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.
“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.
“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!”