Certificate of Authenticity

Annabelle parked the rented maroon Grand Cherokee on the crunchy crushed shell parking area between a faded used-to-be-red Dodge Ram pickup and a new, black Mercedes SUV. Across the maybe fifty-foot arched bridge paved with asphalt shingles was Umbridge Enterprises home office. An unpainted, faded cedar shake façade manufactured home surrounded by a covered veranda that sported a random collection of patio and beach furniture, a pair of propane grills and assorted fishing nets for decoration. The whole mess on pilings over the Everglades. Tied to a floating dock behind it was her missing white Swamp Vue Cabrio. She put her right hand in the square red leather designer shoulder bag, took the safety off her Glock, stepped out of the Jeep.

***

Preston Umbridge clicked the remote, brought up the four-panel screen of security cameras on the wall mounted TV. “Either of you two pig fuckers order up a jigaboo hooker?”

“What the fuck, Boss? Fella was about to nail him a big ass gator an – whoa shit,” the dirty wife beater and camo cargos clad Pillsbury dough boy on the couch sat up. “Who the hell is that?”

“No shit ‘whoa shit’ Wally. Fuckin’ dumb ass. That’s the nigger woman we done stole the boat from, that’s who.”

Umbridge dropped the remote on his desk. “You’re telling me you two fuckwads was so obvious stealin’ that boat a woman could find it? Shit.” He ran his hands over his hair and beard, wiped his lips with his thumb and forefinger. “Don’t just stand there, Steep, let her in ‘fore she breaks the goddam door down.”

Annabelle, black leggings and long tailed black silk blouse, matching red heels, earrings and purse stepped into the man cave of Umbridge Enterprises. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. Annabelle Monette. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

Umbridge stood behind his desk, undisguised snicker in his voice. “Preston Umbridge, may-am.” He bowed. “To my right is Mr. Walrus. My associate Mr. Steeple let you in. Without an appointment.”

“I make my own appointments. Walrus I understand. Too much mustache, belly and ugly. Steeple makes no sense to me.” She studied the man walking back toward his boss. “Beanpole, maybe. Knew a String Bean one time.”

“Now, now. Legend says Steep’s sainted Momma christened him with it just before she died, lookin’ out the hospital window at the First Methodist Church.”

“I had an Ontie named Iris. She told the same story about flowers in her momma’s garden. We could go on about the Indian named Two Dogs Fucking in the Mud but let’s not waste each other’s time, gentlemen. I have come for my boat.”

“I’m sure we don’t have ‘your’ boat.” Umbridge tugged his longish manicured beard, puffed up. “And if we did, I doubt we’d return it. Things that end up here are like gifts. Or tithe offerings. Ain’t that right boys?”

“It’s the white Swamp Vue Cabrio tied off next to two patent and intellectual property theft counterfeits. Both to be destroyed as contraband. The Swamp Vue is not now, nor was it ever, a gift.”

“The white one?” Umbridge put a point of ‘white.’ “That’s different. Cabrio, Cabrio…I recall having a Bill of Sale for that somewhere.” He made a show of opening and closing drawers.

“Never you mind looking for it. I have a certificate of authenticity for the lock of our Lord and Saviour’s hair my other Ontie Delores keeps in a Café Du Monde coffee tin and prays to five times a day.”

“Ain’t nothin’ any of us can do about our families, is there?” He slammed  the drawer he had open. “I also seem to recall Larson makes theirselves a Cabrio. Whattaya think it’s worth to them to find out about yours?”

“I’ve spoken to them and all the lawyers are satisfied that as I do not manufacture mid cabin drug running speed boats there is no conflict. That’s how it is when people cooperate. Had you come to me with a franchise manufacturing offer we might have bypassed all this unpleasantness. I am not a fool, Mr. Umbridge. After I talked to your local people, showed them the manufacturing paperwork, patent applications, all more than most around here could read in a lifetime I concluded that I needed to look elsewhere for assistance. And to come see for myself what kind of corrupt, low life thief and liar a genuine Floor-ida bad man looked like.”

Walrus flicked open a three-inch lock back pocket knife, cleaned his index fingernail with it. “We don’t cotton to name callin’, now. Smokes and O-yays particular doin’ that shit ain’t seen much of after.”

“Where I came up my momma’s paperboy was more dangerous, and considerably smarter than all three of you put together. I’m not here to get in a pissing contest with some Little Dick-ey Mafia fiefdom, I’m here for my boat and to bring you the gospel according to Annabelle Monette.”

Umbridge held out an arm to stop Walrus. “Which would be?”

“Not everyone is scared of you Mr. Umbridge. Least of all me. Come hell or high water, with or without your blessing, I will sell boats in central Florida.”

Walrus took a step. Without looking Annabelle pointed her non-purse hand at the television. “While we’ve been having our little chat, those gentlemen arrived to pick up my boat and destroy your copies.”

“What the hell?” Umbridge pulled a revolver from his desk drawer. “You two, what the fuck do I pay you for? Go stop those mother –”

“I wouldn’t. Those are federal Marshalls from Miami looking for you to give them a reason to level this place once I am safely out the door.”

“She’s fuckin’ lyin’.” Walrus took another step Anabelle’s way and one of the two counterfeit Swamp Vues went ka-whoooom, the explosion sent a geyser of water and debris up past the sliding patio doors at the back of the office, rained down on the roof.

Steeple slid the patio door open, leaned out over the veranda rail far enough to see the brown water gun boat, look down the barrels of its 50-caliber machine guns. “She ain’t lyin’, Wally.” He glanced down, counted at least eight red laser-sight dots on his chest, and froze. “No fuckin’ shit she ain’t lyin’.”

“And wired, too. Goddammit.” Umbridge grabbed Steep by the back of his fishing vest. “Git back in here before you piss yoursef.” He turned a red raged face at Annabelle. “We’ll continue this discussion, Annabelle Mo-nay. Soon.”

“My door is always open, gentlemen. If you come, put on shirts with sleeves. I only need to see three cheap, dirty white men in cheap, dirty wife beaters one time to know it’s not an experience I choose to repeat.”

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Grab My Purse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the hell is that?”

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

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

“Hell yeah it runs.”

“And the half a plan?”

“We could drive it out, or, or…”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

“What if they see you?”

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

“Right.”

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

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

***

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

“You put gas in the tow skiff?”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

“GPS.”

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

“Valve stuck.”

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

“No sir.”

“The bag?”

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

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

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

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

Gambits #5

Poison is So-ooo Passe

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

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

Up your game. Poison? Puh-leeeeze…

Looney Lunes #151

If Medicare Fraud Isn’t Bad Enough –
Meet Obamacare for the Walking Dead

Have you ever been in an accident that resulted in your death.

___ Yes
___ No

No shit really –  this is (was) on the Healthcare.gov website when I checked it out.

 

Dusk in Douala – Rev 3

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

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

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

“Part of his act.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Money.”

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

“Shoulda killed him, too.”

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

“Mmm. You worried?”

“About?”

“Elise. Oriana?”

“No. You?”

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

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

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

“It’s too fucking loud.”

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

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

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

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

“Goddammit that thing’s loud.”

“A bit too heavy as well. The Ford?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gambits #4

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

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

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

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

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

“No way!” Rodrigo protested loudly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dusk in Douala

Douala, Cameroon / Summer 1998

The overgrown, abandoned dirty white two-story cinder block house sat on a deserted street of more houses just like it in the southern Douala ghetto. It’s footprint no more than twelve by twelve. Inside it was hot as hell. Sticky. Close. The floor for the second floor and roof were both missing. Chain-link fence wire and plywood covered the windows, the faded blue plank door off its hinges leaned to the right side of the doorway. A weathered sign featuring a smiling African woman with a gap in her front teeth, her head surrounded by vegetables said someone once ran a market here. Now two Englishmen in wilted white evening clothes, one thirtyish, longish hair, the other maybe forty, clean cut with laser eyes, both running on vanishing patience stood in the sweltering Douala dusk with a large fat man in brown and green military dress, a small, bald, black as midnight accountant type in a bright yellow shirt covered in orange pineapples and a tall, thin vacant eyed blonde man in a black uniform straight out of a Nazi war poster.

“We came unarmed. Colonel,” the younger Anglo said, the fat man’s rank escaping with uncloaked derision. Colonel. General. Why did all the supercilious pissant liberation leadership adopt a military veneer? “You’ve inspected your merchandise. We need our money.”

“As I said, I do not trust him. Nor particularly do I care for your lack of respect, Monsieur Caswell. I ask again. Shoot him for me. To make me happy, and for your insolence. Do so and the money is yours.” The grin full of gold teeth and ego.

“And I say, again, we are not armed. We’re businessmen, Mon Colonel, not gangsters.”

From the older Anglo, “Give him a gun, somebody. Get this farce over with.”

“What then?” Caswell tilted his head to the contingent of three. “I kill you, the one in the monkey suit kills me, they walk with the money and the merchandise?”

“The fat one is a stooge. The other two are decoration. I say Colonel fatass leaves with the money,” he motioned with his hand to Short Baldy and Vacant Eyes. “Has someone waiting to kill these two. Maybe somebody he doesn’t see coming kills him. What they’re sweating now is fatass’s Bogart routine that’s failed. We were supposed to show up cowboy, they talk us into killing each other over the money. Cheap. This has been a cheap sideshow operation since day one.”

Caswell turned to the three. Vacant Eyes now held a Chinese Glock knock-off in his left hand, his forearm rigid at a right angle to his shoulder. Sweat beaded on his upper lip, his forehead, dripped from the tip of his nose. Colonel Clown remained crisp, impervious to the heat, hat fat-arm-clamped to his side. Below the hat he had a revolver in a big, shiny black military holster with a flap secured by a snap. Little Baldy was sweating profusely, staining the leather briefcase he clutched to his chest with both hands.

“He’s right. Somebody give me a gun.” He glanced at his friend. No one moved. He judged his distance to Vacant Eye’s. Half an arm’s length, if that. “Gestapo boy. Gun. NOW, if your boss wants this done. Or you do it. Somebody do something, do it now.

Vacant eyes responded by lifting his gun hand. Caswell grabbed Vacant’s wrist with both hands, jammed the Glock clone up and under Vacant’s chin, pulled the trigger. Vacant Eyes gurgled, sputtered, Cas pushed him away, turned the gun on Colonel Clown fumbling to unflap his holster. He allowed the pistol as shiny and black as the holster to clear before he shot the Colonel in the elbow. He screamed, the pistol hit the ground. The older wilted Anglo snatched it up, leveled it between the Colonel’s eyes.

“I have your women. If, if we’re not at the container in —” The shiny black revolver boomed once, the Colonel backed up, a look of complete, cross-eyed surprise on his face as if trying to focus on the .45 caliber hole above the bridge of his nose. He sat down hard, fell over on top of Vacant Eyes.

“What, Cas? Eh? I was bloody sick of his Casablanca bullshit. ‘Prove to us your loyalty. Shoot heem. I do not trust heem.’ Somebody in this circus act wants us dead. More than they want the merchandise or their money back. Or these clowns were a front and there’re parties involved we haven’t seen.”

“Maybe,” Caswell wiped his forehead with the left sleeve of his white tux. “First though,” he stuck the Glock clone in the short bald man’s ear when he came up from vomiting. “The women?” Baldy nodded rapidly in the affirmative. “Where?” Baldy turned his head, bent, vomited nothing. The Glock followed him, locked to his ear, Caswell upped the pressure, kept the man bent over.

“Please…I have family. The hotel. Your hotel. He sent two men there. Like him.” Baldy pushed dead Vacant Eyes with his foot. Cas backed off.

“Open the briefcase.”

Caswell waited while Baldy fumbled in his pants pocket for a key, got impatient, ripped Baldy’s hand out, stuck his own hand in, came out with a tiny pearl handled .25 automatic and a key ring. The older one lit a black cigarette, exhaled sideways.

“You could just cut his hand off, Cas. He might’ve shot you with the flea gun.”

“Shut up, you’ll scare him. Goddammit what’s that smell…See? You made the little fucker shit himself.”

“That’s fatass or the Aryan wonder boy or both lightening up before they cross the great divide. Baldy’s still alive and unloading topside, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“Comedy relief for Africa?”

“I was thinking a signature tune for Visit Cameroon. Forget your cares, leave your brains and empty your bowels in Douala.”

“An instant classic. Teach the world to sing while you’re at it.” Caswell uncuffed the briefcase, tossed it to his partner, mashed the gun back in Baldy’s ear. “Money, or was this little man running his own game?”

“Money.”

“Kiss your family for us.” Caswell spun Baldy, put his foot in the small of his back and shoved him through the opening where the door should have been. They could hear him dry heave his way down the dusty street.

“One of us should have killed him on principle, Cas.”

“We need to know where he goes. I put a couple of locals on whoever left this dump alive.”

“Ah. Altruism with return postage.” He pointed with the Colonel’s shiny revolver. “These two?”

“Fuck them.” Cas peered through the deepening dusk at the bodies, kicked the sole of the Colonel’s gleaming boots. “The locals will pick them clean, pull their teeth, burn the bodies. Elise and Ori?”

“Customary for them I say there’s two more dead liberation fighters. Most likely in a commercial laundry hamper in the hotel basement.” He crushed his cigarette out on a wall. “Discharged, I’m sure, with a good deal more finesse than we put up. Who were the locals supposed to report to if we didn’t walk out of here?”

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

“One of these days somebody’s going to have to kill Richard Dunning.”

“Don’t tell anyone you’re on the way or he’ll hear about it somehow.”