“For the last time, Paro, mañana!”
I’d leaned on Cav a dozen different ways attempting to excavate her exact role in the demise of the exploding Honda’s driver, and I’d gotten nowhere. I could hear in her voice that I’d reached the point, or rather she’d reached the point where it was a good thing the only nearby firearm, that I knew about anyway, was locked in my truck and that the heavy objects in the room, like lamps, were bolted down. With those comforting thoughts at hand I decided to shoot for a baker’s dozen.
“C’mon, Moreno –”
“Comparo?!” She slammed the drawer she had open, gave me knife eyes. I hadn’t heard my name explode in that tone of voice since I was eight. After that my mother was too busy trying to keep my sister out of a whorehouse or a convent or a home for wayward girls and my father out of a bottle for her to get exasperated with me. In fact, by the time I was nine, I’d become so invisible I could have been on fire in the living room and it wouldn’t have mattered. But Moreno? Her voice, the eyes? She could have set me on fire.
“Suficiente! Consíguelo?” She slammed another drawer.
“Enough. I get it.” I wasn’t sure she bought the sheepish shrug.
“Bueno.” She slammed the closet door but didn’t come away empty-handed. She popped open a plastic bag the hotel had thoughtfully supplied for send-out dry-cleaning, in a town without a dry-cleaners, and we started to load it up with used napkins and the empty comida especial containers.
“Mira, mi Amor,” she smacked my hand, stopped loading, one wrist reflexed to her hip. “Right now? If I told you everything, I would have to kill you. I might anyway if you don’t reach down in this bag, ahora mismo, and dig out the fork you just threw away.” A fork she mentioned in elaborate detail did not belong to her, or me, and if I wasn’t paying enough attention not to throw real eating utensils away, maybe I should stay home tomorrow.
“Don’t be cute.” She pinched my cheek. “You should change clothes while you’re there.”
I reminded her that she’d turned my life into a country song about a guy who’d lost his trailer, his truck, his dog and everything else he owned. That the cargo shorts, t-shirt, and underwear she’d washed was it, except for the few remaining pairs of underwear I’d bought in Houston. Underwear I considered one-use disposable, not to be laundered and suffered through a second time. All that misery, I told her, for a woman who hardly let enough of herself show, or stood still long enough to cast a half-assed shadow.
“Pobrecito. You still have your toy airplane, and me. And this.” She handed me another in the long line of burner phones we’d exchanged. However, it was the first from her. I tried not to make a face, failed. “Don’t be afraid to use it, Paro. It’s a hacked Sat with a tower chameleon.”
“A Sat tower what?”
“Vamos, Comparo.” She ushered me to the door with the trash. “When your friend informs you of Woody’s intercept location, you will immediately inform me. Repita por favor?”
“When I know, you’ll know. But why? To bring the Convict Cavalry? I thought they were mine, and you had mail carrier duty.”
“Woody is morning business, even if we have to take our business to him.”
“There’s a joke in there, about morning wooo –”
“Save it for me. Forever, posiblemente. What I was going to say is that no one in Kerrigan expects their mail to arrive before one o’clock. Three if the regular went ‘feeshin’’ in the morning.” She furrowed her brows. “You do have eyes on Kerrigan?”
“No. That was your…I thought -” Hell, it didn’t matter what I’d thought. I could see her wanting to say something like ‘Shit, Paro, are you fucking stupid or what?’ I didn’t wait for it.
“The truth is I was supposed to take my mission directives from you, and so far all I’ve gotten, from you, are some romantic vagaries, texted invitations to ambushes, an introduction to the Convict Cavalry, an excellent meal and a Tom Clancy phone.” I held it up between our faces before pocketing it. “Everything to do with your mission has been brought to me not by you, but indirectly through a smarmy, greedy assed wild card chiropractor, a magical piece of laminated paper that might have come from a dead once-upon-a-time mob accountant, and a couple of alphabet soup agency types with God knows what agendas. All of them blowing their version of how it’s going to go up my ass. And all you can say when I ask is fucking mañana? We were supposed to rob a bank, Moreno. Mañana. That was it. I was supposed to fly that cash off into the sunset for you to build a wild animal rescue park-slash-halfway house for convicts. A few hours ago I found out that was complete bullshit, just like the Company’s starting a gang war with it was bullshit.”
We studied each other’s faces in a half and half Mexican standoff.
“Well, your bank’s already been robbed, Cav. The cash is stashed. Technically I’m done. But here I am, dynamite going off all around me in Shamrock fucking Texas, and I have this strange feeling that I haven’t even gotten started yet. This whole six-ways-from-Sunday, ‘sausage, sausage who’s got the sausage’ flyin’ blind with alphabet soup suits’ shit is exactly what got me marshaled out of the service. And how I lost my licenses to fly after the last time one of your ‘plans’ went tits up, or tits down, right before my eyes.”
There. I’d said it.
“Romantic vagaries?” She bit on her lower lip, slowly dragged it out from under her front teeth.
“Have I not made it clear…” She let go of the door, kissed me. I could still taste her homemade salsa verde on her lips. She grabbed a fistful of my shirt and locked on my eyes. “You are involved in ‘this shit’ with me, Comparo Riordan, for the very same reasons the militarys and the alphabet soups said to you adios,cabrone.” The hand not clutching my shirt was gesturing in, to out, to a finger in my chest, her chest, out again in rhythm with her words.
“When I discovered myself in deep water again, yes, I ask for you to assist me. You, exclusively. I trust you, Comparo. And you only. Why? In Columbia I was nothing to you but a skinny, dusty, mouthy, filthy haired woman in boy’s fatigues. You said as much to me, to my face, but you risked your life to save mine. You could have walked away, ass covered, and never looked back. Twice now you have done this much for me. And you feel you must ask why I shot a man pointing a gun at you? In all this demencia you are el hombre mas perfecto. For me, for this, for…” She kissed me again, more of a lip brush, let go of my t-shirt, smoothed out the wrinkles. “This,” she flipped her hand dismissively, frowned. “All of this…suits’ shit…is bigger…No. Was bigger than the accident of you and I. Now…Mañana, Paro. Por favor. Si?”
“Yeah. I ‘si.’”
I didn’t, but I had to say it because she was right. Whatever was going on had been around long before I stepped in it. Age hadn’t improved the smell any, though.
I tossed the dry-cleaner bag of trash in the dumpster, fired up the rumbling old Ram. I eased past the barricades and police tape that had been put in place to block off the parking lot from 13th street and the gaping hole in the feed store wall. There was a woman in a yellow reflective jumpsuit using a hitch dolly to trundle a United Rentals of Amarillo gas-powered work light around the scene. She was taking pictures of small Honda pieces, maybe even small assassin pieces, and bagging them. I waved when I drove by. She ignored me. Must have known she’d be spending the night in the Holiday Inn, and it was my fault. I flicked on my lights, rolled out onto Main, and turned south.
I’d eaten enough of Moreno’s TexMex, or CaliMex as she preferred to call it, for half a dozen lumberjacks. I was sated for the moment, and more concerned with dozing off at the wheel over the next 60 some miles than contemplating whatever mañana or my curiosity about all things Moreno might put up on the big screen in my head. Things like had I just eaten my condemned man’s last supper.
I switched on the radio before I was out of town. Imagine my surprise, Country Classics. It was Marty Robbins, and damned if he wasn’t singin’ about falling in love with a pretty senorita out in El Paso. I’d read somewhere the Grateful Dead covered “El Paso” over 400 times in their live shows. Wondered if Marty cared whether fields full of acidized Dead Heads had tripped to his song that many times. Marty was dead, had been for a while, so no. Wondered then if any of the Dead’s versions would clock in under five minutes for radio play. But they were the Dead, so no again. I cranked the volume on Marty. It was shaping up to be a long hour’s drive.
When I idled into the vehicle hangar. Rip was walking toward the Cessna, holding one glove while he pulled on the other. He stopped, waited for me. I stepped out of the truck, a few feet away I turned and armed the alarm then covered the ground to Rip.
“Tell me somethin’ good, Paro.”
“Moreno says she popped a random iceman with your stainless Walther.”
“You apologizin’ for her?”
“Nope. Thought you should know, in case it was new enough to have ballistic fingerprints.”
“Heard there wasn’t enough left of that fella to make a Jack in the Box taco. Wouldn’t worry, I was you. ‘Less a course you forget to clean it.” He tugged on his remaining glove, flexed his fingers. “I know about that ‘cause I talked to Sheriff Long this afternoon. Bein’ as he’s the County Mountie, an Kerrigan, chicken shit burg it may be, is still the county seat. An in light of all the nut cases and excessive weaponry floatin’ around I figured it was my duty to call an suggest that he might wanna take off fishin’ tomorrow. Know what he said?”
“I look telepathic?”
“Truth told you look like hell and smell like girly-man fabric softener. Anyway, Bob answered his phone standing in the Tarryall River there outside Lake George, Colorado, doin’ exactly what I was about to suggest. He’d even given the County admin folks tomorrow off, an left word that come mornin’ they should let any drunks out the basement.”
I must have looked confused, if not telepathic.
“The jail, all two cells of it, are in the basement of the Courthouse, Paro. Never been much serious crime up that way, mostly ‘cause their ain’t many people. But the Highway Patrol takes occasion to drop off drunks there. Not all drunks, just the obnoxious or vomitous varieties. Generally, they’ll just run the cheeful or passed out ones on into wherever their district is. Pampa, Borger, ‘Rillo. Run ‘em in and knock off early ‘cause they’re home. But out there ‘tween Pampa and the Oklahoma borders ain’t much they can do with a real pain in the ass drunk save drop ‘em in Kerrigan. That’s why ol’ Bob leaves a key out so the HiPo can drag ‘em down the outside steps there and throw their drunk asses in a cell. ‘Cept for the Trooper was stayin’ over to Canadian with that woman. He’d drop all his HiPo baggage in there, sometimes two, three to a cell. Fella was big on arrestin’ an thumpin’ on alleged dope dealers. Till he an the woman –”
“Rip? The sheriff? Kerrigan?”
“I’m gettin’ there.” He gave me a bushy eyebrow squint. “Who pissed in your boots, you’re in such a all-fired Goddam hurry? That girl kill a friend a yours gettin’ the gun dirty? No? Then lighten the fuck up, will ya? Jesus, all these damn phones an gadgets and shit these days are gettin’ everbody’s panties in a big-hurry twist.”
“That sermon’s dyin’ here, Pastor Taylor.”
“I can see that. Well, turns out the Trooper an the woman were runnin’ themselves a ‘Gentleman’s Retreat’ –”
“Everybody needs to get laid. Sex an liquor, son. Folks’ll drive hours for either or both. Friend a mine, he’s one a those’ll drive three hours for decent Scotch. He was the Trooper an the woman’s landlord. He got a call from a neighbor a their’s one mornin’ sayin’ water was runnin’ outside onto the patio from under the back door. He goes over an finds the Trooper an the woman dead, along with three or four all kindsa fucked up teenage girls sittin’ around in their skivvies, smokin’ weed, oblivious to the sink overflowin’ and the bodies in the kitchen. Sheriff Bob had to come back from a vacation to deal with it. Y’know he needed to ID the Trooper with fingerprints since most a what used to be his head was stuck to the side a the fridge. Bob said the walls a that kitchen looked like a lasagna night food fight.”
Rip lifted and reset his Confederate Air Force cap, took a slow look around the cloudless night sky. We both took note of some distant, barely visible lightning, probably over eastern New Mexico. I hoped that was where it stayed.
“So…” Rip carried on, “Bob’s tellin’ me nowadays he takes a few more vacations than he used to, ever since a couple years ago when FedEx started droppin’ off envelopes ‘bout three times a year with ten grand cash in ‘em. Along with suggestions of a couple days comin’ up he might wanna take off. Says that money’s how he put security cameras in the Courthouse an rebuilt the gazebo in the square. Also how he hired that slew a Messicans to clean up the old amphitheater he uses for those yodellin’ folk singer weekends he puts on. An how he came to truck his patrol car over to Elk City where some relative’s kid put all those useless fuckin’ lights on it.”
The quiet hung in the steamy night for a few beats. I felt like I was waiting for an encore from a suddenly darkened stage before the lighters came out. I flicked an imaginary Bic.
“All that was you tellin’ me the Sheriff’s on one of those suggested vacations as we speak and not to worry about Kerrigan collaterals?”
“Roger that. ‘Cept be careful who you kill tomorrow. Bob hates gettin’ called home early from vacation.”
Madre de Dios…
“Whoa, Rip. Where the hell you off to…” I checked the time on my new burner, “at ten-thirty at night?”
“Meetin’ some folks from the highway department.” He backed away, offered me a loose salute. “Lawn Jockey dropped by, left a note on the kitchen table for ya.”