Mescaline Blue – 2 -Baby, You are Mine

What the hell, it’s Friday. I went to the museum with small grandkids, stared at Monets and a late Van Gogh (Paris) and noticed even in their minor work that at least they were brave. So here’s some run-on two people standing around talking ’bout nothin’ ‘cept insecurity, replete with era-accurate cultural sexism backstory and background noise. 

Jade saw the flashing light that these guys used for a studio doorbell, sighed, clipped the tape measure to her tool belt. She’d let herself in at six-fifteen with the key and alarm code Jackson had given her, walked and measured the space a dozen times, made and thrown away as many sketches, and had a lock on what needed to happen. And here was that fricking man shit she always had to get past just to get her job done. Why did they all need to talk about how they knew everything when most of the time they didn’t know shit? She turned the deadbolt and let him in.

Jackson was holding two coffees from the Exxon station and looked reasonably relaxed for a guy who had driven through L.A. at seven-thirty in the morning.

She mumbled “Thank you,” couldn’t look at him, felt her ears start to burn. Dammit. She squatted, set the coffee on the floor and measured a point on the floor from the far wall she’d measured a dozen times, stayed there staring at the tape measure and stood up. She repeated the process several times around the room.

Jackson noted the precise marks where the dust had been cleared, the half wall he’d built had a big X on it, made with the masking tape that was gone from where he’d laid out the small kitchen. All the response he could get from his questions were mono syllables and “Mmm.” He put the tip of his Converse on her tape measure.

“I didn’t hire you to agree with me, or ignore me pretending to measure what’s already measured. I’m just some guy. You have opinions, let it go.”

She stood up, made a note in the small steno pad with “AIR BISCUIT STUDIO” written on it in marker, flipped back to the first few pages.

“There’s no flooring, sir. How do I address that? Guess? A furniture grade ‘removable’ table top for a pool table that will weigh a frickin’ ton? That maybe you can play ping pong on because I have Jade’s secret miracle coating to finish it with? A kitchen laid out in the middle of the room where there’s no plumbing? I’m not selling Feng Shui, but common sense is a good idea.” She squinted, pointed her pencil at the top of the far wall. “You have those nice, high transom windows that could use a cleaning, and nothing. No trim, not even mentioned. The only thing you’ve written down are pipe dreams, and almost everything you’ve done so far that I don’t need to do again is the big bathroom that’s probably been here since Eisenhower drove a Jeep. You actually ate in here?” She pushed the rickety card table with a boot. “This is all men, right?”

“No, but females stayed on the other side of that insulated door unless they needed the genderless powder room that had walls until I took them out. If they wanted to eat we moved the card table into the control room. There was a long, hollow wall right here, all the way to the front door. Before I took it out —”

“It hid all of this dusty air and those beautiful east windows. You also spec’ed ‘A chill and reception guest seating kind of area’ isolated from the rest of the place by a forty-eight-inch-high half-wall. ‘With maybe plants or a planter.’ Why not a fricking aquarium like my dentist’s office or every Chinese place in town that gurgles and makes everyone need to go pee? All you’re missing is giant Legos or Lincoln logs and Tigger on the wall and it’s every pediatrician’s waiting room in California. Is that what you’re after? Little boys waiting for their turn at whatever the real toys are back there?” Uh-oh.

“No…No. Open. I wanted it to all feel open, and multi-use. I read that somewhere, about open, multi-use rooms and —”

“Stop reading or read something besides suburban housewife throw-pillow decorating magazines. For a client with a nice space who says ‘open’ a lot you have sectioned off all your ‘open’ into several smaller one-shot rooms. No walls and chaos isn’t ‘open.’” She made finger quotes every time she said “open.”

“What you’re trying to tell me is whatever I built already is bunk and that you have a better idea for the kitchen and the pool table and all the rest of it?”

“Yes sir. We can re-use most of your’bunk’. At least you kept it to standard lengths and didn’t anchor them or hang sheetrock.”

“I built them like gobos, or room dividers. I was waiting on an electrician to tell me what —”

“Wait a little longer and let me talk to someone who knows the codes. Where are we, Silverlake? East Hollywood? Do you even know?” She bit her lip after that one. Her mouth had gotten her fired before, particularly when she had the plan in her head already, got wound up and in some man’s shit when she’d rather be working than talking.

He snorted, shook his head. “Silverlake, commercial. We’re code correct, except the Fire Marshall inspections bust us for the tape boxes on top of the control room if they get too close to the ceiling. And call me Jackson. Or something besides Client or Sir or Mister anything. You’ll meet a girl on the phone this week who says ‘Yo, boss’ when she talks to me, but she might as well say ‘Hey, fuckhead’ because I’m nobody’s boss.” He waited two beats, went right to it. “I know you’re uncomfortable. About this gig or last Wednesday or something. We have to work together, so tell me what will make that go away.”

She fumbled for a second. He was supposed to be a dick and start all that ‘so what smart ideas do you have, shorty’ crapola, but…

“Sir, I served six years as a lead field mechanic in the Army, and I got attitude. Too much of it. The men wouldn’t do what I needed them to do and I was a bitch because I wouldn’t fuck them. I knew in the field that, they, we…we just couldn’t do sex and do our jobs. Some of them got it, but…Just because you drink a beer with someone doesn’t mean you’re in love or heat, or it’s an invitation to visit the vacation they thought they were going to find between my legs. It’s taken me a long time to get past that and an asshole ex and single momming an eight year old. And when I finally wanted to, with you, I drank too much and…”

She reeled out a couple of feet from the tape measure. “Hold this. Down there, in the middle of the X.” She walked off across two thirds of the empty the space, nodded her head as if agreeing with herself, tugged the tape out of his fingers and took a deep breath while she waited for the clatter to stop.

“I haven’t…Sex…In four years. I wanted to, I told you that, sir, and that was embarrassing enough. And then I woke up in your apartment after we didn’t. Embarrassment number two. I don’t go out to intentionally pick up piano players who listen to me and are a lot younger in the daylight, sir. Honest, I don’t. So embarassment number three. And here we are. You spent time on me and we didn’t do anything and just like the Army that’ll somehow be all my fault and you’re going to question everything I do. And I can’t handle all that attitude now that I’m out from under it, okay? I’m damn good at what I do, but when that shit starts up I want to say ‘fuck you all,’ sir, and stick my middle finger in everyone of your noses like you did to that actress, and I really have to watch it or I’ll starve. Eventually some people listen to me but most people run on about shit that doesn’t matter or won’t work and I say fuck it and do what they want because it’s work and I need the money.” She took another deep, needed breath, let it go but kept her tension.

“That’s all good to know, I think, but you haven’t told me how I can help.”

“Sir, what I’m trying to say is you can’t make me do lame work on the cheap or argue with me about everything because we didn’t have sex. Please. This job, I can see it. I have a chance to do it right in here, on budget, and I have to. Or I can’t stick.”

“I can work with that.” He dumped his cold coffee down the rusty sink, tossed the cup in the galvanized can. “About that non-sex thing? We both made it home, I got my car. I was a dick for working a piano bar like I was sixteen. Every now and then I get tired of my skin and do something stupid, so I’m right there in the middle of that embarrassed business with you. You and I are okay. ” He watched her work her face and take that on.

“As far as this room is concerned, Jade? It’s yours. I threw out some ideas, you threw them back. You know a lot more about this than I do. Air and function is what I, what we all need out of this space. No, now….look at me.” He caught both of her nervous hands on the way to her cutoff’s pockets. They seemed tiny, but still hard as granite. “You’ll meet a French woman this week who says ‘The story completed, my love?’ So finish it.”

“My face is burning, sir, I know it is. The last thing is I didn’t bring your coffee cup back. On purpose. That blue is, I don’t know. Strange and beautiful. Like you said, a blue only mescaline knows. I drink my coffee, set it down and stare at it. I started to lie and say I broke it, that’s how much I like it. That’s what needs to go away, being embarrassed about everything with you. Because I have been so wrong since climbing all over you in Bellacardi’s to ditching you without a car, to thinking of ways to steal your coffee cup. And…”

“And?”

“I need you to mean that, sir, about this room being mine and us being okay. Let me do a good job we can both be proud of and I can take pictures and use you and this project for a reference. I’ll be okay with us and the sex we didn’t have and the embarrassments if we can work that way. Maybe I could buy the coffee cup from you, sir, or you could tell me where to get one.”

“First, and get a hold on this, I’m not a sir. I can get you a whole damn box of those mescaline blue cups and the girl who designed them will be gassed that you like them. Straight up, Jade, last verse. Between you and me? You’re really cute almost naked for a little bitty girl with a killer, squirrelly tan. The white hands and feet? My mom would have named you Socks or Boots if you were a stray that turned up. That’s all there is of our short, sorta funny, didn’t make it to sex story. You and I are cool. And hopefully friends.”

“And as long as I’m in budget, this is my project?”

“Yes ma’am, all yours. C’mon, Boots, stop worrying. Do I need to sign something, get you a check?”

“Both would be good. Neither are required on consultation day. Boots? Oh, don’t. That’s not funny…You mean it, ‘straight up’? We didn’t, I’m weird and kept your Mescaline blue coffee cup, and that’s all okay and there’s no ‘who’s the boss’ weirdness?”

“There it is.”

“Contract and a check and I’m okay? My mouth sometimes…I brought a contract in.” She fished a folded sheet out of her tool belt, handed it to him. “And the check would be good, if it’s alright. Not that I don’t trust you yet, but I could really use it. And as a safety, in case you’re jacking me around because of my tan lines and I’m being happy-carpenter-girl-with-a-job blind and don’t want to see it.” She took a couple of deep breaths. “Shooo-eee.” She dropped her shoulders, shook out both of her hands and finally smiled.

He reached into the fridge in the old bathroom, pulled out the last two cold Cokes, handed her one. “Coffee kind of died on us. Caffeine is caffeine. So we have a deal, Boots?”

“Yes sir. Deal!” She frowned, tapped the old, rusty, spray painted, duct taped fridge. “This has to go, sir. This is a new, unisex restroom with real light and a lady grade vanity setup, not a room where men hang out, eat greasy take out, drink beer and pee.”

“Will there be a room for that?”

“No. I did your kitchen open, half size, with an island. On the other side of the restroom wall that goes where I’m standing.”

“Pool table?”

“Front side of the kitchen, plenty of elbow room. Are you any good, sir? At pool?”

“I can tell by the look in your eye that I need to be careful how I answer that.” He signed the contract, wrote her a check for half the budget, set them both by the rusty, dinged up sink in the old eat and pee and shower room.

“Sir? Where are you going?”

“It’s your room. ‘Ma’am’.” He bowed, deep. “I’m getting the hell out of your way.”

She waited for the door to close, hugged herself and spun all the way around on the ball of her right foot. When her work boot landed she looked up at the high east windows. “Ma’am! Yes Ma’am! Contract. Sold. Check. Boom. Boots? Crap-ola. But…” She turned a slow three-sixty with her arms out. “A ‘kick ass small recording studio front end’? Oh my God, baby. You are mine.”

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Mescaline Blue

In WC#8 I said “just write it.” You see a character, have an encounter, tune in and let it go. In year 3 of THG III the studio Jackson works out of needs a remodel. That’s the short version. It could have been handled with a paragraph or two of narrative, or the story delivered, as it currently stands in the draft, embedded in 400 words of dialogue that contains other elements. But – I needed a character (I thought), let the tape in my head roll and got a 4k full-blown interaction with two characters. Don’t worry, this is the 1.4k part 1. I won’t use it for the book, but what I said about Writer’s Block. It’s a myth. I met this character when she did my car inspection a few years ago, know nothing about her, but I listened and there she was. I think this is how short story collections are born.

Jackson’s Apartment / Long Bach California, July, 1981

Jackson sat on the edge of the bed in his old apartment’s spare bedroom, gave the well rendered lioness’s head an appreciative eye. It lived in a deep Coppertone-colored jungle, surrounded by a ring of flowers he was pretty sure were coloring book versions of petunias or something, not foliage native to sub-Saharan Africa. The tips of the long grass that weaved through it all and poked out around the top half of the picture created a nice, crown-like effect, but they looked out of place as well. Like Palm Sunday palm frond handouts Catholic junior high school girls could fold into religious origami.

A thin, pale line ran straight across the lioness’s nose and the width of the small, tan, muscular back it lived on. It all reminded him of a pastel chalk art project, as if he had run his little finger across her back and smudged the color off down to the paper. Which is how he decided to wake her up. He dragged the tip of his middle finger lightly from the where the pale line and Coppertone met the new bottom sheet on the new bed in Dash’s old bedroom, across her back and the lioness’s nose to the middle of her rib cage on the opposite side.

She pulled the top sheet straight up her back from her waist, bumped his hand out of its Etch-a-Sketch trance. “Unh-uh, Rafe. Fuck off. Show your latest your morning wood ’cause we are so divorced.” She smacked the pillow with a fist, pulled the other one over her head. “Get the kid ready yourself if you’re so frisky.”

“My name’s not Rafe, I don’t think we were ever married and I’m fresh out of kids.” He’d been awake for a while, was already dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. “Coffee?”

He stood, heard the covers being tossed behind him and some low, exclamatory profanity. He turned and glanced. She did have some squirrel-ly tan lines. White feet, white hands, white butt. Not a bikini white butt, but white from waist high to three or four inches past where everything came together. About a minute later, while he was pouring water in the top of the Mr. Coffee, she blew out of the bedroom in her red paisley bikini panties, clothes clutched to her chest.

“Phone?”

“Right in front of you,” he nodded to the small counter that divided his kitchen from living room. “One in both bedrooms if you need some space.”

She disappeared back into Dash’s old bedroom, he heard her bark at someone on the phone, the toilet between the bedrooms flushed, he never heard the door close or open. Jesus. Two minutes later she was standing at the small divider again, dressed in the red and yellow flowered dress that had gotten them into this situation.

“I hate to be a bitch, but I need to go. Now. We can beat the lock on the 405 or run up through…What?”

“You drove, didn’t trust me. We weren’t that far from here when you passed out at the gas station. I didn’t know where else to take you, didn’t want to troll your purse trying to find out.” He waited for her to wake up, but she was absorbing as fast as he laid it out. “Your pickup’s on the street out front. If you have to book we’re cool. I can get to my car.”

“You don’t mind? Crapola, I’m…I have a time window to beat. I bet you think I do this all the time, huh? Not at all…I told you that, didn’t I? That’s why I’m so scattered. I’m…I shouldn’t be here. Did I drink? Did I explain my tan?”

“A couple of drinks too many and a couple of times explaining a lot of things. Just saw the tan a minute ago. Interesting. Are you a trim carpenter for real?”

“Yeah. My hands.” She rubbed her fingers with her thumbs, screwed up her lips. “Rough. Sorry. I’m not the usual Wednesday piano player’s door prize at Bellacardi’s, am I?”

“I doubt it. Leave me a card, or your number?”

“Right. You’re going to call me. After no car, and no sex and…” Damn, he looked like he might be serious. “Okay.” She pulled an overstuffed red patent wallet out of her purse and sifted through a handful of cards, offered him one.
Jaeyden Hammett Carpentry – Serving the Greater Los Angeles Area. Two state license numbers and a phone number.

“You real busy?” He pulled one of his cards out of the second kitchen drawer he opened, set it on the divider. She picked it up, held it with her teeth and talked around it.

“This week, yeah. I have a remodel finishing up in West L.A. They say the bust is coming. Just my luck, right? Nothing next week yet. What am I saying? Nothing anywhere past Friday. I’m state licensed for trim and frame. Oh, and I’m bonded, too. A hundred grand. I think.”

She pulled one of her hands off shoe duty, took the card out of her mouth and dropped it in her purse. She was trying to talk, hang onto the counter with her elbow, stand on one leg and put on some kind of ankle wrap sandals that tied. The sandal wrap was an attempt to hide where her work boots cut off her tan. Women. He reached out, put a hand on the shoe between them.

“Next week’s job just landed, Jade. Solid. I’ll call.” He nodded at the shoe under his hand. “You might want to blow these off and drive barefoot.”

”Right. You need to get rid of me. Heard and understood. Someone is coming and I need to beat it. I feel so stupid…”

She stopped at the door to organize shoes and keys, fumble in her purse. A kicked around some, hard working, deeply tanned, tiny, no make up thirty-ish female carpenter with a mess of sun bleached hair and more of a mess tan lines under a pretty, probably rarely worn dress.

“No reason for stupid, and nobody’s coming. You had to take off the shoes to drive last night, carried them in when I woke you up.”

“I musta forgot that part.” She fidgeted with her dress, small shrugs, twists. “There was some story, right? One name Jackson? If you do call? Never mind, men don’t ever call me that way.” She dropped her shoes, threw her head back, gathered up a fistful of ponytail and popped a band around it. “They find out I was in the Army and I’m divorced with a kid and what I do for a living and think I’m a lez, so if you do call, I’ll know it’s you.” She picked up her nowhere-to-belong shoes, patted her purse. “And I have your card.”

She poked her head back in just before the door closed. “Thanks, you know…For being…And not getting…” She heard the Mr. Coffee gurgle. “Do you have a styrofoam cup, sir? Or a cup I can borrow?”

He reached up into the cabinet and pulled out a tall, translucent blue Morisé coffee cup, loaded it two thirds full for her.

She tied her shoes together and hung them around her neck while he brought the cup, took it with both hands, held it up to the light. “Amazing glaze. What’s the little gold M for?”

“Mescaline. It’s the only place I know where you can find that color of blue.”

“That’s true, you know, about this blue. But I think you’re bullshitting me about the M. Sir. I’ve seen it somewhere.” She gave him a slightly more relaxed look, between gratitude and mild surprise. “Nice cup. Don’t worry, I’ll get it back to you.” She pulled the door as she backed out, stuck her head around again just before it closed. “Because you are going to call me.”

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.”

Rasputin

I’m at a loss – There are two books in Bobby B if I flesh out the summer of Swamp Vue’s beginnings with some riotous misadventures. That was a self-imposed ‘write it till it’s done’ project. I could knock those two out in a hurry. Particularly if I don’t fall into my infinite polish a turd system and allow the tolerance for good reviews of mediocrity to be my guide. I have a collab to finish I haven’t looked at in 2 months. I have a real book sitting there that after ignoring it for a while is better than I thought it was. And I don’t know what to do here. Nobody cares, really, but I need a mid-week blog filler. I haven’t got the short story muse right now, Fridays I have under control since I know they’re random. What I want to do is drop part three of the Hot Girl in here, maybe a chapter split, two days in a row? Get some feedback? It’s not the soapy part, it’s the heartbroken OK you go to Cambridge and I’ll go to L.A. Call me if you come home coming of age exploits. Some of it is up here already, out of context. Here’s one more example. Yay? Nay?

The Hot Girl Part 3.1 – Rasputin

Tuesday September 11, 1979 – Los Angeles

The rattle of locks and chains stopped Jackson’s sideways 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 sustain 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.”

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

“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.”

“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.”

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

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

“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.”