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.”

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Bobby B – Shrimp Salad and Fresh Roasted Nuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir? Did you say –”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

“Buuhhh guh. Buuh -uuhhh!”

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

“Buhhh GUH!”

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

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

Bobby B – Don’t Draft Much At All

“Wet T-shirt contest?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bobby B – Helluva Deal

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

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

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

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

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

“I asked y’all a Goddam question.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gone.”

“Fabulous. Who shot who?”

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

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

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

“I’m telling you, it’s –”

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

“Right handers…step…right…”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Boxers and Boots nodded.

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

***

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

Blue Suit nodded slightly toward the channel.

“The two floaters?”

“Don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Suit’s pause was back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby B – Too Good To Be True

Bobby kept the micro truck between the cabs of two eighteen wheelers on I-10, out of the corner of his eye he saw Bernie fold out the stock on her Beretta, yelled, “Truck blowouts. Nightmare. Behind my seat.”

Bernie reached down, pulled up a sawed-off 12-gauge pump, frowned. “This is good for ten yards. You want me to throw it at them?”

“Slug loaded. Fosters.”

Bernie pushed the narrow Lexan back window open and caught her first glance of the engine screaming under the Lexan truck bed. “What is this thing?”

“Post Katrina GT40. Kit car. I started a boat –”

“Later.” She’d seen the maroon Monte Carlo sniffing out behind the truck in the left lane. “Can you keep it straight for ten seconds?”

“Ten seconds before or after I shit my pants and my heart explodes?” Bobby nosed ahead of the trucks, straddled the center line easing up on 80.

***

Red Converses pulled out from behind the left lane truck and hung out in the middle of the interstate, forced Cletus to slow down and fall in behind. “They’re pu, pu, pulling away. What’s happening?”

“A gun, I think.” Plaid Pants squinted into the binoculars. “The girl has a sawed-off.”

“Shotgun? What’s that du, du, dumb bitch think she’s gonna do with –”  a hole exploded just off center of the Monte Carlo’s windshield, and it felt like they’d run over a speed bump at 75. The windshield disintegrated into 75 mile an hour quarter inch chunks of safety glass shrapnel until most of it was gone.

Plaid Pants stuck two fingers in the new hole in the seat beside him, saw the same hole in the back seat. “Some kinda bitchin’ ass shotgun.”

Red Converses eased back behind their cover truck. “This was supposed to be easy. Ta-ten, Ta-ten, Ta-ten grand and nobody said nothing about a hot pants girl with uh, uh, a elephant gun.”

“Or that some stupid kid could drive like Richard Petty.”

“I liked some of his songs,” Converses rubbed his chin. “That one, ‘Free-ee Fallin’. Didn’t know he could drive.”

“That was Tom Petty, stupid. It’s about not to matter. We hit the basin bridge with nowhere to hide in a few. He’ll have to drive his way out like you and everybody else.”

***

Cletus pulled back up behind their right lane cover truck, checked the Monte Carlo’s lack of windshield. “Da fuck, O. You see what happened?”

“Somebody in that mutant pickup shot out the Monty’s windshield.” Orrin layed a serious stink eye on Cletus. “You know them fellas? Friends of yours?”

“Hell no, ‘Do I know them fellas’. Da fuck, man. You trippin’ on me now.”

“All that Rolling Stones shit, fucked with my mind.” Orrin turned further around, looked out the back window and pointed. “And maybe you also don’t know your lazy pimp ass brother and the Beach Boy’s stripper be stuck to our ass like cheap toilet paper.”

“You gone all paranoid an shit, O. They can’t be –” Cletus checked the mirror, saw his brother hold up the fifty caliber Smith and Wesson hand cannon. “Fuh-uck me.”

***

Bobby heard bullets plink the Lexan behind them, and then he lost the passenger side mirror.

“About time for the second half of that plan, Boudreaux.”

“Whiskey Bay.”

Bernie looked out past another truck, past the bridge, into the Atchafalaya Basin. “Then you’re damn close to home.”

Bobby squeezed up the middle of the interstate again, looked for a way into the right lane “Where are they?”

“Sideburns is hanging out the window…Shooting under the truck. The Cutlass is out now.” She pulled the back window closed, dropped into her seat, gave Bobby the most hopeless look he’d seen since his Momma left. She looked back over her shoulder. “Kick this thing in the ass.”

He was coming up on a truck trailer at 85, pointed.

She laughed. “What the hell are you scared of? We’re gonna die anyway.”

Bobby parted the line of trucks like the Red Sea only because the trucker’s radios were full of him, and when they saw him coming they moved one side each onto the narrow shoulders of the bridge to let him through. He took the Whiskey Bay off-ramp too fast, spun out at the bottom of the horseshoe turn, continued to spin, threw sea shell gravel up behind them until he was headed for the channel, blew through the stop sign, turned left on 975 and drove like he wasn’t in a 500-horsepower go-kart on a washboard.

Bernie checked over her shoulder for the posse, still wearing her doomsday funk. “Runnin’ out of real estate right quick here, Boudreaux.”

He flew over the cattle guard, past the power tower turnout, hit a hard right at the ash barge loading road, hung left at the barges. A hundred yards further south he pulled the wheel over and slammed on the brakes, skidded sideways on a makeshift sea shell gravel boat ramp and stopped ten feet from the bank of the Whiskey Bay channel.

Bobby popped the gull wings open, grabbed the two-million-dollar briefcase with one hand while Bernie grabbed the guns. He scooped up a small backpack off the ground in the middle of the gravel with his free hand, raised it to a figure in a covered swamp runner floating not far off the end of the ramp. He put the backpack in the small of Bernie’s back, pushed. “Go. Go, go, go!” Bernie took off east through the brush with Bobby right behind her. Twenty yards in he reached out, yanked her down behind a bundle of old concrete form 2×6’s.

“Whoa…Whaaa…Goddammit Bobby,” she hissed. “Why’d we stop? Why didn’t we grab one of those boats? Why —”

“The boat off the end of the ramp? That’s Junior. When the posse shows they’ll think it’s us. Probably steal a few of those Bay Runners sittin’ in the mud and try to catch him.”

“You picked this place?”

“Yep. Why God invented satellites and the internet.” He unzipped the back pack, handed her a pair of brown, waterproof women’s hiking boots, pulled out a pair of his own.

“I was wondering how much swamp I could do in these.” She held up her thin, pink slides, tossed them into the bag. “How’d you know what size?”

“I checked one night when I was sniffing your shoes.” He tugged on his laces, grinned.

“Perv. I knew you were too good to be true.”

“Tie those puppies, girl.” He picked up the briefcase and the shotgun that she’d been carrying. “We have a boat to catch.”

***

The windshield-less Monte Carlo slid to a stop centered sideways at the end of the ramp. Plaid Pants and Red Converses jumped out, walked away from their car back to back, waved 9MM pistols with fat clips in every direction until they bent, one at a time, to check out Swamp Vue baby pickup. Their dance turned Plaid Pants around in time to see Paris over-steer in the shell gravel, broadside the Monte Carlo with the 300 and drive both into the water.

A few seconds later Cletus slid the old Cutlass into the spot where the Monte Carlo had been. Orrin opened the door, racked a round into a Mossberg military riot gun and levelled it at Plaid Pants and Converses. “You fellas shouldn’t stand so close together pretendin’ to be bad men. Fish in barrel.”

Red Converses raised his hands, his eyes flew around the scene like marbles in a shot glass. “We uh, We uh, We uh just need to put some hurt. On the kid. You can have the girl.” He checked his car and the 300 sloshing together in the muddy water at the end of the ramp. “Both girls.”

“And the money?”

“What mu, mu, money?”

Orrin left that in the air, lifted the shotgun a few degrees while Paris pulled herself out of the driver’s side of the 300 holding the Smith and Wesson that was almost as big as she was. She started wading the ten feet to dry ground, snuffling and crying. “TG’s gone, Cletus! His door…I couldn’t…” She looked up at the sky full of puffy Gulf clouds, “God, you made him a cripple, you cain’t let him drown ‘cause of me!”

TG shot up out of the water, shook it out of his scraggly gray ponytail like a wet dog.

“Teagarden?” Paris couldn’t believe he was standing upright on his own power, knee deep in the muddy water.

TG caught the look she was throwing him, threw his hands over his head. “Glow-ree, glow-ree, glow-ree. It’s a miracle. Hal-a-fuckin-looyah, praise Jesus. Lord of –”

“You no good, lyin’ mother —” The kick from the Smith and Wesson knocked Paris on her ass in the mud, the slug lifted TG out of the water and dropped him floating spread-eagle on his back.

“All this time he could walk? Runnin’ us girls like a mule train, feelin’ sorry for..for…” Paris bent over, wretched violently, coughed, spit, turned her head and glared at Cletus. “And you? You knew?” She pulled the huge pistol out of the mud, wrestled it up, saw the goo drain from the barrel and started to cry again.

Cletus laughed, pulled a .45 out of his waistband and raised it in her direction. Orrin wheeled the shotgun around and blew his head off.

***

Bobby stepped down into the two-seater Swamp Vu Scat with the tie rope taut in his left hand. He held out his right for Bernie at the same time they heard the boom from the fifty-caliber pistol almost half a mile away. She stepped down when the shotgun went off.

***

Junior throttled up the swamp runner when he saw the Cutlass driver’s head explode, covered everyone left alive on the landing with muddy spray and roared off in a wide circle. On his way back around a stick of dynamite arced forty feet in the air from the boat toward the muddy landing.

***

Bernie had given up her doomsday funk for worry . “Your friend…The shots. What do you reckon?”

The tie rope Bobby tossed toward the brush landed with the explosion. “I reckon he just got their attention.”

Bobby B – Half A Plan

“Paris” used the same bow-legged squat and lift she’d used to get Monterrey Mick through the topless bar parking lot to lift “Daddy” Teagarden out of his wheelchair. She leaned him against the battered Dodge 300, shoved, hard, and folded him into the passenger seat.

“Goddam, girl. You’re gonna sure as hell fuck me all up you don’t start paying attention. I’ve a mind to kick your ass.”

“You ain’t kickin nobody’s ass, TG.” Paris opened the back door and shoved the folded wheelchair where the back seat should have been. “Least of all mine.”

“You could show some respect for my condition. Like not waiting till three in the morning to tell me what you already told my brother about two million dollars in a redneck’s briefcase.”

“So what? You find a girl who ain’t workin’ to drag your redneck ass to Louisiana where that two million dollars is at? Fuck that with Madonna’s gold-plated dildo.” She unwrapped a huge, square chunk of gum, popped it in her mouth. “‘Sides, we’ll sail right by them two maggots Cletus an Orrin, them waitin’ in that trailer for the Beach Boy to sober up an tell them what I already know. ‘Sides again, they ain’t got no TV, and I seen that Bobby B an his whore like a thousand times on the TV in Tyler. You know, every time that whore come on the bar manager maggot would say, ‘She’s got such a sweet ass’. Me, standin’ right there. Like he never seen mine, and still sayin’ that shit about hers? I’m glad the Cartel –”

“Cartel my sweet ass, Paris. Shut the fuck up about the Cartel and Tyler. Get us to Lafayette.” TG pulled a Smith & Wesson .500 with a scope out from under his seat. “You pick em out, I’ll pick ‘em off.”

***

“Shirley?” The pregnant girl put a hand on her right hip, stretched her back over it while she surveyed the scene inside the Loves Travel Shop shit and shower stall. “SHIRL!” She ramped her voice up a notch. “You better get in here!”

The shift manager rolled her eyes at the cashier, scooted off the ripped Budweiser stool behind the candy bars and cigarettes. “Connie?” Shirley sidestepped the yellow mop bucket on her way into the Loves men’s room. “Sweetie, I done told you, there ain’t no kinda science project leftovers in a men’s room I ain’t already seen. So –”

Connie arched her back to the other side, pushed the last shit and shower stall door open again.

Shirley looked over the two men on the floor of the stall. One black, one white, both naked. Cable tied together back to back, forehead to ankles, with hard rubber Kong dog toys taped in their mouths. Phones, clothes, empty holsters and shoes were neatly lined up on the flip-down shower bench.

“The kink some fellas have to get up to keep their danglers happy…” Shirley checked the timer outside the stall. “They owe us for two hours and fifteen minutes.” She left the Kongs taped in the men’s mouths, checked the cable ties. “Yep, these’re the big ol’ jobs like the phone company uses. I kept the bumper on that old van I sold with a coupla them things.” She turned in her investigative squat to the girl who’d screamed. “Run fetch us a pair of dikes, Connie.” She caught the girl’s confusion. “Not them two lezbos workin’ the Subway. Side cutters. Big ones.” She squeezed her hand like she was cutting the cable ties with invisible cutters. “Dikes? From the tool box under the cash register? Before that baby drops?”

***

Bernie eyed the two antsy, shuffly, rumpled men standing in her doorway at the Best Western. “You’re who, again?”

“FBI.” The one in hooded sweats and ratty Red Converses with frayed laces flashed a badge for a spilt second.

“Yeah. FBI,” the other, shorter one said. He had borderline mutton chop sideburns and was wearing what looked like plaid double knit golf pants from the Seventies, complete with two-tone patent leather shoes.

“Yeah?” Bernie shifted her gaze back and forth between them, her finger twitched on the Ruger behind her back. “Our regulars are where?”

“Hadda go. Home. Back. Home. To the office,” plaid pants jammed.

“That’s right.” Red Converse’s backed him up. “The home office. Re, uh, re, uh –”

“Reassigned.” Plaid pants elbowed his partner. “You got the money, babe? We’re ready to move. Out.”

“Not yet. Give me a minute?” Bernie deadbolted and chained her door, flipped the small brass horseshoe over the peg. She grabbed her oversized purse full of Beretta and ammunition, slipped out the sliding glass door onto the patio and stopped in her tracks. She bent over, looked under the gull wing door of a short, squatty, rumbly custom painted dwarf pickup with a Swamp Vue logo on the short, glossy wooden bed panel.

“Boudreaux?”

“Get in.” The car was moving before she pulled the door down. “Agent Hyland didn’t get the password text back from the escorts. He called, said to meet him out back, they’re out of it, here’s the money, good luck.”

“Weasle-y asshole. And whatever this is we’re riding in that’s not our rented Camry came from where?”

“Down bayou a ways. It’s half a plan.”

Bernie stuffed a clip in the Beretta, dropped the pink Ruger in Bobby’s lap. “I hope the other half is comfortable and makes a lot less noise.”

***

Orrin and Cletus, with Mick propped up in the back seat of the Cutlass, waited out the early Tuesday morning in the Best Western Parkin parking lot. “Ay-un-gee…” drifted out of the car’s speakers for, by Orrin’s count, the forty-third time.

“God dammit.” Orrin lifted a .45 off the seat between his legs and shot the Cutlass’s CD player. Twice.

Cletus threw himself into the back of his seat and turned toward Orrin, squealed. “Da fuck, you?” His eyes were the size of golf balls.

“‘Da fuck’ is you brought one fucking road trip mix tape and it’s the fucking Stones. You don’t ask nobody, you just go on with three days of ‘Ay-un-gee’ and the rest of that skinny, ugly, wrinkly assed fag Stones bullshit. ‘Da fuck’ is enough fucking Stones.”

They sat in silence, wrapped in the smell of close quarters cordite for a few minutes until Cletus pulled a joint out of his shirt pocket. He lit it, fingers shaking, hit it hard to calm down. “I told you about can’t be too much Stones.” He passed the joint low across the seat.

“And I’m tellin’ you can’t be enough of this shitty weed to never, ever get all that boo-shit out my head.” Orrin hit the joint deep, handed it over the seat to Mick.

Mick gave the joint a cursory look. “What is it you guys smoke in Texas that you have to roll Cohiba size spleefs?”

***

Bobby idled around to the front of the motel, pointed across Bernie to a faded maroon Monte Carlo. “Now would be a good time to shoot up that car before those two break your door down and…Shit. Here they come.” Bobby threw up a blue smoke screen of burning rubber.

***

Mick glanced up in time to see Bobby light up the miniature truck. “There! That fucked up baby pickup thing. That’s –”

Cletus floored the Cutlass, The Monte Carlo with two fake FBI agents jumped the curb, skidded around the Best Western driveway, took out a row of 3 brass luggage carts in the process. Paris, parked facing the wrong way, slammed the 300 into reverse, knocked a Prius out of the way when she cranked the wheel and never took her foot off the gas when she dropped into drive.

***

Bobby shot out of the parking lot, through cross traffic and hit the I-10 East on-ramp at 85, almost flat spotted the tires when he had to slow down and look for an insert point in a fleet of semi’s flying formation. Bernie looked over her shoulder, checked the makeshift robbery posse jockeying for position coming up the ramp behind them.

“I don’t know what this thing is, but I hope it’s half as fast as it is loud.” The first bullet chipped the Lexan rear window, the second came through the band of aluminum above it. Bobby yanked the wheel and burned down the interstate shoulder, caught up with a truck hauling a concrete bridge support, cut in underneath it and onto I-10.

Bobby yelled over the exhaust roar. “Remind me to take the Lexan all the way up on the back of this thing.”

Bernie opened her eyes, saw the front bridge support trolley and the semi hitch-plate five feet in front of her at 75 miles an hour and screamed. “You plan on getting shot at again?”

“Didn’t plan on it this time,” Bobby yelled. He checked the driver’s side rearview, burned rubber in third gear when he blasted out from under the bridge support into the left lane.

God Bless the Child

Harper dropped into a stool at the late-night-empty bar in JG’s Pub. The white shirt with tails out under his unbuttoned vest bartender was lost in space listening to Pandora Jacuzzi jazz while he pretended to clean a spotless back bar. Harper almost hated to bring him back. Almost.

“Hey, man.” He waited for the easy greeting to land. “You still have those badass onion rings?”

“Yeah. Same old black woman comes in early every morning when no one’s here.” He hadn’t turned away from the back bar. “Makes her own batter like it’s some kind of NASA secret. With my beer. Cuts the onions too fat. They’re usually gone after lunch.” He glanced up at the clock and over to Harper. “We still got some time to kill on a dead Wednesday night. I’ll go look for you.” He stopped about two thirds of the way down the bar. “Beer?”

“Negra Modelo. Ice cold, no glass.”

The beer slid down the bar and stopped in front of Harper just before the bartender banged through the flapping, spring loaded kitchen doors. A minute later he banged back, wiped the water and ice bits trail from the Modelo off the bar on his way.

“Found some. Dropped them in the fryer for you. Kinda late in the day for rings, bro.”

“Yeah, well…Women. Never a good time, you know?”

“Hell yeah, I know. Everything with a dick and a heartbeat knows.” Open vest and tails out measured Harper for possible pity-me or breakdown potential conversation, couldn’t find any of either. “Not sure what onion rings have to do with that.”

“She’d eat them. Most of them. Like I wasn’t paying attention. All loaded with peppered up ketchup…”

“I get it. Habits. Things you did together. I can’t do carousels. Same reason, mostly.”

“That might be a good thing. Grown men could get arrested riding too many carousels.”

The bartender snorted. “Man, the carousel thing? Goes back a looooong ways. High school long ways.”

“Yeah? Same with the rings. Not that I haven’t eaten my share since then. Ghosts shouldn’t keep you from eating onion rings.” Harper took a long pull on the beer that was so cold it made his teeth scream and scrunched up his face. “I guess we all keep those memory casualties in a jar somewhere, in here.” He tapped the side of his head with his index finger. “Like whatever those things are they bury memories in.”

The bartender knitted his brows, put his hands on the bar.

“Coffins?”

“No, no. Not those. The cans they can dig up with old newspapers and records and –”

“Time capsules?”

“There it is. You dig them up and you think, well, that maybe you have all the answers about what you’ve kept in that capsule thing. The people. The times. But since you buried it you find out you’ve invented all kinds of shit about everything in there. Built yourself castles out of pieces of dreams.” Harper looked up, found the bartender’s face. “In truth? There they are, real people. With a million stories of their own. But they’re locked up. All that life shit, locked up inside them, just as bad as the time capsule. And here you are, you know, looking for a key to unlock either one and let them out.”

“You talkin’ the pucker-butt people? Because I see enough of that shit every day. Sold off their kid selves and the grownup dreams fucked them?”

“Nope. Talkin’ about the ones who forgot the fairy tale goes on and on, even after the dragons and the pirates and being shipwrecked and heartbroken all left them for dead on a desert island. It’s on and on, man. Till it’s done.”

“They had a choice, bro. Sounds like ‘Little Pink Houses’ advice.” He leaned against the back bar, folded his arms. “You’re on the wrong damn side of the bar for that. Besides, what you’re sayin’? Could be almost everybody.”

“It doesn’t have to be.” A high school kid in a dirty apron set the plate of rings and a ketchup bottle in front of Harper like he was the biggest piece of shit in his universe for getting a dish and the fryer dirty this close to closing, huffed off and banged back through the kitchen doors.

The bartender frowned in the direction of the kitchen, shoved his towel in a glass, set it on the back bar. “So you’re saying ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ has an extra verse nobody’s heard?”

“Like that, yeah. The dragons go on, good and bad. Sometimes you have to put on Sinatra even if you know it’ll make you cry.” Harper deferred on the steaming rings, lazily turned his beer bottle on the bar. “You got Sinatra on Pandora or whatever you’re piping through here?”

“Sinatra’s on the jukebox. That’s my gimmick for this place, jazz standards on the box. If nobody plays it then the overhead shifts back to random shit jazz on Pandora.”

Harper walked over to the fake digital Seeburg, pulled a dollar from the front pocket of his jeans, fed it and punched some buttons.

The bartender waited for him to get comfortable on the stool again. “Choice. Except You’re flyin’ solo, bro. Nobody here for you to dance with.”

“I brought a few with me.” Harper dunked a fat onion ring in a mound of ketchup, took a bite. “You have any pepper?”

The bartender rolled the lights down to where the table candles that hadn’t died yet, under bar lights and the neon jukebox were all that lit the room. A pepper shaker appeared in his hand from somewhere, landed on the bar with a knowing nod. “God bless the child that’s got his own,” he said.

“Pepper?”

“Ghosts.”