Vanilla ride, p.7

Vanilla Ride, page 7


Vanilla Ride

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  “What Hap was saying,” Leonard said, “guy like this, he might come and try and get Gadget. He might even come to kill her.”

  Gadget lifted her head. “He wouldn’t. He loves me.”

  “There’s no way to argue with that,” I said. “She believes it and you can’t talk her out of it. Not until the drugs are out of her system. And even then, not easily.”

  “You don’t know nothin’,” Gadget said, jumping up from the table, running to the back of the house, disappearing into a bedroom, slamming the door.

  JoAnna looked at me, said, “No use being hard on her. It doesn’t help.”

  “She shouldn’t get off scot-free,” Marvin said. “Problem with this world is we’ve lost the idea of shame and guilt. We need a little of that. No one thinks they ever do bad anymore. They just do different.”

  “I’m sorry we’ve disrupted things this morning,” I said to Rachel. “I didn’t mean to scare you or your family, but this is how it is.”

  “I’m not so scared,” Rachel said. “I once fought a serial killer with a hammer. JoAnna was with me. We aren’t shrinking violets.”

  Marvin nodded. “She did. When I was on the job in Houston.”

  I had heard the story before, but I didn’t let on. Every now and then Marvin brought it up and told it over. About the Houston Hacker. It had been his biggest case as a big-city cop.

  “My granddaughter, my family,” Rachel said. “I got to do what’s right for them. I’ll tell you honestly, I don’t like you two, never have. And Brett, I just don’t like you on sight. You act like you’re better than everyone else.”

  “Well, duh.”

  “And you’re a smart-ass.”

  “That’s all right,” Brett said, looking prim and beautiful. “I’m not selling happiness, and when I go to bed at night I have my witty repartee to keep me company. And Hap. And since we’re expressing ourselves, you aren’t exactly at the top of my love list either.”

  They locked eyes for a moment, then Rachel looked at me and Leonard. “But I’ll say this about you two—you’re straight with things. You know how to do what you do. I don’t even want to know what it is you do, even if I have a pretty good idea. So me and JoAnna and Gadget, and yes, you, Marvin, we’re leaving here tomorrow.”

  Brett raised her hand. “Don’t forget me.”

  Rachel looked at Brett with those hard eyes of hers. Brett looked back. Neither broke gaze. “And yes,” Rachel said. “You too, Brett. We can hate each other politely.”

  “I ought to stay,” Marvin said.

  Rachel stuck her finger in Marvin’s face. “I’ve been through a lot of shit with you, baby, and I’ve held it together. I been through you mess-in’ with another woman. I’ve been through your cop days in the city and in LaBorde. I’ve dealt with your accident, your leg, and all manner of hell. I’ve set by your bedside watching them feed you through a tube, and I’ve fed you like a baby when you didn’t have the strength to lift a finger. You are going, or we’re going without you, and don’t look for us to come back if you don’t go.”

  Marvin nodded. “All right,” he said. “I’m going. We’ll pack some things tonight, go to the bank tomorrow morning for some money, then we’re gone.”


  Way we figured it, Leonard was going to keep working his security job, which had switched from days to nights. Brett was going to put in for her two weeks the next day, and since my job had played out, I wasn’t going to look for anything right away. Truth is, if it wasn’t for the money I’d just hang out and not work. I should be ashamed, but I’m not. I’m so lazy Leonard has to call me and remind me to work out, threaten me a little. I actually like the workouts soon as I start them, but it’s easy for me to get sidetracked and want to read a book or see a movie or eat a sandwich, or do the bump with Brett.

  I drove Brett to the hospital the next morning, very early while it was still dark, and they let her have the two weeks. She said it was an emergency, that she might be back early, before the two weeks were up, but right now her daughter was sick and she had to go check on her.

  They grumbled a bit, but they allowed her the time. Brett was a hell of a nurse.

  Brett had her suitcase in the pickup, ready to go. I started driving us through town, on my way to drop her off at Marvin’s place. It was a very still morning, no traffic except for a beige Cadillac that was going our way. The moon was still up, a silver scimitar in the sky, and we had the heater on low because it was chilly out, though not exactly cold.

  Brett was armed, had the little .38 automatic she sometimes wore strapped to the inside of her thigh. That was when she had on a dress. Today she had on jeans and a T-shirt and she had an ankle holster. I was armed too, with the gun that was registered to me and the one I had the conceal/carry papers on. A nine-mil automatic in a clip holster snapped to the back of my belt under my open windbreaker. I had a twelve-gauge pump shotgun in the backseat under a blanket, and of course, a pocketknife for whittling and a clear throat in case I had to resort to vulgar language.

  We didn’t go around armed normally, so for us the guns weren’t fashion accessories. I hated the damn things, but, alas, I ran with a rough crowd from time to time, and of consequence, so did Brett. Way things had been going lately, I thought it best we be prepared.

  She sat close to me that morning, like a teenager on a date. She kissed me on the cheek, and when she did, I felt wetness. She had tears.

  I turned and looked at her, said, “Come on, baby. It’ll be okay.”

  “I’m not scared,” she said, as I turned to look back at the road, check the mirror to make sure the Cadillac behind us wasn’t about to run up our asses. “I just don’t want to leave you to it by yourself.”

  “I have Leonard.”

  “I know. And I’m glad. But that’s not what I meant.”

  “I know what you meant.”

  “I could stay, Hap.”

  “I need you with them. Rachel might need an ass whippin’, and you’re just the gal to do it.”

  “She’s okay,” Brett said. “She’s just protecting her family, but you know what?”


  “There’s a part of me that would like to throw down with her, just to see how it would come out.”

  “I know how it would come out. You’d lose a bit of that beautiful red hair and she’d be in the hospital.”

  “You’re just saying that to make a girl feel sexy.”

  I laughed.

  The Cadillac passed us. I gave it a glance. Four guys were in it. No one from Tanedrue’s trailer was inside the car. Not even the dog. The car went on ahead, got about three car lengths in front of us. The driver was, as so many drivers are, on the cell phone. Who the hell do you call at this time of the morning? I thought

  We crossed Gibbon Street, and as we did, a shiny black crew cab pickup with a big sunroof and tires about the size of a small planet came burning out and swung in behind us. I glanced in my rearview mirror. I recognized the truck’s driver. Tanedrue. Beside him I could see the ball-kicked guy and in the backseat the guy who was mad about me tossing his dog, and beside him some red-faced guy I had never seen before. Between them was Gadget.

  “It’s them,” I said. “And Gadget’s with them.”

  Brett turned to look. “That bitch.”

  “I’m going to try and outrace them,” I said. “Call Leonard.”

  As Brett popped open her cell phone, I hit the gas and started around the Cadillac. The Caddy weaved in front of me.

  “Get off the phone, asshole,” I yelled at the Cadillac just like the driver could hear me.

  I heard Brett say, “Leonard, we got trouble. We’re on Main, just crossed Gibbon, about three blocks from our street. Yeah.”

  Brett clapped the phone shut. “He’s on his way.”

  “This goddamn Cadillac,” I said, and weaved the other direction. It weaved with me. I glanced in the rearview mirror. The red-faced guy in the truck had a cell phone to his ear.
I glanced at the Caddy. The driver was still on the phone.

  “They’re in cahoots,” I said.

  Brett was looking back, she said, “Oh hell.”

  I looked in the rearview. Red Face was lifting up through the sunroof with a shotgun. It looked as big as a howitzer to me.

  I tried to get around the Caddy. No luck. They had us between a patch of houses and trees, no side streets.

  I turned quick, bumped over a curb, went through a lawn, bashed a couple of lawn gnomes and a pink flamingo, which might be considered a public service, then bounced through a driveway and clipped the tail of a parked car just enough to knock it out of our way. I weaved between an oak and an elm and took out a yard swing, a birdbath, and a Vote-for-Some-Republican sign. I gave myself an extra two points for that.

  The Caddy and the truck ran along beside us on the street. Red Face’s shotgun banged and a back side window went out on my truck. Brett let out a yip like a surprised dog.

  “You hit?” I asked.

  “Just my pride.”

  I saw an alley between two houses up the way, took a sharp right, and saw it was a screwup immediately. There was a wooden fence at the end of it. I yelled to Brett to hang on and put my foot to the floor. The pickup jumped and I hit the fence and lumber went out in all directions and we roared on through and down a little hill. There was a clump of trees in front of us and a low area I knew was a creek, so I hung a hard left and took out another wooden fence and went through a backyard and made a cocker spaniel jump for cover. I took out a matching fence, whipped hard left through a side yard in time to see our pursuers whisk by on the street, make several car lengths ahead of us.

  I started back in the direction we had come, saw people in the yards now, out rubbernecking. I don’t know what possessed me, but I waved at a couple of them. In the rearview I saw the truck had turned and so had the Caddy. They were coming down on my ass pretty snappy-damn-quick. I had my foot all the way to the floor when I tried to make a turn, and that’s when I lost it. My truck skidded, fishtailed, then got itself together and looked like it was going to be all right. Another shot banged behind us, and this time the back glass of the pickup shattered. I caught some sting in the back of my neck. Brett yelled, “Goddamn it,” and flipped over the seat and got the twelve-gauge and brought it up and started pumping. She poked it out the busted window in the back, got off three rounds faster than a buck rabbit can fuck, and their truck spun to the right, went into a yard, right into a house with a sound like a cannon going off. Steam rose up from their hood.

  I checked the rearview, saw the Caddy was still behind us. I turned my head and saw the truck rammed up in the house, bricks in the yard. Red Face and Tanedrue were out of the truck, guns in hand. Red Face was moving quickly. Tanedrue was limping toward us, due to his gunshot, but he looked lively enough and dangerous enough to me.

  I said, “Put your seat belt back on, baby.”

  Brett climbed over the seat like a monkey, snapped the belt around her waist, clutched the shotgun like a life raft.

  I hit the brakes. The truck spun almost completely around. I gave it some gas and turned the wheel and we were heading right at the Caddy. I got the nine out from the small of my back and sent my driver’s window down with a touch of a button, stuck out my arm and fired left-handed. I starred the glass of the Caddy and it whipped to our right and passed us and swerved and hit the back end of my truck and made us spin like a Tilt-A-Whirl. Then we were rolling over and over. Next thing I knew, we were upside down, hanging by our seat belts. A curious weenie dog was looking in my open window, possibly hoping for blood.

  I unsnapped my seat belt and fell in a heap, found my nine on the roof of the truck, reached for it. I could hear Brett cussing like a longshoreman. “Goddamn it, sonsofagoddamndogshittin’bitches.”

  And then she was loose from her belt. She got hold of the shotgun as I crawled out ahead of her, my head hazy, my vision blurred. The damn weenie dog bit me. I slapped at him with the back of my hand, got on my feet and leaned back against the upside-down truck. The yard and the sky kept jumping around. The dog grabbed my pants leg and tugged and growled and I had to kick him loose.

  Brett came out on her hands and knees, dragging the shotgun after her.

  “Goddamn it,” she said. “Motherfuckin’cocksuckin’dicklickin’ball-suckin’sonsagoddamnshitsuckin’monkeylickin’sonsabitches.”

  Even I was a little embarrassed.


  My head cleared enough to see the Caddy had veered off and hit a tree. The ass end of the car was sticking out in the street leaking gasoline and some other fluids; tree bark floated in the liquid. I started walking that way limping. After a few steps I was walking straight, but my stomach was twisted and sour and my balls had tried to shrink up and hide and had almost succeeded.

  I could see that air bags had popped and the driver wasn’t moving. Same for the passenger in the front. The back door opened and a guy fell out with a gun in his hand. He crawled on the ground a bit, then stood up. I shot him in the head and he fell down in the pool of gas and a swirl of blood. The sunlight caught the blood and gas and the color they made was not something I could identify. When the shot went off the weenie dog took to his dog paws and tore a path around the back end of my overturned truck, across a lawn and out of view, went away from there so fast he damn near left a vapor trail.

  There was another guy moving in the back passenger seat of the Caddy. He opened the door and stepped out. I shot and missed. I grabbed at Brett, who was standing out in the street with the shotgun, her legs spread wide, cussing—“Shiteatin’assholelickin’”—and pulled her around to the side of the truck as a blast peppered the opposite side of it and a shot whistled by my ear like a rocket-propelled bee. Just as we got around to the other side, I heard a sound like someone scalding a cat to my right, glanced that way, saw a dark Chevy flash down the street like something out of Buck Rogers.

  It was Leonard.

  I peeked around the end of the truck and the guy at the Caddy had moved to the front of it so he could see us. He steadied his gun hand on the hood and fired, and the shot took out my upturned back tire. I opened up on him with three shots, but none of them hit him. I heard the shotgun pump beside me, and then I heard a blast and heard Brett say, “Fuck you.”

  I fired a shot at the Caddy and broke and ran for it just as the guy raised up for another shot. I fired and he ducked down behind the car. I jumped, planted a foot on the hood, nearly lost my balance, came down on top of him with both feet, knocking his gun flying and losing mine in the process.

  We came together like a couple of wild sheep, actually butted heads and knocked each other down. Across the street, moving out of the yard, taking position behind trees, I saw Tanedrue and his posse trying to cross over to us. I saw Gadget lying facedown in the yard beside the pickup, her hands over her head, crying loudly.

  I bit the guy I was fighting so hard I took part of his nose away. He let out a bellow and I leaped forward and poked a finger in one of his eyes. As he staggered back, I kicked and caught the inside of his kneecap and it made a pleasant sound like a drover cracking a whip. He fell with one hand on his face, the other clutching at his knee. I picked up my gun and walked over to him and shot him in the head.

  I started crossing the street. I had lost my brains. I was crazy. I saw Leonard. He was walking up the street, on my right. Tanedrue was firing at him, and so were the other three, and I knew Leonard was as good as dead.

  But he wasn’t. I heard his Colt .45 revolver bark and I saw the top of the ball-kicked guy’s head tear off and sail across the curb and roll down a ways and spin like a furry hubcap. I shot at Tanedrue and missed and hit the house behind him. He yelled and started firing at me with an automatic pistol, fast as he could. The bullets plucked at my hair and the sleeve of my shirt, and I shot him dead center of his chest. His right leg jumped back behind him and he crumpled back with an expression on his face like he’d just found a kidney ston
e in his oatmeal. He went to one knee, dropped his gun, said, “Don’t shoot.”

  I walked right up to him and shot him in the face; he’d dug in his shorts for the last time. Another bullet whizzed by me. I should have been dead ten times over. But now I was emboldened by luck and success, and that’s the kind of thinking that gets you killed. Leonard, still wearing his security guard uniform, walked up beside me. The two remaining gunmen, including Red Face, fled back to their truck and were trying to get inside of it, maybe start it up and drive out.

  My adrenaline rush fell off, and I let out with a deep breath. I felt light-headed. My knees were shaking. I heard Brett behind me.

  “Yeahbuddythat’srightyoubunchofpussyassmotherfuckersaren’tso hotnowareyoupigsuckin’goatfuckin’ …”

  The truck’s engine was going now, but the truck didn’t move. It was hung up good. Gadget didn’t move. She was still facedown with her hands over her head, crying. The two came out of the truck firing. I felt something tear at my neck. I fired and missed. Brett cut down with the shotgun. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a splash of red paint and then I saw Brett’s shot had torn Red Face almost in half. Leonard walked toward the other guy firing. It took a few shots bouncing off the truck and the brick house, but with bullets whizzing around his head, Leonard finally hit the shooter.

  The guy flipped backwards, turned completely over like he was doing a tumbling act. He was lying on his stomach. He raised his head. There was a sound coming from him like a busted manifold.

  “Dirtyfuckin’ratshiteatin’dickcheesesuckin’,” Brett said, deep into her French.

  “What she said,” Leonard said and fired, hitting the man on the ground in the mouth, making it the size of a manhole cover, knocking his head so hard on the neck it snapped sideways and teeth tumbled out on the grass.

  “Hey,” Leonard said, looking over at me, his eyes bright, his mouth in a kind of rictus grin. “How’s it hanging?”

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