Octopus!

Madam K’s ballet studio, West Hollywood, California / November, 1981

Jackson’s legs hurt. No, screamed. Not even a week in and ballet class made his old high school football practices look like two-a-days for pussies Today would be a good day to —

“It’s like totally not right, Kenny! It’s so-o totally, completely, mega fucking wrong!

A pink ripstop Capezio ballet bag zipped in front of him, exploded against the old oak sign-in table to his right, knocked over the fan that sat on top. Several rolls of sport tape, a flimsy black ballet skirt, toe shoes and pink floor shoes, a couple of tampons, Capezio logo t-shirts, an illegal in Madam K’s class leopard print leotard, hair brush and maybe a thousand bobby pins scattered out, one of the rolls of tape wobbling away like an old tire.

He looked to his left and a dancer who’d introduced herself as Logan somebody in the round robin of intros his first night side-armed another roll of tape that he fielded left handed. The other pre-class usually warming up dancers were against the far wall, a huddle of pink tights, black leotards and hair buns. A couple of the older ones, the mom age never-give-up-ballet-class types formed an outer circle, an attempt to protect the younger ones from Logan who was screaming, flouncing herself around, crying and babbling about never dancing again and fuck this and fuck you and fuck doctors and fuck everybody. Especially fuck Kennedy Costigan the reincarnationist space case hired gun ballerina who was right in front of Logan and taking the brunt of the abuse. Jackson figured this was down to Kennedy and Logan being the only pros in the room, both of them on rehab hiatus from some big deal dance company in New York.

“Ten years, and like adios, Logan, you’re done, motor. Godammit it’s so-like totally unfair to the max!”

“Logan, you’re letting your positive energy get way from you and wasting it on –”

“Shut up, Kenny. Bag it, ’kay? Just shut up! You, you get to dance now and it’s so not, not,”  she spun around as if no one could see her full-blown end-of-the-world-and-my-life-as-I-know-it-face in the mirrored wall. Saw it herself and turned back.

“Logan, I had surgery. I’m telling you that you need to use this emotion, this energy, to get past whatever is holding you back.” Kenny put her hands in front of her chest, swept them slowly out and down then up in a wide arc. “Breathe, Logan. This is how we grow.”

“Get real, Kenny. I am like full grown and like breathing or I’d be dead, duh, a’right? What’s holding me back is like this mega stupid tape. Look at it!” She held her left leg straight out, flat footed and perfectly balanced on the right. “And like the gag me with a chainsaw totally dweeb hosers ‘it takes time’ doctors, and, and like you and your ‘listen to your bod, Logan.’ As if! What’s it going to say, Kenny? Huh? Gee whiz, Logan, you’re like a so totally lame poser dancer person now and you can’t dance anymore and you like barf me out when you even like try?” She looked past Kenny at the dancer huddle. “And like for real I’m so sure you’re all psyched. ‘Logan can’t dance, did you see her spazz her jeté? Now she’s a totally wiggin’ loser’…” She made a defiant face, brought her leg down after what seemed like an eternity to Jackson, dropped in the wooden chair nehind her and folded over, shoulders to knees like a dying ballet rag doll.

Madam Konstanova breezed through the door, ever present clipboard and cassette in hand, immediately registered the entire room, devil eyed the debris field. “Miss Bevan-Burns, are you quite through? This is a dance class, not personal anger therapy. You will pick up your things…Mr. Jackson, that is Miss –”

“Her mess, I know.” He stuffed the wad of clothes and tape in the pink bag. “Give me a minute?”

“Mr. Jackson, I do not think you –” Kenny put a hand on her arm.

“Jackson is an old soul.”

“Of course he is, Miss Costigan.” Madam K rolled her eyes, set her clipboard down. “Aren’t we all?” She righted the fan and stood with folded arms.

Jackson knelt, thighs screaming, in front of the dead ballerina doll’s color of a perfectly baked biscuit ballet bun.

“Hey.”

“Hey what?” The bun didn’t move. Knees slightly apart, feet together, one flexible ankle folded over on the floor, the other flat footed, a cast of athletic tape around the back half of her foot. He reached for bulk of taped ankle, she pulled it away under the chair.

“NO!” She raised her head, not her body, tears still smearing her cheeks. “Leave it a-lone! It’s screwed and I’m, I am so-o totally toast and you can’t like fix it, you’re like, like a street guy, not even a dancer. Nobody can fix it.” He pulled her foot back out.

“Tape’s gotta go, Logan.” He looked over his shoulder. “Scissors?”

Madam K opened a drawer in the sign-in desk, brought him a pair of long, thin, knife like barber’s scissors.

“NO! Don’t! I can’t watch. NO-OH!” Logan wailed in full drama queen, twisted her entire upper body a hundred and eighty degrees to her hips.

“What’s your mom call you when she’s mad?”

“Huh? Like seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Oh.” She lost the glum for a second. “Um, Godammit Logan?”

“No,” he slipped the blade of the scissors behind her ankle bone, “your whole pissed off mom name.”

“Godammit Logan Nicole?”

“That’s it?”

“She like always never said all of them, Godammit Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns.” Logan snuffle snort laughed. “She’d like have totally forgotten what she was mad about if she yelled all of them.” She quit fighting his hand on her foot. “I like thought my first name was Godammit, you know, until, well, I went off to mega bitchy skinny old men and witches ballet teacher Nazis school, who like totally forgot all our names and yelled godammit at all of us for-ever.”

“Yeah? What’d they yell about?”

Everything. Eat this, don’t eat that, drink more water, stretch more, get over your hips, where’s your extension and like we neh-ver got to bounce from dance class. Neh-ver. Dance. Get yelled at, dance, dance, dance.”

“Madam K’s not that bad, is she?”

“That was at Sob, not here.”

“Sob?”

“Oh, like duh. School of American Ballet? When I was 12 I like got a scholarship. Named after a car.”

“The Buick fund for future ballerinas?”

“Are you like totally dance blank? Ford.” She paused. “I think.”

He could see her watching the red SUSHIRAMA sign from across the street flash in the mirror, hoped it would hypnotize her while he made small eighth-inch progress snips in the tape.

“Are you like into sushi, Jackson?”

“No. I –”

“It’s like raw fish, right?”

“Yeah. I tried it once, wasn’t sold. Like oysters. Both were lost on me.”

Oy-sters?” She sob laughed again. “Oy, oy! Like why not Oy-oy-sters. Grody?”

“Maximum grode factor. A guy I was in a band with, he took me to a seafood place when I was 16, and everyone was shooting oysters.”

Shooting them? The little rock things in the cold place at the back of Safeway? Like with guns? That’s like, like so wrong.” She saw herself in the mirror. “Like me.”

“Nothing’s wrong with you but some bad advice. And the shooting wasn’t with guns. Where we were the oysters came on a big plate, already open, and the people covered them in hot sauce and slurped them down. They called it shooting.” He felt her leg relax more, kept snipping.

“Like in one bite? Guh-ronk?” She gulped for effect, trying invisible oysters. “How big are they?”

“Well,” he was getting close to having the tape off. “The only way I can describe them is like the way this guy who took me did. I asked him, you know, what were Oy-oy-sters like and he said ‘Jailbait, no way we gonna eat that shit. People can’t put enough hot sauce on them damn things to make ‘em right.”

“No?”

“No. He said only really sick puppies would eat something that looked like it fell out of a cow’s nose.”

She snapped back around, eyes wide. He wished he had it back. Was it the sick puppies she’d go off on or…Her eyes got wider and she grabbed the tops of his shoulders.

“Ohmahgawd. Oy oys. They’re like…hugh-go SNOTS? Like when you’re not totally sick anymore, but kinda, and you cough and like this com-pletely gross mess jumps into your mouth from the back? And it’s like get rid of it now, don’t like swallow it or it’s technicolor yawn time?”

“Yeah.” The tape popped off. “Like exactly, totally like that.”

“Ohmahgawd, Jackson! Octopus!”

“Octopus? Wha –”

“I know. Yuk-oh, right? Betcha can’t eat it.”

“Yeah?”

“For real. Some old tuxedo and flowers man? He like took us all to dinner and told us it was like some delicacy, right, and I like chewed a bite like a biggo gum wad till I thought I was about to turn into a cheerleader or something. And like it was still there. So I, um, well, like kinda coughed it into my hand and dropped it under the table…And Squid! Like how can anyone like eat something called…” Her whole face relaxed, her lips pulled in to a small pucker. She looked down. “My foot. It’s…free. You like…what?”

“Who taped this?”

“Uh…A doctor? Or a guy like a doctor, only isn’t but works there? And like wears doctor clothes and waaaaaay too much cologne and like con-stantly smiles like a Halloween pumpkin thing? I go every other day or, well, it like gets totally sweated out and,” She wrinkled her face again. “But they say I can’t like dance without it, so…” The tears started to come back.

“Can’t like dance with it, either. Lighten up Ms. Godammit Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns. You’re close to right as we speak.” He picked up the roll of tape he’d caught, tore a strip. “Tie your shoe.”

She wrapped the pointe shoe ribbon around her ankle, tied it off. Wiggled her foot, winced.

“Ohmahgawd. Over my pointe shoe?”

“Yeah. Watch this, you’ll need it.” Jackson had no idea how anyone could bend that far over from seated but she did, and watched, engrossed, while he wrapped the piece of tape under her heel, around her Achilles, across her ankle, pulled it tight before he smacked it open handed to set it.

“Ow!” Her eyes came up from his hands, found his. “Is that like, re-quired?”

“Yeah. Sets the tape.”

“‘Kay.” She dropped her head, watched as he tore another strip and came at her heel, Achilles and ankle from the other side, smacked it. He stood, took her hand, pulled her out of the chair. She hit pointe, wobbled a little, found it.

“Oh…mah…GAWD. What? How? That is so…” she pirouetted, stopped dead still, raised her right leg, dropped it on his shoulder, her arms wide, added a hand flourish that sent her fingertips skyward. She bent forward, all huge eyes in his face. “How?”

“I knew, lived with a girl who was an exercise junkie. She went on vacation with her parents, got her stupid on and crashed a parasail into the Atlantic Ocean, feet first. She was taped up like you, only both feet. She did the Frankenstein walk for about a week until her brother the All American sent her to the sports doc where we were in school. The doc hooked her up the way you are now. He said some Japanese guy had figured out flexibility with support for athletes who needed to move and that she’d never get any strength back with her feet locked up in tape. I got her tape duty until she stopped needing it. You good?”

“Bonus! Yeah!” She spun away, three, four, five tight turns, caught her usual place on the the first barre and curtsied, her face as red as a cherry. “Sorrr-eee, everybody.”

Madam K clapped twice, icicles hung from “Ladies…and Mr. Jackson.” The huddle against the wall broke, classical piano music seeped out of the battered jam box, the volume undulating in a slow tremolo with the movement of the oscillating fan. Jackson found his place at the far end of the third barre and thought about Logan and snot and octopus chewing cheerleaders. It helped him make it through another class. For the first time without any involuntary groans accompanied by fuck me.

***

Madam K, clipboard clutched in one arm, stopped him by blocking the door after his post class duties as the male balancing stump for dancers needing to work with a prop.

“Mr. Jackson I do not believe Miss Burns will be able to tape herself.”

“You watch.” He worked himself into his sweatshirt. “As bad as she wants to dance? She’ll tape.”

“You have a great deal of confidence in someone, who, were she unable to dance as she does, would surely have been killed by now.”

“What I’m sayin’. Nobody who dances like Logan could be as big a bimbo as she puts up. She just needs to talk to somebody besides dancers once in a while.”

“Perhaps.” Madam K tapped her lips with the eraser end of a pencil. “In the event she has difficulty?”

“Send her to USC sports med and they’ll make her better than she was. Sending her’s not a bad idea whether she can tape herself or not.”

“I didn’t want to like you, Mr. Jackson. My usual attitude toward musicians, particularly the young, modern set, is one of tolerant contempt. With you I may have to adjust my position. You do realize that you will never be a dancer?”

“You’re the second person to tell me that since Monday. And you know what?”

“Yes, I do. But please, don’t say it.” She stood aside to let him out. “Miss Burns’ episode was quite enough profanity for one evening.”

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Grab My Purse

The first writing assignment for my scene class was to show someone trapped or imprisoned in some way, physical or mental. Show them happy to escape or bummed they can’t. Supposedly no one was to use anything they had in the can and blow a word vomit draft up there. So I did. Eww. It’s against my creative religion to let half baked crap out. I used the opportunity to get off the pot with the second half of the first Bobby B book. Crazy the second one is in the can. The assignment was supposed to be 3 paragraphs. I don’t write paragraphs very often, I write dialogue based on the show, don’t tell rule. Half the class put WIP, half threw down with me. Not many fell inside the 3 paragraphs limit. It was nice to have Bobby and Annabelle back, though, trapped in a warehouse fire by a ruthless Dixie Mafia type who doesn’t want Swamp Vue to sell enclosed swamp cruisers in the Everglades. If you read this from book two you’ll know what happens. Without further ado, the edited version –

The sixty-foot-long string of fire along back wall of SwampVue’s old galvanized odds and ends warehouse didn’t go up with the special effects wooomph Bobby thought it should have. It wasn’t all that big yet, either, just a trickle of fire across the bottom.

“That son of a bitch wasn’t lyin’,” Annabelle pulled a Glock 26 from her purse, set it on one of the overturned buckets they’d been using for chairs.  She stepped into a black fire-retardant mechanics jumpsuit she’d found a box full of in the warehouse, zipped it, pocketed the Glock.

“You figure they knew we were in here?” Bobby zipped into his own jumpsuit.

“This was supposed to be a warning, Bobby. You and me being here is gravy.”

“Maybe we don’t need to sell boats in Florida. Maybe we should talk –”

“Selling boats in Florida is a distant second to ‘maybe’ we should think about how to get out of here before we go well done. That fireline sayin’ to you ‘c’mon out y’all, let’s all have us a lemonade and a chat?’” She scanned the warehouse. Buckets of Bobby’s wrong kind of paint, pallets of Bobby’s pre-Annabelle reclamation material runs from the Katrina salvage yard. Senior Eldridge’s Swamp Vue customized tractor. Big, rusty industrial tools and conveyor runners stripped from the old machine shop that was now Swamp Vue Building A. She looked up at the sprinkler heads doing nothing, knew the Matchstick Men had shut off the water. “Mr. Preston fucking Umbridge and crew have gone from being pains in our asses to dangerous. Where’s my idea boy?”

Bobby had  been walking the warehouse while they talked, came back and yanked the canvas sailcloth off his dead in the water project car that had been rolled into this warehouse with all his other unfinished projects.

“What the hell is that?”

“Half a plan? It was a Ford GT, before Katrina. When I got it most of the aluminum was gone. I’d thought about turning it into a marketing car, like the beer companies have? Half GT on the front and over the engine in back I wanted a small, high gloss wooden pickup bed. Unless we could do the front end like a baby ’57 Fleetside maybe. You know –”

“Bobby, goddammit, brevity. Does it run?” She waited, eyed the fire climbing the back wall, sweat glistening on her forehead.

“Hell yeah it runs.”

“And the half a plan?”

“We could drive it out, or, or…”

“Bobby, it’s a NASCAR grade go kart. Walk, or drive out in that thing, front or back, they’ll pick us off.” She thought for a minute. “Start it. Point it at the front, tie the wheel down.” She could feel Bobby hesitate. “Bobby? Listen up, baby. If this works? I’ll put a four-man team on the damn thing until it’s right. Set it up, start it.” She hit him with the scare a voodoo priest eyes, walked to a pallet of acetone cans and picked up two in each hand, took them to the back wall. When she heard the GT go-kart roar to life she stacked the cans in the flames, backed away in hurry. She pulled the pistol, held it two handed, looked over her shoulder at Bobby and raised her chin.

Bobby jammed a piece of re-bar between the accelerator pedal and the seat on the GT, flipped the transmission paddle to D, Annabelle shot the bottom can of acetone. The GT screamed through the front wall at the same time the acetone cans blew a hole in the back. She grabbed Bobby, pulled him down behind a pallet of junk aluminum while front and back the pop…pop pop and brrrrappp of gun fire punched holes in the galvanized tin that turned the moonlit warehouse into a redneck planetarium.

The shooting stopped, a couple of long minutes passed, Bobby and Annabelle drenched with sweat, each watching the black holes in the warehouse. Someone out back hollered “Anybody in there alive won’t be fer long.”

***

Leading with an AR-16 the one they called Walrus stepped through the acetone hole, Bobby hit him in the face with a shovel. Annabel grabbed the gun before he hit the ground, frisked the prone Walrus and came up with two more clips.

“Jesus.” Bobby looked down at Walrus and back to Annabelle and the rifle. “You know how to use that, too, huh?”

“Afghanistan. By way of Detroit. Help me.” They hog tied Walrus in an upward arch, ankles and wrists together, stuffed a rag in his mouth when he came around enough to make noise. Annabelle handed Bobby the Glock. “You know how to use one of these?”

“Since I was six. We’d go trollin’, Daddy’d get drunk and put me on gator –”

“Bobby? Count to thirty, empty that through the front. Then drag his sorry ass up there and wait for me.”

“What if they see you?”

“You have to be kidding me.” Annabelle held out her arms, assault rifle in hand. Black woman, black overalls, night.

“Right.”

Bobby counted, wiped his sweaty hands on his jumpsuit, emptied the clip through the hole his GT had made. There was a round of pop pop…pop pop pop that punched a few more holes in the front of the warehouse, a man’s voice called out for Walrus. There was another pop, louder, closer.

“Get on outta there, Bobby,” Annabelle, her voice raised. “Grab my purse on your way to the water valve.”

***

Bobby stopped his two-wheel dolly next to Annabelle’s tumped sideways wheel barrow, stood it up and Walrus, screaming behind the rag in his mouth fell on the Swamp Vue dock next to his partner.

“You put gas in the tow skiff?”

“Yep.” Bobby nodded to the far side of the dock. “That red Bandit four-seater set up for water test is a lot faster.”

“I’m not looking for speed. I think a nice, slow moonlight ride under the Spanish Moss might give these gentlemen a chance to reflect on the errors of their ways.” She looked at the two Matchstick Men, trussed up like Houdinis in a mixture of chain, rope and wire. “Besides, they’re bleeding and the skinny one vomited himself over the hole I put in his shoulder.” The burning warehouse reflected in her eyes. “And I’ll be godammed if these boys’ll ruin any more Swamp Vue inventory.”

Bobby helped her roll Walrus and Steeple unceremoniously from the dock into the green, slimy bottom of the tow skiff, both men wild eyed and squirming, still trying to holler through their gags. Bobby untied the skiff, watched Annabelle kick the Merc outboard up and disappear into the swamp.

***

Sheriff Wylie pulled up by the dock, joined the flashing light show of Terrebonne Parish emergency vehicles surrounding Swamp Vue’s back warehouse. He climbed out of his cruiser, met with a fireman who talked for a minute before he went back to his truck.

“I declare, Bobby B,” Wylie pulled his Smokey the Bear hat, wiped his forehead. “Seems ain’t no kinda shit can be got up to foreign to anywhere you’re at, boy.” He reset the hat, tweaked it. “Where’s Ms. Annabelle Mo-nay?”

“She, uh,” Bobby felt the weight of the canvas bag in his hand, heard Annabelle asking him if gators’d eat anything, how she’d heard a story about somebody cutting a gator open and finding a pocketwatch. “She took the tow skiff out. To clear her head. All the chemicals…”

“That right? Big city lady knows her way around the bayou now, does she?”

“GPS.”

“Mmm.” Wylie walked to the warehouse, frowned at the puddles under his shiny boots, wrinkled his nose at the smell of smoldering paint, burnt rubber. They both watched the firefighters rolling hose for a few. “Late start on the sprinklers, huh?”

“Valve stuck.”

“You don’t say. Head honcho Fire fella told me this mighta been arson.” He poked a stubby finger through one of the bullet holes. “Y’all got any problems I need to know about?”

“No sir.”

“The bag?”

“This? Oh, uh, just some, uh, lost and found.”

“Sure ‘nuff?” Wylie shined his high-power penlight into the bag. “Lessee now. Coupla phones. Coupla belts with big fancy buckles like them two slicks outta Florida was wearin’, the ones been hangin’ to the 76 truck stop talkin’ up the waitresses and hookers how they’re big shot Matchstick Men. Two wallets. A watch, an en-graved pocket knife,” he turned it over under the penlight, “to Walrus from LuLu. Makes you wonder about people, don’t it? A three-inch wood handled lock-back gizzard splitter. A baby Colt semi, looks like a 380. Car keys on a key ring fulla those grocery store cards. And you got nothin’ to tell me?” He shined the light on a cluster of bullet holes and moved it to Bobby’s face. “No problems? You sure?”

“Yes sir, I’m sure.” Bobby pointed to his GT, a 427 engine on a bent aluminum frame embedded in a giant old cypress. “We’re gonna fix that GT up right, put the logo on it, haul it to boat shows. And Ms. Monet thinks after tonight Swamp Vue’ll start selling more boats in Florida.”

“No doubt.” Wylie dropped the wallet he’d opened and gone through back in the bag. “Fact is I’d bet on it.” He walked back to his cruiser, tossed his hat on the passenger seat, leaned on his open door. “You be sure to give Ms. Mo-nay my regards.” He put a foot in the cruiser, stopped his descent. “Y’know, Bobby, she might give me a holler sometime, she’s of a mind. Tell her lunch is on me.”

Gambits #5

Poison is So-ooo Passe

Naegleria fowleri is found in 70% of US lakes. Nicknamed “The Brain-eating Amoeba,” it hijacks the victim’s brain causing confusion, hallucinations and loss of motor function. Death can occur in as few as seven days.

All you need is a jar of lake water, a hot tub and a little playful “dunk that pesky, fickle bachelor” and he’s history.

Up your game. Poison? Puh-leeeeze…

Dusk in Douala – Rev 3

Dusk in an abandoned-by-Eminent-Domain Douala, Cameroon Ghetto / August 1998

A pair of mud caked motorcycle taxis pulled up in front of the overgrown, abandoned, dirty white cinder block house in the sweltering Douala ghetto. Two Anglos in wilted white tuxedos backed off the seats, the younger of the two, athletic, thirtyish with longer hair said something quietly in French to the drivers, paid them, watched them disappear around a corner. He looked up, scanned the 12 x 12 two-story structure encased in tropical greenery. Hung above the missing door a once colorful sign featured a smiling African woman, her head surrounded by vegetables. The abandoned structure, minus the sign, repeated all around them. An eminent domain ghost town.

“This is what economic development looks like in Cameroon, eh?” The older Anglo, slender, maybe 40, clean cut and early gray nodded toward the gleaming forest green Ford Expedition pulling up. “Nun in a knocking shop.”

“Part of his act.”

“Shit, Cas. It’s the only thing big enough to drag his fat ass across Douala.”

They both watched a fat man in overdone military garb, complete with double gold rope wrapping his armpits from both epaulets, exit from the Expedition’s back seat. A smallish, bald, black as midnight man in a bright yellow shirt covered in printed orange pineapples, an aluminum briefcase handcuffed to his wrist stepped from the front passenger side. The fat man’s “military escort,” a tall, thin blond man in a black uniform somewhere between Roaring Twenties chauffeur and Nazi goose-stepper swung from the driver’s seat, a Chinese Glock nine knock-off in his right hand that he used to direct the Anglos to the door. Inside, with its boarded windows, missing second floor and roof, the place was an oven.

Monsieur Caswell?” Saying it Kays-Weel, the fat man’s voice wet, full of spit and bullshit. “And Kar-kleen.” He held his eyes on the older Anglo, enthusiasm diminished, before turning to Caswell. “You know, how I have said of heem, and yet…” he shrugged.

“What you say, Colonel, has no bearing on how or with whom I conduct business.” He shrugged in return, mocking the self-imposed rank of the Coalition of some bogus Liberation Front’s front man. “You have my money?”

“I have your money, Kays-weel, but these man of yours, Kar-kleen? To me? He reeks of betrayal. Shoot heem, for the cause, for all of us.” His smile beamed in the dusk’s semi-darkness. “Do so, the money is yours.”

“I’m a businessman, Colonel, not a gangster. I’m not armed.”

“No? A businessman you say? Or a spy? Perhaps a clever American?”

“I could be a Martian for all it matters. You’ve seen the weapons, have guards posted on the container. I want my money.”

“You exude the aroma of an anarchist, but retain the soul of a capitalist. I’m afraid we –”

“If I’d wanted a sermon from a hypocrite, Mon Colonel, I’d have found a church. We do the money, now, or this gets uglier than your Momma’s dog.”

The fat man’s laugh went off in the stifling heat like a small bomb full of ego, gold teeth, curry, cigars and spit spray. “You – You keel me. These is why I liked you, Kays-weel. In the face of a most unprofitable death you make jokes. As you are,” he gestured to his Glock clone wielding driver with a minor wave of his hand, “how should you propose to make it, as you say, uglier –”

Caswell grabbed chauffer Nazi’s sweaty wrist with both hands, jammed the Glock clone up under its owner’s chin with enough force the chauffeur pulled his own trigger. The sound of the muffled shot went straight up with the bullet and brain spray into the palm branches overhead. The chauffeur gurgled, fell away, relinquishing the gun to Caswell who waited in the sticky thickness of cordite and blood mist while the Colonel fumbled with the flap of a shiny, black military holster. From it, in slow motion, he pulled an equally shiny black pistol. It cleared the holster, Caswell’s nine popped, the Colonel screamed, blood staining the sleeve of his uniform and dropped his pistol.

Kirklin knelt, collected the gun from years of packed down squat debris and rat shit, racked the slide, jammed it above the bridge of the Colonel’s nose. “Not so bloody funny now, eh, your Momma’s ugly dog.”

“You…Never.” He grimaced, blew air out of his nose. “You weel never leave Douala alive. You two, not so clever of you to bring your own whores, leave them alone. Not know who you are dealing with!” He looked at the blood oozing between his fingers, half laughed, half screamed. “You have to let me go. I need…I’ll be…missed. And I have your women. They –” The shiny gun went off, a cannon in the close confines of the concrete room. The Colonel backed up, the cross-eyed surprise on his face a cartoon trying to look at the hole in his forehead. He sat down, hard, fell over on his dead military escort.

Caswell collared the sweat soaked pineapple print shirt, pulled the small black man up from wretching, stuck the nine in his ear. “Open the briefcase.” The little man bent again, vomited air and noise. “Jesus.” Cas stuck his free hand in the man’s pockets, fished, pulled out a pearl handled .25 Saturday Night Special and a key ring.

“Just cut his fucking hand off, Cas.” Kirklin said, fanning the powder smoke.

“Newwww…Puh-leeze.” The black man snatched the key ring away, freed himself from the briefcase and handcuffs. “I am, I, le courrier, pour le financier.” He thumped his chest. “Seulement! There is, family, I –”

“Shut up,” Cas jammed the nine back in Black Baldy’s ear, kicked the briefcase Kirklin’s way. “Open it. See if the little man was running his own game.” Kirklin squatted, went through the keys, flipped the lid on the case.

“Money.”

Cas dragged pineapple shirt to the empty doorway, put his foot in the small of the man’s back and pushed. “Kiss your family for us.” They listened to him dry heave down the empty street. Kirklin lit a black cigarette, blew a smoke ring.

“Shoulda killed him, too.”

“I have locals following whoever walked out of here alive. We need to know where he goes.”

“Mmm. You worried?”

“About?”

“Elise. Oriana?”

“No. You?”

“No.” Kirklin blew another smoke ring. “I’m sure they neutralized whatever these refugees from acting school sent before they became an issue. No doubt with a good deal more finesse than we put up here.”

“Not much of a trick.” Cas jiggled the little finger he had in his ear. “What the hell is that?”

“Beretta.” Kirklin held up the Colonel’s pistol. “M9. Forty-five. A right argument stopper. I might keep it.”

“It’s too fucking loud.”

Kirklin moved his lips, mouthed soundless nothing. Caswell slapped him in the chest with the back of his hand. “I was just asking what about these two?” Kirklin pointed the Beretta at the two dead men.

“We’re gone five minutes,” Cas nudged the Colonel’s glossy boots with his foot, “they’re picked clean, teeth pulled and carcasses set on fire. You ready?” Kirklin nodded, Caswell stepped through the door, saw the kid on the corner vanish, heard the put-put of the motorcycle taxis fire up a street over.

“You cheap out, Cas,” Kirklin flicked his cigarette into the dusk, focused on the corner, “not tip them enough?”

“Too much, and they didn’t thank me. Showtime.” The motorcycle taxis rounded the corner, drivers with guns drawn. A pop from the Glock clone, a BOOM from the Beretta and the motorcycles were put-putting on their sides in the street.

“Goddammit that thing’s loud.”

“A bit too heavy as well. The Ford?”

“No one, even after dark in Douala, jacks a pair of thirty-year old Honda Sixty-fives.”

“Right. Lottery night in the squats, then.” Kirklin squeezed the handlebar clutch on the closest bike, lifted it. Caswell pulled up the other, let it skitter around him till he knocked it out of gear with his foot.

“What were the locals supposed to do if we hadn’t walked out of here?”

“A note at the hotel, a cold phone coded to the Oxford drop for Dunning.”

“One of these days,” Kirklin straddled the duct taped seat, briefcase between his legs, “someone will need to kill Richard Dunning.”

“Don’t try it from a motorcycle,” Caswell shot Kirklin a clipped smile, dropped on his own duct taped seat. “Be a shame if the bastard heard you coming.”

Gambits #4

Didn’t Your Mom Tell You About Girls “Like That?”

In 2016, a seventeen-year-old Mexico City boy suffered a fatal stroke after receiving a hickey from his girlfriend. A pathologist determined the love bite caused a blood clot that traveled to the young dude’s brain

I can’t believe this hasn’t been riffed by every screenwriter and fluffy mystery novelist out there. This is a teen secret agent or a treehouse detective agency YA waiting to happen.

“What happened to Tommy,” Rodrigo asked. It stayed quiet, the wind and the fall leaves brushing against the garage door the only sounds.

Finally Jimmy volunteered, solemnly, “Dead, man. Tommy’s dead.”

“No way!” Rodrigo protested loudly.

“Way,” Becca said, gloomily. “And it was like totally gross how.”

Rod waited, waited a little longer. “Cough, Bec.”

She looked around the circle of friends, sighed heavily. “He and Cindy, uh, Castaneda…” she blushed, hard.

“Yeah?” Rod queried with some push in his voice.

“Yeah…” Becca looked around again, then at the floor. “He, uh…Well, she…” Becca took a deep breath, raised her head and tried to cop some street before saying  “they were deep skiddilypoo in front of her house and she lip branded him, and, and…”

“He got a blood clot from it and it went to his brain,” Jimmy snapped his fingers.  “D.O.A. The dirt nap is scheduled for Thursday after school.”

“Ridicurageous!” Rodrigo was almost in shock. “I saw him at Franco’s like Friday, he was jackin’ on some date he had. It was Cindy Castaneda, she did a fangless vampirella and he’s dead?”

Jimmy looked up from the floor, fiddled with his USB programmable fake Apple watch that told him the time and when to eat lunch, take his allergy meds. “That’s what the cop doc said.”

“There’s gotta be more to it,” Becca said pensively. Becca was always looking for conspiracies, even where there weren’t any. Her dad sold lingerie to department stores and managed all the outlet mall hose and girdle stores, but they all knew he was a secret agent of some kind, and what went on in the back room of the biggest outlet mall store had nothing to do with bras and panties and six packs of B stock pantyhose. She’d pull a Dad, I wanna come next time he was going to Crockett Falls, get on the computer. Cindy Castaneda had been trouble since she’d shown up last summer. Well, trouble, and kind of a, well slut was a bad word. Maybe a prick tease ’cause everybody talked about how hot she was and how she could kiss the shell off a walnut, but nobody was talking about had they done it with her or anything…

Y’all like me all adverbly and commercial with proper tags? I coulda gone on about how cool the garage was, maybe an old B&O stereo with big wooden speakers and no bluetooth, kids like that. But hell, the watch was a stretch for me.

THG3 – CH 19 – Black Lipstick Pt 2

Where were we before I got out of sync with the Christmas story? Ah, Deanna had just bought her way out of hanging with a serious study mentor/monitor pest by agreeing to attend a “Punk of Some Sort” concert in black lipstick and grunge attire. But first she needs the lipstick, and ends up with a philosophic reality check from Feeb the Boots Girl.

Smoke On The Water

Mid July, 1979 / Boots, Cambridge UK

“No black, love. Management doesn’t want the type.” The light olive, attractive mid-twenties Boots counter girl stood from her squat where she’d been stocking, smoothed the one-piece jumper over her patterned blouse. She lowered her chin, corner eyed the sewn in pocket patch that matched the blouse and tugged lightly to fluff it, just under a nametag with FEEB and a smiley face at a 45-degree angle. Her dark hair in a sensible bob pulled behind one ear exposed a not too sensible dangly earring. For a cosmetics girl she wore very little makeup. And lacked the air of disinterested superiority Deanna had expected.

“Do have some Deep Purple, if you’d fancy a look.”

“Smo-oke on the wah-terrrr…doot-doot-doooo, doot-doot-dee-doo…” Deanna got a madwoman stare before the counter girl broke out laughing.

“I’ve seen you about. The American mess in Merri and Cat’s pack. In for necessaries, never over here.”

“Makeup and I don’t get along.”

“Me and men.”

“Oh please…” Deanna smeared the offered Q-tip of Deep Purple on her lips, rubbed them together in the counter top mirror. “I don’t do well there, either. At all.”

“I do too well at times, and I’d think you would. The hair limits your choices I’m sure. Not the sweater and crest’s or businessman’s lunch lot, but…” She pulled a cream scarf from under the counter, framed Deanna’s face with it. “Show time, that is.”

Deanna yanked it off, shook her head. “That’s the point. Or not the point. What I look like has nothing to do with anything. Every guy I meet wants the wrong piece of me, and I’m sick of it. I was sick of it when I was 16 and I’m sick of it now.”

“Then why the lipstick?”

“Someone has offered me a deal I can’t refuse. If I go see something called Quigleys with him he’ll stay out of my way for a couple of weeks. All he asked for was black lipstick and raccoon eyes. I can do Alice Cooper for a few hours for the time off. It’s in public, so I’m not worried about it getting too weird. Do you know them, Quigleys?”

“The Quigs’re pigs. Locals they were before going off. Screaming about slits and gash and piss and shit and we’re all fucked but them. They play one song for an hour and a half, change up the lyric along the way. A mosh and bruises and mystery gropes evening I should think.”

“What do they sound like?”

“A motorbike or six with muffler’s all gone missing. I’m going, but I don’t fancy them. I like a bit of blues. Not the poncey Rolling Stones, but I do like some ZZ Top.”

Deanna finger drummed on the counter. “Haow haow haow…ummm hmmm.”

Feeb rolled her eyes.  “You’d know all the old songs?”

“Know a guy who does. Knew a…” she smacked the glass counter. “God dammit.” She glared at the counter girl. “Why do they do that? How do they just suck us in and –”

“Don’t drink or touch anything the ugly Quigs hand you and you won’t get sucked anywhere. Do and you’ll wake up stupid three days later with every hole in your body screaming bloody murder.”

“I got that lecture. From, from…and well I sort of ignored it and then freaked after and now I have…this hair, and I’m avoiding a guy buying black lipstick –”

“Deep purple, love.”

“So does that make love like a big bruise? All purple and…Because that’s what it feels like. I mean it.” She took a breath, looked for some composure. Goddam Jackson. She was about to lose it on somebody if he didn’t turn up. “How much?”

“One pound and ten.” She bagged the lipstick, handed it to Deanna. “We’re not through. Here.” She took the hand Deanna held out for change, slid a spongey pad under it, set it down. With her left hand still on Deanna’s she turned and with her right hand fished around in a drawer behind the counter. She turned back with something in her hand, bumped the drawer closed with a hip.

“What –” Deanna worked her fingers between the slight humps in the pad and fell in love with it.

“Nails, love.”

“But –” The pad massaged her fingers, like it was made for them. She squished her fingers around a little and the pad squished in return. Feeb set a small bottle of Deep Purple nail polish beside the pad. “Really, uh, I don’t need –”

“Can’t do proper whatever punk it is this week without matching nails.” She held up the tips of Deanna’s fingers, eyed them like a pawnbroker appraising a tarnished but salvageable bracelet. “Proper would be to chip them biting your nails. Well turned out is once a month for most of the bandy girls. A clean Cambridge lass’ll stand out like a bog pickle on the Queen’s doorstep.”

“I can’t afford the polish, or to have you…Bog pickle? Um…And he’s staring. Your boss? Over there?”

Feeb turned her head, held up the nail polish brush and flashed a version of Deanna’s Miss Popularity smile so sweet it could’ve induced immediate onset diabetes. The man flustered, waved her off and disappeared through a door.

“Now we can talk. I’m Feeb. Phoebe. But don’t.”

“Feeb is, uh…Cool.” She could hear Jackson calling any lame-o involved in anything a ‘feeb’, stopped herself from letting it fall out her mouth on the Boots girl. “Deanna. Deee – Anna.” The second and deliberate one earned her a raised eyebrow from Feeb. “Sorry. Somehow, over here, it always turns into Dina or Deena or Danna. I haven’t heard my name the right way since I got here, except the times I’ve called home…”

“Missing it you are.” She buffed back and forth, two strokes per fingernail. “What’s his name?”

“Jackson. Jax…I mean, how do you…?”

“Nobody misses their Mum with that face. What’s his take on you across the pond with us and all?”

“That’s the…” She felt it building again, realized she couldn’t smack the counter with her right hand. “He hasn’t…Won’t, maybe. I don’t know…It’s just…Shit. Really.”

“Took it hard, did he? Some do. There’s no easy way to let them go unless they think it’s their doing.” She brushed Deep Purple on Deanna’s lifted index finger, turned it slightly, tilted her head, expressionless. “I eloped with a pretty soldier. On a dare. My dare. To see how far his ‘shippin’ out tomorrow’ heavy breathing ‘proposal’ would go. On the train to Devonport I pretended sleep and he jumped with his kit the first stop after Paddington. Sent me a lovely note explaining how he wasn’t good enough for me.” She made a noise in her throat followed by “Bloody coward.” She lifted Deanna’s ring finger and brushed. “Lovely bit of man art he was. Fit, clean, a good size and hard as nails. Everywhere.” She smiled, wistfully, cocked an eyebrow. “Give us the thumb and a word about your Jackson. Was he rough when you left him?”

Deanna worked her lower lip while Feeb finished her right hand and set her left on the spongey pad. “No. Well, I mean he said I was trophy hunting. That no matter what I said about not that I was always trophy hunting. My presentations. Academics. Men.”

Feeb waved a small warm-air dryer over Deanna’s fresh polish. “Are you?”

“Maybe. I…God that feels so-o good. Like I don’t have icicle fingers for once.” Feeb let her space, briefly.

“Trophy hunting?”

“’Kay. I didn’t think so, really. I…I got into some kinds of stupid trouble being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Feeb turned her head slightly, knitted her eyebrows together.

“Well, okay. For real I was putting myself in the wrong place and I guess it did sorta look like trophy hunting. And they never turned out how I was imagining them. But at the time you don’t see it, you know?”

“Only if you don’t want to see it or won’t like the way it will sound if you say it to yourself. Is he gone for good d’ya think?”

“I don’t know, really. I got a Valentine’s card, he sounded out of it. Mom Anne, that’s his mom, she said Amanda, that’s Ms. Morisé my…well my old mentor, she won’t talk to me either, at all. She, Amanda I mean, she told Mom Anne he’d almost died in New Mexico. How she even knew that I don’t know. And that’s all crazy because he knew about stuff. Street stuff. How to stay out of trouble or see it coming and was always so pissed at me when I blew it and got my stupid on. So how could he be almost dead?”

“You left him to where he didn’t care. Wasn’t a case of underdone suicide?”

“Jax? No way. If I’m gone it’s like so what, he knows girls I don’t even know he knows, in places I would never go.” The lip chew was back. “And he promised. To wait. And other stuff. And, well, he didn’t have to be such a fucking jerk and leave for California before I was even gone. Like he’d been thinking about it, planning it. Forever, maybe.”

“How long had you had us on your diary?”

“That doesn’t count. I mean I had a reason. I…Okay. A year? A year I was really working on it. Thinking about it for a year before. Maybe two, but it was all out of focus. I was just…”

“Unhappy?”

“Not really. I wanted to do more. About what I was writing and saying and feeling, not just running my mouth in auditoriums with Jax and Amanda polishing me like you and my nails…Fuck, you know? I really fucked all that up leaving, didn’t I?” She raised her eyes, Feeb’s were waiting.

“I don’t know, Dee-Anna. All is lot of fucked up.” A tiny smile and almost giggle passed between them. “But if he won’t call and whoever set you up to be whatever you wanted to be won’t talk but his Mum will? You didn’t explain yourself to who you should’ve and left a right shit mess. His Mum is past it and sees you as daughter by proxy with him the means.” The eye lock lasted, not forced, for a quiet minute.

“I guess I did, huh? Leave a giant shit pile.”

“I guess. You should have done like my soldier.”

“Left them sleeping? Not said anything? I couldn’t do that, I…I should’ve, huh? Shit, then I’d be here and they’d be all sorry I was gone and I could be the one sending lovely little cards about how they were too good for me…Except, well…”

“Jackson?”

“Yes. What do I do about that? About losing him. Forever, maybe?” Feeb hot aired Deanna’s left hand. Warm fingers. A task Deanna would put her unused since the pinking shears haircut hair dryer on when she got home.

“Replace him. They’re interchangeable, you know. Except the good ones. And like the lady said, they’re all taken.”

“What about love? Doesn’t that count?”

“Love is like that song.” She held up the nail polish, label out. “All smoke. On the water. Where nothing can stay lit for long.”

 

 

THG 3- Ch 8 – White Buffalo

Talk about draft – I caught myself in the middle of a bunch of tell not show placeholders here. Any thoughts on what’s superfluous will be openly considered. 

Punting on the River Cam Back College / Sunday February 11, 1979

“Fuck off.” Cat’s glare wasn’t anything to ignore. But the asshole who’d rammed their punt was well drunk and shirtless, in February. His three friends were at least as drunk but opted for rugby striped polos and beanies.

“Fuck off yourself.” He shifted his gaze and leer to Deanna. “You’re the new one at Newnham. From the States. Everyone’s on about you. A looker and a brain.” He adopted a sculptural poetic muse, one arm across his chest, the other hand under his chin, face tilted up. “So fair her skin rivals the Queen’s China…Her hair…a tousled frame for eyes and lips that call my name —”

“She said fuck off. So just do it, asshole. Fuck. Off.” Deanna was too tired to get fiery, but totally able to be really, really pissed. Her wet, muddy punting pole hit just behind his knees, from the back by way of the side, and he crumpled onto his friends.

“Bitch…” The laughter from the boat subsided. “It was a fucking joke…” The loud bumper-car punter stayed splayed on his friends, in spite of their shoving, briskly rubbed the back of his leg. “What the fuck…” the laughter kicked back in when he stood, “You hate men or what?”

“Since you asked, yes. We’re lesbians. Very lesbian.” She tried to channel Amanda and Alix. “And very devoted.”

Cat’s face went blank, but without giveaway. Deanna had stepped down into the punt to swat the guy and it was yawing back and forth, her feet spread did no good to steady it.

“Todger dodgers!” the guy yelled, holding his punt staff between his legs. “All for naught no matter what you’ve got!” He had found a cheering section from the other punts, from the bank and a nearby bridge. “Drown like the cats you are!” He bumped Deanna and Cat’s punt again, hard, and Deanna went in the River Cam face first, lengthways, to explosions of laughter from the gallery. When she pulled herself up the punt’s side Cat kissed her, quickly, resisted the urge to spit and helped her back in the punt before she gave the shirtless punter the two fingered salute.

“Here.” Cat pulled her coat and wrapped it around Deanna. “Pull everything under topside”

“I can’t move around in here enough to —”

“Take it off. We’ll not have a pneumonia patient to deal with on top of all the other shit you bring on when you’re healthy.”

“But —”

Off.”

Deanna shed the coat, pulled her sweater, shirt, undershirt and bra over her head in a single, wet mass. The cheers went up again, followed by boos as she wriggled her way back into Cat’s coat. Cat, in stone silence, poled them back to the hire where her punt-by-the month resided.

The roller crew dragged Cat’s boat up, she signed form that disappeared with the roller crew. “I usually go for a drink, after.” She looked at Deanna’s shivering legs flip water from her jeans like a wet spaniel, put a finger on her lips. “The trousers could go as well.” The finger tilted toward Deanna. “The coat’s twice long enough.”

“Jesus, Cat. Maybe for y’all’s Twiggy, Fifteen years ago. So no way. Dealing with that, that, complete drunk shitspeck and all of that American Girl junk like I’m some kind of exotic prize, some magical white fucking buffalo, and the cold river, and I’m cold, so no. Just no. I thought I got rid of all that a long time ago.”

“Could I have my coat back, then?” Cat chuckled to herself, watched Deanna walk away.

“Godammit…” Deanna’s breath fogged while she talked over her shoulder, hands jabbed deep in the borrowed coat’s pockets. “Wasn’t flashing half of Cambridge and making us lesbians enough for one day?”

A thin smile crossed Cat’s face. “I suppose.” Under her breath she mumbled. “All we need is Merriam up to her mischief with Uncle Johnson when we arrive and it more than will be.”

***

Turning gay, even superficially, was the blessing Deanna had sought for breathing room from the gender game distractions under a crushing academic load. She could study and do her work. Be a lifeless, academic automaton. There were still the study advisors, study supervisors, study groups. Study. Day in and day out. Too busy to notice she was lonely. And beside the gay punting on the Cam day it seemed like it was going to rain, off and on, forever.

In rare moments of inactivity she’d feel the cold drafts of loneliness, colder even that the one by the kitchen sink. She knew she’d beaten the guy bullshit in high school with Jackson. He had been so perfect, she’d been so googly eye brain dead nutso for him since the A&W lunch and never quite got around to telling him that. Most of it, yeah, but not the googly eyed nutso. Now he was gone. Not outside or downstairs in his apartment gone, or playing in some awful restaurant or bar somewhere, or on his way home from a class or a practice room, or even in a fine arts studio with his neighbor the scarf wrapped dance major whore Audrey. He was gone. Unfindable gone. Along with the heart no one said she had without him. Well, that wasn’t true, exactly. Her heart was there, it was just, well…What would he think if he really knew she had sold him a lie…

Well, maybe she had made a giant head in her ass episode when she left him out of her decision, pushed him out of her life. Because her last college marathon, the one getting to Cambridge, was nothing compared to Cambridge kicking her “academic marathon stratagy” into the Olympics realm. She could use a warm leg to put her feet on, a leg attached to someone who could read her mind, listen, take her out of it for a Sunday afternoon and make it stop for awhile.

She’d tried it in a study group on the guy from Australia who was too young for the crinkles around his puppy dog eyes, but a week later two girls in their group had Syph. He claimed he got from the cosmetic counter girl at Boots, so he was out for good. Spending half an hour washing her feet didn’t help. Fucking creep. One of the girls had a boyfriend, off on a geology mountain scraping trip. What would he think? No wonder Jax thought her vacation escapades were “jive on the order of politics.”

***

On two consecutive sleep deprived mornings she wrote Jackson letters. One asking him to wait for her. To wait and let her explain everything, polite and apologetic. The other demanded he wait. It was full of sexy innuendo, for her, and hopefully seductive. Both mailed on the same day. The Post Office could find him. Her dad had said nobody could hide from the IRS or the Post Office.

Amanda was gone, too. That lady, God…She’d been more like her mother sometimes than her own. She was strong. Smart. Decisive. Beautiful and fearless and a real lesbian but who cares and major sailor mouth. Everything Deanna wished she was, except a lesbian, and she had and now might never be. Well, potty mouth she had in the bag, but the rest?

They’d walked or shown her the door just because she couldn’t let them know who she was? They knew, they had to. She just wanted to be better. The best, because that would erase it all, wouldn’t it? Didn’t they understand?
They were always pushing her to open up and she didn’t want to, ever, about all that. The only person she’d talked to about it, who understood, was dead. So what was their real problem? So she didn’t tell anybody about some things. She was just going to school, they could get over it. So they canceled a few things. So what? And no heart? Hot girl flunky? They were so full of it. Everything would be fine when she got home. They’d see.

The rain came again and stayed. Even the raindrops and rivulets that ran down the old windows like on her first almost date with Jax had company. Three years started to look like a long time…A loooooong time.

***

West Central New Mexico / Monday February 12, 1979

Jackson worked with Tony two days shy of a month. The evening he took off Tony gave him a heavy woven coat that was too small but fit Jackson like his pajama tux, a pair of fur-lined moccasins his aunt had given him that might have fit Tony when he was twelve but fit Jackson fine, and a hundred dollars folded around what looked like an over-sized business card.

Jackson pulled the card out of the bills, held it up.

“Found it in your pocket when I picked you up. It’s an English-ized Navajo prayer. You must have talked to one of the old Navajo women who makes them or the nun who gives them to walking casualties like you were.” He paused, looked at his recovering friend. “Before you were done for conversation and flat on your face breathing sand. You think you’re past seeing white buffalo?”

“Yeah.” Jackson chased that with a sardonic smile, stuffed the bills and the prayer card in his used-to-be-madras-covered wallet with the only other things in it, his one picture of Deanna and an about to expire driver’s license.

“Tell me again where you end up, star gazer?”

“Where the interstate hits the ocean by fall. I’m accepted probationary at USC until I get the rest of my transcripts in. Those places like test scores, they don’t care who I am.”

“Hardly anyone does these days. L.A. huh? Stay put a minute.” Tony disappeared into the hogan and came out with an address written on the back of a gas receipt, passed it through Jackson’s passenger window. “My daughter. Name’s Opie. She’s with her mother out there around L.A. Someplace called Ontario, but not Canada. If you see her, tell her that her dad worries about her.”

“I’ll try, man. And I mean it, about the money.”

“If you mean it, I’ll see it. If you don’t, that’s our story. Between the stripes, little brother.” He looked off down the rutted dirt road with a small snort. “Best stay in the ruts till you get to where they are.”

Jackson bent down to look out the passenger window. “You saved my life, Tony. Thanks. For real.”

“Don’t make me regret it.” Tony popped the top of Jackson’s car with his open hand and watched him roll away, kicking up a little dust in the New Mexico twilight.

Tony hadn’t had a beer since he’d put Jackson in his truck up in Taos. It was strange he hadn’t wanted one since. Almost every night, on horseback and bundled up against the cold, he and the kid would ride out under the big New Mexico sky. Tony would tell him the Navajo stories his grandfather had made him learn, and Jackson would tell him what woman of the wind had shown him in the desert outside of Taos. Tony looked up, thought about counting Jackson’s stars, but it was still early. They had wondered together on the cloudless nights what the Angels might all be watching on television that lit up their living rooms. He lifted his blanket and saddle off the porch, whistled for a horse. He was going to miss the kid. Spacey little fucker.

***

Deanna’s flat  / Valentine’s Day, 1979

Deanna walked in out of the rain and before her coat was off her flat mates indicated she’d gotten a delivery, it was in her room. More sweaters from mom? No, mom was still maximum pissed. Another Miami Dolphins jersey from her loser brother who couldn’t have gone to help out the Niners? She opened the door to a single red rose in a small, delicate light blue floral Victorian-ish vase, listing to the right on top of her dresser. A transcribed message in a clean, longhand script on the standard florist’s card from FTD was tied around the neck of the vase with a thin, red ribbon.

D,
Rose is for Valentine’s one. Missed CA enrollment deadline. I’m a New Mexican mess. New Messican? Florist cards too small. Next year has to be better. Hope you’re OK. – J

Deanna held the card for a long time before she took it to the kitchen to pin to the wall she and her flat mates used for a bulletin board. She hadn’t been there long enough to clutter it with new memories. The rose was unexpected, but he’d said they had five Valentine’s, let him know by then or before, and now in just over a month the first one was gone. She’d called her mom collect last week. Mom said Jax’s mom didn’t know where he was, didn’t know if he had a forwarding order on the apartment. All anyone knew was he’d called his mother from a pay phone in the desert somewhere a couple of weeks ago. A New Messican. Come on, Jax…

She stared at the nearly empty wall. The card was small but it would help. When she felt the pin push into the plaster she realized that in the midst of all her anger and defiance and justifications she’d missed the fact that her left-behind world wasn’t going to stay orderly, stashed like old pictures in a box that she could open when she returned to show them all what she’d done without them.