Vanilla Ride, page 6
“So how do they know it’s us done all this? Could be two other guys of equal handsomeness and anger management issues.”
“You’ve already admitted it was you.”
“I was just playing.”
“Sure. Tanedrue figured you were friends of Marvin Hanson, the grandfather, and all he had to do was ask around. You weren’t that hard to figure. You could maybe pay back the money they lost.”
“Oh yeah, that’s gonna happen. If it cost a dollar to fart I’d have to sweat instead. Don’t be an idiot. We aren’t paying anybody anything, and mostly because we don’t want to. And, by the way, how do you, a fine law-abiding police officer, know all this? Could it be because you’re in cahoots with them? My God, say it ain’t so. Aren’t policemen here to protect us? If that isn’t true, my world has been turned upside down.”
“You know what I make in salary?”
“I could care less.”
“Not a lot. Drugs are all over. You think I stop some drug traffic I stop drugs? That I stop people from wanting to use them?”
“No. But it is your job.”
“Look, I’m gonna tell you something, ’cause it’s just you and me in your crappy yard. Drugs go on. Money is being made. It’s like pussy. Someone is always gonna sell it and someone is always gonna buy it, and sometimes, that pussy, it’s got a disease and it kills people. You takes your chances. No one makes you buy it, use it. So what if me and my partner, who is a nice fat white guy named Reggie who is like a brother to me and will hate your guts if I hate your guts… what if we get a little piece of the action? They’re gonna buy from someone. So who the hell does it hurt if they’re getting what they want?”
“The people who are paying you not to take a piece of the action. And you might toss in the ones it kills or the ones get addicted. Until it’s legalized and they got that stuff in a vending machine, your job is to not make money off of it.”
Conners took a big suck on his cigar, blew the smoke toward me. I was so manly I didn’t wave it away, just squinted my eyes, trying to look like Clint Eastwood. I probably looked like a guy with smoke in his eyes.
“I’ve heard some things about you and your boy,” Conners said, “and you sound a little self-righteous, considering what I’ve heard you’ve done.”
“Don’t believe everything you’ve heard, lawman. And let me give you another line, right out of Billy Jack. Ever see that movie?”
“There’s a line where he says: ‘When policemen break the law there is no law.’ After that he beats the crap out of some guys, but that’s not the point. It’s corny and it’s movie crap, but it’s right. I don’t owe you a fucking thing. You come to warn me and you think I’m supposed to thank you for it, but mostly you want me to stay out of your business, because you are the scum at the bottom of this big old pond and what you’re afraid of is that me and Leonard are going to ripple the surface so much that the big frog on the big lily pad is going to hop on your head. You aren’t doing me any kind of favor. Now get out of my yard before I take that cigar out of your mouth and shove it up your ass.”
He stood up so fast he knocked over the lawn chair. “I ought to kick you into next week.”
I stood up carefully. “Start kicking. You’re out of your jurisdiction.”
He stood there with his fists clenched. A vein vibrated in his neck like the string on a stand-up bass. Provided the string was really big.
I didn’t want any part of him, but I didn’t want him to know it. I managed not to piss myself, tried to look like I was thinking about something pleasant, like a politician waiting for a free blow job.
He took a deep breath. “All right. I tried. You warn that fart, Hanson, warn him that he’s in this too. I was him, I’d take that split-tail you two rescued, pack all of you in a bus and head for the high country, or just some goddamn rabbit hole. Change your names. Change your sex. ’Cause they’re comin’, smart-mouth. And when they do, you ain’t gonna like it. It might be the little fucks first, but they ain’t nothin’. You might take care of them. But then it’s the others, and I tell you again, you ain’t gonna like it.”
“Neither are they,” I said.
Conners tossed his cigar on the lawn, gave me a last look that told me there was nothing he’d like better than to reach up my asshole and jerk me inside out. “When it comes down,” he said, “remember your old Uncle Conners tried to tell you how it was going to go.”
“That’ll certainly cheer me,” I said. “But I wouldn’t count me and Leonard out just yet, Uncle Tom … Oh, sorry, that was Conners, wasn’t it?”
“You don’t know a thing. Ain’t no Uncle Toms no more, just a fella trying to do business.”
“One way of looking at it, I suppose.”
“It’ll be a clean sweep,” he said. “Not just you and Leonard, but those around you. You have a woman, don’t you? That’s what I’ve heard. And Hanson, his family. I don’t want to see that, something happening. Truly, I don’t.”
“Here’s a feather for your cap. I ever think you have anything to do with screwing around with me and mine, some morning you just might find yourself dead.”
“You threatening a law officer?”
“I don’t consider you much of an officer. Besides, you couldn’t arrest a fly here. You’re nothing but one of a two-man operation in a little town that has its presidential elections in a filling station. You two are so small-time you probably share a dick. So don’t come in here and act like the FBI. You are nothing to me. And yeah, that is a goddamn threat, with bells and whistles on it.”
“Have it your way, pal. But next time you see me comin’, man, you better run.”
Conners went out to his car and drove away.
“He came here to the house?” Brett said.
We were sitting at the kitchen table, she still in her nurse uniform, me still in my sweaty, filthy work clothes. She was sitting out from the table, had her legs crossed, and the nurse dress was hiked up pretty far. I liked that, and she knew it. I liked the little hat she was wearing too. I’d have liked her without the hat. I’d have liked her without the dress. She could lose those nurse shoes too. I don’t have a fetish for stuff like that, but I do have a fetish for her.
I was laying out what had happened with Conners, and I was drinking a cup of coffee. I had fixed some for both of us, and Brett was stirring creamer into hers. She even made me horny doing that. I know. I’m a bad dog.
“He threatened you here in our yard?” she said.
“He threatened that other people were going to do something to me that probably wouldn’t pass for a manicure and a haircut. And maybe those same people would do something similar to those around me. He also said next time I saw him I better run.”
“And he’s a policeman?”
“A big goddamn policeman. One of the two of No Enterprise’s finest on-the-take assholes. Actually, don’t tell Leonard, but between me and you, he was kind of scary.”
“It’s okay, pumpkin,” she said and patted my hand. “If we’re going to be killed, it might as well be together.”
“Don’t be. You’re my man and you do things others wish they could. I like you just the way you are. Most of the time. Though I do wish you could remember to change the toilet paper, and on top of the hamper is not where your underwear belong. They go inside, dear.”
“But you have to lift the lid on the hamper.”
“I know. It is a bother.”
I gave her a look that I hoped made me look like a big-eyed puppy instead of a startled marmoset. It didn’t have the effect I hoped for—deep sympathy and a desire to pat my head. She drank more of her coffee.
I said, “I’m a middle-aged man with a crummy job that’s over as of today and you may be a little less thrilled with me if this turns bad.”
“It’s been bad before. And besides, you’re cute and well hung.”
“Considering the circumstances, it seemed like a kind thing to say.”
“Now don’t get pissy. Remember what Bessie Smith sang. It’s not the meat, it’s the motion.”
“Okay. I can live with that. Brett… this policeman, I got to tell you, he had a loud voice and a big hat and an ugly cigar and his face was all wrinkled and he had a funny ear and he talked kind of loud and I don’t think he’s very nice. He uses bad words.”
Brett smiled, looked me in the eyes. “Do you think this is really serious, baby? I mean, really?”
“Yeah. I do.”
“What do you think will happen?”
“No way to know for sure, but my guess is the little guys, the ones me and Leonard gave a bad time, might think they got to get back at us to save face, so they can point to us and tell their bosses they got those nasty boys who destroyed the dope and made them lose all that money and insulted a perfectly nice pair of Scooby Doo shorts.
“Course, we can flip that and say maybe the guys in the middle don’t believe the guys at the bottom. Not all of it anyway. The head dudes might just decide to take it out on the bottom-feeders because they might think they’re lying, that they took the dope, made up a story, and are settling other scores with us. All the middle guys know is they didn’t get a piece of the profit. And the guys at the top, what they know is they didn’t get their slice of it. So instead of them solving the problem, they could want the two layers in the cake below them to solve the problem. Most likely, the top layer gets involved, they’ll bring in someone special and skilled. That’s the way it usually works. But I wouldn’t bet on any one scenario. We might be dealing with all of them.”
“So what do we do?” Brett asked.
“First, I’ll have Leonard move back in.”
“That means more cookies and Dr Peppers and probably a box of shotgun shells.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “You have some time off coming, don’t you?”
She nodded. “Two weeks. Three if I really need it.”
“You pack your highly attractive ass up and you and Marvin and his family head for the hills. Go someplace where no one knows you. Stay there until I tell you to come back.”
Brett reached out and took my hand. “I don’t really have family anymore. My daughter isn’t exactly one to keep in touch. You know, the whoring business is so time-consuming, and her plans for college didn’t work out, she said.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Something about having to get up early.”
“That’s right. I love her, but she’s grown and made her own way, and I’m here if she needs me. But she doesn’t have a family bond, and maybe that’s my fault, but it’s the way it is. Except for you and Leonard, I’m about tapped out in the family department. I don’t want to leave you. I can use a gun, and I’m not afraid.”
“Yeah, but I am. Even if I wasn’t, I’d want you to go. Someone has to keep telling Marvin he has to stay with his family. He’s a great guy, but frankly, he’s not at his best right now. Bum leg and all.”
“You actually think Marvin will run? That doesn’t sound like him to me. Does it to you?”
I waved it aside with my hand. “When I explain things to him he’ll be happy to stay out of it,” I said.
“Absolutely not,” Marvin said.
I had Leonard and Brett with me and we had gone over to explain how things were. We were sitting in his living room and Rachel was there, and so were Gadget and JoAnna. The three women looked so much alike it was amazing. All dark and beautiful and soft, T-shirt-and jean-clad. Well, actually, Gadget didn’t look so soft. She scratched at her arms constantly and her eyes darted. The dope was calling collect and she wanted to answer. She was still attractive, just itchy and a little hard-looking around the mouth and eyes.
“I got you two in this trouble,” Marvin said. “I’m not about to bail on you.”
“You’re not bailing,” Leonard said. “You’re running like a spotted-ass ape.”
“Oh,” I said, turning in my chair to look at Leonard. “That helps. He’ll feel better now. You are like one of those, what do they call them … diplomats.”
“Figure of speech,” Leonard said.
“So far,” Brett said to me, “your powers of persuasion are not quite up to the standard you presumed.”
“Hap should know me better than that,” Marvin said.
“I’ll tell you what I know,” I said. “And let’s cut the crap. You did get Leonard and me into this. You didn’t tell us the whole gig, about how connected these guys were.”
“I didn’t know. Completely. I mean, I had an idea. But I didn’t know.”
“Exactly,” I said. “You didn’t stop to consider. Me and my brother just thought this was a trailer trash episode. We whipped some ass, threw a dog out of a window, shot a guy, took Gadget and brought her home. We went, we saw, we conquered, we came back. And now our asses are in the soup. We want you and yours, and Brett, out of here. And, no offense to Gadget, but you don’t tell her where you’re going till you get there. And you have the only cell phone between you. Not that I don’t trust mother and daughter,” I said, smiling at them. “But one cell phone can be controlled more easily, and you don’t want a lot of people calling you anyway. Any little thing might leak out and you might then involve someone else. And I don’t trust you, Gadget. The monkey on your back howls the loudest at midnight, when everyone else is sleeping. You might decide to decamp.”
“Just let me go back to Tanedrue,” Gadget said. “He’s not going to bother me.”
“Except when he’s making a field goal with your head,” Leonard said. “There’s that, and, oh yeah, about a ton of drugs you can suck up your nose.”
“You don’t know how it is,” Gadget said. “I’m … I’m in pain. And Hap hit me too.”
“Yes,” Leonard said, “but it was swift and beautiful and full of the power of love.”
“Ha!” Gadget said. “He still hit me.”
“You had it coming,” Marvin said. “Never thought I’d say such a thing, but you did.”
Gadget’s lip went pouty. She said, “You still don’t know how it is.”
“I don’t know how it is,” I said. “But I’ve seen it before.”
“Just let me go back,” she said.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Leonard said. “These guys suck rat bag. And you’re on your way to being just like them.”
“At this point,” I said, “I’m not even sure Tanedrue might not blame you for their situation. There’s no future there for you, Gadget.”
“There’s no future for me anywhere,” Gadget said. “Just let them do what they want.”
“That’s the drug willies talking,” I said.
“We’re going to get her help,” JoAnna said, and she reached out and touched Gadget’s shoulder.
Gadget shook her head. “No use, Mama. I’m lost.”
“No, you’re not, honey,” Rachel said, and I saw the fire in her eyes. She had it, always did. I knew what Marvin saw in her first time I met her, and right now I was seeing it again.
“Don’t talk that way, baby,” JoAnna said. “You’re not the first one to make a mistake. I’ve made a few.”
“Yeah, but I made more than a few in less time,” Gadget said.
That floated for a moment, then I said, “This business boils down to this: Marvin, you and your family need to pack up some things and hit the road.”
“You act like these guys are fucking CIA,” Marvin said. “They’re a bunch of goobers.”
“It’s not the original goobers I’m worried about,” I said. “It’s all them other goobers.”
“With me and Hap here, the rest of you gone,” Leonard said, “it makes for a smaller target. And we’re not an easy target.”
“I can vouch for that,” Marvin said. “I thought you two would be dead yea
“Gee, thanks,” Leonard said.
“Actually, that was a kind of a compliment,” Brett said.
“Oh,” Leonard said. “My bad.”
“But this is my mess,” Marvin said.
I nodded, said, “Now I’m really going to pour on the juice. You’re a cripple and you’ll just get in our way. We need you to whip someone’s ass with your cane again, we’ll call you up. But we’re past that. Maybe way past. Way I see it, Tanedrue may just let us out of the picture. He’s got nothing to gain. He’s not getting his drugs back, and I bet he can figure pretty quick we don’t have that kind of money to pay back what it was worth. So he could let us go.”
“That’s what I think,” Marvin said. “That’s what I always thought.”
“On the other hand,” I said, “he lets us go, then he can’t even tell his bosses that he avenged the loss, and I think he’s the kind of guy that thinks he’s some kind of player, wants to look good in front of his posse. Last time he tried that, he got his ass kicked. So he could feel vengeful. Power, control, being in charge, that’s all very important to these little sucks, and it’s even more important to the middlemen and the men at the top. The other thing”—and I looked at Gadget when I said this—“they may come for Gadget. Not because Tanedrue loves her—”
“He does, you know,” Gadget said. “He does.”
“Sure he does,” Leonard said. “That’s why he beats on your ass.”
“I get out of line,” Gadget said.
“Honey,” Brett said, “that is pure-dee ole bullshit. Unless you’re trying to kill him and he’s fighting back, you aren’t out of line enough to warrant any kind of physical beating. You think we’re in fucking Afghanistan. Pardon my French.”
Gadget put her head on the table. JoAnna put her hand on Gadget’s back and looked hard at Brett. Brett looked back equally hard. JoAnna averted her gaze. I could sympathize. When Brett put “that look” on you, you didn’t want to mess with her. In her eyes you could see the next world war.
JOE R. LANSDALE SERIES:
Other author's books:
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