“Mornin’, sunshine.” Rip set a cup of coffee in front of me. Through the kitchen window I could see morning sun turning the Eastern horizon a pale yellow. “The Cessna’s ready when you are.”
“You,” Rip said. “Unless you forgot how to fly something don’t strap to your ass and fly itself.”
He knew what I had flown and could fly. My assumption was that he wanted to be a passenger without flight instructor angst. I’d wanted a flyover of Kerrigan, by myself, since I’d gotten into this alone, but Rip had assured me without the master plan for the robbery all we could do was recon, and his Cessna was side by side seating with better passenger vision. It was faster, had better altitude and if we happened to be seen no one would recognize us. I thought that an unusual comment. As far as I knew no one involved with this slowly emptying clown car of a bank robbery was in Kerrigan yet and in the high plains of the Texas panhandle who’s paying attention to a dot in the sky?
“We don’t know that now, do we. Who’s payin’ attention?” Rip dropped a spy size GPS tracking disc the size of a dime on the table. “Found this in your Cub last night. You fly us out over New Mexico, an I’ll drop this near Roswell. When they go to look, you’re not there,” he shook a little with a silent laugh, “they’ll figure you for an alien abduction.”
“I wonder how many people are tuned in to the Travels with Comparo channel.” I picked it up, flipped it like a coin, Rip intercepted it on the way down.
“Few too many, be my bet.”
According to printouts and aerial charts, Kerrigan County was crisscrossed with improved, two-lane roads identified by letters like N, O, T, and a few numbered Texas Farm to Market roads. The population density and improved structures said no one should ever be on those roads except for the occasional cattle hauler, dairy truck or some farm and ranch machinery. But real traffic, as defined by the most minor of metropolitan areas, should be nonexistent.
Kerrigan the town was two streets wide. Four or five blocks if you counted a handful of houses scattered haphazardly off the town center. A bank, a bar, the county courthouse, a one-block stretch of commercial buildings that looked straight out of the 1920s. Not even a grain elevator. Those, like the nearest towns of consequence, the ones with a stoplight and coffee shop, were twenty-five miles in any direction. The Oklahoma border slightly over the same distance in two directions. What most people needed to know about Kerrigan was on Google. That is, unless you were the getaway pilot for a bank robbery.
I dropped down over road T about a mile out of Kerrigan and flew ten feet off the ground for another mile.
“You lose something?” Rip was checking wingspan against tree line. “Lookin’ for loose change?”
“Looking to not drop one of your gear in a pothole.”
“Nice of you, but –”
I pulled the Cessna as close to vertical as it would go and banked hard as I could without pulling it apart, recovered my mile, flew at the pavement slow and low, cut power, lifted the nose, stalled and dropped soft, hit the brakes on the edge of nosing over and cut the landing distance well under the published 790 ft.
“Fuck me runnin’, you aren’t ever gonna grow up.” Rip let his breath go in a long whistle. “I teach you to fly like that?”
“Somebody had to.” I throttled up, ran us down the road and cleared an oncoming old green pickup full of hay bales by fifteen feet. The look on the driver’s face said he had a tale to tell no one was going to believe.
“Now where we goin, hot shot?”
Rip didn’t ask why, pulled out a pair of binoculars. “Reckon we can see who’s parked where?”
“I reckon.” I couldn’t see Moreno in a minus four-star motel with the rest of the convicts. She’d need some space keeping up appearances as the Queen of the Kerrigan bank heist with fiancé in tow, but I couldn’t go to fiancé in my head yet. “We should have asked Flyer if Moreno had rented a car somewhere.”
“Black Camry.” Rip trained the binoculars out of his window. “Budget. Amarillo.”
“Surprised they’d rent her another one.”
“Last one was a Fiat, remember? Doubt they considered that much of a loss.”
I offered to drop to five hundred feet, there not being any fifty story high-rises in Shamrock. Rip said to stay off the radio with the regional airport, he could see fine from 2,500. I saw the 30-160 on the side of his binoculars. More like a long-range microscope.
He found the van first in a motel parking lot on 12th St, Old Route 66. Across the road from an abandoned red brick motel or restaurant. There was a dirty mid-2000s black Escalade parked outside a rundown doublewide behind the red brick building. Across a gravel and weed parking lot to the east was a rusty roofed machine shop with drilling rig parts stacked in the lot along with randomly parked rusty stock trailers and a big fifth-wheel travel trailer that appeared new among all the dust and rust. The road was two lanes both ways with a center turn lane. One stoplight, a few too many power lines crossing the road. I wouldn’t want to do it at night. I wondered why I even thought about it, but I was always looking for a safe place to ditch. Learn to fly suspect aircraft with Rip Foster and that sort of thing becomes ingrained.
Rip found the dirty maroon Lincoln and a shiny black Camry three blocks east and a block north at the Holiday Inn Express. I could see Moreno in one of their TV commercials, all smiles surrounded by bags of cash saying, “Well, I wasn’t a bank robber, but last night I stayed at Holiday Inn Express.” If she and Tavius didn’t know each other he was running a hell of a risk with proximity. I started to steam up thinking maybe she was too busy with her fiancé to notice. Rip read my mind.
“Three rooms at the Holiday Inn. Birch, Moreno, and Salsbury. Our lawn jockey was the first one to the party, a day early.”
“How do you know all this?”
He showed me his iPhone that had been recording the binoculars. “It’s called a phone. You might turn yours on occasionally.”
“I was trying to stay off the radar.”
“We know how well that turned out. Keep your phone off a little longer, take us to Roswell. It’s time for the handlers to lose you completely for a while.”
“Somethin’ in here is bound to suit you.” Rip pushed the door open on one of his outbuildings. We stood in the doorway, and I took inventory. An engine hanging from a portable hoist between an unidentifiable frame on jack stands and a hoodless orange Camaro. An engineless Harley on a bike lift. Several electric Vespa style scooters in pieces, the whole place accessorized in assorted junk. Lots of it. To the right were several of what appeared to be complete cars and motorcycles, a couple hiding under dust covers. Wind whipped our legs and Rip looked at the sky. “The knucklehead is a bad choice, considerin’.”
The knucklehead was a bad choice regardless. Chrome everywhere, pale orange base for a white lace overlay I was told were spiderwebs. I called lady biker doily on it and got no argument. No belt guard for the pants and leg eater. And it issued dragon farts at idle. The perfect ride for discretion.
“This’n runs.” He lifted the corner of a dust cover revealing the front end of a restored, bright red 1970 Plymouth Road Runner. “Fact it hauls ass.”
“I’ll remember that next time I need a speeding ticket. What else have you got?”
“If you’re gonna be that way there’s a ‘95 Ram out back with bad paint and a new hemi.”
“Don’t be a smart ass. You plan on settin’ up in the McDonald’s parking lot, keep an eye on the love nest?”
“Don’t know yet. I also need to borrow –”
“You check your U-Store It in Addison when you were there? No, or you’d know your Browning is here and you don’t need to borrow nothin’.” He slid the door closed, locked the padlock. We walked to the smaller climate-controlled hangar that he unlocked with his phone. The plane I expected to see was gone.
“Where’s the Beech?”
“That’s what I asked the gal when I opened your storage unit.” He flipped the latch on a small, corrugated fiberglass box, about half the size of a Load n Go forklift storage container. “Ain’t much here, but it’s what was left after Christine cleaned you out. Why I canceled that air-conditioned garage. Saw no sense in you payin’ for air.” There was an envelope on the first box. I picked it up, felt like cash. “Pro-rated refund,” he said.
“Should have kept it for your trouble.”
“No trouble, I was down there with a box truck swappin’ out parts. You feel like telling’ me what happened? After what happened, happened?”
“She called about six months after her people cancelled the future, asked about the furniture. I mailed her a key, didn’t expect to see any of it again.”
“That shit was forty grand worth of expensive. She pay you back?”
“No. I ordered it, it was custom built for that condo. What am I gonna do, Rip, be an asshole like the rest of them? Keep it out of spite with no use for it?”
“Like money’s her real problem. Looked like she got some of your mother’s things when she was in there.”
“Good. They deserve each other. Where’s my gun locker?”
I had no sooner pulled around the McDonalds drive thru in Shamrock than I got a text from Cav.
War Paro! Where are you?
It was starting to rain. Big, fat drops that sounded like rocks hitting the windshield. I looked up in time to see Tavius screech out of the Holiday Inn, two-wheel it at the corner. I tossed my coffee, choked down a chicken nugget and fishtailed out of McDonalds after him. That’s a lie. I hit that hemi with no weight in the rear end and did two three-sixties in the middle of Main Street before I got control.
Tavius slid into the gravel parking lot across from O’Doul’s Texian Lodge where the convicts were staying, opened his door and rolled across the ground behind an old galvanized stock tank, his pretty .380 replaced with a .45. I blazed past like I wasn’t interested in two SUVs parked in the middle of Route 66 firing automatic weapons at the motel on one side and the old Escalade that had moved up from the double-wide on the other. I spun a one-eighty in the first intersection past the action, killed my lights.
Whose side was I on? Who the fuck were the automatic weapons people in the middle of the street? What sort of cannon did I hear boom from the motel? The two guys behind the Escalade waited for a let-up in the rain of small arms fire and took off the ten feet to the door of the abandoned brick building. One of them made it, the other fell behind the brick planter on the small porch and didn’t raise up to return fire.
The SUV closest to the motel in the middle of 66 exploded in a ball of fire, rolled on its side. It started to rain like it meant it, the water not making a dent in the burning SUV. I heard sirens start to wail from a ways off. The remaining automatic weapons people blew past me in their bullet-riddled SUV, close enough for me to see blood all over the back drivers side glass and two ski-masked hombres in the front seat cradling assault rifles who paid no attention to me at all. My phone went off again.
Where are you? Road N. 2.7 miles FM86. All night here if I have to. Hurry!
Moreno claimed she was 2 miles out of town, claimed to have all night. I hoped she was dry. Then again, maybe she was wet and miserable. I smiled, idled back towards the scene, now strangely quiet save for ammunition going off sporadically in the burning SUV. I parked out of the rain under the canopy of an empty, dead, whitewashed cinderblock gas station with graffitied up plywood windows, on a diagonal across the highway from the motel.
I stepped out, shrugged into Rip’s rain slicker, chambered a round in the Browning and set off to recon the shootout at the Texian. I checked the burning SUV from a distance. Three dead or wounded in the street, maybe more in the burning hulk. What a fucking mess Moreno’s little bank robbery had turned into. I started for the abandoned restaurant where the Escalade men had gone, heard footsteps behind me, felt a gun in my back.
“Been waitin’ on you, flyboy.”
I wrapped my arm around my chest, gun under my left arm and pulled the Browning’s trigger. Twice. Waited to feel the shot in my back I knew was coming.