“Knew this man, Don Melchor, lived up north a Amarillo a ways, not all that far from this bank we’re robbin’.” Rip pushed his chair back, a chair in what I thought was a small museum without lights but turned out to be his dining room when the lights came up. “His second wife was friends with my second wife. Both lasted ‘bout the same, both come to the party with a zoo. Dogs, cats, ‘coons. Mean little fuckers, ‘coons are. Strays, wounded whatevers, all kindsa wildlife.” He reached for a wing from another surprise, a large modern porcelain-resting-on-stainless two-cans-of-Sterno fired warming tray on top of a modernish sidebar that looked familiar. It dawned on me that Rip was right in there with my ex-bride to be Christine when he’d cleaned out my storage locker. And left me an envelope filled with more guilt cash than pro-rated refund.
“Well, Don, I forget his wife’s name now, her trousseau menagerie included doves. Don had a covered patio, so the doves took up residence out there. Now they’re hearty little birds and they breed almost like rabbits an pretty soon Don had built up a good-sized coop on that patio a his. But about eighteen months in with Don, livin’ on the edge of civilization like he did with no fence an all, attrition had practically eradicated her four-legged wildlife collection.”
“Mmmph…” Moreno said through a buffalo wing, held up a sauce-covered index finger to hit Rip’s pause button. “How? I mean, what happened to her pets?”
“Bobcats, coyotes, wild dogs… Seemed like ever few weeks there for a while she’d let three out an only two’d come back. Coulda been any number of predators.”
“But,” she looked down, found her napkin, started working it. “Why did she have to let them go like that, not on a leash or something?”
“You have to understand. Don would get to sneezin’ over dog an cat fur an just open the door. ‘Sides a leash in hungry coyote country makes you desert.”
“That sounds so cruel.”
“That’s the convict run wilderness park manager talking,” I said. “Natural order of things. People let Fluffy out in the unmanicured world and there’s a high probability she won’t come home.”
“They should have kept them inside. Until they could be properly supervised.”
She said that and the room went gray. According to television and the movies, a ‘Eureka!’ moment is generally accompanied by a huge, celestial choir drenched in the reverb of eternity. My accompaniment is an aluminum bat on a steel girder in an empty underground parking garage. It echoed around in my head and as it died out the room slowly came back in color. Goddammit. God fucking dammit. When did I become the deaf, dumb and blind kid? I tried to shake it off, but I was trapped in the mental limbo of physically present out-of-body observer. No one seemed to notice, and Rip stepped right back into his rustic allegory.
“Eighteen months or so Don’s wife packed up what was left of her critters an took off to somewhere with a man dumber than she was. I say that because he had to be, you know, to think a family farm was viable without livin’ like an Amish. I think that farmer sweet talked Don’s wife into comin’ along to the farm, selling it like a petting zoo, when what he needed was somebody to coral his kids and do housework since his last wife had got sick of him and the farm an the dirty kids an all of it an skipped out herself.”
“On her children?” She looked at me, I tried not appear as vacant as I felt. “When I have children…” she kicked my shin under the table. “What do you think, Paro?”
“Oh. I dunno. My sister has a couple. They seem like nice kids. I think there’re times she’d like to toss ‘em out the back door and see how long they’d last, like this Don guy did with his wife’s home pet store.” Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Rip didn’t let it hang too long.
“She left the birds, though, an that’s –”
“I want to go back to the children.” Moreno was using a wing like a pointer in one of her animated hand show moves, aimed directly at me, rotating it around.
“She didn’t skip out on but one of her own.” Rip said. “The farmer’d get a wife, a kid or two out of her and then the wife’d jet. Don’s wife was like number four or five. I wasn’t like any one poor woman endured it for very long.”
“God…Where do these people come from?”
“Why don’t you let Rip finish this before it’s next Tuesday? ‘Cause it will be if –”
“Paro,” her eyes were small dark dots in thin slits under fused eyebrows. “Shut up.” She emphasized it with a forceful wing jab in my direction.
“Y’all gonna do advance family planning or you gonna let me finish?” Moreno shot me a look, shrugged, went back to her surprisingly un-dainty approach to buffalo wing eating. I went back to pushing the potatoes around my plate with a fork.
“Thank you.” Rip hit his expensive lemonade pretty hard. “Now, where the hell…Oh yeah. Don’s wife cuts her a trail to the farmer’s, leaves the doves behind. Don didn’t mind, in fact said he’d grown kinda fond of ‘em. Gentle birds, not too noisy or bite your finger mean. Said he could sit on the patio, drink whiskey, talk to ‘em all night an they’d coo back at him an unless it was freeze your stones cold they could take whatever the weather threw at ‘em. After a coupla years, though, Don gets a job down in Houston. This was maybe…Twenty years ago?” Rip did some mental math about ex-wives and timing.
“Yessir, twenty years now. Goin’ on twenty-one. Don heads down to the coast, rents out his house, but the rent people have stupid, destructive kids, or so they said. Kids and the doves are a no go so Don loads up the coop an gives ’em to another fella, Ben somebody. Ol’ Ben keeps ‘em for maybe six, seven years an one day he keels over. Don calls me an I go up there for him, tryin’ to relocate his birds, an I find a nice, youngish widow name of Alice says she’ll take ‘em to keep her company. She finds another man an ends up givin’ ‘em to her daughter who hangs on to ‘em for a few years. Daughter gives ‘em to a preacher who gets run outta town after one too many late-night choir practices with bored wives an the doves get passed around a few more times.” Rip reloaded his and Moreno’s expensive lemonades, I shook my head no.
“Well now, Don retires not long back an heads home. Spends some money and some time on getting’ his house right after all them rental years an after a few days settlin’ in, damned if he don’t wake up one mornin’ an the doves are back on his patio. No note, nothin’, just there they are. Twenty years a bein’ passed around, travelin’ all over hell an gone up there in the panhandle an overnight Don an them doves are back together like nothin’ ever happened.
Cav must’ve been hungry because she did some damage to Rip’s frozen junk food feast, helped load the dishwasher and had a few too many expensive lemonades. A good thing that kept her from asking the ‘what the fuck was that old fart talking about’ question in a stage whisper too many times. Also a good thing because I walked her back to the tart’s palace without any conversation about children, or any coherent conversation at all. She stepped through the door, gave me a big, wet, puckered up lip on lip kiss. I caught her on the way down, dragged her to the bed, dropped her on it, swung her feet up, pulled her shoes, and killed the light on my way out.
I drifted onto Rip’s patio, handed him an unbanded Mareva, lit us up. He puffed it, held it out for inspection.
“Damn good little corona. Cuban. Where the hell you get these?”
“She lets on. I think she’s got a private tour Gulfstream jockey on the line thinkin’ he’ll get lucky if he keeps her in cigars.”
“Cigars for her real men friends like you?” He snorted, blew a smoke ring.
“She’s got a boyfriend.”
“Yep. She went off on thinkin’ he’d given her a fever blister bangin’ her on a plastic mattress laid out in the sun on some fiberglass fisherman’s yacht all weekend. Turned out to be a wax job zit.”
“Some things never change. You meet him?”
“One time, before they were a thing. Roger. King Air by the hour.”
“Nailhead? Fucker about your size, twenty years older, flat top that’d bounce a 5-pound sledge, don’t know how to tie his boots?”
“Know ‘em both.” He blew another smoke ring. “Know now they’ll both fuck anything can fog a mirror.”
“Which one were you unsure about?”
“Never you mind. What’re you doin’ out here an not in there where you belong?”
“Long story. You ever see that Hitchcock flic, North by Northwest?”
“Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint. What a looker. Seems like I met the fella flew that biplane somewhere. Why?”
“It’s in there. You call somebody in the FAA’s backend for me like I asked?”
“Your licenses have been continuously active since your first one. Your insurance was full-paid annual back in November. Nobody canceled your tickets.”
I pulled my real phone out of my cargo shorts, fired it up, tapped a favorite.
“You think that’s wise?”
“Shit, Rip. This show was sold out before it opened.” I held up my hand to slow Rip down. “Tavie, my man! Yeah. Come and get her. No…Fuck that, I have things to do. You’re an hour, maybe a lot less. Bring her phone, turn it on, take her back to the convicts…Hell yes, we’re still on.” I tapped the adios button.
“Short an sweet. Where’re you off to this time a night?”
“I have a bank to rob, remember?”
“That’s what’s been eatin’ you since halfway through dinner? Hitchcock and the fuckin’ bank? Hell, boy, we have two days –”
“We don’t have two days, Rip. Bank’s been robbed already. I need to go re-rob it, get some shit straight in my head.”
“What do I tell the girl? An the lawn jockey when he shows?”
“Todo es perfecto and I’m out doing canyon recon or some bullshit. Whatever you sell, make sure it sticks. I’m a one-man army and I don’t need my surprise factor compromised.” I tossed him my phone. “You need to cut that lawn jockey shit, Rip. Think it hurts his feelings.”
“Sensitive, is he? Tough-ski shit-ski. He’s lucky I just fuck with him and didn’t take his goddam arm off with the shotgun.” He dropped my phone in the empty lawn chair next to him. “Go re-rob our bank. I’ll dig up that Hitch and see what the hell’s got into you.”