft. The captain revved the electric motor, popped it up at the last second and ran his raft aground so he could step out dry. Tavius looked better in his upscale athletic gear than the suit. Jock-ish. Maybe a rap icon. His wrists tastefully festooned with small chain-link and thin band gold bracelets, his nails buffed glossy. Like some women I’ve known. It had to be 102. No sign of sweat. He came at me all tilted drama, one arm cocked out like he was the lead in a bad thug movie or a rap video. Two things that are often the same thing.

“You and the goddam airplane. You do that shit, how’re we supposed to follow you? You gotta take the woman sight-seeing to get laid? Where the hell have you been? Where’s Moreno?” He leaned in, turned my chin with his hand. “What happened to your jaw? What the fuck is going on?” He swung his arm and upper body in a slow arc around my squatter’s paradise. “You call the insurance company? If you haven’t, don’t. If you have –”

“Plane’s the only thing insured.” I motioned to the other Adirondack. “Have a seat. What was your first question? Oh, right. I filed a flight plan.”

“In the air. From Eagle Pass. Goddammit, Comparo…This is deep. I can’t reach out to some fucking Jim Bob in Corpus, be all ‘there’s a deep covert with an invisible in your backyard, help us out.’” He dropped into the Adirondack Cav had been in two days ago. “Fuck.” His exasperation was tangible. I let him stew for a few before I asked.

“You smoke weed?”

“You askin’ ‘cause I’m black or you think I need to lower my anxiety?”

“Both?” He waved me off with a slow wrist flick. I got up, walked over to the cottonwood tree I’d named Amos, after my paternal grandfather, and pulled a small Café DuMonde coffee tin from a hollow crook in the back.

***

“Where’d this come from?”

“Oklahoma. It’s legal now.”

“For real?” He tapped the cable spool table with my disposable lighter. “The shit you learn in the middle of nowhere.”

“That’s what Moreno said. En la medio de nada.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. Where, exactly, is the middle nowhere?”

I told him about Kerrigan, the Corpus meeting. He made me repeat it while he pulled Kerrigan up on his phone and some other files from a government cloud and it got quiet in the heat.

He shifted, raised his chair a notch, put both elbows on the table. “You hit the man with a fucking sugar dispenser?”

“Yeah. The big, heavy old school glass kind. I had a choice, though. The big one or a plastic Sweet n Low caddy.”

“Good call. But you coulda killed him.”

“He pulled a knife. What’d he expect, flowers and a kiss?”

“Flowers maybe. How’d you keep the lid on again?”

“I told you. Moreno had a wad of cash, bought off a couple of waitresses and a busboy. Grampa and Gamma thought we were Candid Camera.”

“Nobody else there?”

“No.”

“Moreno?”

The short answer was San Antonio. Maybe. The long answer was I didn’t know. After we’d ditched Muller and Third Eye she’d asked me to take her to San Antonio. She had a room booked at a Riverside boutique hotel, we could stay the night. I liked that version of her better than the pissed-off give-the-crazies-their-shit-back I’d seen enough of. She wanted to pick up “some things.” I figured clothes, like the sketchy job was imminent. I never found out.

We went out of the hotel after dark, holding hands on the Riverwalk. Bands or DJs were playing outside or leaking out open club doors. We ate somewhere, had several Margaritas. She took off her shoes and danced her way through a half-mile of touristas and pink-faced conventioneers and overstressed waiters and hostesses holding their tray overhead. Tried to get me in the middle of it. Single file hands up shimmy wasn’t on for me, but I kept her in range. She danced like a cobra for a snake charmer. We ended up back at the room where we continued to make up for being interrupted in Columbia. I hadn’t had so much free sex in…A long time. Not that I’m a monk but I’d been working some things out. Like my fault she was dead. Which worked itself out without any help from me so my year of solitary was over. I woke up to an empty but for me bed and a note on the coffee pot. “Estaré en contacto, Paro.” I’ll be in touch. With a heart and a C.

“Moreno? Wake up, asshole.”

“San Antonio. We were in this hotel…”

“Then you were in the hotel and she’s wherever because she sure as hell ain’t here. Jesus, Paro. You might as well put a leash on your dick.” He opened a linear four-panel foldout on the spool top. “Who was in Corpus?”

I pointed out Muller and Third Eye horseapple nose. “His forehead and nose don’t look so bad in the mug shot. But damn…I see the guy, start to lose it, Moreno is hissing ‘stop it, stop it.’ I started to laugh and it got away from me. First time you see that shit…”

“Yeah?” Tavius wasn’t laughing. Fuck it. It was one of those had to be there moments. He folded the bad guy bubblegum cards, stuck them in his pocket.

“The other two are Usman and Crawford. I’ll text you what I have. They’re what happened here.”

“You’re tellin’ me you know who did this and just…let it happen?”

“Not on purpose. You were in the air fifteen minutes and they showed up, tossed your place. We figured to find out who you are. They left, we thought that was the end of it and called off the watch. The good news is you aren’t sentimental so there was nothing to find. Or burn.”

“That shit’s all in a storage locker in Addison. I pay it annually, haven’t seen it in five years.” My attitude started to come back. “Tossed isn’t fucking toast.

“This is hindsight, but we now think they were waiting for you to come home, maybe have a chat about you ringing the Third Eye brother’s bell. Humiliate you in front of their woman. You’re a no show, somewhere with their woman.” He walked over to the middle of what had been my trailer. “Here’s your sign.”

Their woman? What’re you sayin’?”

“Sayin’ they’d wasted a trip, got upset. You were where they’d all like to be, wished they were, don’t have a shot in hell at without assault. Sayin’ you, horndog flyboy, you were somewhere, with their Queenie.” He pushed my charred dining table spool with his foot, watched it crumble into chunks of charcoal and a puff of dark dust. He rotated my way, caught me with an eye lock. “Sayin’ free sex doesn’t appear to be all that free.”

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 3 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Looney Lunes #162

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Outside

WHAITEHAWK MAN FACES JAIL TERM AFTER DEFECATING ON SEAGULL IN REVENGE ATTACK Headline, The Brighton News, UK

Little birdie in the sky
Why’d you do that in my eye?
I’m not mad so I won’t cry
I’m just glad that cows don’t fly (or people…)

If they’d only misspelled FACES

Slow Night On Police Blotter Duty

MAN PUNCHES HIMSELF, CHARGED WITH ASSAULT Headline, Gallup Independent, New Mexico

Why? Because it felt so good when he stopped.

Compañero

There was no Gulf breeze, or breeze of any kind, so I pulled us up slowly westward to avoid the blinding white ball of morning sun. We were airborne about fifteen minutes before Cav, who had been quiet except for animated ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ pointing out scenery, put her phone between her headset and ear, kicked the mic up and spoke briefly to someone. I was flying low and slow, trimmed out like glass. She put the phone between her legs, fixed her headset.

“Corpus, Paro? It’s okay with you?”

“Yep. Now or lazy?”

“As you prefer. No hurries.” She went back to watching serenity painted as rugged and mostly empty ground roll by below, something most of us don’t see often enough. “Despite the beauty, sometime today, por favor?

Head west and a little north out of Corpus Christi to where the state roads get further and further apart and the population pretty much stops a ways southwest of San Antonio and if you looked hard enough you could find my little lake. Further northwest, where I’d taken us, it started to get rockier and taller. I climbed up out of where the Tamaulipan plains started to run into the Chihuahuan mountain desert and banked us around in a slow circle, skirting the Mexican border while I radioed in a flight plan to Eagle Pass regional. Under my own name and license. I turned the volume down when they went off on the weather because I was filing while already in the air and maybe I was stupid. I knew. I have first-class glass avionics and I’m still alive because I pay attention to the FAA weather. Even if I didn’t all that information lands in one app or another on my phone where I can get to it before the prop turns over. I knew high pressure was keeping the gulf stagnant, Texas hot. That a named Pacific depression had made landfall south of Baja and would rain itself out over the Mexican mountains and that you could see forever over most of Texas and the Southwest. I thanked them, though, radioed my roger and out, turned us away from the border for Corpus.

Corpus was better for me than Galveston as far as fuel was concerned. I like Galveston, though. One of the last holdouts of weird. I knew where to eat right, cheap, without tourists and plenty of weird company. Where to drink a beer with locals who weren’t weird enough or high enough to stab me because they thought I had seven heads. Where to listen to local musicians play surf music and acoustic Raggae. But from where we were Corpus was a straight shot east-southeast and I figured Cav had enough weirdness stashed she hadn’t unloaded on me. Yet.

Moreno had said “no hurries” so cars were making better time on the ground than I was in the air. We spotted someone in something small and red going at least 130. Not uncommon in nowhere. Neither was ending up dead not being a professional driver. They made it this time. We saw the car again, pulled over by DPS north of Alice. Which was where I got tired of waiting.

“Kerrigan?”

“We will meet some…friends of mine. In Corpus.”

“Friends?” Being Cav Moreno wasn’t conducive to making real friends.

“Business associates.” She turned, got a little louder in my headset. “Do you have to do that? Dissect everything I say? Redirect my language?”

“Yes.” She turned and stared out the window. “You’re a bullshit artist, Moreno. Most people won’t call you on it. I need to hear it undiluted.”

“Perhaps they trust me, and you do not.”

“‘Perhaps’ they got their tickets for free and just want to watch the show. We wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t already an active participant in whatever you have up your sleeve.”

She showed me her arm, bare in a yellow sleeveless tank. “No sleeve.”

“Figure of speech.”

Si. So is this.” She showed me her middle finger. Something was up. She wasn’t this evasive about probably getting killed attempting to steal from the cartel in Columbia.

“Nail polish doesn’t match.”

She called me something in Spanish I couldn’t hear, but would have understood, both of us being Irish Beaners. She hated that word, so I used it pretty often when our heritage or relatives came up. Or anytime I could find a use for it when she was around. Back when we didn’t get along like we were supposed to.

“Kerrigan?”

She turned and I could feel her eyes behind the sunglasses. “We’re going to rob the bank, Paro. There, en el medio de la nada, Tejas.”

Rob a bank in the middle of nowhere. Shit. My wiser, self-preservationist self, Tavius, the CIA’s order and my recently reinstated license all got into an argument.

“What are you thinking, Paro?”

Fu-uhk me was what I was thinking. I said, “I’d love to help you rob a bank in Kerrigan, Cav. What are friends for?” After that I started to say you’re crazier than a junkie with the shakes, a pipe and a kitchen match in a butane plant but the license and Tavius rubbed up against my right mind and won. That was it for conversation. We were robbing a bank in Kerrigan, Texas. On to Corpus.

***

I banked out over the Gulf, came back and skimmed Corpus Christi Bay to the middle west edge and pulled up alongside a dock that ran out from a huge house. Estate would be a better word. The owner was on his way before I killed the engine.

“Paro, this man who is coming. You know him? He is a friend?”

“No.” But I had a good idea from summer barnstorming, something that hadn’t changed much in a hundred years, that the man wouldn’t object. We weren’t criminals, Cav was a clock stopper and I was a conversationalist, and almost everyone is curious about a prop-driven plane.

“You do the stupidest, most random…” She pulled a couple of hundreds out of her phone wallet.

“Cav, look at this place. You think if he’s pissed a couple of Bens are gonna get him happy? Chill, work it with me.”

Ai yi.” She shook her head. “Paro, Paro, Paro.”

The average, slightly chunky gray-haired man wore the assured comfort that comes with wealth, and flip flops, and was glad to see us step out and smile. Particularly Cav. He casually showed me his Army-issue Colt .45, said, “Guess I don’t need this. Y’all don’t look too crazy.” He winked at Cav, stuck the gun back in his belt and we shook hands. He played twenty questions with us while we walked up past the pool and around the house where he took my card in the event he ever wanted to go somewhere without roads to drink and pretend to hunt or fish, wished us well and thanked us for giving his neighbors something to talk about.

***

Cav had this trip planned before she rolled up in my hangar because with a single tap on her phone back by the pool there was, as if by magic, a Honda Pilot Uber waiting for us on Ocean Dr. The back doors closed and she started on me in a hushed tone full of her plan-coming-together-urgency.

“Two men will meet us at the diner where we are going. Paro,” she turned my way, “Look at me, compañero. One of them, Muller, is taller, like you. He has a square jaw with the dimple and the, how is it, lazy eye? He may wear sunglasses. Don’t worry, there is nothing behind his eyes. But the other…Madre de Dios. How do I ask you…”

“As simply as possible, so I understand?”

“Please. The shorter man,” I could swear she was trying not to laugh, “you must not look at his nose. His eyes, over his head, anywhere. But not his nose.” She shook my arm to reinforce it. “You must promise me, Paro. Cross your heart and hope you don’t die if you laugh or stare. Promise!”

I was already a would-be bank robber. What the hell, I promised.

Of all the places to eat in Corpus Christi, the original home of Whataburger, she’d picked a Fifties-style burger place downtown that could have been franchised. When Sinatra was selling records. Bigger than a Steak n Shake but the same black and white tile floors, red vinyl booths and stools. Its saving grace was that it looked well-loved, almost dingy, with more than a few cracked tiles and tufts of batting showing in the booth seats. And the collection of Velvet Elvis paintings rivaled a Sunday afternoon gas station parking lot in South LA. Or San Antonio. Or hell, Tulsa or Milwaukee. Believe that, I’ve seen them. It also had the obligatory framed-with-neon-accent posters of dogs playing pool and dead Fifties superstars sitting around a horseshoe-shaped diner soda fountain. Just like the one where we were. I wondered, it was almost old enough, if maybe this was James Dean heaven. Or even better, Marilyn Monroe heaven.

I was imaging that in a brilliant white chiffon teddy and wings when the taller one, Muller, came through the door. He found Cav with his good eye. I know that because he had a pirate patch over the other one and only an idiot would patch his good eye. The smaller guy, the one Cav warned me about, came in behind him. I didn’t laugh or stare because I’d promised. But Godamighty it must’ve looked like it was busting my ass not to because the little fucker drew all the way back, roundhouse slugged me and whipped out a camo handled lock-back game gutter while I stumbled backwards.

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 3 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Special thanks to JTK in Canadian for small towns and smoking stories and JGM for the balls to the wall broad.