After Rip and I had decoded the laminated strip as a timetable instead of simple numbers made to look like money headed for a boondocks bank, had a few more beers and eaten too much habanero infused chili I’d headed for bed. I gobbled some Rolaids and stretched out, stared at the ceiling, tossed, looked out the window, paced. My head full of how my anger fueled improvisation with the convicts at the Texian had netted me about half of what I’d wanted from that encounter. I knew I could lay some of my anger off as misdirected steam that belonged squarely on Ms. Cavanaugh Moreno’s shoulders for her tap dancing around Woody and the barn, and I wasn’t happy with myself about that, either. Even though she had given me the key to the whole enchilada I wondered – did she hope, as Rip suggested, that I was smart enough to figure it out, or simple enough to take it at face value and let it send me on a wild goose chase? It all came down to the straight up fact that I had three days before Moreno called in the Kerrigan bank robbery. Four days to the event.
That left me two and a half days to formulate a better plan than I knew she’d hatched with the convicts while I wasn’t sleeping. No doubt a real Bonnie and Clyde style bank heist that involved a grenade launcher and other forms of robust firearm foreplay in a sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere. The grand finale would be my dropping out of the sky on a country road to swoop up the cash and the girl and fly off into the sunset while the convicts hauled ass to a rendezvous point, the location I wouldn’t know until I was back in the air. All directed by Ms. Moreno. Wise on their part because if I knew the rendezvous point in advance I’d pack it with both factions of government agents looking for their cut. Of nothing, as the cash and the girl and I would be elsewhere, the convicts and CIA spooks would get it on Wild West gunfight style and kill each other.
Which was the plan I needed to see as reality.
All that was missing was a happy ending where colored smoke trailed from my wingtips over an open NFL stadium. Moreno could parachute in, with more colored smoke trailing from her jump boots while I scattered a hundred grand worth of Benjamins over the crowd. Crazy? Hey, a hundred grand is pocket change from sixty-four million.
When I was tired of that scene playing out I faced up to the questions I needed answered to get to that sixty-four million from the twelve to twenty number most of the players said was up for grabs. Except for Brad the Flyer CIA hotshot with his own helicopter, and that bothered me. I got up, dressed, gassed Rip’s pickup, and drove away from the sunrise to far west Amarillo looking for answers. So far west Amarillo that two more miles of I-40 and I’d have been knocking at Cadillac Ranch instead of room 209 at the Extended Stay.
I knocked again.
I banged on the door, hard. “Mike? C’mon man, open up.”
A muffled, “I’m comin’…” made it through the door. Michael Wiggle, known by his web avatar as “The Wriggler,” the guy who’d stuck a gun in my back and claimed to be Woody’s pilot, opened the door. Saw me, tried to slam it. I was beyond tired of being greeted this way. I stopped the weak slam with an open hand.
“If you’re here to shoot me again,” he mumbled, turned back into the room, “Fuckin’ kill me this time. Please.” He used the backs of a couple of table chairs to get himself to the comfy chair, took an eternity lowering into it. “How’d you find me?”
“I have a friend who likes to work his phone like an old TV private eye.” The room reeked of weed and air freshener, like a dead skunk in a bus station restroom. I pulled one of the table chairs close, spun it around, sat in it backward, facing him. “You paid your deductible at the ER with a Master Card. Insurance through an IT company in San Jose.”
I inventoried the room while I waited for a response. Clean. A plastic fast-food salad orb stuffed with used accessories was in the trash by the table, an open suitcase on the stand. Not bad for a guy who could hardly walk. I’d felt the same about the second-floor room. He stared, said nothing, I carried on with a recitation of his Wiki.
“You were top of your class in math. Masters in computer something or other. Another in EE. You belong to a spelunking club and a national coed cliff climbing group. All good things, but the FAA and the military have never heard of you.”
“Mike, I don’t know who, or what else you know, besides how to go to school and put way too much trust in women with your ass hanging off a cliff in a sling, but I do know you’re not a pilot. We need to start over. You need to participate.”
“Sure. Start over…” He managed a weak glare. “You can shoot me. Again. Leave me in the rain for the Government boys. Again. So they can play proctologist on every aspect my life while a clumsy ass ER intern fucks me up worse trying to fit me with a busted rib corset. Again.” He gulped from a two-liter Dr. Pepper bottle. “Tell your Rockford clone how much I’d like that. Not.”
I started to say don’t stick guns in people’s backs and it wouldn’t suck so much to be you. I let it go. Just like me, he was in way over his head. “How long you plan on being here?”
“Doc said he’d like me to stay put a couple weeks, maybe more. I don’t think I can take this shit hole for that long.”
“The panhandle has an elusive charm.”
“Massively elusive. Colorado at least has kush and mountains.”
“Just like home. You missing the fires, mudslides? The earthquakes?”
“Every party needs a pooper…” He gulped from the Dr. Pepper bottle again. “Say we start over. What do I get out of it?”
“They have a WalMart here. I’ll keep you in Dr. Pepper and cold grilled chicken salads.”
“That’s better than the CIA offered. What I’d like is a ride home and some wicked flower. I’d kick the pharma-dope faster. Can you move me?”
“Like out of the chair, or…”
“I’m not an invalid. Like ‘get me the fuck out of here’ move. Get me home.”
I had to give that some thought. If the Company had paid him a visit they were watching, probably had the room wired and his phone cloned. “How about we make that WalMart run now. Together.” I took his phone away from him with a finger to my lips, set it back on the tv stand. He was a quick study, didn’t say another word until we were in the truck.
“Tell me about Woody.”
“You watch the potholes,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’ll talk.”
Talk he did. He and Woody went back to middle school. Woody’d always been looking for the big bucks, a big score, easy money. Mike had niggled Woody’s books, hacked a local med records office, and a regional tax center for him as well, or the crooked chiro would have gone down for a lot longer. Mike figured Woody to have two-and-half million stashed somewhere. Mortgaging himself to the hilt was Woody’s façade of compliance for being a naughty chiropractor. I asked about Woody’s arrangement with Moreno and got the same story Flyer the CIA man had told me, with more detail.
“Moreno was working inmate re-socializing in the Five corridor, pitching her convict halfway park to anyone who’d listen. Woody wormed his way into her deal with his holistic care bullshit and first-hand experience as an inmate, layer caked. He knew the Accountant was in pre-release, brought him to the outdoorsy program Moreno was running as the pitch-in-action for the real thing, and he signed up to shovel giraffe shit. Don’t ask. He was a pervy letch, and being around her jacked his heart rate. He knew he was walking with a morgue toe-tag and wanted to fuck the guys who were out to snuff him as bad as he wanted to fuck her. What better way to fuck them than by proxy through her? Watch the road, dammit…”
“I’m the one hurt, and you can’t keep up? Why was he in prison? Drug gangs, bro. Idiots who’ll pop a cap on each other for nothing but being ugly in public. There’s hard currency everywhere in their operations. But the top end of that hierarchy knows they all have to bleach the money somehow, and there’s not enough art and frame shops or dry cleaners or nail salons or chiropractors or corner emergency rooms in the Western Hemisphere to wash it all, so they pool. Hard goes to the islands or Russia, somewhere they’ll roll it for better than 70 cents on the dollar. They bounce it around the planet a few times on paper, flush the hard currency out to foreign currency exchange kiosks, oil sheiks. That was the Accountant’s gig. But any Wall Street MBA Financial Engineer can set it up with offshores, distributive accounts…”
“Cash. Greenback dollahs, man. Most expensive to get rid of, and the Bangers know that. They can mule it across borders, but that’s high risk. Most of it, though, has been through the laundry list of their cleaning franchises.” He held up his thumb and finger about an inch apart. “You could put untold millions of that money on a flash drive. It’s the leftover green that’s an issue.”
“Woody knows all this?”
“He thinks he does. He was a small-time laundromat for some gang bangers. Fucked it all up when he got the Feds’ attention with his Medicare scams. If it weren’t for me hiding that shit for him, actually for them, he’d be as dead as the Accountant.”
Shit. There it was, right in front of me. “You are a pilot. Not a real pilot, you’re Woody’s computer pilot. With a flight plan that untangles the money.”
“Duh…Welcome to the party. Real pilot.”
“You want out of this mess, go home, get right around friends?”
“What do you think?”
“That can be arranged. If you can arrange to be around to Wriggle the flash drive.”
“At least you worked that out. I’m in.” He grimaced, glanced over. “We still have to go to WalMart?”
After I’d bought a new outfit and changed into it in the men’s room I walked out and down, two rows away from the white, four-door low end of the Jaguar family sedan parked toward the back of the lot where the driver had a visual on both of the WalMart doors. I worked my way over to it. Junior G man was absently holding his phone, chewing gum while he waited for me, in my old clothes, to exit. I opened the passenger side door of the Jag, dropped in.
“Surprised to see me?” I had the fat-and-slow loaded .45 leveled across my thighs. ‘He’ wasn’t half as surprised as I was. Junior G man was a woman with short hair. I took the phone, poked the car’s kill switch. “Weapon, keys, Dick Tracy radio, cuffs. One hand, one at a time.” I could see the Quantico trained gears turning. “I’d hate to hit a lady. Shooting one might be worse.”
“Chivalry could get you killed.”
“We can hope it’s not today. Weapon first?” She complied, I dropped her gear on the passenger side floor except for the cuffs.
“You’re committing assault on a Federal Agent, Clyde. I’ll be able to pile hate crime or Me Too and a buttload of other shit on you. You should stop and think.”
“Stop and think is a two-way street, lady. You’re with Tavius or Brad the Flyer, which means that just like me you’re working without a net.”
“Tavius has gone Rambo. Brad, Flyer, is trying to save the Company the embarrassment of you and Tavius and that woman who has all of you stepping on your –” Mike opened the driver’s side back door. I handed him my gun, took the WalMart bag of goodies he’d brought, spun off about a yard of duct tape, wrapped it around her head three times at mouth level.
“I’d like to believe you,” I checked the tape. Tight, but she could breathe through her nose without any issues. “Can’t quite get there from here, though. There’s at least sixty-four million on the road to Kerrigan. Maybe another twelve to twenty in cash. Your man Flyer said it was thirty-two, Tavius hasn’t said. The convicts pulled twenty mil out of their ass or as bait from Moreno, or the dead insider, maybe even the missing chiropractor.” I hooked up her right wrist to her left ankle with the cuffs, taped her legs together just above the knee and taped her to the bucket seat. “One, or all of you, are lying. So you can see my crisis of faith in what any of you have to say.”
I left all of her company communication gadgets in the car, took her personal cell. Her eyes got wide when I climbed out. “I’ll give it back. I need to make a few calls first.” I bent back into the car. “You have kids?” She shook her head. “Then it’s not a problem if I keep it a while.”
In under an hour I was standing in the dusty prop wash on Rip’s landing strip while I loaded the Wriggler and his suitcase into Rip’s Cessna.
“I toss his ass in Tucumcari so he can catch a bus to ABQ and fly home. Then what, amigo?”
“Turn around, come back.”
“Where you’ll be…”
“Making a life vest for twelve to twenty million dollars.”
“You’re out of your fucking mind with that.”
“Our problem if it’s a fail. What if your woman don’t cotton to bein’ hijacked?”
“She doesn’t know it’s a hijack.”
“Again, my problem.” I cinched Mike’s harness, closed the cabin door, gave Rip a thumb’s up, and backed away. I watched the Cessna gather speed before it broke free of its shadow and climbed into a soft northwest bank.
I buckled into my Cub, hit the starter. With any luck, I’d have Moreno before noon. Luckier and I wouldn’t have to use the leftover duct tape.