I sat in my faded cushioned, peeling Adirondack and stared at the lake. The charred outlines and burnt-out hulks of my old Airstream, the older pickup and Cav’s Fiat fifteen feet behind me, the Cub sloshing quietly ten yards in front. Slosh meant someone was on the lake. You know a lake is small when it sloshes from a bass boat or someone trying to ski on the other side. I felt the passage of time as the thermostat that turned a Texas afternoon, even in the shade, into a blast furnace while I continued to find more questions than answers for the last two days.
I must have replayed Corpus a couple dozen times. In the diner, after I’d relieved Third Eye horseapple nose of his knife and used it to coerce the one called Muller into giving up his knockoff Glock, Cav had taken several of the hundreds she’d re-stuffed after finding them feeble in the face of the rich guy’s real estate and dealt them out to a couple of waitresses and the busboy who’d brought towels and ice. None of them found Franklin’s pocket portraits feeble and were ecstatic to be deaf dumb and blind kids during the ten minutes that preceded the cash. She’d also picked up the tab for an old couple who thought they were on candid camera, and that the two freak show escapees covered in tattoos done by a drunk blind man were actors. I made a big deal with my phone out of how small cameras were these days and let them believe it.
We hustled out, though, in case someone had actually called the cops before Cav started waving money around, and all piled into an 80’s Ford Econoline XLT that had once been metallic blue, and probably once had upholstery instead of a collection of truck stop Indian blankets held in place by colorful bungee cords. It smelled like cigarettes, sweat and a sticky sweet but foul odor somewhere between cheap cigarillos and bleu cheese that I couldn’t place but made me want to puke. We bounced down the street in the van, Moreno and her business associates trying to sell me on what a great idea it would be, you know, since we were all friends now, to return their weapons in a gesture of trust. I stuck the counterfeit Glock in Muller’s ear, told them to eat me, find Cole Park and maybe I wouldn’t feed them their weapons after I heard their bullshit. Cole Park because I knew I could find my plane from there and it was public. Cav let me know how much my attitude really pissed her off. I wasn’t sure if she was posing for the business associates or being genuinely stupid. I knew she hated taking orders from anyone, particularly a man, more particularly me, regardless of how open to direction she’d been the night before. This was her game, and I seemed to have taken over, if only momentarily. But when it comes to weapons and people I don’t trust, even people I do trust, I like to at least feel that I have some control over my destiny and she could stay pissed until everyone walked away from this encounter with no chance of being shot or sliced. Except by me.
Muller found Cole Park and we convened at a picnic table not far enough away from a large Hispanic family birthday party full of Cumbia being bluetoothed through a Costco Karaoke/DJ rig, three dozen screaming kids, a couple of pinatas and plenty of young women in at least one size too small clothes pointing phone cameras at everything, including us.
After half an hour I still didn’t like what little I’d heard about the bank robbery in Kerrigan. I still didn’t know why Kerrigan. There were vague references to twenty million “or so” dollars. What denominations? It didn’t matter. The hell it didn’t matter, weight was everything in flying out of there with it. Where did it come from? Who were we pissing off…Whatever I asked? It didn’t matter. They made it clear Miz Moreno brought me in because I saved her life and knew how to fly. Those qualifications bought me a ticket to ride, no more. I wondered why Cav would lie to them about me. The truth was closer to ‘I got her killed trying to screw her out from under her non-boyfriend.’
More than once I got called a pussy, pussy with superfluous profane modifiers, for not liking helicopters. Not being a helicopter man really sucked to these guys because the job, the way they saw it, was made for a helicopter. Maybe two. Both stolen. Someone not present could fly the other one. That was the entire sketchy bucket of talk that went around until I was dizzy with stale air and tired of being a helicopter pussy so I called it off.
I walked from the picnic table across the paved hike and bike path toward the sea wall, waited for a heavy-set twenty-something female in a red windbreaker and too short jogging shorts to pick up her Golden Retreiver’s recycled breakfast with her hand in an inside out WalMart bag. She smiled like I should be enjoying Rover’s dump as much as both of them were. I smiled back. Maybe I leered because she took off, pulling on the bottom of her shorts. Wear them longer of you don’t want strangers checking out your gibbles. I ejected the chambered round from Muller’s cheapo pistol, popped the clip and tossed it and the single round in the Gulf. When I got back I handed Muller his empty gun and Third Eye horseapple nose his knife, told him if I ever saw it again it would be sticking out of his throat. I took the van keys, said they could have it back less than a mile south on Ocean, bye. Cav raised hell, again putting it on for the Bozos or legitimate flight of stupid. Flight of stupid. Anybody ever writes my biography, there’s the title.
The slosh around the Cub grew into ripples and then a small wake until a figure appeared out of the heat waves in an inflatable raft. The captain revved the electric motor, popped it up at the last second and ran his raft aground so he could step out dry. Tavius looked better in his upscale athletic gear than the suit. Jock-ish. Maybe a rap icon. His wrists tastefully festooned with small chain-link and thin band gold bracelets, his nails buffed glossy. Like some women I’ve known. It had to be 102. No sign of sweat. He came at me all tilted drama, one arm cocked out like he was the lead in a bad thug movie or a rap video. Two things that are often the same thing.
“You and the goddam airplane. You do that shit, how’re we supposed to follow you? You gotta take the woman sight-seeing to get laid? Where the hell have you been? Where’s Moreno?” He leaned in, turned my chin with his hand. “What happened to your jaw? What the fuck is going on?” He swung his arm and upper body in a slow arc around my squatter’s paradise. “You call the insurance company? If you haven’t, don’t. If you have –”
“Plane’s the only thing insured.” I motioned to the other Adirondack. “Have a seat. What was your first question? Oh, right. I filed a flight plan.”
“In the air. From Eagle Pass. Goddammit, Comparo…This is deep. I can’t reach out to some fucking Jim Bob in Corpus, be all ‘there’s a deep covert with an invisible in your backyard, help us out.’” He dropped into the Adirondack Cav had been in two days ago. “Fuck.” His exasperation was tangible. I let him stew for a few before I asked.
“You smoke weed?”
“You askin’ ‘cause I’m black or you think I need to lower my anxiety?”
“Both?” He waved me off with a slow wrist flick. I got up, walked over to the cottonwood tree I’d named Amos, after my paternal grandfather, and pulled a small Café DuMonde coffee tin from a hollow crook in the back.
“Where’d this come from?”
“Oklahoma. It’s legal now.”
“For real?” He tapped the cable spool table with my disposable lighter. “The shit you learn in the middle of nowhere.”
“That’s what Moreno said. En la medio de nada.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. Where, exactly, is the middle nowhere?”
I told him about Kerrigan, the Corpus meeting. He made me repeat it while he pulled Kerrigan up on his phone and some other files from a government cloud and it got quiet in the heat.
He shifted, raised his chair a notch, put both elbows on the table. “You hit the man with a fucking sugar dispenser?”
“Yeah. The big, heavy old school glass kind. I had a choice, though. The big one or a plastic Sweet n Low caddy.”
“Good call. But you coulda killed him.”
“He pulled a knife. What’d he expect, flowers and a kiss?”
“Flowers maybe. How’d you keep the lid on again?”
“I told you. Moreno had a wad of cash, bought off a couple of waitresses and a busboy. Grampa and Gamma thought we were Candid Camera.”
“Nobody else there?”
The short answer was San Antonio. Maybe. The long answer was I didn’t know. After we’d ditched Muller and Third Eye she’d asked me to take her to San Antonio. She had a room booked at a Riverside boutique hotel, we could stay the night. I liked that version of her better than the pissed-off give-the-crazies-their-shit-back I’d seen enough of. She wanted to pick up “some things.” I figured clothes, like the sketchy job was imminent. I never found out.
We went out of the hotel after dark, holding hands on the Riverwalk. Bands or DJs were playing outside or leaking out open club doors. We ate somewhere, had several Margaritas. She took off her shoes and danced her way through a half-mile of touristas and pink-faced conventioneers and overstressed waiters and hostesses holding their tray overhead. Tried to get me in the middle of it. Single file hands up shimmy wasn’t on for me, but I kept her in range. She danced like a cobra for a snake charmer. We ended up back at the room where we continued to make up for being interrupted in Columbia. I hadn’t had so much free sex in…A long time. Not that I’m a monk but I’d been working some things out. Like my fault she was dead. Which worked itself out without any help from me so my year of solitary was over. I woke up to an empty but for me bed and a note on the coffee pot. “Estaré en contacto, Paro.” I’ll be in touch. With a heart and a C.
“Moreno? Wake up, asshole.”
“San Antonio. We were in this hotel…”
“Then you were in the hotel and she’s wherever because she sure as hell ain’t here. Jesus, Paro. You might as well put a leash on your dick.” He opened a linear four-panel foldout on the spool top. “Who was in Corpus?”
I pointed out Muller and Third Eye horseapple nose. “His forehead and nose don’t look so bad in the mug shot. But damn…I see the guy, start to lose it, Moreno is hissing ‘stop it, stop it.’ I started to laugh and it got away from me. First time you see that shit…”
“Yeah?” Tavius wasn’t laughing. Fuck it. It was one of those had to be there moments. He folded the bad guy bubblegum cards, stuck them in his pocket.
“The other two are Usman and Crawford. I’ll text you what I have. They’re what happened here.”
“You’re tellin’ me you know who did this and just…let it happen?”
“Not on purpose. You were in the air fifteen minutes and they showed up, tossed your place. We figured to find out who you are. They left, we thought that was the end of it and called off the watch. The good news is you aren’t sentimental so there was nothing to find. Or burn.”
“That shit’s all in a storage locker in Addison. I pay it annually, haven’t seen it in five years.” My attitude started to come back. “Tossed isn’t fucking toast.”
“This is hindsight, but we now think they were waiting for you to come home, maybe have a chat about you ringing the Third Eye brother’s bell. Humiliate you in front of their woman. You’re a no show, somewhere with their woman.” He walked over to the middle of what had been my trailer. “Here’s your sign.”
“Their woman? What’re you sayin’?”
“Sayin’ they’d wasted a trip, got upset. You were where they’d all like to be, wished they were, don’t have a shot in hell at without assault. Sayin’ you, horndog flyboy, you were somewhere, with their Queenie.” He pushed my charred dining table spool with his foot, watched it crumble into chunks of charcoal and a puff of dark dust. He rotated my way, caught me with an eye lock. “Sayin’ free sex doesn’t appear to be all that free.”
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!”