Consuela Gutierrez Ramirez melodically straddled my hips: rising and falling and rising again, with the gliding grace of an Arabian mare on a quaint circus carousel—while I slapped her ass like a rented mule.
Most guys called her Angel. But most guys think with their silly dicks. “You’re talkin’ a dangerous game, L.D.—four million each ain’t a lot of money, considering the risks.”
Head tossed back, raven mane glistening like warm Texas crude in the afternoon light, her unfettered locks coiled on gently-rolling shoulders. Not a single drop of sweat marred café-au-lait skin. I knew every centimetre of each dangerous curve by now. Watched her arching chest swell … then recede like beckoning waves—
Yet all too aware of the lava riptide underneath. The fiery gold flecks in those molten brown eyes burning with the same merciless appetites that spurred the conquistadors.
I’d given her the impression L.D. was a pet name that stood for Living Doll. No need to tell this creature my moniker meant El Diablo. A constant sharp reminder of who and what pumped the blood beneath her flawless surface.
“You gringos are a bunch of pussies. You wouldn’t survive a month in Mexico.”
The hitch in her voice told me she’d come a second time. I held my own breath in response; just long enough to tamp my unexpected anger. “I look like a gringo to you, L.D.?”
“True you have some Hispanic fire. But as an American you are soft.”
I rolled the devil on her back. Eased from its silken warmth. Swabbed her with a towel. Rid myself from the raincoat—fired the slimy wad in the basket. Eyed the remaining five condoms scattered cross the top of the floral Motel 6 bedspread. Took my deft turn with the towel.
“You got a color preference?”
“You in or out?” she countered.
I smirked. “Obviously out at the moment. But you can count me in.”
“Grab the purple one. Purple’s the color of royalty. And fitting for a queen.
“Then shut up and fuck me—I want to come again.”
I slipped once more into that wasteland just south of the border.
Consuela lived at the Motel 6. Worked the Dew Drop restaurant counter on the west side of the plaza—beneath the truck stop beacon that screamed “Kum & Go.”
With Fast Freddie layin’ low the odds of him turnin’ up during our recent trysts seemed slimmer than her waist … or Jerry Jones buyin’ his Boys a lusty trip to the Super Bowl. And since she’d filched master key cards off two dullard maids, we never balled in her room. Nor did we leave together.
I suspect the motel owner—a cross-eyed Pakistani named Aziz—let the “queen” keep residence in her king-sized room rent-free. Despite the daggers from his wife … who hulked among the shadows like a female Buddha, her leery slatted-eyes never allowing her precious meal-ticket, or his cockeyed wandering eyeballs, out of her scrutinous sight. Even more amusing, I wouldn’t a been surprised if Aziz believed Consuela had four tits given the way he always ogled her.
Stepping onto the silent catwalk, tugging the door shut tight behind me, I sparked a Maverick menthol. Slipped on mirrored shades, tugged my black straw Stetson lower on my forehead, leaned into the rail … scanned the rear parking lot below.
No signs of Freddie or his Hummer. Or anyone else I knew. All the vehicles on the lot bore out-of-state plates: Arkansas; Oklahoma; Louisiana; Arizona; Alabama; Mississippi. Unknown to Aziz, I’d cut the feeds to the security cams on the north and south stairwells about a month back. If the Pakistani had noticed the blackouts, assuming the cams worked to begin with, he hadn’t bothered to replace the wires.
I stubbed the smoke out on my boot heel. Fished an empty Altoids can from my ass pants pocket: dropped the butt inside. While Gaia needed savin’, far as I could reckon, she didn’t stand a chance in hell. But seein’ as I love women, I do my best to treat Earth well.
Descending the southern stairwell, counting treads instead of crows, I tapped a syncopated rhythm to Mr. Jones and Maria, thirst demanding I tip a bottle before my boring drive. Rounding the east wing, I strolled past L.D.’s yellow Hummer. A present from Fast Freddie. He’d first bought her a silver one so they could cruise in matching vehicles. But she’d complained about the color.
By most people’s standards Fast Freddie was considered rich. But in terms of American oil, Freddie was nothing but a two-bit player. As a native Texan, he conducted business in the Midland Basin. An area south of the state’s panhandle, which included Amarillo near the top of the “Texas T.” And three hundred dusty miles west of Dallas-Fort Worth.
I had no interest in drilling oil: my interests lay in “data mining”—wherever my fancies took me. But thirteen months earlier, I’d hooked him on a venture in neighboring New Mexico: a shale-drilling operation in the state’s southeast section of the so-called Delaware Basin.
Without any venture capital, I acted solely as the Middleman: bringing certain players together—only when necessary, as the pieces fell in place—keeping Freddie reliant on me every step of the way. Sub-leases were involved … and not all of ’em might be legal. But I wasn’t breaking any laws. My name absent from any documents.
Freddie had sent a text this morning ordering me to his hide-out. I never jumped when he barked jump. But I often played errand boy in order to lube his ego.
Driving a small vehicle in West Texas is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Speed limits don’t mean shit. On highways or county roads. Anyone wantin’ to go faster than you—if there ain’t no way to pass—will ride up on your ass, and practically plow you off the road.
I faced a five-hour northern haul on U.S. Highway 84. So I’d rented a Chevy Tahoe under Freddie’s fleet account. The baking SUV sat near the northern stairwell. But I leaned against the soda machine by the motel entrance and pretended to scoop for change while scoping out the lot. Tigers loathe cages. And while layin’ low lately, ol’ Freddie had a penchant for losing patience then acting rash.
Knowing haste makes waste, I lingered for five minutes, killing time with another cig before sauntering to the Tahoe. A Goliath stone’s throw took me to the county’s Pink Taco: normally Freddie’s favorite haunt. The lot sat nearly empty, which suited me just fine. If not for the drive ahead I woulda quenched my thirst elsewhere.
I snagged myself the table farthest from center stage. All the cars in the Taco’s lot must’ve belonged to employees. I didn’t spot a single patron … the music wasn’t blaring and all three stages sat there lifeless.
Just as I was thinkin’ today might be my luck day, the Carters swooped in—and I found myself surrounded. All three with teased blonde hair that put glam big hair bands to shame.
But anyone who thinks everything is bigger here in Texas has never traveled east and seen a Jersey girl. No one does big hair like some of the gals on the Jersey shore. And if you’ve always believed the line that blondes are more fun, I’m guessin’ you never met this trio. Donna, Darlene, and Doobie: a/k/a The Carter Sisters. Not biological sisters. More like sisters of the coven. But all three legally Carters—since they’d all been married to Freddie. All three had kept his name: which they used, displayed, and bragged on like cherished Boy Scout badges.
Each Carter flaunted store-bought boobs that looked like acorn squash on steroids. Big and round and hard. Even harder than their blue eyes, as they tried to cut me down. Their hair did not surprise me. Their sour dispositions didn’t either. But seeing all three Carters topless? And clad in hot-pink G-strings with matching spiked stilettos? I hadn’t expected that. Though given the Taco’s clientele, I doubt this explained the total lack of patrons.
“So is this Pink Taco’s Amateur Hour? Or were the three of you playin’ strip poker—and lost more than just your shirts?”
Damn, tough crowd. None of the coven cracked a smile.
“Since Freddie practically lives here, we decided to buy this joint,” Donna snapped.
“And as to why we’re topless?” Doobie added, “We’re giving Fast Freddie a message. Some great big reminders of exactly what he’s missin’ since puttin’ us out to pasture.”
I glanced at my watch. Brutally pinched my thigh.
Fuck me. I wasn’t dreaming. “Tough to give Fast Freddie a message seein’ as he ain’t here.”
“No shit, George Carlin. So where’s he hidin’, Colby?”
“Why don’t you call ’im and ask, Darlene?
“And since you neglected to ask, I’d like a shot of Wild Turkey and a Santa Fe Pale Ale.”
Doobie hopped on my lap, reeking of skunky weed. Tried to do a bump and grind. Her locomotive thrashing producing the same effect as pouring ice water on my crotch. “If you help us out, Colby, you could have a lot more than that. You ever had a foursome?”
“No, I don’t play golf—
“But I need to use the loo. So if you don’t get off my lap you’re gonna take a golden shower.”
I thanked my lucky stars Doobie wasn’t into that ….
Feeling like limp lettuce, I eased slackly out the Taco. My throat just as parched as when I’d first strolled in. While my cheeks felt hot pink.
Even if I’d told his Texas exes Freddie was bunkin’ in New Mexico up in Harding County, huntin’ down the man woulda been akin to lookin’ for that ol’ needle in a haystack—and a mighty big stack at that. Even in its heyday Harding had never been home to more than 5,000 hearty souls. Now less than a thousand cowpokes sing on this range’s rolling grasslands where the deer and the antelope continue to literally play. Their treasured plains grass sprinkled with mesas, canyons, and rock formations—the Canadian River wending east, carrying precious waters to folks in Oklahoma—a state that often suffers from serious lack of rain.
An hour south of Freddie’s hideout, I made a pit stop in Tucumcari: home of the closest Taco Bell. I knew he’d hem-n-haw if I walked in empty-handed. But I slipped into Mosquero Canyon a good ninety minutes before Apollo and his horses carted away the sun. Dinosaurs made tracks here, and they stretch from Mosquero Creek into Colorado. So despite its isolation, sections of the canyon do attract tourists. And a few ranchers boost their incomes by selling bunk house lodging to out-of-state hikers. Though rarely in the heat of New Mexico’s high summer.
Trails throughout the area sport views from the canyon’s rims. I’d scouted some of these trails myself. And whoever built Freddie’s squat had certainly done their homework. Despite knowing where to look, the structure sat beneath a ledge—between two steep rock walls—which denied me even a glimpse.
Pulling off the asphalt road, I tucked the Tahoe in four-wheel drive and let her gently roll into a bone-dry creek bed. If the creek had still been running, necessity would’ve demanded I leave the SUV … hike a winding trail on the south side of the gulley—then blaze a “freelance” trail half-a-mile due west across the rocky outcrop until I reached the shack. The shack creeped me out for several different reasons. And like the dinosaurs of old, I planned on makin’ tracks out of Mosquero Canyon before the sun went down.
Sticking to the creek bed, I kept the Tahoe slow and steady. And rounding a northern bend, the squat materialized like a sudden Sahara mirage. The front porch protruded from a cliffside cave. The door and windows nearly flush with the smooth tawny cliff face. Five feet of rafters—covered with black tin and dense camouflage netting—extended from the cave at a thirty-degree angle, and effectively covered the porch.
Stacked propane tanks … some full, others empty, cluttered much of the porch’s planks. The tanks weren’t used for BBQs. They provided fuel for cooking meth.
Despite my data mining efforts, I’d yet to find a title showing Freddie owned the shanty or the plot this structure stood on. Slim odds he did the cooking. Though I’d never seen the chefs. But I held the deep impression he’d used this place for years. While he touted the recluse as his, he never alluded to its purpose. So I played the village idiot and pretended not to know. Especially since I saw no signs of any recent cooking.
I tapped five times on the horn. Braked the Tahoe to a stop. Being inside a cabin framed within a cave made me feel claustrophobic. Never mind worrying if the damn place would explode. But I hopped the three small steps onto the weathered porch. And rapped on the open door frame.
Spotting the Taco Bell logo, Freddie lowered the shotgun he’d held level with my chest—
“Beef and bean burritos?”
I extended the gift and nodded, entered the so-called kitchen, which featured four stoves as well as a three-foot-tall fridge.
Freddie slapped my ass and lustily snatched the sack. Settled like Jabba the Hut at the pine-planked kitchen table … piled with a load of shit … including a microwave and a laptop, as well as a Sony flat screen and a dozen topo maps. Two solar batteries provided him with power. A small satellite dish outside afforded internet access. And a router by the window fed the dish’s signal to the TV and the laptop.
Freddie peered inside the bag: “You didn’t bring enough for both of us to chow.”
“No worries, I don’t eat beans.”
“A beaner who don’t like beans? You’re a fucking odd ball, boy. What you gonna tell me next? You don’t like Mexican pussy?”
“Jerkin’ off is safer. And a lot less damn expensive.”
“You’re right about that junior.” He stuffed the bag inside the microwave, stabbed button Number 2. “But life’s no fun without some risk. And I didn’t make me millions by fiddlin’ with my nuts. You make that kinda money, and there ain’t no shortage of women that’ll fiddle your nuts for ya.
“My god damn problem is I got a habit of marryin’ psychos. Six stinkin’ times—and not a single one ever gave me a son. Just took my money and run. And four a them greedy bitches is thinkin’ they ain’t done. Still tryin’ to milk ol’ Freddie like he’s a dairy cow.”
“Wagging tongues are sayin’ you’re gonna marry Ms. Ramirez.”
His blue eyes narrowed. “Mexican pussy is for fucking, boy. Real white men marry white.
“This here crazy Tex got his first grand taste a Mex right before he turned eighteen. Talk about a hot tamale. Me and her stayed nice and spicy until she fucked things up by gettin’ herself pregnant. Bein’ the man I am, I naturally done the right thing by her. Me and a couple of hombres drove her back to Mexico so she could be with her own kind.
“I was still a poor bastard then. Barely gotten my feet wet in the oil business. Didn’t make my first mil till I turned twenty-one. Life, oil and women—they’re all boom and bust cycles, boy. I been bankrupt six times. Won and lost more millions than a thousand average men earn in their collective lifetimes.
“But oil, money, women: no matter how much you get—no matter how much you lose—there’s plenty more where they came from. A man just needs the will to get ’em.
“Fucking people nowadays flap their useless jaws like they’re experts on poverty, always yammerin’ about poor Mexicans. I was one of a dozen kids. Number six to be exact. My old man? A vicious drunk. Slaves to him we were. Lived like fucking migrants, workin’ people’s fields—usually pickin’ cotton—sleepin’ in their barns. We maybe attended schools three months in a year. Lucky if we had shoes. And two changes a clothes: both of ’em full a holes. Never saw much food on the supper table. You learned to fight for your fair share: else you didn’t eat. We’d piss and shit in an outhouse. Got our water from an outdoor pump. Never seen a porcelain tub let alone a god damn shower.
“But bein’ poor taught me a lesson. Taught me how to work. With my hands and head. Not stand there like a dummy lookin’ around for handouts.”
I leaned against a countertop: “Then why be gracious to Ms. Ramirez … and present her with that Hummer?”
“You think that I am gracious cuz I let her use that Hummer?
“Ha! I can see in your wide-eyes, boy—you thought I gave the Mex that vehicle. That Hummer ain’t no gift. It’s a noose around her neck.
“How many Hummers you reckon you’ve seen roaming through my county? Besides the two I own?
“You think I didn’t figure the woman would hate the silver one? That she wouldn’t crave somethin’ flashy? The joke’s on her, boy. She strung that noose around her own neck. The Mex can’t drive nowhere without bein’ seen. People in my county know me. And like you noticed people talk. Even when they got no clue what they’re talkin’ about. That’s why I like to have insurance.”
He spun his laptop round so I could see the screen. L.D.’s Hummer was equipped with a LoneStar tracking system. Date, time, and location of every place she’d ever driven displayed in the company’s software. While video cams showed footage of the five leather seats. I glanced blandly at the blowhard. Freddie wasn’t the only one with access to those LoneStar records—
On either of those Hummers. And I’d never set foot in El Diablo’s SUV.
He leaned back in that office armchair, propped his boots on the table. “When I strolled into the Dew Drop and first laid eyes on Consuela, I knew I had to have her. Truthfully told that gal she’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. And I asked her out to dinner. You know what that beaner told me?
“Wait a year, she said. And if you still feel the same, then I’ll go out with you. I knew then and there the woman was into playing games.”
Biting a barely-warm burrito, he jutted his chin at a bubble pack envelope, roughly eight-by-ten. “So give that to the Mex. I wanna see her Sunday night—a year-to-the-day she made me wait. Tell her how to get here. There’s five grand inside. Tell her lovesick Freddie wants her lookin’ pretty.”
Tired of ass-sitting in the Tahoe, I meekly yelped “uncle” down in Clovis, New Mexico. Though I’d be heading south and east when Friday rolled around, I couldn’t help but snatch a room at the Westward Ho Motel.
I had no luggage besides my laptop. Facing a night of data mining … and some deep, hard thinking, I didn’t bother inspecting my room. I craved a bottle of bourbon; and I needed to stretch my legs.
A ten-minute stroll carried me to El Webb’s Watering Hole: and a bottle of Four Roses. Across the way sat Mi Cochina, where I gambled on a take-out plate oddly dubbed “The Russel”—country fried chicken, smothered in ranchero—with mashed potatoes and Texas toast. Fully armed for the night, I marched myself westward back to the Ho Motel. And, finally situated, I diligently dug in.
Somehow I managed to scavenge four hours of fitful sleep. I hit the road at eight. Rolled into the Dew Drop at nearly ten-thirty. Like a giant sunflower, L.D.’s Hummer gleamed from its spot by the entrance. More Fridays than not she pulled split-shifts: arriving first for breakfast, and returning again for supper. If her schedule stayed true to form, she’d clock-out in thirty minutes.
Doling out some change, I snatched the morning paper from a box inside the lobby, and hopped a stool at the counter in Consuela’s section. Morning rush over, she slumped by the coffee station, flattening crumpled Washingtons collected as breakfast tips. She left me to sit and perk until she finished the task; then sashayed her ass my way with a pot of coffee … silently filled my cup. She coulda raked in way more Washingtons—Lincolns, Hamiltons and Jeffersons, too—by dancing at the Taco, instead of humping meals for ingrates at the Dew. And I admired her for that.
“You’ve been summoned by the man. He wants to see you Sunday. Which means we need to talk—sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, I’d like a Western omelet. A plate of biscuits and gravy. And a side of bacon, please.” Because I wanted her focused, no need to mention the cash until our pending chat. The bedraggled waitress merely nodded. Placed my order with the cook. Whispered to the boss man. Grabbed her purse from a nearby shelf. Ducked inside the Ladies room.
Despite our recent dalliances, I’d never granted her my cell number; and she’d never asked. Calls, texts, emails: phone data shit left tracks that couldn’t be wiped out. Even if deleted, service carriers kept client records. And ever since Nine-Eleven, I imagine Uncle Sam likely had them, too. My java cup sat empty when she returned again, cradling my food and a carafe of coffee. In addition to the check, she slid me a master Motel 6 card: “Room 207 at eleven-thirty.” I fished a twenty from my pocket. Told her to keep the change. After ringing up my sale, she shouldered her purse and left the Dew.
Consuela seethed. I’d caught her by surprise: slipped a leash around her neck (metaphorically speaking).
She held a wicked gun—an old machine pistol that fired three-round bursts—at the murderous rate of a thousand rounds a minute. But the wench couldn’t shoot me. We both knew that.
The fact she’d pulled a gun didn’t surprise me. Only the type of weapon did.
I plopped down on the bed, beside the five grand she’d dumped on the mattress. Subtly reminding her: Freddie’s money is what you want, so take a chill pill, darlin’.
“Damn you, fucking Colby. You told me you were in.”
“And I meant what I said. But I can’t tell you what I don’t know. So gimme your email address like I asked you earlier—and I’ll text the damn thing to Freddie—on Saturday night like he ordered me to do. And early Sunday morning he’ll email you directions on how to find his cabin.”
Teeth barred like fangs she spat her Gmail address.
“This here game L.D. is just the same as poker—we play the cards we’re dealt. If I’m gonna cover your ass, we can’t make the trip together. And given the remote location, I can’t tail you either. You told me The Carters are in. So give ’em their marching orders—
“At five o’clock on Sunday—a full hour before sunrise, they meet you at the Park-n-Ride: wearing nothin’ but pink G-strings and their matching spiked stilettos. This ensures they’ve got no weapons. Tell ’em to get there in one car. And they’d better be standing outside—or you won’t even bother stopping, you’ll meet Freddie by your lonesome. They will not tolerate that. To make The Carters feel more comfortable, explain your rules are part-and-parcel of a good-cop bad-cop game. Say you’ve bought them matching trench coats to don when you arrive—and when the moment’s right for Freddie, they can shed them to his delight. To make them feel empowered, tell ’em they’ll each get a cattle prod. I’ve bought five of the fuckers already, in case Dalton joins you. But none of those suckers work. I’ll stash them in a trash bag, under a concrete block, behind the Goodwill bin at the Park-n-ride.
“Assuming they follow instructions, before y’all climb into the Hummer, tell ’em Darlene will do the driving. Donna will ride shotgun. Doobie sits behind Donna, with you behind Darlene. She’s the surliest of the bunch, so you want her behind the wheel, nice and occupied. And unable to get at you. If Dalton joins the gang, then Doobie still sits in back. But between you and Dalton—since she’ll likely be fucking stoned and presents the smallest threat.
“Wear a trench coat just like theirs and hide that pistol in your pocket. Only as a last resort, fire it if you have to. But the odds of that seem almost zero: providin’ you memorize the directions—don’t be readin’ from your email, or from anything else. In fact, delete that fucker before going to the Park-n-Ride. And for the love of god, don’t do something stupid like program the directions in the Hummer’s GPS. Or on your phone using Google or some other rat-shit app. Once you’re all seated in the Hummer, everyone with seat belts fastened—and not a second sooner, tell ’em the directions to the cabin are buried in your head—so they can’t get there without you.
“I’ve got no clue where Freddie’s cabin is but he often eats at Taco Bell over in Tucumcari. I’ve seen some of those receipts, and I already scouted the joint. They’ve got a Goodwill container, too. So park beside that bin—”
I plucked Freddie’s bubble pack from the mattress: “Leave me directions in this envelope. Tuck this baby out of sight under the Hummer’s driver seat before heading to the Park-n-Ride. Then stuff the envelope in the Goodwill bin when you get to Taco Bell. I’ll be hiding out of sight. Take your crew inside, grab yourselves some eats or drinks—snag a table on the north side, and stay put for forty-five minutes.
“That’ll give me time to drive. And deal with Freddie. If the front door to the cabin stands fully-open when you get there, you’ll know the coast is clear. But if that cabin door sits closed? Or merely part-way open? Hang back on the road until I come to you—
“Follow this plan to the letter, and I’ll see you at the cabin—and do like we agreed, including blow the safe if he won’t cough up the combination. Otherwise, you’re on your own. And you won’t see me again.
“Right now I’m sick a talkin’. I got shit to do.”
She nodded. And I left her.
To think about shooting me later.
I returned the Tahoe to the dealer, and made a one-way Saturday reservation for a Silverado, using my credit card this time. I hopped in my El Camino. Filled the tank at a Valero station, where I phoned the Westward Ho Motel—and booked another room from Saturday through Tuesday. I had an appointment back in Clovis with a tax consultant on Monday morning: and hoped to spend the afternoon pulling summer catfish from Oasis State Park.
Much as I craved a shower, I wanted to catch a gal who worked at HEB market off Highway 87 outside of Lamesa. I figured she’d be home by the time I arrived. And lucky me, I reckoned right.
“Mama, look who’s here!”
Mama scowled like an angry badger. Furrows creased her forehead.
“What does asshole Freddie want that naturally wasn’t important enough for him to come himself?”
Smile slipping from her face … clutching a tattered copy of Huckleberry Finn, Maddie cringed by the sliding door—which led to the yard. I slipped off my watch, waved a five-dollar bill: “Bet you can’t climb and reach that treehouse in less than twenty seconds.”
She thrust the slider open. “Quickest five bucks you’ll ever lose.” She clambered up the cottonwood, hit the platform in fifteen. Pressed against the glass, I mouthed the word shit: she jigged a happy dance.
I turned to face my host. “Children shouldn’t grow up hearin’ how their momma hates their poppa.”
“You’re right. And I’m sorry. Yesterday was Maddie’s ninth birthday—but the bastard ignored her once again. Not even a lousy card, let alone a phone call.
“So you showin’ here out of the blue ….
“But I’m guessing you didn’t come here to discuss my parenting skills.”
“You ever look on the horizon—and know a storm is comin’?”
“Well, I sense a doozie comin’. And Fast Freddie’s at the center. Best thing for folks like us is to try and stay clear. To emphasize my point, I ain’t doin’ business with him no more. And I’d truly appreciate if you keep that fact ’tween you and me.”
“Why you telling me this, Colby?”
I shrugged. “Maybe I got a thing for women with real tits.”
Her real tits jiggled as she giggled. “So you never get the notion of bonin’ Botox and silicone?”
“Can’t say that I have. But if you don’t mind me askin’—how did you two meet?”
“Not like you might think. Freddie attended my church dutifully for a year. Acted like a real straight-shooter. I never saw him drink. Not once did he ever cuss. My parents let him come a courting on Sunday afternoons. He was older than me sure. But I found that attractive: him bein’ more serious-minded than the other fellas in these parts. None of us knew back then he’d already been married once—and gone belly-up bankrupt twice. We knew he worked in the oil fields, but lots of guys around here do. Well, a year-to-the-day I first laid eyes on him, he proposed on both knees. I said ‘yes’ without a thought—and, one month later, we exchanged ‘I dos.’
“I got pregnant on our honeymoon. Freddie, he was happier than the proverbial pig in shit—”
Her green eyes drifted toward the yard. My browns wandered there as well. Neither of us sayin nothin’. Content to watch Maddie … readin’ in her tree. Sensing perhaps our gaze, she suddenly looked our way—tucked the book in the nook at the small of her slim back. Scuttled down the tree. Dashed across the yard; burst through the patio slider.
I forked the fiver over. “You stayin’ for dinner, Colby?”
A smirk tugged Beth Ann’s cheeks: “Go and wash your hands, girl.”
I winked at Cheshire Maddie. And down the hall she scampered.
“You could join us for dinner. And if you stayed long enough, you might see some real tits.”
“That’s a mighty gracious offer, Beth Ann. I been here eighteen months. And during all this time, no one’s invited me for dinner—
“And maybe for dessert. But that storm she is a comin’ … and I got to batten down some hatches.
“Though I assure you, Ms. Dalton: you’ve given me cause to smile when my head meets its pillow.”
Saturday afternoon I dropped the cattle prods. Grabbed the Silverado ….
One-hundred-and-fifty-three fuck-me-miles later, I checked into the Westward Ho. Carted my stuff from the Silverado. Drove the truck to the Chevy dealer in exchange for another Tahoe. Back again to the Ho, where the clerk kindly called a Turbo Taxi for me. The driver dutifully dropped me in a residential hood, but I hoofed the last half-mile. I had an Air Force buddy stationed overseas, who’d given me the keys to his Ford Ranger. The dude was into climbing, had a tool box full of gear. And I devoted last spring to learning his techniques.
I’d also spent a year practicing with the rifle. As proudly touted by an Oklahoma rancher, depending on the wind, the gun typically proved accurate at 70 meters. But a sniper I’d never be. I felt more comfortable at the cusp of 45—roughly 50 yards.
Five that evening, I hit the sheets at the Ho, and set an alarm for midnight. Not much traffic then: I expected to hit Mosquero Canyon before the clock struck two. The Ford Ranger was my wildcard. If the cops ever looked my way, even a cursory look at the rental mileage on the Tahoe and Silverado would quickly and easily show I couldn’t have used either vehicle for a roundtrip to Mosquero. And my El Camino sat in Texas—
In the Pink Taco lot, where someone was sure to see it.
The Ranger hidden off-road, under a camo blanket, I hiked for thirty minutes below the canyon’s rim—and rappelled to the ridge above Fast Freddie’s hidey-hole, though slightly to the south. No artificial lights here, so a vast stream of stars lit the night-time sky. But at nearly three a.m. Freddie should be in bed. And if he was outside, fat chance he’d be looking up.
Thirty yards from the shanty I elected to halt my march. Set my rifle on a tripod. Made a few adjustments. Scavenged four good rocks that neatly fit my palm. Propped on my knees—I launched one at the Hummer. Missed wide right. But the second smashed the windshield and triggered the alarm. I dropped on my belly and waited for the Duck.
Five minutes passed. No movement at the door. But no one could ignore that whooping alarm all night. The door swung open—
Yet five more minutes passed.
Finally. Fully-dressed Freddie suddenly filled the doorframe, shotgun in his hands. I gently squeezed the trigger. And squarely plunked the Duck.
Crawling on my belly, I advanced twenty yards. Hurled another rock, a bit smaller this time—and beaned Freddie in the head. He failed to flinch an inch. How’s that for a beaner? I gathered all my gear and scuttled down the wall.
Claiming the fallen shotgun, I kicked him once for good measure. Rolled him on his back. And grinning like an idiot—
Retrieved my tranquilizer dart.
“The joke’s on you, boy. You ain’t gettin’ a fucking cent. There ain’t two wooden nickels here. I been testin’ you all this time. Seein’ if you wanna learn. Wonderin’ if you had the balls to actually earn your money. But sure as hell you failed. Like I knew you would. A team a doctors already told me I’ll be dead inside three months. So today, tomorrow, or next week—don’t make a damn bit a difference.”
Since actions speak louder than words, I answered him not a word.
I’d never killed a man before. Outside of mosquitos and cockroaches, I rarely killed nothin’.
But Freddie hadn’t spouted shit I didn’t already know—
And knowin’ made things easier.
I fished a laptop from a rucksack. Set the HP on a counter. Same make and model as Freddie’s. The oilman’s eyes widened when I flipped the lid on his—and watched me type his password: WomenAreBitchesandHos. Once connected to his router, I fired directions to L.D. from his Yahoo mail account. I’d trussed him like a pig. But lying on his belly he looked like a stunned beached whale.
With that task accomplished, I shouldered Freddie’s shotgun—
Blew three holes through his front door. Flung the kitchen table over, the TV and his microwave crashing to the floor. Poised on one knee—I fired twice more at the table. And once through the window, glass crackling off the propane tanks, and cascading on the porch.
Ears madly ringing, I propped the shotgun by the counter. Tugged a canvas bank bag from the rucksack’s pocket: and scattered dollar bills. Freddie seemed intrigued as I stalked out the door, quickly scattering more, but saving some for the basement. Fishing a sandwich bag from my jeans, I sprinkled chunks of meth on the porch by the door—then flung the rest—still inside the baggie, over the wooden rail.
Back inside the shanty, I yanked aside the rug—exposing the hatchway to the basement. I snatched a cat’s paw from the rucksack; again grabbed the shotgun. Keeping clear of the hatch, I pried one corner up … wedged the shotgun barrel—and flung the wood door open. Much to my surprise the door wasn’t trip-wired to another shotgun. Just to make sure, I raked the barrel round the opening … finally looked down. A simple metal ladder led into the cavern. A safe sat at the bottom: its yawning door open. And its contents empty.
Freddie chuckled. “I already told you, junior—there ain’t no money here.”
I delved the canvas bag: tugged a stack of banded bills. “Sure there is,” I countered. “Thirty thousand dollars … and some loose change.” I dumped the loose unbanded bills down into the hatch.
Glancing at my watch, I opened the LoneStar app on the HP clone—zeroed in on L.D. and her crazy posse. Adjusted the screen a tad so Freddie could get a better look.
“Are those witches holdin’ cattle prods?”
“Why do you sound surprised? The only thing that surprises me is they’re not usin’ ’em on each other. They should arrive within four hours—if they don’t kill each other first, since they all want your money.
“But it’s time for the Big Sleep, Freddie.”
This time I stabbed him: with another dart—straight through his jeans—into his meaty hamstring. A stronger dose this time. But, at least in theory, not enough to kill him. I set the laptop clone on hibernate, and tucked the banded-bills in my ass pants pocket. Clanged down the ladder. Pulled two more bags of meth. Tucked everything in the safe. Closed the door and spun the dial. Tested the handle: locked.
The basement cavern featured vents that cut through the rock, and led to the surface well away from the cabin. Once I hiked the ladder and fetched the keys to Freddie’s Hummer, I ventured back outside and scaled the eastern wall. Strolled to one of the openings—snaked a slow-burn fuse line down through the vent. Apollo and his stallions had coursed west for ninety minutes, but they’d race another hour before the sun’s first rays filtered through the canyon.
I rappelled to the rocky floor, this section of Mosquero void of vegetation. Swung the rear gate on the Hummer. Knowing I’d need to make two trips, I settled first on ferrying a five-gallon gas can along with my ropes. A vertical ladder to the cavern … not something I’d foreseen. The Honda generator weighed fifty pounds. And tossing the fucker down the hatch? Not a viable option. I’d need to use the ropes.
The task proved a bitch without a canvas or leather harness. I cursed non-stop, wishing I had a winch.
Both of us safely through the hatch and standing in the basement, I schlepped the generator to the northeast corner: unscrewed the fuel cap and topped off the tank. Fished the fuse-line from the vent; left it dangling in the tank-mouth. Splashed gas on the corner walls—and the wood-planked ceiling.
Topside once again, I felt grateful for the chance to ass-sit on a stool by the kitchen counter. Freddie had four Columbian bank accounts that no one knew about. To keep this fact a secret, the HP clone in his safe held no trace of them. Courtesy of a keylogger and some lovely-nasty malware I’d slipped inside his system, I’d gained total access to Freddie’s files and passwords eleven months ago. Logging into these four accounts, I withdrew eight million—leaving a million in each one. No need to alarm the overseers by draining them bone-dry. I transferred the pilfered funds time-n-time again; scattering money across the globe in smaller and smaller amounts. I then refunneled some: building carefully and slowly … until I tallied a million in a lone Cayman account, registered under the name of a Brazilian non-profit corporation. The remaining funds I donated to a host of world-wide charities. Eventually that slim million would go into a Trust. I swiped sweat from my brow. Tucked his HP in my rucksack and checked Freddie’s pulse. Still strong and steady. I refilled one of my four darts—stabbed him one last time. Cut the ropes that trussed him.
The drugs in his system consisted of a cocktail prescribed by veterinarians and dispensed to cattle ranchers. Freddie weighed a lot less than a heifer. So I’d cut the standard dose. But I was only guessing. Seeking expert advice on how much to give a human seemed like a piss-poor plan. And just about as smart as doing research on the Internet. The Oklahoma rancher that I bought the rifle from included the drugs and darts since I’d offered him top dollar for the kit and caboodle. The weapon struck me as fitting though. I’d milked Fast Freddie like a dairy cow.
Using a propane tank, I pinned the front door open. Packed the gear I didn’t need … as well as the severed ropes I’d used to bind ol’ Freddie. I slipped down the hatch, flicked on the generator, which held enough fuel to run for seven hours. Then climbed back on my ledge.
And waited for the Posse.
I’d kept one eye on their progress while shifting funds around. And couldn’t help but smirk when they neglected to make that stop at Tucumcari’s Taco Bell—L.D. deciding to cut me out, rather than cut me down—the Hummer steadily chewing asphalt at eighty miles an hour. Though the creek bed would slow them down.
Nearing eight-thirty, the Hummer rolled into sight. Halted for a moment … continued to the cabin. Four doors opened. Four women climbed out. The Carters naturally congregated before strutting toward the porch.
L.D. hung back.
Drew that crazy pistol. Coldly and easily mowed them down with three quiet single-taps.
I just as easily plugged L.D.—naturally feeling grateful I wasn’t one of The Carter clan.
Clutching Consuela’s pistol, I strafed the shanty from the Hummer, while avoiding the propane tanks. Bullets supposedly wouldn’t ignite them. But why take the risk? I hopped on the porch: sprayed another round, making sure I struck the table. Standing in the doorway, I fired single love taps into Freddie’s legs, just enough to wing him.
I carried L.D. in the cabin. Lowered her down the hatch … a helluva a lot easier than wrestling with the Honda. I fired three shots at the safe. Laid the pistol down. Dropped L.D. next to the weapon … letting her head as gently as possible strike the cavern floor.
Kneeling once more by the surface vent, I lit the slow-burn fuse … lingered there until a billowing black column soared from the canyon floor. I wanted Freddie and Consuela to die from smoke inhalation. A painless fate in their state that should only take ten minutes. The fire station in Mosquero sat just eighteen miles away. The fire should stay contained. Wood and contents from the cabin the only things around that should readily burn. Takes a lot of heat to combust the gas inside a propane tank. Whether or not one might explode before responders killed the flames I had no way of knowing. But I felt the safe and its locked contents should survive a blast.
Setting aside speculation, I made tracks for the Ranger.
The cops talked to me briefly. But they didn’t probe much. And naturally I said little: Freddie and I shared business interests—that was the extent of our relationship. We weren’t drinking or fishing buddies. When they asked about those “interests” I referred them to Sam Gurly, Freddie’s business lawyer. The guy could talk your ass off without ever telling you shit.
Every lookie-loo in Texas turned out for Freddie’s funeral. Despite the closed casket. Quite unlike the burial I’d conducted for mi madre.
Promises I’ve learned, can prove difficult to keep.
For better or for worse, I tried to make peace with this one.
I reckoned I’d stand in back … when Dalton tapped me on the shoulder. Cupped her hand against my ear. Real tits pressed against my chest. “I saved a seat up front if you wanna sit next to your sister, Colby—it didn’t hit me till last night she must have your mother’s eyes.”
Bio: Crime author Mick Rose pens haiku and prose while wandering the United States in a Quest for the Perfect Pizza. Though his crime fiction can loom dark, and not for the faint-of-heart, he typically tells tall tales involving sexual humor (which sometimes prove explicit).
His stories have kindly found good homes in half a dozen online magazines, including England’s hard-hitting Close To The Bone, Yellow Mama Webzine and Horror Sleaze Trash. He also hosts Center Stage With Mick Rose—which frequently shines the spotlight on an international cast of writers, poets and illustrators.
Care to say, “Hello?” You can visit Mick on Facebook or at his author page, as well as on Goodreads: