I stayed limp, let my head fall when the whale let go of my collar, dumped me on a dusty plank floor. I took the drop with a glancing blow to the right corner of my forehead. Still, a stiff price to pay for authenticity. I’d kept my head down during the drag for the same reason and that cost me any idea of who was where inside the bank. It had revealed there was very little light. Or sound. The helicopter’s whine and slow whomp… whomp… whomp of the rotors was missing, replaced by a soft hiss and the rolling of air around the room. I cracked my left eye open, squinted through my eyelid. All I could see were Moreno’s turquoise and white cross-trainers a few feet away and beyond her, a dark wood-paneled half wall topped with pebble glass. I knew by the rounded toe of his boot jammed into my side that Whale was on the other side of me, and my hair let me know the top of my head was very close to something solid.
It was so quiet I could hear fabric crinkle with movement, fingers on a desk or tabletop above me. On the other side of the hard thing next to my head, the slight shuffle of several sets of nervous feet. It was too quiet for the now eight people inside and a helicopter in the backyard.
Flyer, over my head somewhere. “Let’s see what Moreno’s brought us.” The rip of plastic perforation. “You do know it’s illegal to impersonate an employee of a government agency?”
“It hasn’t bothered you.”
Jesus, Moreno. You’ve already pushed the envelope, let it ride.
“I told you she’s not as clever as she thinks,” Flyer, dry. “This drive look right to you?”
A lengthy pause. “Yes. The seal is as it should be.” Very formal, with a slight Asian accent.
“She could have swapped it, easy.” Whale said.
“I do not agree.” Again, the Asian. “However, in the name of safety, you may inquire further of her.”
“Cavity search?” Whale offered. One snort from the other side of the room. If Whale moved toward Moreno, it would be time to go superhero. I inhaled slow and deep, fought a dust driven sneeze.
“That’s the problem with you people,” Flyer said. “Always in the gutter. There is only the slightest possibility that someone like her pulled a rabbit out of her hat—”
“Or a flash drive out of her snatch.” One snort again for Whale’s routine.
“As I was saying,” Flyer, dismissive now, “there’s no need for stupid and clumsy. One of you,” a finger snap, “wand her.”
Footsteps traveled from behind whatever I was up against and a set of shiny black boots stopped in front of Moreno’s cross-trainers. The NTSA paddle slid down the outside of her left leg, disappeared up the inside, came back into view on the inside of her right leg, skipped outside, disappeared upward. Shiny Boots betrayed very little motion while the wand worked her arms and upper body.
“Nothing. Not even bra hooks.”
“You sayin’ that’s a free-range pair she’s got in there?” Whale again.
“No. And someone needs to shut el cerdo gordo’s mouth before I do.”
Easy, Moreno. The last I looked you were unarmed and the fat pig had an Uzi.
“Gimme that wand,” Whale said. “I don’t think you checked her cooter long enough.” Shiny Boots froze for a second, stepped towards Whale.
“You don’t think, lard ass, because you can’t.” Through my cracked eyelid I caught him pointing the paddle at Whale. “How about I shove this up your cooter?”
“I don’t have a cooter, asswipe.”
“Yeah? When was the last time you actually saw your dick? Two, three hundred pounds ago? You were what then, eight? Nine?”
Whale started to step over me.
“Gentlemen?” The Asian, more directive than question.
Shiny Boots went back where they came from, I could feel Whale’s foot poised above me. Between my shoulder blades if it had come up and to the right the way I felt it leave my ribcage. The last thing I needed was him taking his frustration out on me. I rolled under the foot, grabbed it with both hands, my left not being a lot of help, and twisted with everything I had. Whale lost his balance. I rolled back where I’d been, accompanied by the splonk of a dropped cantaloupe, followed by a grunt before Whale landed on top of me. I groaned, not just for effect.
“Stupid and clumsy.” Shiny Boots had returned, lifting from my left, with help from the Whale’s other side until I could feel his bulk next to me instead of on me. I groaned again.
“You.” I was tired of none too gentle boot toes in my side, even shiny ones. “Get up.” Shiny Boots grabbed my left shoulder, I groaned in earnest, made it to all fours, Shiny Boots saying, “Watch your head,” while he palmed the top of my head, pushed me backward. “Or you’ll end up like lard ass next to you there.”
Upright and next to Moreno I made a minor production of ‘coming to.’ I bent forward, rubbed my eyes, and the back of my head while I mumbled “whew” and “what the fuck” and moaned while I studied the room. If anyone had seen me dump the Whale, they didn’t mention it.
Once I had a perspective on the room, I knew why. Anything I’d done hidden from view by everyone but Moreno because my head had been up against the bottom of a huge, old-fashioned, pool table-size oak desk. In the middle of it, a computer monitor the size of a Hilton Executive Suite television. Everyone was on the other side of all that except Moreno and me. And down-for-the-count Whale.
Flyer sat behind the desk, his right index finger on a flash drive. Behind him, two Agent-of-the-Month poster boys in rumpled off the rack suits and shiny black boots. Just to his right stood Captain LaSalle’s disco vampire. A ghostly thin Asian, six foot six or seven easy, his shaved head covered in colorful tattoos like the remaining Jumbo security next to him. The only visible weapon was the Uzi on a sling over the standing Jumbo security’s right shoulder.
“You must be Ng.” I focused on the tall Asian. “What do you feed these clowns?”
Jumbo security raised the Uzi, and there were guns everywhere.
“I’m askin’ ‘cause this one doesn’t look so good.” I pointed at the blood on the corner of the desk, and down to more blood oozing from the fallen Jumbo’s head. “How’d that happen?” I had to wait for an answer while Ng pushed his Jumbo’s Uzi down and the agent twins to put their matching Kel-Tecs back inside their suit coats.
“Thought he was about to stomp you,” the agent who’d pulled me up said. “Pissed off about not getting his snatch check.”
“Then,” his agent twin suppressing laughter, “the fat, one-legged bastard lost his balance, whacked his fuckin’ head on the desk.”
“Serves him right,” Moreno gave me a quick sideways glance, “for being a pig.”
“Yes, it does, and so he was.” Flyer reached in an outside pocket of his suit coat, pulled out the evidence bag with the knife I supposedly used to kill Third Eye Horseapple Nose. “But your turn, for being a royal pain in my ass, is coming.” He must’ve read my mind because he turned to me saying, “When the time comes it will appear you killed her with this,” showing me the knife. “Then you’ll kill yourself.”
“What if that’s unacceptable?”
“We’ll take care of the details for you.”
This bank robbery of yours is getting better by the minute, Moreno.
“So where’d you get the knife? Tavius been one of yours all along?”
“I wouldn’t have him as a gift, Paro. Let me tell you about Tavius,” Flyer lifted the flash drive now, tilted it my way. “You understand disposable. Understand this. This man, this record-setting, blue-chip running back blows out of Louisiana like a hurricane,” anger rising in his voice. “He’s going to be Army’s great black hope. Maybe even a Heisman candidate. His sole mission in life to get us into an actual bowl game. A legitimate one, not the Bears Shit in the Woods bowl or the Microwave Mystery Meat Burrito bowl or some other pity fuck bowl, but a real bowl game. Army. Against, oh, Oklahoma. Or Georgia. Michigan, Ohio State, Miami. Fuck, who cares? Anybody with a program. What’s he do? He gets hurt. The fucking pansy gets hurt, can’t play. We still have to educate his ass and give him a fucking job?” We held eye contact, Flyer pointing the flash drive, some kind of professor, I should understand his thinking. I’d never understand these guys.
“All well and good,” Ng, bored with Tavius’ blown recruiting and Army stuck in the bargain basement of pity fuck bowls history lesson. “May we continue?”
“Right.” Flyer broke with me, turned his attention to the monitor.
“Excellent.” Ng stepped closer to Flyer, bent down, their heads level, both staring at the monitor. Ng flicked his left wrist and produced a flash drive like a magician pops a plastic flower out of his sleeve.
“What’s that?” There was something in Moreno’s voice that worried me.
“This, Ms. Moreno,” Ng said, not taking his eyes off the monitor, “is why I remain unconcerned about your having replaced the original drive. A child with a rudimentary grasp of technology can reproduce even the most sophisticated microscopic etching and electronic seals.” He took Flyer’s drive, poked it in a slot on the side of the monitor, continued to watch the screen. “But this,” holding up his drive again, “will run a check on the data in the device you delivered.” He felt down the edge of the monitor, inserted his drive in a vacant slot. “If for any reason they should disagree, I will cut off pieces of your friend until you tell us what you’ve done with the proper device. If you outlast him, I will start over with you.” He raised his eyes from the monitor to hers. “If you know anything we should know, inform us now. You will be saving us all valuable time and your friend considerable pain.”
Madre de Dios, Moreno. If you ever even thought about it, tell him. Now!
Satisfied with her silence, Ng dropped his eyes back to the screen. “Shall we?” He tapped a slim keyboard on the desk.
We waited, Flyer and Ng engrossed in whatever was happening on the monitor, the Agent Twins and remaining Jumbo feigning indifference. The bank was air-conditioned, air flowing up from vents in the floor. I was sweating.
Ng and Flyer gave each other looks that said Moreno hadn’t screwed with the drive, ill-gotten gain was having an excellent day and I wouldn’t be any losing parts. Yet. Ng tapped the keyboard again, pulled his drive, stepped back, pleased with himself. “Congratulations Ms. Moreno. Your delivery passed the test. Flyer, you may execute the transfers.” Flyer reached out, tapped the keyboard.
I don’t know what happened on the monitor, but Ng’s eyes went ping pong balls. He pulled a long-nosed .22 target pistol out of the tight pea-green suit. With his composure disintegrating he pointed the pistol at Flyer’s head, screamed in falsetto, “You fucking idiot!”
All the guns came out again. Jumbo’s on Flyer with Ng’s, the Agent Twins, one on Jumbo, one on Ng. No one in the bank gave us a thought except Whale, who moaned, tried to sit up. I reached down, grabbed his Uzi, tossed Moreno my Walther no one had bothered to search me for. I pushed moaning Jumbo back down with my foot on his throat, my Uzi on the other Jumbo. From where I stood, Moreno’s aim centered on Flyer.
“Mexican standoff,” I shrugged my sore shoulder, Moreno saying to Ng, “Tell us about it.”
“The drive, this idiot…” Ng was shaking, his high, girlish scream only slightly modified. “It didn’t open the accounts. It’s, it’s fucking eating itself!”
Moreno stepped to the desk, leaned in, her gun still on Flyer, turned the monitor halfway around. She watched lines of code stream for a few seconds. “So it is,” and turned the monitor back.
“NO!” Ng, almost in tears. “Goddam you!” The pistol came back level with Flyer’s head, wavered toward Moreno, not knowing who to blame.
“Put the gun away, Ng.”
“What?” He looked at me, lost, his entire universe collapsing on the monitor.
“Put the gun away,” I repeated. “There’re people in here I’d rather shoot than you, but you’re the flash point. Get your shit together, put the gun away, we all get to breathe a little longer.”
“What?” Again, like I was a bad dream.
“I shoot you,” I nodded at the agents. “They shoot Jumbo. I think she’ll shoot Flyer. We take our chances with the agents.”
“Oh…” Ng, bewildered, lowered his pistol. Flyer reached for it.
“Nuh-uh, cabrón. Leave it.” In that moment, by tone of voice alone, I thought Moreno might have shot Flyer in the forehead just to see the look on his face.
An explosion outside rocked the bank. Another, smaller explosion blew open the back door allowing white, sulfurous smoke to pour in. A shotgun blast through the smokescreen knocked the last Jumbo off his feet. When the smoke cleared Rip Taylor stood in the hole that had been the incongruous steel back door, shotgun in hand. “Ng? Sorry, lyin’ cocksucker. You owe me six million dollars, an airplane and a woman.”