Vanilla ride, p.19

Vanilla Ride, page 19


Vanilla Ride

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  Jim Bob and I went around and joined Leonard and we looked down at Tonto. His face was turned to one side and his ear was full of blood. Jim Bob leaned in and looked and said, “Ah, goddamn it to hell. The woman.”

  Leonard leaned in and looked. “Something sharp, right in the ear. Ice pick maybe.”

  “Where the hell did she keep it?” I said.

  “Purse,” Jim Bob said.

  Leonard checked Tonto’s pulse, looked at us, shook his head. Blood was now running out of Tonto’s ear and down his cheek, collecting on the seat.

  “Just happened,” Jim Bob said, turning to look around the parking lot. “Seconds ago. Damn.”

  We had put the duffel bag with the money in the back under one of the traps in the floor. We went around and looked. The trap was open. The money was gone.

  “Knew where to look,” Jim Bob said. “Guesswork, maybe, but good guesswork.”

  We closed the door, cutting the interior light, put our guns away, and all of us went over and got in the Escalade, Leonard behind the wheel. Jim Bob, sitting next to him, said, “I was just starting to like that asshole.”

  “He lived this long,” Leonard said, “and then he decided to throw in with me and Hap. That was his mistake.”

  “I can’t disagree with that,” Jim Bob said. “Look, you guys, you go back to the hotel and get the bags, and I’ll meet up with you later. Don’t worry about me. I’m going to drive the van and take Tonto somewhere.”

  “And where will that be?” I said.

  “I don’t know. But I’m not just leaving him. He’s part of the team. He’s got someplace, or I’ll find someplace. Marvin will know something. He was our connection to Tonto.”

  “We should have gone home,” Leonard said.

  “We should have done a lot of things,” Jim Bob said. “You guys, you take the kids back, the money. Don’t go back to your place, Hap. Call me at some point. I’ll meet up with you.”

  “We—we have a blanket in the back,” Tim said, “you want to cover him.”

  “Yeah,” I said, “that’s a good idea.”

  “We ought to look for her,” I said.

  “No point in that,” Jim Bob said. “She’s a pro. That little darling is cool as an ice tray. She let him think he was about to throw the spear in the bull’ s-eye, and then she got him. Had to have practice at it. One good shot with something sharp in the ear, and he never knew what hit him.”

  Me and Leonard and Jim Bob got out and I had the blanket. Leonard gave the car keys to Tim, said, “We’re going to cover him up, you hear? Stay in the car.”

  Tim nodded. Katie took Tim’s arm. “Cold,” she said. “I feel so cold.”

  “You want,” Leonard said, “warm the car up.”

  We went back to the van, and when we were sure no one was in the lot, we opened the door and pulled Tonto’s pants up, got the van keys out of his pocket, and left him facedown with the blanket over him. Jim Bob shook the keys, said, “I’m going to take him now.”

  Jim Bob got in behind the wheel and pulled away. We watched him go.

  When he was out of the lot, Leonard turned to me, said, “Hey, I didn’t unlock the Escalade. It was already unlocked.”

  A chill went over me that wasn’t due to the weather. We had been so distracted by Tonto, we hadn’t really noticed, not then, and that meant she had jacked the car open, and then got out of there fast. Maybe when we came out the back we surprised her, came out and didn’t give her time to lock things back

  I turned toward the Escalade. Tim had climbed behind the wheel and Katie was sitting up front with him. We started walking that way quickly, and then I saw Tim move slightly, and though I couldn’t see what he was doing, I knew he was about to start the car, get some warmth from the heater.

  I started to run, but then the car came apart in what seemed like slow motion and the parking lot turned red and there was a hot wind that picked me up and carried me away.

  I was lying on my stomach, had the feeling I had been out for a moment. I rose up on my hands. My ears were ringing. I looked at where the Escalade had been sitting. It was a gutted wreck and flames were licking at it and I could see two dark shapes in what had been the front seat, burning. There was nothing to be done there.

  Glancing around, I saw Leonard. He was lying on his face and he wasn’t moving, not making a sound. The back of his coat was feeding a little blaze. I tried to get up, but didn’t have the ability. Crawling toward him, I got there and slapped at his back with my hands, putting out the flames on his coat. Reaching out, I touched his pulse. He had one. Grateful for that, I put my face down on the cold parking lot cement and passed out.


  The air was a little chill and my ears were ringing and throbbing and I didn’t feel so good. I turned my head. It was a chore equal to the labors of Hercules. It was a hospital bed. I tried to call out, but my mouth was so dry I could only croak. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.

  When I awoke this time there was a man in a chair by my bed, and I knew him. Drake. He looked at me like he really wanted to be somewhere else. He said, “When you two boys fuck up, you like to compound it, don’t you?”

  I didn’t answer. I thought about nodding, but was afraid my head would fall off. Overall, I felt as if I had been rode hard and put up wet, and then shot for having bad ankles.

  Drake got up and poured some water from a pitcher into a plastic glass with a straw. He brought it over and took hold of a little control on a cable and touched it. The head of the bed raised up, and when it was positioned, he stopped it and held the water for me to sip.

  It was the best water I had ever had. I was convinced it was the best water anyone ever had. When my throat was wet enough, I managed to say, “Leonard?”

  “They have to dig some more car shrapnel out of his thighs, but he’s pretty much in the same condition you are, which is burned a little and banged up a lot.”

  “How bad?” I said.

  “Not that bad. Not so bad the two of you won’t recover and retain your native good looks.”

  “What are you doing here?”

  “I’m asking myself that,” Drake said. “Thing is, they found you boys in the parking lot, and whoever was in the car. That would be Hirem’s boy and the girlfriend, right?”

  I nodded.

  “That’s all I know about the deal,” Drake said. “You were supposed to find them and find some money.”

  “Batting zero,” I said.

  “I figured.”

  “Again, how come you’re here?”

  “Your license, Leonard’s. Had your address on it. My town. So they called me, see if I could find out who you were, what you were doing here. I knew both of you, of course.”

  “And you bothered to come?”

  “I’m trying to figure why. I was thinking you two got off easy, and then they call, tell me what happened, and I’m thinking maybe not so easy. So I call a contact I got in the FBI, and he says you two are off their charts, officially anyway. But some things have changed, and they’re feeling kindly.”

  “What’s changed?” I said.

  “Someone popped those two FBI agents, and that same someone didn’t do Hirem any good. Tortured him.”

  “They wanted to know where we were searching.”

  “That’s right, and it looks like they found out. And any information he would have given the FBI, any money might have been recovered from illicit business, they aren’t getting that now. But the main thing was the names Hirem would have named didn’t get named, and now there’s nothing but his corpse. Done deal.”

  “I think the bad guys killed a lady named Annie too,” I said, and told Drake about it.

  He said, “The FBI has decided not to forget you. They’ve decided your heart was in the right place. They’re going to make sure there are no charges.”

  “If there were charges,” I said, “what would they be for?”

  “They have no idea, and neither do I, but we figure you
did something. And they figure the something you did was to their benefit. And they figure it was a good thing they found these four guys in a Ford over near Lake O’ the Pines, and they were good and dead and they all had records, and somehow, they think it just might be possible they are connected to problems they have, and it just might be possible you and Leonard solved those problems. As for the explosion, and the guns they found on you, you guys are getting a clean slate soon as you’re able to get out of here. There’s local cops watching your rooms. FBI is sponsoring that indirectly. Directly, they aren’t doing squat, and everything I told you they would deny. They found out you had a room in a hotel, that there were two rooms. One for the kids?”

  I lied. “Yep.”

  “They had your bags sent over, after they went through them. Oh, by the way. The local newspaper, it read that four people had died in that blast. That would include you and Leonard. So there are some bad people think you’re dead. At least for the moment. Best just to take this as a freebie and not ask any questions.”

  “How long have we been here?”

  “Three days.”

  “Damn,” I said.

  “What about Brett?” Drake said.

  “She doesn’t know what happened,” I said. “I’d like to keep it that way for now. She’s out of sight and maybe out of mind of these tin-pot gangsters. She knew I was hurt, or Leonard, she’d be here. I don’t want that. Not now.”

  “I can understand that.”

  “This isn’t exactly your jurisdiction,” I said.

  “Yeah, I got no authority, but I got concern for my citizens, and that includes you two jackasses. And my friend in the FBI, I’m sort of his and the agency’s unofficial mouthpiece. What they want you to do is be finished.”

  “All right,” I said.

  “And mean it.”

  “You know, the person who blew up the car, they got the money.”

  “It wouldn’t be stashed away somewhere, would it?” Drake said.

  “Not by us.”

  “That person blew up the car, you know who it is?”

  “No,” I said, and I didn’t mention Jim Bob or Tonto. I was hoping he didn’t know about them, and I was hoping the FBI didn’t either. I didn’t mention the woman who had killed Tonto. She was mine. I didn’t mention the money had been in the van, figured Drake would logically think it had been taken from the Escalade, maybe our hotel room.

  “These cops watching you, they’re only going to be here one more day. So you got to get well quick or hope nobody from the bad side of life is hunting you two down.”

  “I’m feeling perky already,” I said, and this was true.

  “Another thing, no charge for the hospital stay. FBI, they’re giving you a gift out of some funds they don’t have and didn’t give you. Understand?”

  I agreed that I did. I said, “I’m surprised the FBI even cared.”

  “Covering their ass is all,” Drake said, standing up. “Well, I’ve had it with you two. I’m going home. And next time I see you, if it’s just a parking ticket, I’m going to see there’s some way to throw you under the jail.”

  He was almost to the door when I said, “Drake.”

  He turned.

  “Thanks, man.”

  He nodded and went out.

  I lay there and tried to put it together. Jim Bob had been right. There had been someone else in on the deal. Maybe an accomplice to our Dracula, Big Guy, or maybe as hired backup. Could have even been someone Big Guy didn’t know about. Someone to watch the watchers. Did that watcher do the torturing of Annie and Hirem and the FBI folks, or was it Big Guy and his pals? Probably never figure that one out.

  Bottom line, the she devil was on our ass when we left Lake O’ the Pines, and Tonto was not quite the super ace he thought. Or he’d just gotten tired and, in the end, horny. She lured him out there and killed him and took the money. She had seen the kids and me and Leonard in the Escalade, and we were the hired hits. Anyone else got in the way like Tonto, they had to go. But she figured one bomb would take Tim and Katie and me and Leonard out. And if she was lucky, it would take the van too, Jim Bob, or anyone else in that wrong place at the wrong time.

  She had made one error. Leaving the door on the Escalade unlocked. Probably because we came out more quickly than she expected and she had to get away, forgot the door. Had seen us come out and was gone like a ghost before we knew it. Bottom line was she had succeeded with the bomb. Set it so when the engine cranked, or when the heater was turned on, it would blow. It was just luck Leonard and I had survived.

  I really hated that bitch.

  Good-looking as all get-out, but still a bitch.


  A little over two weeks later and out of the hospital we joined Marvin, and we all went out to Arizona. Leonard had tried to patch things up with John again, but John had got religion, and when that happens, common sense, logic, and the obvious fly out the window of the brain like a horde of bees.

  Jim Bob we had talked to, and he had taken care of the van and Tonto. Turned out there was no real home where Tonto lived, just a cell phone number that wouldn’t be answered again and a post office box where any mail he might get would pile up. Marvin told Jim Bob all of this, and Jim Bob took Tonto in his van and drove the van off to a place run by people he knew who owned an auto farm, old cars with a car crusher that made them flat. They used the crusher with Tonto in the van and then they put the cube of metal in the back of a truck and it was dumped in a deep wet place not far from Houston. Jim Bob said the people did it for him were longtime friends and that there were other crushed cars with crushed people in them in the deep waters nearby. He said he was on call if we needed him again, and we might, but I didn’t want him now; didn’t want to put anyone else into what we had created. It was our mess to fix.

  There was one other thing. He said he had found the photograph of me and Leonard and Cindy the Bear in the van before he had it crushed with Tonto in it, and he mailed the photo to us.

  Leonard and I, and Brett, we were all in Arizona now, but we weren’t all in the same place. Marvin and his family were together with relatives, and we had been there to visit but the atmosphere was not warm. Gadget couldn’t look us in the eye, and her mother and grandmother and great-grandmother made us feel as though we were only begrudgingly welcome. We didn’t stay long. Brett, who had been there, was glad to leave; her ass whipping of Gadget hung over the household like a little dark cloud. We were given a rental the family owned that was empty. It was a condo with a little backyard next to other little backyards. There was limited furniture in the joint, just a bed, a couch, a table, and some chairs, and Leonard slept on the couch. On this day we were all sitting outside and the weather was cool but not too cold. We were wearing coats and sitting at a table, Brett and I close together holding hands. On the table were some empty plates that had recently held tuna fish sandwiches with apple cut up in them, heavy on mayonnaise, and there had been potato chips and coffee. I was sitting there enjoying the thought of what I had eaten, simple but good, and thinking about some of the vanilla wafers we had in the house.

  “So, this hit person, she thinks you’re dead?” Brett said.

  “For now. But before word gets out, we thought we might go see her in person.”

  “You think you could hurt a woman, Hap … on purpose?”

  “Hey, he punched Gadget,” Leonard said.

  “You’re talking about killing her, though,” Brett said.

  “Woman, man, shemale, they come after me with a gun, a knife, a pointed stick, I don’t like it. And I don’t want her coming around again. Thing is, she’s the best they’ve sent after us, and it’s only luck I’m here to hold your lovely hand.”

  “And you didn’t get your dick blown off,” Brett said.

  “That too,” I said.

  “I consider that an important part of our relationship,” she said.

  “As do I,” I said.

  “You got it blown off,” Leonar
d said, “you’d be holding hands with a plastic love doll. Brett would be out of here.”

  “Not true,” Brett said. “He’s still got a tongue.”

  “That’s a little too much from the instructional manual,” Leonard said.

  “Yeah, since when are you grossed out by anything?” I said.

  “Since I’ve had a tragic near-death experience. Did you know, when I was knocked out on the ground out there, shrapnel in my shapely loins and lower stomach, I saw a white light, and I wanted to go to it, because when I got there, and if God was there, I was gonna whip his ass for what he’d let happen to us.”

  Me and Leonard touched fists.

  Brett leaned over and kissed me. Her eyes were misty. I said, “I’m fine.”

  “We could stay here,” she said. “I could get a nurse job, you could find work. Arizona is nice.”

  “Need those East Texas trees,” I said. “And besides, I couldn’t live with myself I didn’t find that bitch and put a bullet in her head. And yeah, I can do it, woman or no woman. I don’t want to live under the umbrella of her coming back. She thinks she’s safe and we’re dead, but I’m going to find her.”

  “Ditto to that,” Leonard said.

  “Can I go back with you?” Brett said.

  “You do whatever you want to do, as always, but I’d rather you not. I think it’ll be easier you don’t. Leonard and I have been in this kind of thing before.”

  “Maybe not just like this,” Leonard said.

  “All right,” I said. “Not just like this, but we can handle ourselves, now that we know what we’re up against.”

  “That didn’t sound all that convincing,” Brett said.

  “Well,” I said, “I guess I’m not all that convinced. But I’d prefer you stay here, let us go after her.”

  “What was she like?” Brett asked.

  “We don’t know. All we know is what we told you, but when it comes to getting the job done, she’s something. The whole thing with Tonto, that probably happened so quick he was still getting his hard-on. And the way she wired that bomb up, she’s experienced.”

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