Certificate of Authenticity

When she saw the Welcome to Umbridge Enterprises sign, painted in a trendy whitewashed font on a plank sign on the side of the two lane, Annabelle whipped the rented Grand Cherokee across a small sea shell parking area in danger of being overgrown by saw grass, parked between a faded used-to-be-red Ram pickup and a new, black Mercedes SUV. She put her right hand in the square red leather shoulder bag, took the safety off her Glock, stepped out into the bright Florida sunshine.

She started across the fifty-foot arched wooden bridge paved with asphalt shingles that led to an unpainted, faded cedar shake façade manufactured home surrounded by a covered veranda that sported a random collection of patio and beach furniture and a pair of rusty propane grills. The waist high ballustrade was draped with fake fish nets, adorned with faded plastic starfish and seahorses. The whole mess sat on pilings over the St. Johns River narrows and tied to a floating dock behind it was her missing white Swamp Vue Cabrio.

***

Preston Umbridge clicked the remote, brought up the four-panel screen of security cameras on the wall mounted TV. “Either of you two pig fuckers order up a jigaboo hooker?”

“What the fuck, Boss? Fella was about to nail him a big ass gator an – whoa shit,” the dirty wife beater and camo cargos clad Pillsbury dough boy on the couch sat up. “Who the hell is that?”

“No shit ‘whoa shit’ Wally. Fuckin’ dumb ass.” The tall bony guy pulled on his waders, pointed at the screen. “That’s the nigger woman we done stole the boat from, that’s who.”

Umbridge dropped the remote on his desk. “You’re telling me you two idiots was so obvious stealin’ that boat a woman could find it? Shit.” He ran his hands over his hair and beard, wiped his lips with his thumb and forefinger. “Don’t just stand there, Steep, let her in ‘fore she breaks the goddam door down.”

Annabelle, black leggings and long tailed black silk blouse, matching red heels, earrings and purse stepped into the man cave of Umbridge Enterprises. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. Annabelle Monette. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

Umbridge stood behind his desk, undisguised snicker in his voice. “Preston Umbridge, may-am.” He bowed. “To my right is Mr. Walrus. My associate Mr. Steeple let you in. Without an appointment.”

“I make my own appointments. Walrus I understand. Too much mustache, belly and ugly. Steeple makes no sense to me.” She studied the man walking back toward his boss. “Beanpole, maybe.”

“Now, now. Legend says Steep’s sainted Momma christened him with it just before she died, lookin’ out the hospital window at the First United Methodist Church of Mun-row bell tower.”

“I had an Ontie named Iris and she told the same story about flowers in her momma’s garden. We could go on about the Indian named Two Dogs Fucking in the Mud but let’s not waste each other’s time, gentlemen. I have come for my boat.”

“I’m sure we don’t have ‘your’ boat.” Umbridge tugged his longish manicured beard, puffed up. “And if we did, I doubt we’d return it. Things that end up here are like gifts. Or tithe offerings. Ain’t that right boys?”

“It’s the white Swamp Vue Cabrio tied off next to two patent and intellectual property theft counterfeits. Both to be confiscated and destroyed as contraband. The Swamp Vue is not now, nor was it ever, a gift.”

“The white one?” Umbridge put a point on ‘white.’ “That’s different. Lessee, Cabrio, Cabrio…I recall having a Bill of Sale for that somewhere.” He made a show of opening and closing drawers.

“Never you mind looking for it. I have an equally legitimate certificate of authenticity for the lock of our Lord and Saviour’s hair my Ontie Delores keeps in a Café Du Monde coffee tin and prays to five times a day.”

“Ain’t nothin’ any of us can do about our families, is there?” He slammed  the drawer he had open. “I also seem to recall Larson makes theirselves a Cabrio. Whattaya think it’s worth to them to find out about yours?”

“I’ve spoken to them and all the lawyers are satisfied that as I do not manufacture mid-cabin drug-running speed boats there is no conflict. That’s how it is when people cooperate. Had you come to me with a franchise manufacturing offer we might have bypassed all this unpleasantness. I am not a fool, Mr. Umbridge. After I talked to your local people, showed them the manufacturing paperwork, patent applications, all more than most around here could read in a lifetime I concluded that I needed to look elsewhere for assistance in recovering my property. And to come see for myself what a genuine corrupt, low life thief and liar Floor-ida bad man looked like.”

Walrus flicked open a three-inch lock back pocket knife, cleaned his index fingernail with it. “We don’t cotton to name callin’, now. Smokes and O-yays particular doin’ that shit ain’t seen much of after.”

“Where I came up in Detroit my momma’s paperboy was more dangerous, and considerably smarter than all three of you put together. I’m not here to get in a pissing contest with some Little Dick-ey Mafia fiefdom, I’m here for my boat and to bring you the gospel according to Annabelle Monette.”

Umbridge held out an arm to stop Walrus. “Which would be?”

“Not everyone is scared of you Mr. Umbridge. Least of all me. Come hell or high water, with or without your blessing, I will sell boats in central Florida.”

Walrus took a step. Without looking Annabelle pointed her non-purse hand at the television. “While we’ve been having our little chat, those gentlemen arrived to pick up my boat and destroy your copies.”

“What the hell?” Umbridge pulled a revolver from his desk drawer. “You two, what the fuck do I pay you for? Go stop those mother –”

“I wouldn’t. Those are Federal Marshalls. From Miami. Looking for you to give them a reason to level this place once I am safely out the door.”

“She’s fuckin’ lyin’.” Walrus took another step Anabelle’s way and one of the counterfeit Swamp Vues below went ka-whoooom. The explosion sent a geyser of water and debris up past the sliding patio doors at the back of the office, rained down on the roof.

Steeple slid the patio door open, leaned out over the veranda rail far enough to see the brown-water gun boat, look down the barrels of its 50-caliber machine guns. “She ain’t lyin’, Wally.” He glanced down further, counted at least eight red laser-sight dots on his chest, and froze. “No fuckin’ shit she ain’t lyin’.”

“And wired, too. Goddammit.” Umbridge grabbed Steep by the back of his fishing vest. “Git back in here ‘fore you piss yoursef.” He turned a red raged face at Annabelle. “We’ll continue this discussion, Annabelle Mo-nay. Soon.”

“My door is always open, gentlemen. If you come, wear shirts with sleeves. I only need to see three cheap, dirty white men in cheap, dirty wife beaters one time to know it’s not an experience I choose to repeat.”

Advertisements

Grab My Purse

It was nice to have Bobby and Annabelle back, thou, trapped in a warehouse fire by a ruthless Dixie Mafia type who doesn’t want Swamp Vue to sell enclosed swamp cruisers in the Everglades. If you read this from book two you’ll know what happens. Without further ado, the edited version –

The sixty-foot-long string of fire along back wall of SwampVue’s old galvanized odds and ends warehouse didn’t go up with the special effects wooomph Bobby thought it should have. It wasn’t all that big yet, either, just a trickle of fire across the bottom.

“Those two sonsabitches.” Annabelle pulled a Glock 26 from her purse, set it on one of the overturned buckets they’d been using for chairs.  She stepped into a black fire-retardant mechanics jumpsuit she’d found a box full of them in the warehouse, zipped it, pocketed the Glock.

“You figure they knew we were in here?” Bobby zipped into his own jumpsuit.

“The fire was supposed to be a warning, Bobby. You and me being here is gravy.”

“Maybe we don’t need to sell boats in Florida. Maybe we should talk –”

“Selling boats in Florida is a distant second to ‘maybe’ we should think about how to get out of here before we go well done. That fireline sayin’ to you ‘c’mon out y’all, let’s all have us a lemonade and a chat?’” She scanned the warehouse. Buckets of Bobby’s wrong kind of paint, pallets of Bobby’s pre-Annabelle reclamation material runs from the Katrina salvage yard. Senior Eldridge’s Swamp Vue customized tractor. Big, rusty industrial tools and conveyor runners stripped from the old machine shop that was now Swamp Vue Building A. She looked up at the sprinkler heads doing nothing, knew the Matchstick Men had shut off the water. “Mr. Preston fucking Umbridge and crew have gone from being pains in our asses to dangerous. Where’s my idea boy?”

Bobby had  been walking the warehouse while they talked, came back and yanked the canvas sailcloth off his dead in the water project car that had been rolled into this warehouse with all his other unfinished projects.

“What the hell is that?”

“Half a plan? It was a Ford GT, before Katrina. When I got it most of the aluminum was gone. I’d thought about turning it into a marketing car, like the beer companies have? Half GT on the front and over the engine in back I wanted a small, high gloss wooden pickup bed. Unless we could do the front end like a baby ’57 Fleetside maybe. You know –”

“Bobby, goddammit, brevity. Does it run?” She waited, eyed the fire climbing the back wall, sweat glistening on her forehead.

“Hell yeah it runs.”

“And the half a plan?”

“We could drive it out, or, or…”

“Bobby, it’s a NASCAR grade go kart. Walk, or drive out in that thing, front or back, they’ll pick us off.” She thought for a minute. “Start it. Point it at the front, tie the wheel down.” She could feel Bobby hesitate. “Bobby? Listen up, baby. If this works? I’ll put a four-man team on the damn thing until it’s right. Set it up, start it.” She hit him with the scare a voodoo priest eyes, walked to a pallet of acetone cans and picked up two in each hand, took them to the back wall. When she heard the GT go-kart roar to life she stacked the cans in the flames, backed away in hurry. She pulled the pistol, held it two handed, looked over her shoulder at Bobby and raised her chin.

Bobby jammed a piece of re-bar between the accelerator pedal and the seat on the GT, flipped the transmission paddle to D, Annabelle shot the bottom can of acetone. The GT screamed through the front wall at the same time the acetone cans blew a hole in the back. She grabbed Bobby, pulled him down behind a pallet of junk aluminum while front and back the pop…pop pop and brrrrappp of gun fire punched holes in the galvanized tin that turned the moonlit warehouse into a redneck planetarium.

The shooting stopped, a couple of long minutes passed, Bobby and Annabelle drenched with sweat, each watching the black holes in the warehouse. Someone out back hollered “Anybody still alive in there won’t be fer long.”

***

Leading with an AR-16 the one called Walrus stepped through the acetone hole, Bobby hit him in the face with a shovel. Annabel grabbed the gun before he hit the ground, frisked the prone Walrus and came up with two more clips.

“Jesus.” Bobby looked down at Walrus and back to Annabelle and the rifle. “You know how to use that, too, huh?”

“Afghanistan. By way of Detroit. Help me.” They hog tied Walrus in an upward arch, ankles and wrists together, stuffed a rag in his mouth when he came around enough to make noise. Annabelle handed Bobby the Glock. “You know how to use one of these?”

“Since I was six. We’d go trollin’, Daddy’d get drunk and put me on gator –”

“Bobby? Jesus, boy. Count to thirty, empty that pistol through the front. Then drag his sorry ass up there and wait for me.”

“What if they see you?”

“You have to be kidding me.” Annabelle held out her arms, assault rifle in hand. Black woman, black overalls, night.

“Right.”

Bobby counted, wiped his sweaty hands on his jumpsuit, emptied the clip through the hole his GT had made. There was a round of pop pop…pop pop pop that punched a few more holes in the front of the warehouse, a man’s voice called out for Walrus. There was another pop, louder, closer.

“Get on outta there, Bobby,” Annabelle, her voice raised. “Grab my purse on your way to the water valve.”

***

Bobby stopped his two-wheel dolly next to Annabelle’s tumped sideways wheel barrow, stood it up and Walrus, screaming behind the rag in his mouth fell on the Swamp Vue dock next to his partner.

“You put gas in the tow skiff?”

“Yes ma’am.” Bobby nodded to the far side of the dock. “That red Bandit four-seater set up for water test is a lot faster.”

“I’m not looking for speed. I think a nice, slow moonlight ride under the Spanish Moss might give these gentlemen a chance to reflect on the errors of their ways.” She looked at the two Matchstick Men, trussed up like Houdinis in a mixture of chain, rope and wire. “Besides, they’re bleeding and the skinny one vomited himself over the hole I put in his shoulder.” The burning warehouse reflected in her eyes. “And I’ll be godammed if these boys’ll ruin any more Swamp Vue inventory.”

Bobby helped her roll Walrus and Steeple unceremoniously from the dock into the green, slimy bottom of the tow skiff, both men wild eyed and squirming, still trying to holler through their gags. Bobby untied the skiff, watched Annabelle kick the Merc outboard up and disappear into the swamp.

***

Sheriff Wylie pulled up by the dock, joined the flashing light show of Terrebonne Parish emergency vehicles surrounding Swamp Vue’s back warehouse. He climbed out of his cruiser, met with a fireman who talked for a minute before he went back to his truck.

“I declare, Bobby B,” Wylie pulled his Smokey the Bear hat, wiped his forehead. “Seems ain’t no kinda shit can be got up to foreign to anywhere you’re at, boy.” He reset the hat, tweaked it. “Where’s Ms. Annabelle Mo-nay?”

“She, uh,” Bobby felt the weight of the canvas bag in his hand, heard Annabelle asking him if gators’d eat anything, how she’d heard a story about somebody cutting a gator open and finding a pocketwatch. “She took the tow skiff out. To clear her head. All the chemicals…”

“That right? Big city lady knows her way around the bayou now, does she?”

“GPS.”

“Mmm.” Wylie walked to the warehouse, frowned at the puddles under his shiny boots, wrinkled his nose at the smell of smoldering paint, burnt rubber. They both watched the firefighters rolling hose for a few. “Late start on the sprinklers, huh?”

“Valve stuck.”

“You don’t say. Head honcho Fire fella told me this mighta been arson.” He poked a stubby finger through one of the bullet holes. “Y’all got any problems I need to know about?”

“No sir.”

“The bag?”

“This? Oh, uh, just some, uh, lost and found.”

“Sure ‘nuff?” Wylie shined his high-power penlight into the bag. “Lessee now. Coupla phones. Coupla belts with big fancy buckles like them two slicks outta Florida was wearin’. The ones been hangin’ to the 76 truck stop talkin’ up the waitresses and hookers how they’re big shot Matchstick Men? Two wallets. A watch, an en-graved pocket knife,” he turned it over under the penlight, “to Walrus from LuLu. Makes you wonder about people, don’t it? A three-inch wood handled lock-back gizzard splitter. A baby Colt semi, looks like a 380. Car keys on a key ring fulla those grocery store cards. And you got nothin’ to tell me?” He shined the light on a cluster of bullet holes and moved it to Bobby’s face. “No problems? You sure?”

“Yes sir, I’m sure.” Bobby pointed to his GT, a 427 engine on a bent aluminum frame embedded in a giant old cypress. “We’re gonna fix that GT up right, put the logo on it, haul it to boat shows. And Ms. Monet thinks after tonight Swamp Vue’ll start selling more boats in Florida.”

“No doubt.” Wylie dropped the wallet he’d opened and gone through back in the bag. “Fact is I’d bet on it.” He walked back to his cruiser, tossed his hat on the passenger seat, leaned on his open door. “You be sure to give Ms. Mo-nay my regards.” He put a foot in the cruiser, stopped his descent. “Y’know, Bobby, she might give me a holler sometime, she’s of a mind. Tell her lunch is on me.”

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 Texas 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, Boudreaux?”

“I hadn’t gotten this far.” He turned his head in the direction of a door slam, squinted when the high 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 fishing light 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 Bobby 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 TV star, 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 in Lala Land 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 me 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. And 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 Scat 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.

Bobby B – Don’t Draft Much At All

“Wet T-shirt contest?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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