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.
“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.
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.