Vanilla ride, p.17

Vanilla Ride, page 17


Vanilla Ride

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  I knew then why my bullet hadn’t hurt Big Guy. He was wearing a bulletproof vest.

  The kids, both barefoot and Tim bare-chested, yanked a duffel bag out from under the ruins of the bed. They headed out the door before I could get off my ass, and when I did, the cabin felt as if it was moving.

  I started to go after them, but when I looked back, Leonard was being slammed by a punch that might have killed a steer. My head was mostly back together, so I rushed Big Guy and threw a hard round kick into his thigh. It was a perfect kick, hitting right on the nerve in the outer thigh, and I had used it before, dropping the leg right out from under strong men, but if it bothered Big Guy his expression didn’t show it. He came rushing at me, and without really knowing I was going to do it, I started backpedaling and went right out the front door.

  A gun barked to my left and I saw one of Big Guy’s team on the ground and Jim Bob walking over. I got a glimpse of Tonto, but I didn’t see the other bad guy. The two kids and their duffel bag had disappeared.

  Big Guy came charging out into the open, practically foaming at the mouth.

  I’m a little ashamed to say I turned and bolted. I thought I was running like a goddamn deer on steroids, but Big Guy was tight on my ass as a dingleberry, and the next thing I knew he had me and we’re tumbling down the trail, rolling like a couple of doodlebugs. When we came to the bottom of the hill, I got hold of his ear with my teeth and bit it as hard as I could, taking off a chunk big enough for a small sandwich.

  He jerked his head up and came to his knees and let out a bellow. I tried to make a quick exit, stage right, spitting out the chunk of ear as I went, but he got hold of my rain slicker with one hand and hit me so hard with the other I thought I had accidentally stepped onto train tracks and been hit by a locomotive.

  He was about to hit me again when I heard a grunt, and Leonard, doing a Superman, flew down the hill and hit Big Guy. The two of them went tumbling down some more, covered in mud, and ended up near the water’s edge. Big Guy came up on top and he was giving Leonard a pounding.

  I ran down there and kicked Big Guy in the head. It was a pretty good shot, and it did more damage than the kick to the thigh. He was knocked over and into the water. He tried to get up and I kicked him again, but because I had to step out into the water to do it, it wasn’t as good a kick, and it only knocked him back. And then Leonard got hold of the minnow bucket and slammed it over Big Guy’s head. It was a tight fit. Leonard chopped Big Guy across the throat, twice in rapid succession. Big Guy stood up. Leonard slipped behind him with one smooth motion and tried to choke him with his forearm. The guy’s neck was like a tree, and Leonard might as well have been squeezing one. The guy shook like a dog and Leonard went into the water, scrambled up and out of it and onto the shore to meet me. We both stood there looking at the monster with the minnow bucket on his head. Big Guy clawed at the bucket, started pulling it loose. Leonard said, “Run like a motherfucker.”

  And we did. We ran. We were like little children being chased by the Big Bad Wolf.

  Leonard said as we ran, “Where the fuck is that guy from?”

  “Hell,” I said.

  We were coming up on the boathouse. I said, “Goddamn it. Let’s take the boat and get away from that sonofabitch.”

  Looking back, I saw Big Guy minus his bucket, and he was really coming. When we got in the boathouse the kids were there with the bag of money. They had the other rain slickers on and the towels over their shoulders. They were just standing on the platform looking at the boat as if they thought they might be magically transported into it. The rain was really coming down outside the boathouse, and it could be seen through the big opening at the back where the boats went out and came in, peppering the water like buckshot.

  “What the hell are you waiting on?” Leonard said to the couple. “Get in the boat.”

  “I’m scared of water,” the girl said.

  “Something comin’ through that door you’re gonna be a lot more scared of,” Leonard said, and at that moment Big Guy came in, flinging the door back so hard it slammed against the wall.

  The girl was in the boat faster than a jackrabbit. Tim just froze. Leonard and I crouched. Leonard said, “This time, we got to get him.”

  Big Guy, who seemed to have lost his wits, came charging along the planks and Leonard and I, as if through some mind-meld of knowledge, went for his legs, went low and lifted high. It wasn’t quite perfect. Big Guy went a little to the right, out over the platform and hit headfirst in the boat. The boat cracked, rolled, sent the girl into the water with a scream. Tim, who was standing behind us and had caught some of Big Guy’s body as it was thrown, was knocked the length of the platform.

  The boat righted itself, and there was Big Guy, hanging on to the side of it. The girl, who was crying loudly, was clinging to the bow. I got down on my belly on the platform and grabbed one of the paddles floating in the water and stood up and cracked Big Guy over the head with it. It took about three licks before he went under.

  There was movement at the door. I turned my head. Tonto came through, followed by Jim Bob. Somehow, Tonto had ended up with the double-barrel shotgun.

  Big Guy was back, clinging to the side of the boat, trying to climb inside. Tonto came over quick and stepped off the platform and onto the boat. It was a graceful move and the boat only rocked a little. He got Big Guy by the hair and stuck the double barrel in his open mouth and pulled the trigger. The back of Big Guy’s head jumped out onto the water, and something, pellets, skull shrapnel, rattled against the clapboard wall across the way.

  Big Guy, missing most of his head, went under, except for one hand that clung to the side of the boat. Tonto squatted and took hold of the fingers and peeled one of them off and then they all came loose.

  Leonard said, “You better find that sonofabitch and drive a stake through his heart. I don’t want him coming back.”

  Tonto made his way to the bow of the little boat and pulled the girl out of the water, then handed her up to me. I set her on the platform. She was shivering with the cold, just like me and Leonard and Tim. Tonto climbed up on the platform and took a deep breath. He smelled like the shotgun blast.

  “The others?” I asked.

  “They’re napping,” Tonto said. “Deep napping.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “There’s one in the cabin, and he’s kind of sleepy too.”


  At the top of the hill, with me carrying the bag of money, and it was a big bag and pretty damn heavy, we discovered that the two thugs were indeed napping by the Ford. While they were napping some red stuff had run out of them and onto the ground and had been mixed up and thinned by the rain so that it looked like spilled strawberry Kool-Aid. They were lying on their backs and they had some holes in them and their open mouths were filling with rain.

  We grabbed the stuff from the cabin that belonged to the kids, got the guns, and wiped the place down of blood and fingerprints as best we could, hauling the dead guy out of the kitchen, putting him and the other two in the Ford. Jim Bob drove the Ford, Tonto drove his van, and Leonard took the keys of the Escalade from Tim and drove the rest of us out of there, me in the back with the boy, the girl beside Leonard. The windshield wipers beat methodically as he drove and the heater made it cozy. It was hard to believe that a moment before we had been in a gunfight, a fistfight, a wrestling match, and the like. It seemed surreal, though my ears were still ringing from the gunfire in the small cabin and I hurt all over.

  We followed Jim Bob down a narrow clay road with trash thrown out on both sides. He parked the Ford and left it and joined Tonto in the van. Tonto and Leonard found places to turn around and got us back on the main road, which was a strip of aging blacktop.

  We followed along behind the van. No one in our car had said a word. And then: “That man,” the girl said. “He … he was so strong.”

  “Tell me about it,” Leonard said. “And he had a bulletproof vest on to boot.”

  “You noti
ced that too,” I said.

  “I did,” Leonard said. “For a moment I thought Superman had gone bad, and it was a real relief to discover he was just a man.”

  “He was just plenty of man,” I said.

  “I hurt all over,” Leonard said. “I feel like I been chewed up by a wolf and shit off a cliff and my pile got stepped on by an elephant.”

  “I hear you,” I said. “I’m dizzy and I got a headache and I want my teddy bear. Bastard must have taken something. Some kind of drug. Damned if I know. But I’m going to dream about him, and I’m not going to like it.”

  “I used to have a teddy bear,” the girl said out of nowhere. “His name was Lew. I think my momma still has him.”

  We let that sail around the car for a moment, then, “Figure guy owns the cabins has already called the law,” Leonard said.

  “No,” Tim said. “He said he would be gone a few days. Went off somewhere with his brother. We paid in advance.”

  “I hope you left a dead body deposit,” I said.

  “We didn’t give our real names. He wrote down our plates, but they’re false. I switched them.”

  “Normally, I wouldn’t want to encourage such criminal enterprise as license-plate switching in the young, but let me, at this moment in time, give to you a symbolic high five.”

  It was entirely symbolic. Neither of us moved.

  Tim said, “So … are you going to hurt us?”

  “Nope,” I said. “We already would have if we were. But you got to go back.”

  “My dad … he turned himself in.”

  “For you. And he’s going to talk to the feds. Putting himself in danger from the Dixie Mafia for one reason and one reason only. You.”

  Tim was quiet for a moment, then said, “He’s done some bad things.”

  “He has, and I suppose he’s actually going to get away with having done a lot of them if he tells the feds the right things, things they want to know. But there is this. He loves you pretty damn strong to do what he’s doing. Putting himself in danger, maybe going to jail, or having to be in the witness protection program. Something you may have to do too. Thing is, he’s doing what he’s doing for you so you can maybe do something a lot better than he’s done with his life.”

  “You think so?”

  “I think so.”

  “What about me?” the girl said.

  “I don’t know yet,” I said. “We’ll figure something out.”

  “He just couldn’t stand we were together, her being black.”

  “He got over it,” I said. “He only wants you happy.”

  “He said that?”


  “Are you friends of his?”

  “Nope,” I said. “Not even close.”

  “Then why are you doing this?”

  “We sort of have our asses over a barrel and we got picked because we were expendable.”

  Leonard said, “Girl, what’s your name?”

  “Katie,” she said.

  “All right,” Leonard said. “That’s good to know in case I want to call you to supper. Hap, are you okay back there?”

  “A little traumatized. Not every day you meet Dracula and live.”

  “Ain’t that the truth? We owe Tonto one.”

  “We owe that shotgun one. Maybe we can take it to lunch.”


  Leonard wheeled us away from the lake, and Tonto, who was driving in front of us, pulled the van to the side of the road and parked. We pulled up beside him, real close, lowered the window on the girl’s side. Tonto lowered his window, said, “Now what?”

  “I think we ought to think this over before we do anything,” Leonard said.

  “What’s that mean?” Tonto asked.

  Leonard looked back at me. I leaned forward in the seat and spoke loud enough for them to hear. “I’m with Leonard. I think now we’ve done the deed, we should regroup a little. Gonna hand these kids off, I want to make sure I’m not dropping them in the lion’s den. We maybe hole them up somewhere, then me and Leonard see how the lay of the land is, figure what to do next.”

  “I’m just along for the ride,” Tonto said.

  “Me too,” Jim Bob said.

  “All right, then,” I said. “Let’s drive over to Shreveport, put the kids in a hotel, and we stay there with them. Maybe we’ll take a day or two and consider what we ought to do next.”

  Leonard turned, looked at Tim in the backseat, then at Katie. “You’re not going to give us shit, are you?”

  “I just want to go home,” she said. She turned and looked at Tim. “I just want to go home, baby.”

  Tim reached over the seat and patted her shoulder. “I know. It was a dumb idea. I don’t know why I had to take the money. That was stupid.”

  “Thing is,” Leonard said, “we want to make sure it’s okay you two go home, that you’re safe. So we’ll do it the way we’re talkin’ about, and we’ll use some of the money you stole to pay for it. We’ll tell the feds we had to use some to get the bulk of it back. Expenses. I think they’ll go for that.”

  “Got a feeling,” I said, “Dixie Mafia might hold a grudge, we spend their money.”

  “Not like we’re giving it back to them,” Leonard said. “Once we give it to the feds, we’re out of this deal and the organization is still out the money.”

  “I don’t think we’ll be out of hot water that easy,” I said.

  “Me neither,” Jim Bob said from across the way. “It’s not just about the money with these guys. For them, they get it back or they don’t, they aren’t going to like us much either way. Especially you guys. They know who you two are. Me and Tonto, maybe we can just go home, put our feet up.”

  “But you won’t,” Leonard said.

  “Of course not,” Jim Bob said. “Well, speaking for me, anyway.”

  “My favor isn’t done till the job is done,” Tonto said. “And it’s not like I got kids waiting at the house. So count me in too.”

  The Louisiana border wasn’t far, and neither was Shreveport, so that’s the way we went after we found a quiet place to switch license plates on the Escalade and the van again, doing it out in the rain.

  I thought about what would happen if we were pulled over and for some reason a cop wanted to take a look and found the stuff under the flooring; the van was packed with enough weapons and license plates that the four of us could go up for about three thousand years wearing thumbscrews and without possibility of parole.

  We drove into Louisiana, and not much longer after that, made Shreveport. Stopping at a filling station we got some gas, then we went to a nice hotel and spent some of the Dixie Mafia’s money to put us in a connecting room with the kids, and to put Jim Bob and Tonto in a room together.

  We had our clothes in overnight bags that we had left in the van, and we carried those into the elevator, and the kids carried their two suitcases, one of which, the girl’s, was on rollers. Leonard carried the heavy duffel bag of money over his shoulder. When we got to the room, which was on a high floor in the hotel, Leonard and I pulled off our slickers, and then the four of us took turns taking showers in the two bathrooms and dressing in clean clothes. The way the suite was set up, there was a bedroom on either end with a bathroom in it, and in the middle was a big room with a couch and television set and chairs, and there was a kitchenette. Through sliding doors was a covered deck surrounded by Plexiglas. It gave us a good view of the city and the casinos and hotels.

  After looking at a menu, we ordered up some bowls of chili and a pot of coffee, which seemed like a pretty damn good idea after the cold and the rain, and we went out on the protected deck to sit at the table there while we waited. A short time later, a waiter arrived pushing a wheeled table and we had him take it out on the deck, where the four of us sat and ate and drank our coffee with very little to say.

  The day was dark and the lights turning on inside and outside the hotels and casinos on the strip made everything look surreal and strange through the rai
n. As we sat and ate, and gathered our thoughts, and let the food seep into us and renew us, night dropped down over the city and the multicolored lights appeared brighter than before and almost Christmas-like through the deluge.

  I guess we sat there for nearly a half hour before I felt like I was actually going to live. Still, my back hurt where I had been slammed into the wall, and my head hurt where the shelf had cracked me, and when I had taken a shower and looked in the mirror, I was no longer surprised at the way people had looked at me in the lobby, the way the little guy behind the hotel desk had stared at me. I thought it was the old rain slicker that smelled like fish, and that most certainly was part of it, but my face looked like it had been through a buzz saw. Leonard, being darker of skin, didn’t look so wounded if you didn’t look right at him, but by the time we finished our meal one of his eyes had swollen near shut, and he was starting to look like an ebony Cabbage Patch doll with an attitude. I had found some aspirin in my shaving kit and took four of them, shaved while I was in there, and it was a tender job. When I looked at my hand, I noticed it was trembling slightly. I managed to cut myself only a little, brushed my teeth and went out and got a look at everyone else.

  Spruced up, Tim was a pretty good-looking kid, and Katie was the sort of girl that if she told you she was a model for a clean-cut catalog like JCPenney’s, you’d believe her. Even with her hair cut close like that, she was a knockout. Coltish in white shorts, with long legs and that long neck and a way of moving that made you wish you were young and single and cool and had a pocketful of money. Maybe enough to steal money and a car from your dad.

  Out on the deck, I sat down and said, “We can tie you two up, or you can act like you got some sense and get a good night’s sleep. Thing is, you’ll be better off with us than out there on your own.”

  “We’ll do what you say,” Katie said, and looked at Tim. He nodded.

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