Vanilla ride, p.12

Vanilla Ride, page 12


Vanilla Ride

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  “That’s all right,” Tonto said, his voice growing higher than before. “I wish I was pussy-whipped. What about you, Jim Bob?”

  “Well, currently, I don’t have a pussy in this fight.”

  “You know,” Tonto said, “I think we are bonding like some righteous cocksuckers, don’t you?”

  “I assume,” said Leonard, “that you are speaking symbolically because to the best of my knowledge I am the only cocksucker present.”

  “Righteous sonsabitches then,” Tonto said.


  We bonded righteous sonsabitches stopped at a McDonald’s on the other side of Tyler about two hours later. We went in and got some drinks and Tonto got a couple of burgers and then he gave me the keys to the van.

  “Something happens to us,” I said, “you may be a long time with Ronald McDonald.”

  “This one still has a playground,” Jim Bob said, as he and Tonto took a seat in one of the plastic booths.

  “Well, in that case,” I said, “you boys play pretty.”

  I drove Leonard and myself over to our meeting place with the FBI. They didn’t know about Jim Bob and Tonto, which was all right. We had agreed to do what they wanted, try to find those kids and get the money back so Hirem would tell all he knew about the Dixie Mafia organization, but we hadn’t said how we were going to do what we had agreed to do and we hadn’t said with whom.

  The FBI guys gave us directions to a house at Lake Tyler where they said they were keeping Hirem secluded like a rare animal on the endangered species list. Before we went out there we drove to a place nearby and stopped and used a screwdriver Tonto had given us to take off the plates and put on some others that I think he had had made special. It was a precaution. We didn’t want them to know where we got the van or who it belonged to, so if they ran the plates, they’d come up belonging to someone Tonto made up.

  Finished with the plates, we got in and drove. It had turned windy and the blue had gone out of the sky because gray clouds had come in, hiding the sun. The lake house wasn’t on the good side of the lake where there were fine homes and the grass was always freshly mown and there were nice boats docked up close to shore. It was down a precarious red clay road with ruts deeper than the ass crack of time, and the road just kept winding around the evergreens and barren oaks until it died out near the lake. Then you had to park and get out and walk across a messy clay clearing toward a cabin nestled near some pines and beneath a couple of massive cyprus trees from which moss draped like feather boas. The wind whipped the boas and it whipped at us.

  It wasn’t much of a cabin. Pretty small and made of logs. The logs had been treated poorly and they were starting to rot, and the cabin leaned downhill toward the lake, which was visible like a blue patch through the boughs of the trees and the mossy boas. The porch was caved in near the steps and there was a window missing and a slab of Sheetrock had been nailed over it from the inside and the Sheetrock was obviously damp and all it would take to knock it loose was a strong cough or foul language.

  When we were close up on the cabin I stopped and hollered out, “Hello, the house.”

  Some time passed and then the door cracked and I heard Tenson’s voice call out, “Come on up, but you got guns, you need to lose them.”

  We had already left them in the van, under the floorboards, so we walked straight to the cabin, wiped the caked clay off our shoes on a stone near the steps, and went inside. Soon as we did I saw Hirem sitting in a rickety chair at a card table, and then I saw Tenson standing in the corner with his gun drawn, dangling by his side. Hirem had lost the suit. He had on casual clothes and a light jacket. Tenson was wearing a dark shirt and jeans and sneakers.

  The Mummy was still well wrapped and he stood in a spot on the other side of the room without his gun drawn. There was a humming sound in the room, and it came from small rectangular plug-in heaters on either side of the place. The coils in the heaters glowed red and there was just enough heat to make you glad you were inside instead of out.

  The Mummy came over and told us to turn around and put our hands on the wall and spread our legs. We did. Leonard turned his head and looked at the Mummy, said, “You are so butch.”

  “Fuck you,” the Mummy said.

  “See,” Leonard said. “Told you.”

  The Mummy patted us down and took away our combs and my pocketknife and Leonard’s gum.

  Tenson said, “All right, relax.”

  “We want our combs and I want my pocketknife back,” I said.

  “Don’t forget the gum,” Leonard said.

  The Mummy gave them back. There were only three chairs. Hirem was in one and the Mummy and Tenson occupied the other two. That left us leaning our backs against the wall. Tenson never put his gun up. He sat with it on his knee.

  Leonard looked at the Mummy, said, “How long you got to wear that getup?”

  “Too long,” the Mummy said. “I wasn’t even one of them, you dumb ass.”

  “How was I to know?” Leonard said. “Wrong place, wrong time, both of us.”

  The Mummy didn’t look appeased, or so I thought. Actually, you couldn’t tell much about how he looked. You mostly got what you got from him in the way he moved his eyes or his busted mouth, the way he shrugged his shoulders.

  “Hirem here,” Tenson said, waving the gun like a pointer, “he’s got something to tell you, maybe will lead to his boy, but he’s not telling us. He tells you, you take the lead and go after the boy and his poke and bring the money back. FBI gets the drug money, Hirem gets his kid back, the girl doesn’t get shot, and Hirem tells us what he knows and we make all kinds of arrests and you guys go free, no trial, and everyone’s happy, or mostly. You following this scenario?”

  “A few dance numbers might liven it up,” I said, “but for the most part, we’re following.”

  “Now,” Tenson said, “here’s what we do. You two go outside with Hirem, and we’re gonna stand on the porch so we can see you, and you’re going to walk out a ways and Hirem is going to tell you something he won’t tell us, and that’s okay. That’s how he wants it and we can live with that. We’ll get our results. You hear what I’m saying?”

  We nodded, Hirem pulled a heavy coat over his lighter one, and we went outside, across the porch and down a little trail that led into the woods. The wind was picking up and it was carrying a lot more cold with it now, and it hit us like ice picks. I tugged the collar up on my coat and put my hands in my pockets as I walked.

  After we were out a ways, Hirem said, “I got to see you guys are wearing a wire or not.”

  “You saw him pat us down,” I said.

  “Wearing a wire for them,” he said. “They could pat you down all they liked and not find it.”

  “All right,” I said and we stopped walking and I held up my arms. Hirem patted me down, then did the same to Leonard.

  “Good,” he said. “Now, let’s walk a bit more.”


  As we started to walk, Tenson yelled from the porch, “Don’t go too far. We start to worry you aren’t so we can see you, Hirem. And you don’t want us worried, do you?”

  Hirem didn’t answer, but he turned to us, said, “They know I’m not going anywhere. I want my boy back and I’ll do what I got to do until that’s done. They just like to harass me. Hell, I came to them, wasn’t like they brought me in. They been trying to nail my ass for years. I finally had to hold the nail for them.”

  “You got some idea how to find your son,” I said, “but you’re telling us, not the FBI?”

  “That’s right,” Hirem said. “I don’t trust those guys. I don’t trust the law. I don’t trust my mother-in-law all that much, and she’s dead some ten years now.”

  “But you trust us?” Leonard said. “Didn’t you send those bozos to kill us?”

  “It was business, but I can tell about you guys, and I can trust you.”

  “Say you can?” I said.

  “I think I can. You’re like the old guys in the organizat
ion, you got a sense of honor.”

  I didn’t believe the organization, as Hirem referred to it, ever had a sense of honor, but I listened.

  “Bottom line is I like you better than them,” he said. “Let’s put it that way and call it close enough. What I think is I’m gonna get a better shot with you than them.”

  “You’re the one gonna sing to them,” Leonard said. “You’re gonna tell them everything, so why not tell them this?”

  “Get my kid back safe, I’ll tell them whatever they want to know. After that, it don’t matter for me. I should’ve been a barber. My daddy was a barber and he offered me into the business, but I didn’t take it.”

  “There’s still time to hone up your skills,” I said. “But you do, you’ll be giving prison haircuts.”

  “Listen now,” Hirem said. “I’m gonna tell you guys some things I need you to know, so you got some idea who might get in your way.”

  “Sort of figured this might not just be a bring the kid home kind of thing,” Leonard said. “It never is.”

  “What I know some others can figure out,” Hirem said, “and the people I worked for, they can figure better sometimes than the FBI. These feds may have our phones tapped, and they may have all kinds of law on their side, but these guys I work for, they been around awhile now, and they got people more expendable than the feds got. You hear me?”

  “We’re all ears,” I said.

  “First and foremost, get my boy back.”

  “And the girl?” I said.

  “She ain’t nothing to me,” Hirem said. “But it makes Tim feel all right to have her around, I can get over her being coated in chocolate.”

  “So that’s what this is,” Leonard said, holding out his hands, looking astonished. “I just thought I was dirty, and it’s been chocolate all the while.”

  “Not now, Leonard,” I said.

  “Ain’t got nothing against your people,” Hirem said, looking at Leonard. “Just never figured I’d have a boy fuckin’ one of them.”

  “Now that makes me really feel tight with you,” Leonard said.

  “I’m not used to all the changes in things,” Hirem said.

  “Civil rights happened … let me see,” Leonard said, “about mid-sixties, right? And the Civil War, it was over some one hundred years before that. Good to see you’re catching up.”

  “My boy never did cotton to what I do, the way I think. And maybe that’s good. I’m not so sure about things I was sure about just a few months ago.”

  “Death threats and prison terms can change a man’s perspective,” I said. “We know.”

  Hirem nodded. “Thing is, I don’t really know where my boy is, but I have a maybe. He was a little kid, we were close. His mother was dead and it was just me and some hired help. We had a place we went to, rented a cabin by the lake and fished. He mentioned it from time to time, though we quit going there some years ago. It had good memories for him, back when he thought I was just a businessman and his daddy. We went there and fished and talked, and from the way he talked, I knew then he wasn’t like me, that there was something different about him. I’d had any sense I’d have gotten out of the business and gone into the barbering.”

  “Shoulda, coulda, woulda,” Leonard said. “Ain’t nothing in that story matter to me except where you think he is. I want to get this done and go home.”

  “You’ll keep him from being hurt?” Hirem said. “He’s only nineteen.”

  “That’s the plan,” I said. “We’ll do everything in our power to make sure he is protected. We’ll protect the girl too.”

  “She’s your choice,” Hirem said. “Something happens to him, you got to make sure whoever did it gets theirs.”

  “That’s not our business,” I said. “Not part of our agreement.”

  “All right,” Hirem said. “Just protect him if you find him. Place we used to go, place I think he may have went because I noticed a couple of his rods and reels were gone—I don’t think he understands the deep doo-doo he’s in. Him and that girl, they don’t got a clue. They’ve run off with dirty money and they took some fishing poles with them.”

  “I’m sure they don’t know what they’re into,” I said. “I’m beginning to suspect that neither do we. Where’s the place, Hirem?”

  “Lake O’ the Pines. There’s a series of cabins up there, fella named Bill Jordan rents them, or used to. They’re on the east side of the lake. Ain’t much. And there’s no guarantee my boy’s there, but he might be. He’s not there, maybe I can think of something else. But right now that’s all I got.”

  “That’s it?” Leonard said. “Man, you got a con on these feds, don’t you?”

  “Not if he’s there,” Hirem said. “He is, it’s no con.”

  “Guess that’ll have to do,” I said.

  “Let me give you a word to the wise,” Hirem said. “The organization has done had me try and hit you guys, and you’re harder to kill than anyone would have thought. But they got other people. They may send some of the regular toughs one more time, some tougher and smarter than Tanedrue. Couple of those boys with Tanedrue, they were real professionals, and you handed them their asses, so they’ll be more careful next time. They might just pass GO and jump to the big time.”

  “Big time?” Leonard said.

  Hirem nodded. “That’s right. They got people don’t work for them directly. Freelancers. Hitters. And they’re a whole ’nuther ball game, fellas. These people they hire, one or two in particular, bad sonsabitches. There’s no one quite like them. They’re like those, whatchacallits, the Jap guys in black.”

  “Ninjas,” I said.

  “I know, sounds like some kind of movie, but they’re for real. I know their work, but I don’t know them, and I don’t know anyone that’s ever seen them. They get a call through some kind of contact, the job gets done, and they get paid. So keep your eyes peeled and your ears open.”

  “I got a question,” I said. “Conners, the cop. He have anything to do with the hit?”

  “Conners helped put it together,” Hirem said. “He didn’t like the way you talked to him, Hap. He thought he’d go over there and show his big ass and that would be enough. You’d start some kind of payment plan on the dope you flushed. Or go to work for them, something like that. When you didn’t, well, he came to me. And I’ve told you how it is these days with the upper management. They ain’t much on compromise or negotiation. It’s all about respect. They learned that in prison. You don’t get respect there, you either wind up with a shank in your gut or a dick in your ass. They come out of prison, they’re still the same. And you two, you disrespected them big-time by beating up their hired help. But Conners—he has to get permission, but he’s the contact for the hits. He knows all the hitters, and the management likes it that way. Something comes to him direct instead of them, that’s all right with them. It’s more distance from the deed, and as long as things get done, they’re happy. And now you’ve killed off some of their help. It’s not that they care about them, it’s that they don’t like that disrespect part, the loss of that dope money, and they can’t have you two dropping their soldiers like cigarette butts.”

  That must have reminded him, because he reached inside his coat pocket and found a pack of cigarettes and put one in his mouth. He patted around on his pockets for a moment, said, “Goddamn it, they took away my lighter. You guys got anything?”

  We shook our heads.

  I said, “Your kid. What was he driving?”

  “He took my Escalade. It’s black.”

  “Anything else?” Leonard said.

  “Guess not,” Hirem said.

  Hirem put the cigarette pack back in his pocket but kept the cigarette in his mouth. He wagged it in his lips when he said, “I just got one thing for you. A bit of fatherly advice from a fella tried to have you killed. You guys are pretty confident guys. You think you got the world by the tail, even if you’re just day laborers with an attitude. And you may be tough as you think yo
u are, hard to kill. Like a cockroach you can’t step on right, keeps running out from under your shoe. But remember, now and again even cockroaches get crunched.”


  After we walked Hirem up to the cabin, the Mummy came out with us. He walked us to our van. I kept expecting a scarab beetle to come out from under his bandages. He said, “It would be a lot easier you just told us what he had to say right now.”

  “It would be for you,” I said.

  “For you too. Your job would be done. We’d go get the boy and the girl and the money, and everyone would be happy.”

  “We kind of gave our word,” I said.

  “To him?”

  “That’s who we were talking to,” Leonard said.

  “You’re yankin’ me?”

  “I don’t think so,” Leonard said.

  “You gave your word to a guy tried to kill you, and you won’t tell the FBI what he said?”

  “That’s pretty much it,” Leonard said. “Hey, remember back at the cop shop? He said it wasn’t personal, so why should we be mad?”

  The Mummy shook his head. “I don’t get you guys. We’re doing you the favor. We could call this whole thing off right now, have you locked up. Might even take Hirem out back and see what he thinks about having his ass kicked until he talks.”

  “He won’t talk and you know it,” I said. “Otherwise, you’d have already done it. And you do that, find the kid, you won’t get all the other information you want to get out of him. All the inner clock workings of the Dixie Mafia.”

  The Mummy looked at us. His eyes peeking out of the mask were dark and narrow, his lips had turned beet red from the cold. It made him look pretty damn creepy. “You go get that boy and girl and that goddamn money and you go get it quick.”

  “Gee,” Leonard said, “can we stop for dinner, take a pee?”

  “You do what you got to do,” the Mummy said. “But you make it quick as you can. Today would be good.”

  “It might take a few days,” I said. “I don’t know exactly. Things may not fall in line just the way we like it.”

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