Tave’s note had come from a handheld field printer, a device favored by ticket writing motorcycle cops and intelligence junkie spies.
Shit. Tavius was a closet ice cream junkie, and I needed to watch my back? Because the Dead Bodies in Shamrock weren’t known associates of anyone involved? Fuck. More wild cards.
I pulled the note between my index and middle fingers, curling it in the process. A few miles west of Tavius’s Braum’s Dairy the county roads went “improved,” but unpaved. It was also so flat we’d have nowhere to hide. The good news was Woody’s crew would kick up a dust cloud on the way in. The bad news was they might be able to use it for cover. Regardless of intel, recon and prep, combat scenarios were never ideal.
I called Moreno, gave her the ETA and Best Case engagement crossroads, and suggested the convicts should split up the weapons, maybe steal a vehicle to replace their van since everyone involved was at least vaguely aware of its contents. We went back and forth over everything because she was who she was, and that’s how she was. We agreed on a one-hour early recon on 23, just north of where it T’ed with O road.
I did take Cav’s earlier advice and ventured out to rummage around in my meager storage container leftovers for some clothes. Most of what I found were things I swore I’d never wear again. My airline pilot apprentice uniforms, some Uptown Barbie’s Ken outfits, a few pieces of designer workout gear to be worn but not sweated in. They’d do in a pinch. I kept digging, hit paydirt when I uncovered the “hunting attire” I’d been given on the pretense I would dress up like Duck Dynasty meets Rodeo Drive and go hunting with my once upon an almost wife’s menfolk. The “attire” was still in the REI bag. I didn’t hold with hunting for sport, except Taliban, which was why most of my wilderness drop hunters were survivalists. I had no room in the Cub for homeward bound trophies, and the rule was if they killed it, they ate it. Or left it for the buzzards. All they got to bring home for bragging rights were selfies with a carcass. To each their own.
The “hunting attire” proved to be no more than an expensive camo jumpsuit with a hundred Velcro closure pockets, including an infamous Velcro fly. The whole thing made from lightweight, ventilated moisture-wicking fabric. My desert boots were in the Cub. All I needed was a pair of socks and underwear I didn’t hate.
Every bruise, abrasion, puncture I’d suffered from the wall pushing me into the street let themselves be known when they met the stiff newness of the jumpsuit. It chafed and made noise when I moved. I walked back to the house in it, commando, in flip flops, turned the hose on over my head, soaked the suit and myself to the bone, sat down on a webbed patio chair to air dry.
I must have dozed off because I was dry when the unmistakable insect whine of dirt bikes snapped me awake. Call me suspicious, but after being shot at and two too close for comfort dynamite explosions earlier, I couldn’t think of one good reason for dirt bike riders in the middle of 900 square miles of nowhere. At 1:17 in the morning.
I trotted inside, through the kitchen, down the long dark hall, made the right at the end into almost total darkness, punched in the code to let me in the back door of the office that was the front of the house. Rip had a ten-inch kickstand tablet on the top of a corner file cabinet, the tablet’s sole purpose to monitor his security cameras. I touched the screen to wake it up, finger fanned through several pages of screens sectioned into quad views looking for the dirt bikes. Nothing. I flipped another, still nothing. I pulled out my phone, punched Rip’s number.
“C’mon,” I drummed my fingers on the file cabinet, “answer your goddam –”
“You got company, Paro.” I could hear heavy machinery in the background, a big diesel chugging.
“Can you see where?”
“Due south. Eight hundred yards, closin’ on foot. Night goggles are in the bottom desk drawer. The second switch calls the dogs to the work hangar. Meet ’em there.”
“Do it. There’s a Kalashnikov in that skinny broom closet by the fridge, grab it on your way out. Take it to ’em, Paro, don’t wait around inside and fuck up my house playin’ amateur night at the OK Corral.”
I suppose I’d hoped for a plan. Something besides, “Don’t fuck up my house.” He was right. Badmen who didn’t know, or care how far sound carried from their attack transport was amateur night. I flipped the second switch, as directed, grabbed the night goggles, and beat it back to the kitchen. Only Rip would have ultrasonic dog whistle transducers scattered around the property and a ten-round Russian semi-automatic shotgun in the kitchen closet. One of these days I’d have to ask him why, beyond his usual crackhead burglars response. My handful of shotgun was emerging from the cabinet along with that thought when I heard a single handgun Pop. It sounded like a quarter of a mile away. I put on the night visions, crawled out the back door onto the patio. I’d nailed the distance. One of the two biker-ish types, not so heavy as this morning’s DB, was pushing something with his foot. I tweaked the focus.
Madre de Dios…The motherfucker’d shot one of Rip’s dogs…
I took off running toward the work hangar, flip flops flapping, while the dirt bikers admired their dog killer’s handiwork. I heard three more Pops, different guns, punctuating each other while I edged around to the work hangar’s back door. I shushed the dogs who’d gathered, ushered them inside. I said, “Set,” heard them disappear into the depths of the hangar.
I rolled a mammoth tool chest into the middle of the hangar and parked it before I checked through the row of small windows on the big front hangar door. I saw the two laughing while they continued to pump rounds, Pop, Pop, Pop into the dead dog’s carcass. It made me sick, and it was all I could do not to raise the door and cut them in half with the shotgun.
When they started toward the house, I hit the exterior floodlights and engaged the front hangar door opener. They turned toward the hangar, determined, and erect. Another pair of wild west movie cowboys, from the same casting call as the mercs in Kansas, with far worse tailors. Likely far less skilled than the mercs, but equally dangerous in an undisciplined, unpredictable way. I took the opportunity, with their night eyes blown out by the mercury vapor floods to call them out from behind the tool chest.
“How many times you assholes gotta shoot a dog?”
“So the motherfucker owns it,” the one on my left walked my way and talked, “knows we aren’t here to fuck around.”
“Heard there might be a dog problem,” from the one on my right, drifting further right to get some distance from the other one. “Old an slow. Not much of a dog. Not much of a problem.”
“What kinda sick fuck sends sicker fucks out to shoot a man’s dog?”
Left sider bark laughed. “Gerald Ng.”
“Geraldine? Who the fuck is Geraldine?”
“Gerald. Ng.” They shot each other looks, laughed. “Not Geraldine. Man thinks you know somebody stole something belonged to him, landed a plane here.”
“Ol’ Jerry. Always good for a laugh.” Who the hell was Jerry Ng? “Which one of you badasses shot the dog for Jerry?”
“That was me,” left sider said, “And it’s Gerald, motherfucker. He hates Jerry.”
“Jerry Motherfucker. I’ll remember that. He hire you ’cause you got that John Wayne walk down or you walkin’ pigeon-toed ’cause killin’ dogs makes your dick hard?”
They both let go of another wasted round, almost in unison. This time into the hangar instead of a dead dog.
“Hard to hit something’s not wagging its tail? Funny, I didn’t see you retards re-clip.”
They were inside of twenty yards. I flipped on the hangar work floods, and when left sider reached for his clip pouch, I dusted his feet with buckshot. Not a direct hit, close enough to catch some damaging pellets, even in boots. The shotgun auto chambered another round with a reassuring ka-chunk, and I buckshot dusted the one on my right.
“A little late to get smart, gentlemen. Step inside. Promise I’ll give you a better chance than you gave the dog.”
The one on the right held his hand up to shade his eyes from the lights, squat scrambled into the hangar. He tried to find me, fired wild once, twice. The slide on his pistol kicked back and stayed. The left-sider, Dog Shooter, blood staining the low end of his jeans, had stopped to shake his feet and call me names. He looked up, pissed off all over his face, started to raise his pistol. I shot just in front of his feet again.
“Don’t wanna kill you yet, Dog Shooter. You’re invited to a party.”
His pistol had stalled on the way up, his face screwed up against more buckshot in his toes. “I come in there, you pussy, ambushin’ motherfucker, the only party’s gonna be me fuckin’ your ass up. You gotta reload that son of a bitch sometime to kill us and when you do –”
“Shut up and get in here, Dog Shooter. I don’t have all night.”
I could see him think about his gun, what kind of shotgun did I have, was I bluffing. But he shuffled into the hangar, trailing blood streaks on the dusty concrete. When he was closer in it appeared I’d done more damage to his feet than I thought. What looked at first like boots turned out to be blood-soaked high-top Converses. Live and learn. At least he was still walking. I punched the remote and the hangar door wound down behind them.
Empty still had his eyes shielded. “Where the hell are you? You said you’d make it fair. Lemme reload. Then we’ll see –”
I stepped out from behind the tool chest. They gawked for an instant at the clip on the 12 gauge. I anticipated Dog Shooter’s move, blew his gun hand off before he raised the pistol. He screamed, held up the stump, his eyes as wide as ping pong balls. Blood squirted over his head, showered back down on him.
“Better tie that off for him,” I pointed the shotgun at Empty, “or he’ll bleed to death before the party starts.”
Dog Shooter alternated his screams between AhhHEEEE and Muh-ther-FUCKER, stuck the squirting stump in his partner’s chest. “Your Belt, goddammit!” He screamed. “Gimme your goddam BELT! Nowwwwwww!”
Empty tried to back away, ejected his dead clip to the floor, floated one hand behind him in search of a reload. Dog Shooter followed him, kept screaming, pushing the stump into Empty’s chest. Empty fell backward on top of his hand, Dog Shooter landed on top of him. I heard Empty’s wrist snap from halfway across the hangar. They were both screaming now. At me, about me, why’d they shoot the fucking dog, fucking shotguns, each other, God, Geraldine…
One of them gurgled, “Now what?”
“Now?” I whistled. Two short, one long. I heard snarls, dog toenails clicking, scratching, skidding on concrete. I raised the shotgun, balanced it over my shoulder. I killed the lights at first sight of the dogs, set the remote on the tool chest. From outside, the muffled screams escalated for a moment before they faded away into the night.