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.
“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?”
“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.