I reached over, put two muddy fingers on Moreno’s throat looking for a pulse. She started to writhe and buck in the mud like she was possessed, screamed, “Mmmmmmm, MMMMMMMPHHHHH!” through the gag. I could only guess what that meant, but I’d bet I was close.
“Hey Cav, whoa. It’s me.”
I pulled the rope from around her neck. Whoever tied it had done so for effect, not damage. If I hadn’t blown up the beam her weight would have pulled the knot out, the “noose” itself almost loose enough to slide off. Had they not tied her hands behind her she could have tossed it. Maybe he was an amateur. Maybe they wanted me to think that. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to get close enough to find out.
I tossed the rope aside. There was something comforting about her being gagged, at least temporarily, so I lifted her head, untied the blindfold first. Her eyes flipped open, wide and angry. I lifted her up to sitting, untied her hands and the second they were loose they flew to her mouth, then behind her head. She fought with the knot, still “mmphing” emphatically until it was untied, spit it out and tried to yell at me. All that came out was patoo, puh-paw-puh-thooo dry mouth gag sputter like she’d licked a long-haired cat.
If looks could kill, I was a dead man sitting in the mud. Out of nowhere the dry, croaking profanity in two languages stopped, she grabbed the front of my shirt with both hands and stuck her tongue down my throat, let go of my shirt, grabbed the sides of my head and I wasn’t sure if I was being kissed or if she was trying to eat my face. She let go of that experience, threw her arms around my shoulders and started to cry. Huge, big heaves followed by deep nasal and throat snorks and honks. I fell back off my squat and against the stall, held her like that, thunder shaking the debris lean-to until her heaves and snorks abated into declining sobs that tapered off and ended in deep breathing, her chest pushing against mine until her head finally relaxed into my shoulder.
“Am I really,” snork, “not worth it?”
“I was trying to smoke him out.”
“That’s not,” she snuffled, honked, “an answer.”
“Ask me after I see the boots you’re going to buy me.”
She smacked my chest open-handed. “You…you’re filthy. And mean. And you stink.” She felt the mud in her own hair, looked down at the angle of her leg over mine. “I can’t tell where I stop, and you start.” She snorked again, wiped her eyes with the knuckles of her index fingers.
“Don’t be a pig, Com… Dios Mio, what am I saying?” She dropped her head back in the crook of my arm, laughed loud and hard through different tears. “We are the pigs, both of us.” She pushed on my chest this time without the swat. “You more than I.”
She raised off me, tried to stand, hit her head on the lean-to slats, fell back into the mud immediately.
“Don’t laugh at me, Paro.” She rubbed her head with a muddy hand. “I’m not…”
“In the mood? Join the club.” I got myself into a squat and shouldered the slats. There wasn’t a lot of weight, but I seemed to be moving a big chunk of no-longer-a-barn real estate. I realized it hadn’t been raining on us because we were under a good-sized piece of the corrugated roofing and that was what I’d been trying to move.
I pushed up again, got nowhere. “Forget it.” I lowered my load. “Help me pull this junk out of where a gate should be.” We pulled broken wooden slats into the lean-to until we were almost out of room. “Can you get through there?”
“Si. If I get stuck, push me?”
She wormed her way across the pile of wet wood, disappeared. About the time I started to think she’d disappeared with the poor excuse for a hangman pistolero the top layer of remaining slats and debris in the opening began to slide out and away. When there was room, unlike Cav, I went through on my back. I was clear and could see the sky, full of low, silver and black clouds, moonlight, the storm lighting up the sky to the south. Light rain fell on my face. I crunched myself up to sitting. No Moreno. That woman, I was going to strangle her myself.
“Paro?” I found her rummaging in the debris where the middle of the barn used to be. “Do you have a flashlight?”
I did. A small, twin cell AAA LED job that did an admirable job of lighting up a couple of square feet like daylight. If it still worked. I hadn’t used it earlier not wanting to make a target of myself. I dug it out of my front pocket, pushed the button, swept the beam between Cav and me, made my way across a makeshift bridge of debris over mud.
“What’d you lose?”
“Are you crazy? There’s no way –”
She ripped the flashlight out of my hand. “Where was I, when I fell?”
I judged the gate hole in the stall to where she stood. “Maybe two feet to my right, and you’re too far past the middle.” For the first time, ever, she listened.
“Paro? Ola? You could help.”
That was my second request for help tonight. I couldn’t hand this one off to an ambulance. “What’s so important about your shoes? Made out of gold?”
“We can play twenty questions later. Right now,” she shined the light in my eyes, “shut up. And help. Por favor?”
It didn’t take us long, and I still didn’t see the point. A pair of muddy who knew what color originally shapeless flats. No gold. No way she was wearing them. She didn’t even try. Instead, she stuffed them in my back jeans pockets.
“That’s one way to keep your feet in my ass. Flashlight?” I held out my hand, she obliged. I needed to find Rip’s shotgun and slicker. Both were easier to find than the shoes. The slicker obvious in its yellowness under a few boards back where I’d dropped it, the shotgun not six feet in a straight line from Moreno’s shoes. She stayed put on a small piece of corrugated roofing while I collected.
“A gentleman would carry a lady through this basura peligrosa.”
“A lady wouldn’t have gotten herself into dangerous garbage like this in the first place.”
“Estos es Verdad.” She kissed me again, looked me in the eye. “Thank you.”
“Any time you get, uh, hung up?” I did the thumb and little finger phone move to the side of my head.
“You’re impossible. But I love you anyway.” Her hair had gone straggly in the light rain left behind from the squall line, she tossed it in a way that would have been coquettish minus the mudslinging.
“No, ladies first. And I need your clothes.”
“Clothes, Moreno. Now.”
She peeled out of her wet clothes, covered up her top half with bent arms, made noises about being cold. I told her the shower would warm her up.
“But I thought…”
“I’m taking our clothes down to the laundry room, or housekeeping or somewhere, and washing them.”
“I was going to borrow your robe.”
“My robe?” She stood, knees together and slightly bent, her arms folded in a dead man’s cross over her breasts, one eyebrow raised. “Where is my phone? I demand a picture.”
It must have been the look on my face that hustled her into the bathroom, the door closing behind her with medium velocity. I think her original intent was a shower duet, but she hadn’t sung her solo for me yet. When I heard the shower I pulled off my dripping clothes, slipped into a slippery, silky, knee-length on her, mid-thigh on me Oriental flower print robe and sat on the bed with her shoes.
No female salvages rain and mud ruined shoes unless they were major status symbols, and these weren’t Italian, or even fake Italian, but were named after two women, Carly and somebody. Why these shoes? I pulled and separated what I could, almost ripped the little short heel off one. Under the insole of the second one, near the toe, I found a laminated strip of paper the size of an average band-aid. There seemed to be a lot of information on it in tiny print. I flipped to macro on my phone for close-ups, shot both sides, slipped it back under the insole. I squeezed everything back together and put her wet shoes back on the bathroom vanity where I’d found them.
The guy behind the desk at the Holiday Inn Express took pity on me or wanted me out of his lobby in a hurry. The muddy, dripping ball of clothes, the robe, maybe the Browning stuck in the tie of Moreno’s robe because he immediately took me to the housekeeping laundry room, said “Go for it,” and hustled back to the desk. I threw everything in a nice sized normal washing machine, not the industrial jumbo job and straightened up when from behind me I heard,
“You know, Tavius, I’m tired of meeting people from The Company in laundry rooms.” I had a business grip on the Browning. “And I don’t want to shoot anybody right now.”
“You pull that thing, the robe flies open, the vison of your manhood the last thing I see before the gun goes off? Fuck that, we’re on the same side.”
I turned around, slowly. His face was a maze of small butterfly and laceration closure bandages, he was wearing a new truck stop souvenir t-shirt with Shamrock, Texas in an arc over a leprechaun. ”Nice shirt. What happened to you?”
“Tried to eat a windshield, the shirt is tourist camo. You up to helpin’ a brother out?”
“Like those diapers for grownups. Dee—”
“Pends. Funny, but not original. Look, I need Moreno’s rental so I can get on. Wait a day to report it. I’d ask you for the truck, but that crazy old motherfucker’d come try to find it.”
“And probably kill you. She just lost one rental, Tave. Down to you.”
“That was on you and the convicts. I made it a legit boost and burn with the drop.”
“Damn, man…” If Tavius, my original and primary contact in this circus needed a ride to stay in a game that might cartwheel without whatever part of it he was playing… “Your ride?”
“Fucked it all up running the gunners after your ass off the road.”
So there was that…I gave it time to look like I’d thought about it, tightened the belt on the robe. “You’d better hope she’s still in the shower.”
“My car? Ha sido robado? Again? Ayyyyi…” She started to swear in Spanish.
“Cav? Can the exotic bi-lingual babe thing. You’re from Orange County.”
“Paro, you are such a shit! We spoke three languages in my home. English, Spanish and my father spoke German. Sometimes.” She rubbed her hair with a towel, made faces at me in the mirror.
“There were three at my house, too, only it was English, Spanish and Drunk.” We stared at each other. She was trying to build steam. “He needed your car, Cav. Simple and done.”
“And you?” She spun around, threw the towel in my face. “You just give it to him, here’s the stupid girl’s car, ‘it’s cool, I’m fucking her, she won’t care’? The car, it’s like me? Simple and done?”
“You know better than that.”
“No, I don’t know better than that because I don’t feel better than that. Who is he, this Tavius of yours? Why do you let him steal my car?”
“He was my debrief ‘here’s how you’re going to behave’ Company man after Columbia. He’s the one…” I choked on it, but it was already on the way out, might as well run with it. “He’s the one, before all this started, who told me whatever you asked me to do, say yes.”
Her eyes expanded way beyond normal, she scanned the vanity for something else to throw at me. “And should I ask you to make love with me, something I know now repulsed you, you should also say yes? Yes? So later you can treat me like some, some pushover whore and give away my car? To some, some –”
“Technically it’s not your car.”
“Paro, goddammit, that’s not the point. Don’t you see?”
“What I see is someone who looks a lot better in your robe than I did who needs to sit on the bed with me and tell me about this cluster fuck of a bank heist. All of it. Until it makes sense to both of us. Or at least to me.”
“You don’t care what I say, so you, you should just…”
“Yes I do care, or you’d be dead in the mud or off with whoever made it look like you were in trouble when you weren’t and I wouldn’t be out a decent pair of handmade Lucchese’s.”
She tried to slap me, I caught her hand, she started crying again. I listened for a while to her ramble about how I was an asshole but a hero and a sexist pig and didn’t understand anything and how could I be like that when she loved me until she wound down hugging a pillow. I tucked her into the bed and went to get our clothes out of the dryer. No Browning, no silky robe, just an oversized towel. Anybody wanted to kill me on this run, fine. I’d die as confused and stupid and damn near as naked as the day I was born.
I woke up on top of the bed in my underwear and t-shirt, the bottom of the bedspread over my feet. I reached over, no Moreno. But I smelled coffee. She bumped me with her hip.
I scooted, she sat, opened a McDonald’s bag and pulled out a couple of Egg McMuffins. I looked over and there were two large coffees on the connected-to-the-bed nightstands. She bent over, kissed my forehead.
“I’m sorry, Paro. I don’t…I didn’t think…Never mind.” She put on an act of collecting herself. “I don’t know what you like for breakfast except in the trailer you made us eggs, and bacon…”
I thought she might start the crying thing again, but she stood, walked to the bathroom counter and brought back her right shoe, lifting the insole on the way. I sat up, she sat beside me, handed me the laminated strip of paper.
“If…If I die, Paro, or they kill me, or…or Woody tries again…” Her face was slightly contorted with a look of finality, defeat. “This is all of it. Everything. From now on I do it like I planned with my convicts. And if you…You can do what you want.” The red eyes came back. “I lied to everybody, okay? But if they knew I knew, then they’d think I told you, and then… I didn’t want you hurt, Paro, and…You’re kind of…You’re…” She turned away. “Shit, Paro.”
“You’re more than kind of important to me, too.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “So it was Woody in the barn?” She nodded, put her hand on top of mine, stared at the floor. “Was he serious?” Another nod. “He didn’t have the balls to hurt you himself. He hoped his crew would get rid of both of us for him. Hey,” I turned her chin toward me. “The guy I let steal your car? If it wasn’t for him, Woody’s plan would’ve worked.” I reached back, grabbed a coffee, handed it to her.
“And that’s supposed to make it all okay?”
“No, but you and I? We’re still on.” I tapped her coffee with mine, could see the question in her eyes. “And so’s the Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery.”
She leaned into me, I wrapped my arm around her shoulder, and we sat like that for a while. No real harm, no real foul. Egg McMuffins taste the same cold as they do hot.