Random NVDT – Vignettes

I’m always harping on do what you do, and do it well. And if there’s something you do well, kick it in the ass. I won’t go in to why we all get sidetracked, but it happens. Whatever it was has hit the road. And now?

I don’t reblog much. But an early days blogging friend has reappeared. And I think everyone should welcome her back. Here’s a classic, damn near perfect, vignette. Sense of place? I can stand on the sidewalk and smell it. We all know it. Few of us would be able to offer it up as magically and effortlessly as this. Watercolor wordsmithing. To me? This is story telling. Cencha, who knows Letti –

 

In the back I could hear the murmuring swell of gossip and repercussions, the rich tide of Spanish swirling like water down a drain.

via Chencha, Who Knows Letti — inksplashstories

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Fried Hog Poop – No Charge For The Fold

Another “The Hot Girl -part 3” writing exercise casualty. Dialogue vs Narrative for backstory. Investment Alert – Long Read- almost 3k. Coffee or wine may be required.

Las Vegas – Mid-Summer 1979

Jackson loosened his red and gold silk bow tie and tried to clear his head of the endless piano bar requests for “After the Love Has Gone” before he stepped out the back door of the hotel kitchen with a couple of waiters. One male, one female, the three of them on their daily post-lunch-rush burn one and chill in the heat retreat.

The girl, Missy, was close to his age. Everyone called the guy Five-Oh because he dyed his hair, combed two-thirds of it back in a duck’s butt to cover the tanned or spray painted bald spot, left the front hanging greasy like Jack Lord from Hawaii Five-O. He could have been thirty or sixty. His sun spotted hands looked ancient covered in wiry, salt and pepper hair and they shook, wide and slow like a lazy blues vibrato when he passed the flat joints he carried in his wallet. He was weird, too thin and jumpy, probably a speed freak, but he knew somebody who grew killer, lime green hydroponic weed and he was loose with it.

Missy was too thin herself, wouldn’t talk to anyone but her customers. After her shift she changed into the same long, hippie-print tapestry skirt and a slightly dingy white, cap sleeve t-shirt, hit the joint with them and headed out the alley and west on foot. After a week of everything he said to her running into a wall, Jackson followed her. It felt like she was going to walk them to where the west side of Vegas met the desert if he didn’t stop her.

He caught up at an intersection, pulled out the first conversation starter he could find. “Nice bracelet. Indian?”

“I knew you were back there, space man. I missed the ‘walk’ light on purpose and waited up so we could bale this and stack it in the barn. I don’t need a boyfriend or a new savior or a better job or a better way or better sex or Avon or Amway or the New York City Sunday paper or anything you’re selling. Leave me alone.”

“I asked about the bracelet.” It was thin leather covered in beads and more of a cuff, almost like lightweight Indian biker wear, and laced on with orange yarn.

“Indian, yeah. I don’t know what kind. It was wide enough for what I needed, and the bead pattern was cool.” He thought she was going to bite a hole in her lip. “I lace it on and forget it. Thanks for caring. Gotta go.” She took off across the street without the walk light, dodged a couple of cars and kept on west. He watched for a minute, jogged in the heat all the way back to his car and drove west on Flamingo. He crossed under the interstate, saw her a quarter mile ahead. He rolled up in front of her, stopped and got out.

“This is stupid. Missy’s not your name, nobody’s really named Missy and nobody in Vegas nicked you with it.”

“I’m not from Vegas and it’s not your problem, is it?”

“I’m from bale it and put in the barn country myself. You don’t talk through your nose, and Missy is still bullshit.” He could see her frustration with him ramping up.

“Do you get away with this, wherever you’re from, talking to girls like we need to talk back and telling us it’s bullshit if we don’t? I told you —”

“You didn’t tell me anything, it’s hot as hell and you aren’t walking like you’re going anywhere. You can ride in the back with the tire iron like the last girl that got in my car, but get off your feet and outta the heat, tell me where you need to go.” They stared at each other for a few seconds. He drummed on the top of his car with his fingers while she fidgeted with the leather cuff. “Hey, I liked that one. Feet, heat.” She still wasn’t sold, but she let a quick, faint smile get out. He was gaining ground.

“What, now you’re some kind of prairie poet or something? I heard twang. Texas? Not tin can enough to be Okie.”

“Okie born and raised. But I’ve spent a lot of time getting it out of my nose and down into a drawl.”

“You’re not there yet.” She gave up another faint smile, crawled into the back seat. “Wow, baa-ad. The air conditioner in this thing works!”

He pulled away from the curb, had no choice but silence since his radio had been stolen, idled them out Flamingo in third.

“Nice hole you have in your dash.” She opened his back window a crack, lit a long, white filtered cigarette and blew “Kansas” out with the smoke.

“No Kansas without a tape player.”

“Me, you Okie clown. I’m from Kansas. Though where I lived? I could almost throw a rock and hit Oklahoma if I wanted.”

In the mirror he watched her make a face while she leaned, twisted, pulled a seatbelt buckle out from under her backside. “Now I’m living across town the other way in a runaway shelter, so you aren’t taking me ‘home’ anywhere around here, if that was your big ‘help Missy out’ idea.”

“Little old for that shelter, aren’t you? Twenty-two?”

She slapped the side of his headrest. “Good guess! Twenty-three. Twenty-four in August. They don’t check ID there, I don’t do hard drugs, and I wash my face with Noxzema to keep up my girlish looks. There’s girls in there not even fourteen look a lot worse than me. I hate the place, but it’s not coed, so it’s safe. Horny mixed up chicks I can handle. It’s horny, mixed up dudes I can do without.”

He checked her taking his temperature over that in the rear-view. “I’m starving. The no feed us rule at work sucks.”

“So does the food, space man. So really it’s like a benefit, you know? Them not feeding us.” She continued to watch him, his eyes keeping time between the road and her in the mirror. “They weigh that shit is why we don’t get to eat it. Every ticket gets a weight and they check it once a week to see who’s skimming. They even weigh those pans under the counter where they throw the fuckups away. The Mafia runs a way tighter ship than the Navy, that’s for sure.” She let the smoke and her mind drift a little, ashed her cig out the window. “I don’t eat much so it doesn’t matter to me. I walk all afternoon, drink a lot of water. My car’s broken, so I walk back to the shelter after dinner shift. They usually have some kind of chunks in macaroni. It’s slimy, but nice of them. And it keeps me from blowing away. But me and food. It’s just…” She watched the smoke curl, dropped the butt out the window, sighed and stared after it.

“I live on this end of town,” Jackson said to the mirror. “Out where they’re building houses. Not many restaurants yet. Not much of anything yet but apartments, stick framed houses not getting finished. The economy is what I heard. I was going to fix something easy. You can bring the lug wrench in with you.”

“You’re not dangerous, I picked up on that. Okie weird, maybe. I’ll come in ‘cause it’s hot, but I’m just gonna watch.”

***

Jackson made quickie stir fried rice with two Uncle Ben’s boil-in-bags, a bag of frozen veg, a couple of scrambled eggs and pepper. He set two bowls on the counter, grabbed Tabasco and soy sauce from the fridge. He splashed a bowl with some of both, forked the rice, shrugged approval. “I gotta do some laundry this afternoon.” He pointed to the main bedroom with his fork. “There’s all kinds of robes in the front bedroom. Take the tire iron when you’re done with the rice, toss your clothes out. No charge for the fold.”

All she could do was snort with her mouth full because he’d let that go without seeing it as a fantastic jest. “I can’t get stuck out here looking at a dinner shift with no clothes and some crazy Okie weirdo who hates radio. It’s not ever going to happen.” She spooned some more of the rice, shot the bowl of it with a generous dose of soy sauce and took it to the big front bedroom, yelled for him from inside. He ambled in with his bowl, watched her through the open double door on the closet while she slowly fanned through several dozen silk robes on plush hangers. She held a simple, long pink one under her chin, took three steps sideways to the full length mirror and whistled soft and low.

“Wowzer…” She hit the light switch that handled the atmospheric indirects, not the overhead “work” lights. “Will you look at that…How the hell do you live here on the piano bar, space man?” She leaned forward, slowly turning her head to take it all in. “Just being in this bathroom has to be a sin. What’s with all the clothes?” She caught a glimpse of both of them in the wall to wall mirror, blushed. “And the perfume and all these lotions and make up?”

“Office supplies.”

“Yeah?” She hung the robe on a brass hook by the door, gave it a loving pat. “Too much. Too-oo much.” He followed her back to the kitchen where she went straight to the skillet and spooned the remainder of his simple chef Chinese into her bowl.

“I’m only eating because this is the first time any man has ever cooked for me. And I can’t let that one get by, you know? Truly. Never happened before.” She talked around a mouth full of rice and veg, gestured with her bowl. “This could be a bowl of fried hog poop, but knowing a man cooked it for me makes it great, whatever it is.” She swallowed the last of her rice and veg, balled up her paper napkin and dropped it in the bowl. “Seriously. Lay it out, space man. What’s up with the bathroom and the silk robes and everything?”

“This place belongs to seven non-affiliated, free lance hookers. They rented the place right after it was built because it was in the furthest out burbs, no one is looking for hookers out here, and they don’t do business or live in the apartment. They pull up, come inside and prep, walk out dressed up in expensive, real world clothes, climb back in their cars and hit their appointments. Town and Johns are east, desert and construction are west, they live wherever they live. I make sandwiches or omelets, do their laundry, keep the place clean, gas up their cars, glue heels back on shoes, fix stuff. C’mere.”  He set their bowls in the sink, tossed their napkins in a can under it and walked her back into the master bath in the front bedroom.

“See that?” Jackson pointed through the glass surround on a garden tub at a shiny brass shower head the size of a dinner plate. “I put that in for them last week. A hundred and twenty bucks, no shit. From Italy, I think. That paddle thing on the side goes all the way around. From standing in the rain to that little circle of holes in the middle that will beat your ass. It’s —”

She pushed him out of the room and locked the door. Less than a minute later her clothes flew out and the door locked again.

He waited until he heard the bathwater stop before starting the load of hooker office wear and Missy’s clothes. He sat on the couch and watched a video tape of a guy with a foreign accent explain beginner guitar and music theory. He couldn’t keep up with the guy on guitar, yet, but it was good for his brain to stay on top of even simple theory. And the only other tape, the sensual massage lesson, would have primed him to climb, uninvited, into the bathtub with his nameless guest.

***

“Massey, not Missy? Ferguson? Like the tractor?” He leaned his head on the back of the couch in mock shock. “Jesus. Alice Chalmers would at least have been more chick sounding.”

“Hey,” she kicked him on the shin with a bare foot, “there’s nothing wrong with Massey. I just stay away from all of that except for government forms because I have to tell it all, like now. Only nobody else has cooked for me or washed my clothes since mama died. Tell me you didn’t do it ‘cause you’re a panty sniffer. I could use a friend.”

“I only sniff to check for clean or dirty.” He grinned, held up the red can. “More Coke?”

“No. I like to crunch the ice chunks that still have some taste of it. I’ve never, ever seen anybody beat up ice with a hammer before.”

“I don’t like cubes. Don’t know why, just never have. My mom indulged me, so it’s a habit now. When did your mom die?”

“When my dad ran over her with a combine ‘cause she was fucking Nueller down in the air conditioned garage of the Esso. I was twelve then? Yeah, twelve, and just a couple of days before it happened my brother’d pulled a shotgun on dad when he went off on mom, told him not to touch her again, ever. I didn’t blame her when it all came out. Dad’s about a pig and a fucking half. Fat, drunk mostly, showers when he remembers. Nueller was always shiny clean, smelled like Old Spice even on a hot day, always had a crease in his pants and was fucking every woman in three or four counties in two states who had a guy like dad for a husband.”

“Nice work if you can get it.”

She wrinkled her nose like somebody’d farted. “Not really. He’s dead now, too, Nueller is. The man who owned the Ford lot from over in Anthony waited for him to step out from behind the pumps and ran him down. He was going about twenty-five, nailed Nuellie with the dead center of a brand-new Ford. Backed up over him, ran over him some more. The paper said Nueller was smiling. The Ford lot man’s wife looked a lot like Marilyn Monroe, some kind of hot girl everybody said. I didn’t know her. Nueller probably thought it was her coming for him, not her husband. Happy to dead. Boom.” She covered her knees again with the slippery, oversized pink silk robe. She went thoughtful for a moment, set her glass of ice on the coffee table, looked at him and was surprised he was listening.

“I guess that’s the best way to go, you know, looking forward to something. Mama was miserable and said all the time she only stayed for me. I know she had to have heard that combine, had to know what was coming, and didn’t try to run or anything. Miserable to dead. Boom.” She pulled the sleeve of the robe down over her left wrist where the wide, beaded Indian bracelet lived when she wasn’t fresh out of the tub. “I think that’s why I’m still here. Some days I feel too miserable to die. If I get happy someday? Lightning will strike me, I know it.”

Jackson pulled the sleeve back, looked at all the small, white scars on her wrist. Nothing deadly, just knicks. Manifested frustration. She turned, chin in the crook of her arm, watched him unload the clothes from a dryer in a closet by the kitchen.

“The Indian bracelet you like? I only got it because it stops me. I know it’s crazy, but sometimes I’ll even pinch myself with a roach clip if I’m bummed. I’m right handed and if I tried any of that with my left hand I’m so retarded I’d cut my arm off. I really sort of need my right one or I couldn’t do anything and then I’d be more miserable and not dead.”

“Cutting your arm off might be a good start on dead.” He dumped the basket of dryer friendly panties, teddies, slips, nothing but lace and hooks bras, a couple of nylon halter top with hot pants onesies along with Massey’s clothes on the big, square coffee table and started sorting. He was almost done, folded her panties, dropped them on top of her skirt and t-shirt.

“How’d you know?”

He held up a small piece of v-shaped lace draped over his finger and her tired at the seams tiger-striped bikinis, raised his eyebrows. He also held up what had once been a bra and was now a lot of stringy elastic and shapeless nylon and cotton. “Your bra is shot. You oughta toss it.”

“And wear what?”

“Go liberated or get in the top drawer in the big bedroom. Probably forty in there. Two of the ladies are about your size. Find one you like that fits. They’ll never miss it, and if they do I’ll tell them the dryer ate it.”

She came back dressed, with an obviously lacy bra under the t-shirt. “You’re a weird sort of guy, space man. You cook a little, do laundry like a Chinaman. You’ll look at my legs and show me the shower but not to make me feel creeped. Where’d you learn to be a house boy?”

“Lived with a girl who failed home-ec. The rest was mom went to work. Simple survival.”

“Same here on the survival. Only my mama was murdered and he got away with it.”

Painted Ladies

The Hot Girl 3 Excerpt – Painted Ladies

Tuesday September 11, 1979 – Los Angeles

The rattle of locks and chains stopped Jackson’s heel of his hand fist from landing on the warehouse door for his third set of bam, bam, bam. The locks continued to rattle against the galvanized door, up the left side, down the right, then the middle. The rattles stopped, nothing happened for long enough he considered announcing himself to see if that would help. An electric motor behind the door started grinding, the door split in the middle and rolled away across the front of the almost waterfront warehouse. Three slightly older girls, all sporting a tangible air of caution, were spread out across the opening, the two on either side holding three-foot long steel pry bars. The middle one looked right and left down the alley with no name, waved to a forklift driver two buildings down before she turned and acknowledged him.

“Jackson?”

“Yeah. I –”

“Who was your ref again?”

“Audrey. Boriman. Atlanta Bal –”

She pulled him inside, the grinding commenced, considerably louder inside than out, and the doors came together behind him with a boom that seemed to reverberate forever.

“Sorry.” All three of them frisked him. “Weirdos. You never know.” The one who’d pulled him inside left them, lifted several industrial breakers and flooded the space with light.

Old welded angle iron and pine-plank bleachers like the ones at high school practice fields were arranged in a loose horseshoe in the middle of the warehouse. He knew by heart from reading the seat bottoms when he was a kid they’d hold “approximately 105 adults or 3, 250 lbs.” On the floor in the center of the horseshoe was a twenty by twenty-foot pad resembling a boxing ring. Its edges, the floor around it and the first couple of rows of the bleachers were splattered with paint.

“Aja,” the middle one, introduced herself. “Hope Audrey knew what she was talking about.” She stripped down to her flip flops. “Hard to find good help these days. Everybody can talk, nobody can do.”

“Uh…” Jackson eyed the other two still gripping their pry bars. “The ad said, ‘Painted Ladies Troupe seeks non-derivative sound artist.’ There wasn’t anything about, um…Clothing being, optional?”

“Are you high?”

“No, but I –”

“Excellent.” Naked Aja grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him across the warehouse while she talked. “What we do is totally dependent on a high level of intuitive interpersonal communication. We can’t…No, we won’t have the integrity of our work disgraced by tainted sensory reception.”

It was getting weirder, but art and dance majors all talked a stream of crazy shit most of the time, with or without their clothes, and he could hang right in the middle of it with them.

Aja marched him to the far, open edge of the splattered pad, lifted the lid on a large wooden shipping crate and proceeded to pull a wide assortment of junk out and toss it in his direction.

Jackson caught a few of them, had to let others clang and bang on the floor. Juggling metallic kitchen utensils and construction site junk in a “surprise, I’m naked!” interview wasn’t what he expected.

Aja continued to toss until she was satisfied with the mess of debris at his feet, dusted her hands. “Make us some music.”

He squatted, went through the chunks of pipe, wooden boxes and paint sticks, kitchen spoons, stainless steel dog food and salad bowls, sheet aluminum, a bowling ball with a chunk missing, a small galvanized wash basin and other junk.

“Lots of it, but not much to work with.” He held up a wooden meat tenderizing hammer, thunked it on a bowl suspended from a banana hanger, got a dull bunggggg for his effort. “Short term interesting, not very good percussion is the only possibility for most of this. The wash basin and some marbles would make a decent groove. Nothing lyrical. I’m not sure what you expect here.”

“You’re the ‘Sound Artist.’ Make something wonderful happen.”

He knew they were waiting for him to fold or build a drum set out of dog food bowls and fold even harder. He looked past the two expressionless security girls leaning on their weaponized pry bars, scanned the warehouse.

“That.” He pointed to the far corner where a version of every church basement and grandmother’s house upright piano sat, adorned with a psychedelic multicolored paint job and partially draped with a splattered canvas painter’s cloth. “I need that.”

“It will never be in tune. Piano players are like gum under church pews, and Piano Man is not who we…” She stopped, weighed his enthusiasm against her cynicism, waved in the piano’s direction. “We let you in.”

There was something unsettling in a naked girl with her fists on her hips in that “You’re wasting my time” way watching him push the piano across the warehouse while the ancient brass casters screeched on the concrete.

He scattered the pile of junk with his foot, spent a few minutes modifying the piano with odd bits and pieces, set a chunk of steel on the damper pedal. At first he coaxed some eerie, metallic drones out of it by scraping the strings with a steam basket, ringing occasional dissonant bells from the top end with a broken tack hammer. He looked up and all three of them were naked. Rolling all over the mat in and out of what he supposed were modern dance poses. He abused the strings and soundboard with other objects from the floor, monitoring the ‘dance’ out of the corner of his eye and adjusting his output to their activity dynamics as best he could until he smashed a raspy, banged strings-on-aluminum-strip from the upper middle of the sound board and stood, eyes closed and arms wide, while the warehouse’s huge natural reverb decayed around them.

“Cool. The room lets you stand inside it.” He absently set two metal ladles on top of the piano along with several lengths of galvanized pipe. “I need an egg beater like I used with Aud. More dynamics.” He played a slow, out of tune arpeggio, the steel block still resting on the pedal. “I could get up inside of that with one and –”

All three of them, naked and slightly sweaty, hugged him. They helped him toss the excess junk back in the crate and dressed before they led him to a glassed-in upstairs office that overlooked the small arena and handed him a steaming pottery class cup.

“Honest to God fresh roasted coffee.”

His first instinct was to refuse. After his last three girls and their Timothy Leary’s Gatorade in New Mexico he liked to watch his drinks being mixed. But they were all drinking from the same pot. He might die crazy, but not alone.

Aja pulled a chair away from an old, metal, paint splattered like everything else in the warehouse work table, pushed a box of donuts his way. “I was afraid you were another Bartok tone cluster wannabe. But…” She looked at him with clear, appraising eyes. “That was amazing. Magical.” She checked in telepathically with her two partners who had left their pry bars downstairs. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” one of the ex-pry bar girls laughed. “Thanks for being the most disappointing piano player in L.A.” A comment that in any other context he might have found disturbing.

***

“You got a gig doing wha?” Dash had to set the bong on the counter while he coughed. “Sheee-it, my man. Fine, nekkid women rollin’ around in paint? However much they payin’ you be too much. As you have piqued my interest, what is the entry fee to witness this creative endeavor?”

Jackson loaded and fired the bong. “Two-hundred and fifty dollars.” He blew a series of smoke rings. “Fifteen hundred in the paint splatter zone. I figure they have to gross close to a hundred grand for a full house.”

“Fuck me, slap my momma, order pizza for later. You shittin’ me?”

“Nope. The canvas auctions start at twenty grand. Unless they find something artistically disagreeable on one and cut it up into smaller pieces that add up to more money. I’m going to a show at some Warbucks’ pad in Malibu on Sunday. I have to be ‘Rasputin’ for a while, but you can hang if you’ll play my awestruck, culturally underprivileged token sidekick.”

“Depend first upon what a Rasputin be. I refuse to be seen in such an enlightened environment wearing a Sunset Boulevard at midnight collar.”

“None of that. I’m supposed take kitchen utensils out and gently abuse the inside of the host’s grand piano in a cocktail piano version of what I do at the paintings. While they all eat shrimp and talk art and admire their wall size naked chicks in paint art.”

“And what do you say as you peruse their drawers for magic implements of sonic construction?”

“Nothing. I grunt, but not too dangerously, and if pressed I guess I’ll tilt my head like a dog that doesn’t get it, with an air of quizzical seriousness.”

“Sheeee-it. It is my assumption, as your friend and confidant in this affair, they be payin’ you way too much for that artistically suspicious activity as well?”

“Mama said stand up tall when confronted by a truth.”

“You are an artistic fraud of the highest order.”

“I prefer carefully constructed poseur.” Jackson raised his hand, wiggled his fingers like a magician. “An elaborate accessory to the festivities.”

“Fraud it is. I am down, my brother. For shrimp and a rich white people in Malibu tableau I will become the epitome of Buckwheat and suspend belief in any creative photography degree that bears my name.”

Bobby B – Don’t Let The Pretty Face Fool You

Last One. Unless someone asks for Bobby’s Houma House Denouement 

“All of you. Out.” Liz Vernier’s voice was level with a sharp, beveled edge, and packaged with a glare that could have turned an Arizona swimming pool into a hockey rink.

“But we have more –”

She raised the inside corners of her eyebrows and maybe a quarter inch of her tongue sneaked out onto her upper lip.

“Yes ma’am.”

She, Carrie Louise, Bobby and LBI District Chief Bastik watched the parade of plain clothes and uniformed police from three agencies swivel their hips, shift their holsters and radios in a dance through the narrow crosshatch of legal assistants at their desks in Liz Vernier’s outer office. They re-convened at the elevator, all shuffling, staring at the floor. A pack of sheepish, recently chastised over-equipped and overgrown boy scouts.

Liz kept the glare and focused it on Bobby who had stopped letting it bother him some time back but played along when it was to his advantage. She tapped the tip of a high gloss index fingernail on a yellow and black plastic fishing tackle box.

“What manner of lunacy prevailed on that pea brain of yours to think, even for an instant, that bringing two million dollars halfway across the country in a tackle box was a good idea?”

“He wanted…” Carrie Louise folded her arms tight across her chest, tried to mimic Liz’s stare. “He wanted motel time with that…actress. Bobby B’s in love with his pecker lunacy, that’s what lunacy.”

“CL that’s bullshit and you –”

“You two can do this later. If I’m lucky she’ll kill you. I asked you a question, Mr. B.”

“The tackle box was Annabelle, this morning. She said whoever was after the money probably wasn’t done, so…And the rest seemed like a good idea. I mean, I was coming home anyways, Bernie wanted to see her people –”

“Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.” CL wiggled quote fingers around the name every time she said it. “I’m about sick down to my butt of ‘Bernie’, Mr. B.”

“I’m not telling either of you again.” Liz pointed pistol fingers with both hands, heels still on the desk. “Lafayette? I need an explanation.”

“Another motel –”

“Carrie Louise Roche, shut it and keep it shut.” Liz never took her eyes off Bobby. “Lafayette?”

“Not far from Port Barre. For, uh…Bernadette. We didn’t want to stay in Houston,” He shot the glare back at CL, “And spend another night in a mo-tel. I asked one of those pretty airline counter fellas if there were any other options and they hooked us right up with a ride on a mostly empty corporate charter. It worked out. You know, for Bernie.” Bobby played lost swamp boy for a few more beats. “I wasn’t sure what to do in California, with the money and the bank and all.”

“Your Mr. DeHavilland couldn’t advise you?”

“He was gone. He’s out –”

“Raising investment money for a restaurant franchise that is now guaranteed to be a hit. If I didn’t know better, or thought any one of you involved were capable of pulling it off, I’d say this wild west robbery fiasco and subsequent media feeding frenzy was the marketing ploy of the century. Fading niche content TV host reinvented as hero who saves the day for swamp bred bikini model and a down-bayou rube. Both of whom just happen to work for him. I’m tempted to tell the press this money that raised hell over half of Louisiana is you backing out of the restaurant deal.” She let that sit. “But it seems Mr. DeHavilland and Monterrey Mick the Mouth beat me to it and they have you all tied up in a neat little bouquet of the happy, down home heroes family.” She poked the long, polished nail index finger at her wide-open mouth in a gag me gesture, pulled it and blew a breath out the corner of her mouth. “It’s all a giant crock of gator shit. You and Carrie Louise need to have a conversation. Take it outside and off the premises.”

For the second time Liz and Chief Bastik watched a trek to the elevators. Bastik chuckled silently hard enough to rock in his chair. “Glad I’m not him.”

“She’ll skin him, but I’m afraid she’ll never let him go. What about the bimbo?”

“Two rooms in Lafayette, both slept in. Nothing there. Talked to the housekeepers, they think maybe she intercepted a pizza but couldn’t prove it. Her little machine gun cleared the Feds,” he snapped his fingers, “like that. She’s clean except for running away and joining a militia when she was fifteen. Possible suspicious disappearance of a pizza and looking good in suntan lotion and short shorts aren’t crimes.”

“The last two should be. And you’re all expecting me to believe Bobby is truly stupid enough to wait for Wells Fargo in Huntington to come up with two-million cash because he likes to do business that way?”

“They sent him and two armed couriers to a Brink’s warehouse with a voucher. Paper trail checks all down the line.”

“Damn. What was the noise I heard about the FBI?”

“They were on a gun smuggling case. Macon’s dinks overheard them showing off their badges to the desk girl, called in, thought they’d make great cover to get next to the target.”

“You know that as fact?”

“No, they’re all dead. But what I do know is half-wit dinks and that scenario makes perfect sense in Dinkville.”

“Shit.” She leaned back in her leather exec chair, tossed a pen at her desk. “Macon?”

“Macon was crooked as a Cypress root, and if he knew anything besides what he told us, he took it with him. The only other calls he made that afternoon were LBI business and a couple to a six-dollar burner that pinged down by the river and disappeared. It was obvious he was buying information with rock, Liz. Information someone didn’t want bought. He was a cop, though, so we’ll shake the bushes, bring out the bagpipes and fold a flag. In a couple weeks we’ll shoot a methed up skin head covered in swastikas for resisting arrest and find Macon’s murder in his manifesto.”

“Your idea?”

“No, but it’s the one to run with. Dirty cops are bad press. Dead, white extremist meth head cop killers make everyone happy.”

“White, methed up skin head lives don’t matter? You watch. Somebody’ll be butt hurt, show up at your press conference with a sign.” She sighed, from somewhere deep inside. “The FBI anywhere near this bothers me. What do you think I should do about the money?”

“Bank it. Or burn it if you don’t believe Macon told you everything and you’re still worried about the FBI. And have two mill laying around to replace it.” District Chief Bastik stood, profoundly gay, totally unaccustomed to his uniform and uncomfortable in its forward manliness. “I’ll pass your sincere condolences on to the Director for the loss of one of our rising young stars and he’ll be more than pleased to accept your promise of a generous donation to the fund of his choice.”

“This stinks, Bastik. All of it.”

“Maybe. I wouldn’t let it fester too long if I were you. New plays are most likely being run around us as we speak, and we’re down two snitches and one fixer with a badge.”

Liz watched his slightly pigeon-toed solo through the legal assistants, the big, round brim hat in his hands incongruous until she thought of John Wayne playing a gay cop-o-crat and snark laughed through her nose.

***

Special Agent Hyland brushed the back seat beside him with his hand, as if to rid it of his last two guests. The big Samoan relocated himself from outside, peered out the Lincoln’s front passenger window with the silenced .22 in his right hand, pointed up. “Thoughts, Sir? Divine insight?”

“Orrin Peachman is not a problem. He wants to keep being a loner car and boat mechanic down on the coast, try to grow some decent hydroponic weed in the bedroom his old roommate occupied. He’s a situational killer with small dreams, not a sociopath, and he saved us some cleanup work. Give them the sanitized go-home money and a dangerous admonition, tell Holbert and Keefe to take them to the Lafayette bus station.”

The pistol remained. “The girl? Holbert might kill her for running her mouth before they get across the bridge.”

“That would be a bonus. All Paris knows is that Mick got drunk, told her about a kid with money in a briefcase and she called her Pimp’s bro. She’s too stupid to lie. If Holbert doesn’t kill her, she’ll run her mouth about that Cartel nonsense one too many times and end up face first in a topless bar shitter with her throat cut. Not our problem.”

The pistol came down. “What about the kid?”

“What about him? He sold it in Vernier’s office like he owned it when he could have sold us down the river for having to back out of the frame and leave him high and dry. Instead he out-drove bullets, had cars blow up around him and still stood up for us on this deal because he’s not terribly fond of Liz Vernier, who for reasons known only to her, is trying to rip his girl out from underneath him. He’s unofficial family.”

“Hot pants?”

“Ah. The surprisingly clever, multi-faceted, machine gun wielding Bernadette.” A faint smile crossed Hyland’s lips. “You know, she could have disenfranchised me in California when I handed that pink Ruger back and the money was sitting on the table. I saw it in her eyes. Being with the Agency made me not worth her risk-reward equation, an equation that a less intelligent, purely avaricious person wouldn’t even have run. Don’t let the pretty face fool you, Liko. She and that Annabelle woman are at least as dangerous as we are. In fact, I think I’d rather handle snakes with the unwashed faithful than spend any more time than needed around either of them. And for damn sure only a fool or a rattlesnake with a death wish would get between them and our young Mr. B.”

The Samoan snickered. “Background says Annabelle Monette fed two Florida Matchstick Men to the swamp, sent their jewelry and phones to the man who hired them. You weigh in on that?”

“Swamp Vue didn’t burn to the ground last summer, she and Bobby are still with us. The Matchstick Men are MIA. What I said about dangerous women and Mr. B.”

The Samoan shook his head once, started to unscrew the silencer on the assumption it wasn’t needed, stopped halfway. “The car douche?”

“Nobody listens to Mick. He’s a semi high-profile Hollywood Jester in a Hawaiian shirt. He’ll drop his wrench in one hand and dick in the other lifestyle now that he has Bernadette to contend with as a business partner, not an employee playing T&A delivery girl.”

“Jesus. Out of the fire and into the pan is like a daily with that dude.” The Samoan finished unrolling the silencer, studied Orrin and Paris, both pacing nervously, the two female agents bored, leaning against their car. “Think Vernier will burn the money?”

“If she does she has to replace it from somewhere. We have her trail either way. Speaking of money…” He waved toward Orrin and Paris with the back of his right hand. “We’re done here. No place on Earth smells like Louisiana and I’d like to forget how I came to know that. Soon.”

Bobby B – Ruckus

Next to last episode!

Mick kept an apprehensive distance as he walked around the maybe once-upon-a-time bronze-ish dually pickup that appeared to have survived a demolition derby. It belched black diesel exhaust erratically while something underneath ground out a not very reassuring metallic Industrial dance groove. “Do you ever steal anything worth driving?”

“Diamond plate steel bed, back of the cab, too.” Orrin laid his hand on top of the steel lined bed gate. “Found it on Craigslist. I called the man, said it had been an oil field broke pipe and bit hauler. Steel’s to keep shit from comin’ through the back an cuttin’ you in half. He’s off weldin’ in Oklahoma, told me where it was at if I wanted to have a look. No neighbors, nobody to miss it. The steel was what impressed me.”

“Yeah, steel.” Paris had shoplifted some gum and size too small clothes that had revived her stripper swagger. “You never seen the Bonnie and Clyde car?”

Mick wanted to ask which one of the dozen or so out there, including two he’d been involved with. Instead he turned around, put his wrists together.

“Hook me up. I’m not dying in the back of an ugly assed truck with my fans thinking I had anything to do with this.”

“Which part?” Orrin popped a smile between mischief and evil. “The money or the truck? You free to get dead in the back seat of this thing for nothin’. Right, girl?”

“Thaz right.” Paris hit a joint the size of a Jalapeño, got her ‘been boning a new guy who can take care of me’ on. “Or make him dead now, babe, ‘cause his sweaty ass stank is gettin’ too much for a lady to deal with.”

“Find us a lady to object,” he winked at Mick, “an I’ll drop his stanky ass in a heartbeat.”

***

The modern-in-the-Eighties concrete and recessed glass six story office building was owned by Vernier, Leduc and Delome, and their law firm occupied the top three floors. Liz Vernier would arrive at 8:10 on the dot, park in the Loading and Unloading Only area in front, leave her car running, load out whatever lawyering material she’d taken home onto a collapsible chrome dolly and walk away. She would speak, perfunctorily and absently, when she passed VL&D’s valet driver going the opposite direction. Bobby knew the routine because he and Carrie Louise had waited for her many times in the early days of organizing his settlement money.

The plan was for Annabelle to pull up and wait for Liz. When she showed, Bobby would drop from the truck, walk inside with her and hand over the money. It all went to hell when Liz pulled up and Carrie Louise climbed out of the passenger side door.

“CL?” Bobby forgot what he was supposed to be doing and hit the pavement at a trot. “Hey, CL, wait up.” Bobby caught up with her ten feet from Liz’s SUV.

“Bobby?” Carrie was straddling the elated-massively pissed off fence. “I like your…Where the hell have you been?” She grabbed his arm, looked past him at Bernie. “And what is she doing here? What –”

Paris, in blue and white pinstripe City Garage coveralls like the usual VL&D valet, ripped the briefcase out of Bobby’s hands and ran. She cleared the curb right into Annabelle’s arms, spun out into Bernie who kicked her feet out from under her. Rapid gunfire blew the windows out of Liz Vernier’s Caddy just before the rusted diamond plate, black smoke belching truck going five miles an hour in reverse knocked the Caddy SUV over on its side and up onto the sidewalk. Everyone had dropped in place when the shots were fired except Paris who jumped up and into the beat to shit pickup.

Annabelle’s .45 came out along with Bernie’s petite automatic, both aimed at the rectangular hole in the diamond plate where the truck’s rear breather window should have been. Paris stuck a .25 caliber Saturday night special out the window and randomly emptied the small clip. Bernie spun to her left, ducked and fell on the sidewalk behind Annabelle’s truck, bleeding from a through and through between her collarbone and top of her shoulder.

Annabelle knelt down, grabbed Bernie’s good arm, lifted her, cleared the sidewalk and a three-foot tall planter where they landed on top of Liz Vernier, Carrie Louise and Bobby, all three on their phones with 911. Two security guards trotted out the front door of the building, banging away at the rusty truck with snub nose .38s, like they were good for a gunfight beyond the confines of a phone booth, and ended up falling behind an identical planter on the opposite side of the entrance walkway, dodging higher caliber fire from the belching diesel. The truck, hobbled by the reverse collision and the pre-existing Industrial dance groove, lurched and ground its way down the parking aisle where it could, if it ran long enough, make a right down the back row and exit the lot.

There was a small boom from the truck, followed immediately by Liz Vernier’s Cadillac SUV exploding, large chunks of it landing on Annabelle’s new truck.

“Goddammit. That right there is gonna be Carfax business.” Annabelle dug around in Bernie’s purse for clips to the machine gun still clenched in Bernie’s right hand, Bobby picked up the pink Ruger when it fell out. Annabelle jammed a clip into the Berretta, stuck two more in her back waistband. “Déjà vu all over again, Bobby. You ready?” Bobby nodded. “Tires are yours. The little hole is mine.”

“Use the Force, Luke-abelle.”

She grinned before they rolled over the top of the planter and across the sidewalk. Annabelle raised up over the bed of her truck, Bobby over the hood and they threw fifty-two rounds in a big hurry at the waddling dually. The ass end of the pickup dropped to its rims, the mirrors were gone, and wailing sirens were getting closer.

***

“You fucking idiot ass idiots!” Mick, huddled on the floor of the truck’s backseat, was screaming. “I was minding my own shit, getting drunk in a titty bar, I fucking wake up and I’m in an episode of welcome to my redneck suicide vacation. What the fuck is wrong with you people?”

“He’s right, idiot ass.” Paris threw the briefcase at Orrin. “It’s empty! We got nothin’ an I’m gonna be dead and broke wearin’ WalMart panties and no lipstick in a piece a shit truck!”

“You forgettin’ the fashionable coveralls.” Orrin tried to look through the shattered windshield and guide the truck, afraid to stick his head out. “You got a better idea car man…” He waited for Annabelle’s second clip to empty, several rounds zipping through the hole and adding insult to the windshield’s injury. “I’m all ears.”

“Make the turn, jump, follow that overgrown ‘crick’ or ‘bye-you’ or whatever the fuck you people call it and get the living fuck out of here. Alive.”

“I don’t know, hate run with nothin’ to show for the trouble. How ‘bout you, car man? What are you gonna do?”

“Make it easy for you to decide.” Mick kicked the passenger side back door open, jumped out before the truck crawled around the corner. He turned, bent forward at the waist and lobbed one of the grenades from Orrin’s duffel bag over his head and back in the door he’d come from.

***

A cop car screeched to a stop in front of Mick, another one headed for the truck that had rattled and belched its way ricocheting off parked cars and the curb almost thirty feet down the back row. The truck blew before it ambled into the cop car, but still managed to send the cruiser’s hood up and over and shattered all its glass.

Mick was jack-rabbiting up the parking row on his knees faster than the cop could keep up with him.

“Where the hell you think you’re –”

Two more explosions rocked the parking lot, the cop’s hat took off, Mick kept scrambling. “He’s got a gym bag with eight or ten more of those fucking grenade things, and some dynamite.”

The cop barked the grenade count and ‘back the fuck off’ into the radio clipped to his shoulder, dragged Mick by the collar between two parked cars, pushed him over on his side and flinched when two more grenades went off.

“Must’ve been what I saw you toss in there when you jumped, huh.” He pulled a knife, sawed at Mick’s wrist and ankle duct tape, flinched with another boom. “End of the day you’ll be some kinda hero for killin’ those fuckwads and stoppin’ this shit.”

“I’ll be happy to autograph anything you bring me but your dick.”

“Funny guy. Only you do put me in mind of somebody.”

“Monterrey Mick.” He held out a hand. “Mick’s Cust –”

“Nope.” The explosions had stopped, the cop peeked over the hood of the car to see what he was missing. “Some pimp I busted a year or so ago.” He asked the radio about fire department support, noticed the Ambulance that was part of the original emergency call was closing its back doors, EMS personnel trotting to the front. “Now that you mention it, he did look sorta like that car guy you’re talking about. Thinner, maybe. You aren’t a pimp, are you?”

“No.” Mick poked his head up with the cop’s. “But I play one on TV.”

“Musta been it,” the cop laughed. “That guy, trying to be you.”

“Funny guy.” Mick counted fourteen squad cars, in the way of the firetrucks that needed to deal with what was left of the pickup, the cop car that had tried to box it in, and maybe a dozen other collateral damage cars, some on fire, not counting the Caddy on its side in front of the building.

***

The black Town Car slowed beside a tall man and short girl climbing out of the overgrown drainage ditch half a mile from the office building. The back window shussshhed down, Agent Hyland’s face appeared. “Need a lift?”

“No thanks, mister.” Orrin took in their reflection in the waxed finish of the Lincoln. “We fine. Too much ruckus around here. We goin’ to the shelter down on –”

“I insist.” The back door opened the same time that a Samoan man got out of the front seat and expanded to the size of a Camry standing on end. Orrin and Paris climbed in the back.

***

Orrin stared through the tinted windows of the Lincoln, now parked on an empty pier, at Paris being led away by a couple of women in dark pants suits from another Lincoln just like the one he was in. He rubbed his forehead with the heels of his hands. “We dead now, or later?”

“Depends on what you have to tell me. I always say that honesty is the best policy. Lying to me is a once and done.” There was no way for Orrin to miss the Samoan fitting a silencer on a long barreled .22 semi-auto target pistol.

“Mister…” Orrin pulled his stare back to straight ahead, hoped Paris didn’t say anything stupid. “I find truth, like beauty, often be a matter of convenience, and always in the eye of the beholder.”

“You are a rare and very wise man. One, I hope, who knows truth that results in a mutually beneficial outcome must be malleable as well as in subjective agreement.” Hyland folded his hands in his lap, closed his eyes and leaned back into the seat. “Tell me a story about you and the ‘ruckus’ back there, knowing that I am already in possession of one I like without you.”

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.”

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.