Bobby B – Better By The Minute

Bobby used an oar to pole the Stinger aground at the Ramah mud ramp. He stepped out, dragged it up a little further, offered Bernie a hand down. She took it, dropped on her butt next to where he’d dropped on his back.

“Now what?”

“I hadn’t gotten this far.” He turned his head in the direction of a door slam, squinted when the power beam from a night fishing light landed on his face.

“About time you brought my damn boat back.”

He picked the tall black woman out of the late dusk and the photo flash eye burn, mostly by voice. “Annabelle?”

“The one and only. What took you so long?”

“Y’all didn’t give me enough gas to get hardly anywhere.”

“That’s a show boat, baby. Not much of a tank. Expected you to take the straight shot down Standard to Atchafalaya, hook up with Junior and come home through the back door. He calls, tells me you have some fool ‘wander around the bayou to Big Muddy plan’. In my polyester paint job show boat.”

She motioned with the beam to a man standing by a dually pickup that had an empty, polished chrome trailer hooked to it, waved the light around and pointed at the Stinger. She opened the back door of a seriously lifted crew cab Tundra, held it while Bobby tossed the shotgun, the briefcase and the cooler inside. Bernie climbed in first and saw their suitcases.

“Boudreaux?” There was panic in her voice. “She’s got our bags. And a .45 under her jacket!” She pulled the pink Ruger, fumbled it on the floor of the backseat. “Ohhh…Shit, Boudreaux! The FBI…Everybody…They’re all…We’re being erased.” Annabelle caught Bernie mid-flight from the truck, bench pressed her back in the door.

“Little girl, the only thing about to be ‘erased’ is my patience.” She held Bernie in place with one hand, pointed at Bobby. “Since last evening when our boy called? I’ve had people who should be building boats scattered out all over hell and gone trying to stay ahead of you two, and cleaning up after.” She winked at Bobby, pushed Bernie back in the truck. “Days like this ‘erased’ is the best idea I’ve heard in a month of Sundays. When I told this boy Annabelle Monette was how crazy got done? I had no idea how much work he could make out of that.”

“Down bayou is always this way?”

“With him? Hell yes, one kind of way another. Go around and get in the damn truck, Boudreaux.” She slammed the door behind Bernie, got a glimpse of the worried boat loader taking CYA pictures of the Stinger showboat before he loaded it. “Erased don’t even start to cover it.”

Bobby tossed the scotch plaid throw Annabelle used for a seat cover into the back. Bernie curled up under it and was asleep before they hit the interstate.

“How far did you have to row?”

“Too far. Kinda heavy for a Stinger.”

“Loaded. All that leather look and faux wood finish, chillin’ console, rumble fishing seats.” She peeked over her shoulder at Bernie. “I didn’t know, about you, and her. I booked two rooms. If you need that changed…”

“Two rooms. We’re not…” Bobby hesitated. “We’re friends. She made working out there tolerable. And we’ll be business partners when Creighton gets that lined out. Business partners like you and me, anyway. ‘Great idea, Bobby, you’re the man. We got work to do, so don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya’.”

“Had a visit from Mr. Creighton DeHavilland. Esquire.”

“Yeah? Hittin’ you up to invest?”

“Nothing of the kind. He asked, considering my manufacturing history and assorted other ass kissing, could I add a ‘small industrial furniture plant’ on Swamp Vue’s ‘upholstery department’ to build custom restaurant seating. I told him the Salvation Army did our upholstery. Didn’t even slow him down. He said that was marvelous, and a conscientious write off to boot. I agreed. We’re on standby to contract with them and have it ready to go if that Monterrey Mick character surfaces again.”

“A lot of people are hanging dreams on Mick.” He thumbed toward the back seat. “That one in particular. I’m hopin’ for her sake he’s not dead in a ditch or busted somewhere.”

“So you are worried about her?”

“She has that need, like Momma had. Won’t be another pretty bayou girl who can’t seem to get to her destiny, whatever it is. She’s smart, pretty, got a chip on her shoulder a mile wide, a temper, and a pocket size machine gun in her purse. She’s the whole recipe for mess herself up casserole. Yeah, I’m worried about her.”

“I caught her with my bare hands and she’s made out of dynamite and electricity with a figure that might well do a man harm. I wouldn’t worry too much. Unless you’re not certain about that room arrangement and looking for an excuse.”

“Jesus, Annabelle. It’s been a long day that started out being dumped by the FBI and shot at by strangers. I’m not sure about much of anything. Except those two rooms. I told you –”

“I heard, baby.” She laughed, softly. “Smart and pretty and a big chip are tolerable. The temper and machine gun are the two to stay out ahead of.”

***

“Been a long day and getting longer by the minute, Macon.” Agent Hyland pulled his gum out, stuck it in a wrapper he’d saved, flipped it at the dumpster behind a run-down 24/7 Jack in the Box, slipped his thin leather driving glove back on.  Still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“You do, or you wouldn’t have met me.”

“You eat a lot of Crack in the Box? Too much of it can turn your brain inside out.”

“Fuck the chat. I got the call for a shooting at Mud Point Trailer Park on Whiskey Bay this morning. You show up ahead of me and about two feet behind the Troopers, jam the investigation, scatter my people and leave me with a compromised crime scene, no facts and a ‘go get ‘em, scout’ routine. Faucheaux let it drop the kid and hot pants had two million in a briefcase, headed for Liz Vernier. Liz Vernier’s business is my business. I want in.”

“How much of me and the money have you communicated to Vernier?”

“None. I told you. I want in.”

Hyland’s eyes turned hard and he put a gloved hand on Macon’s shoulder. “Between Liz Vernier, your boss and me is the hardest place you’ll find yourself, son. They need deniability, you’re expendable. Fucking with me is a once and done.” He stared Macon into a Mexican standoff. “So far four people angling for a piece of that money are dead. If they stay on schedule the other two who know about it will be dead by tomorrow afternoon. Maybe I decide I can’t trust the hot rod guru and he’ll go with them. You come to the table with nothing but your hand out, you’re another likely. Greed breeds carnage, Macon. Step off while you can.”

“Faucheaux knows, too. He –”

“Faucheux knows squat. He’s an opportunist who saw a way out from under a shitty truck and took it.”

I’m an opportunist. I’ll put Liz Vernier in the middle of it, however you want. She goes down with Bobby and the rest of them. All your witnesses are dead, we get some media show with her dirty money and walk with a bonus.”

“The money isn’t dirty. And the kid is my diamond in an ever-expanding shit pile of ‘God smells like money’ assholes. I may not like Liz Vernier, but unlike you? She’s far more valuable alive than dead. Did you hear that?”

“I heard. But it’s not right. I thought…The two agents in Lafayette. My two couldn’t have –”

“No, they couldn’t. Mine had orders to fold if confronted. I needed to see air around all the players.” He shook lightly with silent laughter. “I told Bobby I was out of it to force his hand. Never expected him and a two-bit actress to run the gauntlet in a Cobra pickup waving a sawed-off elephant gun, just to keep their word.”

“Neither did we. Tell. Me. About. The money.”

Hyland stepped into Macon, slipped a medium bag of rock into Macon’s suit coat pocket, whispered. “You still don’t get it. If I told you, I would have to kill you.” He backed out of Macon’s space. “My operation requires the money be delivered directly into Vernier’s hands, by Bobby. Without interference or being tainted by any reference to the agency. Last time. Forget whatever you think is going down, forget the money and me and Liz Vernier and get out. Can you do that?” He searched Macon’s face with his eyes. “Thought not.”

A black Town Car appeared behind Hyland. “Sorry, Macon.” He dropped into the back seat. “This wasn’t your night.” The electric window shhhhsed closed in Macon’s face.

“Yeah? Well…” He watched Hyland’s car slip away, flipped it off. “Fuck you, too.” He walked to his car, yanked the door open.

Hyland tapped his driver on the shoulder. “LBI Agent Macon Jarrett has disenfranchised himself. He doesn’t need time to make contact.”

The driver touched the side of his watch. “Done. Disenfranchised?”

“His word. We need to look it up. See if it’s proper usage before we add it to the ‘sanction’ thesaurus.”

***

The patrol cop waved her flashlight over the kid glued to his spot in a puddle of vomit in the Jack in the box parking lot, his right hand frozen to a wheeled trash can.

“You haven’t touched anything? You puked, called 911 from the cell you gave me, haven’t moved?”

“No ma’am.”

“Tell me again?”

“I come out with the trash and seen him, like that, whatever used to be his head ‘sploded out all over, an, an,” he barfed into the trash can, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “I called 911. You an me, here we are.”

“Think hard. You didn’t see anybody, hear anything?”

“I done thought plenty hard already. If I’d heard shootin’ I’d a never came outside. Nothin’. Nobody. Nothin’.”

“You can let go of the can.” She handed him his phone back. “Have a seat on the sidewalk for me.” She walked back to Macon’s black Dodge where he sat, one leg in, one out, slammed awkwardly up against the door post. The left side of his head gone. She shined her light across the interior of the car to the hole at the very top of the passenger side window, followed the angle with her eyes to Macon’s head, out into the lot and back to the hole. A tour of Afghanistan told her it was a distance shot. Infra-red scope maybe, to read the target at night. Whatever was left of the bullet would be in the brain goo field and useless. The shooter’s location, if they could find it, would reveal nothing. She collected the badge, wallet, phone and decent sized bag of crack she’d retrieved from the body and set on top of Macon’s car, put them in a gallon Ziploc evidence bag, walked over and sat by the kid. She pulled off her latex gloves, pointed at the shattered security camera.

“How long has it been like that?”

“Since three or four times ago that we was robbed.”

“Getting better by the minute.” She heard the sirens screaming, shook her head. Two patrol cars, an unmarked car and a crime lab van screeched into the parking lot. An ambulance lumbered in behind them.

She stood, patted his arm with the back of her hand. “Go inside, clean yourself up. Tell whoever’s in charge to shut it down, make a pot of coffee. A long night just kicked into overdrive.”

“Nobody to tell, ma’am. I’m all by my lonesome, eleven to four.”

She scanned the lot swarming with uniforms and suits and crackling radios, all headed her direction.

“Lucky you.”

Advertisements

Bobby B – Shrimp Salad and Fresh Roasted Nuts

The water on Little Tensas Bayou was like glass, and Bobby had the Swamp Vue trimmed up until it was floating on air between the bridges of I-10. He was headed straight for endless bayou meditation mode. The drone of the covered, muffled Honda behind them, sun on the water –

“Mmmmm…” Bernie smacked his thigh a half-dozen times. “Mmm, mmm, mmm.” She caught a chunk of cracker that escaped from her mouth. “Mmmph. Jeee-eeez us. Slow down.”

Bobby throttled back so the boat sloshed in its own wake, maneuvered it under the eastbound bridge afraid she’d seen their crazies with guns again.

“This?” She pointed at the rectangular Tupperware container between her legs. “And these?” She picked a slightly greasy brown paper lunch bag off her thigh. “When something was totally out of hand Gramma used to say ‘Law-awww-dee’. Well, Law-awwww-deeee, Boudreaux. This is crazy good.”

“Momma Roche’s shrimp salad? It’s like a local legend.”

“Momma Roche would be your future mother-in-law?”

“That’s lookin’ like a ‘one that got away’ story.”

“Listen to you. You’re nineteen, a millionaire, own a boat company that makes these Rolls Royce class swamp runners. You get fan mail, you’re honest, have a big heart and good, no great, ideas. Girl’s not going anywhere. Y’all get some things out of the way growin’ up wise, it’ll happen. If it’s supposed to.” She ate another bite of shrimp salad on a peppered oyster cracker, closed her eyes. “Day-umm. It’s the heat from the crackers and the cool pineapple and shrimp that does it.” She tapped his leg again. “If you have to marry that girl to get this recipe? I’ll bring the shotgun. Monterrey Mick’s needs a signature appetizer.” She popped another bite. “What else does she have going on? Cottage cheese or mayo, eggs? Onions? Potatoes?”

“She calls it a shrimp potato salad with pineapple. Easy on everything so there’s all of it in every bite. The season’s down to the crackers.”

“How long did the oil sit up? She had to re-bake the crackers. No way this much flavor soaks in without too much leftover oil.”

“Askin’ the wrong person. Promise you’ll put her name on it in a real restaurant menu and she’ll have you in the kitchen making it.”

“Here’s a thought we missed…” she pulled another oyster cracker, frowned at the empty Tupperware. She rimmed the cracker around the container, tossed it in her mouth. “We could brand our specialties out of Mick’s, mass market them to grocery stores. Sell them online. I’d drive across LA and pay too much for this, well, what was this shrimp salad.”

Bobby watched her daydream for a minute, corrected the drifting boat. “Glad you liked it. But there aren’t any Monterrey Mick’s restaurants. Not yet.”

“It’s barely noon, Boudreaux. I’ve been shot at, scared shitless by you driving like a swamp slalom fool on the interstate in a pocket rocket pickup. I’ve cussed saw grass and underbrush, fought the current, sweated like a pig trying to drag whatever crazy boat this is over a mud bank and got another scared shitless adrenaline rush thinking that Beavis or Butthead the swamp geezer would taser and rape us. Both of us. And I’d have to watch.” She popped another peppered oyster cracker. “Our suitcases and clothes and all my keep-a-girl-beautiful things are probably in a dumpster behind that motel in Lafayette. Not to mention we skipped on the rooms.”

He thought she might drop the iron Bernie shield and cry, didn’t know what to say.

“And thinking about Mick’s?” Her face was full of desperate. “Not the stupid fucking show, but our restaurant Mick’s?” The tears were there. “Keeps me from thinking this,” she tapped on the two-million-dollar briefcase, “is going to get me killed before I can see myself as something more than a bayou bimbo bikini model and a hot-pants delivery girl on a crotch-rod TV show.” She put her hand under her nose and turned away. “If that’s all there is to my story I’m gonna be beaucoup pissed.”

Bobby reached up, unhooked their shirts from the top of the canopy, handed her the dry, turquoise tank with one hand and jacked the Stinger wide open into the channel with the other. “I’d like to stick around a little longer myself.”

“The way you drive?” She snort laughed, white knuckled the ohmigawd bar. “Good luck with that.

***

“Mick, Paris?” Orrin rolled Faucheaux’s pickup to a stop on the edge of old downtown Baton Rouge. “Y’all get out. Mick, grab the duffel bag. Find us a booth in that Waffle House and wait. Me an Henry are droppin’ by an LSU lot to swap rides.”

“My nuh, nuh, name’s not Henry.” Red Converses had been glum and dumb since he’d climbed in the pickup at Whiskey Bay.

“Henry’s what I’m calling you, regardless. Less you can come up with one you’d like to share.” Orrin glanced in the mirrors and pulled away from the curb after Mick thumped the side of the truck.

‘Henry’ leaned out the window, watched Mick and Paris swing the Waffle House door open. “Kinda ob, ob, obvious. Them. That bag?”

“BR be full of homeless. They’re invisible.”

“This truck sure as, as, as hell ain’t. Mother fuh, fuh, fuh…He was a cop. An you buh, buh, bought his shit?”

“We been stopped yet?” Orrin checked his phone, turned left. “Man’s word was good. He wanted to know what the fuck was goin’ down in his front yard is all. Your partner caught a terminal case of bad judgement. Story told.” He lifted a folded-up piece of aluminum foil from his shirt pocket with two fingers, handed it off. “Take one of those. Calms your mind down, stops you talkin’ like a broken record.”

“I’m nuh, nuh, not sure. Don’t, do, do, do –”

“Drugs? Yeah, yeah. Pick this up, Henry. The man without a head back there? He’d get rattled and stutter, time to time. That shit stopped most of it.”

“You’d blow my fuh, fuh, fuh, fucking head off fuh, fuh for stuttering?”

“Not ‘less you’re a die-hard Rolling Stones fan on top of it.”

“Nuh-uh. Springstuh, stuh, steen. He’s my man.”

“Is that a fact?” Orrin checked his phone again, made another left. “Got any tapes or CDs of that shit?”

“No.”

“Good. You keep your hands off the radio, take one of those pills an you might make it out of Louisiana alive.”

***

Orrin spotted something easy, waited for the two shaggy kids with beanies and beards to load up their backpacks and books like a pair of pack mules and take off at a fast walk before he crawled under their old, faded red Wrangler. The door opened when he flipped the latch. He knocked the shifter to neutral, crawled back under and started it.

“Henry.” He tossed him Faucheaux’s keys. “Take the cop’s truck to the Wendy’s we saw on the way here. Park it in the back, wait for me.”

“Can I have my guh, guh, gun? In cuh, case?”

Orrin pulled a random nine out of his waistband. ‘Henry’ jammed it in his front pocket on a dead run to the pickup, took off with the door open. Orrin ground the Jeep into gear and let out the clutch.

“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency…”

Orrin squawked his voice up two octaves. “That pickup y’all be a lookin’ for? One got stole over to Whiskey Bay? I seen it settin’ up at Wendy’s down in Tiger Land.”

“Sir? Did you say –”

Orrin tossed Cletus’s old phone from the rolling Jeep. “I said if a four-way hit of acid don’t kill that stutterin’ motherfucker, y’all will.”

***

“Afternoon, Macon.” The Trooper pulled himself out of the open door of his cruiser. “We sent the locals home, pushed the phone video crowd back a block just like you asked.” The State Trooper leaned his forearms on top of his cruiser door, waved a lazy finger toward the pickup backed into a corner of the lot. “I walked right up, tried to talk. He’s armed. Don’t seem to want to shoot anybody. Higher’n my summer electric bill on somethin’. Ain’t made a lick a sense since we got here.”

Macon tagged the man in the truck as the living half of his Vernier problem, let the breeze blow burger wrappers around their feet while he bought time to think. The Trooper looked down, lifted a foot and let a wrapper sail.

“Said you wanted to talk to him, Mr. LBI. Go talk. Can’t keep this Wendy’s shut down all day.”

Macon walked across the lot to the far side of the pickup, out of sight between it and a dumpster, opened the passenger door. Red Converses ‘Henry’ gave him a glassy eyed stare and a drool-y smile.

Macon leaned in, reached under the seat. “How’s it goin’?”

“Buuhhh guh. Buuh -uuhhh!”

“Momma’s fine, thanks. Yours?” Macon fished under the seat of Faucheaux’s truck for the emergency kit every cop kept in every car, pulled out a hazard flare, scratched it to life, shoved it in Henry’s lap.

“Buhhh GUH!”

“Yep. Fresh roasted nuts.” Macon buried his face in the crook of his arm against the smoke that had filled the cab in seconds, grabbed Henry’s hand, wrapped it around the nine on the truck’s seat and shoved it against Henry’s temple. He screamed “NO”, squeezed the trigger with Henry’s finger under his own, dropped the nine in Henry’s flaming lap and collapsed on the floor trying to back out of the cab.

The Trooper heard the shot, jogged across the lot and dragged Macon out of the gray-black cloud by his belt and collar, spun him around the back of the truck and toward the cruiser. They were ten yards into the parking lot when the cab went Whoomph in a ball of fire, threw them into the asphalt. Where they stayed, belly down, while the unspent rounds in ‘Henry’s’ gun popped like popcorn in a hot kettle.

Meyers – Like a Violinist

She pulled the curtain back, watched him as he walked away. Slowly. So slowly in the fog. What a wonderful man.

The fog. Everywhere. Always. She’d given up blaming the staff for smearing her glasses. That was the look of it. Vaseline. On the lens of her life. He’d said it was the medication. That was when his sadness came. Kind. Sad. Strong. Enough to carry the sadness. And so kind. Had she said that? They said he’d visited before, but…The fog…

She glimpsed her finger. The curtain. How the white bloomed in the fog when the lights were up. He’d held her fingers. Four. Her thumb dropped away. The dead sister she’d joked. He hadn’t laughed. Why not? What did he know the fog kept away? He knew her fingers…

Fine fingers. Long. He’d known a violinist with fine, long fingers. She had the fingers of an artist, he’d said. A neurosurgeon. Harpsichordist. Potter. He checked her nails. Another one obsessed with her nails…

***

Fine, long fingers, he’d said. Like a violinist. Daddy wouldn’t hear of it. NO! Sausage is a living, Daddy said. Sausage is my life! Sausage is the life for you!

Life? For me? No! I could be…Her fine, long fingers. Daddy! There is no music in kneading fresh, ground death…Fresh. Ground. Daddy? Death had to be fresh for sausage. No violin. No potter’s wheel. Fresh death. Sausage…

Fresh. When the ‘fridge died, the sausage died, and everyone knew her sausage had gone off. My sausage! Daddy!

Sausage is death, Daddy…Death is sausage.

***

Uniforms and labcoats. Not my nails! Her hands. Plastic bags. Tape. NO! Her nails. Her lovely, long, blood red…NO!

They’d scattered for him then. And he sat with her. Calm. He seemed. Sad. Kind. Meyers, is it? He’d nodded. Waited.

Please, Meyers? He’d held her hands. Firm. Warm. Kind. She remembered that about him always. Kindness. Firm. Warm. While the labcoats and their scissors….Lovely, long fingers don’t need long red nails. Like a violinist, he’d said…

***

Detective Myers? Describe as best you can within the boundaries of good taste –

Good taste? They were fresh! Until –

Madam, please

Victims. Disemboweled.

By these?

Oh God…Her lovely, long, red, nails…They had them. Bagged like Cheetos bound for a lunch box.

Sharp as scalpels, he’d told them.

How could they be otherwise? Daddy preached. Dull is Dangerous. Daddy. Sharp. Piercing the thin, abdominal wall. Intestines. Fresh. Intestines were the key.

How long?

Her nails or the intestines?

Laughter and the gavel.

Long enough, he’d said.

He understood. Little ones were useless. Nails. And intestines. But to hold them? Let them drape through her fingers while they pulsed? The smell. Tasting the air, what they’d become…Fresh was the magic of good sausage.

Wine. Spices. Onions…an exquisite composition…almost orchestral in design

How delightful it sounded when he said it! What a wonderful man…

Detective Myers this is a court of law. We’ve no need of culinary instruction –

Human Andouillette? Detective Myers – You find the ‘sausage of death’ appropriate? Judge would you instruct –

Leave him, fool! He knows sausage. It’s all in the intestine. The big one. Where the shit lives. Like the French, not bastardized –

Madam! No more!

Victim’s DNA was found among this ‘orchestrally exquisite’ assortment of spice and vegetables that you were led to by a strong fecal – Yes, ‘fecal’, please, Detective Meyers, not –

Say shit, you worm! Go on. Say it! Shit! The best bags of doom reek of it! Shit! And death! He knows. Tell them, Myers! How fabulously pungent it was! Organic. Single sourced! Tell them, Meyers! Tell. Them!

Remove her…

her…

her…

her…

***

He was gone. Slipped too far into the fog. She smiled, released the curtain, slowly gyrated her hands. Fine, long fingers. Proper clipped nails. Befitting a lady, she’d said. He’d smiled then, held them. Cold against his warmth until she felt them glow. Like a violinist, he’d said. Not a butcher. Meyers understood.

She spread her fingers. Long, wide. Like a violinist. What a wonderful man.

Bobby B – Don’t Draft Much At All

“Wet T-shirt contest?”

“Not so’s you’d know.” Bobby forearmed the sweat out of his eyes. dropped the rope he’d been trying to pull the Swamp Vue Stinger up onto the hard-packed mud bar between the north end of Standard Channel and Little Tensas bayou.  He measured the weathered man in worn camo cargos, thigh waders and a long-sleeved work shirt. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bernie reach behind her back and go full vigilant. “We for sure didn’t advertise.”

“Most folks, even the city types, they leave a boat in the water, walk the dog with a leash.” Waders took a deep drag on his cigarette, stole a glance at Bernie through the smoke. His sloping shoulders drooped further when he exhaled. “You don’t appear to be natives.”

“Houma.” Bobby waited for the smoke to clear, tilted his head toward Bernie. “She’s Port Barre.”

“Ma’am.” Waders lifted a black Yamaha cap, smiled with a touch of leer. “All the good lookin’ women Port Barre way keep pistols in their shorts?”

Bobby left that one to Bernie who didn’t speak. Or move.

“Remind me to stay south of the highway I get much west of where I am.” Waders returned Bobby and Bern’s measuring eye, with less tension. “Scanner was eat up a while back with po-lice talkin’ about a couple of missin’ kids they’d like to find.” He ground his cigarette butt out on an exposed tree root. “First, they’re lookin’ for ‘em in some little hot rod, then the FBI and the State come on sayin’ they’re not lookin’ for ‘em no more, nobody’s looking for any kids, never were.” He waved loosely to the south, spit out into the water. “Down bayou over to Whiskey Bay they got theirselves three dead road ragers. And an ex-cop I’ve been knowin’ most of my life ‘cept for his time in Nawlens tellin’ a story about how some bad men thumped him an stole his truck.” He spit again. “That there’s a full on bullshit storm.” He shifted his gaze between the two sweat soaked members of his captive audience. “Wanna know what I think?”

Bernie weighed that, laser eyes locked. “We have any choice?”

“You could go ahead on an shoot me, Port Barre.” He waited a few beats, scratched the back of his thigh. “Them kids? I think you two are them two. The same two them foot soldier lawmen got told by the big boys they don’t want no more. Y’all traded the little hot rod for a hot rod swamp skimmer to get away from the dead road ragers. Who might be your fault.” He gauged them for impact. “Faucheaux saw a way out from under that damn Ford needs lifters every five-thousand miles. And somebody somewhere told you there was a way into Little Tensas up bayou hereabouts. You planned on slidin’ through, doin’ Tensas in that little yella boat all the way to the big river, but you’re done at Ramah.” He kept his eyes on them while bent side to side and rummaged around in his cargo pockets. “Looks all the hell to me like y’all got business in the Big Red Stick somebody, or a shit load of somebodys, don’t want done.”

“So far you’re telling a good bedtime sto –”

“Forget it, Bernie.” Bobby wadded up his soaked t-shirt and threw it in the Stinger. “That’s almost the story. We got shot at on the bridge, dumped the car south of the barge loaders, hooked it over to the Standard side where a friend of mine left me this boat. He seemed to have left us a piece of shit for a map sayin’ there was a shallow here fishermen used to get from the channel into the Tensas. And some shrimp salad my neighbor’s momma made sittin’ on a block of dry ice in a cooler. Shrimp salad still ain’t thawed, couldn’t find the shallow. You’re lookin’ at where we’re at.” He picked up the rope. “We need to get on to Baton Rouge. You gonna stand there and talk or you gonna help?”

“I ain’t pullin’ shit for no rope, Houma.” He chuckled low under his breath, lit another cigarette from the mishapen Marlboro Red pack he’d pulled from his cargos and used it as a pointer. “You ease back in the water. ‘Bout twenty yards to your left, cut under that Cypress ‘pears to be fallin’ over. Not sayin’ you’re done with the rope but ain’t neither of you any kinda fat and that lipsticked up whore of a skimmer don’t look to draft much at all.” He turned, waved his cigarette hand above his shoulder. “Take care, Houma. You, too, Port Barre. Keep that pistol handy. Ba-tone can be a damned unfriendly place.” He swept the thick marshy brush away with his right hand and disappeared. They heard an old school two-cycle ATV wind up and head east.

Bobby squat lifted the front of the Stinger, shoved it back into the water. Bernie relaxed, walked toward the boat with the pink Ruger in hand, caught his look.

“Don’t laugh. Where I’m from that banjo song from Deliverance hit number one and stayed a while.” She pulled her soaked tank top over her head, threw it on top of Bobby’s shirt. “Nothing to get excited about, it’s an exer-bra. Keeps things in check under a tank.”

“I know that. I thought bikini models would have, well, more –”

“Boudreaux? I have a gun in my hand and you need to stay alive long enough to get us out of here.”

***

“You’re an overpaid, apparently incompetent errand and messenger boy, not a fucking house cat.” Liz Vernier swatted Blue Suit’s feet off the coffee table in her office, bent over the table, hands on her knees. “What happened?”

“The kid and the babeage weren’t –” He could feel her eyes setting his chest on fire, saw a flash where his head was rolling around her office like a bowling ball, and decided out of self-preservation not to look down the front of her silk blouse. “The two subjects in question acquired arms and transportation that we were, um, unaware of them having access to. The two scrotes we hired to disenfranchise them failed. One of them is dead, the other one…We don’t know. Yet.”

“No. The two ‘scrotes’ you hired.” She lifted his chin with her index finger. “You are the one who fucked up by hiring low life idiots to do a simple job. Bobby should have been ‘disenfranchised’ within hours of stepping off the plane in Lafayette. Instead they gave him almost three days to smell something and get his shit together? He lives here. Has friends here. Has a girl he still texts and tries to call twice a day even though I make sure it all goes to the Twilight Zone. For Christ’s sake Macon, he owns a fucking boat company. You missed all that and hired a pair of Salvation Army rejects to pull off an easily explainable ‘accidental disenfranchising’?” She caught herself. “Where did you come up with that word?”

“I was told offing and whacked and drilled were impolite, overused terms for murder. And your office has to be wired.”

“They are, and it is.” She sat, crossed her legs, fingered the hem of her skirt, stared at him and waited.

“There were other unforeseen circumstances. People in the picture we didn’t expect.”

“All I heard was that Bobby and this Bernadette person were coming home to raise money for a restaurant and chartered in to Lafayette to avoid an overnight in Houston. Now I’m hearing the FBI is involved and persons unknown were found dead floating in Whiskey Bay. Explain?”

“When we showed on scene the FBI said there was no story and already had the go kart on crack the kid came up with out of there. What they left us is three cars and three bodies. Two cars belong to a pair of dead brothers out of Houston and a fucked up stolen Monte Carlo out of Alexandria is currently hanging on our dead knife thrower.”

Your dead knife thrower. Faucheaux’s name came up. He’s an accidental tourist or a participant?”

“Whiskey Bay all went down a quarter mile from that swamp-rat hooker infested trailer park of his. He popped our man, I had to give him a pass.”

Your man. There’s something missing. The FBI shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about Bobby, or who Faucheaux rents his fishing trailers to. Who were the other people?”

“We don’t know. Faucheaux let it drop Bobby and the babe, uh, Bernadette, were coming here. To keep an appointment.”

“I don’t have an appointment with Bobby. Or the actress, or the FBI. Goddammit.” She pressed the heels of her hands on her temples, tilted her head over the back of the Victorian couch. “Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I am surrounded with incompetence.”

He waited for her say something else. When she didn’t he stood, wiggled his suit coat back into position. She sensed the motion.

“Find the other half of your two-fer and clean that up. ASAP. Then think of something, Macon. Something that doesn’t involve brain dead ex-cons with knives.” She rubbed her temples, shook her head, continued talking to the ceiling. “When is he coming?”

“Bobby? Tomorrow. Maybe day after. We don’t know exactly where he is.”

“Perfect. We wait until he pops up like a fucking Jack in the Box. Too bad we can’t ‘disenfranchise’ him when he hits the parking lot.”

“Yes ma’am, it is.” Macon strolled through the female staff in reception, smiled, punched the elevator button, adjusted his tie in the polished door. “House cat my ass.”

 

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Final Installment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

“Where are you taking me?”

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

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

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

“Shit! What are you —”

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

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

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

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

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

“God, Berkeley has rotted your brain.”

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

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

Bobby B – Helluva Deal

The last we checked in with Bobby, he and Bernie had escaped into the swamp with the two million dollars, Bobby’s friend Junior had launched a stick of dynamite to bait the bad guys into following him, the body count was going up and all sorts of hell was being raised on the normally quiet dirt road running parallel to the East Bank of Whiskey Bay Channel.

Orrin saw the unmistakable smoke and sparkler signature of a waterproof fuse attached to an orange stick float out in a high, slow motion arc from the enclosed swamp runner on steroids, yanked Paris up out of the muck where the landing met the water. He tossed her behind the Cutlass like a rag doll and dove in on top of her. He heard the dynamite thump on top of one of the cars sloshing in the channel and covered his ears.

A car door slammed about the same time the rain of car debris stopped falling and he rolled off Paris onto his side. The bearded man in nothing but boxers and untied work boots walking toward them with a semi-automatic pistol in his hand didn’t look happy.

“What the hell y’all doin’ down here?” The pistol flew up, popped twice. Plaid Pants grabbed his left upper arm, howled and threw his gun twenty feet in the air. Boxers and Boots raised his voice to command level and directed with the pistol. “You ain’t hurt. Get on over there with other three. All of you, hands on your heads.”

Red Converses, Plaid Pants, Paris and Orrin lined up, hands on their heads, across the back of the Cutlass that had started thumping from inside.

“I asked y’all a Goddam question.”

The thumping in the Cutlass’s trunk got louder and it started to rock.

“Whoever has the keys, raise one hand.” Boxers and Boots motioned to Orrin with the pistol. “Open it.”

Orrin unlocked the trunk, grabbed a handful of dirty Hawaiian shirt, lifted Mick up and pulled the duct tape off his mouth and from around his wrists and ankles. Boxers and Boots had a split-second star struck moment.

“Monterrey Mick? Sweet baby Jesus. I never…”

Mick ran his tongue over his lips and around inside them half a dozen times, spit, held his index finger up at Boxers and Boots, turned his attention to Orrin. “Anybody dead?”

Orrin kept nervous eyes on Boxers and Boots’ pistol. “Cletus. And his brother.”

“His brother the no good lyin’ pimp assed motherfuc –”

“Shut up, Paris.” Orrin still had his eyes on Boxers and Boots.

Mick rubbed his jaw where Cletus had smacked him a couple of days ago. “Cletus is no loss. Probably runs in the family. Bobby and Bern?”

“Gone.”

“Fabulous. Who shot who?”

“Whom, TV star. And never you mind. Nobody here gonna cry at their funerals.”

Mick started toward Boxers and Boots, got the pistol pointed at his chest. “Come on, I’m the fucking victim here. If you watch my show you know Bobby B and Bernie.” Mick made a quarter turn, waved his arm at the mud splattered posse leaning on the Cutlass. “Bobby and Bern are in deep shit. They have two million dollars in a briefcase, and this clueless crew of gap-ass dumb fucks wants to take it away from them. Last time I saw either of them they were in whatever the fuck that mutant baby pickup is.”

“I wanna believe you, Mick. But Bernie and Bobby B and two million dollars showin’ up on the WB channel in a retarded little Swamp Vue pickup and disappearin’? That’s a load of grade A prime shit right there.”

“I’m telling you, it’s –”

“We don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no money,” Plaid Pants elbowed Red Converses. “Ain’t that right? We was hired to make the swamp rat not wanna come home no more. See?” Plaid Pants sneered, gingerly pulled a four-inch knife out of his pocket with two fingers. “I’m an artist.” He slowly waved the knife around like a New Orleans street magician until the two fingers turned into a hand hold. “There’s parts I like to peel like a grape ‘fore I cut ‘em off.” He laughed, underhanded the knife hard and fast at Boxers and Boots who stepped to his left and put a bullet in Plaid Pant’s chest as the knife whizzed past. They all watched Plaid Pants bend backward onto the trunk like a hard hit punching clown, slowly come back up.

“Right handers…step…right…”

“Right handers who don’t know any better.”

“Well…” Plaid Pants’ face contorted into resolute acceptance. “I’ll be fucked…” He did a slow, forward fold onto his knees that ended in child’s pose.

Red Converses put a toe in Plaid Pants’ ribs, pushed him over. “Suh, suh, suh so you will.” He looked in turn at everyone left standing, shrugged. “Nuh, nuh, nuh now what?”

***

Boxers and Boots returned their unloaded guns, tossed Orrin’s bag of grenades, ammunition and dynamite from the back of the Cutlass into the bed of his about to be ex-truck. “Y’all barged into my trailer, overpowered me, stole my truck. You get a cold ride to Baton Rouge to do whatever, I get a new truck.”

“How you goin’ to explain us overpowerin’ you with a bullet from your gun in a dead man?”

“Ain’t too worried about that. Heard Mick say somethin’ about Bobby B and Bernie goin’ to see Liz Vernier with that two mill. This shit’ll get whitewashed six ways from Sunday to keep her and hers out of it.” He stepped away from the pickup, gave them a lazy salute, and a wink. “There’s a woman in that trailer back down the road be happy to hit me up side the head with somethin’ before I call y’all in.” He kicked the side of the truck bed, waved them off. “Git. Troopers stop you, you’re on your own.”

***

“Let me get my head around this. I hit you with something, you get a new a truck?” Boxers and Boots’ wife scanned the kitchen. “Because you handed your old truck over to some whack-o’s so they could go shoot up a crooked lawyer’s office in Baton Rouge? That’s a helluva deal.”

“Yeah it is. Not too hard, babe. Just enough to make it believable.”

“You always told me cops can tell if it’s faked.”

“Yeah, well, blood and a likely injury, not like some dumb ass stabbing himself in the –”

She side-armed the closest thing on the counter, an electric can opener, accelerated her sidearm until the can opener collided with the left side of his head. The plastic shell around the can opener shattered. Boxers and Boots crumpled. She giggled, covered her mouth. “Oh my God…Honey? You need to trade for a new truck more often.” She looked at what was left of the can opener in her hand, giggled again. “And when you come to? You owe me a new can opener.”

***

“Fo-show?” The State Trooper leaned an elbow on the glass topped dinette table in Boxers and Boots’ kitchen, scratched his temple with the end of his pen. “What kinda coonass shit is that?”

“F-A-U-C-H-E-U-X.” Boots and Boxers had put on a t-shirt and cargo shorts, and held a blood-stained dish towel full of ice cubes on the left side of his head. His wife stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders and tried to look worried.

The freshly shaved blue suit and aviator shades interrupted. “Faucheux? Pre-Katrina Nola narcotics Faucheux? Muthafucka, you see Faucheux yo ass goin’ down fo sho?”

Boxers and Boots nodded.

Blue Suit tilted his head toward the front door. “Talk a walk, Trooper. This is Louisiana Bureau business now. Faucheux, let’s go sightseeing.”

***

Blue Suit and Faucheux leaned against a very bland, very black government issue Dodge Charger and watched the hazmat-suited forensics take hundreds of pictures of the scene while a pair of wet-suited divers swapped profanity with a wrecker driver trying to get the sloshing cars chained up and out of the channel. The Swamp Vue pickup was already gone.

Blue Suit nodded slightly toward the channel.

“The two floaters?”

“Don’t know.”

The pause said Blue Suit wasn’t sure he liked that. “Our deal was you tell me everything, I sanitize it. If certain parties can use any of this to their political advantage that’s a bonus. This whole thing is so transparent that for me to fix it you need tell me exactly what happened here. And I’ll tell my people and State Farm what they need to hear. How you’re a decorated, retired first responder who’s lost a step and how much good press and state-house grease they’ll all buy for themselves when they accept my report and deliver a shiny new pickup to your trailer.”

“Don’t know names.” Faucheux whipped the ice cubes out of the bloody towel, wiped his ear and stuffed the towel in his front pocket. “They told me the one on the right was a crippled pimp till he almost drowned. His sudden rehabilitation didn’t sit well with a stripper he’d been runnin’ who shot him with his own hand cannon. The one without a head must have tried to avenge his brother and was too slow. The greaser’s on me. He tried ‘I can throw a knife faster than you can shoot me’ when my weapon was out. He was good, though. Coulda killed a Boy Scout or a probie.”

Suit snorted. “The state have your weapon’s ballistic fingerprints?”

“Yeah,” Faucheux pulled the towel and wiped the trickle of blood running down his cheek from his ear.

“Take a propane torch to that piece, go deep on the swamp and lose it. Bad guys thumped you before all this happened, stole your weapon and your truck. What about the Swamp Vue toy?”

“Don’t know. Heard it, that’s what woke me up. Fuckin’ thing was NASCAR loud.”

“You see the kid or the girl with him?”

“No. Or the two million dollars they’re supposed have.”

Blue Suit’s pause was back.

“Straight up, Bureau. I’d know ‘em if I saw ‘em, and I wouldn’t forget an up close and personal view of Hot Pants Bernie’s backside. Mick said –”

“Mick is the kidnapped TV hot rodder coke head who’s gone Patty Hearst and is now armed and dangerous with the rest of them?”

“He’s still kidnapped. He asked them to dump him somewhere there was hot food and a clean place to shit before they got crazy again. I doubt if he knows a bullet from his ass.”

“Any good guys get killed believing that I’ll be back.”

“I’m telling you he’s out of it. He’s the one who pointed them at Liz Vernier’s office so they’d cut him loose.”

“Shit. That’s where this is going? Vernier’s?”

“Sooner or later the kid and the money have to be there. Part of some deal. I thought you knew –”

Shit. You forget anything you heard about Vernier and the Swamp Vue kid.” Blue Suit ramped up some angst, opened his car door. “The story here is two brothers got sideways, killed each other over a stripper and an unlucky road raged greaser got caught in the crossfire. Happens every day.” He dropped into the driver’s seat of the Dodge. “Questions?”

Faucheux wiped his ear again. “Amazon has electric can openers, don’t they?”

“They probably have electric ass wipers. Jesus. Fucking can openers?” Blue Suit shook his head like he was clearing it. “I gotta blow, you’re walking. We understand each other, ‘fo sho’?”

“Yeah, yeah…‘fo sho’.” He wiped his ear again, watched the Dodge kick up gravel and dust. “Stupid little prick.” He checked the towel for fresh blood. “You’re Goddam right ‘Jesus fucking can openers’.”

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Part 3

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

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

“History before I started it.”

“Dead, set and locked down?”

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

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

“Met a girl.”

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

“Not like that. A girl girl.

“Worst kind of trouble.”

“She’s not a banger…She’s…different.”

“What I said.”

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

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

“Six?”

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

“How am I supposed to —”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will Flash hate me forever for this?”

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

“Black lipstick?”

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is there a latent hippie blood test?”

“Cassie’s Place is what?”

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

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

“And then?”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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