The Heels of Winter

Death come knockin’
Cold
On the heels of winter’s hangin’ on
Too long a comin’ she cried
He agreed at last
Goodbye’s long final act
Save soul’s last gasp
A faintest wisp of what was life
Entwined with Reaper’s chilly fog

Death come knockin’
Slow
On the heels of winter’s hangin’ on
Too long a comin’ she collapsed
Ugly questions come hard answered
How to cry for what was or wasn’t
Or for a tomorrow
In need of comfort –

Death come knockin’
Done
On the heels of winter’s hangin’ on
Too long a comin’ she cried
Tears, confusion, backed up dreams
Flooded screams her
Next cold winter’s morn
What they were or hadn’t been
Wouldn’t be, nor matter

Death come knockin’
Cold
Slow
Done
On the heels of winter’s hangin’on
Too long a comin’ she sighed
We never can imagine
What the dream
Should look like
Now

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Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Final Installment

Kevin’s throbbing head, the low whine from the chartered Gulfstream’s fans and the dust the wind kicked up off the tarmac had turned his pitch to Cheryl into a whiny duet with the idling jet. The briefcase with over five million dollars inside did a little dance between them every time Cheryl tugged on it with both hands and Kevin pulled it back.

“There’s no good reason why we can’t take the same plane, Kevin.” Cheryl almost got the briefcase away from him. He yanked it back hard enough to get it away from her and clutched it to his chest.

“Yeah, Kevin.” Maddie checked her lipstick in the bottom of the tube. “The three of us again. Mile high club? Do you just not like women, Kev, is that it? Or is it that little patch of gauze on your head that’s the problem? Not today, darling, I have a headache?”

“I like women fine and I do have a fucking size twelve headache, thank you very much. What I don’t like is women who crack me with a gun, stuff a soapy washcloth in my mouth, cable tie me into a pretzel and rob me.” He was genuinely indignant in the way only a ‘life is a fabric softener commercial’ lifetime California bud head could be. He looked at Cheryl, pointed at Maddie. “And I think that bitch standing next to you was one of them. I know she was.”

“You know nothing of the kind. She had her way with you earlier, without cable ties or hitting you on the head. You stashed the one-sixty somewhere and now you want to take the rest of Randy’s money you’re responsible for and disappear. Get on the plane. Now. Or give me the briefcase and go wherever horny, dickless stoner fucks like you go. Your weak bullshit about getting whacked on the head and losing Randy’s car money was past it’s sell-by date before you finished spewing it the first time. And that shit, like this jet, won’t fly without the briefcase.”

“You are mad about the hot tub. Your boobs are between you and me, Cheryl. I didn’t mean it like that. I mean the massage never happened, Randy doesn’t need to know about me and your boobs and a little stiff and sticky in the hot tub. He’s going to be pissed enough about the car money…” He couldn’t think of a better plan than the lie that stepped on his dick about two flights, which admittedly had been stupid. All he could do now was show up in Acapulco with the money, propose his undying love to Randy’s about to be ex Lora Lee, bribe a pilot and split on a midnight charter to L.A.

“I thought if the plane went down, Randy is stuck down there with nothing. He’s hooked me up on this deal, so I hadn’t planned on screwing him, I was thinking of his, uh, welfare.”

“My ass. You first.” She grabbed his arm, turned him toward the Gulfstream’s boarding steps. “Maddie?”

“Right behind you. You don’t know how much I appreciate you two letting me tag along. I’ve always wanted to see Acapulco. Bumpers. What kind of place is it again?”

“You’ll be right at home, Maddie. Trust me.”

Maddie hugged them both from behind, pinched their butts while the attendant raised the steps. “Going home sounds like so much fun. God I love to meet new family. Don’t you?”

 

***

Harli stuck the phone in her bra, stuffed her carry-on in the overhead bin, slid into her seat and stared out the window. There was no reason to feel like she did. She and Flash had split the money and the pizza, Maddie had left them alone and they’d talked. A lot. That’s all. Until Kevin called from the ER for Flash to pick him up. He’d smiled his car thief smile, said, “Bye, neighbor to the South,” squeezed her shoulder like she was a girl bud. She pulled off the Niner’s cap she’d “forgotten” to give back and got a little wistful. Jesus, she’d spent yesterday riding around her home town in stolen cars with a stranger, whacked a guy she didn’t know on the head with a gun and committed armed robbery with her Dad’s top erotic retreat hostess. On the way to Summa cum Laude international finance grad students didn’t do things like that. Well, not until yesterday.

“Miss Davidson?” The flight attendant who had been starched into his clothes and shaved with a new blade twice checked the small slip of paper in his left hand, wrestled her bag out of the overhead and backed down the aisle to let her out. “I need you to come with me, please.”

Her heart sank. They’d been busted. For all of it. The stolen cars, the money, the head whack. All of it. That asshole her dad knew hadn’t liked her attitude about the surcharge and had called her out. Shit. She could feel her glass ceiling getting lower in real time. Nobody wanted a convict accountant except politicians and other convicts. She shouldn’t have worn the Niner’s cap. That was it. Security had spotted her. She thought about trying to cry her way out of it.

“Where are you taking me?”

“First Class, Miss Davidson. Your ticket was upgraded at the counter. Don’t you remember?” He smiled like he owned three dentists and wanted his money’s worth.

“Right. Forgot.” She hadn’t done anything at any counter, but whatever. First Class wasn’t jail. She sat where the flight attendant pointed before he took her bag and stacked it neatly in a closet close to the front. It was harder to see the baggage guys practicing their long-distance loading techniques from her new window, but she could see the pilot talking to the light stick and headphone people. She felt someone land on the other side of her first-class console, caught a faint whiff of a nice, light cologne. Probably some money-guy suit on the way to Acapulco to see her dad and his “hostesses.” She hoped he wasn’t a talker. And dammit, who would be texting her?

He poked her arm. “Saw you go to the restroom twice, think about a huge cookie five times before you got on the plane.”

“Shit! What are you —”

“I can’t miss this one.” He handed her a cellophane wrapped chocolate chip cookie the size of a cow pie.

“Yeah? I thought you were out of clean underwear, art poser.”

“I was. I’m functionally artsy. I can do laundry and shop a little.”

She broke off a piece of the cookie, handed it to him. “A cookie bribery car thief stalker with domestic skills following me to Acapulco? Is this part of a master plan?”

“Not yet. The essence of man is to be, not to plan.”

“God, Berkeley has rotted your brain.”

She switched her phone off. Dad could sit on that one for a while, she had a takeoff hand to hold. And it had to belong to a freaking car thief working on a liberal arts masters. Her dad was going to kill her. Her mom might commit suicide.

She decided a single seat in first class was big enough for both of them, if they stretched out. She needed to tell him when she climbed over the console that she drooled in her sleep sometimes. So he should get a towel in case she passed out on his shoulder.

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Part 3

Flash rolled into the abandoned lumberyard and up the ramp into a fifty-three-foot trailer that had bags of gluten and corn free organic dog food painted on the sides. He pulled the battery and ratcheted the Mercedes down like a professional calf roper and jumped off the back of the trailer as the driver started to reload pallets of dog food. Flash stood in the swirling gravel dust churned up by the forklift and gave minimal load directions. It took them under six minutes from the time he’d driven through the gates to locking the trailer.

The driver smacked his gloves together, tossed them in the cab. “GPS?”

“History before I started it.”

“Dead, set and locked down?”

“Come on, Colin. I didn’t start yesterday.”

“No, but you took your sweet time.” Colin leaned on the cab with one hand, unlocked the “Fire Extinguisher Inside” box with the other. He pulled the fire extinguisher, slammed the box door. “Trouble?”

“Met a girl.”

Colin turned his head, popped a grin, elbowed him in the shoulder

“Not like that. A girl girl.

“Worst kind of trouble.”

“She’s not a banger…She’s…different.”

“What I said.”

They split up, climbed into their respective sides of the cab. Flash dropped his leather bag on the console, took the fire extinguisher handoff. Colin lurched the rig through the deserted lumberyard’s gates while Flash unscrewed the bottom of the extinguisher, stuck his hand inside and fished out two waxed paper bundles.

“One-sixty.” Colin hit the ignition on a vape, blew the smoke sideways out the window.  “How many non-target free-styles you pull today?”

“Six?”

“Don’t be cute, you’re a freaking one man white car crime wave in this town. Scanner’s lit up with hot cars. The Lexus I know was you belonged to a city councilman’s wife and they have everybody with a badge that can drive out looking for it. You’re finished here.”

“How am I supposed to —”

“Uber. I’ll drop you someplace civilized.” He chuckled, hit the vape again. “Six? Jeez, Flash. You shopping for a keeper?”

“Not really…” He zoned a few extra seconds, could still taste onion rings through the dust. “But I might have found one.”

***

Harli and Maddie, from their vantage point in the rented black Camaro three parking spaces away, watched Cheryl the real estate agent slam Kevin’s motel room door, climb into a metallic red Lincoln SUV and chirp the tires getting out of the Super 8 lot. Harli thought the Lincoln would be a cool car for Flash to steal. She pushed on her temples with the heels of her hands, God. What was she thinking?

“This isn’t going to work, Maddie. You know that, right?”

“Of course it will work. You could have gone horny college girl, done the Flash til he was stupid and walked out of his room with the cash. Would have saved us some trouble.”

“I don’t do that. Weaponized sex is like so Twentieth Century and reality TV and so not me. Besides, I think he’s one of those weird Unicorn kind of guys who can see that kind of thing coming, and I…Well…”

“You don’t want him to think that about you because you’re not one of me. Got it. Ten minutes. Do you need to pee again? Questions?”

“Do you think the police will get the video from Target of us buying all these black clothes?”

“No one will call the police, Harli. The money is payment for an insurance fraud stolen car. Relax.”

“Will Flash hate me forever for this?”

“Flash will get over it. Anyway, you’re robbing Kevin, not Flash.”

“Black lipstick?”

“What do you suggest for a black ski mask, Harli? Pink? Red?”

“The masks cover our mouths. Our eyes will give us away.”

“Not with these. Party City. White-out vampire contacts.” She tilted the rear view, popped the contacts in, flashed Harli a buck toothed smile. “How you rike me now, Grasshoppuh?”

Harli rolled her eyes. “Talk about Twentieth Century…”

***

At straight up 9 pm Flash carried a Red Dragon branded paper bag from his room to Kevin’s, knocked on the door, raised his voice to delivery driver level. “Red Dragon.”

Kevin opened the door, reached out and dragged Flash into the room, stuck his head back out to look around and Harli cracked him on the head with Maddie’s Browning. Hard, but not too hard.

Shit..OW! The fuck?” Kevin clutched the top of his head with both hands, staggered back into the room, fell on the bed.“Whaaa…Who? Awwwww…Dammit. OW! He pulled his hands down, looked at his fingers. “Holy mother of fuck! I’m bleeding!” Harli raised the gun again and Kevin dove under the pillow. “Take it, whatever you want, but don’t hit me again…Don’t fucking shoot me, either, you crazy bitch. God dammit, OW!”  He rolled onto his stomach buried his head further under the pillow. Awww…Bitch! My fucking head.”

Maddie pushed her way past Harli and Flash, lifted the pillow and stuffed a dirty washcloth in Kevin’s mouth. She had trouble at first with her gloves and the cable ties stuffed in the side of her boot but got organized, pulled his hands together and zip tied them. She motioned to Harli to pull his feet up and in a few more awkward moves they had Kevin cable tied and thrashing on the bed like a prize winning fish in the bottom of a bass boat. In white Jockeys.

“Kung Pao chicken’s getting cold, ladies. Gotta run.” Flash bowed, took a back step toward the door and Harli stuck the Browning in his ribs.

“Yo, yo, yo, sisters of spandex darkness. Guns scare me and I’m wearing my last clean pair of underwear.” Maddie pointed to the desk next to the TV, Flash set the Red Dragon bag down. Maddie motioned for him to open it and when he stepped back she counted fifteen ten-thousand dollar bands. She spun Flash around, rubbed him down fore and aft in the pocket range and came up with the missing ten grand.

“Hey, come on. The rub was quality but it wasn’t worth ten grand. Finders fee, okay?”

Maddie dropped the money in the bag, spun him again, pushed him and Harli out the door. She followed them with the dragon bag and continued to push until they were all in the Camaro. She pulled off her ski mask, shook out her hair, Harli did the same.

Flash didn’t seem surprised to see them. “Which one of you is Bonnie and which one is Clyde?”

“Cute, junior. She tells me you’re a Berkley boy. Can you prove it?

“Is there a latent hippie blood test?”

“Cassie’s Place is what?”

“Since 1964 it’s been a continuous ‘meaning of life’ talk-a-thon coffee bar, upstairs behind Grant’s Market. Cute, smart girls who don’t buy razors or hair brushes until they graduate, guys in stupid round Amish looking hats and designer chuka boots, all flying low on over-priced caffeine wishing they weren’t virgins.”

“Ding! The money for the car is between you and Harli. We’re going to drop you at Lowe’s across the street. Walk back over and unhook Kevin. Act scared like we kidnapped you and threw you out.”

“And then?”

“Then hook up with us in 723 at the Marriott. We’ll order pizza, have some fun.”

“Only if Harli stays in that black leotard. I thought I was falling in love with Bonnie or Clyde, whichever one she is. Was?”

“Shut up.” Harli managed an on the edge of disgusted frown. “Liberal Arts guys fall in love every other week.”

“What about Global Economists? When do they fall in love?”

“They don’t,” Maddie interjected. “Not on my watch. Harli, can we take his lofty bullshit horniness to Lowe’s, please? Before the smell of youth in heat overwhelms me?”

***

Harli stopped the Camaro by the pro door cart corral, Maddie leaned forward, pulled the seat back with her. “Adios, junior. If it takes too long to smooth Kev out, save the walk to the Marriott, we girls need our beauty rest. He might be pissed, don’t let him kick your ass.”

“The last ass he kicked was his mother’s, on the way into planet Earth.” He squatted down, hung on to the open door. “Harli with an I, next time you rob someone, put a clip in the gun. It’s more convincing that way.”

Maddie’s eyes got huge. She raised her eyebrows and they got even bigger. “Sweety?”

“I didn’t want it to go off and shoot him on accident.” Her smile sneaked out again, with a blush building behind it.

“That’s comforting. I think.” He stood, stayed bent into the car. “Order pizza, ladies. Easy on the bell peppers.”

Harli had turned her head, trying to kill the blush, and mumbled at her window. “I don’t eat bell peppers. On pizza, anyway.”

“All that and a black leotard. I knew I felt something tug at my heart.”

“That wasn’t your heart, and you were doing the tugging.” Maddie pushed him away from the door. “You. Beat it. By that I mean leave. Harli? Drive.”

Looney Lunes #132

I Wasn’t Born In Texas, But I Got Here As Fast As I Could!

Senator Ted Cruz – The whole world’s on fire!

Three-year old-girl – The world is on fire?!

Senator Cruz – YES! Your world is on fire. But you know what? Your mommy’s here, and everyone’s here to make sure the world you grow up in is even better.

From a campaign stop in Barrington, New Hampshire  – The Header slogan is from a widespread Texas bumper sticker. Canada can have him back anytime…

Anybody remember 1972? Watergate? Nixon?
Alice was spot on then, and here we go round in circles.
(You have to wait for the Hilary/Trump fight at the end)

La Soirée Dansante

Band guys got a pass on the Women’s room, if it was empty, the men’s was loaded and they posted a guard. Jackson qualified on all counts and hit the women’s room at The Regent. He stood in front of the mirrored wall, took in the marble, gold tone fixtures, the leather and velvet chairs in the ‘parlor’. The fine art prints, framed quotes from famous women written in calligraphy. It was what he thought the hotels must have been like when he heard old recordings of bands from the Forties.

“From the ballroom of the fabulous Regent, high atop Oilman’s Bank Tower rising like Xanadu above the waving wheat and Oil derricks of Oklahoma we bring you…” It folded right there because he’d forgotten what band name Glenn said they were using for the best New Year’s 1975 gig around. But the women’s room was posh. He’d heard the phrase “tart’s palace” used to describe one, probably equally as posh, in the –

“Jackson?” His drummer watchdog tapped on the door, rhythmically and not too quietly. “Whip it out, get it on and get over it, bro. Women are dancing in the aisles out here.”

Jackson finished tucking his shirt tail in, checked his zipper twice, shrugged into his tux jacket, made sure he’d flushed and complied with the unwritten seat down rule. He reached for the polished brass handle and stopped for another calligraphy quote attached to the inside of the women’s room door.

There are only two things in life that should be hard. One of them is Jolly Ranchers. All else troublesome is merely difficult. – Amanda Morisé

***

Three songs into the third set Glenn said the slow acoustic version of “Wonderful World” was up, by special request, so everyone in the band but Robbie the bass player got a free break song. Jackson stepped off the riser thinking he’d shunted all the “Do you wanna dance” requests by now. Alix asked this time, her French accent caressing her words.

“You would dance with me, when again there is music?”

“Sorry, can’t. I’m working.” He tried a sidestep.

“As am I.” She smiled, took his hand and he was out into the dance floor with her like his feet and hers were on the same wavelength. She set herself in front of him, right in front of him, caught his eyes with the sparkle in hers. “There is the problem, of you and girls?”

“I like girls just fine, but —”

“I am the girl most as you should like them, I think. So we dance, no?”

When he heard the intro, he took Alix’s right hand with his left, put his right hand on her hip, and pulled her left and back.

Don’t know much bi-ol-o-gee-ee…

“The old-fashioned way? I am such the ugly goose? The old foggy?”

“Duck. And fogey. Old fogey. No, you’re not. I don’t dance much, slow dance even less, that’s all. I’ll box step, you add what you want. I’ll try not to let you fall.”

“For such there are reasons? Medical? Mental?”

“When I was eleven or twelve, my parents sent me to this place on Friday nights. Something Soirée.”

Soirée. So bad for you, the party?” He moved her around in a big square, not too awkwardly. It didn’t hurt that she seemed to read his mind when he needed to turn her, and her waist was made for his hand.

“Our parents sent us, boys and girls. It was a fake party, a party class. They played records, taught us how to ask a girl to dance. How to bow, how to curtsy.”

“Ahh! As was I taught!” She took a half step back, curtsied fluidly in perfect time with the music, and stepped back into his hands. “A curtsy most professional was obtained by you, after such instruction?”

“No, I….”

“In fairness the gentleman must demonstrate as well, no?”

“I…” Damn…He waited for the downbeat, let go of her and folded into his well-rehearsed Cary Grant stage bow, caught her left hand on his way up, brushed it with his lips and raised it. She spun out and back into place like they’d never been apart.

“Delightful!” She leaned in closer. “More was learned, I think, in la soirée?

“They taught us to be ‘polite and considerate,’ not to run like a herd of cows to the couple of girls back then who already had boobs. I had to learn the ‘important social graces’.”

“Most important I think, not to run at girls with breasts. You learned this well, to snuck up on the breasts?”

“Sneak up. Yeah, but after that, we were about halfway through their program and I asked my dad if I could stop going. He asked me why, I told him it was boring. My mother had beaten all of that manners stuff into me already, so I got the polite rules.  He said, ‘Your mother won’t like it, but I’ll sell it for you’. So I missed the second half, the dance lessons.”

“So boring for you, oui? To ask most politely of the girls without breasts a dance, more instruction of the curtsy?”

Don’t know much about the French I took…

“No, the real problem was, well, around then if I even got too close to a girl, held her hand, danced with her, just being that close, I got…Excited. Couldn’t control it.”

“Excited? You had the freak down and break out?”

“Freak out, break down. No, I got a banana in my pants, okay? Out of nowhere, there it was. I had on loose dress slacks, it was embarrassing. So I always slow dance this way, just in case.”

“Oh, my love…” Alix laughed, almost tripped. Jackson caught her, and they were in a full-on dip. He could smell her perfume, felt her breath on his neck before he pulled her up. “Only in dancing you become excited, or the closeness les femmes?”

“The closeness anywhere, I guess. That summer my mom bought me this way off swimsuit. It was tight, some kind of knit stuff, with orange stripes. It looked like it was painted on, you know, ‘look everybody, here’s my biz!’ It was worse because we’d go to the pool, there were girls in bikinis and the same excited thing would happen. I spent the whole summer in the water, turning into a prune. I got a tan from the shoulders up.”

“The most excited prune, no? With the banana of pants for swimming?” She fell out again. “Would you not ask your mother for the pants of swimming more forgiving in such ways?” She was laughing harder, people were staring at the band guy dancing with the “French Morisé” in big baggy I Dream of Jeannie silk pants.

“Alix, how do you tell your mom, ‘When I walk past a girl I get a chub, I need some jams to hide it’?”

Thank God the song was over. Alix was still laughing when she kissed him on the cheek and thanked him for the dance. Break out and freak down ho-lee shit for real. It was a good thing his underwear was tight because Amanda’s partner was made out of female electricity. He’d only grazed her hip when she’d tripped and that was all it took.

***

“The boy…Your petit amour…” Alix was having trouble talking through her laughter. “My champagne?”

Amanda handed Alix her glass. “Why did you ask him to dance? I told the girls to leave him alone, with the exception of Beverly in that two-extra-cheeks-to-powder skirt.”

“Ah, my love, for one so youngHe sees the woman, not the skirt. Yet he dances with me as his mother, no? This, I think, is the boy who visits you, on the day of your phone call most disruptive. Work I must do and Amanda, always most severe, at once she is the giggles and laughs of the schoolgirl? I decide I must see your petit amour, oui? To hear myself as he speaks most cleverly to you.”

“Was that it, the dancing giant’s story? He told you that?”

“No, my love, he told to me stories of a young boy awakened. Of the instruction in
la soirée dansante, and the pool for swimming where he was most troubled by that which is hard and unforgiving.”

Amanda folded her arms, studied her champagne glass. “Life is hard and unforgiving, Alix.”

“As is that which is not the Jolly Rancher, my love.”

 

The dance and two song lines are courtesy of “What a Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke

Looney Lunes #131

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words…

The Onion, if you are unfamiliar, is a “fake news” outlet that published, until recently, what seemed to be outlandish, profane and ridiculous “news” stories. Now? Their work pales in comparison to reality…

https://www.theonion.com/

Enter with caution.

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Part 2

More of ‘Land Run’ and my 20 somethings against the crazy world. There’s a lot of peripheral activity cut to see if these two gel inside the bigger story. I suppose it’s good sometimes to watch sub text like picture in picture.

Maddie reached for her phone on the towel by the tiled, built-in hot tub in the fleeing lawyer’s almost ex-wife’s back patio. More like a courtyard. The house was a big U around the xeriscaped back yard and patio, pool, hot tub set up. Nice grill, too. And a stainless steel baby fridge full of decent chardonnay. There were worse ways to be dumped.



***

Harli watched the city she grew up in go by, north to south. Riding in a stolen luxury SUV, with a guy she didn’t know. “How long have you been stealing cars?”

“Thirteen.”

“Thirteen years?”

“Thirteen years old. Thirteen years and I would have been 10 when I started.” He checked her out the corner of his eye. She’d been talking to the window like she was afraid to look at him. “That was in Detroit, before we moved. I tried to quit a squad when I was fifteen, they didn’t like it, mom wanted me alive a little longer. Like Fresh Prince. Only the Oakland side of the Bay, not L.A., mom came along, and no rich relatives. What about you?”

“Dad. And mom…I was eighteen. Just graduated high school.” She let that hang a few beats. “Ka-Bloooey! Mom said she’d never been so happy. Turned out it wasn’t for me, but because she was tired of my dad’s ‘endless quest for stupid things to with his penis’, and with me out of the house she could finally do something about it. The next day mom called some guy with the biggest pickup I’ve ever seen to come get all dad’s stuff and take it to the drilling company’s pipe yard. She was his business partner, on paper, and she forced a sale on his drilling business. Told him how the money was going to go and he could take the deal or she’d make him out to be the biggest weenie waving hole driller in history and he’d lose everything. He took it. I went to college, Mom sold everything and went to Florida to be a snotty, country club divorcé and Dad went to Mexico to run a high end kink carnival and whore house .”

“And you fit into their reincarnated shituations how?”

“I don’t. If it wasn’t for school, I’d be homeless.” He watched her shoulders sigh with that. “Not broke…”

“But nowhere real to be? I get that.” He tipped the blinker, checked the lane camera and moved over for the airport exit.

She turned away from her window of denial, watched him drive in his state of relaxed vigilance for a few before she blurted, “Have you ever felt like someone launched all the pinballs in your game of life at once, and then walked away from the table?”

***

Flash drove around the airport parking lot one time, scanned each row as he went by, parked the Lexus in the middle. “Stuff your hair in the hat and pull it down.” He handed Harli a pair of big, seventies style sunglasses from the bag, watched her stuff her hair and helped her squash the hat. He pulled his cap down, flipped up the collar of his shirt. “When you get out, look at the ground and follow my feet.”

She stuck to him like velcro. He kept his head down, counted the rows as he walked. On the eighth one he turned right and stopped four cars in. He tapped the handle and the doors unlocked. He dropped into the driver’s seat, entered a four number code on the console. A woman’s robot voice said from somewhere behind the dash, “Entry Validated. Anti-theft disarmed.” He sat back into the seat and relaxed.

They left the top up and kept their sunglasses on because he’d joked that neither of them looked like foreign software engineers or plastic surgeons. A comment that cemented him as West Coaster for her, because where they were it was more likely oilies and crooked lawyers. Which they didn’t look like, either.

Flash was full of easy conversation, had let her talk out her parent’s messy divorce and her loss of a sense of place without placating commentary. He was comfortable with himself, and her, and was becoming addictively fun to be around. For a car thief. The drive-through cherry limeade and onion rings at Sonic that ended up in the shade of a struggling tree in the adjoining WalMart parking lot were an unexpected treat.

She set the limeade back in the cup holder on her side. “You’re still shitting me about your name.”

“No more than you. Harli with an I, Davidson. Hookers are more original.”

“Look.” She handed him her thin, front pocket driver’s license and credit card only wallet. “Harli. With an I, Davidson.”

“I know a guy who prints these. Why’d you go for California? It’s easier to not be you in Ohio or West Virginia, somewhere off the reality index.”

“I go to school in California. Leventhal, USC. Almost a Masters in Accounting. Global economies and all that.”

“Say hey, neighbor to the south. Berkley. Almost Modern Literary and Visual Culture Masters. More like film and lit cross contamination. Nobody knows what’s art and what’s not, so we argue and throw money at the university until the day they say we need to write a thesis and graduate.”

“A liberal arts car thief from Berkley with a crazy fake name. My lucky day.”

You look, my Southern Cal global economist friend.” He handed her his identical to hers front pocket wallet. “See. Flash Lieght. It’s even on my debit card.”

“That’s Leet. Or Late, not –”

“The i-e is like ‘pie’. Lieght. When I was little they called me Lite. L I T E. Like Lite Lieght because I was skinny and…Never mind.”

She knew she was laughing too much and couldn’t help it. “You said you knew someone who could print these. My name’s on my American Express, Lite Lieght.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “So there.”

They handed back their respective front pocket card and license wallets, got in a finger tug of war over the onion rings. He laughed, she blushed and flipped the visor down and checked her teeth in the mirror to hide it.

“This place has always made me feel like I have dust on my teeth. Since I was a little girl. All gritty.”

“It’s the dust and wind combo. That airport parking lot was a sandbox.” He reached for the limeade, too late. “Where am I taking you when you finish the rings and the Route 44 by yourself?”

She pushed the nearly empty onion ring bag towards him and held out the Route 44. “My friend has been driving, but it’s the Marriott, on the north loop, I remember that. And it’s not far from the Chili’s where we stole…” She stumbled over the thought speed bump of car boosting. “I don’t remember the exit but there’s a Lowe’s across the street. With a Starbucks and a Wendy’s in the parking lot.”

“That corner repeats every five miles anywhere you go.”

“Well, I —”

“No prob. I’m in the Super 8 off the same exit.”

“Say hey, neighbor to the north.” She smiled, big. He grinned back before he looked over his shoulder and pulled out into traffic.

Shit. Her stupid, big, happy-girl smile had to jump out on its own. Maddie better not want to shoot this Flashlight guy. It would totally suck if she did.