Grape Skin

“I can get a FEMA trailer over here,” Tavius had his phone out, tapped on it. “Might take a few days to find you.”

“No thanks.” Several things about the fires weren’t right to me, but that wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have right now. I’d also considered had I been here, what was left of me would be in the ashes somewhere. I’d taken the whole thing as an un-invitation to stick around. As for the remnants, if anyone were to stumble on this place and decide to investigate, the trailer had been weather salvage. Cash, no paperwork. If whoever was interested could find the serial number, it would trace back to an insurance company loss write-off. The VIN on the pickup would send anyone interested to me, someplace I wasn’t. And Cav’s Fiat…

“My shit’s no real loss. What about Moreno’s car?”

He looked up from his phone. “Belongs to Budget.”

“You plan on reporting it for her, since she’s –”

“Otherwise occupied? She doesn’t work for us, we just need clean disposal around this operation. There’s a box truck on the way to load it, drop it somewhere more likely for a strip and burn from San Antonio.”

“So you’ll report it after the drop?”

“No report to it. The car was reported stolen, by her, off the street in front of the Hotel Contessa, San Antonio. 2:10 PM, two days ago.” He looked up again from deep study on his phone. “That would be just after you two left the hangar for Comparo’s Holiday Park.”

Shit. The Contessa wasn’t where we’d stayed, and they weren’t sanitizing my presence. “You have a car?”

“You have an airplane. You need a ride somewhere?”

“I need my toolbox from the hangar. It’s small.”

“I heard that. About your tool box.” He checked the Dick Tracy watch like it kept time. “Recon at…15:35.” He walked his catlike walk to the raft, climbed in and sat. “Yo, Paro. Little help here?”

Mu-ther fucker. I would’ve hated for him to get his shoes any dirtier than the ashes had, so I pushed the raft off for him, watched him glide away. Thought I should have one of those rafts, maybe a two-seater. For what I don’t know, but how handy can you get?

On the subject of convenient – The burn-out behind me was no amateur can of gas and a match job. Everything cooked had cooked in place, no wild flare-ups, no collateral damage to surrounding vegetation. Even the clumps of dried sawgrass between the fires were untouched. Cav had known her car needed to be stolen at least a day in advance of cremation and the event eraser spooks were on the way to get it. Wouldn’t insurance or the police check security video? No, the spook crew would have seen to a video’s demise as part of the ‘event cleaning.’ Now Tavius had gone military mode on me and taken off in a one-man raft, ostensibly to get his ride. Maybe. A ride that was stashed somewhere out of sight of the eyeballs I’d missed that had been burning a hole in my back. I was homeless and truckless. Unarmed. Alone. Traceable. Disposable. Mu-ther FUCKER.

 ***

Tavius returned on time in a filthy Maroon-ish Lincoln covered in the red and gray dust of south-central Texas, complete with bug guts smeared windshield and chalky brown muddy wheel splatter. But the air conditioner worked better than my last refrigerator. We pulled up in front of the hangar, I climbed out into the heat with a feeling of minor regret, pushed the sliding door open, and my feeling of regret went over the top. Just inside, covered in flies and surrounded by a pool of congealed blood was Third Eye horseapple nose, the camo handled lock-back game gutter stuck in his throat. Exactly where I’d said it would be if I ever saw it again. Buried at the end of a bloody gash that started under his right ear and ended under his left.

Tavius kept his distance, expensive white workout shoes and all. I brought him an oversized pair of Halliburton rubber boots that had come with the hangar, dropped them in front of him. Enough of his no pearls before dead swine routine.

We squatted down and discovered two small-caliber holes in the body. One in the chest, one over his right ear. The gash, like the fires, was for me. By way of Muller. Or Moreno, or the burnout banditos. I ruled out the waitresses and the busboy.

“My prints are all over that knife.”

“Whoever did this probably wiped it first, wore gloves.” Tavius was gingerly lifting blood-soaked cloth looking for ID or signs of a booby trap.

“That’s a hope,” I said. “Not a certainty.”

“It is. But to get to a print they need to get the blood off and with that goes other leave-behind material.”

“Can’t they do some scientific thing now, bake it off, super glue fumes or –”

“Seems like a lot of time and expense for a dead ex-con in bumfuck.” He stood, balled up his black nitrile gloves. “He won’t be here long enough for anyone to find.”

I got my small toolbox loaded, had just slammed the trunk and gone back inside for a quick look, like checking out of a motel scan, when a County Mountie rolled up real slow. He stopped, told Tavius through a bull horn behind the grill, “Sir, put your hands on top of your vehicle, don’t move.” The Mountie did a little jack-in-the-box hop out of the car, crouched behind the door, pistol in a double grip, forearms on the edge of the open window.

“Is that a body I see on the floor in there?”

“It is indeed, Sherlock.” Tavius hadn’t put his hands on the Lincoln. I stayed out of sight in the hangar. The county cop waddled toward Tavius in a duck walk that morphed into standing.

“I told you, put your hands on top of your vehicle. Who the hell are you?”

“No way in hell I do that and none of your goddam business is who I am. This is a federal crime scene and you’re fucking it all up with your tire tracks and footprints.” Goddam, Tavius, lighten up. Country cops are whack jobs.

“That so?”

“It is.”

“I got a call to investigate a –”

“Fuck your call. Don’t you see it was whoever did this trying to screw my crime scene with an invasion of clodhopper cops?”

“You oughta watch your mouth.” The cop thought for a few. “ID?”

Tavius used the two-finger don’t-shoot-me-pull on his thin leather ID wallet, split it open with his index finger. I watched him inflate into his full-on West Point you are the shit on the shoes of my universe persona.

“Set it on the hood.” The cop came around, weapon still leveled, eyed the IDs.

“Bang.” Tavius had drawn a pocket-sized .380 from somewhere in the time it took the cop to glance at the ID wallet. “If I had been a real bad man, you’d be dead. Holster your weapon, read the cards.”

The cop read, his pistol down but still in a double grip. Like if he was going to die, he’d by God do it with his gun out. Which was stupid because if he was going to die, he’d already be dead. With his gun out. Unfired.

“Salsbury, Tavius L. Major, United States Army. Salsbury, T.L., Central Intelligence Agency. The sheriff holstered his hip canon. “Salsbury. That like the rubber steak in them hungry fella frozen dinners?” I was thinking it was the ground linoleum smothered in Teflon infused mushroom gravy the Air Force fed us for lunch.

“Funny.” Tavius slid the pocket gun behind his back. “You need to beat it.”

“I need to call somebody.”

“You need to beat. It. Before I call somebody.” Tavius picked up his ID. “We understand each other?”

“Not yet.”

Tavius sighed, put on his frustrated-to-be-talking-to-you-because-you’re-an-idiot. “Look, do I need to explain to you the various scenarios of an executed ex-convict in a hangar on a supposedly abandoned airfield? This close to the border? Explain to you why we do not need you to turn this into a fucking backwoods rednecks playing at cops and CSI circus? This is a government operation, way above your piss-ant need to know clearance. So back the fuck out of here, now. We’ll brush your tracks with ours. Beat. It.” I was waiting for him to moonwalk.

The cop walked back to his car, sat with one leg still on the ground and made radio noises back and forth for about a minute before he gathered himself, slammed the cruiser door and rolled out as slow as he rolled in. He left his window down long enough to give Tavius the finger before turning right on the farm road that would eventually lead to a two-lane state highway and further down the road. Most likely to an ass chewing for messing with the government. An act that always meant someone was going to be filling out forms for a month.

***

Tavius and I waited at the hangar for the box truck spooks after they’d somehow let him know Moreno’s Fiat was loaded. They showed, dropped out of the cab dressed in black everything, including the baggies on their feet, opened a body bag and stuffed Third Eye horseapple nose into it. They zipped and loaded him up along with my nothing important in them filing cabinets and old maps and drove off. Not a word spoken by any of them. Or us. They drove out, turned right, we followed to the road, turned left. The A/C felt good after an hour sweating in the hanger.

“Every time you show up here somebody gives you the finger, Major. Me, the cop. What’s the L for?”

“Why?”

“I’m writing a book?”

“LeJay. Louisiana slave name. Do it now with an apostrophe, no e.”

“You from Louisiana?”

“No.”

“Ever been a slave to anything but fashion?”

“Fuck you, Comparo. We almost got outted back there by Sheriff Moron and you’re fucking with me about the legitimacy of my heritage?” He checked his mirrors more for show than safety on a deserted farm road. “Stupid fucker’ll be back.”

“With reinforcements. And they’ll find a puddle of dried blood and the biggest mystery in the history of the county. One that we’ll see on Alien Encounters Season 12.” I looked out the window for my own dramatic effect before I dropped “I didn’t see the knife when they loaded the body.”

“Don’t worry about the knife.”

That was the moment I started to worry about a lot of things. Him, the knife, Moreno. Muller and the other two stooges I hadn’t met, the dead stooge I’d threatened, the controlled burn at my place. “You’re the boss.”

“Finally. Be good for you to remember that. Now you know the rules, where you off to?  Moreno will surface sometime soon and we’ll need you.”

“The show goes on, huh? Houston. Sugarland.” I let myself out of the Lincoln, bent in, did the thumb and little finger to my ear ‘call me’ riff. “You locate Moreno, my phone’s on.”  I closed the door with Tavius idling off telling me I’d better file a flight plan.

Fuck him. Like hell I was going to Sugarland or file a flight plan. I needed to get the floats off and short field tires on the Cub and a look at Kerrigan from the air, by myself, just in case. And a Cessna I could grab on short notice if I needed to disappear. Or, if found, I could use it to carry more bank robbery loot than my Cub was capable of. And a car. And a burn phone. And a place to take a shower and think. And last, but not least, my Browning. None of those things were close to Houston. Well, I could buy a burn phone almost anywhere. Maybe a Browning, too. Both no more trouble to find in Texas than hitting a town big enough for a gas station with microwave pizza and DVD rentals.

I got the zip lock from the Café DuMonde tin, dumped the remaining few buds in the tin and bagged a clump of headliner from the truck and a small, gooey piece of what had been the wall of my trailer. I zipped it, dropped it back in the tin, untied the cub and waved goodbye to Amos the tree and my lake. I pulled the cub’s nose up headed due north thinking I should add clothes to that list of things I needed because my Jockeys were starting to feel like the skin on a grape, and were probably going peel off the same way.

 

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 3 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

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Hugger Orange

“Fuck…” Jackson planted his left foot, palms flat on either side of his gas cap, stepped into the push. “You sure the brake’s off, it’s out of gear?”

Dash leaned against the open driver’s-side door, flicked sweat off the end of his nose. “Tasks such as this are why auto-mobiles and I are currently at odds.”

“Fuck.”

“You ’bout in desperate need of a more di-verse and entertaining dialog. ‘Nother half a block, all we need.”

“You said that two, three blocks ago. Why the hell did we go to Venice Beach anyway?”

“I painted you a verbal picture of mustachioed muscle men in mi-nute elastic panties and beautiful women on roller skates in far less. You were overcome with a need to see those wonders for yourself. I was obliged to accompany, you a stranger in a strange land and all.”

“Fuck…”

“Must I admonish you further?”

“Whose idea was Ripple or whatever that was we put in the radiator?”

“The mixture of ‘whatever’ be a varietal blend of leftover fluids found in the Venice trash, and was installed under decree by committee. We come close to makin’ it, though.”

“Said the Titanic to the iceberg.”

“See what you come out with, you think on it?”

***

Jackson backed out of the passenger door of his dead ride with a shopping bag full of six years of console, under seat, trunk and glove box junk. He stepped away a few feet, took it in. All the memories. All the bullshit. There was still a quarter of a tank of gas in it. All he needed was a match.

“Somethin’ on your mind, Casper? I perceive a vibe that bodes ill for this sad piece of industrial sculpture.”

“Maybe we get a keg, throw a block party with a bonfire.”

“Block party in El Lay always a winning proposal. Famous bands and topless women a given. But an auto-motive bonfire spells R-I-O-T to the po-leece. We be fingerprinted and on Channel Seven ‘fore the fire’s out.”

“Fuck.”

“There you go again.”

“I can’t afford to fix it.”

“Don’t want to afford to fix it. Howsome ever,” Dash turned his palm up in a game show model’s ‘here’s your new washer and dryer’ move. “Even in its current immobile state ride still looks cock. If you will allow me to speak on your behalf with a brother I know who specializes in vee-hicular transactions I might persuade him to offer you a modest amount of cash or functional in-kind trade for your lifeless possession.”

“You have a friend who deals in dead cars?”

All kinds of cars. Magic is afoot in East Compton, my brother. Buster put a black Jag-u-ar in one end and a red Lincoln pops out the other. Same may be said of dead or damaged in, alive and well out. Shined all the hell up and runnin’? This’ll be seriously ripe for a low down and payments guaranteed to last longer than Star Trek reruns. Buster will perceive, as I do, that a Messican or pimply-assed kid will think their dick grew three inches they find themselves behind the wheel of this aww-toe.”

“He’ll keep it the same color? I’d hate to —”

“Output color depends entirely on condition and Buster’s means of acquisition. It’s legal and wrinkle free. Only his feelings on Day-Glo Orange come into play.”

Hugger Orange.”

“Nigger, please. A rose by any other name, we understand each other?”

***

Jackson followed Dash down from the wrecker cab in a swirl of east Compton dust. Dash took a fistful of cash from a tall, skinny kid with red eyes and an eighteen inch ‘fro, disappeared through a heavy, steel-clad door. A few long minutes passed and from the minor sea of Quonset huts and rutted gravel a primer coated 1964 Impala SS with shiny bumpers, pimp wheels and zero trim pulled up purring smooth and low like a fat cat in a circle of sunshine. A sweaty, wiry gray-haired black man in grease stained pin-stripe overalls stepped out, leaving a hint of Bay Rum and an old time barbershop in his wake.

“You bein’ the only thing white I see ‘sides the garage door, this’n must be yours.” He stepped around, popped the hood, spit tobacco juice in front of Jackson’s feet. “Supra Sport Shivvies came stock with a 409. Big and dumb as our current crop a heavyweights. I put this new 327 crate motor in yestiddy. Old with no blue smoke keeps the gov’nor happy an the po-leece away. Break ‘er in easy she’ll stay that way. ” He dropped the hood, wiped his hands on the red shop rag hanging from his back pocket, spit again. “Small block’s lighter, lets you keep some rubber on the tires, drives past a gas station ‘casionally. Axe me, rides some better, too, all that weight gone. Had in mind to paint it, but you come along.”

He paused, examined Jackson like a man encountering a disease. “Air conditioner blows cold, no back seat, no radio. No charge for the trunk mount spare cover. It come in from somewhere, don’t fit nothin’ else, tired a walkin’ around it.” He held up the keys, dropped them so quick Jackson almost missed the mid-air save. The old man nodded, spit another stream of tobacco juice. “The Dash be along drekly with paper an plates.”

Jackson watched the man walk away, his bowlegged side to side gait kicked up light puffs of gravel dust, a walk punctuated with an off-beat sway of the shop rag hanging from his pocket and an every fourth step spit. “Nice to meet you, too.”

***

“Needs paint. Legal, mostly. Nothing due, no change, even up.” Dash put his hands on the door sill. “You an Ellis get on?”

“You mean the old guy who spits redneck diarrhea, no. No handshake, no thanks. No take it easy, no fuck off kiss my ass honky punk. Must’ve left all that in the same place as the back seat and radio.”

“No radio?” Dash’s head rolled back. “Muh-ther fuh…” He tossed the plates and registration on the passenger seat, went back through the heavy door, wasn’t gone long, wasn’t happy coming out. He landed in the seat, right leg still out, hand on the door. “Hang left, follow the drive around back. Stop where I tell you.”

Jackson stopped on command, Dash slid out, vanished behind a corrugated metal door, was back in under thirty seconds with a nearly new Delco combo radio and cassette player from a Cadillac. He eased back into the passenger seat, set the radio where the back seat should have been. “Radio’s for the shit paint job. I told the motherfuckers, you know, I be ridin’ in this aw-toe and you were cold as ice. Next thing I’m back, askin’ all them old domino an Jack niggas sittin’ around, you know, what’s their fuckin’ damage, where’s my fuckin’ radio? They tryin’ to fuck a brother ‘cause I brought a deaf dumb and blind cash money client to their criminal empire? Motherfuckers. ‘Take the deal, fool, you an the ghost take a walk’? Fuck they doin’, talkin’ that shit to me? Thinkin’ I didn’t come up in here, don’t know their shit?” He took a breath, smacked the door sill. “Fuck it. You drive, I’ll di-rect. Weekend comin’, college calls on Monday an I need some unwind time. You’ll be droppin’ me down to Lakewood at my little slice of heaven’s place. I’ll draw you a map home from it on the way.”

Jackson drove south out of east Compton, Dash ranted on Buster’s crew like they were his dysfunctional family while he took a BIC Stick and drew a map on a paper napkin that would have done a retentive Renaissance mapmaker proud. He had Jackson roll up slow on a semi-residential, semi-small business street in Lakewood and stop near the middle of the block.

“You get to the crib, call your people. Tell ‘em you’re alive and where you’re at, how wonderful your new friend Dash Man be. ‘Cause if San Andreas opens up an your white ass drops they can tell the bloodhounds start lookin’ for you in Long Beach. They need to find you and this ray-dee-oh on the west side, don’t need nobody sniffin’ around my shit in Compton. Least till Buster’s player’s caught some chill.”

“Anybody. You don’t want anybody, or anyone, sniffin’.”

“You gonna be the grammatically co-reckt English Nazi all the fuckin’ time? I thought you played music or some shit.”

“Habit. Can’t get sloppy. People take you more seriously when you don’t talk like a refugee from a corn field full of single-wides.”

“Your accent don’t clean up soon you’re gonna need all the help you can get you expect to gain some on serious.”

“Doesn’t. Not don’t. Accent doesn’t clean –”

“We have arrived, Jeeves. I doesn’t require your services any longer,” he interlocked his fingers, popped his knuckles. “You straight on how to get to the crib?”

“Yeah. And ‘don’t.’ That one was ‘don’t.’ Like that shit’s bad for your hands, don’t.”

“Get back to me, I ‘don’t’ got room in my head for any of that shit today. You know where the stash is. Blank’s for the drive.” Dash tossed a thin black cigarillo on the empty bucket seat, lit one of his own and walked away. Jackson leaned over to pick it up, looked out the window and damned if they hadn’t pulled up in front of a beauty shop called Little Slice of Heaven.

Writing Class – 750 Word Limit

The Magic Typewriter, by P. Huston

Looking out his window of the house he’d lived in for 54 years, Bob saw a pickup truck. Parked in front of his house. It was his neighbor Darnell again. By golly, Bob thought angrily, today was the day it stopped. Knowing in his mind Darnell, attempting to avoid the heatwave later, would be sitting on his pickup drinking beer.

***

About one o’clock in the afternoon Bob, walking purposefully across his lawn, was confronting Darnell.

“Darnell, you have to stop parking in front of my house,” Bob said, testily.

“Why?”

“It’s very unattractive and I do not like looking at it,” Bob replied.

“Think of it as sculpture. Modern art.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not the only one, you know. The Mexican woman across the street is tired of it, too!” Bob proclaimed noisily.

“The one with the little dog that looks like a woman who has sex for money’s bedroom slipper and poops on the sidewalk? I’m awfully tired of seeing that.”

“You wouldn’t see it if you parked in front of your own house,” Bob said, firmly.

“I’ll think on that for a while, Bob. Later. Too gosh darn hot right now.”

Bob, walking away stridently thought Darnell the most boorish person ever to live in the house next door. Slamming his door Bob was walking into the dining room where his mother, dead these 20 years, had kept 183 penguin mementos, acquiring them in her travels as a military nurse. One with sunglasses leaning on a palm tree, one as the handle of a coffee mug. One with a clock in its belly, one…Wait a minute, does anyone really care? No? Sorry. Bob had the cleaning lady dust them once a month never having the heart to box them up.

Well, enough of Darnell. Bob, lifting the lid on mother’s old Remington Travel Riter and sitting and inserting paper and typing he began…

***

“Darnell, is that beer cold?” his sister Monik hinted, tentatively.

“Yes.”

“Could I have a sip?” she asked, hopefully.

“No. It’s my last one.”

“Didn’t Momma teach you any manners?” she demanded, haughtily.

“They wore off.”

Monik walked away huffily in disgust. Well, she thought, Darnell was the worst brother ever but she decided cleverly to walk around the side of the house and hide behind an overgrown boxwood and wait patiently for Darnell to set the beer down and go inside to answer the call of nature knowing he did that regularly.

Sure enough, after a few minutes Darnell set the Colt 45 Tallboy in the ice chest sitting in the bed of his truck and went inside.

Monik, running to the truck, drank hastily all the remaining beer.

Darnell, returning, tipped the can to his lips expecting beer, then pulling it away, looking down inside it.

“Monik, did you drink my beer?”

“No,” she said, averting her eyes and looking away.

“Yes you did.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did.”

“Okay, maybe I did. So what?” she retorted hotly, wondering what sort of stupid big brother thing Darnell would do now.

“Girl, I told you it was my last one. It’s 112 degrees and the air conditioner is broken.”

“Get over it,” she said, dismissively. Turning, she was watching Darnell walking to the front, reaching inside, walking back with something in his hand.

“What do you think you’re doing, Darnell?” Monik asked, apprehensively.

“I told you.”

“Darnell –” And she was looking at her brother. Shooting her in the head.

***

The policeman leading Darnell to the squad car with another policeman, asking him curiously, “Why did you do it? What were you thinking?”

“Ask the idiot who wrote this.”

“Him?” The policemen guffawed immodestly. “We did. He said this was Limited Omniscient. Didn’t you see it? You got no tags, no interiority. Besides, what’s in a man’s head who shoots his sister over a beer?”

“That’s not fair,” Darnell said, blubbering sadly.   (ooops)

“Coulda been worse. Coulda been Objective. Or Journalistic. Woulda been over a long time ago.”

“Yeah, and we wouldn’t have gotten any lines!” The two policemen shoving Darnell in the car laughing and laughing, thinking they were the two funniest policemen on Earth.

***

Bob watching gleefully the tow truck pulling Darnell’s pickup away. Rubbing his hands together briskly, stepping lightly to the table he was snapping the latches on mother’s typewriter, closing the lid gently. Darnell was handled. The Mexican woman’s bedroom slipper pooper would have to wait for another day.

 

Fact -In the midst of the 1980 heat wave a Houston, Texas man, while sitting on the side of his pickup, shot and killed his sister for drinking his last cold Colt 45.

 

 

 

 

Octopus!

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

A pink ripstop Capezio ballet bag exploded against the old oak sign-in table to Jackson’s right, knocked over the metal 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 wobbled away like an old tire. The exploding bag had stopped him in the middle of the doorway. His legs hurt. No, they screamed. Not even a week in and ballet class made his old high school football practices look like two-a-days for pussies. The exploding bag, his legs…Maybe today would be a good day to —

“It’s like totally not right, Kenny! It’s so, so like totally, com-pletely, MEGA FUCKING WRONG!

He looked to his left, the direction the bag had come from, 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 in an attempt to protect the younger ones from Logan who was screaming, flouncing herself around, crying and babbling fuck this and fuck you and fuck everybody. Especially fuck Kennedy Costigan the reincarnationist space case hired gun ballerina right in front of Logan taking the brunt of the abuse. Jackson figured this was down to Kennedy and Logan being the only real pros in the room, both of them back home in L.A. on rehab hiatus from some big deal dance company in New York.

“Ten fucking years, you know, and like it’s all ‘there’s the door, adios Logan, motor.'” She paced in a small circle, threw up her arms, got up in Kennedy’s face. “God dammit, it’s so-like, like, totally unfair to the MAX!”

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

“Shut up, Kenny. Bag it, ’kay? Just shut up! You, you like still 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 stood flat footed and perfectly balanced on her right, held her left leg straight out, the ankle wrapped in a cast of tape. “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 so like such a totally lame poser dancer person now that 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’…” After what felt like an eternity to Jackson she lowered the leg she’d been holding out, wrinkled her face in defiance, dropped into the wooden chair behind her and folded over, shoulders to knees. A ballet rag doll in the throes of death.

***

Madam Konstanova breezed through the door, ever present clipboard and cassette tape in one hand, battered ghetto blaster in the other, immediately registered the entire room. She devil eyed Logan’s debris field. “Miss Bevan-Burns, are you quite through? This is a dance class, not anger therapy. You will pick up your things and prepare yourself…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 faced the action with folded arms.

Jackson knelt, thighs wailing, in front of the dead ballerina doll’s color of a slightly overbaked 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 sweaty, dirty cast of athletic tape around the back half. He reached for the bulk of taped ankle, she pulled it away under the chair.

“NO!” She raised her head, not her body, tears smearing her cheeks. “Leave it a-lone! You can’t like fix it. You’re like, like a street guy, not even a dancer. My foot’s screwed and I’m like totally screwed and like nobody can fix it. Leave me a-lone.” 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, rummaged, brought him a pair of long, thin, knife like barber’s scissors.

“NO!”  Logan twisted her entire upper body almost a hundred and eighty degrees to her hips, “Oh shit! Don’t! I can’t watch…The doctor…NOHHHH!”. She dropped her head and arms over the back of the chair.

“So Logan,” he moved into a cross legged position on the floor. “What’d your mom call you when she was mad?”

“Huh?” She raised her head off her folded arms, tried to find him in the mirror. “Like, seriously?”

“Seriously.” He wedged her taped foot in the bend of his knee.

“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 leg with 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, and they 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 Camaro fund for future ballerinas?”

“Are you like totally dance blank? Ford.” She paused, index finger to top lip. “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 where everyone at this long bar 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. 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 hinged back off her ankle. “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. C’mon, Godammit Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns, lighten up. You’ll be right in no time.” 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.

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

“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, tightened and 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? This is so…” she pirouetted, stopped dead still, raised her right leg, dropped it on his shoulder. Her arms wide she added a hand flourish that sent her fingertips skyward before bending forward, all huge eyes in his face. “How?”

“Long story. Short version is I knew someone with Frankenstein tape on both ankles. A sports doc said she’d never get any strength back with her feet locked up in tape. Tell your not-a-doctor you want some stretchy kinesiology tape and you can tape like you are now before the shoe goes on. You good?”

“Bo-nus 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 meeeee.

***

Madam K, clipboard clutched to her chest, 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, you may have helped her for the evening, but I do not believe she heard a word you said, nor do I 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 get the 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 chin with the class cassette tape. “In the event she has difficulty?”

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

“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.”

Grab My Purse

It was nice to have Bobby and Annabelle back, thou, 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.

“Those two sonsabitches.” 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 them in the warehouse, zipped it, pocketed the Glock.

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

“The fire 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 still alive in there won’t be fer long.”

***

Leading with an AR-16 the one 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? Jesus, boy. Count to thirty, empty that pistol 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?”

“Yes ma’am.” 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.”

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.”

THG3 – CH 20 – Black Lipstick Pt 3

Mid-July, 1979 / Cambridge, UK

Deanna put on a second pair of socks, stuck her feet back into Merriam’s shiny black military surplus “skinner” boots. “The last time I wore work boots I went to a tractor pull. With a nice, straight, redheaded racist from Kansas who worked on a farm, smelled like my grampa and had a pickup about two stories off the ground.”

“A what pull?”

“Tractors. Only tractors like dragsters. They tried to pull trailers full of really heavy stuff, or tug-of-war each other. They got really loud and then one or both of them blew up.”

“Lass, sometimes I don’t know if you’re high or lying.” Merriam reached over, pinched up a piece of black tight from Deanna’s thigh and stuck a fork in it. Randomly pinched and repeated on both legs.

“There are times I don’t know if you’re crazy or just fucked up in the head. What have you done to my only pair of warm tights?”

“Laddered. Can’t have you punkin’ as a night out with the Vicar’s missus. Mind you, laddered punked tights would run thirty pounds or more in a shop.”

Deanna held up a the Daisy Dukes cut-offs that moments ago had been her next to last pair of Jackson’s old Levis. “So it’s like a favor, you ruining my clothes?”

“Oh aye. Your clothes are refugees from the bin as it is. At least the ones you wear.” Merriam dug around in Deanna’s dresser, found the long-sleeved leotard Deanna lived in as her bottom layer.

“NO! Not that. You can’t. I –”

“Right. You’ll wear it under. But this…” Merriam’s pinking shears that Deanna had cut her hair with seven months ago flashed across the bottom of her brother’s orange Miami Dolphins jersey with COLLINGS across the shoulders and a foot tall 92, back and front.

“Oh…Well, it’s not like he doesn’t have any more.” Deanna held it up, checked the ragged trim running under the numbers, tightened her lips. “They’re fan jerseys, really, not game jerseys. I mean the real ones would be down to my knees. And this one covered…Used to cover my butt.”

“If arse were valuable you’d be chained to the far wall in debtor’s prison. Let’s put your face on.”

Deanna followed to the small dining table where sometimes they ate, or studied or Cat and Merriam drank Scotch and talked sex smack. Merriam screwed the bulb into the hanging flying saucer fixture until it flashed on and proceeded to finger dusty black powder around Deanna’s eyes, followed with a streak of red across the top almost to her temples, told her to close her eyes and shot her eye art with hairspray.

“Done.” Merriam squinted, kept the laugh in check. “You look like a bloody escapee from the Hammer vampire lot.”

“Are you sure you won’t come? I mean it’s Alvy and…I’ve never done this before. Punk I mean. Really.” She grabbed Merriam’s hand. “Please? What do I say? I mean I’ve been to concerts and watched Jax play back home and everything and I know my way around, but not…Well, I’m not punk. Or never have been.”

Merriam removed her hand. “I’ve been, thank you. Keep your mouth shut or they’ll take you as smarter than the whole room and you’re out with a smack or worse. If they get you on top in the pit stay tits up or you’ll take a beating. Gets too much for you kick and scream and shove and bite till you’ve managed a door.”

***

Alvy maneuvered Deanna through the gauntlet of leaflet and handbill pushers, sprinkled with a few rude, rough and glam boys that floated like litter in a sloshing edge to edge tide pool of mostly male, middle class kids in various stages of high, sporting tails out button down shirts or homemade fuck this or that emblazoned t-shirts and jeans. All in poor imitation of the Fifties James Dean or Sixties Mods. Deanna had hurried through several essays in the sociology files about the current state of punk. Too many influences, too much anger and volatility confused up with skinheads and squatters and no direction. All along the walk the leaflet snipers were spewing what Deanna’s old mentors called “two bit sloganeering” while covering the ground with their oversized confetti handouts. Alvy pushed her head down, led her through a hole in a chain link fence past a smelly guy her brother’s size who grunted recognition and on through an open steel door in the back of a building she wouldn’t have known the front of if she saw it.

“Alvy! Rotten little faggot, what have you brought us?” The skinny guy with a Three Stooges bowl haircut and a sprinkle of facial moles, who was dressed in skin tight black everything slammed a cupped hand into Deanna’s crotch, grabbed the back of her head, lifted her off the ground and stuck his tongue far enough down her throat to gag her. She fought her way loose, backed up bent over, gagging slobber on skinny mole face’s feet. He threw his head back, laughed and dropped an arm collar around Alvy’s neck.

“Can’t have us a gagger, Alvy. What else have you before she’s off home with the good girls?”

To Deanna’s wide-eyed shock Alvy produced a Zip baggie stuffed with light blue, white and yellow pills, handed it off.

“Alvy? What the fuhhh –”

The backhanded slap from a guy in slashed brown fatigues landed on Deanna’s left cheek accompanied by “Shut up, bitch. Not your game, is it? Why don’t you bugger right – ”

Deanna’s right fist landed hard on Shredded Fatigues’ nose and lip, dead center. He duck-walked backwards into a cinder block wall. Another guy in normal street clothes who could have been working behind the counter at Burger King if he wasn’t smoking and strapped into a huge electric bass, caught the guitar stumbling Fatigues knocked off a stand when he hit the wall. All the sound from outside and the front of the club disappeared from the tiny brick alcove.

Alvy broke the smokey soundproof Vaseline bubble. “Brother’s an American footballer. His jersey she’s in.” He raised an eyebrow, cocked his head. “Women’s studies?” Everyone cast eyes on Deanna, made faces of acknowlegment as if that was enough explanation for a bit too thin, pretty, pale American girl with crazy hair to have, and not be afraid to use, a solid, shoulder driven right.

“Fair done, Miss.” Street Clothes tossed the guitar up, caught it by the neck closer to the body, looked down and kicked Fatigues in the ribs. “By a Cambridge schoolgirl. You pathetic shit.” His throat rumbled, he hocked something green and brown and slimy on Fatigue’s chest, dropped the guitar in his lap and left by a narrow, doorless opening. His exit elicited a wild rise in the noise from beyond the alcove. Skinny Moles lit a cigarette.

“Scab and Freeze don’t get on so well,” Skinny Moles blew smoke sideways. “So, Miss Collings I take it…” He examined Deanna like a cake in a pastry shop window, the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

Miz Collings,” she stepped up into his gaze, plucked the cigarette and flipped it aside.  “And you’ll take it nowhere,” her eyes went to his left hand. “What’s Alvy got in the bag?” She reached for the baggie, he threw up his hands in mock surrender, the bag over his head. He wanted to palm the top of her head, squeeze it, laugh, remembered her solid right and thought better of it.

“What it is, see, Alvy’s a chemist. We’re a band. A ways in we throw a few handfuls into the crowd.” He checked his watch. “Gone half-ten they’re off in as many directions as a pack of blind Bishops on holiday in Rome, we’re a third down the set. Come midnight the press interviews the puke parade in the street, says we pulled another stunner of a show. Trust you to forget all and say less?”

“It’s not right, really…” She looked into the black holes that were his eyes. “Never mind. It’s not for me to say.” Shredded Fatigues edged past her, sullen, bloody nosed, his guitar strapped on. Her eyes burned into his back. “Your fraud’s not my game, is it?”

“No…Nor yours ours.” Skinny Moles offered a vague smile. “What it’s all about, eh? Vive la différence? Where would we all be with no one to hate…” He held his hand on the opening like it was a curtain, stared off into the noise. “You’ve done us a favor, Freeze starting out bloodied.” His sigh was on the edge of imperceptible. “Scab will still have another few goes at him.” He waited a theatrical pause and followed Shredded Fatigues through the narrow hole in the wall to yet an even louder eruption of noise.

Deanna tilted her head through, hands flat on either side, in time to see an older, muscular, covered in tattoos head shaved guy wearing nothing but baggy capri length pants and dirty white high top Converses use two members of the crowd’s heads to vault himself onto the stage in a free air summersault. She blew a buried in crowd noise finger whistle in ex-cheerleader appreciation. Muscled tattoos jumped over and behind a meagre, mismatched drum set, clacked his sticks and the Quigleys overrode the crowd noise with a deafening cacophony of feedback, throbbing bass and screaming delivered with retarded string puppet prance dancing.

She turned, screamed at Alvy. “This is Punk?”

“Yeah,” he screamed back. “Like it?”

“Not yet.” She ducked under his arms for the back door, still having to scream. “Is it better from the front?”