CHAPTER 5. THE EXIT ROW.
“Time to seek other career options.” I said into my mobile as I eased into one of the deck’s lounge chairs. Maria had just put out a brown, Monkey Pod tray of cheeses with a divot of oily Spanish green olives. She was careful to place my small, personal two-glass carafe of Stoli on ice; she had put up the two, large chocolate beige, patio umbrellas and placed a tube of SPF 8 on the deck table. Maria had turned up the Vargas Mariachi band, and hummed along with Mi Ciudad as she bounced around the deck attending to my day by the pool. Maria knew the Vargas songs by heart. She was a dear. I should probably treat her and her family to the Vargas concert when the famed mariachis came to Los Angeles. I was going to miss her.
"Don't sweat it. We got you," Jack said.
“Hmmm, not so sure about that, I think, no, I know, Maxim has my phone; so it’s not going to take him to do the math, the man isn’t going to wait for his HMO case report on his dead Darya. Pretty sure she met her deductible.”
“I talked to guys over at ATF they know where the little fucker is, we can yank his chain anytime.”
“Now would be good,” I said.
“I knew you’d say that.”
CHAPTER 7. DESERT AIR.
"You telling me you know me?" she asked. Her face felt sad but she bravely tried to sound like she was up for a neighborly drink. She was sipping an iced can of sugary Orange Fanta livened with whatever spirits she could wrangle from the desolate little mart located just far enough to make it a pain, but close enough to make her life painless.
"Have no idea, who you are, but I got a little bit of an idea of who you were," I said. And I was serious. I’m good with faces—just part of my trade. A few months ago you lost a boy, a son. I don’t mean to pry but that was you, wasn’t it?” I saw Mary’s eyes fall to the floor. I could see that maybe I hit a nerve. Easy to do at this hour of the morning when ably assisted by various substances. I thought I was being delicate. At least it felt that way. I knew about losing a child. And so far, numbing was the winning strategy for that level of pain.
CHAPTER 10. MEET HELENA SHE’S RUSSIAN
Already Needles was showing us how the desert could stand resolutely still and build to a searing 112 degrees in a heat so fucking dry you would swear you could hear the desert air crackle. The temperature has pushed life underground or under a rock or a under a piece of loose bark or under anything that gives you a hope of shade, or moisture, a particle of hydration and a way out of the solar system. Underneath and in the dark is where life is lived. You lay perfectly still, saving your energy, quietly, expertly, and you wait for night. You find a way to live underneath this desert or you die. Helena handed me my 16oz lime green plastic tumbler, iced up and good to go. She added a slice of lemon to make it feel like we were expecting company or relatives or something or somebody. She pulled her long legs into her body, and sat there, with her magical blue eyes framed by that face and those eyebrows and she watched me. Her thick, pouty, red lips swallowed the glass, leaving a faint imprint on the rim.
CHAPTER 12. CUB’S.
My radio reception moves somewhere between festive Mexican and mindless Adult Contemporary. I’m pretty convinced this Mexican shit kicks the doors off Adult Contemporary even with Toto, Ambrosia, and Madonna in the lineup. But I think maybe this is only the happy result of Chet’s booze, my pharma grade, and the courteous Cub’s staff. It’s true what they say about terrific customer service. It does make a difference.
A knuckle raps on my passenger window and startles me and brings me back to the parking lot. It’s Chet.
He slides into the seat trying to find a comfortable way to assemble his tired frame into this small capsule of German automotive engineering that’s a bit tight for the aging patriarch.
“Fuck Doctor, you trying to get out of here without talking to me about your prescription pad…’cuse me, our ‘scription pad?” Chet is referring to ‘scripts’ the kind he can make a boatload of money with—Pharmaceutical Fucking A-1 Liquid Cocaine prescriptions written by yours truly. It’s good to have a physician-on-call in the desert. Just ask Chet.
“Demerol, Oxy, Coke, or Dilaudid would be good.”
“I can script for coke, and call it done, but that’s as good as it gets right now; we both know what’s real,” I say, keeping my eyes on Chet, waiting for his reaction. I glance in my rearview mirror, and all I can see is heat. Fucking Needles. Must be 120 by now.
Chet shows no patience for anything else but business. Chet likes his money. He likes a conversation to go his way and I know he likes his cocaina, pure.
CHAPTER 14. FIESTA.
I know this crowd and they like their money, drugs, and sex—not all that different from the Hollywood Hills—just hotter, flatter and with a lot less money to buy their way out of desperate. And because a number of guests are outlaws, you never quite know who’s pulling up behind you on a darkened, desert road. I take a deep drag, flick the last of the Menthol into the massive, ornate fountain, walk up to the large, double Mahogany and glass front door and press the bell. I look back at the bubbling fountain and notice an absence of birds except for a single, lone cactus wren dipping its small body into the cooling water. The music is louder now. The petite wren shakes and stutters, drying its wings and flies off to its Saguaro or Cholla nest protected by the dense gauntlet of piercing, needle-sharp cactus. Smart.
CHAPTER 18. MR. EUGENIAS.
"And you want what?” Rita asks, locking in on me with the slow melt of a half-smile. She pulls her hair up and back, slowly moves her head around, working out whatever stress she’s carrying in that gorgeous, young neck, and fuck me, those are some nice cheekbones. My professional profiling kicks in and I have to say, I honestly wouldn’t touch them. I wouldn’t even recommend implants. Not now anyway, give a few years and she might be a candidate.
“You know what I want? I want you to not know what you think Chet told you. See how amnesia works? One day everything’s good and then, poof, for some strange reason you can’t remember anything at all. Really no cure for it.”
“You should know, you’re a Doctor.” Rita said brashly.
“That’s right, I’m the mother fucking Doctor…I make sure you get something on the backend—without the family side—if you catch my drift—and you shut the fuck up, and I mean for-fucking-ever. You don’t, and my next offer is going to hurt a little. Kinda like this” —I turn her wrist hard inward so the Puukko puts just enough of the sharp steel against her bare thigh— “You will not like my move at all. We good?”
CHAPTER 22. MY NEW PARTNER.
I turn up the exotic Zeppelin desert anthem, Kashmir; the hypnotic orchestral strings transport me as I race across the flat, dirty sand. The hot wind feeds into the cabin of the Speedster. My brain is the last to let go and travel with Page and Plant. I don’t fucking like loose ends and I have more than a few right now as I consider how Phil and Roy are playing this and because they are tapped into the matrix of Needles cops who can snap-to when handed the fat envelope and what’s to prevent the crew to step all over me once this deal is done?
Like I said: loose fucking ends.
The Chet and Cynthia Kingdom has high, thick walls protecting the family against the other world. All they have to do is pull up the gates, pay off a few of their closest boys in blue and they walk with every dime. They’re nowhere near the dead bodies. A false report is filed, the next of kin notified, and the Cloud and Speedster are orphaned and up for auction. Or worse, become the property of the family. Game, set, match, and thank you for playing. Fuck, the Russians would be a little upset in being denied the killing, but they’d just have to learn to live with it. I’m sure Maxim would adapt. He’d just go kill somebody else. Jack would have to step in and deal with that crazy part of his job.
CHAPTER 24. RITA’S DROP.
Rita is deadly, sharp, smart, and young, but in too much of a hurry to see that she needs a way out before this dry dirt will grind her bones into fine desert dust, leaving her breathless and broken, pierced by the sharp points of the Saguaro. Nasty business, this desert; especially when you believe you’re an immortal. Rita is in for a rough ride. No matter what gear she shifts.
I pull the Speedster up next to her wheels and roll down my window.
This is a meeting of silver cars that go can go fast with big, sunglasses that make us feel faster. I reach over and hand Rita a stack of scripts neatly bundled in a brown, pebbled leather notepad minus the notes. She seems a bit tense even for a catty little pro like her.
“Inventory for everyone including you with the back end later as promised.” I say, happy as fuck to make sure she is on her way, or almost on her way.
“Who’s she?” Rita asks, looking suspiciously over at Helena.
Helena shoots her a look and then toys with the moment by turning up the volume on the Mariachi music hoping to tweek our young, head-banging rocker.
“Somebody I know.”
“She looks like a nobody you shouldn’t know.”
CHAPTER 26. BOATING.
Ivan looks at me seeming to ask what the next move is. I look at him. I got nothing. I feel the Nicorette drying up in my mouth, so I swallow the tiny, hard ball and for a minute I think it’s stuck in my throat. I feel dizzy.
The only one without a gun is Chet.
Six people, four pistols, and one, stubby, fat, flare gun that was probably the most dangerous because Helena really wanted to fire that bad boy and has no clue about what she was doing. A burning hot phosphorous flare direct to the face would make for a bad hair day. But it was Ivan who made sure he got off the first round.
“Ivan, shoot the fuck out of Phil’s truck…now.” I yelled in a dry, high pitched squeal. The adrenaline constricted my throat. I accidently swallowed the Nicorette.
“Which one?” Ivan calmly responded.
“The new, big white fucker.” I popped another Nicorette.
Ivan fired off a few rounds into Phil’s brand new, White F-150 With The Super-Duty Tow Package And Four-Carbine Eddie Bauer Gun Rack.
Phil dove behind a small palm tree and shot at Ivan’s SUV. He missed the Escalade, instead, hitting a larger 25-foot Boston Whaler sitting in the parking lot. Roy hit the deck.
“You shoot like a pussy.” Roy said.
“Show me what you got big brother.”