There was no standoff. When a situation comes down to Mastiff-Rottweiler mixes having your man parts for dinner and a semi-amicable surrender to future business partners who’ve had the opportunity to blow you in half with a shotgun or unleash the hounds and haven’t, surrender becomes a viable option. Muller and Usman walked to the filing cabinet, set their handguns on top.
“You, too.” Rip directed Double Knit by pointing the sawed-off. Double knit released the arm he had around Cav, flipped back his grey and black houndstooth double knit sport coat, showed Rip the gun in his waistband. He looked more uncomfortable than gun savvy. He started the filing cabinet walk and Moreno ripped the gun out of his pants and
Dogs were in the room.
Rip barked “Kill!”
The dogs sat.
The sound of the shot in the small room died away.
The gun Cav yanked had gone off through the fly of Double Knit’s pants and into the floor. He was a statue. Bent partially forward, arms out to his side, butt stuck out like he’d poured hot coffee in his lap, staring down at the smoking hole in his fly. He looked ill. Unlike Double Knit, Cav was no virgin to firearms, but she wasn’t a killer. Now that she had the gun out in one of those television ‘don’t anybody move’ moments she was unsure where to aim it. Rip lit another cigarette.
“Gun in your britches with the safety off is an easier way to fuck up your business than the dogs, son. You three fellas step to the door, mind the dogs. Let’s hear what the lady has to say.”
“I…” she glanced at Rip, landed on me. “Paro? Lo siento? It has to be this way. Until…Until we all know. And then you’ll know, and then…Tu entenderás, lo prometo. Comprende?”
“You’re sorry, and I’ll understand, you promise? Understand what, Cav? When?”
“I told you. When I know, you’ll know. Paro, you know…just…por favor?” There might have been a thousand things in her expression. I only looked for one. I didn’t know if I’d found it or wished it. I wanted to say Whatever, Cav. Fuck it. I didn’t.
Rip was still in the game, though, saying “I won’t kill a good-looking woman with brass balls for no other reason than the comp’ny she keeps. No, now stand still, the lot of you. Not killin’ her don’t mean you jokers get your weapons back. Y’all and the lady take a walk backwards to that van where I know there’s more guns than you brought in with you. While you’re walkin’ consider all the kindsa shit could go wrong with your leaving healthy if I see one.” He turned his back on them, ashed his cigarette, flipped a switch on the side of his desk that lit up the front with floodlights. “Remember there’s always the dogs can’t a one a you outrun.”
Tavius sat in one of Rip’s office guest chairs, a stackable, gray metal and hard cushion affair, rubbed his wrists from the handcuffing. Rip handed him the wallet he’d taken earlier, along with the .380 and clip.
“I’m extending you military courtesy, son, returning your weapon. I apologize for hooking you up out front like a lawn jockey. I know you’re pissed but it wasn’t meant as an insult, it was what I had to work with. Don’t care who it’d a been or what color, I’d done the same. We clear on that? I don’t need any racist bullshit from someone oughta know we’re all the same color in a foxhole.”
Tave checked Rip’s eyes, let whatever was on his mind go for now. “I could have been some help. None of them are stable,” he glared at me, “including Moreno.”
“Mighta been,” Rip said. “But we know you’re a liar and like to throw your weight around, intimidate people. Not my style.”
“The fuck it’s not. What do you call the dogs and all the goddamm shotguns?”
“Negotiating accessories. Take your wallet and that pretty gun, make the hour drive to Amarillo. Find a hospital, get that buckshot looked after. If flashin’ all them fancy IDs don’t shut ‘em up an they need a witness for a gunshot accident, have ‘em call me.”
Rip flooded the hangar with light and we went back to work mounting the Cub’s tires.
“Goddam, Paro. Stop thinkin’ so loud I can hear it. Spit it out.”
“I’m trying to figure Tavius. He doesn’t make sense. I thought he was hooked up to Moreno some way, but I didn’t see it.”
“He wants what she wants. The money.”
“Okay, then what does she want the money for? Or him?”
“Couldn’t say about her. He’s a greedy bastard who wants to live the high life football would have afforded him, he hadn’t fucked up his knee.”
“He’s West Point.”
“Don’t matter. He’s as career military as either of us. Couldn’t give a flyin’ fuck about anybody but himself. He wants the money she’s out to get, so he’s stuck to her ass like cheap gas station toilet paper.”
“I heard that as like a size too small thong.”
He laughed, stopped ratcheting, listened. “Paro, I don’t see you for six, seven months and you show up with a passel of new an interesting friends.”
I’d heard it, too. “Copter?”
“Lakota. A new one. Somebody important enough to have pull and no use for artillery. Or the Lincoln driver got lost and called in Medevac. I’ll turn on another light.”
Secret Agent Man, last seen walking toward a diner in Dallas, stepped out of the black, lights flashing Lakota UH 72a helicopter into the floodlight’s circle. He took a leisurely stroll in our direction while the helicopter wound down, lights still flashing in the gathering dusk. I’ve always wanted to say that, even though I haven’t the slightest idea what the hell Dusk might be gathering.
“Pilot says to thank you for the light, Colonel Foster.” He put out his hand. Rip took it. “And you, Major Riordan. Feeling better?”
“Yes and no.” What the hell, I hadn’t been a Major for six years and he’d drugged me, but I shook his hand.
“What are you gentleman drinking this evening? If you aren’t,” he produced a bottle of 21-year-old Glenfiddich, “maybe you’d like to join me?”
Rip had a cabinet full of motel tumblers, put three on the round table in his kitchen and pulled the icemaker drawer out of his fridge, emptied it in a small cooler saying, “This is your party, Comp’ny man.”
“Brad.” He twisted the Scotch open while Rip dipped the tumblers in the ice. “Everyone calls me Flyer.” He poured when the tumblers landed.
“You a pilot, track star?”
We let that ride, sipped his Scotch in quiet until he pulled out his phone. “Mind?”
Rip and I looked at each other. “Music,” Flyer said, “not a recorder.”
“You hit Bluetooth in that thing, find JBL. Only rule is no oompah accordion music.”
“Understood. I have two rules myself.” He set his phone down and tasteful ambient with a jazz flavor floated off Rip’s counter. “No radio rock, no bubble gum.” We sipped some more and waited. When glass two got poured Flyer produced a large, flat envelope from his windbreaker.
“Here’s where we are gentlemen. You obviously fared well with Princess Moreno, Usman and the rest.” He didn’t mention Tavius, but he had to know. I left it alone, but it was killing me.
“These are the players.” He fanned out some 5×7 prints, dealt a couple to the side, started there. “These two are already dead.” One was Third Eye horseapple nose, the other an average looking, balding man of indeterminate middle-ish age. “This one,” he tapped Muller’s picture, “he’ll be dead soon, if not already.”
“Moreno said –”
“Yes, I know, Paro. The information is all split up. I’ll believe that when pigs fly somewhere besides a Pink Floyd concert.” He tapped the Double Knit man, who was wearing far better clothes in the picture than what we’d seen. “He doesn’t know anything, so he’s expendable, like you. But not until the job’s done. Usman, and Dawson, the one who stayed in Shamrock, will try to kill each other after the bank’s robbed.”
I spun not so Double Knit’s picture. “This guy, me. We’re expendable but not till later. Why?”
“Usman thinks he’s the alpha in this game. He wants the money, and he wants Moreno. You and this man are…Important to her. Or he needs to think you are, so he can’t risk killing either of you. Yet.” He took a drink, poured a splash of another. It was his turn to finger not so Double Knit.
“A chiropractor. Stephen ‘Woody’ Birch. His real name, I checked. Mr. California. Vitamins and exercise, snake oil lotions and teas and alignment is the path to enlightenment and insurance fraud. Mostly Medicare. He did a plea deal, kept his license, paid back most of the debt by returning what he hadn’t spent and mortgaging everything else, twice. He still did about a year of Federal time. In fact, all these cons are Federal. Woody overheard them talking at Terminal Island about the wet dream bank job, pulled them together when Moreno said she needed some real money. He’s got no skin in this deal except the introductions, and he shouldn’t be here but he’s in love.”
“So how does this job net him anything?”
“Okay, Comparo. Good news, bad news on the Moreno front. He’s her fiancé. Was her fiancé until she found out about you not being dead. She strung him along to keep the convict pool in order until she located you. He’s working the other side of the same street, stringing her along till she’s got the money. As long as Usman doesn’t know Woody and Moreno are done, and that you’re no more than a friend who can fly, he keeps his hat on. The torch job was a warning, not revenge. If any of them had known about you and Moreno in San Antonio, or the trailer, there would be more bodies stacked up, yours among them.” He eyed his splash of a drink, downed it, continued.
“For now, Usman is on hold. Woody thinks she’s still going to bail him out, so he won’t do anything stupid. And if we can get you to abandon the White Knight routine and focus on your job everything stays on track. Until the bank is robbed. After that, all bets are off.”
Great. Something to look forward to. A well-armed cluster fuck shoot ‘em up with psychopaths.
“And what’s your job?” I asked because it had started to sound like Days of Our Lives robs a bank with no set end game save the cluster fuck shoot out.
“My job,” he hoisted his glass, we all clinked, “is to take 32 million dollars out of a gang coalition’s operating fund any way I can without stealing it myself. Maybe point some fingers on the street, start a power war and let some big-city bad men kill each other.”
I shook the ice in my tumbler. “You aren’t worried about collateral damage?”
“Civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time is the six o’clock news, regardless. And it’s a lot less expensive, casualty wise, than a lot of civilians damaged by that 32 million. Even if it is just a drop in the bucket.”
Such is war. The Company, or whoever this guy worked for, would never say who the real enemy was, or the real target. Or the real goal. In my time I got briefed, given coordinates, sometimes not until I was in the air, never knew who I was dropping bombs on. I was told they were sanctioned targets of military value to the enemy. I still had nightmares about blowing up some woman innocently hanging her sheets out to dry when a bomb smarter than all of us decided she was dangerous.
Rip poured himself another. “The West Point slick leadin’ the pack in here today. What’s his game?”
“The same as everyone else’s. This project has been his baby for over two years, waiting on a trigger. Moreno and the convicts decide to rob the bank, game on. Things are happening that don’t make sense, but if you look it at the wrong way, they make perfect sense.”
“Rambo gone rogue in a fancy sweatsuit?”
“He’s my problem, Colonel Foster. However, had you killed him outright this afternoon he’d be off my plate and this would be fifty-year-old Scotch. But you didn’t, so he and his evolving plans remain my problem.”
That was all Flyer had to say about Days of Our Lives robs the Kerrigan State Bank. He picked up his phone, complimented Rip on his speaker. He said goodnight, shook our hands and reminded me to stay in touch when I heard something. The Lakota wound up and he saluted us casually before climbing aboard.
Rip watched the helicopter lift and haul ass west, its lights winking out in the distance. “Nice fella. For a comp’ny man.”
“He left us a little over half a bottle of two-hundred-dollar Scotch.”
“Yep. A real nice fella, that one.” He turned, headed back to the main building. “But then I’ve heard people say the same about Rattlesnakes.”