Something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I didn’t think love had anything to do with it. Moreno’s question had everything to do with it. What she’d asked me, what she needed, was somebody to trust. Since neither of us seemed to know who that might be, her Plan B, by urgent necessity or design, had been to play the love card. I found it an unusual call based on her history. Her Columbian mission ‘boyfriend’ loved her until he got love, jealousy, humiliation and betrayal over something that only existed in his head all mixed up. Just before he and I thought he’d put two 9mm rounds in her chest. I took his gun away and killed him for that. Looking back, I could honestly say that I did it more out of anger for his killing an attractive woman I might have had sex with again than any higher moral calling like love. Sex and love. With all their unfathomable, unpredictable ramifications and Cavanuagh Moreno was counting on one or both of them. And me.
I was working on all that when a young guy rolled up in a new, white Chevy pickup. From the logo on the door I knew he was there to sell me his brand of expensive covered airplane parking and gas, hustle me off to his boss’s corp jet hanger. ‘Complimentary’ wine, crackers, cheese, fruit and cold salmon dip that would magically show up tacked on to my ‘overnight flat rate’. I made a spontaneous decision while the truck’s window went down. When it was down the kid stuck his head out.
“Hey, man. I’m Jason. With –”
“Fuck that, Jason,” I opened his door. “I need to borrow your truck. And the hat.”
“Caps are swag if you park –”
“We’ve done that. Out. Now.”
“Man, you can’t steal the –”
“I said borrow. You have my plane, I have your truck. I don’t bring it back, who wins?” I grabbed the sleeve of his spotless white coveralls and pulled. He stumbled out, I climbed in, snatched his hat on the way. “Take a break, Jason. Call your girlfriend, play with your phone or your dick or something for an hour. I’ll be back.”
“Dude! What do I tell –”
“What you always tell them when you’ve been out fuckin’ off.” I slammed the truck into gear, hauled ass around the hangars in a failed attempt to beat Uber to Moreno. She’d better be at the other airport or we’d have to toss the whole love conversation and have a serious discussion about reality.
Sitting stationary in the “hi honey, bye honey” traffic circle at an airport is a lot easier in a clean, new truck with a corporate jet and FOB services logo on the door and a security pass in the clear pouch stuck on the window. With the flashers on I was extended un-spoken professional courtesy by the “keep it moving” Security that had walked past five times and nodded. I returned the nods, pointed to an imaginary watch on my wrist and offered them a working man’s ‘who the hell knows’ shrug while I kept an eye on my subject. Which was easy because Moreno stood unmoving in the same spot on the sidewalk, convict burn phone in one hand, rolling suitcase handle in the other for at least ten minutes while all the variations of hi honey and bye honey vacationers, families, business travelers and sun burned college kids in wrinkled cargo shorts, hiking boots and T-shirts from far away places swarmed around her. Before I arrived Moreno’s heels had turned into sandals and the silky tank into a long-tailed, high collared, loose, three-quarter sleeve madras thing. I called her from my latest burner.
“Bueno? Who is this?”
“Who’s meeting you?”
“Paro?” She looked around, slowly, like a human radar dish. “How did you get this number?”
“Took a picture when you walked off to make a call in Sugarland. Blew it up.”
“Okay, I checked when you set it on Gina’s counter.”
“Yes was yes. Who’s picking you up?”
“You’re very sweet, but this isn’t the –”
“The accountant. He’s…I don’t want to be alone in the car with him.” She was still trying to pick me out of the crowd. “Paro, please. Hang up.”
“Give me his number.”
I hung up, punched the number she’d rattled off at high speed in Spanish into my burner and saved it. A few minutes later the last thing I expected, and from her face, the last thing Moreno expected as well, was some guy who shopped business casual at Goodwill who’d walked up behind her with a rolling suitcase of his own and started talking. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but they argued at low volume and you could have cut the mutual animosity with a knife.
They were chewing at each other like that when a reasonably new, pewter gray Dodge Caravan with blackout tint signaled its way through three lanes of ‘hi honey bye honey’ to the curb in front of Cav and Mr. Best Dressed 1974. He grabbed Cav’s elbow and ushered her none too gently toward the van. I made the call. Best Dressed didn’t answer, I hoped it was the van driver.
“Rondy.” Some kind of accent. Slavic?
“Tell your friend to ease up on the lady or he’s dead before he gets to the van.”
“Your pilot. You have,” I made a guess of distance by ground, “just under five hours to meet me at Stick It Flight School in Donley County.”
“Where da –”
“Short detour on your way to Shamrock. You can find it. You’d better find it.”
“The boss,” Rondy sounded antsy, less badass. “She not even know about Shamrock. How –”
“Magic. I’ve dropped bombs on the Taliban and grenades on a cartel coke convoy. You ass wipes are fish in a barrel. Five hours, fuck stick, or I take her away from what’s left of you and we do this job ourselves.” I clicked off the call.
Shit. Now what? I started to pull out behind them when my passenger door opened and Secret Agent Man from Sugarland hopped in.
“Don’t stare,” he flipped his hand like he was shooing a fly. “Drive.” We followed the van toward the airport exit, two cars between us.
“You actually have a weapon on you, Comparo? Leftover grenades?”
“You watch a lot of old Cagney movies as a kid?”
“Yeah. And The Untouchables midnight reruns in college.”
“Stoned, no doubt. I know I was. You working a plan?”
“It shows. You were supposed to call me.”
“This whole, situation, whatever, was, is…”
“Extemporaneous is the word you’re looking for.” I glanced over and he had a faint smile working. “I told you to stay in bed today. Any thoughts on the double-knit walk up?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“A UFO then. Facial Rec and security video from the gates are on it, we’ll know in about ten minutes.”
“Is Cav safe?” Her love bit was working, I could hear it in my voice. “She said she didn’t like being alone with the accountant.”
“I wouldn’t like it either. The accountant has been dead for eight months.”
“Then who’s driving the van?”
“Rannindy Usman. An import. Bombmaker, arsonist, small-time domestic arms dealer. We’re coming to the light. If they can use Google Maps they’ll turn right for the interstate. You should get over and turn left, drop me at the QT.”
I did as directed, pulled up beside a Frito Lay truck in the QT lot. He tapped my shoulder, made sure I was listening. “Return this vehicle, immediately, before it’s a mess I’ll have to clean up. Then get that powered kite of yours in the air ASAP.”
“You aren’t coming?”
“With Shamrock out of the bag I need to wake up my surveillance from their donut and coffee in the boondocks stupor. And I’m waiting on intel for double knit. You need to forget all of this, go back to being their attitude riddled and now lovesick pilot and kick it to Stick It.”
“Everyone needs a hobby.” He swung out of the cab, held the door. “Usman’s an asshole and likes to prove it. I’d prepare for unpleasant company. With considerably more going for you than your Cagney gangsta rap.”
Secret Agent Bard was walking off toward the Mockingbird Diner, cleaning his sunglasses, when I pulled out into traffic. I broke every traffic law in the book getting out of the middle of suburban Dallas, arrived at my destination in Addison with Lady Luck shining on me. Jason was still off somewhere with his phone or his pecker and no police or airport security types were waiting for me. I started to keep Jason’s hat as a souvenir, but it smelled like young guy man-whore hair products so I propped it on the dash in front of the steering wheel. He’d think I was a gent.
When the Cub was running and ready, I contacted the tower and told them my wife was having a baby in Wichita Falls. They offered their congratulations, said I owed them some chocolate cigars and cleared me immediately. I wanted to ask how they kept those lit but passed.
Once again from east to west, I watched the planet go from green to brown below me, five hundred miles north. This time with no beautiful danger onboard, only my thoughts. They were more than enough. A new player had shown up, one that Moreno knew and no one else was aware of. A maybe government agent knew every move I made, regardless of my GPS and the phones I thought he knew about being off. Tavius was supposedly a government agent, and he knew just about as much as the other one, if not more. Because Tave didn’t ask many questions except about Moreno. But he’d gone silent after the body removal. Someone Moreno called ‘the accountant’ wasn’t dead, but the original one was. Did she know about that? Did she know the van driver she called an accountant was really a fire starter? Had she known that when her rental car and most of my Earthly possessions turned to ash?
I had started to feel played. And that pissed me off on several fronts, Cavanaugh Moreno chief among them. Sex? Love? Was that just to keep me reliable? Committed? I needed to keep my big head on and start thinking with it, let the love and bank robbery money chips fall where they may. I’d a lot rather come out of this thing broke, alive and flying, than end up dead in the middle of nowhere fighting one too many of a good-looking woman’s windmills while I labored under the delusion that she wasn’t yanking my chain about the big L.