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!”

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Published by

Phil Huston

https://philh52.wordpress.com/

9 thoughts on “Grape Skin”

  1. What’s that English cliche used for this kind of read? …Couldn’t put it down! Only in this case it’s true. Thanks for the great entertainment, and the promise of more, Phil.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, I can’t help myself. I was the kid who grew up watching westerns and wondering why the cowboys never had to get off the horese and go pee or go on cattle drives and change underwear (because my mom would have made me. I know because I tried to go cattle drive cowboy and she plunked me in the bathtub and said No Way) so I throw a little imperfect humanity in via aging underwear.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Boy, you sound like you’re digging this story. That you Jackson, flying that floater around a desert state? Wheels on a Cub, no shit. I flew a Luscombe stick from Boise to San Rafael back in 1981, the actual pilot told me to wake him up when we reached the border. Turned out the fuel tanks needed switching well before then. A sputtering engine in a flying coffin is not something you soon forget.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Not me. But I have a great line for when the bad guys go down so I have to get there with the flyboy. And I spent some time recently with an old a friend who lives in bumfuck Texas and tell more stories worth hearing before you need a second cup of coffe than most people can in a month and i found it inspirational.

      Liked by 1 person

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