NVDT Random – Scene Edits 3

Since no one is paying attention I’m gonna pull random scenes out and sharpen my editorial scythe for a diegesis rework of The Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery – This one is out of sync with Jackson going to the airport, but I’ll get back to that. That whole episode was in draft mode word overkill and the scenes are coming out whittled one by one. It’s still rough, but it’s lost some weight…

I Like You and I Don’t

OR – How the Charity Softball Team Came to Be (Warning – 2k+ read)

Saturday, April 25, 1981, Los Angeles, CA.

Jackson wheeled the mismatched two-tone Gremlin into the Chasewoods Sports Complex parking area, located diamond 5 and parked by a new, metallic pearl white Corvette with #1 AM vanity plates. Hollywood. He shook his head, pulled on his Peaches Garage ball cap, climbed out, careful to avoid the ‘Vette. The Gremlin’s door squeaked, groaned, produced two loud, dull thunks on the way to closed. He covered the twenty yards of parking lot concrete to a sidewalk that split a path between artificially green grass and a patch of dirt and gravel Xeriscape where embedded in the middle like a headstone stood a four-foot-tall welded 5.

“A Gremlin?” Trace said with mock sincerity. “Thought those things lived under bridges.”

“Those are trolls. You plan on tellin’ me why I’m here, or is it like a forever surprise?”

“Obvious, even to a blind man.” Trace waved a slow arc around the diamonds. “Softball is why you’re here. You’re now part of Give Some Back.”

“Give some what back?”

“They’re a non-profit that uses an auditor to make sure the money raised for charities gets where it’s supposed to go. Something that doesn’t happen like it should all the time. Lori over there in the bleachers can explain all that later.”

“Yeah?” Jackson shot a glance at the bleachers. “That Lori? As in Lori Sorens, from the sitcom, uh, um—”

“House on Fire. I don’t watch it, either, but it’s a hit, and that’s her. Bottom line, bro. Hollywood types play civilians for serious donations, auditors handle the money. This team needed another warm body with modest athletic ability. Here you are. Don’t sweat it, J. Unlike your last exercise gig, no ballet tights or talent required.”

“Everybody loves a clown.”

“Careful. Heard that’s how the clown caught the clap.” Trace bumped Jackson’s glove with his own. “Showtime, bro. This is a tough room for anybody with external plumbing, so put your just-happy-to-be-an-idiot-man face on.”

“Been told that comes stock with the plumbing.”

Trace nodded agreement, ushered him in front of the bench at the empty diamond five where they faced seven females spread out in the bleachers.

“I said I’d find you a new guy.” Trace announced to the disinterested bleacher crew. “My brother from another mother, Jackson.” Silence. Not even seat shuffling.

“Told you it was a tough room. Jax, clockwise from the left, the ladies are Lori Sorens from House on Fire and the actual Treasurer of Give Some Back. Next over and up a row, if you watch television in your underwear in the morning, you’ve seen Randi Navarro. Channel Seven and El Lay’s Number One in the morning. Right next to her is another watch in your underwear lady, Weather Seven Cicily Warren.” They acknowledged with barely perceptible nods. Jackson’s gaze shifted next to a tall girl with the most not huge but amazingly perfect set of t-shirt boobs he had ever seen.

“Jackson, meet Zane Rialta. From somewhere women are all tall and in your shit about a lie somebody told them about you.”

 “Don’t start him out by fucking with me, Trace. I’m from—”

Hollywood In Sight Tonight,” Jackson said. “You could dial it back once in a while, see if anybody besides you might have something to say. The girl from Pine Nuts has a ranch in Tennessee where she takes in retired and abused racehorses and show dogs, finds homes for ‘em, and you fucking blew her out. You could have hit the boyfriend hard for being a first-class dipshit and wrapped it with her being humane, made everybody love her, donate food or cash and help her out, but no. You had to go all into some animal hoarding thing you got all wrong.”

It got even quieter on diamond five. Zane Rialta was self-made, syndicated in all fifty states, half a dozen foreign countries and had her own cable channel in development. She was smart and nosey and dangerous if you had anything to hide. Most of Hollywood gave her a wide berth, not a raft of shit.

“You bring him along to help you tell me how to do my job? If you did, that’s bullshit and I’m out.”

“If you’re going to talk about me, talk to me,” Jackson climbed to the second row.

“Okay, I’m done.” Zane stood, all five-eleven of her, a row up and now eighteen inches taller than Jackson.

He looked up at her, wished he could part the boobs. “Sit down. You know we can’t play if you leave. We’ll work this out between us, okay? But right now? Sit. Down.” He tacked on “Please?” before the timing betrayed him.

She sat, steaming. It was uncomfortably quiet again. Trace continued. “Right there, um, to the right? That’s Tina Bowen. Seven in the Morning traffic control. ‘Keep it Flowin’ with Bowen.’ She has a baby named Owen, poor kid.” She was the only one to lift a hand off her thigh in a small wave.

“Last but not least, and the only woman on the team who can play this or any other sport, Seven Sports in the A-M with Ray-Gun Vaughn.” Reagan smiled, reached down, shook his hand. She was a ball of lean muscle like the weightlifter girls on the beach, only black and not as bulky. She walked through locker rooms full of naked, sweaty jocks asking pointed questions about the quality of their performances and got answers, not sex loaded bullshit. Jackson was known to watch a bad game just for Reagan’s commentary.

“Hey.” Jackson took in the women he saw every morning on Channel Seven and the prime timers. “Nice to meet all of you.” He looked back up at Zane Rialta. “What’s your real name?”


“Your real name. What your mom called you when she was mad. Come on.”

“Suzanne. If it’s—”

“All of it.”

“Florentina,” her eyes flashed through a squint. “Suzanne. Florentina. Rialta. My married name is Shively. You’re about to really piss—”

“What do your friends call you?”

“It’s not something you’ll ever need, so—”

“We don’t know that.”

“God…” Her exasperation became tactile. “Zanie. From my little sister.”

“That’s where Zane came from? Not Zane Grey westerns your dad left around the house?”

“Fuck you, Trace’s friend. He didn’t read westerns, he read John D. MacDonald until he caught me with one. Then he hid them in an old suitcase in his closet.”

“You get busted again when you found them ‘cause you couldn’t resist all that sex, violence and moralizing?”

“I skipped the moralizing, and I’m out of—”

He leaned in, whispered the quick story of how he got busted checking out Mimi Van Doren in one of the old Playboys that his dad kept in a closet suitcase. She laughed out loud and took the hand he held out.

“Jackson? That’s it, either way? Now I remember.” She squeezed the shit out of his hand, leaned back a little then leaned in. “I didn’t recognize you without the I’m-so-sexy beard. Kaitlin Everson sued you for sticking your middle finger up her nose at the Globe Press Party. You had that pretty French lawyer who sued half of L.A. to shut Everson up, all over a no-money Kleenex movie from nowhere full of nobodies that blew up. For the middle finger and suing that bitch, you are my newest best friend. Who do you know that’s done something stupid lately?”

“That list is too long, and I’m on it. Tell me who the coach or manager is, since we’re friends?”

“Excuse me,” Randi interjected. “Mr. one finger and it’s the middle one? If you can pull yourself away from Zanie’s T-shirt stuffing qualifications for a sec, I’ll tell you.” Randi Navarro was as perfectly turned out in a softball uniform as she was the day Jackson had seen her in Dwight’s studio. She leaned forward, waited until she had his full attention.

“I’m Randi. Navarro? We were introduced? I’m the manager. We don’t have a coach. We could use one because the other teams just laugh at us. We get a lot of requests as the pretty girls who can’t play, and to raise money we play against whoever rents us. Except we don’t have a sponsor or a designated charity so we’re dumping buckets of money into a holding account waiting for someone to say ‘yes’ and give us a reason to be here.” She studied him for a moment. “We need a sponsor, and what really pisses all of us off more than being the softball laughingstock of L.A. is that we’ve been asking for a sponsor for over a year. It’s like we’re lepers because we’re women, right?” There were murmurs of agreement, but she held Jackson’s eyes as long as he kept them on her.

“We play as the Seven In the Morning coed team.” It was Lori, the one from the sitcom. “But Seven won’t pick a charity and we’re really not endorsed by Seven—”

“Fuck no we aren’t,” Randi trolled her coworkers with her eyes. “We’re making them a fortune in ad revenue by being all women and owning the morning market share, right? But will they back us as a softball team? Even as a promo op? No. Rodney Sheridan writes off a Corvette I don’t give a shit about,” she sidearm waved at the parking lot. “But Seven says it’s in my contract to drive it, smile and say, ‘Drop by Sheridan for a deal that’ll make you wanna dance,’ twenty times a morning. Sheridan won’t sign off on underwriting a women’s charity softball team, but he’ll hand off a Corvette?” She fumed for a few beats. “Sorry. Not your problem. So it’s Jackson? Got anything shorter?” She saw it coming. “Don’t you say that shit to me.”

“Don’t say, ‘That’s what she said?’’’

“I told you don’t.” She leaned further, smacked his shoulder, glared him out.

“Jax, Jay. Hey, you. Your call.” He smiled so hard his face hurt. “Sorry.”

“You’re forgiven. For now.” She gave him a lady handshake, waited a little long to let go, followed it with a big, expensive TV anchor smile. “I like you and I don’t, Jacksass Jackson. So as of now, you are the new manager of whoever the hell we are.” She handed Jackson a brown manila envelope she’d been sitting on. “I kept it warm with my best ass-et, just for you. Ladies?” She found everyone else with her gaze. “I’ve captained this ship of fools for a year and we’re still where we started. So this is my last roundup as manager, phone girl, booking queen and sponsor hunter. After today, our new middle-finger-forward cowboy is up. We play Country Safe Insurance in twenty minutes, right here.”

Jackson and Trace watched the parade of broadcast butts in tight baseball pants while they all rattled their way out of the aluminum bleachers and headed for the parking lot to open doors and trunks on clean, new, expensive cars where they pulled out gloves, bats and promo for Hollywood In Sight, Seven in the Morning and House on Fire. Randi reached in the white Corvette, handed a box of Sheridan Chevy promo to one of the other girls before she wrestled a team duffel bag out of the passenger seat. He considered offering to help, but they all looked to be working a decent case of pissed off. Jesus. Too much camera candy, too much unfocused promo paper, no team identity.

 “Trace, my brother,” he dumped a frustrated through-the-nose sigh. “You fucked me right into the dirt on this one.”

“Man, a year ago you couldn’t wait to meet Randi Navarro. Here you are. I knew she’d like you.” He picked a couple of bats out of the dirt, leaned them against the fence behind the bench, tossed a baby pop fly for Jackson.

“Randi…” he caught the fly, tossed on back. “I said I wanted to meet her, yeah. And now a shit-load of excellent dreams and wasted morning wood are out the window and right on down the road ‘cause she’s on my softball team. Mine. It’s against all the fucking rules to go butt sniffing my own softball team. How the hell did that happen?”

“ ‘How’ never matters in Hollywood. Take what comes your way and run with it. Besides, your ‘tell a painful truth’ turd polishing skills are exactly what this team needs. Even if they don’t know it yet.”

Trace pulled his glove, popped Jackson on the shoulder with it. “You don’t have to play it straight on the no in-team sex, but know this as fact. These chicks compete about everything, not just ratings points. So you’ll start an extra-large avalanche of pain for yourself if you get wet and wild with anything female connected to this. Add a hundred times more grief than that from your new best friend, Zanie. This gig is high profile with her name attached, so she’s like your personal moral compass. The woman’s got a camera, a crew, a mouth, a syndicated outlet for all of it, a million places to hide and twice that many snitches. Fuck around or fuck up in Hollywood after today and you’ll find out the hard way it’ll be out on the wire before your zipper’s up, your mouth’s shut or your middle finger’s back in your pocket.”

NVDT Random – Winners Get Shafted!

Politicians, God love ‘em, have done it again. The poor, the marginalized, the illegal, the forgotten, the hand to mouth service industry people kicked hardest by Covid – the people who just voted in the Obiden Administration, are the first ones to get the shaft!

In the current debate for a relief package Republicans want money for small businesses. Democrats say no. But they want to bail out state and local governments. Democrats are now pro big business/government? Pelosi and the Hair Farmer’s latest sticking point for the new free money bail out is that they want funds direct deposited. Only. Well, let’s take the poor, the marginalized, the illegal, the forgotten and the Covid fucked right out of that equation because 6.5% of Americans have no bank account.

That’s over 14,000,000 people.

Way more than the difference of the vote tally between “choices” that were piss poor to start with. How would the vote have gone if 14,000,000 had known they would be disenfranchised by the new regime before it got started? Who cares, Pelosi has plenty of designer ice cream in a $30k fridge. Fuck the poor, disenfranchised, marginalized… But thanks for the votes. Not.

The good news is that when asked what he plans to do about anything, instead of tweeting something childish, inflammatory, arrogant and sometimes decisive, Obiden keeps saying “We’ll get everyone together at the table and have a meeting.”

Meetings? WTF? Nobody in Washington can decide whether they need to take a shit or wind their watch!

Get the man violin lessons and a match. Because if I was one of the 14,000,000 Americans the New Regime just shit on I’d be raising all sorts of hell.

NVDT Random – Scene Edits 2

Since no one is paying attention I’m gonna pull random scenes out and sharpen my editorial scythe for a diegesis rework of The Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery – This one is out of sync with Jackson going to the airport, but I’ll get back to that. That whole episode was in draft mode word overkill and the scenes are coming out whittled one by one. Yesterday this one sat at 1006. It’s still rough, but it’s lost some weight…

Cow’s Asses and Banjos

Jackson looked around his first pre-game huddle as coach, tossed his canned speech. “I’ve talked to all of you since last week’s game. About what you’d like to see change, what you expect. What you want. If you missed the big hint in those conversations, here it is. You’re a team. I know y’all think you suck so bad no one would come out to help. Well, last week between lunches I made a couple of calls, and a couple of mistakes, so… Meet the newest misery loves company members of Team Sucks. Logan Burns is a –“

Bevan-Burns. With the hyphen thing? I am like so totally mega stoked –”

“Thank you Logan. Ms. Bevan-Burns is a ballerina, off tour for the summer. Taisia whose last name is nothing but consonants is a FedEx driver, reserve EMT and ex-professional Russian hockey player who can roller skate faster than most people drive. Cynthia is a psychologist finishing her Masters. And was, uh,” he rushed “foldout of the year in seventy-nine and is fully clothed in her current publicity shot.” He put his arm around the shoulder of a petite girl with shiny, jet black hair saying “For all of you who’re pissed off about how shitty it is to be women sometimes? Out of the wig and jumpsuit after almost a year on the road with her shred rockin’, man-ass-kickin’ band Skanque, give it up for Hon-eee Muffin.”

“My CaliMex ass, Cowboy.” Randi punched Jackson’s shoulder, her eyes bounced between him and her lone modern heroine. “You’re Honey Muffin? And you know this guy?”

“My real name’s Melika.” She reached out, accepted all the hands and compliments she was offered. “Jax and I sat on a beach once, traded shit ticket stories. I decided to take him home for Christmas dinner. We even lived together for a few months.” She returned his one-armed hug. “Platonically.

“I… Damn. When you said you’d find us some more girls, I didn’t —”

“Don’t grovel, Navarro,” Zanie elbowed her. “It doesn’t matter who you’ve brought with you Cowboy, we’ll still suck. We’ll never win and you can’t fix that.”

“Zanie, I promise you we will never win.” His eyes wandered the huddle again. “Never. We win when the check clears, got it? We aren’t here to win charity softball, we’re here to have fun, bank some money for a good cause. Listen,” he caught eyes this trip around. “This is amateur… slow pitch… coed… softball. The people we play are paying real money to play a stupid game with you so they can hang with a team full of celebrities, go back to work Monday morning, and show everybody in the office their pictures and autographs and tell them all how much fun they had. That’s all they’re paying for and y’all bitches are doin’ your best to screw that up trying to make it —”

“Bitches!? Goddammit, don’t you even.” Randi pointed at his two male teammates. “What about you guys? It’s still all our fault? Even though we’re the reason all those people are here?”

“Randi, we’re all bitches. All of us. And it stops now. Nobody has any fun playin’ softball with a bunch of whiny, bummed out, I wish it was different or better some kind of way bitches. Don’t you get it? Winning or losing doesn’t matter. Nobody’ll care because while nine of us are on the field the rest are gonna be workin’ the crowd. So right now, today? I don’t care if any of you can hit a cow’s ass with a fuckin’ banjo. Today I need you to whack each other on the butt, get sweaty and dusty and scream ‘till you’re hoarse. Rock this softball diamond and show the…” he checked the clipboard, “Combine Bank Tellers more G-rated fun than they thought was possible.”


“Well, ladies? Let’s go play softball. Like we can’t get out of our own way and it’s a beautiful thing. And do it so well when we’re done all those people over there will tell everybody how much fun they had because y’all weren’t a bunch of snotty, bummed out, no-playin’ whiny assed… ”


“There it is.” He resisted the urge to smack any butts with the clipboard when his team scattered to welcome the bank tellers, their vocational and familial entourages filling the bleachers.

Zane stayed behind, lifted her chin slightly. “You actually believe you’re going to make this work, don’t you.”

“Yeah… ”

“Somehow, I do too.” That hung between them in the diamond’s dust for a few. “I feel like I just found something I didn’t even know I was looking for… Dressed up like a pathetic, lost, heartbroken little softball team.” She watched while her teammates turned a set of bleachers loaded with anxious, uncertain citizens into happy. “I think we all have.”

NVDT Random – Scene Edits

Since no one is paying attention I’m gonna pull random scenes out and sharpen my editorial scythe for a diegesis rework of The Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery

Not a Full English

Cathedral bells tripped, stumbled, bounced off the walls of the narrow alley. Globular pieces found their way through the open-an-inch-at-the-bottom window, hit the floor and rolled into the back of Meyers’ head where they exploded like steel bubbles. The grimy, threadbare oriental rug felt like part of his cheek. He wanted to spit out the cotton balls and lick his lips, didn’t want to risk finding the rug with his tongue. After what seemed like days, the last cathedral bell bubble shattered, echoed away. He opened his left eye enough to see through his lashes. From an iron bed frame a filthy, once pale blue chenille bedspread draped off a filthier sock-covered foot onto the floor. He listened, the only sounds a light snore from the bed and rats on the windowsill. He reached up, felt the burn in his left shoulder blade, tugged on the sock. The girl wearing it shot upright, peered over the edge of the bed.

 “I expected a rat.” She tilted her head. “You were supposed to be dead, but I guess he messed it up. You messed it all up.”

“Granted. What happened?”

“You walked in, that one on the floor jumped out from behind the door and tried to give you a ginormous shot of something… ” Her gaze shifted beyond him. “You broke his neck when he tried to stick you. The needle must’ve broken when–”

“Can you see it?”

“Yeah,” she tilted her head as far to the left as it would go, stuck her tongue out. “Doing the blue face would be a stretch.”

“The bloody needle, girl, not him.”

“Oh. There is some blood on your jacket where he poked you… ” She slid off the bed and next to him, ran her finger over the small circle of blood.

“Ow! Shit!”

“Shhh. Found it.”

“So you have. Pull it out.”

“I can’t.”

Can’t? Goddammit –”

“No… It’s only sticking out a little. I can’t…”

“Don’t you have fingernails?

“I keep them short, now. I… ”


“What? That’s way too gross. Wait… ” She pulled the shoulder of his jacket down. “Don’t make any noise.” She pushed down with her thumb and forefinger on either side of the broken needle. Meyers held his breath. An extreme burning sensation flashed through his left side, faded.

“Jesus, Mister…” The girl held up a bent two-inch-long hypo needle so thick he could see the fluting on the business end. He rotated his shoulder. Not much residual pain, free range of motion. He came up to all fours, nodded at the body.

“They know he’s dead?”

“Nope.” She sat back on the bed, cross-legged.

“When do they come back?”

“They go home at night to argue or screw or something. They’ll bring breakfast when they get around to it.”

He sat back on his heels, shook his head like a wet dog, rubbed both eyes with his thumbs.

“The window. Nailed in?”

“Nails. Screws. Won’t go up or down.”

He reached out, tried to lift the bed.

“Do you honestly think I wouldn’t have thrown it through the window by now if it wasn’t bolted to the floor? What is it with England? All the fucking furniture is bolted down.”

“Oxford. Students. Lease agents don’t want it stolen.”

“That some thousand-year-old rule? You can’t steal what you can’t use, or don’t want?”

“You’d be surprised. My last secretary stole cheap toilet paper from the office.”

“The really cheap stuff?”


“God. Tight ass. You fire her?”

“She quit.”

“Looking for a raise and better toilet paper, I bet.”

“Didn’t ask.” He pulled her off the bed, raised the thin, stained beyond rusty brown mattress to find welded slats, no springs. “Damn.”

“I told you.”

“Yeah, you did.” He looked around. Nothing else in the room except the nasty rug and the dead man.

“He’s wearing high top Connies. I checked that, too. Nothing useful in his pockets, either.”

The door downstairs opened and closed. Two muffled voices.

“That’s probably breakfast. Now what, hero?”

Meyers weighed the percentages in breaking two more necks, or using the dead man to create an electrical loop from the light switch to the doorknob. Instead he drug the dead man to the window. The flat was a walk down, the street only six feet below.

“Give me a hand.”


“Grab him on the other side there, by his jacket. Up. Backward and forward.” They swung the corpse head-first toward the window, then back. “Got it. On three. One, the glass breaks, two, you get the hell out, three…” They launched the body at the thick, ancient glass. It cracked, didn’t break, the body thumped to the floor. Footsteps pounded up the stairs. “Move,” Meyers shoved the girl against the wall.

The door banged open, Meyers grabbed the first person inside, spun him in a wild series of fancy footwork Fandango pirouettes, threw him at the window that shattered this time. He turned, the girl had her shirt wrapped around a short, fat woman’s head. He yanked the shirt like a top string, spinning the woman to the window where she screamed. He slugged her, she followed her partner into the street. He looked down. Bent galvanized trash bins rolled side to side, their contents scattered. Rats scampered away like wind-blown leaves, dogs barked. The man was another broken neck. The woman tried to stand. One leg wouldn’t work.

“Who hired them?”

“Dunno.” She shrugged into her flannel shirt. “My money’s on the old lady.”

“Doesn’t want you to be a Duchess?”

“With her son his Royal Gayness in their high-dollar six-hundred-year-old rooms-by-the-hour fuck shack? No way.”

“She’s doesn’t know you’re not much for Duchessing over a knocking shop?”

“Must not or we wouldn’t be here.” She tossed him a croissan’wich from the Burger King bag the fat woman dropped. “Where I’m from? Nobody’ll ever believe this shit.”

Meyers opened the sandwich wrapper, knitted his brows. “Where I’m from, no one will believe I threw two people out a window for calling this shit breakfast.”

Mexican Standoff

I stayed limp, let my head fall when the whale let go of my collar, dumped me on a dusty plank floor. I took the drop with a glancing blow to the right corner of my forehead. Still, a stiff price to pay for authenticity. I’d kept my head down during the drag for the same reason and that cost me any idea of who was where inside the bank. It had revealed there was very little light. Or sound. The helicopter’s whine and slow whomp… whomp… whomp of the rotors was missing, replaced by a soft hiss and the rolling of air around the room. I cracked my left eye open, squinted through my eyelid. All I could see were Moreno’s turquoise and white cross-trainers a few feet away and beyond her, a dark wood-paneled half wall topped with pebble glass. I knew by the rounded toe of his boot jammed into my side that Whale was on the other side of me, and my hair let me know the top of my head was very close to something solid.

It was so quiet I could hear fabric crinkle with movement, fingers on a desk or tabletop above me. On the other side of the hard thing next to my head, the slight shuffle of several sets of nervous feet. It was too quiet for the now eight people inside and a helicopter in the backyard.

Flyer, over my head somewhere. “Let’s see what Moreno’s brought us.” The rip of plastic perforation. “You do know it’s illegal to impersonate an employee of a government agency?”

“It hasn’t bothered you.”

Jesus, Moreno. You’ve already pushed the envelope, let it ride.

“I told you she’s not as clever as she thinks,” Flyer, dry. “This drive look right to you?”

A lengthy pause. “Yes. The seal is as it should be.” Very formal, with a slight Asian accent.

“She could have swapped it, easy.” Whale said.

“I do not agree.” Again, the Asian. “However, in the name of safety, you may inquire further of her.”

“Cavity search?” Whale offered. One snort from the other side of the room. If Whale moved toward Moreno, it would be time to go superhero. I inhaled slow and deep, fought a dust driven sneeze.

“That’s the problem with you people,” Flyer said. “Always in the gutter. There is only the slightest possibility that someone like her pulled a rabbit out of her hat—”

“Or a flash drive out of her snatch.” One snort again for Whale’s routine.

“As I was saying,” Flyer, dismissive now, “there’s no need for stupid and clumsy. One of you,” a finger snap, “wand her.”

Footsteps traveled from behind whatever I was up against and a set of shiny black boots stopped in front of Moreno’s cross-trainers. The NTSA paddle slid down the outside of her left leg, disappeared up the inside, came back into view on the inside of her right leg, skipped outside, disappeared upward. Shiny Boots betrayed very little motion while the wand worked her arms and upper body.

“Nothing. Not even bra hooks.”

“You sayin’ that’s a free-range pair she’s got in there?” Whale again.

“No. And someone needs to shut el cerdo gordo’s mouth before I do.”

Easy, Moreno. The last I looked you were unarmed and the fat pig had an Uzi.

“Gimme that wand,” Whale said. “I don’t think you checked her cooter long enough.” Shiny Boots froze for a second, stepped towards Whale.

“You don’t think, lard ass, because you can’t.” Through my cracked eyelid I caught him pointing the paddle at Whale. “How about I shove this up your cooter?”

“I don’t have a cooter, asswipe.”

“Yeah? When was the last time you actually saw your dick? Two, three hundred pounds ago? You were what then, eight? Nine?”

Whale started to step over me.

“Gentlemen?” The Asian, more directive than question.

Shiny Boots went back where they came from, I could feel Whale’s foot poised above me. Between my shoulder blades if it had come up and to the right the way I felt it leave my ribcage. The last thing I needed was him taking his frustration out on me. I rolled under the foot, grabbed it with both hands, my left not being a lot of help, and twisted with everything I had. Whale lost his balance. I rolled back where I’d been, accompanied by the splonk of a dropped cantaloupe, followed by a grunt before Whale landed on top of me. I groaned, not just for effect.

“Stupid and clumsy.” Shiny Boots had returned, lifting from my left, with help from the Whale’s other side until I could feel his bulk next to me instead of on me. I groaned again.

“You.” I was tired of none too gentle boot toes in my side, even shiny ones. “Get up.” Shiny Boots grabbed my left shoulder, I groaned in earnest, made it to all fours, Shiny Boots saying, “Watch your head,” while he palmed the top of my head, pushed me backward. “Or you’ll end up like lard ass next to you there.”

Upright and next to Moreno I made a minor production of ‘coming to.’ I bent forward, rubbed my eyes, and the back of my head while I mumbled “whew” and “what the fuck” and moaned while I studied the room. If anyone had seen me dump the Whale, they didn’t mention it.

Once I had a perspective on the room, I knew why. Anything I’d done hidden from view by everyone but Moreno because my head had been up against the bottom of a huge, old-fashioned, pool table-size oak desk. In the middle of it, a computer monitor the size of a Hilton Executive Suite television. Everyone was on the other side of all that except Moreno and me. And down-for-the-count Whale.

Flyer sat behind the desk, his right index finger on a flash drive. Behind him, two Agent-of-the-Month poster boys in rumpled off the rack suits and shiny black boots. Just to his right stood Captain LaSalle’s disco vampire. A ghostly thin Asian, six foot six or seven easy, his shaved head covered in colorful tattoos like the remaining Jumbo security next to him. The only visible weapon was the Uzi on a sling over the standing Jumbo security’s right shoulder.

“You must be Ng.” I focused on the tall Asian. “What do you feed these clowns?”

Jumbo security raised the Uzi, and there were guns everywhere.

“I’m askin’ ‘cause this one doesn’t look so good.” I pointed at the blood on the corner of the desk, and down to more blood oozing from the fallen Jumbo’s head. “How’d that happen?” I had to wait for an answer while Ng pushed his Jumbo’s Uzi down and the agent twins to put their matching Kel-Tecs back inside their suit coats.

“Thought he was about to stomp you,” the agent who’d pulled me up said. “Pissed off about not getting his snatch check.”

“Then,” his agent twin suppressing laughter, “the fat, one-legged bastard lost his balance, whacked his fuckin’ head on the desk.”

“Serves him right,” Moreno gave me a quick sideways glance, “for being a pig.”

“Yes, it does, and so he was.” Flyer reached in an outside pocket of his suit coat, pulled out the evidence bag with the knife I supposedly used to kill Third Eye Horseapple Nose. “But your turn, for being a royal pain in my ass, is coming.” He must’ve read my mind because he turned to me saying, “When the time comes it will appear you killed her with this,” showing me the knife. “Then you’ll kill yourself.”

“What if that’s unacceptable?”

“We’ll take care of the details for you.”

This bank robbery of yours is getting better by the minute, Moreno.

“So where’d you get the knife? Tavius been one of yours all along?”

“I wouldn’t have him as a gift, Paro. Let me tell you about Tavius,” Flyer lifted the flash drive now, tilted it my way. “You understand disposable. Understand this. This man, this record-setting, blue-chip running back blows out of Louisiana like a hurricane,” anger rising in his voice. “He’s going to be Army’s great black hope. Maybe even a Heisman candidate. His sole mission in life to get us into an actual bowl game. A legitimate one, not the Bears Shit in the Woods bowl or the Microwave Mystery Meat Burrito bowl or some other pity fuck bowl, but a real bowl game. Army. Against, oh, Oklahoma. Or Georgia. Michigan, Ohio State, Miami. Fuck, who cares? Anybody with a program. What’s he do? He gets hurt. The fucking pansy gets hurt, can’t play. We still have to educate his ass and give him a fucking job?” We held eye contact, Flyer pointing the flash drive, some kind of professor, I should understand his thinking. I’d never understand these guys.

“All well and good,” Ng, bored with Tavius’ blown recruiting and Army stuck in the bargain basement of pity fuck bowls history lesson. “May we continue?”

“Right.” Flyer broke with me, turned his attention to the monitor.

“Excellent.” Ng stepped closer to Flyer, bent down, their heads level, both staring at the monitor. Ng flicked his left wrist and produced a flash drive like a magician pops a plastic flower out of his sleeve.

“What’s that?” There was something in Moreno’s voice that worried me.

“This, Ms. Moreno,” Ng said, not taking his eyes off the monitor, “is why I remain unconcerned about your having replaced the original drive. A child with a rudimentary grasp of technology can reproduce even the most sophisticated microscopic etching and electronic seals.” He took Flyer’s drive, poked it in a slot on the side of the monitor, continued to watch the screen. “But this,” holding up his drive again, “will run a check on the data in the device you delivered.” He felt down the edge of the monitor, inserted his drive in a vacant slot. “If for any reason they should disagree, I will cut off pieces of your friend until you tell us what you’ve done with the proper device. If you outlast him, I will start over with you.” He raised his eyes from the monitor to hers. “If you know anything we should know, inform us now. You will be saving us all valuable time and your friend considerable pain.”

Madre de Dios, Moreno. If you ever even thought about it, tell him. Now!

Satisfied with her silence, Ng dropped his eyes back to the screen. “Shall we?” He tapped a slim keyboard on the desk.


We waited, Flyer and Ng engrossed in whatever was happening on the monitor, the Agent Twins and remaining Jumbo feigning indifference. The bank was air-conditioned, air flowing up from vents in the floor. I was sweating.

Ng and Flyer gave each other looks that said Moreno hadn’t screwed with the drive, ill-gotten gain was having an excellent day and I wouldn’t be any losing parts. Yet. Ng tapped the keyboard again, pulled his drive, stepped back, pleased with himself. “Congratulations Ms. Moreno. Your delivery passed the test. Flyer, you may execute the transfers.” Flyer reached out, tapped the keyboard.

I don’t know what happened on the monitor, but Ng’s eyes went ping pong balls. He pulled a long-nosed .22 target pistol out of the tight pea-green suit. With his composure disintegrating he pointed the pistol at Flyer’s head, screamed in falsetto, “You fucking idiot!”

All the guns came out again. Jumbo’s on Flyer with Ng’s, the Agent Twins, one on Jumbo, one on Ng. No one in the bank gave us a thought except Whale, who moaned, tried to sit up. I reached down, grabbed his Uzi, tossed Moreno my Walther no one had bothered to search me for. I pushed moaning Jumbo back down with my foot on his throat, my Uzi on the other Jumbo. From where I stood, Moreno’s aim centered on Flyer.

“Mexican standoff,” I shrugged my sore shoulder, Moreno saying to Ng, “Tell us about it.”

“The drive, this idiot…” Ng was shaking, his high, girlish scream only slightly modified. “It didn’t open the accounts. It’s, it’s fucking eating itself!”

Moreno stepped to the desk, leaned in, her gun still on Flyer, turned the monitor halfway around. She watched lines of code stream for a few seconds. “So it is,” and turned the monitor back.

NO!” Ng, almost in tears. “Goddam you!” The pistol came back level with Flyer’s head, wavered toward Moreno, not knowing who to blame.

“Put the gun away, Ng.”

“What?” He looked at me, lost, his entire universe collapsing on the monitor.

“Put the gun away,” I repeated. “There’re people in here I’d rather shoot than you, but you’re the flash point. Get your shit together, put the gun away, we all get to breathe a little longer.”

“What?” Again, like I was a bad dream.

“I shoot you,” I nodded at the agents. “They shoot Jumbo. I think she’ll shoot Flyer. We take our chances with the agents.”

“Oh…” Ng, bewildered, lowered his pistol. Flyer reached for it.

“Nuh-uh, cabrón. Leave it.” In that moment, by tone of voice alone, I thought Moreno might have shot Flyer in the forehead just to see the look on his face.

An explosion outside rocked the bank. Another, smaller explosion blew open the back door allowing white, sulfurous smoke to pour in. A shotgun blast through the smokescreen knocked the last Jumbo off his feet. When the smoke cleared Rip Taylor stood in the hole that had been the incongruous steel back door, shotgun in hand. “Ng? Sorry, lyin’ cocksucker. You owe me six million dollars, an airplane and a woman.”


Sidekick Poster Boy

From the air, Kerrigan had appeared more organized. A simple four by four grid of streets with a few dead-end driveways that streamed off the main outer boundaries to half a dozen houses, mobile homes, and outbuildings, the same way children draw sunrays. On the ground it was looser, the grid a collection of modest houses with a hundred-year age range parked randomly on large, marginally improved lots, their driveway entrances guarded by bulging black trash bags. Their landscaping composed of small gardens and almost lawns close to the main house, the lots strewn with rusted out grills missing legs, dead appliances, overturned ice chests usually dumped close to trailered, motorless boats that hadn’t seen water in at least a decade. Disintegrating cardboard boxes full of glass and cans and tattered linens, farm implements, headless lawnmowers, and dead vehicles slowing being overgrown. A chicken coop here and there, outbuildings in various shades of disrepair and quite a few large, cheerful, inquisitive dogs that stopped to sniff me, get their ears scratched and trot away while I made my way around the town’s perimeter from the far south end to beyond the Kerrigan State Bank on the northernmost edge.

I’d asked Rip after my first flyover recon why the bank sat so conveniently at the front of a large, empty lot and his answer was the man who originally built the bank a hundred years ago had cleared the land behind it and put in a competition level croquet court with extra room for observers and Roaring Twenties tailgating. The croquet court was now a well-kept grassy backyard, the only eyesore a rusting old pickup next to the bank. I’d already reached the conclusion that rusty old pickups were a yard art trend in Kerrigan.

I approached from the rear where a thick windbreak line of trees marked the bank’s rear property line and experienced firsthand how the tree line had expanded over the years. A hundred feet behind the tree line, a flat, dusty field grew into knee-high weeds and saplings that ramped up to taller trees covered in rope-like vines. Smaller trees fought for their own space and sunlight in the gaps. Close to the main old-growth tree line it got so dense I wanted a machete, but made do stomping a path close to the front of the tree line where I could crouch, unobserved, and watch the rear of the bank.

Everything about the rear of the bank was a visual of extremes. Set in the middle of the bank’s peeling clapboard siding was an incongruously severe steel door. On the right side of the lot, the unmarked CIA Lakota helicopter’s turbine whined at idle, rotor brake unlocked. On the other side of the lot, well away from the Lakota’s slowly turning rotor, was the biggest black Cadillac Escalade SUV ever made. Parked, like the Lakota, at a forty-five-degree angle to the bank’s rear corner. Two jumbo characters in black chauffeur outfits, necks, hands and glistening shaved heads covered in colorful designs stood in front of the Escalade. With their hands clasped in front around Uzis, a wired earbud in one ear, they could have been stained glass Secret Service save for the lunacy of their choice in firearms. I thought of the tattooed freak show May mentioned, smiled to myself, checked my Walther. Again.

For the second time in as many minutes, a dirty white dually Ram crawled by the front of the bank. Both times the colorful Jumbos talked to their lapels. After the second pass, the one closest to the street moved away, disappeared in front of the bank. The Ram rolled in again from the right side, took too long to cover the distance blocked by the bank. More than enough time passed for Security to have checked out the driver and had a “beat it” chat with whoever was driving. The Ram emerged slowly, rolled to the corner, turned left. A minute later it was in the field behind me, headed my way in no hurry. The Ram stopped at the edge of the brush, Usman climbed out, walked my way unscrewing a suppressor from a chrome forty-five, a loop of thin black wire dangling from his pocket. He dropped the suppressor in his other pocket, followed my crushed sapling path. He raised his chin slightly in greeting. I reciprocated.

“I got tinking,” he said. “Da Pilot’s some asshole, sure. But he trows my kinda party.” He palmed my shoulder, grinned, pulled the missing Jumbo security man’s radio and earpiece out of his pocket, handed it to me.

I took it. He answered my question before I could ask.

“Da suit wit da snake on his head? In da middle da street, hand up. I stop. He show me da Uzi, tell me get da fuck out, pick some different streets. I say I’m lost, yah, you get da fuck out da road, an fuck you. He open da door, ‘be glad ta fuck you up, weasel.’ I put da forty-five on his head. He start cussin’ dat pizzachit Uzi, I say Pop goes dis weasel, yah? Pop.”

“And here you are.”

“Yah. Here I am.” He raised the forty-five toward the bank. “An dare he is, under dat  bridge in da front.”

From the radio chatter, the dead man had been Cantrell. His outdoor partner asked if Cantrell had come inside since he’d been whining about the suit and the heat. Whoever was inside said, “No. The Boss told you both stay where you’re at. Whattaya worried about a goddam farmer for, anyway?” Back yard Jumbo got more blistering commentary when he asked to go look for his partner. He paced for a minute, ignored his orders, and walked around front.

I told Usman to arm up. ARs, the RPG, the missile launcher. Anybody but me or Moreno came out the back door? Take out the Escalade, level the fucking bank. I took off in a bent-over run for the helicopter. If Jumbo came around the corner of the bank before I made it, Usman was to use his discretion to eliminate him. I worried about that for a few seconds. Not that Usman wouldn’t cover me, but would he blow up half the town in the process.

I made it to the far side of the helicopter, stuck the Walther in the bored pilot’s side. “Stay cool soldier, stay off com.” I leaned in, checked the bay. Empty. “What’s your cargo, Captain?”

The helmet came off, the pilot shook out a dark ponytail. “Flyer. Plus two. Gaw-awd damn, it is you. With more hair. Sir. Major Riordan, sir.”

“Major’s been a while. They all inside, Captain,” I checked her sewn in ID, “LaSalle?”

“Yes, sir.”

“The Escalade?”

“One tall, tatted up disco refugee in a pea-green suit, plus two like the bookends over there. Even Steven.”

“Inside. They left you out here alone.” She clouded up, glanced down at the pistol strapped on her vest. “Ain’t skeered, Captain?”

“Yes, sir. I mean no, sir. I mean—”

“Go fuck yourself, sir? Good to know you have it under control, LaSalle, but your weapon needs to be where you can use it, not Velcroed to your vest.” I reached out left-handed, unhooked the SIG, set it in her lap. “One more time, I’m not a sir.”

“Yes, sir, you are. Flyer gave me your picture, told me to shoot you on sight so I looked you up. Major Riordan, the A-10 Maniac. They say you flew so low they picked Taliban pieces out of your fans.”

“That’s folklore. Why haven’t you shot me?”

“No way I shoot a pilot.” She glanced at the pistol in her lap and offered the faintest of smiles. “Commander Eisen said you knocked the side of a mountain down then wasted a convoy of leftover Russian trash to rescue a sharpshooter team.”

“Eisen was an old liar when I knew him. It was two sharpshooter teams and an eight-man squad. Only they rescued me. That’s the run got me fired.”  I noticed the remaining Jumbo security on his way back to the Cadillac, stepped into the chopper to keep my feet from being visible. “Can you do me a favor, Captain, and stay off com other than the mandatory yes sir no sir go fuck yourself sir?”

“Yes, sir. There’s no one on com but Flyer and his two suits. We’re off the grid, sir. So to speak. Flyer had another asset,” she paused, “but they went offline.”

“The Apache’s down.” I clocked her eyes. “Friends of yours?”

“Yes, sir.” Her eyes got bigger. “They’re not—”

“The Apache’s gone. The crew’s okay. Probably takin’ a long walk arguing about where’s the nearest farmhouse. Something those two should have been paying attention to before they blew up my plane. Deal on no com?” I lifted her helmet off the floor, handed it off. She held it in her lap on top of the pistol, momentarily lost in thought.

“Yes, sir.”

“When Jumbo over there turns his back, I’m headed around front to wait for the mail lady. Anyone besides your cargo, the mail lady or me pops out that back door, jack this thing up and get the hell gone. Deal again?”

“Yes sir. But sir—”

“Cargo, the mail lady or me. Otherwise, haul ass.”

“Yes sir. Sir, could that be considered a sexist remark?”

“Soldier, in uniform, from the back with a big stick in our hands? We’re all brothers.”

“Yes, sir. Go fuck yourself. Sir.”

I let her have that one because right then Jumbo turned his back, walked around the front of the Escalade facing away. I took off, ran to the side of the bank, hugged the wall until I was in front, next to the door. At least four armed, primed, and adversarial inside. Ng and Flyer were wild cards. I didn’t like it at all. I stuck the dead Jumbo’s earpiece in my ear.

“You’re shittin’ me. How the—”

“I dunno.” They were both working their secret agent whispers. “Just layin’ there, dog. Dead as a mother—”

“You didn’t hear nothin’?”


“Shit, man… Dead how?”

“What I’m sayin’, dog. How the fuck do I know? He’s layin’ out front, half his head’s gone. You want me to text you a picture?”

“I have to tell the boss.”

“He’ll go ballistic, wanna start a fuckin’ war now. Wait till this plays. Maybe the spooks will slack his dance for us.”

“You’re thinking these smug government assholes will let us walk if Ng goes down, think again.”

“I’m not thinkin’, dog. I’m out here with the keys to an armored Escalade. It gets fucked up in there, fuck all of you, know what I… Mail truck, dog. This is it.”


Cavanaugh Moreno was playing herself in a USPS uniform and carrying a priority overnight Tyvek mailer. She walked straight to the door, didn’t look at me.

“I expected a disguise.”

“I am what I am,” she hissed. “This is my play.”

“Flyer the CIA man is in there. He knows you.”

“I know the situation.”

“Okay. I’m right behind you.”

“No, you’re not. You’ll fuck everything up if you go in now. You’re my ticket out, if I need one, not in.” She reached for the door handle, made eye contact with me. “Paro, for once just do what I tell you. No Rambo, no Superman. Don’t make targets out of either of us.”

“I thought we were robbing this bank. Together.”

We are. My way.” She grabbed the door handle, raised her voice. “United States Mail. Priority. Signature required.”

I sidled away from the door. Cool air escaped when she opened it. She stepped inside, closed it behind her. I had the Walther in a sweaty double grip, noticed my knuckles were white. I’d give her two minutes alone in there, then–

“Howdy, amigo.” I looked up, Rip Taylor was thirty feet away walking toward the bank, a 50 caliber Desert Eagle hanging in his right hand. He’d spoken to Backyard Jumbo, not me.

“Yo, old dog,” from Backyard Jumbo. “What’s your business?”

“You.” Rip’s gun flashed up in a quick arc up before it boomed. “Go on in, Paro. I have this.”

“I have a man,” shit, I lowered my voice, “out back.”

“We’ve met. I added myself to the list of who comes out before he levels it. I give you and the girl five minutes before I bring my issues to this table.”

“How will I know–”

“Trust me.”

Right. I tossed the first dead Jumbo’s radio next to him in the drainage ditch, stepped in front of the door, knocked, dropped to a crouch an instant before the door opened. A burst of automatic fire went off over my head, chest-high had I still been standing. I lunged into the Jumbo filling the door. He swung the Uzi at my head, caught my shoulder, my left arm went numb. I stayed down like I’d taken the headshot, slid the Walther into a pocket under cover of being dragged into the bank by my collar. I should have shot the whale but the only place Uzi’s are worth a damn is close confines, like a phone booth or this ancient bank, and I had no clue how many or where the others were. And Moreno was in there, somewhere, spinning ‘I’m Cavanaugh Moreno and it goes like this’. There’s an old saying about no matter how fucking crazy what you’re thinking about doing really is, you can always find someone to go along with you. That was me, sidekick poster boy.



Pet Potato

The Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery continues –

“No white smoke,” I mused aloud, more for myself than Tavius.

“Smoke?” Tavius grunted, his eyes narrowed. “I asked did you have a helicopter plan, not–”

I dropped to my knees, pulled Tavius with me, pushed him over on his back. He growled something unintelligible, growled louder when I lifted his shoulder, drug his arm underneath. I tossed the weapons away down past our feet like we’d dropped them, stretched out, kept a leg bent at an angle that killed my knee. The helicopter was a mile or more off, traveling in a straight line east, sounded like they were following the road, low and slow. Recon and Target Acquisition mode.

“This is your plan, Paro? We get uncomfortable and wait for them to come kill us?”

“The plan is we’re dead. The more uncomfortable you look, the deader you look. And the ground is hotter than we are. A domestic crew running a company checklist that can’t make us with thermal imaging or movement will call us dead if we look dead. They might try to get us to jump. Part of the process. If they put anything down, I don’t care how close, don’t fucking move.”  I stared at the sky, remembered when I’d played dead in the blistering sand. Turned out what I thought would be the last sounds I’d ever hear was the ground squad and two snipers I’d cut loose from the Taliban.

Saw you eject, Hot Dog. Kinda low. Laughter. They try to send you a bill for the Hog, you tell ‘em send it to us.

The helicopter passed us, west to east, still a mile north, running the route of County Road N had it not hooked a hard right turn. They turned, headed our way running County Road O, the way Tavius and the pair of biker mercenaries had come. The chopper flew directly overhead, no more than fifteen feet off the ground. The twin-jet roar punished us, the rotor wash flattened the sorghum. The sorghum bounced back up when the chopper moved, hovered over the road roller, or maybe the blast site. I heard the tail rotor spin away and knew they faced us. We had their full attention, checking our thermal imprints, looking for movement. After a forever minute they gained altitude, drifted back north. The unmistakable hammer on an anvil sound of their 30mm cannon spitting out a dozen rounds rattled through the empty countryside, followed by half the rounds hitting nothing but dirt, then the Whoomppfff  that told me either Rip’s pickup or my Cub were no more. It was all I could do to stay down.

They washed over us again with more altitude, hammered out another dozen rounds within yards of us, waited for us to rise from the dead and run. We disappointed them. They continued to hover until, after enough delay to get further instruction, they flew off east, then north. Not so far that they were no longer part of the near-zero audio landscape, far enough that we were out of range.

“Smoke?” Tavius groaned.

“Yeah.” I’d had the epiphany. “Listen. The van went up. No white smoke. No white smoke, no dynamite. The dynamite yesterday wasn’t Usman. It wasn’t anyone inside.”

“Send him a card. Why’d the helicopter leave us alone?”

“Because we’re dead.” I stood up. “And not left completely alone. That was my plane just went up.”

“Your partners?”

“Too close to a gas well or they passed noncombatant scrutiny.”

“What they need an Apache for?”

They? That’s what I’ve been tryin’ to tell you. ‘They’ is you.”

“Now you’re fuckin’ with me just to be an asshole. My job, day one till now, is make sure you keep cooperating with Moreno. Hack your phones and your radio, follow you around, keep you both alive long enough to do whatever she’s supposed to do. I’m more’n half glad that goddam plane’s gone so I don’t have to listen to my handler bitch and call fool on me when you take off somewhere unannounced or she disappears. Nothing in my resource book about attack helicopters.”

“Your handler tell you about layin’ in a sorghum patch with a hole in your leg? How they set you up with a line of shit about the chiropractor and some rentabikers?”

Fuck no. Why would inside–”

“Lie to you, get you shot? Send an Apache to make sure you were gone or finish you,  blow up my plane and send pictures of all that shit home? Somebody up the food chain says lie to you, they lie to you.”

“You sayin’ the chiro’s not comin’?”

“Never was. You think that little shit and some armed bar rats rate an unmarked Apache?”

“Then who the—”

“Us, maybe.” I reached out, grabbed the M32 grenade launcher I’d tossed away. “More likely Ng’s posse.”

“Nobody but you’s said anything to me about Ng bein’ in this anywhere.” He eyed the grenade launcher. “What you plan on doin’ with that?”

“I plan to get even.” The Apache was on its way back, hammering out cannon rounds well over a mile away. I checked the M32, brushed it off.

Tavius rolled on his side. “You forget I been shot?”

The Apache swung down in a steep swing a quarter-mile away, faced away from us toward a slight rise in the road, hovered ten feet off the ground.

“They’re set up down there to close out whoever’s stupid enough to keep coming after the somos más badass deterrent strafe rounds we heard ‘em throw down a minute ago. They do their job,” I cradled the M32, “I’ll do mine.”

“Paro? You start talkin’ Spanish I get worried. What you mean ‘get even’?” I’d lowered to half squat, half standing, waded off through the Sorghum patch toward the helicopter. “What’d I ever do to you? Paro! Motherfucker, don’t you leave me here!”


Everybody’s a badass ‘till an Apache comes to town. I had a front-row seat to the Apache’s cannon making dog food out of a handful of pirates on motorcycles and a Ford custom van. Bodies and body parts flew from exploding motorcycles. The van collapsed in a ball of flames with the front end blown out from under it. Another round lit up the gas tank. The cannon hammering stopped, the Apache hovered, waited for any wounded to move, hammered out a few more rounds to be sure their mission kill score was a hundred percent. I knew the drill. The Apache would continue to hover, scanning the bodies for wounded to finish while one of the crew uploaded video, called in a cleanup crew, joked with com about how they’d smoked the ‘insurgents’. I fired two 40mm grenade rounds on top of each other into the tail rotor, didn’t wait to watch the gyro effect or the hard landing, but the power cut was obvious. Cocky assholes were about to find out Texas in the summer was a decent proving ground for wherever their next assignment landed them after losing an Apache to a supposed-to-be-dead man on a dirt road in the middle of domestic nowhere.

I jogged back, climbed up on the road roller, fired it up, shoved levers until it moved, crushed Tavius’s car. I shoved more levers, it reversed, pushed the concrete barriers aside the way a cowboy opens a saloon’s batwing doors. I dropped the key when I pulled it out trying to stop the thing. Never did manage to kill it. I grabbed the stainless Walther and clips on the way down, the roller ambled off through a field of high plains nothing at a quarter mile an hour.

Tavius had used the AR for a crutch to make it to the road. I pointed to the passenger seat of the Harley I’d started. He shook his head, loosened the tourniquet.

“I can ride.” He started the other Harley and made it to the pickup waiting in the road by my smoldering airplane.

“Somebody with a phone,” Dawson boomed, cop-like, while he helped me move Tavius to the back seat before Dawson took over the saddle. “Nearest hospital?”

“Shattuck. In Oklahoma,” Moreno said, phone in hand. “It’s–”

“Spent the night there one month,” Tavius shouted over the idling Harley, wrapped one arm around Dawson, pointed with the other. “Go.” The Harley roared off in the direction we’d come.


I sat in the open door of the pickup and chugged my second bottle of water. “Looks like the mail’s gonna be runnin’ late in Kerrigan today.”

Por qué? Are we not finished here?” Moreno, in my face, one hand on the door, one on the pillar. “You need last rites for your toy airplane?” She crossed herself. “Perhaps I should call a priest?”

“I need to think. Too many players, too much bullshit. The dynamite–”

“Think all you want, Paro, but not too much. Hora de ir a trabajar.” She let go of the truck, dropped her sunglasses on her nose, threw her left leg over the Harley I’d ridden, hit the starter and kicked dust all over Usman and me.

Usman rubbed his chin, consternation twisted his face. “What she say wit her barky bark words?”

“It’s time to go to work. Barky bark?” I fished another water out of the chest on the floor of the Ram.

“Yah. She talk dat shit, sound like dinky yap-yap dog I tink. Barky bark.” He tapped his fingers to his thumbs in a double hand puppet move to reinforce the yapping. “So what’s da what, Pilot? You shoot me now, leave me here?”

“You’re off the hook for the dynamite. Can’t kill you just because you’re not lovable.” I raised the truck bed cover, flipped cases open until I found the RPG. “We should have some fun before you drop me in Kerrigan.” I hefted the launcher. “You ever let one of these go?”

He shook his head no.

“It’s addictive.”

I drove us in closer to the grounded Apache, used a range finder scope to study the helicopter. Usman stood on the truck’s bed cover, wrestled with the launcher. I helped him get it stable on top of the cab before I unscrewed the detonator cover.

“Where dey now, Pilot?”

“Shufflin’ in the dust, workin’ on their story. Need ‘em to move away before you let that fly.”

Usman planted the RPG’s kick-up sight against his right eye. “Dey hear dis ting comin’, dey clear da fuck out.”


I’d told Usman he was free to do as he pleased after he dropped me in Kerrigan. He could abandon Rip’s truck somewhere after he knocked off a convenience store for some traveling cash or sell it to a chop shop or give it to some kid in the parking lot of an Arizona McDonalds. He looked sad when I hopped out on the edge of Kerrigan.

I took a few steps off the road, stopped, squatted on manicured grass in the shade of a giant pecan tree. I could smell fabric softener coming from the clothes hanging on a line a hundred feet to my left.

What a cluster. A relaxed morning, meet Woody and the biker mercenaries, let them blow themselves up with the van trap, pick off the stragglers. Forget that. With the entire crew now pissed off or dead, wounded or running off in different directions, no intel but what I could cobble together and no mission game plan in effect? I felt like the lone gunslinger in an old western movie where nothing moves but sweat. A lonely tumbleweed dances down an empty Main Street, bounces off a raised sidewalk, skips past shuttered storefronts, not a soul in sight.

I had an hour to wait for Moreno to deliver the mail at one o’clock. I don’t know what it is about tense situations that make you check your gun and your watch every two minutes, but it’s probably the same thing that made Michael Jackson grab his crotch a dozen times in a three-minute song. A need to make sure it’s still there, loaded, oiled, and ready when you need it. What I needed was some insight, some intel, some—

“Hey, Mister. You one a the helicopter people or a alien?”

Madre de Dios… I was so jumpy I almost shot her. Thirteen, fourteen, at most. Skinny legs in cutoffs almost to her knees. Worn, once-white Converses the size of snowshoes. A new, too big Metallica t-shirt with tour dates from the Seventies. No hat, dark bowl-cut hair. Darker eyes.

“Helicopter people?”

“The one parked over by the old bank. You hadn’t seen it?”

“I just got here.”

“Then you’re a alien.” Her eyes sparkled, lips tilted in an off-balance grin.

“I got here in a pickup.”

“Don’t matter.” The grin again. “What’s your name, Mister?”

“Paro. Comparo. You’re—”

“May. I shoulda been another April but Mom said April the Second was one April too many. We had a June already and since I was almost May she just rounded me up.” She held up three fingers. “April, May, an June.” The three fingers turned into an outstretched hand. We shook. “You some kind of Mexican, Mister Comparo?”

“Some kind.”

“Me, too.” She grinned straight up, showed some teeth. “Some kind. I ask, nobody can tell me exactly how much or when.”

“You worried about it?”

“No way.” She rubbed a copper arm. “I tan up good, turn Snow White in winter. Just curious is all.”

“Curious is good. Why’d you say I was an alien?”

“Ol’ Mathison, he ‘bout drove his truck through Miss Eggert’s house. Jumped out yellin’ ‘the world’s gettin’ blowed up east a town’.” She pulled a tin of Altoids from a pocket, offered. I held out my hand. She put one in the middle of my palm and pasted on that crooked grin again. “But Mathison finds any excuse he can to hit up Miss Eggert about aliens. Mom says it’s a wonder he gets anything done on his farm. June, my biggest big sister, she says he don’t have to work ‘cause he’s not farmin’ nothin’ but subsidies. I never ate one.” Her face devoid of emotion. “Have you?”

“Only when they’re in season.” I had to laugh. She joined me. “You seen anybody else around that doesn’t belong?”

“Like the NATO troops an the Chinese comin’ to take over? That’s who Flowers says made all that racket Mathison was goin’ on about. But Flowers, Mom says all that hair she hadn’t cut since 1970 an the stuff she used back then to bleach her brain, well… Flowers, she like had a pet potato for a couple years, went over to McDonalds in Shamrock one time to protest French Fries…” she gave me an are-you-getting-this look. “So she’s kinda, well, unreliable sometimes. But NATO, or Chinese, or it could be rainin’ sharks like on TV and Ol’ Mathison’d turn ‘em into aliens and drive up here ‘cause that’s Miss Eggert’s passion, aliens.”

“Whatta you think?”

“I think Flowers has forgotten all about NATO and the Chinese an is in her backyard dancin’ to invisible music, an Mathison is all about gettin’ himself some a Miss Eggert’s passion any way he can,” she snickered. “I don’t think you’re more helicopter people or the tattoo freak show that come in the big Cadillac looks like it’s from the mortuary. Or an alien, and you’re sure not a Chinese. Know what I really think?”

I cocked an eyebrow.

“You’re the reason the Sheriff told everybody to keep their heads down, go fishin’ or somethin’ but whatever, stay the heck away from the old bank today.”








Dawson stepped down from the driver’s side of the van, Muller walked around to meet him laughing, ricocheting off the van. Muller joined in the overdone laughter, both of them finger-pointing about who cut the fart. They threw in a few distracting theatrical fore-and-aft bends with a lot of hand movement. I wasn’t buying.

“Hands where I can see ‘em, the fart act is spare. Muller, you can pull the party store contacts when the dust settles.” He frowned, went slope-shouldered hangdog.

Dawson beamed me a game show host smile. “Hey, pilot, you wake up alone or what?”

“Let’s cut the shit. Whoever you are, who the fuck you belong to?”

I waited what I felt appropriate for a ‘busted, gather thy bullshit’ stall, brought the pistol to bear sighted on Dawson’s forehead. He froze.

“That bitch is cocked.”

“Said one two-dollar whore about another. I asked a question.”

Muller, who had yet to say a word, shot Dawson a look. “We’re done.” Muller went on in a nasal monotone. “He’s Secret Service. I’m Treasury.”

“Good thing I didn’t shoot you both when you got out of the van.”

“Now that,” Dawson said, “would be a shit pile of paperwork for somebody. Care to know why?”

“Fuck that, Dawson,” Muller moaned. “He doesn’t care. He’s gonna kill us like he killed Wheeler, and then he’ll do the Polak and the woman when they get here and fly off into the sunset with Ng’s money.” The man sounded like Eeyore of the Treasury.

“I didn’t kill Wheeler. ‘The woman’ is who got me into this circus.” I raised my chin an inch in their direction. “Storytime.”

“I’ll go first.” It was Dawson’s turn to check Muller. “Don’t sweat it, Muller. His jacket said he only kills immediate threats or assholes that piss him off. I don’t think your fart routine pushed us over the edge.” Dawson turned back to me saying,

“For years somebody’s been flying money out of the country for Ng’s cartel. His loss rate is less than 1%. The average is forty, forty-five percent because we tag most of them at least once a year. A high percentage of that loss is down to inexperienced, disposable pilots.”

“Pictures of your crew on the news pulling cellophane-wrapped cash out of Laguna Madre a couple times a year with an upside-down plane in the background is job security?”

“Yeah,” Dawson rolled his neck, pulled on the t-shirt stuck to his chest. “But Ng, he’s got an honest to God pilot, if not an airforce, that’s invisible.”

“I see a lot of agencies in that, none Secret Service.”

“National security. Border politics have a room temperature flashpoint. Depending on the day, either side of the aisle can use the borders to bank political capital. Borders are nothing but lines on a map to Ng.” He was sweating like a dirt farmer. “It’s not front-page news, but it’s in too many agency and committee reports. Where I’m from Ng is an untouchable border running terrorist who’s beyond the daily finger-pointing. Everyone in Washington has the same intel, but no one can leverage it without setting their own pants on fire. And uncontrollable shit like Ng mocking the border, maybe leaking, maybe making headlines, makes everyone who wants to get re-elected nervous.” He knocked a drop of sweat from the tip of his nose with a knuckle, careful and obvious with his hands, looked me in the eye. “I know you understand me when I say I’ve got way bigger guns pointed at me than yours.”

I understood. In fact, that was the first hint of anything that sounded like bankable truth I’d heard.

“So, Pilot,” Dawson flashed the game how host smile again, “since we’re all hanging out here in the wind without a net in deniability fuckedville together, you wouldn’t want to lower your weapon, would you?”

“No. But I feel your pain. Muller?”

“More of the same,” he droned. “When we knew for sure Ng’s accountant was a dead man walking, we needed to be inside, see what he planned to do with the code and try to get our hands on it. I drew the short straw.” He sighed, slow and deep. “Then the Mexican split tail… We never saw her coming. She fucked everything up.”

Dawson snorted. “You should have left the chiropractor out of it.”

“That wasn’t me,” Muller flashed, suddenly alive. “Blame that on Wheeler or the fuckin’ Polak.” Muller caught his breath, held up his hand. “I can’t take another second of these goddamn things.” He bent, plucked out his contacts, flicked them off his fingers, stayed down a fraction too long, came up pulling the slide on a pocket-size automatic. I put a round through the center of his neck, right below his Adam’s apple. He gawked, shimmied from bottom to top, dropped like a bag of cement.

Everything went back to hot and still for a long minute.

“Now that,” Dawson wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, “was a hell of a shot. And you,” he pursed his lips, pushed the lump of Muller with his foot. “That was fucking stupid.”


Dawson helped me load Muller in the back of the van, pulled a couple of cold bottles of water from a styrofoam cooler before we shut the lift gate. We went back, sat on the barrier. Dawson took a deep pull on his water, wiped his lips.

“I never thought he was Treasury, or anything legit. The money the Mexican chick keeps waving under our noses is counterfeit.”

“That it is.”

“Good for you. Muller didn’t know.”

“You’d think a Treasury agent would’ve noticed. But it’s good counterfeit.”

“That it is,” he echoed, tapped my water bottle with his.

I chugged the entire contents of my water. “FYI, the ‘Mexican chick’ is from Orange County.”

“Orange County? Had me fooled.”

“I think that’s her job.”

“Jesus.” He chuckled, way back in his throat, drained his water. “Who’s she working for?”

“You ever see that Hitchcock movie, North by Northwest?”

“You’re saying you don’t know?”

“I am.”

“If it matters, she lights up a little when you’re in the picture. A tell like that around anyone more observant than this crew could get her killed.”

“For a year I thought it had.” I pointed my empty bottle at the van. “Is there more water in there?”

“Yeah,” Dawson slid off the barricade, turned, squinted at the sun. “We should get it now before Muller starts to cook.”


Dawson’s holstered weapon was on the van’s console. I picked it up, he grabbed the cooler, walked back and set it on the barrier. I handed him the holstered Smith and Wesson .40. A real cop gun. He looked sheepish.

“Got careless role-playing this one. Straight I work in a shoulder rig, but it’s too fucking hot to wear a jacket and none of the others were crazy to carry.”

“Shoulder holsters scream cop. So does this point forty. It can’t be issue, you’re supposed to be a con.”

“Usman’s got a small flight case full of supposedly clean handguns.”

“Moreno said you took target practice this morning. He any good?”

“Usman? Fuck no. All the finesse of a hand grenade.” He laughed, belted his holster on his left side, butt forward in a cross draw position. “But what he shoots, that’s all he needs. He hit a scrawny tree trunk at close to a hundred yards with that grenade launcher.”


“Camp Lejeune. Quantico. Qualifying, nothing special. Not,” he nodded toward the van, “like your ‘lights out’ drop.”

“Plenty of downtime at Bagram. I spent it burning rounds with soldiers who knew how. Like you said, nothing special.”

“No bars or medals, maybe. But that was sharpshooter work.”

“Was it?” The dust trailing behind a white dually pickup signaled the not too distant arrival of Usman and Moreno. “What’s your story when they ask about Muller?”

“The truth, Pilot.” He checked his pistol for a chambered round, slid it back into his holster. “He got stupid, he got dead.”


“He’s dead?” Moreno raised one eyebrow, turned, pointed at the van. “In there?”

“Baking,” Dawson said. “We pulled the cooler before he got too ripe.”

Moreno’s eyebrow came down. “With the money? Paro, tell me you—”

“Nope, still in there. I have a plan for Woody’s crew. Dawson, put the key in the ignition.” I grabbed Usman by the back of his neck. “You, set the alarm.”

“I give you da code one time. You set it.”

“Fine. Climb in the back with Muller and I’ll give it a go.” I loosened my grip, he shrugged away.

“I should do it, I tink. Your fucking psycho memory maybe not so good.”

“You tink?” I raised the bedcover on the white pickup, started opening flight cases until I found the automatic rifles, grabbed one, pulled a grenade launcher out of its case and shouldered it. Moreno, the only one of us not sweating, her white capris and pale lavender sleeveless top still crisp, put her hand on my arm.


“I’ll go sit in that field of red sorghum and wait. You take this truck back a half-mile down the road behind my Cub. Get off the road if you can. Look like you belong. Behind a gas well or something.

“With… them?”

“They haven’t bothered you up to now.”

Ahora es diferente.

“Not so different. Unless one of them has figured out who you really are.”

“Not a chance. But I would prefer to be armed.”

I flipped open the boxy case of handguns, pulled it to the edge of the bed.


Si.” She stepped up on the tire, leaned over, picked up a few, dropped them back, finally settled on a small Ruger 9mm. She checked the clip, popped it back in, slipped it in the waistband of her shorts, behind her back.

“Dawson’s Secret Service,” I offered. “Probably shoots like a cop.”

“I have seen. Clusters of three.” She smiled. “When the requirement is one, well-chosen.”

She walked to the driver’s side door, opened it, said, “I’m still driving.” She got no argument, climbed up, drove them around the van, and back down the road.


I had just gotten situated in the sorghum patch when Tavius’s maroon Lincoln, missing glass and full of bullet holes, skidded sideways and banged to a crunchy stop against the road roller. He stumbled out, one leg bloody, fell back against his car. I heard motorcycles stop down to idle not far away.

Madre de Dios

I cradled the AR in my right arm. With my left I half carried, half dragged Tavius back into the sorghum. I dropped him, ripped his left pants leg open. He had a through and through on the outside of his thigh. No veins, no bone.


“I’m shot, motherfucker.” He tilted his head back, clenched his teeth when I cinched a strip of his jeans around his upper thigh. “How lucky is that?”

I ripped his t-shirt down the front, rolled a thin strip, and plugged the hole.

“Not bleed to death lucky. I heard bikes. What happened?”

“The old fucker…”


“That one. First blockade in Oklahoma. He shows around midnight in a flatbed with lift arm, a crew and some Jersey Barriers like what you got here. Told me no car sideways in the road, even a cop car would be any deterrent to what was coming. He had them drop barriers across 15, told me to beat it if I wanted to keep breathin’.”

“Wondered where he was off to last night. Looks like you didn’t beat it hard enough.”

“Funny. I drove down 283 to what passes for civilization out here, pulled into a Chevrolet dealer’s lot. Caught three hours of z’s before I turned up here.”

Stop moanin’ and keep talkin’.”

“I’d cleared the Braums dairy and two bikes fly out from either side the road.” He glared down at me while I used a piece of broken drip irrigation pipe to tighten the improvised tourniquet. “Goddam, Paro, you are some kind of sadistic motherfucker.”

“You’re not dying but we need to get you outta here.”


“Unless you just fucked it up.” I handed him my bottle of water. He dumped it over his head, shook it off like a wet dog.

“Good to know a brother you can count on.”


Two skinny, sunburned bikers in unbuttoned, sleeves cut off flannel shirts over wife beaters, jeans and heavy boots rode up on full dress Harley road bikes. They stopped, dismounted, each shouldered an assault rifle and walked around Tavius’ car, poking the rifles through windows, popped the trunk. After a short eternity they started our direction, stopped at the edge of the road.

“It’s the nigger’s game we go in the patch after him. Fact he could have us sighted in rat now.”

The other one scuffed the ground with his boot. “He did he’d a been on us a-ready an we’d be bleedin’ with him.” He pointed his rifle at some blood on the white dust. “No vehicle, no way to get nowhere. He’s gonna die out here.”

“I’m wonderin’ why here?”

“Plannin’ to meet somebody? Could be some somebodies was waitin’ on him an us.”

We need to let ’em know this road’s blocked like the last one?”

“Naw. That van we saw to the other side when we come rollin’ up needs checkin’ out first.” He spit, shouldered his rifle. “Our nigger’s good as dead or he’d a let us know he weren’t.” They both snickered, backed away together until they were on the far side of the road roller.

Tavius tugged my sleeve. “A true brother would go shoot the one called me a nigger.”

“That would be both of them. No need.”

“You tellin’ me a card carryin’ Oreo can afford to endorse racism?”

I torqued the tourniquet on his thigh. He choked on a scream that would have vanished in the blast. The ground rolled us up like we were riding a wave, dropped us, smacked us on its way up to level as if the Jolly Green Giant had shaken the field like a dirty rug. We huddled, heads covered. It took a minute for the debris to stop falling. We uncovered to counterfeit bills overhead that floated and fluttered, a flock of flat, drunk birds. We stood up together, his arm around my shoulder.

“Fuck me, Oreo,” he gave me an iron man squeeze. “You did have a plan.” He lifted his head skyward at the sound of an approaching helicopter. “What you got in mind for that?”


I raised my head off the bed, reached out and palmed the phone. Rip. Two minutes before the alarm would’ve gone off at 0600.


“What? What sorta mess you leave me, Sleeping Beauty?”

“Oh… Shit. That.” I rolled up to sitting, dropped the phone on the bed, rubbed my eyes.

“In the hangar… Dogs…”

“At this rate I’ll wait for the movie. Pick up the goddam phone or put it on speaker.”

“Right…” One of those sounded like an excellent idea, but all I could do was rub my face and stare at the phone.


“Yeah, yeah…” I picked up the phone, stuck it to my ear, leaned forward elbows to knees. “There were two of ‘em. They killed one of your dogs, enjoyed it too much. Got ‘em in the hangar… The other dogs…” I hadn’t heard him laugh out loud for a while.

“Didn’t leave ‘em in there all night, didja?”

“I let the dogs out after twenty minutes or so.”

“Good. The dogs’ll fuck with somebody till they’re dead, but they won’t eat ‘em. Guess we taste funny. Wish I’d been there.”

“Assholes would’ve never made it to the hangar.”

“If they’d a killed the dog before I killed them, though, think I’d a sent ‘em to their knees an let the dogs finish it, same as you. Only outdoors. Why is it you always gotta make a goddam mess?”

I didn’t have an answer for him, but I’d fumbled my way into the kitchen. “Where’re you hidin’ the loads for this Keurig?”

“You too lazy to make a real cup a coffee?”

I didn’t have an answer for that, either.

“They’re in the second drawer there, underneath. You know where the Bobcat’s parked?”

“The baby ‘dozer? Yeah. Jesus, is this Keurig plumbed for water?”

“Double filtered. Don’t fuck with it. Turn it on, stuff one of those plastic jobs in its mouth, push the button, drink it if you can stand it. I’ll get hold of somebody to clean up.”

“Cops, or Sheriff or–”

“Paro, need you to wake the fuck up, son. Nobody in any kinda uniform is on your side an you got work to do.”

“But I have two, three hours–”

“No, you don’t. Listen. Need you to make sure the Bobcat’ll start so I can send people out there to mop up. Then you an your puddle jumper need to be in the air an gone.”

“What’s the big damn hurry?”

“That unmarked UH-72 helicopter the CIA man with the high dollar scotch dropped by in? The one the polite, heavily armed uniformed children come lookin’ for the money in? It’s on its way again. No way you’re outrunnin’ it in your little Cub so you need to be at ten, twelve thousand feet going the other way now.”

“Whoever’s comin’ has radar. They can follow–”

“They don’t wanna follow you, Paro. They don’t want you in the air. Period. People like the dog killers disappear every day. You’re another likely if you don’t hit it damn quick.”

“What if they find the bodies, or—”

“Nobody in that chopper gives a damn about any dead bodies other’n yours. They see you’re gone? They’re gone. Stop askin’ questions. Git.”

The hurry and get out only to end up waiting at the convict and Moreno rendezvous point wasn’t the way I’d wanted to start the day, but Rip was right. A UH-72 in the air wasn’t cause for alarm. They weren’t designed as combat machines, but on the ground they could easily deliver eight combat troops loaded for bear. Or a Company hotshot with a crew of black balaclava-clad erasers looking to make someone disappear. Whatever the payload, if Rip’s heads-up call was on the money, I’d have been standing in the kitchen in my birthday suit, drinking another half cup of Keurig almost coffee when they arrived.


I walked through a hot shower, balled up the camo jumpsuit, stuck my feet in the flip-flops, and air-dried on the way to the Cub. I fished out my next-to-last pair of disposable boxer briefs from a bag under the seat, found some not too objectionable socks stuffed in my desert boots. I dressed, trotted down to the Bobcat front-loader, made sure it would start for the cleanup crew. On the way back I stopped at the old red Ram, grabbed the Walther PPK S along with a box of ammunition and two spare clips. I lifted the pickup bed cover, discovered the gym bag with three million dollars in it was missing. Moreno. She either needed it to bait the convicts into twenty-four more hours of service or fund her disappearance.

Either way, if I got to the best-case engagement rendezvous and found out I was playing solo I’d turn around and keep traveling.


What a bucket of talk. I had far too many unanswered questions for everyone involved in this circus. It felt good, though, to say I could walk away from the Great Kerrigan Bank Robbery by brushing my hands together.


I’d climbed through 10,000 feet and trimmed out on a North-Northeast heading towards Lipscomb County Road N when I spotted the Lakota helicopter 3,000 feet below me, chugging along in the opposite direction. The helicopter didn’t turn around, didn’t raise me on the radio for an ID. Whoever they were, they had their order blinders on. Stay on course, one scenario, one outcome. I’d almost gotten killed doing that for the same breed of “intelligence community” people. They’d ‘purged’ me for making them look stupid, and here I was in the middle of their shit. Again. I didn’t have time for the who’s stupid now game. I knew without playing.


I flew over the engagement area, an intersection of secondary, unpaved roads in the eastern Texas panhandle. There were a few perfect, green circles of irrigated crops, the rest of the area was flat, high plains scrubby grassland dotted with oil and gas wells that stood out from the green and brown on bright white four hundred foot diameter Caliche pads.

I banked in from the west and County Road N presented as a seven-mile-long straight shot of more white Caliche. Utility poles, wires and fences on the side, nothing to fly over getting in or out. Landing on an unknown surface concerned me. Ground up and mixed with coarser chunks of itself Caliche forms a decent surface for unpaved rural roads in this part of the world but it’s not always smooth and the gravelly version wasn’t what I wanted to land on. The snow white color made it impossible to determine texture unless you were right up on it. But the fields of saw grass knots and waves of irregular sand mixed with solid Caliche outcroppings and gas wells on either side were worse.

I lined up low a mile west of where I wanted to drop, with over a mile in front of me after I hit. I floated in so low the Cub kicked up a sizeable dust cloud before I leveled out, cut the throttle back and held my breath for that instant before flying machine meets ground. The surface wasn’t glass, but it wasn’t heavy gravel. I taxied to the edge of the road, swung the tail around into the rough grass where I waited for the white dust cloud to settle before climbing down into a hot, no breeze middle of nowhere morning.

I’d left myself a decent walk. A half a mile on N before it turned right into another mile on 23 to the best-case engagement where 23 dead-ended into County Road O. I decides to cut across a scrubby pasture where I skirted a couple of gas wells and a Caliche gravel pit. A route that saved me time, a nose full of dust, drenched me in sweat and tried its damndest to twist my ankles. I got to the intersection, found two ten foot long thirty-two-inch high concrete barriers laid end to end across County Road O. Parked on the far side of the barriers and facing east sat a huge, white-dust-covered yellow and rust road roller. Its presence explained why my landing surface was better than expected. No one was driving around that road-width roller without driving into the drainage ditch, a solid wall of Caliche, or facing out into barbed wire. The barriers were a bonus.


I put one of the concrete barriers between me and the scorcher of morning Sun and sat facing west, feet flat, thighs to my chest. Thought about a cigarette. Not the first one that would make me feel like shit, but the pacifier effect of the subsequent ones. Without them I settled into edgy, fidgety, vigilant boredom. The boredom you feel waiting for the event you know is coming that will turbocharge your adrenaline production. The Moreno gift phone buzzed, startled me. I patted a few pockets until I found it, popped it out, tapped the red dot.

“Paro?” Moreno, her voice encapsulated in road noise.


“Perhaps there is the better choice of words? Donde?”


Gracias, amor, I didn’t think you cared. You’re early.”

“I had to get out before el lechero.”

“The milkman?”

“Figure of speech. What do you know about Gerald Ng?”

“Geral-deen? The Milkman? Estoy perdido, Paro, you confuse me. Make sense, por favor.”

“Forget it. ETA?”

“Twenty minutes, perhaps. We, um,” she faltered, “we also achieved the early start. The gentlemen wished to make shooting practice.”

“They let you shoot?”


“You in Rip’s truck?”

Si. With the weapons, also. As you asked.”



“Shit. You have the money?”

No, pero el dinero debería llegar pronto.” She barked ‘okay’ to someone in the background. “It will be there, with you, very soon. In the van with Señores Muller and Dawson. Paro?” She hesitated, dropped “Ten cuidado mi amor, estos hombres no son quienes dicen…” at triple speed. I heard Usman tell her to shut up with the Spanish and the phone clicked off.

‘Be careful my love, the men are not who they say they are.’ Thanks, Cav, but I’d picked that up early on. Usman was the only legitimate badman. A B-grade thug at best and a minor player in the arms trade game. ‘Bax’ Wheeler, AKA Third Eye Horseapple Nose, had been Flyer the CIA hotshot’s plant. Maybe he was a con, but the little time I’d spent around him he smelled like a professional weasel, a career informant. Muller was playing damaged, threatening psychopath for reasons unknown. Not wearing the crazy eye contacts in the same eye every day had given him away. The other tallish one, Dawson, had a bogus convict sheet planted in the systems on his behalf in case anyone went looking. He was some brand of undercover or ex-cop with cop and service tats and million-dollar teeth. Not a forger, much less a con.

Judging by the dust rising on County Road N behind the ‘convict’s’ van, I didn’t have long to wait to find out. If they stopped and fucked with my plane instead of driving around it, I’d have to shoot first when they arrived. I vaulted over to the east side of the concrete barrier, checked the Walther for a chambered round. Out of curiosity, I climbed up on the road roller to see what cover it could offer. The key, attached to six inches of worn, braided leather the thickness of a shoelace, was in the ignition lock. Whoever owned the roller must’ve figured it was too slow to steal and too big to hide. I scrambled down, walked to the barricades, the Walther behind my back, safety off, finger on the trigger.


Tave’s note had come from a handheld field printer, a device favored by ticket writing motorcycle cops and intelligence junkie spies.

Shit. Tavius was a closet ice cream junkie, and I needed to watch my back? Because the Dead Bodies in Shamrock weren’t known associates of anyone involved? Fuck. More wild cards.

I pulled the note between my index and middle fingers, curling it in the process. A few miles west of Tavius’s Braum’s Dairy the county roads went “improved,” but unpaved. It was also so flat we’d have nowhere to hide. The good news was Woody’s crew would kick up a dust cloud on the way in. The bad news was they might be able to use it for cover. Regardless of intel, recon and prep, combat scenarios were never ideal.

I called Moreno, gave her the ETA and Best Case engagement crossroads, and suggested the convicts should split up the weapons, maybe steal a vehicle to replace their van since everyone involved was at least vaguely aware of its contents. We went back and forth over everything because she was who she was, and that’s how she was. We agreed on a one-hour early recon on 23, just north of where it T’ed with O road.


I did take Cav’s earlier advice and ventured out to rummage around in my meager storage container leftovers for some clothes. Most of what I found were things I swore I’d never wear again. My airline pilot apprentice uniforms, some Uptown Barbie’s Ken outfits, a few pieces of designer workout gear to be worn but not sweated in. They’d do in a pinch. I kept digging, hit paydirt when I uncovered the “hunting attire” I’d been given on the pretense I would dress up like Duck Dynasty meets Rodeo Drive and go hunting with my once upon an almost wife’s menfolk. The “attire” was still in the REI bag. I didn’t hold with hunting for sport, except Taliban, which was why most of my wilderness drop hunters were survivalists. I had no room in the Cub for homeward bound trophies, and the rule was if they killed it, they ate it. Or left it for the buzzards. All they got to bring home for bragging rights were selfies with a carcass. To each their own.

The “hunting attire” proved to be no more than an expensive camo jumpsuit with a hundred Velcro closure pockets, including an infamous Velcro fly. The whole thing made from lightweight, ventilated moisture-wicking fabric. My desert boots were in the Cub. All I needed was a pair of socks and underwear I didn’t hate.

Every bruise, abrasion, puncture I’d suffered from the wall pushing me into the street let themselves be known when they met the stiff newness of the jumpsuit. It chafed and made noise when I moved. I walked back to the house in it, commando, in flip flops, turned the hose on over my head, soaked the suit and myself to the bone, sat down on a webbed patio chair to air dry.


I must have dozed off because I was dry when the unmistakable insect whine of dirt bikes snapped me awake. Call me suspicious, but after being shot at and two too close for comfort dynamite explosions earlier, I couldn’t think of one good reason for dirt bike riders in the middle of 900 square miles of nowhere. At 1:17 in the morning.

I trotted inside, through the kitchen, down the long dark hall, made the right at the end into almost total darkness, punched in the code to let me in the back door of the office that was the front of the house. Rip had a ten-inch kickstand tablet on the top of a corner file cabinet, the tablet’s sole purpose to monitor his security cameras. I touched the screen to wake it up, finger fanned through several pages of screens sectioned into quad views looking for the dirt bikes. Nothing. I flipped another, still nothing. I pulled out my phone, punched Rip’s number.

“C’mon,” I drummed my fingers on the file cabinet, “answer your goddam –”

“You got company, Paro.” I could hear heavy machinery in the background, a big diesel chugging.

“Can you see where?”

“Due south. Eight hundred yards, closin’ on foot. Night goggles are in the bottom desk drawer. The second switch calls the dogs to the work hangar. Meet ’em there.”

“Why –”

“Do it. There’s a Kalashnikov in that skinny broom closet by the fridge, grab it on your way out. Take it to ’em, Paro, don’t wait around inside and fuck up my house playin’ amateur night at the OK Corral.”

I suppose I’d hoped for a plan. Something besides, “Don’t fuck up my house.” He was right. Badmen who didn’t know, or care how far sound carried from their attack transport was amateur night. I flipped the second switch, as directed, grabbed the night goggles, and beat it back to the kitchen. Only Rip would have ultrasonic dog whistle transducers scattered around the property and a ten-round Russian semi-automatic shotgun in the kitchen closet. One of these days I’d have to ask him why, beyond his usual crackhead burglars response. My handful of shotgun was emerging from the cabinet along with that thought when I heard a single handgun Pop. It sounded like a quarter of a mile away. I put on the night visions, crawled out the back door onto the patio. I’d nailed the distance. One of the two biker-ish types, not so heavy as this morning’s DB, was pushing something with his foot. I tweaked the focus.

Madre de Dios…The motherfucker’d shot one of Rip’s dogs…

I took off running toward the work hangar, flip flops flapping, while the dirt bikers admired their dog killer’s handiwork. I heard three more Pops, different guns, punctuating each other while I edged around to the work hangar’s back door. I shushed the dogs who’d gathered, ushered them inside. I said, “Set,” heard them disappear into the depths of the hangar.

I rolled a mammoth tool chest into the middle of the hangar and parked it before I checked through the row of small windows on the big front hangar door. I saw the two laughing while they continued to pump rounds, Pop, Pop, Pop into the dead dog’s carcass. It made me sick, and it was all I could do not to raise the door and cut them in half with the shotgun.

When they started toward the house, I hit the exterior floodlights and engaged the front hangar door opener. They turned toward the hangar, determined, and erect. Another pair of wild west movie cowboys, from the same casting call as the mercs in Kansas, with far worse tailors. Likely far less skilled than the mercs, but equally dangerous in an undisciplined, unpredictable way. I took the opportunity, with their night eyes blown out by the mercury vapor floods to call them out from behind the tool chest.

“How many times you assholes gotta shoot a dog?”

“So the motherfucker owns it,” the one on my left walked my way and talked, “knows we aren’t here to fuck around.”

“Heard there might be a dog problem,” from the one on my right, drifting further right to get some distance from the other one. “Old an slow. Not much of a dog. Not much of a problem.”

“What kinda sick fuck sends sicker fucks out to shoot a man’s dog?”

Left sider bark laughed. “Gerald Ng.”

“Geraldine? Who the fuck is Geraldine?”

“Gerald. Ng.” They shot each other looks, laughed. “Not Geraldine. Man thinks you know somebody stole something belonged to him, landed a plane here.” 

“Ol’ Jerry. Always good for a laugh.” Who the hell was Jerry Ng? “Which one of you badasses shot the dog for Jerry?”

“That was me,” left sider said, “And it’s Gerald, motherfucker. He hates Jerry.”

“Jerry Motherfucker. I’ll remember that. He hire you ’cause you got that John Wayne walk down or you walkin’ pigeon-toed ’cause killin’ dogs makes your dick hard?”

They both let go of another wasted round, almost in unison. This time into the hangar instead of a dead dog.

“Hard to hit something’s not wagging its tail? Funny, I didn’t see you retards re-clip.”

They were inside of twenty yards. I flipped on the hangar work floods, and when left sider reached for his clip pouch, I dusted his feet with buckshot. Not a direct hit, close enough to catch some damaging pellets, even in boots. The shotgun auto chambered another round with a reassuring ka-chunk, and I buckshot dusted the one on my right.

“A little late to get smart, gentlemen. Step inside. Promise I’ll give you a better chance than you gave the dog.”

The one on the right held his hand up to shade his eyes from the lights, squat scrambled into the hangar. He tried to find me, fired wild once, twice. The slide on his pistol kicked back and stayed. The left-sider, Dog Shooter, blood staining the low end of his jeans, had stopped to shake his feet and call me names. He looked up, pissed off all over his face, started to raise his pistol. I shot just in front of his feet again.

“Don’t wanna kill you yet, Dog Shooter. You’re invited to a party.”

His pistol had stalled on the way up, his face screwed up against more buckshot in his toes. “I come in there, you pussy, ambushin’ motherfucker, the only party’s gonna be me fuckin’ your ass up. You gotta reload that son of a bitch sometime to kill us and when you do –”

“Shut up and get in here, Dog Shooter. I don’t have all night.”

I could see him think about his gun, what kind of shotgun did I have, was I bluffing. But he shuffled into the hangar, trailing blood streaks on the dusty concrete. When he was closer in it appeared I’d done more damage to his feet than I thought. What looked at first like boots turned out to be blood-soaked high-top Converses. Live and learn. At least he was still walking. I punched the remote and the hangar door wound down behind them.

Empty still had his eyes shielded. “Where the hell are you? You said you’d make it fair. Lemme reload. Then we’ll see –”

“I lied.”

I stepped out from behind the tool chest. They gawked for an instant at the clip on the 12 gauge. I anticipated Dog Shooter’s move, blew his gun hand off before he raised the pistol. He screamed, held up the stump, his eyes as wide as ping pong balls. Blood squirted over his head, showered back down on him.

“Better tie that off for him,” I pointed the shotgun at Empty, “or he’ll bleed to death before the party starts.”

Dog Shooter alternated his screams between AhhHEEEE and  Muh-ther-FUCKER,  stuck the squirting stump in his partner’s chest. “Your Belt, goddammit!” He screamed. “Gimme your goddam BELT! Nowwwwwww!

Empty tried to back away, ejected his dead clip to the floor, floated one hand behind him in search of a reload. Dog Shooter followed him, kept screaming, pushing the stump into Empty’s chest. Empty fell backward on top of his hand,  Dog Shooter landed on top of him. I heard Empty’s wrist snap from halfway across the hangar. They were both screaming now. At me, about me, why’d they shoot the fucking dog, fucking shotguns, each other, God, Geraldine…

One of them gurgled, “Now what?”

“Now?” I whistled. Two short, one long. I heard snarls, dog toenails clicking, scratching, skidding on concrete. I raised the shotgun, balanced it over my shoulder. I killed the lights at first sight of the dogs, set the remote on the tool chest. From outside, the muffled screams escalated for a moment before they faded away into the night.