Grape Skin

“I can get a FEMA trailer over here,” Tavius had his phone out, tapped on it. “Might take a few days to find you.”

“No thanks.” Several things about the fires weren’t right to me, but that wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have right now. I’d also considered had I been here, what was left of me would be in the ashes somewhere. I’d taken the whole thing as an un-invitation to stick around. As for the remnants, if anyone were to stumble on this place and decide to investigate, the trailer had been weather salvage. Cash, no paperwork. If whoever was interested could find the serial number, it would trace back to an insurance company loss write-off. The VIN on the pickup would send anyone interested to me, someplace I wasn’t. And Cav’s Fiat…

“My shit’s no real loss. What about Moreno’s car?”

He looked up from his phone. “Belongs to Budget.”

“You plan on reporting it for her, since she’s –”

“Otherwise occupied? She doesn’t work for us, we just need clean disposal around this operation. There’s a box truck on the way to load it, drop it somewhere more likely for a strip and burn from San Antonio.”

“So you’ll report it after the drop?”

“No report to it. The car was reported stolen, by her, off the street in front of the Hotel Contessa, San Antonio. 2:10 PM, two days ago.” He looked up again from deep study on his phone. “That would be just after you two left the hangar for Comparo’s Holiday Park.”

Shit. The Contessa wasn’t where we’d stayed, and they weren’t sanitizing my presence. “You have a car?”

“You have an airplane. You need a ride somewhere?”

“I need my toolbox from the hangar. It’s small.”

“I heard that. About your tool box.” He checked the Dick Tracy watch like it kept time. “Recon at…15:35.” He walked his catlike walk to the raft, climbed in and sat. “Yo, Paro. Little help here?”

Mu-ther fucker. I would’ve hated for him to get his shoes any dirtier than the ashes had, so I pushed the raft off for him, watched him glide away. Thought I should have one of those rafts, maybe a two-seater. For what I don’t know, but how handy can you get?

On the subject of convenient – The burn-out behind me was no amateur can of gas and a match job. Everything cooked had cooked in place, no wild flare-ups, no collateral damage to surrounding vegetation. Even the clumps of dried sawgrass between the fires were untouched. Cav had known her car needed to be stolen at least a day in advance of cremation and the event eraser spooks were on the way to get it. Wouldn’t insurance or the police check security video? No, the spook crew would have seen to a video’s demise as part of the ‘event cleaning.’ Now Tavius had gone military mode on me and taken off in a one-man raft, ostensibly to get his ride. Maybe. A ride that was stashed somewhere out of sight of the eyeballs I’d missed that had been burning a hole in my back. I was homeless and truckless. Unarmed. Alone. Traceable. Disposable. Mu-ther FUCKER.

 ***

Tavius returned on time in a filthy Maroon-ish Lincoln covered in the red and gray dust of south-central Texas, complete with bug guts smeared windshield and chalky brown muddy wheel splatter. But the air conditioner worked better than my last refrigerator. We pulled up in front of the hangar, I climbed out into the heat with a feeling of minor regret, pushed the sliding door open, and my feeling of regret went over the top. Just inside, covered in flies and surrounded by a pool of congealed blood was Third Eye horseapple nose, the camo handled lock-back game gutter stuck in his throat. Exactly where I’d said it would be if I ever saw it again. Buried at the end of a bloody gash that started under his right ear and ended under his left.

Tavius kept his distance, expensive white workout shoes and all. I brought him an oversized pair of Halliburton rubber boots that had come with the hangar, dropped them in front of him. Enough of his no pearls before dead swine routine.

We squatted down and discovered two small-caliber holes in the body. One in the chest, one over his right ear. The gash, like the fires, was for me. By way of Muller. Or Moreno, or the burnout banditos. I ruled out the waitresses and the busboy.

“My prints are all over that knife.”

“Whoever did this probably wiped it first, wore gloves.” Tavius was gingerly lifting blood-soaked cloth looking for ID or signs of a booby trap.

“That’s a hope,” I said. “Not a certainty.”

“It is. But to get to a print they need to get the blood off and with that goes other leave-behind material.”

“Can’t they do some scientific thing now, bake it off, super glue fumes or –”

“Seems like a lot of time and expense for a dead ex-con in bumfuck.” He stood, balled up his black nitrile gloves. “He won’t be here long enough for anyone to find.”

I got my small toolbox loaded, had just slammed the trunk and gone back inside for a quick look, like checking out of a motel scan, when a County Mountie rolled up real slow. He stopped, told Tavius through a bull horn behind the grill, “Sir, put your hands on top of your vehicle, don’t move.” The Mountie did a little jack-in-the-box hop out of the car, crouched behind the door, pistol in a double grip, forearms on the edge of the open window.

“Is that a body I see on the floor in there?”

“It is indeed, Sherlock.” Tavius hadn’t put his hands on the Lincoln. I stayed out of sight in the hangar. The county cop waddled toward Tavius in a duck walk that morphed into standing.

“I told you, put your hands on top of your vehicle. Who the hell are you?”

“No way in hell I do that and none of your goddam business is who I am. This is a federal crime scene and you’re fucking it all up with your tire tracks and footprints.” Goddam, Tavius, lighten up. Country cops are whack jobs.

“That so?”

“It is.”

“I got a call to investigate a –”

“Fuck your call. Don’t you see it was whoever did this trying to screw my crime scene with an invasion of clodhopper cops?”

“You oughta watch your mouth.” The cop thought for a few. “ID?”

Tavius used the two-finger don’t-shoot-me-pull on his thin leather ID wallet, split it open with his index finger. I watched him inflate into his full-on West Point you are the shit on the shoes of my universe persona.

“Set it on the hood.” The cop came around, weapon still leveled, eyed the IDs.

“Bang.” Tavius had drawn a pocket-sized .380 from somewhere in the time it took the cop to glance at the ID wallet. “If I had been a real bad man, you’d be dead. Holster your weapon, read the cards.”

The cop read, his pistol down but still in a double grip. Like if he was going to die, he’d by God do it with his gun out. Which was stupid because if he was going to die, he’d already be dead. With his gun out. Unfired.

“Salsbury, Tavius L. Major, United States Army. Salsbury, T.L., Central Intelligence Agency. The sheriff holstered his hip canon. “Salsbury. That like the rubber steak in them hungry fella frozen dinners?” I was thinking it was the ground linoleum smothered in Teflon infused mushroom gravy the Air Force fed us for lunch.

“Funny.” Tavius slid the pocket gun behind his back. “You need to beat it.”

“I need to call somebody.”

“You need to beat. It. Before I call somebody.” Tavius picked up his ID. “We understand each other?”

“Not yet.”

Tavius sighed, put on his frustrated-to-be-talking-to-you-because-you’re-an-idiot. “Look, do I need to explain to you the various scenarios of an executed ex-convict in a hangar on a supposedly abandoned airfield? This close to the border? Explain to you why we do not need you to turn this into a fucking backwoods rednecks playing at cops and CSI circus? This is a government operation, way above your piss-ant need to know clearance. So back the fuck out of here, now. We’ll brush your tracks with ours. Beat. It.” I was waiting for him to moonwalk.

The cop walked back to his car, sat with one leg still on the ground and made radio noises back and forth for about a minute before he gathered himself, slammed the cruiser door and rolled out as slow as he rolled in. He left his window down long enough to give Tavius the finger before turning right on the farm road that would eventually lead to a two-lane state highway and further down the road. Most likely to an ass chewing for messing with the government. An act that always meant someone was going to be filling out forms for a month.

***

Tavius and I waited at the hangar for the box truck spooks after they’d somehow let him know Moreno’s Fiat was loaded. They showed, dropped out of the cab dressed in black everything, including the baggies on their feet, opened a body bag and stuffed Third Eye horseapple nose into it. They zipped and loaded him up along with my nothing important in them filing cabinets and old maps and drove off. Not a word spoken by any of them. Or us. They drove out, turned right, we followed to the road, turned left. The A/C felt good after an hour sweating in the hanger.

“Every time you show up here somebody gives you the finger, Major. Me, the cop. What’s the L for?”

“Why?”

“I’m writing a book?”

“LeJay. Louisiana slave name. Do it now with an apostrophe, no e.”

“You from Louisiana?”

“No.”

“Ever been a slave to anything but fashion?”

“Fuck you, Comparo. We almost got outted back there by Sheriff Moron and you’re fucking with me about the legitimacy of my heritage?” He checked his mirrors more for show than safety on a deserted farm road. “Stupid fucker’ll be back.”

“With reinforcements. And they’ll find a puddle of dried blood and the biggest mystery in the history of the county. One that we’ll see on Alien Encounters Season 12.” I looked out the window for my own dramatic effect before I dropped “I didn’t see the knife when they loaded the body.”

“Don’t worry about the knife.”

That was the moment I started to worry about a lot of things. Him, the knife, Moreno. Muller and the other two stooges I hadn’t met, the dead stooge I’d threatened, the controlled burn at my place. “You’re the boss.”

“Finally. Be good for you to remember that. Now you know the rules, where you off to?  Moreno will surface sometime soon and we’ll need you.”

“The show goes on, huh? Houston. Sugarland.” I let myself out of the Lincoln, bent in, did the thumb and little finger to my ear ‘call me’ riff. “You locate Moreno, my phone’s on.”  I closed the door with Tavius idling off telling me I’d better file a flight plan.

Fuck him. Like hell I was going to Sugarland or file a flight plan. I needed to get the floats off and short field tires on the Cub and a look at Kerrigan from the air, by myself, just in case. And a Cessna I could grab on short notice if I needed to disappear. Or, if found, I could use it to carry more bank robbery loot than my Cub was capable of. And a car. And a burn phone. And a place to take a shower and think. And last, but not least, my Browning. None of those things were close to Houston. Well, I could buy a burn phone almost anywhere. Maybe a Browning, too. Both no more trouble to find in Texas than hitting a town big enough for a gas station with microwave pizza and DVD rentals.

I got the zip lock from the Café DuMonde tin, dumped the remaining few buds in the tin and bagged a clump of headliner from the truck and a small, gooey piece of what had been the wall of my trailer. I zipped it, dropped it back in the tin, untied the cub and waved goodbye to Amos the tree and my lake. I pulled the cub’s nose up headed due north thinking I should add clothes to that list of things I needed because my Jockeys were starting to feel like the skin on a grape, and were probably going peel off the same way.

 

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 3 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

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I sat in my faded cushioned, peeling Adirondack and stared at the lake. The charred outlines and burnt-out hulks of my old Airstream, the older pickup and Cav’s Fiat fifteen feet behind me, the Cub sloshing quietly ten yards in front. Slosh meant someone was on the lake. You know a lake is small when it sloshes from a bass boat or someone trying to ski on the other side. I felt the passage of time as the thermostat that turned a Texas afternoon, even in the shade, into a blast furnace while I continued to find more questions than answers for the last two days.

I must have replayed Corpus a couple dozen times. In the diner, after I’d relieved Third Eye horseapple nose of his knife and used it to coerce the one called Muller into giving up his knockoff Glock, Cav had taken several of the hundreds she’d re-stuffed after finding them feeble in the face of the rich guy’s real estate and dealt them out to a couple of waitresses and the busboy who’d brought towels and ice. None of them found Franklin’s pocket portraits feeble and were ecstatic to be deaf dumb and blind kids during the ten minutes that preceded the cash. She’d also picked up the tab for an old couple who thought they were on candid camera, and that the two freak show escapees covered in tattoos done by a drunk blind man were actors. I made a big deal with my phone out of how small cameras were these days and let them believe it.

We hustled out, though, in case someone had actually called the cops before Cav started waving money around, and all piled into an 80’s Ford Econoline XLT that had once been metallic blue, and probably once had upholstery instead of a collection of truck stop Indian blankets held in place by colorful bungee cords. It smelled like cigarettes, sweat and a sticky sweet but foul odor somewhere between cheap cigarillos and bleu cheese that I couldn’t place but made me want to puke. We bounced down the street in the van, Moreno and her business associates trying to sell me on what a great idea it would be, you know, since we were all friends now, to return their weapons in a gesture of trust. I stuck the counterfeit Glock in Muller’s ear, told them to eat me, find Cole Park and maybe I wouldn’t feed them their weapons after I heard their bullshit. Cole Park because I knew I could find my plane from there and it was public. Cav let me know how much my attitude really pissed her off. I wasn’t sure if she was posing for the business associates or being genuinely stupid. I knew she hated taking orders from anyone, particularly a man, more particularly me, regardless of how open to direction she’d been the night before. This was her game, and I seemed to have taken over, if only momentarily. But when it comes to weapons and people I don’t trust, even people I do trust, I like to at least feel that I have some control over my destiny and she could stay pissed until everyone walked away from this encounter with no chance of being shot or sliced. Except by me.

Muller found Cole Park and we convened at a picnic table not far enough away from a large Hispanic family birthday party full of Cumbia being bluetoothed through a Costco Karaoke/DJ rig, three dozen screaming kids, a couple of pinatas and plenty of young women in at least one size too small clothes pointing phone cameras at everything, including us.

After half an hour I still didn’t like what little I’d heard about the bank robbery in Kerrigan. I still didn’t know why Kerrigan. There were vague references to twenty million “or so” dollars. What denominations? It didn’t matter. The hell it didn’t matter, weight was everything in flying out of there with it. Where did it come from? Who were we pissing off…Whatever I asked? It didn’t matter. They made it clear Miz Moreno brought me in because I saved her life and knew how to fly. Those qualifications bought me a ticket to ride, no more. I wondered why Cav would lie to them about me. The truth was closer to ‘I got her killed trying to screw her out from under her non-boyfriend.’

More than once I got called a pussy, pussy with superfluous profane modifiers, for not liking helicopters. Not being a helicopter man really sucked to these guys because the job, the way they saw it, was made for a helicopter. Maybe two. Both stolen. Someone not present could fly the other one. That was the entire sketchy bucket of talk that went around until I was dizzy with stale air and tired of being a helicopter pussy so I called it off.

I walked from the picnic table across the paved hike and bike path toward the sea wall, waited for a heavy-set twenty-something female in a red windbreaker and too short jogging shorts to pick up her Golden Retreiver’s recycled breakfast with her hand in an inside out WalMart bag. She smiled like I should be enjoying Rover’s dump as much as both of them were. I smiled back. Maybe I leered because she took off, pulling on the bottom of her shorts. Wear them longer of you don’t want strangers checking out your gibbles. I ejected the chambered round from Muller’s cheapo pistol, popped the clip and tossed it and the single round in the Gulf. When I got back I handed Muller his empty gun and Third Eye horseapple nose his knife, told him if I ever saw it again it would be sticking out of his throat. I took the van keys, said they could have it back less than a mile south on Ocean, bye. Cav raised hell, again putting it on for the Bozos or legitimate flight of stupid. Flight of stupid. Anybody ever writes my biography, there’s the title.

The slosh around the Cub grew into ripples and then a small wake until a figure appeared out of the heat waves in an inflatable raft. The captain revved the electric motor, popped it up at the last second and ran his raft aground so he could step out dry. Tavius looked better in his upscale athletic gear than the suit. Jock-ish. Maybe a rap icon. His wrists tastefully festooned with small chain-link and thin band gold bracelets, his nails buffed glossy. Like some women I’ve known. It had to be 102. No sign of sweat. He came at me all tilted drama, one arm cocked out like he was the lead in a bad thug movie or a rap video. Two things that are often the same thing.

“You and the goddam airplane. You do that shit, how’re we supposed to follow you? You gotta take the woman sight-seeing to get laid? Where the hell have you been? Where’s Moreno?” He leaned in, turned my chin with his hand. “What happened to your jaw? What the fuck is going on?” He swung his arm and upper body in a slow arc around my squatter’s paradise. “You call the insurance company? If you haven’t, don’t. If you have –”

“Plane’s the only thing insured.” I motioned to the other Adirondack. “Have a seat. What was your first question? Oh, right. I filed a flight plan.”

“In the air. From Eagle Pass. Goddammit, Comparo…This is deep. I can’t reach out to some fucking Jim Bob in Corpus, be all ‘there’s a deep covert with an invisible in your backyard, help us out.’” He dropped into the Adirondack Cav had been in two days ago. “Fuck.” His exasperation was tangible. I let him stew for a few before I asked.

“You smoke weed?”

“You askin’ ‘cause I’m black or you think I need to lower my anxiety?”

“Both?” He waved me off with a slow wrist flick. I got up, walked over to the cottonwood tree I’d named Amos, after my paternal grandfather, and pulled a small Café DuMonde coffee tin from a hollow crook in the back.

***

“Where’d this come from?”

“Oklahoma. It’s legal now.”

“For real?” He tapped the cable spool table with my disposable lighter. “The shit you learn in the middle of nowhere.”

“That’s what Moreno said. En la medio de nada.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. Where, exactly, is the middle nowhere?”

I told him about Kerrigan, the Corpus meeting. He made me repeat it while he pulled Kerrigan up on his phone and some other files from a government cloud and it got quiet in the heat.

He shifted, raised his chair a notch, put both elbows on the table. “You hit the man with a fucking sugar dispenser?”

“Yeah. The big, heavy old school glass kind. I had a choice, though. The big one or a plastic Sweet n Low caddy.”

“Good call. But you coulda killed him.”

“He pulled a knife. What’d he expect, flowers and a kiss?”

“Flowers maybe. How’d you keep the lid on again?”

“I told you. Moreno had a wad of cash, bought off a couple of waitresses and a busboy. Grampa and Gamma thought we were Candid Camera.”

“Nobody else there?”

“No.”

“Moreno?”

The short answer was San Antonio. Maybe. The long answer was I didn’t know. After we’d ditched Muller and Third Eye she’d asked me to take her to San Antonio. She had a room booked at a Riverside boutique hotel, we could stay the night. I liked that version of her better than the pissed-off give-the-crazies-their-shit-back I’d seen enough of. She wanted to pick up “some things.” I figured clothes, like the sketchy job was imminent. I never found out.

We went out of the hotel after dark, holding hands on the Riverwalk. Bands or DJs were playing outside or leaking out open club doors. We ate somewhere, had several Margaritas. She took off her shoes and danced her way through a half-mile of touristas and pink-faced conventioneers and overstressed waiters and hostesses holding their tray overhead. Tried to get me in the middle of it. Single file hands up shimmy wasn’t on for me, but I kept her in range. She danced like a cobra for a snake charmer. We ended up back at the room where we continued to make up for being interrupted in Columbia. I hadn’t had so much free sex in…A long time. Not that I’m a monk but I’d been working some things out. Like my fault she was dead. Which worked itself out without any help from me so my year of solitary was over. I woke up to an empty but for me bed and a note on the coffee pot. “Estaré en contacto, Paro.” I’ll be in touch. With a heart and a C.

“Moreno? Wake up, asshole.”

“San Antonio. We were in this hotel…”

“Then you were in the hotel and she’s wherever because she sure as hell ain’t here. Jesus, Paro. You might as well put a leash on your dick.” He opened a linear four-panel foldout on the spool top. “Who was in Corpus?”

I pointed out Muller and Third Eye horseapple nose. “His forehead and nose don’t look so bad in the mug shot. But damn…I see the guy, start to lose it, Moreno is hissing ‘stop it, stop it.’ I started to laugh and it got away from me. First time you see that shit…”

“Yeah?” Tavius wasn’t laughing. Fuck it. It was one of those had to be there moments. He folded the bad guy bubblegum cards, stuck them in his pocket.

“The other two are Usman and Crawford. I’ll text you what I have. They’re what happened here.”

“You’re tellin’ me you know who did this and just…let it happen?”

“Not on purpose. You were in the air fifteen minutes and they showed up, tossed your place. We figured to find out who you are. They left, we thought that was the end of it and called off the watch. The good news is you aren’t sentimental so there was nothing to find. Or burn.”

“That shit’s all in a storage locker in Addison. I pay it annually, haven’t seen it in five years.” My attitude started to come back. “Tossed isn’t fucking toast.

“This is hindsight, but we now think they were waiting for you to come home, maybe have a chat about you ringing the Third Eye brother’s bell. Humiliate you in front of their woman. You’re a no show, somewhere with their woman.” He walked over to the middle of what had been my trailer. “Here’s your sign.”

Their woman? What’re you sayin’?”

“Sayin’ they’d wasted a trip, got upset. You were where they’d all like to be, wished they were, don’t have a shot in hell at without assault. Sayin’ you, horndog flyboy, you were somewhere, with their Queenie.” He pushed my charred dining table spool with his foot, watched it crumble into chunks of charcoal and a puff of dark dust. He rotated my way, caught me with an eye lock. “Sayin’ free sex doesn’t appear to be all that free.”

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 3 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Compañero

There was no Gulf breeze, or breeze of any kind, so I pulled us up slowly westward to avoid the blinding white ball of morning sun. We were airborne about fifteen minutes before Cav, who had been quiet except for animated ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ pointing out scenery, put her phone between her headset and ear, kicked the mic up and spoke briefly to someone. I was flying low and slow, trimmed out like glass. She put the phone between her legs, fixed her headset.

“Corpus, Paro? It’s okay with you?”

“Yep. Now or lazy?”

“As you prefer. No hurries.” She went back to watching serenity painted as rugged and mostly empty ground roll by below, something most of us don’t see often enough. “Despite the beauty, sometime today, por favor?

Head west and a little north out of Corpus Christi to where the state roads get further and further apart and the population pretty much stops a ways southwest of San Antonio and if you looked hard enough you could find my little lake. Further northwest, where I’d taken us, it started to get rockier and taller. I climbed up out of where the Tamaulipan plains started to run into the Chihuahuan mountain desert and banked us around in a slow circle, skirting the Mexican border while I radioed in a flight plan to Eagle Pass regional. Under my own name and license. I turned the volume down when they went off on the weather because I was filing while already in the air and maybe I was stupid. I knew. I have first-class glass avionics and I’m still alive because I pay attention to the FAA weather. Even if I didn’t all that information lands in one app or another on my phone where I can get to it before the prop turns over. I knew high pressure was keeping the gulf stagnant, Texas hot. That a named Pacific depression had made landfall south of Baja and would rain itself out over the Mexican mountains and that you could see forever over most of Texas and the Southwest. I thanked them, though, radioed my roger and out, turned us away from the border for Corpus.

Corpus was better for me than Galveston as far as fuel was concerned. I like Galveston, though. One of the last holdouts of weird. I knew where to eat right, cheap, without tourists and plenty of weird company. Where to drink a beer with locals who weren’t weird enough or high enough to stab me because they thought I had seven heads. Where to listen to local musicians play surf music and acoustic Raggae. But from where we were Corpus was a straight shot east-southeast and I figured Cav had enough weirdness stashed she hadn’t unloaded on me. Yet.

Moreno had said “no hurries” so cars were making better time on the ground than I was in the air. We spotted someone in something small and red going at least 130. Not uncommon in nowhere. Neither was ending up dead not being a professional driver. They made it this time. We saw the car again, pulled over by DPS north of Alice. Which was where I got tired of waiting.

“Kerrigan?”

“We will meet some…friends of mine. In Corpus.”

“Friends?” Being Cav Moreno wasn’t conducive to making real friends.

“Business associates.” She turned, got a little louder in my headset. “Do you have to do that? Dissect everything I say? Redirect my language?”

“Yes.” She turned and stared out the window. “You’re a bullshit artist, Moreno. Most people won’t call you on it. I need to hear it undiluted.”

“Perhaps they trust me, and you do not.”

“‘Perhaps’ they got their tickets for free and just want to watch the show. We wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t already an active participant in whatever you have up your sleeve.”

She showed me her arm, bare in a yellow sleeveless tank. “No sleeve.”

“Figure of speech.”

Si. So is this.” She showed me her middle finger. Something was up. She wasn’t this evasive about probably getting killed attempting to steal from the cartel in Columbia.

“Nail polish doesn’t match.”

She called me something in Spanish I couldn’t hear, but would have understood, both of us being Irish Beaners. She hated that word, so I used it pretty often when our heritage or relatives came up. Or anytime I could find a use for it when she was around. Back when we didn’t get along like we were supposed to.

“Kerrigan?”

She turned and I could feel her eyes behind the sunglasses. “We’re going to rob the bank, Paro. There, en el medio de la nada, Tejas.”

Rob a bank in the middle of nowhere. Shit. My wiser, self-preservationist self, Tavius, the CIA’s order and my recently reinstated license all got into an argument.

“What are you thinking, Paro?”

Fu-uhk me was what I was thinking. I said, “I’d love to help you rob a bank in Kerrigan, Cav. What are friends for?” After that I started to say you’re crazier than a junkie with the shakes, a pipe and a kitchen match in a butane plant but the license and Tavius rubbed up against my right mind and won. That was it for conversation. We were robbing a bank in Kerrigan, Texas. On to Corpus.

***

I banked out over the Gulf, came back and skimmed Corpus Christi Bay to the middle west edge and pulled up alongside a dock that ran out from a huge house. Estate would be a better word. The owner was on his way before I killed the engine.

“Paro, this man who is coming. You know him? He is a friend?”

“No.” But I had a good idea from summer barnstorming, something that hadn’t changed much in a hundred years, that the man wouldn’t object. We weren’t criminals, Cav was a clock stopper and I was a conversationalist, and almost everyone is curious about a prop-driven plane.

“You do the stupidest, most random…” She pulled a couple of hundreds out of her phone wallet.

“Cav, look at this place. You think if he’s pissed a couple of Bens are gonna get him happy? Chill, work it with me.”

Ai yi.” She shook her head. “Paro, Paro, Paro.”

The average, slightly chunky gray-haired man wore the assured comfort that comes with wealth, and flip flops, and was glad to see us step out and smile. Particularly Cav. He casually showed me his Army-issue Colt .45, said, “Guess I don’t need this. Y’all don’t look too crazy.” He winked at Cav, stuck the gun back in his belt and we shook hands. He played twenty questions with us while we walked up past the pool and around the house where he took my card in the event he ever wanted to go somewhere without roads to drink and pretend to hunt or fish, wished us well and thanked us for giving his neighbors something to talk about.

***

Cav had this trip planned before she rolled up in my hangar because with a single tap on her phone back by the pool there was, as if by magic, a Honda Pilot Uber waiting for us on Ocean Dr. The back doors closed and she started on me in a hushed tone full of her plan-coming-together-urgency.

“Two men will meet us at the diner where we are going. Paro,” she turned my way, “Look at me, compañero. One of them, Muller, is taller, like you. He has a square jaw with the dimple and the, how is it, lazy eye? He may wear sunglasses. Don’t worry, there is nothing behind his eyes. But the other…Madre de Dios. How do I ask you…”

“As simply as possible, so I understand?”

“Please. The shorter man,” I could swear she was trying not to laugh, “you must not look at his nose. His eyes, over his head, anywhere. But not his nose.” She shook my arm to reinforce it. “You must promise me, Paro. Cross your heart and hope you don’t die if you laugh or stare. Promise!”

I was already a would-be bank robber. What the hell, I promised.

Of all the places to eat in Corpus Christi, the original home of Whataburger, she’d picked a Fifties-style burger place downtown that could have been franchised. When Sinatra was selling records. Bigger than a Steak n Shake but the same black and white tile floors, red vinyl booths and stools. Its saving grace was that it looked well-loved, almost dingy, with more than a few cracked tiles and tufts of batting showing in the booth seats. And the collection of Velvet Elvis paintings rivaled a Sunday afternoon gas station parking lot in South LA. Or San Antonio. Or hell, Tulsa or Milwaukee. Believe that, I’ve seen them. It also had the obligatory framed-with-neon-accent posters of dogs playing pool and dead Fifties superstars sitting around a horseshoe-shaped diner soda fountain. Just like the one where we were. I wondered, it was almost old enough, if maybe this was James Dean heaven. Or even better, Marilyn Monroe heaven.

I was imaging that in a brilliant white chiffon teddy and wings when the taller one, Muller, came through the door. He found Cav with his good eye. I know that because he had a pirate patch over the other one and only an idiot would patch his good eye. The smaller guy, the one Cav warned me about, came in behind him. I didn’t laugh or stare because I’d promised. But Godamighty it must’ve looked like it was busting my ass not to because the little fucker drew all the way back, roundhouse slugged me and whipped out a camo handled lock-back game gutter while I stumbled backwards.

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 3 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Special thanks to JTK in Canadian for small towns and smoking stories and JGM for the balls to the wall broad.

Hooked

Rather than go random, and facing time constraints, I’m using this September scene-a -thon to flesh out an idea in a completely alien (first-person personable) format. It should be noted that I went to Half Price Books yesterday and picked up no fewer than 7 ancient Mickey Spillane, Faulkner and Earle Stanley Gardner pulps. So…

 

“I don’t like helicopters.” She hooked my arm with hers. Hooked. A perfect word.

“Why?” She would always look better in one of my shirts, crazy hair, inquisitive eyes and all than I ever would.

“I was flying before I could drive. I’m probably alive today because of my deep and abiding distrust of helicopters. Besides,” I flipped an omelet the size of the twelve-inch skillet, “with good weather I can be airborne in 75 feet, maybe less, so…”

“Who needs one, right?” She furrowed her eyebrows. “You do know the only reason it flipped with such ease is all the butter.”

“It’s a skill.”

“Don’t kid yourself. It’s the butter.” She released my arm, ran a pizza wheel through the omelet and held back half while I tilted the pan and let half slide off onto her plate. I moved the skillet and let the other half drop the same way on mine.

“Butter is something I learned from my mother. I hear olive oil is healthier, but I save that for vegetables.”

Tu Madre, eh? Did she die of a coronary?”

“Not yet.”

“Decent genes and you know about vegetables.” She dropped a sausage link on her plate, licked her fingertips. “And you can almost cook.” The cocked eyebrows and smile were for effect before she stepped outside in the morning shade of hundred-year-old cottonwoods and pecan trees that surrounded my patch of planet Earth. “How can it be that such a wonderful morning prefaces the heat of hell?”

Cav didn’t expect an answer, like most people who comment on predictable weather, and stood barefoot, one hip kicked out slightly to the side, on the pea gravel I’d liberated from a looked-abandoned Texas highway department earth, sand and gravel stash. She forked a small mouthful of omelet and looked out at my lake. I say mine. It wasn’t very big, but stock ponds are lakes in parts of Texas. And I was the only mostly full-time squatter on this one. My nearest neighbor was an ancient black man who grumbled but never spoke, lived off-site and drove up with his dog in about fifteen minutes when someone called from the phone hanging off the back of the gas pump at the marina. Which had happened three times in seven months. I think having a marina or an improved boat ramp makes it officially a lake, even though the marina was a pier, a shack and a gas pump and the back-your-boat-in ramp was a pair of muddy ruts next to the ‘marina.’ I stepped out to join her.

“That’s the one?” She nodded at the Cub Craft sitting half-in and half-out of the water, tied off to an old parking lot concrete bar. “She flies in 75 feet?”

“Good weather, medium load and the floats off.”

“I want to see.”

“Now?”

Pendejo. I’m eating. Hey. You didn’t tell me you had Tabasco.” She tapped my nose with her fork. “Do you know of Kerrigan? It’s a town in this Texas of yours.”

“No. But Texas is big. There’re places west of here where it’s so far between trees dogs have exploded before they got to the next one to pee.”

“That’s a stupid joke.”

“There are other variations. My dad used to tell this one about a round barn on Route 66 in Oklahoma –”

“I’m sure he did. Save it for me, though, por favor? For a time in the very distant future when I would like you to be almost clever.” She stuck the fork in her mouth again.

So that was it. Goal equals Kerrigan, Texas. Yesterday afternoon, not long after I asked her to marry me for bringing spicy jumbo shrimp backed with Negra Modelo and we’d both smoked a small cigar, Cav asked about my living arrangements. I’d told her “On a lake not far from here I have an old, partially redone Airstream with a new air conditioner.” She said she’d follow me, that she had two steaks on ice in the cooler and we had unfinished business to discuss. After a twilight grill and chill accompanied by a chorus of bugs, frogs, waterfowl and the occasional shrill caw of a hawk in the distance the unfinished business turned out to be making love without being interrupted by gun-wielding, drug running head cases. In air conditioning. In a bed.

Making love was something she said she hadn’t done since our coitus interruptus in Columbia. She also claimed it was four months before she’d discovered I’d made it out alive. For reasons unknown the CIA people who had backed her play down there didn’t want us within half a continent of each other, until, again for reasons unknown, we were now the undead together, and I was a licensed pilot. Again.

Back on that making love, I wondered what was for sale in Kerrigan, Texas, that required a saleslady of her caliber. Impatience pushed hard on my curiosity while I watched her eat. I knew it would get worse when she’d finish, take my plate in with hers, get dressed while I waited outside in a faded cushion covered Adirondack chair that needed a paint job. I heard her scrunch on the pebbly gravel behind me. Somebody should tell women nothing they can throw money at smells better on them than soap and shampoo. In a surprisingly uncharacteristic move, she sat in the other Adirondack and set two fresh coffees on the cable-spool table between us rather than dragging me out of the chair to the plane.

“Paro, do you wish, sometimes, that you still smoked?”

“That’s a loaded question. Yes. And no. Smoking is a random vice for me.”

“Lucky you. Every day I fight the fight. I have these friends. A couple.” She seemed wistful, lost in her coffee steam and sunrise streaking the lake.

“And this couple?”

“Yes, sorry. They do not smoke. For months. Then one day, it’s a party or some friends together. Sports on television or something, drinks, and burnt food. They buy a package of cigarettes. They sit and together smoke them all up. In an afternoon.” She used her index and middle fingers, both hands, alternating to her lips like a double-fisted chain smoker. “Then? When they are drunk or sleepy they go to bed. Tomorrow, in the morning? They will run five miles together. And again, go for months not smoking.” She looked across the table at me. “I could never do such a thing.” It had tinges of both question and remorse.

“If you’re awake your foot is through the firewall.”  I tested the coffee. Strong, hot, perfect. “You have reservoirs of zeal. And windmills to conquer. “ I wouldn’t expect you to do anything half-assed, or on a casual, occasional basis.” She wasn’t looking at me, but might as well have been.

“I have been told my expectations are too high. That I’m demanding.” She raised her eyes, her hands working. “That my causes are many, and often futile.”

“That you’re a cold, loveless, heartless bitch who should keep her nose out of things much bigger than your personal vision of their repair.”

“I have told you this before?”

“Maybe last night. After being demanding, with high expectations.” This time she did go a little crimson.

“Last night I wanted a cigarette.”

“There’s a joke waiting in that.”

“It has waited this long, allow it to age further. To find its perfection.”

“You’re saying my jokes are like good Scotch?”

“I was thinking more of terrible cheese.”

Like everything else Cav did I figured sex was also a pedal to the metal Holy Grail activity and not subject to diminishment by humor, so I let the smoking sex joke drop. The last thing Cavanaugh Moreno wanted anyone to know was that on rare occasions she might be a real person, not a constant pain in the ass Donna Quixote. I heard a windmill creaking in the morning breeze, so I waved away a pesky horsefly, stood, held out my hand. “Let’s go for a plane ride, Moreno. You can tell me about Kerrigan. Maybe do a late lunch in Galveston.”

“I love a man with expandable boundaries.” She hooked my arm. “But one who is openminded, I love him even more.”

“God knows I’m a born pleaser.”

Fantastico!” She skipped toward the Cub, still hooked on my arm. “Corpus is an option.”

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 3 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Special thanks to JTK in Canadian for small towns and smoking stories and JGM for the balls to the wall broad.

Gracias de Dios

I took a couple of the folding chairs down to the hanger floor in prep for the arrival of the undead Ms. Moreno, wheeled a wooden, end-table-height cable spool over next to them. One of the benefits/hazards of this abandoned airfield was that it had been a dumping ground for industrial cable spools from huge to more huge. Mixed in with the big guys were quite a few useful-as-furniture sizes. I discovered the better you were with a circular saw the more furniture you could coax from them. My trailer and surrounding grounds on the small lake not far from here were furnished and landscaped with them.

I opened the hangar’s sliding doors before I hit the switch on the giant exhaust fan. The fan that required a cheater bar to flip its switch. It was 16 feet in diameter, had three galvanized blades with a top speed of about one revolution every three minutes. It moved a lot of air very slowly. I fed it oil and it kept the hangar tolerably cool and the dust moving away from me and most anything else that was in the hanger. Which at the moment was limited to me and my blue-and-white brush-painted 1959 Chevy Fleetside pickup. The geezer I bought it from, who bought it new, told me it had never missed a day of work for Al’s A-1 Plumbing. Since retiring it managed to piss me off almost daily.

I did a pit and fingernail check, and I was clean. Enough to meet a dead girl anyway. I was thinking about food. And one of the little Cuban cigars. And a beer. Mostly, though, I was weaving those around thinking about what did I say to a dead girl, who wasn’t dead, for killing her boyfriend who was dead, because I thought he’d killed her? Sorry?

***

She rolled up through the hangar door in the Fiat, top down. Pale pink silk tank, colorful skin-tight capris. Or Yoga pants, who knows, and sandals. After an awkward moment enhanced by her no eye contact sunglasses and silence, she’d hugged me. Tight and in earnest. I decided the cigars would stay upstairs because she smelled like a buy-her-some-roses kiosk in an airport or hotel lobby and no way I was fouling that. With my arms around her I laid out my dilemma with her and her boyfriend to the top of her head. She unclinched, raised her sunglasses into a headband, laughed her unmistakable, deep, not so ladylike honk laugh. “‘Sorry’ will do, Comparo, but only for leaving me to the CIA.”

What? It must have been all over my face.

“He wasn’t my lover, he was my insider. And a pathological liar. I could never figure whose side he was on or who he was ranting about. I don’t think he could, either. I slept with him once to see if he’d crack and make sense after busting a nut, but he didn’t, and he took it to mean much more than it did.” She sipped from a stainless water bottle, shook her head when she set it on the floor. “He went off on some weird possessive trip after that. It wasn’t real, except in his head.”

“We do that, you know. Men, I mean. If we think a girl is something special we try to hang on.” I thought it sounded enlightened. Self-aware. Possibly romantic. It sounded stupid and garnered me a quick set of furrowed WTF eyebrows.

“Anyway, it turned out he was mad as hell at everyone. When he found you, and I…in flagrante delicto…” I could have sworn she blushed before she looked away. “The entire world he’d built for himself with the Cartel’s money he didn’t have yet went ‘poof,’ and he snapped.” Her expressive hands were a sideshow of their own, popping open with her eyes on ‘poof,’ her fingers snapping with ‘snapped.’ “It’s a good thing he was supposed to crash through the door and accuse us and shoot me with blanks and scare you into running out to the door in fear of your life only to be cut down by guerrillas.”

“Nobody tells me anything.”

“Awwww, pobrecito.” She patted my arm and that was all the salve she offered for my wounded by not being cut down by guerrillas ego and went on about the blood bag that would have been useless naked and thank Madre de Dios again for the blanks on Lupe’s first entrance, why she’d told me to turn my back while she re-dressed in her baggy fatigues to hide the bag, how when Lupe came back with live rounds the two shots she’d taken at close range in a thin, prototype protective shell held up but cracked two ribs and wow wasn’t that blood spatter convincing? How she’d wanted to cry when I was gone and Lupe was dead. Not for Lupe, the miserable whiny psycho dirtbag and sorry, waste of time piece of ass, but for me being cut down and her ribs.

But all the plans I knew nothing about didn’t have me yanking Lupe’s pistol and into him being dead along with two more uniformed Columbians before I picked up both their AKs and shot up the jungle, good guys and bad guys alike, like an overzealous, over adrenalized, okay, scared shitless Rambo on crack. Or aggressively violating Columbian air space by dropping grenades on a government-authorized cocaine convoy from a wounded but still flying DC18. But then whoever planned to keep me out of the loop and have me fed a diet of bullshit and candy about big money I never saw hadn’t considered how pissed off I might get when assholes I didn’t know killed a girl I just made love with and shot at me.

Well, Cavanaugh Moreno was a far cry from dead, and I hadn’t killed her boyfriend. She was also prettier than I remembered, if that was possible. But then the last time I saw her she was face down on a dirt floor in a pool of blood. Her voice, though? Still lullaby quality. You know how romantic some Latin music can make you feel if it’s a long way away and there aren’t any accordions involved? I got lost in her voice, in her hand and facial animations. She could have been reading stock prices out of a week-old newspaper, it wouldn’t have mattered. But she had a disposable styrofoam cooler in the front seat of the Fiat that I knew would only come out when she quit talking over and through me to wipe out whatever issues she thought I might have with her not being dead and waiting a year to tell me.

“Cav?” I waited. She kept blowing. “Yo, you. Moreno.”

“…and I had to…si?”

“Can you…Well…Shut up?”

Gracias a Dios.” She raised her eyes, put her palms together in front of her chest. “I thought you’d never ask.” She put a hand on my knee, stood, bent a little to stretch her legs or hitch her spandex, bent a little more, gave me a peck on the cheek and headed for the passenger side of the Fiat. I silently seconded that Gracias a Dios.

 

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 2 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

The Least of My Problems

The lanky, cat like mid-thirties black guy, overdressed in a trendy, peg legged weird shade of blue straight-out-of-the-Sixties suit brushed his hands together like he’d somehow gotten dirty climbing the 2×12 plank stairs. He beamed a thousand-watt smile in my direction. “You look surprised to see me, Casper.”

“Security cam out front pops up on my phone.” I tapped the Otter Boxed device on the table in front of me. “This is my ‘go fuck yourself’ face.” I watched him process his good ol’ buddy-buddy fail, showed him some of my own dental work. “You should take the agency’s Reading People 101 refresher.”

“Hey, ease up. That was what, Amigo, a year ago? We’re good. Now.” He looked around at what amounted to my office. A dusty loft, no walls or rails, furnished with a long plywood and sawhorse map table, three folding chairs and a couple of used to be coffee creamer beige, now rusting around the edges 4 drawer filing cabinets. All overlooking the concrete floor of an abandoned galvanized small private plane hanger.

“You’re doing okay.” So far he was batting 100% meaningless in the convo department, something I remembered he was good at.

“I haven’t flown in a year, thanks to you people.”

“By ‘you people’ I hope you mean the agency. The world is rife with enough tensions. You and me?” He shrugged, hit the smile again. “We used to be good together. You got you a pontoon plane for fishing trips, moving tax evasion assets around for clients. You have a King Air at your disposal that belongs to some Indian tribe. You fly the oily’s private MD80 all over the place. Flight plans all filed under a valid license…” He cut the smile, stopped pacing. “A license that’s doing a quick run through a shredder when the FAA finds out it belongs to a man so fucked up he can’t piss on his own shoes when he’s standing up.”

“Show some respect, asshole, he’s a vet like you and me. Only Viet Nam.”

“A dirty war before our time. And not a vet so the VA would know. The oily’s paying his bills to keep the government, your government, away from you. Since we’re calling asshole, you do fly, asshole, you just have to be somebody else doin’ it.” He took a step closer, tilted his head in a big drama black dude quizzical gangsta look. “Why is that with the oily? Huh? You got something on him, some kinda kink or –”

“My first job, when I became civilian again after Allfuckedupistan, I pulled his daughter out of a sex with underage girls cult disguised as a religious militia.”

“Crazy perverts in the name of God. She want out, or was it daddy’s idea?”

“She was messed up. He wanted her back. I got her out. End of story.” Not. The girl came along, willingly. On the way out she’d grabbed the Browning 45 from my waistband and screamed variations of ‘Stupid horny motherfucker’ every time the pistol barked in the direction of one her ex-cult brothers. Too bad she wasn’t much of a shot, but the horny motherfuckers were far from courageous in the face of gunfire anywhere in their general direction, so she was more of a help than a hindrance in her own escape. Ten years later she looked up at the sky and laughed before she did a swan-dive off a rope bridge in Colorado. Her father was still grateful for what he called the ‘gift’ of those ten years. I wasn’t sure if his daughter would’ve called them that. To break the thought zone I pulled a small Cuban cigar from a box on the table. “Want one? Cuban, gluten free.”

“Not today. Company car.”

“Then I’ll spare you.” I tossed the cigar back. I needed a non gluten free Modelo dark to go with it anyway.

He started running his mouth, but I’d found the problem with his suit and wasn’t listening. It was the color of the damn thing. The Turquoise Blue that came in the big box of 64 crayons. One of the colors I could never find a use for. It wasn’t blue, or blue green or any kind of sky I’d ever seen blue and my mother had plenty of Navajo turquoise and it sure as hell wasn’t that color. That’s the problem with too many choices. The original box of 8 was all you really needed. Crayons and friends and shades of good and bad. Limit your choices, limit your exposure to useless. Like the guy in the suit in front of me.

“Are you keeping up, Paro?”

To be honest, I’d quit listening to him a year ago, could have walked around the desk and thrown him off the loft and been too busy trimming nose hair or tweezing belly button funk to go to his funeral. I couldn’t tell him that, CIA and all. The best I could do with crayons on my mind was “That fucked up suit of yours is the most useless color known to man.”

“Yeah? Well…” His sartorial rhetoric was part and parcel of who he was. He dug into his well of snappy comebacks. “Fuck you.” Like he meant it. But I could see he was wounded. Desk guys make lousy field guys, even if they went to West Point on a football scholarship. We eyed each other for about the length of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western standoff. A little longer than required, almost enough to be comedic. I folded before I laughed and ruined it.

“What the fuck you want, Tavius?”

“You.” He flipped a 6×8 manila envelope on the table. I opened it. A stack of folded FAA paperwork making it legitimate for me to fly again. Anything that flew. My military experience, all my certifications, my whole packet. “I, we need you to fly again. Legally.”

“Last time I flew for you, when I didn’t know it was you I was flying for, I lost all this. And a recently overhauled Beech D18 I liked better than most people I know, including some family.”

“You were compensated.”

“I got fucked.”

“Yeah,” he yipped a tight chihuahua laugh, “and she’s coming back. In fact she’s no more than,” he checked some Dick Tracy electronics on his wrist, but it was an act. He was being fed through what looked a small piece of soda straw stuck to his ear. “Twenty-five minutes behind me. And closing. So…we need to hit it and get it.”

“Who is this ‘she’ behind you? I don’t like female clients. They –”

“End up dead? You liked the last one well enough.” He was enjoying himself. Too much. “Cavanaugh Moreno. Remember her? On her way. In a yellow Fiat convertible.”

“Cav’s dead. I saw –”

“You saw theater. She had a blood bag taped to her body armor.” He smiled at something, probably me thinking Cav was dead, face down, all that blood…I wanted to explode, maybe choke him till his head popped.

“You two weren’t supposed to get along,” he paused, his brain stuck somewhere, trying to tell a sanitized version of an unsanitary story. “Much less end up, ah, desnudos juntos in the Columbian jungle. Her boyfriend wasn’t supposed to catch you actually doing it and reload with live rounds, and you weren’t supposed to…” He put his hands down on my plywood, leaned in like the weasel in charge he wanted to be. “Regardless of your past chaos factor, Ms. Moreno is going to walk in here, and you, my friend, are going to be surprised and amazed and so happy to see her you might shit yourself. And after all the yadda-yadda has cleared and she’s convinced that you’re thinking with your dick again and you’ll agree to do whatever she asks you to do, you agree to do it. In your professional capacity as a shady will-fly-for-food or sex kind of guy.” He straightened, brushed the arms of that goofy suit like proximity had gotten him dirtier. “You killed her last boyfriend. She hasn’t found a replacement. You should be okay.”

I couldn’t talk. I tried. I did something with my hands, spread out about as wide as a basketball. They shook a little.

“Yo, Paro, chill. The Cartel would have killed him if you hadn’t. They kill people for fun. Make a spectator sport out of it with people who steal from them. There’s a guy down there, uses nothing but a pair of lineman’s pliers. Takes him a week to kill a man. You did Lupe a favor.”

“Right. Fucking his girlfriend and killing him.”

“I didn’t call it that way.”

“You didn’t have to. Cav. Is she –“

He held up his hand, started to say something but his ear must have beeped. “Gotta run.” He found the stairs in three long strides. I heard him take them down, two at a time. No mean feat without a handrail and in the shoes he was wearing. Halfway to the hanger door he turned, looked up. “You’re running a business here Paro. Get a handrail or I’m calling OSHA about those fuckin’ stairs.”

I flipped him off. The CIA, OSHA and no handrails were the least of my problems.

Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

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.”