The Hot Girl III – Backstory 1

Early July, 1974

Deanna’s summer job with Jackson, Amber the blonde hippie law-schooler from Morisé, and the boss, a college football player named Bodine who was going to be an architect when football was done were doing architectural reclamation for Morisé’s Redevelopment branch. It was dirty, dusty, hot and sweaty work. Working with the three of them was the only place Deanna had ever felt truly equal. Unlike her old head cheerleader job where she was the younger, sweet public face for a bunch of oversexed stoners, here she was a real part of the team. They sweated together, cussed together. Wore the same kind of work shirts and jeans and gloves and boots. Bodine included them all in every stage of the deconstruction and salvage of old buildings from picking and planning to pry-bars and sledgehammers. She even got badge of honor stitches in her right ring finger, complete with a run to the emergency room and a tetanus shot the day they’d all wrestled a giant mahogany bar out of an old downtown basement watering hole that had fallen victim to urban renewal.

Amanda had come to the site the next day, crossed her arms the way she did and said the bar was too big for anything but a resort hotel or a country club looking to drop in some old pub ambiance and would be in storage long before it sold or Morisé found use for it in a development. Get rid of it. But Jackson shucked and jived with her, made her laugh, said it was “too cool” to waste, and if nobody wanted it he could sell it to a guitar maker. Maybe. Or turn it into several kitchen islands, or a staircase, or badass cases for home electric pianos. Maybe. Or build his dream house around it someday. Maybe. Amanda shook her head, waved Jackson off and told Bodine to have the bar hauled to the salvage warehouse, but not until she got a picture of Deanna resting her bandaged hand on top of it. The picture would go in a frame at 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower to add more proof to the “Women kicking ass and getting shit done” slogan

Deanna started to get in Jackson’s business for dissing Amanda with his stupid musician BS and dragging a bar into their future house, realized they weren’t married, or living together, and hadn’t even…well, you know…and decided at least that part needed to change.

Wednesday July 28, 1974

Bodine and Amber sat on old, used to be built-in under-counter filing cabinets wedged into the rubble that covered the parking lot of what was once a four-story 1919 hotel. They held partially unwrapped half-eaten sandwiches in their hands and were talking about Bodine’s fiance the nurse. Deanna crunched her way over the brick and mortar crumbles, waited until they paused for a bite of sandwich.

“‘Scuse me…But tomorrow?” Deanna squatted by Bodine. “After lunch…You said we’d be finished with the windows?” Deanna had no problem with giant, NFL bound college jocks because her brother was one. She did have trouble asking for favors.

“Well…So could I…I mean if I go, and don’t come back, like on time, or at all…”

Bodine knitted his eyebrows, leaned his head forward a little. “Huh?”

“I mean, and maybe Jackson too…If we…”

Bodine sat up, sandwich wrist on his knee. “Collings, what the —”

“Deanna, let’s take a walk.” Amber floated around behind Bodine, grabbed Deanna’s hand, led her off around the side of the building and out of earshot.
“What’s going on, Baby Morisé? A concert I don’t know about? A Thursday special matinee?”

“Um…” Deanna looked over Amber’s shoulder, studied the old masonry work.

“No. I…Well, Beverly said that if I wanted to…You know…With Jackson? ‘Cause we’ve been…We are…That I should rent a really cold hotel room and…Well, I don’t know what the rest is. But…”

“But you ‘want to’.” She smiled and made finger quotes. “You want it to be special and it almost happened somewhere that wasn’t, and you think Beverly knows all about the ‘right way’ to lose your virginity?”

“Well. Yeah. Kinda. I mean it seems like I’m sorta late, you know, and not to be rude or anything, but, well she has done it, a lot I think. And she’s engaged, so…And you, you’re all cool and California and everything and the Lady Godiva ride…”

“The Godiva ride wasn’t about sex, it was a statement. Like what you’re doing with Amanda and Jackson.” She studied Deanna’s face full of questions. “Is this your idea or his? Because at Morisé we don’t take our cues from men.”

“No…It’s me. I don’t know anything, really. I mean it. But…Well, I want to. And he seems to know…stuff.”

“I’ll bet he does. I’ll have Bev book you into the Sheraton North, the new one with the view, and have them open a room for you early. Leave here for an appointment around ten thirty, one that requires Jackson to drive you.”

“That’s it? I mean what about Bev, and Amanda paying for it and Bodine —”

“Bev has the hotel and Amanda, I have Bodine. All you need to do is pack your lunch box with bubble bath and some body lotion and whatever you want him to see you in before he takes it off for you, and a perfume neither one of you will forget. When you get there make him shave and take a shower, put on one of their giant robes and wait for you while you take a bubble bath that lasts as long as you want.”

“And then?”

“And then?” Amber stuffed her hair back in her hardhat. “That’s when you write your own story and forget about asking me or Bev or anybody else what to do.” She put her hand on Deanna’s shoulder before she walked away. “Does Jackson know?”

Deanna shook her head.

“Good. I wouldn’t give that guy time to think about it or you’ll be in there three days.”

***

Northside Sheraton, July 29, 1974

Jackson leaned on his left elbow, dragged his right little finger lightly over the small scar that followed the line of Deanna’s hip V just to the left of center, inside bikini bottom territory. “What’s with the scar?”

“Hmmm?” She bumped his elbow out from under him, snuggled into his shoulder and rolled her hip up.

“The scar. What happened?”

“Hernia. I told you.”

“Did it hurt? How’d you —”

“I told you forget it, okay?”

“I was just —”

Drop it. I mean it.” She rolled away from him onto her left shoulder and yanked the sheet up.

“I had a hernia, when I was little. Too little to know. But they fixed it. Wanna see?”

“NO.”

“Come on. Before anything grew in down there it looked like an elephant winking at me. Seriously. I used to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and try to get the trunk to raise up so I could make “brrrr rappp” elephant trumpet noises.”

“You are so disgusting.” She rolled up, pulled her robe on. “I thought we’d…and it would be…and you have to ruin it.” She stomped off to the big fourteenth floor window and stared out. “Godammit, Jackson.”

“Hey,” he’d pulled on his robe, untied, put his arm around her from behind. “Sorry. I didn’t —”

“Was I okay?”

“Huh? This isn’t a —”

Was I okay?” She’d ramped up the demand in her voice.

“Yes. Yeah…Unexpected, but great. Why all —”

“Not weird, or, or gross or…” She turned inside his arm and into him.

“No. Deanna, what’s the prob here?”

She dropped her forehead onto his chest. “Did you mean it? About forever?” She looked up, eye to eye. “Love is one of the big words, Jax.”

“I never heard of anyone being labeled sesquipedalian for ‘love’. That was a fifty center, if you’re counting.”

She smacked his robe covered arm. “Honest? You had to mean it.”

“Deanna, I meant it, okay? What’s —”

“It’s all messed up, and gross, I know it is. They messed it all up.”

“They? They who? Nothing was messed up or gross. You’re…” He scrambled through the lyrics of a four hour set, plus a wedding set and then some for the right words. “Angelic. Virginal.” Both made it out without any hint of question.

“Shut up, I am not. You don’t know.”

“I’ll never know if you —”

“Just don’t ever ask me about the scar or me down there, ever. I had a hernia and it, they…Messed everything up. I know they did. So promise? Never, okay? Just forget about it. Please? Promise?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“Promise about everything?”

“Yeah…” He’d never seen pleading in her eyes, or heard it in her voice, but he wouldn’t forget it.

“Good.” They stood in the window, flashing the world for a few. She kissed him, hard, reached down. “What was that noise the elephant made?”

***

Deanna hit her soft snore and jarred Jackson out of a daydream, the two of them sitting on a bench somewhere…Palm trees. He rolled his shoulder out from under her, shrugged on his robe. He started to pull the covers up, stopped. He bent, brushed his lips on her scar. It wasn’t very big, for all the huge deal she made of it. And nature, left to it’s own devices, would have it hidden a week after bikini season was over. He pulled the covers over her, shook his head. Secrets and scars. Crazy. But Deanna’s kind of crazy beat the hell out of working on Thursday afternoon. He kissed her again. She was even more beautiful when she was asleep. And quiet.

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #7

Personal Accountability and THG III

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Chungwipff makes a good point about using WordPress for personal accountability in the comments of Adieu For Now.  A point I had mislaid somewhere in the Social Media wasteland. Create something. Put it up. Own it. Do it again. Forget what anyone else is doing, or not doing, or how what you do is received. Give it your best shot, be accountable to yourself. Get out of your own way, write your story. Your way. My Mantra had gone walkabout. Thank you, Chungwipff.

I bailed on my personal accountability based on what I perceived as a landscape largely without a threshold knob for the noise floor. No gate/expander, wide open. Foolishness, vagaries, rampant narcissism. Which are none of my damn business. I control the threshold of my personal noise gate. I hereby revoke my tantrum and resultant self-exile. I do not revoke my opinion(s) on the root cause. This started as a methodology for personal creative accountability, and so it continues. Nothing else matters.

I have been guilty of accusing others of things I once tried. Looking for the equation, the silver bullet that would make me a “writer.” I once took a Tony Hillerman novel apart. Because they read like glass and drop you right into the environment without travelogue. How much scene vs. dialogue vs. narration vs. internal dialogue. Seriously. I bark at people now because it was a waste of time. Timing of events for formula writing is important. The rest is all storytelling. I was fortunate enough that my father was friends with Tony’s father. He was older than my dad. My dad, like me, hung around places he wanted to be with his hobby. I turned my hanging into a career. My dad made side money. As a photographer and short story writer. Saturdays we’d go downtown and hang out at Hillerman’s Photography. When he had a large job, like team pictures, my dad would borrow the Hillerman drum dryer for his prints. Tony the author, a man who taught English in missionary schools for Native Americans and in Mexico, said there was no secret. He sat down in a room with his characters and an idea for a story, and off they went. He committed little hash to the page, and then he came back with wax on – wax off. He wrote a story, did the work. No magic. Except, I think, for listening to his own stories.

There is no Silver Bullet. There are formulas. For arcs, for story driving events. But there is no substitute for a well drawn yarn. What sets the really good like Hillerman and Vonnegut and Steinbeck and Hiassen and King, David Foster Wallace, and true genius like Virginia Wolff apart is their stories. And their style. Perhaps there are only X number of conflicts and plots. But stories? Stories are everything, and they deserve our best shot. Stories and their telling deserve our respect because they are a gift. Not everyone has the mindset to escape, to dream, to see the mirage that is an untold story. Respect your stories. Your loss if you don’t. All I’m sayin’.

THG III

Starting in a day or two, I will begin publishing The Hot Girl III – Cambridge. It is draft mode. I cranked it out and it has languished on my hard drive for three years. Once upon a time there was an editor who knew an editor who thought it was a good idea. Both of them are dead. Must have been a killer idea.

Unless you beta read The Hot Girl, you don’t know these people, and this is the only synopsis/player scorecard you’ll see –

The Hot Girl is a social commentary fairy tale. Feminism, gender role confusion and rock n roll from the late Seventies through the mid-Eigthies. A bit like the taming of the shrew, who doesn’t need taming along with self-discovery, the perception of abuse, coming of age, true love and destiny all wrapped in fairy tale.

For starters, two star crossed kids, like any good fairy tale. Angry ex cheerleader (Deanna) looking for a cause and Rock n Roll Prince Charming (Jackson), looking for a Princess. Deanna hears someone describe Jackson’s mother, before she knows the woman is his mother, as “An elegant hell in high heels.” And sets out to discover feminism, because elegant hell in high heels sounds like the best gig since head cheerleader turned out to be a bust. But she’s at a superficial level. Until Jackson introduces her to a pair of rich, over educated lesbian feminist fairy godmothers, Amanda and Alix Morisé, who can be found here. The Morisé’s own a huge real estate development company inherited from Amanda’s father. They run their empire from the 17th floor of an office building in middle America. 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower. And more than anything, they want women’s issues front and center, and they need a cheerleader. No one better qualified than an a very attractive, angry high school ex-cheerleader and overachiever with man issues, a sterling academic record and a temper. How Amanda meets Jackson in The Hot Girl I is an exercise in feminism kicking sexism’s ass, and listening to a woman. Deanna wants to know a real feminist, and Jackson, reluctantly, introduces them.

Think of a classic like Captain Blood. I wanted to write that, in different context, only I always wanted to know what the girl was up to while Errol Flynn was off pirating. I asked some women and they told me they didn’t know, but they’d be damned if she sat in her room reading poetry, sniffing roses and pining away while the non Pirate Prince Charmings of the world plied her with party invitations and gifts and scams and offers of wedding rings.

Some of THG is already up here, as short story. Here they will be presented in context. If you meet someone you don’t know, don’t worry, they won’t bite. Just climb in and take the ride.

THG III begins several years into Jackson and Deanna’s relationship and who she has become with his help. She is tired, again, of being told what to do. Tired of her mistakes in personal judgement dulling the sheen of her brilliant performances on the academic debate circuit where she takes feminism and throws it straight into the face of patriarchal strongholds and comes out with medals for both skill and humanitarianism. I will drop us all into what I call the “between narrative.” Between the bliss of young love and the glow of success, her mentor’s frustrations, and her need to run. Stay tuned.

Personal Accountability – Defined

I read an interview with Jeff Beck. He was asked why it takes a while between records.

“I’m the sort of bloke that’s like a ton of bricks, you know? I won’t be moved until I hear something that really sends me up in the air, then I’ll be around pestering everybody, playing for them. I can’t see the point in putting out an album, kidding yourself that it’s great, if you don’t believe it. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing—and then you can take all the crummy reports that are going to come, and you can say, ‘Well, sod you, I like it.’ And that’s the main thing.”

Don’t Talk To The Whores

Remember Jackson from Fried Hog Poop? Here is my concept of narrative, getting him into his situation. Without pages of dense text.

Jackson rolled into the east side of Vegas on Easter Sunday, pulled the “Peeno Player Wanted” sign out of the window of a run down, rust and turquoise shit-hole motel called the Sea Wind. He took it in, offered it to the swarthy, bearded guy in the sweat stained white shirt who ignored Jackson and the sign he offered.

“Peeno player is me.”

“Yeah?” He gave Jackson’s hair a frown. “When this was?”

“I tried it once. Liked it. It’s my destiny.”

“Funny guy. You know songs people like? Last guy want to be Elvis. All time with the rollin rockin and everybody is babb-ee babb-ee babb-ee.”

“I thought being Elvis was mandatory in Las Vegas.”

“Maybe, babb-ee.” He squinted a little tighter at Jackson. “Me? I don’t like so much.”

“This is your lucky day because I don’t sing or do sing along.”

“Is good day for you, too, funny hairy guy because I think I’m liking you more, now. You have better clothes?”

“Like yours?”

Swarthy man raised one eyebrow like he’d practiced it a thousand times. “Peeno player only. Everywhere in Vegas?” He swept a thick, hairy arm in a wide arc, leaned over the counter into Jackson’s face, “I can find asshole who wants to be comedian.”

Swarthy showed Jackson some gold dental work, snatched the sign away from him and stuffed it in a wire basket full of paper. “I show you the place.” He flipped up the hinged counter, grabbed Jackson’s shoulder and turned him around. “First. Don’t talk to the whores. They waste your time to stay inside better air conditioner when should be working. You want to fuck one you pay the same for a room as anybody. If you cheapskate on me don’t fuck in your car where customer can see or they all start to do it. Shit happens that way I go broke in big hurry.” He pointed out the piano in a dim corner of a bar lit with red bulbs. “No blowjobs from under piano. Last guy banged hooker’s head on bottom, cost twelve stitches to me and too much talk to cops. Play what you want. Until customers ache their bellies to me and I fire you.” He turned, put a hairy finger almost on Jackson’s nose. “Don’t never play along with jukebox like Elvis guy.” He put on a pained face and silent scream and with both hands over his ears he tilted his head side to side. “Same shit different ways gives me headache,” he held his hands open wide around his head, “this fucking big.”

“When do I start?”

“When you put on long pants. And socks. You can wear bow tie, no shirt, I don’t care. But long pants. And socks.” Swarthy held out a foot clad in a black sock, encased in a Mexican Bazaar tire tread sandal that Jackson figured for a Sea Wind fashion statement.

“Right. Bow tie, long pants. Socks.”

“Good boy! Maybe you get hair cut sometime.” He lumbered back toward the office where two hookers stood in front of the door arguing over a room key that kept changing hands and left Jackson in the doorway between mildewed cool and the desert. From the Regent to the Sea Wind. But it wasn’t Taco Bell, and he wasn’t dead.

***

The Sea Wind sat right on the east edge of Vegas and the desert, so close the far north end of the parking lot faded into sand. It was a “plus tips” gig, and there weren’t many, and most of those were so he’d stop so someone could play the jukebox. The door was always open because the air conditioner was half-dead, flush the urinal in the men’s room and the plumbing groaned the soundtrack for The Exorcist and finished with a metal pipes thumping a Latin beat on sheetrock. The housekeepers called it the Hot Wind, Jackson called it the Breaking Wind. The lobby smelled a little like vomit, the tiny casino smelled a lot like cat pee, and he learned there was a stabbing every weekend. Usually on Saturday night. Usually in the doorway to the lobby. Usually about somebody not paying somebody else for something they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. They wanted to charge him more to stay in a room than he was making, so for a week he slept in his car at the end of the lot where the sand started.

He drove around on his second Sunday in Vegas, looking for gas. He pulled into an ancient cinder block Mobil station because of the giant, metal sign featuring a Nineteen Forties cheesecake pin-up girl holding an oil can. He made friends with a guy named Michael who said he ran the ancient rust and cinder block station for his “lost inside his own mind Grampa.” They talked, drank a couple of almost frozen Nehi strawberry sodas from a cooler, moved on to beer.

Michael heard Jackson out, told him he could park his car inside and sleep in the service bay. Jackson took cold showers in the men’s room with the garden hose and hosed it down when he was done. Every now and then at the Sea Wind he could get into a room before housekeeping and take a hot shower, even though he was a little leery of what might be living in the plumbing. He shaved in the ladies room at the Mobil because it had a real mirror instead of the piece of bent chrome in the men’s room that made him look like one of those pictures of a kid, or a dog, that was all nose. Michael’s hospitality was Spartan but manageable. He was a little older than Jackson and had his own heartbreak story. And after about a week he was the first person to ever cast doubt on Jackson’s manhood.

Michael popped the kitchen match to life with his thumbnail. “She just got tired of you, man. She didn’t want to hurt you, you know.” He lit the joint, hit it solid but not too deep. “Didn’t want to call you pencil dick or nothin’. You were probably just a crummy piece of ass, girl had to roam.”

Jackson hadn’t even considered that. Didn’t want to, either. “Man, I’ve known girls who knew how to fuck. Crazy ass sex girls that ran me through the Kama Sutra and a couple of other books full of ideas. I never had any complaints before.”

“You ever ask her?”

“No.”

“Should have. Me, too, on that should have. We were engaged. She was a first-year third grade teacher, right here in Vegas. I came home and found a note on a Friday night sayin’ she’d run off with a textbook salesman from Baton Rouge.”

“If it’ll make you feel any better my dad used to say ‘There’s hell, and then there’s Houston. If the devil thinks you’re a miserable son of a bitch, there’s Louisiana.’”

“Never been anywhere but the desert myself. I hope she hates it. I used to hope he beat her, and if she came back? No more Mr. Nice Guy. But I couldn’t, you know, beat her or nothin’. Now I just hope she’s happy. Not too happy. Like his dick falls off and he can’t screw unhappy.”

“She tell you why she left, call you a pencil dick?”

“No. The note was the last of it.”

“‘Later, fool’ is a cold shot. You find a new girlfriend yet?”

“Nah. Hard to find one, even to have time to clean up and go lookin’. They got all the pussy, hold all the cards, man. Maybe Cinderella will pull in here one day, need a tank of unleaded and a self-service grease monkey.” He frowned, killed the joint between his thumb and middle finger. “Snowball’s chance in Vegas of that shit.”

***

 

Jackson couldn’t stop thinking about what Michael had said. Maybe he was useless, that way. Maybe if he’d tried some things on Deanna. Maybe some of what that girl welder and her Kama Sutra book and waterbed thought was fun, or some of Monica the waitress’s gymnastic sexual circus madness, Deanna might still be around. She made lots of noise all the time, though. The apartment neighbors would complain or beat on the wall, particularly on Sunday afternoons. Maybe it was just this Michael guy’s weed fucking with him. It didn’t work. He pulled the quilt out of his trunk, pulled out the bolt that held his passenger seat up, dropped it and passed out.

He dreamed of all the things he should have done with Deanna that she had someone else doing now. All of them laughing about him, how inept he was, what kind of pussy whipped idiot he’d been. She’d grabbed both sides of his face and pulled his head up. “Now,” she’d whispered through a kiss, before she pushed his face away to look at him. “Before I give you all of me, promise me you’ll love me forever. Please?” What a load of it.

At three in the morning he gave up on sleep, raised the service bay door and ran tepid water from the hose over his head. For lack of anything better to do he rotated his tires by hand under a sliver of moon that dared the puddles in the drive to last till morning.

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Final Installment

Kevin’s throbbing head, the low whine from the chartered Gulfstream’s fans and the dust the wind kicked up off the tarmac had turned his ‘We should take separate flights’ pitch to Cheryl into a whiny duet with the idling jet. The briefcase with over five million dollars inside did a little dance between them every time Cheryl tugged on it with both hands and Kevin pulled it back.

“There’s no good reason why we can’t take the same plane, Kevin.” Cheryl almost got the briefcase away from him. He yanked it back hard enough to get it away from her and clutched it to his chest.

“Yeah, Kevin.” Maddie checked her lipstick in the bottom of the tube. “The three of us again. Mile high club? Do you just not like women, Kev, is that it? Or is it that little patch of gauze on your head that’s the problem? Not today, darling, I have a headache?”

“I like women fine and I do have a fucking size twelve headache, thank you very much, ” his indignance building. “What I don’t like is women who crack me with a gun, stuff a soapy washcloth in my mouth, cable tie me into a pretzel and rob me.” He tried a glare on Cheryl, raised a finger off the briefcase, pointed at Maddie. “And I think that bitch standing next to you was one of them. I know she was.”

“You know nothing of the kind. She had her way with you earlier, without cable ties or hitting you on the head. Your weak bullshit about getting whacked on the head and losing Randy’s car money was past it’s sell-by date before you finished spewing it the first time. You stashed Randy’s one-sixty somewhere for the Benz and now you want to take the rest of it and disappear. That dog won’t hunt ’cause half that’s my money. Get your butt on the plane, now, or give me the briefcase and hit it.”

“You are mad about the hot tub. Your new boobs are between you and me, Cheryl. I didn’t mean it like that. I mean the massage never happened, Randy doesn’t need to know about me and your boobs and a little stiff and sticky in the hot tub. He’s going to be pissed enough about the car money. I thought look, if this plane goes down, Randy is stuck down there with nothing. I was thinking of his, like, uh, welfare.”

“My ass. You first.” Cheryl grabbed his arm, turned him toward the Gulfstream’s boarding steps. “Maddie?”

“Right behind you. You don’t know how much I appreciate you two letting me tag along. I’ve always wanted to see Acapulco. Bumpers, huh. What kind of place is it again?”

“You’ll be right at home, Maddie. Trust me.”

Maddie hugged them both from behind, pinched their butts while the attendant raised the steps. “Going home sounds like so much fun. God I love to meet new family. Don’t you?”

 

***

Harli stuck the phone in her bra, stuffed her carry-on in the overhead bin, slid into her seat and stared out the window. There was no reason to feel like she did. She and Flash had split the money and the pizza, Maddie had left them alone and they’d talked. A lot. That’s all. Until Kevin called from the ER for Flash to pick him up. He’d smiled his car thief smile, said, “Bye, neighbor to the South,” squeezed her shoulder like she was a girl bud. She pulled off the Niner’s cap she’d “forgotten” to give back and got a little wistful. Jesus, she’d spent yesterday riding around her home town in stolen cars with a stranger, whacked a guy she didn’t know on the head with a gun and committed an armed robbery with her Dad’s top erotic retreat hostess. On the way to Summa cum Laude international finance grad students didn’t do things like that. Well, not until yesterday.

“Miss Davidson?” The flight attendant who had been starched into his clothes and shaved with a new blade twice checked the small slip of paper in his left hand, wrestled her bag out of the overhead, and backed down the aisle to let her out. “I need you to come with me, please.”

Her heart sank. Shit. They’d been busted. For all of it. The stolen cars, the money, the head whack. All of it. That asshole her dad knew hadn’t liked her attitude about the surcharge when she sent her $80,000 offshore and had called her out. Shit. She could feel her glass ceiling getting lower in real-time. Nobody wanted a convict accountant except politicians and other convicts. She shouldn’t have worn the Niner’s cap. That was it. Security had spotted her. She thought about trying to cry her way out of it.

“Where are you taking me?”

“First Class, Miss Davidson. Your ticket was upgraded at the counter. Don’t you remember?” He smiled like he owned three dentists and wanted his money’s worth.

“Right. Forgot.” She hadn’t done anything at any counter, but whatever. First Class wasn’t jail. She sat where the flight attendant pointed before he took her bag and stacked it neatly in a closet close to the front. It was harder to see the baggage guys practicing their long-distance loading techniques from her new window, but she could see the pilot talking to the light stick and headphone people. She felt someone land on the other side of her first-class console, caught a faint whiff of a nice, light cologne. Probably some money-guy suit on the way to Acapulco to see her dad and his “hostesses.” She hoped he wasn’t a talker. And dammit, who would be texting her?

He poked her arm. “Saw you go to the restroom twice, think about a huge cookie five times before you got on the plane.”

“Shit! What are you —”

“I can’t miss this one.” He handed her a cellophane-wrapped chocolate chip cookie the size of a cow pie.

“Yeah? I thought you were out of clean underwear, art poser.”

“I was. I’m functionally artsy. I can do laundry and shop a little.”

She broke off a piece of the cookie, handed it to him. “A cookie bribery car thief stalker with domestic skills following me to Acapulco? Is this part of a master plan?”

“Not yet. The essence of man is to be, not to plan.”

“God, Berkeley has rotted your brain.”

She switched her phone off. Dad could sit on that one for a while, she had a takeoff hand to hold. And it had to belong to a freaking car thief working on a liberal arts masters. Her dad was going to kill her. Her mom might commit suicide.

She decided a single seat in first class was big enough for both of them, if they stretched out. She needed to tell him when she climbed over the console that she drooled in her sleep sometimes. So he should get a towel in case she passed out on his shoulder.

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Part 3

Flash rolled into the abandoned lumberyard and up the ramp into a fifty-three-foot trailer that had bags of gluten and corn free organic dog food painted on the sides. He pulled the battery and ratcheted the Mercedes down like a professional calf roper and jumped off the back of the trailer as the driver started to reload pallets of dog food. Flash stood in the swirling gravel dust churned up by the forklift and gave minimal load directions. It took them under six minutes from the time he’d driven through the gates to locking the trailer.

The driver smacked his gloves together, tossed them in the cab. “GPS?”

“History before I started it.”

“Dead, set and locked down?”

“Come on, Colin. I didn’t start yesterday.”

“No, but you took your sweet time.” Colin leaned on the cab with one hand, unlocked the “Fire Extinguisher Inside” box with the other. He pulled the fire extinguisher, slammed the box door. “Trouble?”

“Met a girl.”

Colin turned his head, popped a grin, elbowed Flash in the shoulder

“Not like that, man. A girl girl.

“Worst kind of trouble.”

“She’s not a banger…She’s…different.”

“What I said.”

They split up, climbed into their respective sides of the cab. Flash dropped his leather bag on the console, took the fire extinguisher handoff. Colin lurched the rig through the deserted lumberyard’s gates while Flash unscrewed the bottom of the extinguisher, stuck his hand inside and fished out two waxed paper bundles.

“One-sixty.” Colin hit the ignition on a vape, blew the smoke sideways out the window.  “How many non-target free-styles you pull today?”

“Six?”

“Don’t be cute, you’re a freaking one-man white car crime wave in this town. Scanner’s lit up with hot cars. The Lexus I know was you belonged to a city councilman’s wife and they have everybody with a badge that can drive out looking for it. You’re finished here.”

“How am I supposed to —”

“Uber. I’ll drop you someplace civilized.” He chuckled, hit the vape again. “Six? Jeez, Flash. You shopping for a keeper?”

“Not really…” He zoned a few extra seconds, could still taste onion rings through the dust. “But I might have found one.”

***

Harli and Maddie, from their vantage point in the rented black Camaro three parking spaces away, watched Cheryl the real estate agent slam Kevin’s motel room door, climb into a metallic red Lincoln SUV and chirp the tires getting out of the Super 8 lot. Harli thought the Lincoln would be a cool car for Flash to steal. She pushed on her temples with the heels of her hands. God. What was she thinking?

“This isn’t going to work, Maddie. You know that, right?”

“Of course it will work. You could have gone horny college girl, done the Flash til he was stupid and walked out of his room with the cash. Would have saved us some trouble.”

“I don’t do that. Weaponized sex is like so Twentieth Century and reality TV and so not me. Besides, I think he’s one of those weird Unicorn kind of guys who can see that stuff coming, and I…Well…”

“You don’t want him to think that about you because you’re not one of me. Got it. Ten minutes. Do you need to pee again? Questions?”

“Do you think the police will get the video from Target of us buying all these black clothes?”

“No one will call the police, Harli. The money is payment for an insurance fraud stolen car. Relax.”

“Will Flash hate me forever for this?”

“Flash will get over it. Anyway, you’re robbing Kevin, not Flash.”

“Black lipstick?”

“What do you suggest for a black ski mask, Harli? Pink? Red?”

“The masks cover our mouths. Our eyes will give us away.”

“Not with these. Party City. White-out vampire contacts.” She tilted the rearview, popped the contacts in, flashed Harli a buck-toothed smile. “How you rike me now, Grasshoppuh?”

Harli rolled her eyes. “Talk about Twentieth Century…”

***

At straight-up 9 pm Flash carried a Red Dragon branded paper bag from his room to Kevin’s, knocked on the door, raised his voice to delivery driver level. “Red Dragon.”

Kevin opened the door, reached out and dragged Flash into the room, stuck his head back out to look around and Harli cracked him on the head with Maddie’s Browning. Hard, but not too hard.

Shit..OW! The fuck?” Kevin clutched the top of his head with both hands, staggered back into the room, fell on the bed. “Whaaa? Who? Awwwww…Dammit. OW! He pulled his hands down, looked at his fingers. “Holy mother of fuck! I’m bleeding!” Harli raised the gun again and Kevin dove under the pillow. “Take it, whatever you want, but don’t hit me again…Don’t fucking shoot me, either, you crazy bitch. God dammit, OW!”  He rolled onto his stomach buried his head further under the pillow. Awww…Bitch! My fucking head.”

Maddie pushed her way past Harli and Flash, lifted the pillow and stuffed a dirty washcloth in Kevin’s mouth. She had trouble at first with her gloves and the cable ties stuffed in the side of her boot but got organized, pulled his hands together and zip tied them. She motioned to Harli to pull his feet up and in a few more awkward moves they had Kevin cable-tied and thrashing on the bed like a prize-winning fish in the bottom of a bass boat. In white Jockeys.

“Kung Pao chicken’s getting cold, ladies. Gotta run.” Flash bowed, took a back step toward the door and Harli stuck the Browning in his ribs.

“Yo, yo, yo, sisters of spandex darkness. Guns scare me and I’m wearing my last clean pair of underwear.” Maddie pointed to the desk next to the TV, Flash set the Red Dragon bag down. Maddie motioned for him to open it and when he stepped back she counted fifteen ten-thousand-dollar bands. She spun Flash around, rubbed him down fore and aft in the pocket range, and came up with the missing ten grand.

“Hey, come on. The rub was quality, but it wasn’t worth ten grand. Finder’s fee, okay?”

Maddie dropped the money in the bag, spun him again, pushed him and Harli out the door. She followed them with the dragon bag and continued to push until they were all in the Camaro. She pulled off her ski mask, shook out her hair, Harli did the same.

Flash didn’t seem surprised to see them. “Which one of you is Bonnie and which one is Clyde?”

“Cute, junior. She tells me you’re a Berkley boy. Can you prove it?

“Is there a latent hippie blood test?”

“Cassie’s Place is what?”

“Since 1964 it’s been a continuous ‘meaning of life’ talk-a-thon coffee bar, upstairs behind Grant’s Market. Cute, smart girls who don’t buy razors or hair brushes until they graduate, guys in stupid round Amish looking hats and designer chuka boots, all flying low on over-priced caffeine wishing they weren’t virgins.”

“Ding! The money for the car is between you and Harli. We’re going to drop you at Lowe’s across the street. Walk back over and unhook Kevin. Act scared, like we kidnapped you and threw you out.”

“And then?”

“Then hook up with us in 723 at the Marriott. We’ll order pizza, have some fun.”

“Only if Harli stays in that black leotard. I thought I was falling in love with Bonnie or Clyde, whichever one she is. Was?”

“Shut up.” Harli managed an on the edge of disgusted frown. “Liberal Arts guys fall in love every other week.”

“What about Global Economists? When do they fall in love?”

“They don’t,” Maddie interjected. “Not on my watch. Harli, can we take his lofty bullshit horniness to Lowe’s, please? Before the smell of youth in heat overwhelms me?”

***

Harli stopped the Camaro by the pro door cart corral, Maddie leaned forward, pulled the seat back with her. “Adios, junior. If it takes too long to smooth Kev out, save the walk to the Marriott, we girls need our beauty rest. He might be pissed, don’t let him kick your ass.”

“The last ass he kicked was his mother’s, on the way into planet Earth.” He squatted down, hung on to the open door. “Harli with an I, next time you rob someone, put a clip in the gun. It’s more convincing that way.”

Maddie’s eyes got huge. She raised her eyebrows and they got even bigger. “Sweety?”

“I didn’t want it to go off and shoot him on accident.” Her smile sneaked out again, with a blush building behind it.

“That’s comforting. I think.” He stood, stayed bent into the car. “Order pizza, ladies. Easy on the bell peppers.”

Harli had turned her head, trying to kill the blush, and mumbled at her window. “I don’t eat bell peppers. On pizza, anyway.”

“All that and a black leotard. I knew I felt something tug at my heart.”

“That wasn’t your heart, and you were doing the tugging.” Maddie pushed him away from the door. “You. Beat it. By that I mean leave. Harli? Drive.”

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Part 2

More of ‘Land Run’ and my 20 somethings against the crazy world. There’s a lot of peripheral activity cut to see if these two gel inside the bigger story. I suppose it’s good sometimes to watch sub text like picture in picture.

Maddie reached for her phone on the towel by the tiled, built-in hot tub in the fleeing lawyer’s almost ex-wife’s back patio. More like a courtyard. The house was a big U around the xeriscaped back yard and patio, pool, hot tub set up. Nice grill, too. And a stainless steel baby fridge full of decent chardonnay. There were worse ways to be dumped.



***

Harli watched the city she grew up in go by, north to south. Riding in a stolen luxury SUV, with a guy she didn’t know. “How long have you been stealing cars?”

“Thirteen.”

“Thirteen years?”

“Thirteen years old. Thirteen years and I would have been 10 when I started.” He checked her out the corner of his eye. She’d been talking to the window like she was afraid to look at him. “That was in Detroit, before we moved. I tried to quit a squad when I was fifteen, they didn’t like it, mom wanted me alive a little longer. Like Fresh Prince. Only the Oakland side of the Bay, not L.A., mom came along, and no rich relatives. What about you?”

“Dad. And mom…I was eighteen. Just graduated high school.” She let that hang a few beats. “Ka-Bloooey! Mom said she’d never been so happy. Turned out it wasn’t for me, but because she was tired of my dad’s ‘endless quest for stupid things to with his penis’, and with me out of the house she could finally do something about it. The next day mom called some guy with the biggest pickup I’ve ever seen to come get all dad’s stuff and take it to the drilling company’s pipe yard. She was his business partner, on paper, and she forced a sale on his drilling business. Told him how the money was going to go and he could take the deal or she’d make him out to be the biggest weenie waving hole driller in history and he’d lose everything. He took it. I went to college, Mom sold everything and went to Florida to be a snotty, country club divorcé and Dad went to Mexico to run a high end kink carnival and whore house .”

“And you fit into their reincarnated shituations how?”

“I don’t. If it wasn’t for school, I’d be homeless.” He watched her shoulders sigh with that. “Not broke…”

“But nowhere real to be? I get that.” He tipped the blinker, checked the lane camera and moved over for the airport exit.

She turned away from her window of denial, watched him drive in his state of relaxed vigilance for a few before she blurted, “Have you ever felt like someone launched all the pinballs in your game of life at once, and then walked away from the table?”

***

Flash drove around the airport parking lot one time, scanned each row as he went by, parked the Lexus in the middle. “Stuff your hair in the hat and pull it down.” He handed Harli a pair of big, seventies style sunglasses from the bag, watched her stuff her hair and helped her squash the hat. He pulled his cap down, flipped up the collar of his shirt. “When you get out, look at the ground and follow my feet.”

She stuck to him like velcro. He kept his head down, counted the rows as he walked. On the eighth one he turned right and stopped four cars in. He tapped the handle and the doors unlocked. He dropped into the driver’s seat, entered a four number code on the console. A woman’s robot voice said from somewhere behind the dash, “Entry Validated. Anti-theft disarmed.” He sat back into the seat and relaxed.

They left the top up and kept their sunglasses on because he’d joked that neither of them looked like foreign software engineers or plastic surgeons. A comment that cemented him as West Coaster for her, because where they were it was more likely oilies and crooked lawyers. Which they didn’t look like, either.

Flash was full of easy conversation, had let her talk out her parent’s messy divorce and her loss of a sense of place without placating commentary. He was comfortable with himself, and her, and was becoming addictively fun to be around. For a car thief. The drive-through cherry limeade and onion rings at Sonic that ended up in the shade of a struggling tree in the adjoining WalMart parking lot were an unexpected treat.

She set the limeade back in the cup holder on her side. “You’re still shitting me about your name.”

“No more than you. Harli with an I, Davidson. Hookers are more original.”

“Look.” She handed him her thin, front pocket driver’s license and credit card only wallet. “Harli. With an I, Davidson.”

“I know a guy who prints these. Why’d you go for California? It’s easier to not be you in Ohio or West Virginia, somewhere off the reality index.”

“I go to school in California. Leventhal, USC. Almost a Masters in Accounting. Global economies and all that.”

“Say hey, neighbor to the south. Berkley. Almost Modern Literary and Visual Culture Masters. More like film and lit cross contamination. Nobody knows what’s art and what’s not, so we argue and throw money at the university until the day they say we need to write a thesis and graduate.”

“A liberal arts car thief from Berkley with a crazy fake name. My lucky day.”

You look, my Southern Cal global economist friend.” He handed her his identical to hers front pocket wallet. “See. Flash Lieght. It’s even on my debit card.”

“That’s Leet. Or Late, not –”

“The i-e is like ‘pie’. Lieght. When I was little they called me Lite. L I T E. Like Lite Lieght because I was skinny and…Never mind.”

She knew she was laughing too much and couldn’t help it. “You said you knew someone who could print these. My name’s on my American Express, Lite Lieght.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “So there.”

They handed back their respective front pocket card and license wallets, got in a finger tug of war over the onion rings. He laughed, she blushed and flipped the visor down and checked her teeth in the mirror to hide it.

“This place has always made me feel like I have dust on my teeth. Since I was a little girl. All gritty.”

“It’s the dust and wind combo. That airport parking lot was a sandbox.” He reached for the limeade, too late. “Where am I taking you when you finish the rings and the Route 44 by yourself?”

She pushed the nearly empty onion ring bag towards him and held out the Route 44. “My friend has been driving, but it’s the Marriott, on the north loop, I remember that. And it’s not far from the Chili’s where we stole…” She stumbled over the thought speed bump of car boosting. “I don’t remember the exit but there’s a Lowe’s across the street. With a Starbucks and a Wendy’s in the parking lot.”

“That corner repeats every five miles anywhere you go.”

“Well, I —”

“No prob. I’m in the Super 8 off the same exit.”

“Say hey, neighbor to the north.” She smiled, big. He grinned back before he looked over his shoulder and pulled out into traffic.

Shit. Her stupid, big, happy-girl smile had to jump out on its own. Maddie better not want to shoot this Flashlight guy. It would totally suck if she did.

Land Run – Say Hey, Neighbor – Part 1

This is an excerpt from a project that will never see the light of day titled ‘Land Run.’ It contains more of my 20 something kids in the midst of grown up weirdness. For me this is like posting a sketch, not a polished bit of anything, but I’m going to cut more of these loose after the close of Bobby B Book One. From ‘Land Run’, here’s Harli and Flash.

Harli and Maddie followed the house shooter into the bar at Chili’s an exit away from his motel. The hospital complex they’d passed had brought upper middle class burbs, slab shopping centers and a mile long run of hotels and motels on the north side loop, along with the requisite franchise food places. Cookie cutter America. They could have been anywhere from Miami to Seattle.

Kevin sat at a bistro-height table by himself, listlessly drug a straw around a tall glass of Coke. He kept his sunglasses on because his eyes would tell everyone about his afternoon of some big green bud from NorCal and four baseball games on different screens in a topless bar. He prided himself on being able to clear the cover charge, pick up an unfinished drink from a table on his way in, wave off waitresses and look at boobs for two hours, three bucks, total.

His shadows hadn’t bothered to follow him into the topless bar. No stateside topless bar held a candle to Bumpers and they agreed that they’d just bitch about the sticky floor and vinyl booths, so they sat at the back of the parking lot in the rented Camry. Harli learned, during the parking lot wait and debate about everything from politics to economics to sex for hire, that Maddie had gotten a gun from somewhere. A no nonsense Browning nine with a spare clip. All Maddie had said when asked was “just in case.”

***

The Chili’s wait wasn’t going much better than the topless bar wait except they were inside. Forty minutes in, a twenty something guy who needed a haircut pulled up a stool by Cali Kevin and ordered something clear and carbonated with two lime wedges. The shaggy guy and Kevin hardly spoke, stirred their drinks in unison. The young guy let his eyes roam the restaurant, landing, and briefly staying, on most of the women.

Maddie elbowed Harli. “Wake up, sweety. Real estate agent on final approach, far end of the bar. Aaaaaaaand, there goes our California wonder boy to meet her. They’re mine. The anti-hipster is yours.”

Harli took a deep breath, pulled out the stool vacated by Cali Kev. “Hi. Harli. With an I.”

“Flash. With an F. Before you ask? I don’t come here often.”

“Don’t be a jerk. I don’t like this, either.”

He tilted the Collins glass and drained the last of whatever was in it. “Make it easy on yourself?”

“Straight?” She wished she had one of those hair-toss moves actresses always had at times like this. “You and the old school stoner? S’up with him?”

“A job. An easy job. Buy me another Sprite?”

“You’re the one with a job. I’m working for my dad this summer.”

“I never met my dad. What’s yours do?”

“He owns an erotic resort in Mexico.” She’d learned to say that quickly with no facial giveaways. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“So.” The waitress picked up his glass and asked ‘another?’ with her eyebrows, he shook his head in a lazy ‘no’. “You’re in the mix with video Kev and the real estate agent. And the lawyer and his about to be ex-wife. Everybody’s screwing everybody on that deal.”

“I said, don’t look at me like that.” She tried a serious don’t-mess-with-me look that fell short. “I’m not screwing anybody. And how do you know about all that?”

“I do confidant and Kev likes to talk when he’s baked, which is 24/7. I hate to break up our party, Harli with an I, but I have to go steal a car.”

“No way.”

“Big ‘way’, Nineties movies girl. How am I supposed to pay for college, Harli with an I? Minimum wage and two hours’ sleep?”

“Stop it with the I thing.”

“Wanna come? No weapons, broken glass or alarms. Nice car. ”

She gave it a split second. “When in Rome, right?” She slid off her stool when he stepped off his.

“Okay, Harli with an I, first —”

She stuck her finger in his upper arm. “I told you.”

“I’m listening, alright?” He rubbed his arm where she’d finger stabbed him.

Now you are. I’ve never stolen a car. What’s next?”

“I feel like a Lexus SUV. The two spray tanners with stiff hair and tennis skirts that just hit the bar? Stop and say something like ‘didn’t I see you at somebody’s wedding’.”

***

He walked up to the new, white Lexus SUV hybrid like he owned it, unlocked both doors. Harli stood on the passenger side, frozen to the parking lot. He quick stepped around the Lexus, opened the door for her, slipped her a pair of flesh tone gloves.

“These are?”

“Old people gloves. Not compression, but for cold extremity issues. They’re pretty comfortable and aren’t obvious like vinyl.”

“No, I mean why?”

“Fingerprints. This ride belongs to the lady who wasn’t at your cousin’s wedding. I read her key through her purse when she turned around. Shut the door.”

Harli’s shoulders were up around her ears, hands clasped between her legs. She glanced nervously at him, and then all around the parking lot. “How did you get here if you have to, um, steal a car to leave?”

“The white Civic, three cars down. They’re probably missing it by now, may be hot. That’s why we needed a new one.”

“You don’t have a car?”

“I’m not local.”

“You steal a freaking car every time you need to go somewhere?”

He grinned, fastened his seat belt. “You say that like it’s unheard of, or a bad thing. Buckle up. That is a law we can live with.”

“Right.” She relaxed her shoulders and hooked up. “Do you always steal white cars?”

“I work in themes. The target today is a white Benz AMG SLS, so I started with a white Mustang. Bad choice. It had the little turbo four-banger and an automatic. What a dog. Like this thing, too sluggish. But these Lexi hybrids are real ass-kissers and I’m on a date. Get in my backpack and pull out two hats. They have cameras where we’re going.”

She reached into the backpack he’d set on the console. “They had cameras at Chili’s, date man.”

“Off-line. The hostess and the manager were on it when we left.” He checked the backup camera, eased out of the parking space. “They’ll call rent-a-nerd, he’ll charge them a hundred dollars for a four-dollar power supply on top of a sixty-dollar service call.”

Harli pulled out two San Francisco 49ers ball caps and a wall-wart power supply attached to a neatly wrapped cord.

“The hundred dollar power supply looks like this one?”

Just like that one.”

Harli’s phone signaled her with Maddie’s text tone. She pulled her phone out, thumbed a few rounds back and forth.

Flash waited until she was finished before he dropped the Lexus into drive. “We’re good?”

She raised up off the seat and stuffed her phone in her back pocket, blew out a long sigh and looked out at the Chili’s where she’d gone in a twenty-three-year-old good girl masters in international economics honor student and come out a car thief.

“Yeah, we’re good.” She turned back to him with a big-eyed, seriously freaked look, grabbed his forearm and shook it. “Please tell me I didn’t just flush my life.”

Someone

Someone broke my heart today
Again
Thought I was past all that by now
All at once I was young again
If only for a while
In a song where snowflakes turn to rain
Pictures of my foolish innocence
Scattered all to hell
Bits of a treasured ornament that fell
So very long ago
Somehow pieced together
Hanging where it belongs
Shame and regret and all the things
We never got to say
Back among the lights and tinsel and memories
That never fade away
Thank God someone broke my heart again today

Bobby B – Gator Bait

Carrie Louise screamed a split second before the shotgun blast. Birds exploded from the cypress canopy, the surface of the water boiled with leaping frogs, crickets, surprised fish and a lone gator. The sound and accompanying activity rolled away across the bayou in an expanding halo. Bobby couldn’t look down where he hoped his feet still were, saw the look of sheer panic in Carrie Louise’s eyes, steeled himself and waited for the blast from the second barrel. CL was shaking so hard she couldn’t pull the hammer back. Bobby took a second, glanced down to see the snake that had dropped into the boat from the tree branches overhead slither through the new hole in his dad’s old, flat bottom swamp skiff. CL screamed bloody murder again when she couldn’t make the sawed-off shotgun work, started to launch it into the swamp after the snake when Bobby snatched it away.

The silence in the aftermath bordered on church-like except for the soft gurgle of the swamp slowly filling the boat.

“Dayum, girl.”

“Dayum yourself, Bobby B.” CL, white as a ghost, held her legs out straight in front of her above the encroaching water, narrowed her eyes. “It was a, a…A snake. You saw it. I…And…You know how much I hate fuh, fuh, snakes.”

“Do for a fact.” He wiggled his feet to prove they were still there, whistled softly. “Dayyy-um.”

Bobby had no idea how deep the water was, but he dumped what had drifted into his dad’s waders, pulled them on and tied a knot in the shoulder straps while the boat slowly settled toward the water line. Carrie Louise cussed a blue streak of randomly constructed profanity under her breath, her heels now resting on the rusty oarlocks, the water closing in on her cutoffs.

He stepped out into water waist-deep on his average to a little tall, twelve-year-old frame, let the breath he’d been holding go. His dad’s waders were up to his chin, so unless a snake slopped over the top they were good. He sloshed the few steps to Carrie Louise.

“When I turn around, climb on my shoulders. Baby style, not piggyback.” He handed back the shotgun. “You see a gator, CL? Or another snake? Holler and let me shoot. Got it?”

“Okay. But you can’t drop me in, in there. In this…You can’t.” She looked over her shoulder in the direction the snake had taken off, climbed on his shoulders. She wrapped her arms around his forehead, her legs tucked under his arms, heels almost touching the base of his neck. “How far is it?”

“As far as it is.”

“Big help. Do NOT drop me.” She shivered involuntarily. “Please.”

“No need to get all polite, CL. You have the shotgun.”

Bobby took a minute to get his bearings, knowing how his dad was gonna raise all sorts of hell about the trolling motor. Once dad knew he could find it and the water wasn’t very deep they’d be back to get the motor, take it home, dry it out and rebuild it on the garage floor. He’d rebuild it, dad would drink beer and give bad advice, mom would put some vodka in her iced coffee or tea and read the latest and greatest from the library where she worked. And pretend to watch them like she cared while whatever was in the oven turned black.

***

Carrie Louise climbed off his shoulders on to dry ground and started screaming again when Bobby waded out. Another snake had hitched a ride, its fangs embedded in the thick rubber heel of the waders. Bobby saw CL point the shotgun at his foot and screamed with her. She shoved the shotgun into his chest, took off down the finger of two-lane ruts that cut through the swamp. Bobby picked up the shotgun, put the barrel against the snake’s head and pushed until the snake lost its grip and recoiled away. He had one shell in the sawed-off swamp boat gun, and he might need it for more than a snake dumb enough to hit waders.

***

Sheriff Sheridan Wylie, a little overweight in a uniform and life vest that fit a couple of years ago, swung Terrebonne Parish Swamp Patrol Boat number 2 alongside the finger of dry land and waited for the two stragglers in the shimmering heat haze headed his way, a .40 caliber pistol, safety off, behind his back.

“Well, I do declare. Carrie Louise Roche and Bobby Buisson. You might crack that shotgun open and hand it to me, young Mister Bobby. Go a looooong ways toward keepin’ my blood pressure under control.”

“Yes sir.” Bobby broke the sawed-off open, offered it butt first. “Sorry.”

“Think nothin’ of it.” Wylie took the sawed-off, holstered his pistol. “What’s a coupla lethal weapons between friends? Now, y’know, when I got the call about two kids with a shotgun wandering the Mauvais Bois, I thought maybe I had me some lost poachers or the next Bonnie and Clyde. Hell no, ain’t nothin’ to it but Houma’s own double trouble.”

The Sheriff unloaded both shells from the shotgun, dropped them in his life vest pocket, set the shotgun on top of the instrument and radio cluster. “You can give that sawed off I don’t know is the wrong side of legal back to your daddy after I’ve carried you two home. And you done told me about the spent shell.”

He helped them step off into the boat, handed them both life vests. Bobby told him about CL and snakes and the new hole in his dad’s old skiff while they cinched themselves into the vests. The sheriff and Bobby laughed, Carrie Louise moped. Satisfied with their vests Sheriff Wylie idled the boat around and out into the swamp in no kind of hurry.

“Either a you two been gone long enough anybody’d be worried? No? Best news I’ve had all day.” He squeezed the trigger on the mic. “Wylie. Armed poachers turned into a shallow water equipment failure rescue. No casualties, no prisoners, no medical required. Swamp rats name of Buisson and Roche need deliverin’. May take me a while.”

He hung up the radio mic, turned and leaned against the instrument panel where he could keep one eye on the swamp and one on CL and Bobby, held the boat on course with his forearm on the wheel. “I’m in no big hurry ‘cause I need y’all to spin me one hell of a good stow-ree about that spent shell. Tellin’ you now it better have a 15, maybe 20 foot gator and a witch and a toothless coon-ass pervert or two in it, ‘cause bein’ as we’re out here and it’s hotter’n hell an all? I’m stoppin’ at the marina for a ring-of-fire hot link, some of Louella’s fried shrimp bites and an Abita Amber just this side of ice. On the Parish dime. And I’ll need to write me up a nice report when I get back to justify burning a couple of hours and a bunch of Parish gas rescuing two born on the bayou kids who should know better than to blow a damn hole in the bottom of a boat.” He turned back, idled the boat up a little. “There’s water in the ice chest if you need some. Go easy, Carrie Louise. Ain’t nowhere for a girl to pee for a good forty minutes.”

***

An hour and a half later Sheriff Wylie dropped them at a makeshift dock on Bayou Black across the street from Bobby’s house. Bobby went home carrying the unloaded sawed off and his dad’s waders, Carrie Louise huffed off to her house next door carrying a greasy paper bag of leftover spicy shrimp bites.

Fifteen minutes passed before she banged on the screen door to Bobby’s kitchen. She’d been having an angry cry, most likely from a Momma Roche ass chewing. He toed the door open and she shoved a plate with a huge slice of peach pie and rapidly losing form in the heat whipped cream at him.

“Momma says she guesses thanks for saving me from bein’ gator bait. I told her it was snakes, but she said thanks anyway, even though a Houma girl dumb enough to blow a hole in a boat mighta been justifiably left behind. And to say I’m sorry about your dad’s boat and scaring you shitless with the shotgun and almost blowing your foot off.” She heaved a big sigh. “She’ll see that we make it right, when we can.”

Bobby could feel the sadness coming off her, along with leftover steam from how mad she’d gotten when he and the Sheriff laughed about her blowing a hole in the boat and not killing the snake, then Momma R piling on.

“I’m figurin’ I’ll tell Daddy I did it, CL. You tell Momma R not to worry.” He shrugged one shoulder, took the pie plate. “Dad’ll drop a couple M-80s to run the snakes off so I can fish the motor out pretty easy. And it won’t be near as bad a ‘Bobby you dumb ass’ sermon as telling him I let a girl beat me to the snake-and-gator gun.” He grinned, held the door open for her. “Come on. Pie this size needs two forks.”

“You sure? About the boat and all?”

“Yep.”

Sure sure?”

“Yep.”

“Like certain sure?”

“C’mon CL, do I look like I’m standin’ here air conditionin’ the back yard changin’ my mind?”

“No…” She stepped past him into the kitchen, opened his fridge. “So I guess that means you have a couple of new shots of Cool Whip or maybe some ice cream in here to go with that extra fork and this big ol’ piece of my momma’s blue-ribbon peach pie?”