“Collect Moreno. Get your shit together. Pick one. Let it play.”
That’s what Tavius had said before he hung up. Why I’d called him out of the growing list of Kerrigan Bank Robbery clown car occupants was a question I couldn’t answer. Rip would have called it The X Factor. I sure as hell hadn’t thought of it myself, nor was I arrogant enough to believe I had somehow deduced, from all available intel, that Tavius was the one. I had the lady agent’s phone in my hand, and I’d dialed Tavius. No thought, no premonition, it was simply there, Ouija board style. I think in the back of my mind I needed someone to trust. I wanted it to be the girl who said she loved me. I’d opted for Tavius. Call the X factor cynical on my behalf.
“Collect Moreno. Get your shit together. Pick one. Let it play,” kept looping in my head. Okay, I would. Collect Moreno, pick one and let it play, anyway. ‘Shit together’ has always evaded me.
The flattened barn outside of Shamrock where I still wasn’t sure Moreno had been in real danger from anything but the weather was where I’d told Tavius I’d meet him. If he’d provide Moreno for collection. On my flyover of the meeting site, the barn was nothing but a pile of old, weathered gray wood in an overgrown field, not the potential oversize coffin I’d imagined it becoming a couple of nights back. Any number of things from dangerous rapids, enemy military convoys, large carnivores and rush hour gridlock were all made less dangerous, somehow more understandable when viewed from a broader perspective. Right about now I needed a broader perspective on The Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery because looking at it head-on was like watching the universe expand. The time had come to corner Moreno, put a box around her pinballing through this thing and get a straight story, if I had to duct tape and kidnap her. You can put why I thought Moreno was a panacea for my confusion right in there with dialing Tavius. X Factor.
I wagged the Cub’s wings on the flyover, saw Tavius and Moreno get out of a white Charger parked lengthways across the road to block non-existent rural traffic for my landing. I circled back around, met the asphalt like a feather, taxied within thirty feet of them, and killed the Cub’s engine. Tavius left the Charger sideways in the road, walked toward me positioned beside and slightly behind Moreno. I was certain he had his G-Man issue Glock in the hand behind his back. I hoped it was for use in the event of an interruption, not for me or his special delivery. For her part Moreno stared at the ground, arms crossed, legs stiff. An attractive, visibly unhappy bundle of pissed-off body language. I stepped out of the Cub, made a show of holding up the remainder of the duct tape I’d used in Amarillo.
“You won’t need that.” Tavius stopped, let Cav keep coming. “She seemed glad to hear it was you that wanted her. At first. But she’s not talkin’. Least to me.”
“You…” She turned back to face him. “You are a kidnapper and…Thief! Why should I speak to you? To ask why I am here?” She poked her index finger into her breastbone. “To ask better where is the car you borrowed? My car? I –” She tapped herself with the finger a couple of times. “I will never be able to rent another car. Never. For the rest of my life. And you…” she wheeled around, sent the pointed finger my way. I could feel her eyes burning through the sunglasses. “You have ruined everything. Just…Don’t. Say. Anything. Nada!” She took a few more steps and stopped under the right wing of the Cub, tugged on the door.
“Your connection to both those cars has been scrubbed,” Tavius said. “You’re so golden at Budget, got so many free rewards points you could rent a damn Bentley for thirty bucks a day if they had one.” Tavius’ voice was loaded with ironic humor. “Even if the first one you lost was on you.”
“No.” She pointed at me. “On him. But of course I should know todo es possible, no? Because you are the man.” She burned through the shades at me again. “Perdóneme. The men. And I? I am just the silly woman. Who follows the rules.” She stormed her way into the back seat of the Cub muttering in Spanish about arrogant assholes. If attitude had weight, we’d never get off the ground. Tavius turned his attention to me after Moreno’s behind disappeared inside.
“You think there’re rules for bank robbery, Paro?”
“Depends on who’s playing Robin Hood and who’s getting burned.”
“Stealing dope money from bikers to help ex-cons as a victimless crime? I’ll run that one by Westlaw. What’d you do with Agent Higgins’ personal phone?”
“Set it on top of her car?”
“Don’t fuck with me. I have a game to play, same as you.”
“Dropped it in a cup of Dr. Pepper and let it stew for a while before I threw it out over rocks from about 3,000 feet.”
“Better for her. If Flyer’s troops had popped it during her rescue? All her leather thong strap-on pics in a half dozen ‘either-or’ dating apps would have been up for grabs.”
“Checked ‘em out, didja?”
“Couple. Like a Chinese buffet. Enough is too much.”
“So wrong, on so many levels.” He lifted his shoulder, must have holstered the Glock because his hand came out empty to scratch his chin. While he thought he popped his cap, forearmed some sweat off his forehead, blinked a couple of times. “Okay. So you left her phone on top of her car. Some opportunistic Amarillo native musta stole it ‘cause it wasn’t there when Flyer’s crew showed to cut her out of your tape job. She’s doin’ bad head time, climbs up all their asses hasslin’ them, waitin’ on one of them to spill her taco in a tall hat shit all over the ‘net.”
“Works for me.”
“Distraction, distrust, low morale in Flyer’s ranks…You’re not a nice man, Paro. Get outta here.” He did something I hate, the index finger gun and a small ‘there ya go’ nod before he turned, sauntered back to his ride. He needed out of that too tight Shamrock T-shirt. I didn’t mention it. Maybe he had a thing for leprechauns. After agent Higgins’ phone there was no telling what might blow up these government type’s skirts.
It took Cav about fifteen seconds after we were off the ground to fill my headphones with angry Spanglish. Which she tagged with, “You’re not listening.”
“Hook your harness. It’ll improve my hearing.”
“And if not, what? You kick me out? Give my car away again? Beat up and threaten and shoot at my team like they were…were common criminals?”
“They are common criminals, Cav.”
“No, they aren’t. They’re…” She popped off her shoulder harness completely, leaned forward, kissed me on the cheek. “Yes, they are. But they are my common criminals. They are what I have. They saw what I wanted for them, the opportunity, and offered –”
“To help you lift a pallet loaded with millions in cash? Hell yeah, they did.” I turned enough so that our eyes connected through our sunglasses. “So did I.”
“Si! I know! So not for the piece of my ass or the money? Because you are above such things?”
“I’m flying again. Legally. The rest of it, this, us, sort of…” Damn. I needed to be building a Mars Lander Style bubble wrap pod for that cash, not explaining myself. “I can’t look you in the eye and fly. Hook your harness.”
She muttered some more but sat back and hooked up. I wondered what was on her mind that painted her face with various shades of forlorn, morose, and resigned tinged with anxiety. I thought about the Mona Lisa. I’d bet the guy had most of her face down in that Botox calmness and waited for the smile. Wondered what he said to get it. Wondered if they’d been in love, and if it was as awkward then as it was now.
Timing is everything. The FedEx driver was practicing her long-distance stacking technique tossing my boxes in front of Rip’s “office” when Moreno and I touched down. Think “the boonies” and “middle of nowhere” really are the boonies and nowhere? Order something expensive, next day air from your phone, use a valid credit card for delivery to “Boondocks USA.” Bam. They’ll find you.
Moreno and I loaded the boxes in a small wagon hooked up to a quad cycle and trundled them to the hanger where Rip parked the Cessna when it was home, unloaded them around another of Rip’s DIY work tables. We went to work slicing the boxes open. When we’d finished there was no disguising her disdain.
“Big, heavy nylon bags and a woman’s mailman costume? This is how you propose to move the money?”
“Sit.” I spun a folding metal chair her way, grabbed one for myself.
“Now you give me orders? You have become surly in –”
“What, exactly, do you know about this?” I handed her two full-page enlargements of the laminated strip she’d given me.
She studied one side, the side with the clues, made aface and set it on the table. “Here.” She turned the sheet she’d kept toward me, her finger on ‘12MM.’ “Below there are the question marks and parentheses. They look like algebra or…Something. After that…this,” she turned the sheet back to check it, found the ‘20MM’ and showed it to me. “Woody said…” She stopped, but I needed to hear it.
“Yes…That at least twelve million dollars was guaranteed and not to worry about the rest. Maybe it would be there, maybe not.”
“And he knows this how?”
“He was in prison with the Accountant. He brought him to me. He said I should flirt with him, the Accountant, and he would provide me with a way to fund my project.”
“Wild animal refuge as convict halfway house?”
“If you must be boorish and blunt.”
“Who is the Accountant?”
“You hit him and shot his pillow! He is muy infeliz and believes you dangerous and loco. So much so he demanded we kill you and make another plan. And then that…Person dragged me from the room and –”
“Tavius walked into the convict’s room and pulled you out?”
“Si! Your friend who commands you to sleep with me and give him my car obviously has fear of no one.”
“For the record, again, he told me to do whatever you asked.”
Shit. Woody had sold a lot of variations on the Accountant theme. He’d told the Wriggler a different version than he’d played for Moreno. Flyer, the CIA man, had told me another. It all stunk. But it was starting to make sense.
“The real Accountant is dead, Cav. Woody saw to that in prison. Your Accountant started his criminal life when he was sixteen back in the late Nineties collecting all the Soviet weaponry from both sides of a kill in Bosnia, or he’d steal them outright. When he had enough stashed to make the risk worthwhile, he’d float them across the Adriatic to Italy, stockpile them in an abandoned warehouse. When he’d made enough trips to fill a small container, he made a call. Money changed hands, the weapons made it unobstructed through Italy and ferried on into Africa. The CIA has had him on their radar for years as a well armed whack job. Woody pimped him to you with the real Accountant’s plan because he’s a dangerous, cold-blooded psychopath with access to grenade launchers. Somehow Woody hooking him up with you set off…” I showed her the side of the money sheet that looked like one long equation. “Have you worked out this side of the sheet?”
“No.” She waved a hand dismissively. “More of the math I don’t understand.” She still had the sheet I’d given her, showed it to me like I’d missed it the first time. “We have the date for the money to arrive at the bank. See? What more do we need?”
I had to sit on that one for a minute. What started to emerge from the fog was that Woody was the only person aside from Rip and me who had the little laminated strip figured. And he’d made dead-men-walking decoys out of Moreno and the convicts with the simple lump sum cash bit. Brad the Flyer, CIA man, knew the strip’s value but didn’t have it in hand to provide him with the treasure map to the big score. I was sure if he knew who had possession of the Accountant’s info he’d drop them in a second to get his hands on it. But he didn’t know who, exactly, or even if it was split up which was why he stuck to Moreno like a flea on a fat lady and was burning budget and resources keeping tabs on everyone else involved. The convicts saw a ‘taking candy away from a babe’ twelve-million-dollar pop. Tavius seemed disinterested in anything other than keeping at least the pretense afloat of Moreno and I robbing the Kerrigan State Bank. With all that out in the open, I’d started to see Moreno and me as the disposable distractions in a hot money game. A game bigger than a simple Bonnie and Clyde with an airplane rob a small-town bank. I dropped my cynic momentarily, took her hand.
“If you really don’t know, we need a lot more. A whole fuck of a lot more and a bucket of luck to go with it.” I made sure we had solid eye contact. “But if you’re jacking me, Moreno, or believe it’ll play the way you think? Throw dirt on us now ‘cause we’re both as good as dead.”