by D.L. Glenn
Moses and Curio do a job in the rainy Florida Keys but have to await a special package.
|MOSES AND CURIO AND DER BOSWILLIG STAHL|
(THE MALEVOLENT STEEL)
Curio Phelonie blew away the curl of smoke from the muzzle of her .380 pistol and slid it into its holster. The smell of burnt gunpowder held its position around her head as she stepped over the crumpled body of a dead man and opened his refrigerator with a gloved hand.
“Clear.” She heard Moses outside. His voice was muffled by the entrance to the backyard.
The fridge was almost as she expected of a single man living in a beach house. There was an entire shelf devoted to cold cuts, a jug of milk, a pack of sliced cheese, mayo, and Rolo's. The rest of the fridge was devoted to beer.
Lowenbrau? Curio winced. Who stockpiles fucking Lowenbraus and caramel candy in their goddamned fridge?
The freezer was crammed with cook-and-serve dinners, high-end fare mostly. She picked up a jug of skim milk and checked the date. It was actually okay. The housekeeper must have put a few items the owner had asked for in it before they had arrived and gotten set up. The house had a clean and readied look to it.
That’s a start. She smiled. The door shelves did not look very inviting. Old condiments, a bottle of Jaagermeister and a tube of ready-to-bake biscuit dough filled up the door. She dared not look in the crispers. Evil had to be lurking there.
“I’ll bet there’s some goddamned fruit loops lying around here somewheres…”
Curio murmured as she opened a few cabinets. She kicked the fridge shut with a bare foot. The body was not bleeding too badly yet. She was careful to watch for a pool of blood she may step in. Her feet were freshly pedicured. Some poor bastard’s blood under a toenail was not in the tea leaves, if she could help it.
There was a box of Frosted Flakes in a cupboard. She found bowls. Amazingly, they were clean and stacked in another cupboard.
Moses had said before they went into action that he was pissed he missed breakfast. There was not much to do for a while, so why not grab a bowl and take a break?
He came into the kitchen and sat his pistol down on the kitchen table. He was still wearing his balaclava over his face and his black commando-style garb. Dressed as he was, Curio liked to think he was a cowboy shinobi gaijin.
He pulled the hood from his head and scratched an itchy spot on his temple.
“You search his pockets?”
He locked his fingers in front of him and stretched, breathing out slowly and glancing through a gap in the kitchen curtain at the house across the street. Watching the target house for four days and nights straight with little sleep under crappy conditions had taken a lot out of them both. Curio kept her watch by using a regimen of crystal meth to stay awake and Xanax to crash.
Though he enjoyed messing with his chemistry when not working, Moses rarely used anything narcotic to keep himself in the game. He just went about his business, rarely griping or idly remarking about how sleepy he was. Often, he would not eat for a whole day if on a stakeout. He was afraid of getting drowsy from eating and plain would not do it.
Curio loved that he read all the time and had a remarkable memory that retained what he read. A book of random facts he read back in his youth had yielded a tidbit about Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight. It took nearly a day in the air to cross the Atlantic in “The Spirit of Saint Louis.” That whole time aloft, Lucky Lindy never ate the sandwiches he had stowed aboard for fear he would get drowsy and nose over into the drink. Moses was a user of such facts.
“Of course I realized later,” He chuckled as he recalled that factoid to Curio, “not only would it have made him sleepy, there warn’t no shitter on the plane. Lucky Lindy may not have been so lucky if he had eaten a bean burrito from Esteban’s before he took off. Of course, I guess in an emergency he coulda' just let one slip out. The frogs wouldn’t have minded the smell one bit.”
“No baby,” Curio sat the bowls down on the table and then the milk and cereal. As he poured the dead man’s frosted corn flakes into the dead man’s own bowl, Curio rolled the body over and fumbled through the pockets on his Gucci jeans. There was a set of house keys, some chick’s number scribbled on a gum wrapper, and a diamond earring, rating at least a carat, made safe to travel in his pocket by a pencil eraser. She admired it for a moment and slipped it into a pocket.
“Nothing in them but a nice diamond. You don’t think he stashed the box back at the studio, do you?” She sat down next to Moses as he slid her a bowl in front of her and soaked the flakes down.
“Too many people in and out of there.” Moses spooned up a huge mouthful. “It’s here. Somewhere in all this shit.”
“Cliff must know it’s in here, then.”
“We’ll have to ask him. Dipshit laying over there dead may have talked if I woulda’ been on my toes. I’m getting’ too old for the stakeout bullshit. Next time, I’m just walking into wherever, like I used to and make it clear real quick that playtime is over. Christ, my fucking foot hurts today.”
Curio fixed herself a bowl.
“You couldn’t know he would try to go for a gun. Pussy cocksuckers like that usually don’t carry no gun. Especially down here. They carry some freaky ass hey man, don’t fuck with my vibe dude shit to put some bad karma hex on someone who fucks with them. Usually the worse thing they carry is shit weed and bunk acid.”
The cereal was good. Moses ate heartily.
“Yeah, but he ain’t from down here. He ain’t from nowhere but the South and down here you’re a goddamned fool to not think a man don’t got no working gun in his house. Especially with the kind of cash and expensive shit he keeps. Plus, he had to know stealing Grizzly’s shit wouldn’t fly too well.” Moses stared at the corpse while he chewed, shaking his head and sucking at his cheek. “Remember all this the next time we get in a hurry and rush something that should’ve taken longer. Even if it sucks to wait it out.”
“Well, baby…shit happens.” Curio shrugged.
Three hours earlier…
"He’s in there with someone.” Moses heard Curio whispering on the phone at the Key Bliss hotel, room 314. He was catching a few hours of sleep when the phone rang.
Before the third ring, he had a Winston fired up and his nuts were satisfactorily under his scratching fingernails. It was Florida and the days on the beach had managed to keep his gooch supplied with a few grains of sand despite the showering after his turn at watch.
“Just the two?”
“Yeah. I ain’t seen a sign of no one else in there all night. Shake a leg, Tex. Sun’s coming up and I want to be at the Fontainebleau by sunset tonight. That shithole we stayin’ in ain’t fit for a rat. You are taking me out drinkin’ and whorin’ and possibly topless dancing for making me sit out here in paradise and making me sleep in that dump and out here in this stormy ass bullshit.”
“It’s a dump that has a bed, a tub that runs a hot shower and Iranian owners. Perfect hostel for us hostiles, cheri.” He yawned. “I’m on my way.”
“Take a shower, you smelly ox. They ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
“You sure? How?”
“The fairy godmother told me!” Curio snapped. “They just got here and it’s still dark. Move your ass. I’m tired of this shit. The sand in my pussy is officially too much to bear. I want the fuck outta’ here, man! Fuck Florida! I’m sorry I got happy about coming down here.”
“Okay. Noted. What time is it?”
“It’s put on the black jammies and get your ass over here goddammit time!” She was wired tight on crystal, he could tell. Seeing their quarry must have been quite an upper. “I…want…the…fuck…outta’…here.”
“Move your ass. Ciao, sexy.” She hung up.
Moses rolled out of the bed and onto the floor on all fours. Curio drank the only packet of complimentary coffee before leaving for her shift.
Slowly, he pushed himself upright and staggered into the bathroom, shucking his drawers along the way. He stumbled into the shower and opened the cold valve full on. A cold-water blast immersed him and by the time he toweled off, the shivers had him wide-eyed and ready for action.
He dressed in a pair of beach-appropriate long shorts and a wife-beater t-shirt. Over that he dressed in a snug black camouflage t-shirt and a pair of black BDU army pants with a thick leather belt. In his left pocket, he stuffed his balaclava. In the right, a Crown Royal bag with four spare magazines for his .45 pistol sat inside.
Moses reached into his black duffel bag, pulled out his K-Bar knife, and cinched its sheath buckle to his right calf. He put on a pair of ankle-cut white cotton socks on his feet and slipped on his black jungle boots.
Checking the contents of his duffle bag, he satisfied himself that he had whatever he would need and zipped it up. Leaving it for last, he cleared his room of whatever possessions he or Curio may have over-looked. The room was clean. They had not in fact been in it together much since driving down from the peninsula. There would be together time to spare when the day was done.
First, there was business to which they could spare no detail.
He carried their two suitcases and his duffel bag to the car. Slowly, he rolled the white Neon around the corner to the checkout counter. The owner’s wife was struggling to stay awake behind the desk. Smiling at both her attention to business and her ability to just sit there all night and do her part for the family’s notion of the American Dream, he slid the keys to her and thanked them for their accommodations.
Such as they were, he muttered as he slid behind the wheel. Eighty-nine dollars a night for the sty they spent their nights in was a damned larceny.
Soon he pulled into the parking lot next to Sunrise Beach and parked the car. A few gazers were on the balconies of the nearby condos and hotels. Honeymooners, he reckoned. “Must be nice.” He sneered at their luck.
Curio had actually jumped for joy when Moses told her to pack for a week on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. She showered him with kisses of glee that ended with them on the bare floor of her cottage without their clothes. To her thinking, there would be a quick hit on some guy and then an escape to another key for a few days of sandy white beaches, oiled skin, and juicy rum concoctions with fruit garnishes and umbrellas. Sure, they had to go shoot a motherfucker or two, but they had done that in far less idyllic places than on an island in the tropics.
Moses of course only saw logistics. Risks. Escapes. Needs. Consequences. Associates. Cops. Friendly squats.
“Can we swim with some dolphins? I fucking love dolphins!” Curio chirped in her cottage before they left.
“Yeah, baby. I love dolphins, too. Maybe afterward.” He thought of the mission as she modeled swimsuits in front of him and tossed them aside when his reaction was anything other than unfettered ovation. She settled on bringing five of them.
There was then the drive to Florida to begin their job. They rented a Civic one-way from Louis Armstrong Airport to Tampa. At Tampa’s airport, they rented the Neon and rolled down to Miami.
Then came the rain.
Hours of showers from the moment they hit Ocala.
A relentless soaking rain that intensified into a deluge that white-knuckled the grey-haired snowbirds on the roads. It dropped the speed limit on I-75 to thirty-five, if they were lucky.
Florida is the Sunshine State but also has a way with lightning as well. They got a visual and audible venture into the gnashing teeth of subtropical nature as lightning struck near enough to raise the hairs on their arms, followed by the eruption of point-blank thunder that actually rocked the Neon at times.
Near Port Charlotte, rain.
They caught a nail in the front passenger tire. Luckily, there was a donut in the trunk, but as Moses was changing it out and cursing the latest deluge as traffic flew by him rain-blinded on I-75, a Florida trooper stopped behind them and kicked on the blues. He got out and supervised Moses as he got the final lugs tightened after the jack was lowered. Moses made small talk with the big black badass with the plastic-wrapped Smokey the Bear while Curio propped up on the hood and smiled at him behind her sunglasses and thoroughly soaked halter-topped cleavage.
In the rain.
“Y’all be safe and enjoy yourselves while you’re here,” The trooper shook hands with Moses. Moses pulled him within whisper range.
“Look at that delicious piece of woman right there. You think I ain’t having the best time of my old ass life with that? If you can find you one, I highly advise it.” The trooper smiled at that and waved them onward.
By the time they had stopped numerous times for Curio to pee, for Moses to buy Winstons, gas, and munchies, and finally arrived at Homestead, they were at their wits’ end with the state of Florida. Checking into a rebuilt Day’s Inn near Homestead Air Force Base, they crashed for a late night of mutual gratification. Rumbling thundershowers that awoke them at one in the morning.
At two in the morning, some jackass pulled the fire alarm in a room two floors down and around the side of the building. They ignored it as best they could, but when fire trucks came in blaring air horns and sirens and the hotels automated calling system began ringing the phone to tell them it was not a drill, the pair finally got the hint. The smell of smoke began wafting in through the doorjamb.
It turned out some idiots from Clemson were down in south Florida to party. At some point during the night, one of them was trying to get his head right and coughed into his weed pipe. The hot cherry erupted all across his bed. An ember eventually made hay and set the bed on fire. The room’s occupants tried to toss tiny cups of water at it but when the mattress caught up, the battle was over and the panic began.
Even a last-ditch dose of bong water had failed.
At three in the morning, in the pouring rain, Moses and Curio threw their two suitcases and the duffel bag back into the Neon and left. Finding it a stupid waste of time to get another hotel, they reclined in their seats in the parking lot of another hotel and rested their eyes until the sun urged them back to the land of the living by six.
Morning found them watching the gathering of fresh storm clouds of a tropical wave easing onshore from the west.
The rain bands travelled like train cars, one after another, from the south, following the counter-clockwise spin of a passing low-pressure system. They drove down to Sugarloaf Key in the deluge for six slow hours, trapped behind endless streams of nervous tourists who crawled at a snail’s pace in the maelstrom.
“It’s a damn good thing we are killing this son of a bitch. If we weren’t I’d be killing some sumbitch just for pure spite.”
Moses grumbled as he lugged up the two suitcases and the duffle bag over his shoulder up two flights of stairs to the new room. It was well that the breeze was helping, but the humidity sucking its way northward towards the center of the low coated their skin and made everything damp to the touch.
They set up in the room, aware of a damp smell. The carpets had not been replaced in a long while. The room was stifling. The air conditioner was turned off and the smell of mildew and cigarette smoke mixed with the hint of Pine Sol hit them full in the nostrils. Curio rushed to turn on the AC and was met by a wretched clatter that eventually yielded some semi-cool air.
“Christ Almighty, Moses. It stinks in here!” Curio surveyed the room helplessly. “You sure we need to stay in this fucking sty? I get the fuckin heebs just thinking about the shit on that mattress and that says a lot when I say that.”
Curio had once awakened sprawled out on a Bourbon Street side alley one morning after Jazz Fest next to a man pissing a puddle only a foot from her face. That was a mild night compared to some of the atrocities she witnessed in some of the roach motels her mother kept her in as a child.
“It’ll do. I like these Arab joints. They don’t see nothin,’ know nothin’ or no speakie much English if they are questioned. This place ain’t a city, Curio. We pop this guy and it spills out public before we are gone, they ain’t but one goddamned highway outta’ here and that ain’t the way I like it one goddamned bit. There ain’t that many places to hole up and it’s too damn far to get loose from. They’ll be lookin’ at the hotels. Everyone knows who belongs here and who’s just visiting.” He opened the duffel bag and started rummaging through it.
“We Charlie-Foxtrot this gig out here, we ain’t a-gonna’ make it out. Keep it in mind, baby.”
“Yes sir, Mister Marine Sir!” she saluted. He loved to hear himself sound all professional-like when he spoke to her. She whacked him on the ass. “Care to give the nasty mattress a dirty field test?”
“Let’s get a lay of the land first, baby. I don’t like it here no more than you do. It’s raining, it’s sticky, I got a motherfucker coming around here that needs killing. We’re stuck in this shithole. Better to get this thing done up nice and quick and get the hell back to the mainland.”
She pouted, sticking that delectable lower lip out at him and deliberately changing out of her halter-top and shorts.
“God, I’m wet all over from the humidity around here!”
She stood topless in her baby-blue thong panties. He never looked away from inside the duffel bag lying on the bed. He pulled out a four-power rifle scope and wiped it clean with a terrycloth rag.
Hard to get? That’s some bullshit, Moses Holliday…
“You think you could paint my toenails for me before we leave? I’m gonna’ take a shower and get some of this sweaty funk off of me before I go out in public.”
“Yeah, cheri. You go ahead. I’m gonna’ go look over these maps. Maybe run down to the front desk and get some of those tourist maps or a real estate map, if they got one. I gotta’ figure out where we should be in a cheap-ass Neon and where we shouldn’t.”
“That’s cool. That’s cool…”
She walked by him, dragging her fingers through his stubbly hair. Slowly, she leaned over his shoulder, making sure he could feel her breast pressing against his shoulders. Wrapping her arms around his chest and locking her fingers right at his navel, she nodded her cheek against his. “You got anything special in that bag this time that you ain’t ever brought before?”
“Not really. I got pretty much what I hope I need. I just need them maps. I’m thinking about finding a boat in case we get jumped and can’t risk the drive. I hate being out here on this damned island. It’s feels like Alcatraz to me. A boat may come in handy.”
Her hands slid up his abs and pulled into his chest just below his nipples. “You think we can go do some fishing if we wrap this thing up real quick and easy like?’
“No, baby. I’ma telling you, these islands are peace and quiet places. Sumbitches with money and a little fame get themselves all shot up, the locals will go ape shit. It’s a pure hit and git.”
Her lips now pushed themselves against his cheek, dragging them inexorably toward the hot ear. She could feel him resigning himself to it. Her lips felt the tightening of the jaw as he grit his teeth ever so slightly and bit his bottom lip slightly.
“Mo-ses.” Curio whispered his name slowly, drawing it into an echo. “I’m beginning to think I’m unappreciated around here already. You’re gonna be looking at all these little tarts in those g-strings around here. All tanned-up with their fake tits and wet little t-shirts. They’re making me jealous and thinkin' maybe I’m not so pretty to you as I am back around all dem skanky women with them piano-key teeth back in dreary old Houma. I’m a dime-a-dozen out here, ain’t I?”
He stifled a laugh quickly. “Is it that bad? That squeezebox going dry on you?” He turned his face to look back at her but found her right breast was the only thing he was now talking to.
“Achingly so, my old-ass Texas stud. This island’s been here a long time. Our boy Derek has been here thirty-five years. I think they can wait two minutes.”
He glared playfully back at her. Her hands were clawing lightly into his thighs. “Two minutes?”
“Well, baby,” she vaulted over his shoulders and the duffel bag and somehow managed to roll in mid-air and land on her back on the bed, head on the pillow, legs bent and lying in a V. “I’m adding time for me to take a shower for a minute and a half afterward.”
“Hell, sweetheart.” Moses stood up and unbuckled his belt. “You forgot fifteen seconds of foreplay, too.”
He lifted the duffel bag from the bed and sat it on the floor and there was hell to pay for her insult for a good twenty minutes atop the sheets and comforter.
Their shower together lasted a lot longer than a minute and a half afterward as well.
Derek Angeles’ quiet bungalow sat on Roland Street just a few thousand meters south of Ensendaldo Avenue. His back yard was the Florida Strait. The Bermuda grass lawn ended abruptly at the edge of eighty feet of white sand that half-disappeared at high tide. The front yard was well-manicured with stone animals and tropical flowers adorning it. A huge fountain- three cherubic mermaids pouring water pots over beaming carp- stood to the right of the footpath leading from the mailbox to the front door.
It was a fastidious yet slightly Bohemian décor. There were obligatory palm trees in every yard on Roland shading the houses. Orchids and hanging grape vines with tiny baby grapes just starting their season draped over latticework to framed the final six feet to the sand bricks that made up the porch.
The house itself was an old Cubano hacienda more than sixty years old. Large plate glass windows that slid horizontally surrounded the stone structure. Left open, they allowed the gulf breeze to pass through the entire house without cessation.
The home’s unique position on Roland made it a tough place to park and watch without being noticed.
“We sit anywhere around here for more than a few minutes and someone is gonna’ think we’re either lost or we’re thieves.” Moses scowled as he turned the Neon around five houses down from the target house. “Ain’t no cover around here on this side nowhere. It’s too open inside to hole up and wait in there, too. I can’t really use a boat to stake it out because it puts us on paper around here and this damn squall don’t ever seem to wanna’ move the hell on from here. Fucking hell.”
They rolled over and made a right on Straitside Calle. Following the lay of the shoreline as they went to get dinner and head back to the hotel, Moses tried to work out a plan. The sight of the empty beach gave him that plan.
The beaches were unpopulated due to the piss-poor weather. A few hardy surfers were taking advantage of the swells the tropical wave was ginning up. The occasional couple walked in the breeze holding onto an umbrella for dear life before they gave up and headed back into their room.
He pulled into a beachside parking lot, taking his bearings of the target house and their position on a map.
“You feel like sitting and looking pretty for a bit or you want to get your toes in the sand a while?” He reached for his shorts, sandals, floppy brimmed hat and a t-shirt in a plastic sack behind his seat. He stripped still sitting behind the steering wheel. A fresh squall blew in. The torrential rain splattered the windshield and hid his nudity. Curio sneered at him.
“Uh-uh. What? You going for a hike in this shit? I’m not feeling that kind of froggy, Moses Holliday. The fucking ducks have umbrellas out here. Sunshine State my fuckin’ ass.”
“Suit yourself. Keep the tunes going and stay dry. I’ll be back in a little while.” A couple dashed by the car, running full speed to avoid the large drops falling with enough heft to make it sting when they splashed against bare skin.
Moses jammed the hat on his head and slipped into the sandals. “Fuck, this sucks.”
He hot-boxed a Winston and left the rest of the pack in the console drawer. Curio rolled over and gave him a kiss and a pat on the back.
“Make Mama proud, soldier.”
He winked at her. “When did ever I need to say please?” He dove out of the car and was lost in the sheets of rain within seconds.
Curio pulled out a joint, cracked the window and pushed in a mix tape. Stephen Stills plucking out the opening bars to Suite: Judy Blue Eyes came through the speakers. She reclined and enjoyed.
Why don’t they have bands like Crosby, Stills and Nash anymore?
The question kept her occupied for at least thirty minutes.
Moses jogged without stopping down the length of Straitside Beach. He did not enjoy running but did it enough to keep his stamina high and his legs toned in case of needing them ricky-tick, as they used to say in the Corps a hundred years ago to him, it seemed.
Within ten minutes, the wet feet rubbing against the loose sandals began to wear a blister on the balls of both feet. After he stopped to cinch them tighter, Moses ran two miles down the beach, following the curvature of the shore from east to south. He counted and detailed in his mind each house or structure he passed. When the blister on his right foot made its potential for pain fully realized, he shucked the sandals.
He kept running, barefoot. Despite the rain and general misery of the climate, Moses was actually happy to be scouting by himself. It was a long time since he felt his old self. With her safely hidden in the car, he could move freely and stealthily. She was capable and getting better at being stealthy, but surreptitiously moving across terrain was still where he felt he shined better when alone.
There was a fine-looking seafood restaurant just around the sharpest turn southward for the beach. Its sun deck had a dozen tables with folded umbrellas waiting for sun and tourists. There were bodies milling about inside the windows, but no one but his dumb ass was interested in a stroll outside.
Passing it by, he managed to find a long discarded beer bottle cap with the same right foot. It incised a bloody and jagged circle around the growing water blister, a near perfect bulls-eye. Grimacing and hobbling until he got the pain licked in his head, he swore he would burn the restaurant to the ground for allowing glass bottles anywhere near the sand. It was a cardinal rule: cans only when drinking by the water.
It occurred to him as he passed the establishment, most of the roofs on the buildings were fairly new.
Fucking Andrew. His and Curio’s personal run-in with the major storm still left an uneasy impression on him when he dared to think about their night trapped in the throes of it. It was near a Category-five when it went through south Florida and the eastern Keys. Only a two when it struck near his home, it still left an impression on him.
Just past the restaurant, the same foot found a piece of sand dollar to jam in its arch. Now he was fuming. His feet needed to be solid in case a fast exit was needed. His feet were going to shit before he even figured out how to kill the man they were sent for.
Hobbling slightly as the sand worked its way into the cut, he loped as fast as he could down the sand. He counted fourteen houses and one condo full of moping coeds hanging off their balcony before he found Derek Angeles’ backyard. Pausing to hack up tobacco smoke as his lungs tried to shed themselves, he walked up to the edge of the sand and took a long gander at the target.
The backyard was brimming with planters full of fruit vines, baby palms and palmettos. Inside the privacy fence were long rows of the tallest azalea bushes Moses had ever seen. The beachside boundary was marked by a short white lattice fence and a stand of various shrubs and cacti. The lawn seemed to know exactly where it was supposed to end. He could not see any grass runners trying to spread beyond the invisible line of demarcation between his property and the stretch of beach he supposed Derek Angeles owned.
The house itself had an unroofed tiled patio that cut the yard by a third. Hanging pots sat atop the decorative trusses that arched over the pad, draping their botanical wonders across the view of the windowpanes. A huge hammock with a plush all-weather pillow seated neatly in the middle of it sat under the overhang of the clay tile roof. Moses turned around to see what the quarry would lay in that hammock and see. Far out in the bay, another small palm-choked island with a lone home standing on stilts in the center of it lay obscured by the rain. It was the kind of vacation home he could see the value of having.
Carefully, he walked up the sand and through the grass. Vaulting the fence, he watched for signs of anyone inside the hacienda. Crouching by a barrel-sized clay planter with a juvenile pineapple tree sprouting from it, he checked the backdoor. It was locked, of course. Derek had thought to place the jamb in place in the rail where the door could not be slid even if the lock was picked.
He studied the inside of the doorframe carefully. There it was. A magnetic alarm apparatus was attached to the door. Opening it would bring a load of police with very little to do with their time on the passive island.
Moses eased to a corner of the house and peeked around. It was open to the line of sight of the road and he could see the house directly across the road had an abundance of ground cover and low shrubs, but nothing to keep the neighbors in front from seeing the front entrance very clearly. A look from the other side yielded similar results. Retreating to the beach again, he hopped the fence and ran back a few houses down from the target. He found a leafy young palm at the edge of someone’s yard and jumped under it. Sitting Indian-style under the wide fronds, he let it rain and did some thinking.
The main problem was the low traffic at the target and its semi-private street. Ideally, he would park nearby and watch the house until Angeles showed up. Verifying he was there, they would move in under cover of night and hit him quietly. Pete Fontenot was trying to track Angeles down and get a time when he was definitely supposed to visit the island.
Derek was supposedly wrapping up some business in NYC. Afterward though, he could fly just as easily jet off to Paris or Memphis or unwind on the Sunset Strip as he could go down to the Keys. Pete’s informant was certain the man was intending to fly down to Florida. He was making calls to his housekeeper and telling her to get the place ready. The spy insisted he would not do that unless he was going.
It was enough for Grizzly Fontenot to send them to the island. Moses rubbed sand out of his cut foot and sighed.
Somewhere, Grizzly Fontenot was dry.
A week before…
“A little sunshine’ll do yo’ white ass some good, Tex. You look like Tom Sawyer’s goddamned fence with yo’ shirt off deez days.” He laughed at Moses as they smoked and drank coffee at Café Du Monde on Decatur Street in New Orleans. “Of course you got some sumbitches done spray-painted yo’ fence with graffiti.”
“You could use some tanning bed too, you one-legged dick.” Moses chided. “Tan fat looks better than white fat, you fuckin’ ole gumbo-gumbah.”
“I’m rich, Moses. We rich folks don’t need no tanning beds no mo’, man!.” Grizzly laughed at him. “We just need a shade of green that suits anyone’s notion of what sexy-enough might be.” He lit a cigar and tapped his foot as the ubiquitous jazz ensemble got a nice boogie going.
“Naw, Tex. You take that little cheri you been lickin’ like a little lollypop lately. You hit da beach, sit in da sand, take care of a little bidness, ride some jet skis, drink some good rum and get back here and do whatevah tis y’all do on dem downtimes.”
“I wait by the phone on the downtimes, Griz. With baited breath. I swear.” He smirked and dunked a beignet in the chicory coffee.
“That’s the saddest thing I ever hear, Mo. I gots me a cheri like dat? Man, I’m pullin’ da fuckin’ cord out dat wall evah time she come by to say bon soire.”
“She getting’ pretty good at handlin’ the biz. The girl had a hard heart startin’ out as a kid. But it made it easier to show her the ropes without having to season her to the nastier parts of the job. The girl still gets a wet panty rush doing it, man. Keeps trying to hump my leg when she needs to be thinking how the hell do we get loose-a this and live to fight another day. She a-learning, though. You definitely gave us enough practice lately.”
“Mind she don’t cramp yo’ style, now, Mo. I love you like a brother and you know dis. And cuz I do, I still worry ‘bout you taking such a shine to her. Dem women, dey bring a world of hurt a man’s way when he start caring about how and what dey think.”
“She likes fucking me and handling business. That’s about all she thinks about. Maybe getting’ loaded and fucking me is a better way of putting it.”
“That’ll do for now. But, and it’s a big but. She a woman and a woman is a woman always. You know dey mind. Always dem what ifs. Now dat’s good for da business,” he took a draw of the cigar and blew some smoke rings. “Cuz’ dem what-ifs are da thing dat get you in trouble if you don’t give dem some thought. But her what-ifs are filtered through a woman’s mind and I ain’t a-seen too many dat could look past dey own mind forevah.”
An older single woman was watching them talk from behind a Times Picayune. Though Moses was the better looking of the two, her eyes were on Grizzly’s thick gold necklace with a solid gold Marine Corps emblem hanging from it. The thick Masonic ring and dapper suit caught her eye as well. Moses noticed her looking Grizzly over.
Grizzly noticed as well. He blew a series of smoke rings and stared directly at her. She smiled back. He imitated sensually-slow fingering of the rings in mid-air and her smile dissipated. Turning to face the street, her cup of coffee and page B-3 suddenly captured all of her attention.
“A woman like her done gonna start wantin’ more than a man in our position is eager to give her after a while, see? Dey don’t know dat, most of ‘em. So dem cheris, dey thinkin’ dey give us somethin’ dey thinks bettah than what we can get somewheres else. For a lot of beaus, dat shit works. All dem fellers do is try to move up a chain of command at dey job and make a name for demsefs. Dey try to get rich to justify reapin’ what dey lady is sowin’ on dey ass evah night. You and me, we in a little diffurnt boat, Tex. We cain’t be worried about living up to some girl notion of what kinda’ pie she get to have some a-yo slice of.”
“I ain’t that limp-wristed. You know that, I hope. She wants what I have.”
Grizzly smiled at the lady hidden behind her newspaper. “You take that one. She see dis gold,” he tapped the anchor emblem, “she see dem shoes I got. Dey Bruno Magli, by da way. In case you wondering.”
“I wasn’t wondering. But now that you said it, that are very nice.” Moses pointed at them. “Bet I can tell you where you got dem shoes.”
“I bet you can, too.”
It was the lifeblood of many young black kids to wager tourists a five-spot that they could tell them where they got their shoes…On your feet!
“Yeah, yeah. They just shoes to most every workin’ man. But her? She notices. She probably got a little class, to look at her. She hits dem uptown stores. She probably had a good ole boy set her up nice fo’ her. Dey ain’t no ring on her but she pretty enough to done been married by now, raht?
“I bet she got one of dem baby Beamer somewheres ‘round nyah.” He pointed the cigar at Moses and winked. “But it’s always dem what-ifs for dem women, Tex.” He slurped down some chicory.
“Dat one der, she older now. I bet you cash money she done split up from some poor old boy dat done been beat down by her bullshit fo’ twenty years because a long time ago he started thinkin’ about her what-ifs. Probably cuz’ dat’s done been all she gave him da time to think about in between fucks and her sincere promises to do some mo’ fuckin’ later. But dat woman, she a-fuck him until her what-ifs were in order and den figured she drop a baby and make him think he got nowhere to go lest he raise a bad kid and his family and da church go to talkin’ bad ‘bout him. It’s a bait and switch, ole boy. Some women do it, some don’t. But unfortunately, all us men are too damn dumb to tell dey peckahs, ‘no son, rent! Don’t buy.’” He chuckled as he told his own crotch that. “You rent, you ain’t gotta’ worry about whether the warranty covers what’s broke later. You rent, you can always get another one when da lease is up.”
“No wonder you ain’t married.” Moses shook his head and chuckled. “Such lofty notions of relationships and all.”
“Curio ain’t into those kinda’ what-ifs, Griz. She’s into me and the only what-if she ever discussed with me…other than what if we pick up that hot chick and go fuck her…is what if shit goes real bad…where should I put the gun on me to make it painless if it comes down to it?”
“Boy, yo’ pillow must really be a piece of work to lay on some nights, Moses Holliday.”
“Yeah, but man oh man, Griz. I hate to think what if she wasn’t there to share a pillow with me.”
“Hook, line and sinker. You poor bastard.” He imitated a lasso and threw it over his friend. “I thought a Texas man was supposed to know bettah den to get hissef caught in a noose.
Moses imitated his own lasso from his crotch and threw it at the lady’s newspaper. “Dat’s how we catch ‘em back there, podnah.”
They laughed and drank more coffee.
“Dis job, by da way. Make it quick and easy, Moses. He stole something I prize and dat shit ain’t acceptable to me. Remember dat and get back here safe.” They parted ways…Grizzly to head to his dry office in Algiers, Moses to pack for a week or two in sunny Florida.
He sat for a long while under the palm, staring at the ocean. His mind played out all the ways to get in and get out quickly and quietly. None of them were very good. The biggest problem was the lack of knowing when- the if was supposedly taken care of- Derek Angeles was arriving to ostensibly meet his maker. Nothing but the sea to his back and the eyes of lazy people with nothing to do but gaze out of their windows at the soaking scenery in the front meant he could not watch the house that easily.
Or does it?
Moses dug his hands in the wet sand, scooping out a wide hole. He slapped his hands around the inside. It packed easily. Looking around the yard behind him, Moses dug at the roots and sand near the sand-grass boundary.
In his youth, Moses Holliday was in a Marine unit known as Lurps. The unit would move in small groups and hide near enemy camps, watching them until they had whatever data they wanted. They would often use a sniper team to eliminate a high value target, or back away from their targets when they found them and radio for and air or artillery strike. The enemy was very skilled at using tunnels and spider holes to ambush the friendly forces. Many times the NVA would use them to watch the American camps. Those hard-dick Vietnamese would have to dig through millions of years of jungle roots and hard karst soil to get a fighting position dug.
Here, Moses noted, it was just loose sand that had been rained on and easily shoveled.
We’re goin’ VC! I dig a spider hole, we sit in shifts. Watch and wait. Then call in the strike. Easy money.
Curio had had it easy, he reckoned. The hits he had brought her with him on where just clean, simplistic knock-knock-smile-bang-you’re-dead-asshole jobs. She had not bumped into too many problems per se. A few bad ones taught her some valuable lessons about lurking and stealth, but nothing had really prepared her for a boring siege, though.
She had never sat in some man’s house for a month. Moses once spent five weeks at a target house.
Never flipping on a light once. ‘Showering’ with wet wipes and alcohol bottles. Slipping out for food runs in the middle of the night by foot and hoping the mark did not pull up while you were gone and now he knows you’ve been there. Poof, he’s gone like the wind because you were at an all-night Wal-Mart buying Ramen noodles to cook on a camp stove so the power company didn’t ask the guy why he told them he was gonna’ be gone yet the power kept being used at different times of the day. Weeks of laying low, and one growlin’ belly means now it’s square one. The boss is bitching about how the guy needed to go away a month ago, Moses, and now he’s on the run and that’s fucking unacceptable, there, Tex. The boss is catchin’ shit because the guy is still breathin’ a long time past his shelf life.
Hell, the girl has never had to pull a blade and stab for her life because some wild-eyed freak managed to kick a gun out of her hand before she could even get the hammer to fall. She ain’t had to open up a gut of some dead bastard because he swallowed a key wrapped in a rubber and thought he could get loose of me and go unlock a box somewhere, far from Grizzly Fontenot. Open him up, cut a few bands of fat holding the mess in place, nick the stomach open careful as you can but then the blade punches in and it’s fucking gross in an instant. Being paid to find the rubber with a key in it just sitting there in the middle of a fine mess of stomach juice and a Monte Cristo he had eaten about two hours before. Ain’t life grand sometimes?
Time for my little beauty to learn. By the time you get my age and been doing it awhile, something that Grizzly once told me after a few beers makes more sense.
“Moses, old boy. You know how dey says, it ain’t da age, it’s da mileage? I done figured out…it ain’t da age, it ain’t da mileage, it’s dem durn stops dat make a man get old.”
Moses stood up and brushed off the wet sand from his butt. There was still not a soul around and the rain still looked ready to keep falling forever.
A regular Texas Flood…eh, Stevie? He mentally cursed God for taking Stevie Ray so young.
Stretching his back, he took a long look at the house and started loping on his sore feet back to the waiting Neon.
“You want us to take turns sitting in a hole in the sand for God knows how long waiting on that fucker to come home and flip on his lights and see if Letterman is on?” Curio sucked at the joint hanging out of the corner of her mouth as she rested on her knees on the motel bed, rubbing Moses’ hair and shoulders dry with a towel. “Man oh man, that degree of dedication ain’t called for. You can’t just cut the alarm and us wait in there? I thought you assassin types were supposed to be good at that shit.”
“You live in a man’s house, you leave traces, baby. Fingerprints, hair…” he reached around and stroked her inner thigh, chuckling at her ticklish twitches. “Bodily fluids. Neighbors might see movement in the house when there ain’t supposed to be. Derek has parties and shit, sure. But they know he is gone most of the time and he has a lot of nice shit in there. And maybe he has some neighbor he’s buddies with? Who knows if that buddy is grabbing two cold ones and droppin’ by to say, ‘hey old man, it’s about time you come back this way!’ and there we are looking shady. That could pose a problem, don’t you think?”
“But shit, Moses. Living in a hole on the beach? Just watching a fucking window? You do that shit a lot in your life?”
“No, most times no. But if we gotta’, we gotta’…and we gotta.’ There’s too many eyes and not enough island to hide in and not enough road to get the fuck outta’ here if we have to get done in a hurry. It is what it is.”
Her strokes with the towel ceased and she put the joint to his lips. He took a draw and handed it back.
“Stand up.” She shook her head. He did and she finished toweling him off. Naked, he walked over to the couch and got a first aid kit from his duffel bag. Curio sat on the edge of the bed, smoking and watching him as he folded his leg in his lap and scowled at his foot. His right foot was a mess. It was obvious it had to hurt.
“You gonna’ be okay with that?” He asked her as he scraped some remaining sand from the burst water blister with his pocketknife.
“I guess so. How do you just sit still in a hole? That’s so actually hard to do to me.”
“If there are people around who want to kill me, it’s pretty easy. That’s how we used to do it in the war. So now, I just pretend there still are them kinda folks wantin’ to kill me all around me at all times. And you should know there still are. Any sumbitch that questions you and drops a dime on you for hiding in a hole in the sand behind someone’s property will put a needle in your arm for you. You keep that in mind little Miss Phelonie.” He rubbed some salve in the wounds and fished out a few packs of moleskins to cover the blister. He frowned constantly as he stared at his wound.
“Let’s say you decide to jump out and go for a dip or think hey…why not have a beer at that bar back there? That asshole will come along whether I take ten for a Corona or not. You head up and eat you a sub or a shrimp cocktail. Your odds of being noticed go up exponentially. And baby, you are gonna’ be noticed. You are fifteen shades of sexy. You are fucking hard not to notice.” He looked at her, as she lay sprawled out across the bed.
“Thank you, baby. I do try, you know.”
“It works for you most of the time but it sucks because you cain’t shut it off when it ain’t needed. The eyes of people wide open and upon us is a very bad thing for us, especially out here like that. We are gonna’ have to be discreet and change out at night or when there is no one around, like in a rainstorm. Warn’t a soul out in it today. Rain sucks, but at least it hides us.”
“Fuckin-a, Moses. Is that package worth all this?”
“It is to Grizzly and Grizzly is paying the tab.”
“I think I would have said fuck that. You ever say fuck you to him or you just yessah massah every time when he calls?” She exhaled and offered the remaining joint to him. He took a few drags and roached it. Then he swallowed the roach.
He was tickled at her persistent insolence even after all they had done for the Fontenots.
“The question is whether he could ever say ‘fuck him’ about me to someone else. Grizzly and I, and Pete too, we go way back. We fought a war together, side by side. We trusted each other with our lives and that continues to this day. But he is Bertrand Fontenot from Cajun country and I am Moses Holliday from the dry good-for-nothing desert out in west Texas. It could happen someday-someway. We are friends and blood brothers though. If he ever decided to say, ‘fuck him’ about me to someone else, I would have had to fuck it up pretty bad somewheres.”
“Yeah, but did you ever say fuck you to him? And meant it?”
He beckoned her to come to him as he sat the first aid kit back in the duffel bag. She walked over to him, clad in her tight t-shirt with a Strawberry Shortcake decal on it and her pink cotton comfy-shorts. He had painted her toenails for her before even taking a shower and tending to his own feet.
She curled up in his lap and held him around the neck.
“I told him fuck you every time he said I should dump dat wild lil cheri…wit’ dat hot squeezebox of hers. Before she fucks me stupid and gets me killed, I might add.”
“I won’t do that to you, Moses. I love you. You know that.” She laid her head on his chest, hearing the steady thoroughness of his heartbeats. The heart that would beat harder only in her presence and she knew it. The heart that was cold to the outside world’s touch but smelted after years of merging with her own.
“Loving someone ain’t enough to keep from a-gettin’ them killed, Curio. When bullets fly, sometimes shit just happens.”
The mission began the next morning.
Moses made ready while Curio walked under an umbrella and hit some of the boutiques and beach shops across the Key. At a hardware store, he picked up some noosed half-inch steel cable, a thick padlock, a sheet of half-inch plywood which he had cut into two six-foot sections, and some five-foot lengths of two-inch PVC pipe. They grabbed some take-out shrimp scampi at a seafood house and went back to the hotel.
“So, you gonna’ get me a couch and a toilet to put in the hole, right?” Curio jabbed a plastic fork into the linguine and gave it a twirl as Moses fitted joints onto the ends of the pipe.
“I’m afraid a couch…” Moses snapped a few sections of pipe together, “…won’t fit. And as for a shitter, you’re in a giant cat box, me lady. Act appropriately.” He made a square frame box out of the plastic pipe. Curio pondered the dimensions of the box and cocked her head.
“Baby? Ain’t you a little tall to be crouched in that for God knows how long?”
“I’m planning on lying back most of the time. We’ll take some blankets in there. I’ll try to get it leveled out as best I can tonight when I go out and dig.”
“You don’t want me to come dig with you?”
“No. I want you to bail my ass out if they catch me digging. Trespassing would get me in the bracelets a while. They run my name and see I got a record they might get antsy and hang on to me. You’ll have to come in and play dumb girlfriend who’s gonna’ be stranded a long way from stupid ole Thibodaux if I can’t get you back home…” he hung on the frame to test the strenghth, “and so and so forth. Maybe they take pity, let me bond out and get loose. It’ll blow our chances here, though. We’ll have to get gone. And that will blow.”
“I kinda’ wish we could get outta’ here. All this rain and subterfuge ain’t to my liking. I’m dainty, you know.” She grinned mischievously.
He ignored her frivolity. “Let’s talk about elements. Nature, baby. Wind, water, rain. Sun, heat, animals. Curio, listen to me and listen real goddamned good. You gonna’ be out there, day or night or both. It’s supposed to rain hard all day and then get stormy and rain harder. You’ll have to be still if anyone comes around. People might have dogs. Dogs that hear you breathing and they’ll a-come by and say howdy. Dogs can hear you scratch your ass because it’s sandy and they’ll come say howdy. And then, their owners might come by and say howdy. There ain’t no good reason for there to be a big pit dug and hidden under a chair with sod on it, with some old con from Texas or some hot vixen from Elysian Fields sprawled out in it eating jerky and taking a shit in there.”
“I ain’t shitting in there! Fucking gross! And you ain’t either, Moses Holliday!” She was serious.
“I suggest you not eat too much then. You can’t just up and get out of the hole every time you need to pee, Curio. You have to go, you dig a hole in the wall and go in it and cover it up with the shovel. When we relieve each other, we gotta’ make sure the OP is hid real good. When we are in there, there ain’t no leaving. You just sit and you just watch. It’s gonna’ suck ass but it is what it is and how it is. If we knew when this bastard was coming, we could do it different. But we don’t, so we gotta’ find a way to watch.”
“I ain’t chickenshit about it, Moses. But damn. Why don’t we just drive by and look for his car every so often?”
“We ain’t the fucking CIA. We don’t’ have twenty sumbitches from all ethnic groups and a hundred cars to switch out.” He started disconnecting the pipes. “We got one car and there’s only one rental place here. A white Neon with either a hot chick driving it or a mangy old man will eventually get noticed. You have noticed they have traffic cameras here, right?”
She looked surprised. “Huh?”
“Cameras? I’ve seen at least seven just doing the little riding around we did. One of them is set up to catch people running the red light at the corner of Ensendaldo and Biscayne. It sees anyone waiting to turn off on Roland. Evidence, dear. It’s all evidence. This guy ain’t your typical piece of shit that fucked Grizzly over on some stepped-on coke out in Metairie. The man will have his own little section in the obituaries in Spin and Rolling Stone. The press is gonna wanna know all about it out here. He’s a somebody. At least he used to be. He gets himself shot, they’re gonna’ look into who and what killed him. I just hope Grizzly has his end covered. I can cover us and him here but it takes a lot to do it. And a lot…” He duct-taped the sections of pipe together into a bundle and sat down beside her. “…this time, means sitting and a-watching and waiting and then killing a man, maybe two, very quietly and quickly, getting what we came for, and leaving as fast as possible. You with me?”
“I’m here, ain’t I, baby?”
“Sometimes I wonder what you thought you were signing up for. But one thing it means is being very uncomfortable and scared shitless about fucking up somehow and gettin' caught. Or shot to death after a shootout with some cops manning a roadblock. It means shooting an innocent old woman in the forehead because you were hauling ass away from the scene of a job and lo and behold, there she is staring you up and down, getting a damn good look at you and about to scream bloody murder. It means clipping off a dead chick’s fingers.”
Curio shuddered at that. Suddenly her shrimp were not as tasty.
“It’s a shit life a lot of the time.” Moses shrugged.
“That it is.” Curio Phelonie rolled her eyes. “But it also means I get to fuck my kickass cowboy boyfriend a lot and get paid a lotta’ money. Plus I get to eat some fucking awesome shrimp scampi with the coolest motherfucker I ever fell in love with in the beautiful tropics sometimes.”
“Well,” he reached over and grabbed his plate. “There’s a glass half-full chick for ya’.”
Just before midnight, Curio screwed a silencer on Cletus and took aim at the main substation that routed electricity from the lines that reached to the mainland. At midnight, she sighted in and fired a single round into the oil reservoir on one of the transformers.
“Good shot.” Moses stubbed a Winston. “Let’s roll before that thing trips.” Curio drove them to the parking area.
“Sit tight.” He checked their walkie-talkies. “Time to get wet awhile.”
“Enjoy that.” She winked at him. They kissed and he sighed, looking at the unending sheets of rain splattering the windshield.
He shook his head and jumped out of the car. She handed him his pack. Suddenly, the island went black. “See you soon.”
Clad in black BDU’s, Moses jogged with a backpack lashed to his back. He was concealed completely by the maelstrom, only the flashes of constant lightning gave him a presence in the world. When he pulled the black balaclava over his stern face, Moses looked every bit the clandestine infiltrator he fancied himself.
Reaching the Angeles house, he dropped the bag in place. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he jogged back to the car and retrieved the pipe sections. He had rigged a sling for the pipe from duct tape. Another jog to the house and back.
He needed two trips to get the plywood sheets moved. Tired, he dragged them behind him most of the way, confident the pouring rain would repack the sand. Looking at his watch, he congratulated himself. Planning on three hours due to the potential of people being around, it had only taken two hours and thirty-five minutes.
He set about digging in the wet sand. He remembered to bring his heavy work gloves and a spare set for when they got too wet and began to rub. With a folding shovel digging in the dark sand, it brought him back to Vietnam. He thought of the hours he and the men endlessly clawed at the red clay to make either a fighting or defensive position or to fill sand bags to line a hole or build a wall somewhere. Moses reverted to that young man, steadfast and enjoined to the task. The howl of a stout southeast gale whipped his clothes as he worked. Lightning occasionally lit up the beach completely. The lightning resembled the parachute flares they would fire into the air to light up the world…usually when the world around them was about to go to shit.
By five, he had the pipe frame seated in the pit and the plywood lay across it. He arranged a blanket over the plywood roof and sanded it over as best he could. Unsatisfied with the melding of the hole with the surrounding beach, he rushed into Angeles’ backyard and dragged a heavy iron chair from the patio to the hole. With the long, low-legged door straddling the hole, he could make a small berm around the observation slit. He piled leftover sand under the chair and mounded it around the slit, trying to look as natural as it could.
At five-fifteen, Curio came jogging up. She was in her jogging shoes and black bikini.
“We good?” she whispered as the rain kept pouring.
Moses moved the chair and raised one of the corners of the plywood. After tossing the compression sack into the hole, he helped her down into it and closed it up.
“You’ll have to find a way to get comfortable. I can’t tell you how to do that.” He slid the shovel and the food to her. She had the sense to carry a fanny pack with two water bottles and a pouch with a walkman radio and some spearmint gum in it.
“I’m not gonna’ remind you about popping gum or blaring Prince too loud.” He began camouflaging the pit.
The sun was rising, graying the comforting darkness. Rain was in the forecast for at least another two days. Heavy flooding in southeast Florida was being reported as the tropical wave decided it liked Fort Lauderdale and sat on it, spinning the rain bands around and around like a soggy pinwheel across the southern half of Florida.
“I’ll be okay, baby. Trust me, I can do this.”
“I’ll come back in two hours and check on you and the beach. You get the weather report before you came?” He eased the chair to its place and bent the umbrella toward the water.
The tide was nearly at its apex, he noticed on his watch. Good. Far enough from the high tide mark unless the storm gets bad and moves around this way.
“More rain, winds strong from the southwest later.”
“Good news then. You got a good view?”
“Cut down that bush in there and we’re golden.”
He pulled his K-bar from his calf sheath and jumped the fence. He broke the rosemary bush over with his foot and whacked it with the knife until it was severed. Tossing it under the thick azalea wall, he returned to her.
“That’s good, baby. Get out of here. Am I hid?”
“You’re a figment of my imagination, baby. Now you just sit and watch.”
“I forgot my watch.”
“Probably a good thing.”
“That ain’t funny.”
“Them phones have a clock and they make noise, dear. Make sure they are on silent.”
He unzipped the bottom legs of his pants and the long sleeves of his shirt and crammed them and the balaclava into the cargo pockets. Snapping a small carabiner to the sandals, he cursed his sore feet again as he clipped the shoes to his pack.
“Love you, sweetheart,” he spoke to the slit sitting hidden in the sand. Curio could be heard rustling around and thumping a bit with the shovel.
“Bring me coffee when you get back.” She mumbled.
“No problem. Back before you know it.” He left her and jogged back to the Neon.
And so it went…for three days. The rain stayed steady until the third day. Curio had problems staying awake when the shift over-lapped into the night on the second day and Moses granted her permission to take a dose of crystal with her to keep her on edge.
The beach stayed quiet. Only once did a few hardy beachcombers dare to walk around a while during a lull in the showers. They never came close enough to the hole to be a threat.
Eat, sleep, and hide dominated their days. By the end of the second day in the hole, Curio was getting restless. She found herself so quashed physically and mentally when she was relieved, it was all she could do to make a clean drive to the hotel, take a shower, take a Xanax and sleep until the alarm went off when it was her time again.
Moses passed his time thinking and watching. His advance in years helped him to sit quietly and reflect in the quiet of the hole. A man with hands that had stirred a bloody bucket for twenty-plus years had much to think about. He tried to think about Curio and that worked a lot of the time. He enjoyed thinking about her. So much had happened since he met her. To her have so thoroughly immersed in his world no longer gave him the sheer terror it once had. She was all-in, lethal, and lovely. And she was his to love and to have.
When she called him with the good news at two in the morning, he was ready to get done and get gone. Driving over to the restaurant’s parking lot, he ran through the mental checklists repeatedly- the exits, the kill, the prize, the neighbors, the police numbers, the weather, the noise, the pit they would leave behind for the head-scratching police and their forensic teams. Every facet of killing a man in the night needing poring over and he did it for three days.
Moses wondered if Curio was in her hole doing the same.
“Baby. You good?” He crept up closely to the hidden pit in the dark. The clouds had relented to the moon not the sun. It was a half moon and very bright that evening. He worried about silhouettes and crouched down as low as he could behind the cover of the cluttered back yard and the low picket fence.
“Get me outta’ here! I done killed three fuckin’ crabs in here tonight.” He could see them scurrying along the sand in the moonlight. Chuckling, Moses pulled back the chair and the plywood and Curio hopped out.
“The little bastards! They fell on my head twice. Ewww!” She shuddered and brushed herself off. “I liked ta’ pissed on myself.”
“Help me hide the pit. Last time. Ain’t you happy?
“Thank you, Jesus!” She exclaimed in a hushed voice. “Next time, we mail a motherfucker a bomb and blame the Unabomber, okay?”
“Maybe. A bomb makes life easier sometimes. Gets attention though.” They got the hole covered and the sand scattered.
Zipping up the items the bag held, he kissed her on the mouth and took her hands in his.
“You good? Not too fucked up, right?”
“Naw, that shit is bunk. I think it got wet or something. I’m good.”
“Curio, we’re going in fast.”
Suddenly they could hear a rattle and rustling coming from the rear of the target house. Immediately they ducked and watched. A man opened the rear sliding glass door and stumbled out into the patio. Moses could not make him out.
Another man’s voice spoke from inside the house but his words could not be made out. The man outside struck a lighter to a cigarette. Before Curio could say a word, Moses pointed at the door and then at her. She nodded and he was off, surprisingly fleet of foot, a dark shape in an instant rushing through the collection of flowerpots and statues.
Curio leapt to her feet and cocked his pistol as she made her dash straight for the open door. Moses broke to the left and was on the man before he could exhale his first drag. His scream of shock stifled abruptly. He was collapsing, with Moses helping the body wither to the ground, as Curio hurdled through the door.
“What the fuck!” Derek Angeles stood in tennis clothes in his kitchen. Seeing a masked woman with a silenced gun in her hand took him by surprise.
“Hands up! On your knees!”
She was young, he could tell. She was small and held a small pistol aimed at his face, advancing steadily. The woman was panting slightly. Angeles assumed she was winded from exertion.
Curio was in fact, eager for the release denied her after three days in and out of a boring pit. Inside she throbbed with the readiness to explode upon him.
“Where’s Arnie?” The man looked over her shoulder toward the rear door. “What the fuck is this? You robbing me, young lady?”
She took his appearance in and knew he was Derek Angeles.
Derek Angeles was a record producer whose talents at producing late Fifties doo-wop hits ran headlong into the new world of the late Sixties. For a man whose ideals of music leaned toward the doo-wap quartets and stirring renditions of gospel hymns, the attempt to move into the modern era of divas and soloists was futile as disco and New Wave washed away those vestiges of his career. He made a ton of money with a few of the larger labels in his time and he had been frugal. He now moved around trying to find the next big thing and return to the good life of the Grammy-winning hits he had once known.
He met Grizzly Fontenot at the Bacchus Ball during Mardi Gras in 1987. The two of them knew some of the same folks around New Orleans and were casual friends. Derek was not into dope nor was he in need of money so Grizzly did not make his acquaintance easily.
He loved the ladies, though. Soon enough, he sought out Grizzly’s help in getting nice young women to stop by his Chantilly home for an evening of staying in now and again. With his thick grey beard, Derek looked a lot like Parnell Roberts from Trapper John, MD. The dumber girls fell for the ruse when he said he was him, assuming they were old enough to remember Trapper John. Angeles liked his women sassy and black most times. Most sistahs in Grizzly Fontenot’s stable could give a fuck about a Trapper John. They cared about the payday.
Derek also loved guns.
Grizzly Fontenot owned quite a few guns. Some were for protection but most were collectibles. He had one of the few remaining working of the original Gatling guns, made in 1872. He claimed he had Jefferson Davis’ personal .32 caliber snub-nosed percussion pistol that the Confederate President kept on his person to use on himself if the Yankees should ever try to capture him.
One of his favorites was a .41 Navy revolver. A young George Patton had collected it from its owner after he personally shot the man and one of his cronies after a shootout in Mexico. The man was one of Pancho Villa’s closest aides, the closest to Villa that Blackjack Pershing’s expedition ever came to the wily Pancho Villa himself.
“Dis here, Derek,” Grizzly held up a military issue 9mm pistol for Derek to hold one day about four months before Moses and Curio arrived to snuff him out, “has been authenticated by the U.S. Army Tribunal that looked into the Nazi War Crimes about the war. Looks just like a Luger, but you see this nyah?” He pointed at the grip as Derek leaned in to look closely, enamored, “Dat’s a Death’s Head logo. Dis here was a pistol dat belonged to a member of da Waffen SS.”
“An authentic SS weapon? Interesting.” Angeles took the pistol and worked the action.
“You ever hear of a Reinhold Heydrich?”
“No. He a Nazi?”
“Big time. He was an up and comer in the SS. Probably you woulda’ heard of ‘im being strung up wit’ dem other bastards but he went down to Czechoslovakia to check out how good dey was rounding up whoevah dem Nazis wanted gone…you know how it went, dem Jews and commies and whatnot.”
“Yeah, I think I read about it in a book one time, Bertrand.” Derek laughed.
“Well, he was a cold bastard even by dem standards. The Czechs got done so bad by him they got together a crew and popped him wit’ a grenade in his car. Dis here pistol was his. His aide-de-camp lasted all through da war and snuck his ass down to Argentina. He got into a bit of a jam financially and one of my guys got it for me when he was down der looking into some horses for me.”
“Fascinating. Why would you want the man’s gun? Sounds like he rotting in hell for what he done and needs to be.”
“He was one of dem true believers in his cause. Dey ain’t too many of dem around deez days. Dey all wishy-washy deez days. Pay someone enough, they’ll flip dey morals and ass-rape you. You pay someone enough, dey would try to find a reason to pin shooting a pope on dey own mama. Men like dat Heydrich though…dey never even cut an eyeball left or right when someone try to make dey ass question why. Dey just goes straight-on and do like dey were told. Da why or dem goddamned what-ifs never cross dey mind. I respect dat in my line of work. It’s rare.”
“Yeah, but Griz,” he handed the Luger back. “The man ordered his men to round up kids and sent them to death camps.”
“I wasn’t exactly arguing the specifics.” Grizzly laughed. “Just his clearness of thought. He carried dis here gun for his country. I carried a gun for mine. We both done bad shit in da name of our countries. Me, I do bad shit for me and mines now. I don’t feel da least bit bad for all dem people, young and old, dat I killt. Shit happens.”
“It’s a fine gun. You got anymore like it?”
“Dey’s probably a lotta’ Luger guns out der like dis one.”
“I mean, guns that the bigwigs owned. I like them kinda’ things. Stuff that important people owned. It’s worth a shitload.”
“You got all dem records and guitars and such around your houses. You can check around dem rich industry folks you know and get one.”
“Yeah, but you got papers and such. You know it was his for sure?”
“Dem Krauts kept good records. Dey had dat serial number of his piece on a ledger in Munich. After da war, the Army went through and catalogued a ton of shit dey took outta’ Germany. Mostly to make sure if dem Russians tried to take more of da pie than we agreed to, they would have a ledger to justify da inevitable shootout we would have had.”
“Sell it to me.”
“Ain’t for sale, Derek. It’s one of my favorites, bro. You ain’t got da kinda’ money to make me part wit’ it. I ain’t trying to be mean or nothin’, but it’s da truth.”
Derek Angeles made his mind up after they left the room that he had to have the gun. He could never quite explain to himself why he wanted some dead German’s gun other than the fact that Grizzly cherished it enough to not want Angeles to have it and that riled Derek. His office was cluttered with items he had pilfered from his friends over the years, tiny trophies- usually with no real worth, only a personal treasure to their owners. It was a compulsion he never tried to explain. Since he was rarely caught, he rarely had to, either to himself or the aggrieved party.
Ten days later, Faberge Loomis, one of Grizzly’s men, brought over two nice ladies for Derek’s viewing pleasure. Derek sat the ladies up in his foyer with some drinks to get loosen up and invited Albie to his bedroom. The two talked some business and Faberge eagerly concurred with Derek’s request.
Three weeks later, ironically on the very anniversary of the day Reinhold Heydrich was killed, the custom-made box with the evil-looking Luger arrived by UPS at the Angeles residence in New York City. Derek forwarded the package down to his home on Sugarloaf Key, finished his business in the Big Apple, and flew to meet some island friends out in the Keys.
He stared at Curio Phelonie as she marched toward him. Her gun never wavered from him, he noted. She carried it in a tight two-handed grip that seasoned shooters knew was best to prevent the shakes.
A long marble-topped bar stretched between him and his attacker. The bar had an upper shelf above the main work surface. The shelf concealed a Rossi .357 Magnum, loaded and lying loose on a stack of old utility bills he had tossed out of habit in the cubbyhole. He measured the time, the surprise factor and her reaction.
He had the gun in his hand in a flash. She hesitated for just that single instant upon which he had placed all hopes for living. Curio did not wait for the muzzle to lower in her direction before she shot him twice in the chest. He fell to the floor, the gun forgotten as he realized he was a dead man. Looking up, he saw his killer walk up to him and he coughed up blood. On his knees, he tried to reach out to her but only saw the tiny dark hole of the muzzle as it flickered that last brief flame toward his forehead.
“Fuck you, Grizzly Adams.” She sneered as she breathed away her pleasure. A tingly shudder went up her spine.
When they had finished breakfast, they scoured the house from top to bottom. Nothing resembling the box they were searching for could be found. Moses pulled out a phone and called the voicemail. Sure enough, there was a message from Pete Fontenot.
“The package will be coming by UPS within the next few days,” the message said simply.
“I’ll be damned.”
He hung up the phone and pulled out the battery. Moses was always nervous about being tracked while using a phone. The ease with which people could now obtain telephones was a thing that greatly troubled him as he noted more and more people with them perennially stuck to their ears as they walked around.
Nevertheless, they had tactical advantages for him and Curio. He had dozens of them now in his storage shed in Houma, all of them cheap prepaid phones that he pulled the batteries from while he stored them.
“What?” Curio washed her hands in the sink and put her gloves back on.
“Dickhead sent the box UPS down here. He beat it here. Pete thinks it should be here within a few days.”
“Shit. That means we have to sit in here for a few days waiting on some Cuban cleaning lady to show up? Or some drunk beach bunnies?”
“Yep. Ain’t no sense moving around now. But, we do have to ditch the car or at least move it around a while. I parked it at the beach club. It’s been around here a while. It's had to be noticed by a patrolman or two by now. Shit like that sticks out around here. Especially if they saw it at the hotel, too.”
“I guess we take shifts for that, too, then?”
“No. I’ll just jog back and do it. You wait for the UPS guy. First, we drag these two into the tub and get them iced down. We get stuck here a coupla’ days, we don’t want them reeking in here with us. That fuckin’ hotel room was bad enough.”
“Hey, go get the plywood and we can use it as a backboard.”
“I ain’t moving that shit out back. Find some blankets and we can drag them in the back.” She stuck out her tongue at him and saluted mockingly at him.
Moses looked out of the front window carefully. Sunrise was just beginning to color the clearing sky. The neighbors across the street were not early-risers. As Curio fumbled around in the rear of the house stripping beds, he went out and looked over the pair of cars parked in the enclosed garage.
The other man had money, too, Moses realized immediately. Derek kept a Cadillac El Dorado at a garage near the Miami Airport for his use when back down south. Whoever the other guy was, he rode in a Bentley. Pouting his lips, he rushed out back and checked the body.
The name did not ring a bell. In the light of the snoozing sun, he searched the pockets and the wallet. Nothing said, rich Jewish guy other than the car, a few credit cards and several loose hundreds, which Moses promptly pocketed. Curio came out with some plush linen and they wrapped the bloody parts of the body tightly. With Curio grunting and carrying the feet as best she could, Moses dragged him into the ritzy bathroom and got the corpse flipped over into the large Jacuzzi tub, easily big enough for six.
They used a second set of blankets to wrap up the messy body of Derek the dead thief and got him stowed in the same tub.
“Sit tight. You can move around a bit. I’ma take the car and park it around here. When I get back, if the box ain’t here, we’ll just sit and wait. Change clothes. You look like a ninja cockholster, baby girl.”
The hours ticked away for Curio while Moses was gone. The house was very opulent, she noticed. Derek was a collector of many artifacts from around the world, mostly musical instruments and tribal trinkets. She lounged on the couch in her pink-cotton comfy shorts and a t-shirt, watching the morning talk shows.
The weather was looking great, finally, said the weatherman out of Miami. The high was climbing from the seventies into the mid-nineties, clear skies, and light wind from the east. Tiring of the television, she went out and sprawled in the hammock on the back patio, admiring their handiwork in the sand beyond the yard. The pit was impossible to see from the house without staring very hard and knowing what a person was supposed to be looking for, even in the full sun.
For a long time, she watched the waves as the tide went out. Along came a bevy of sleek shadows, jumping and breaching in the surf.
“Oh my God!”
Without thinking, she stripped off the shorts, leaving on her bikini bottom, went running full-force across the back yard, across the beach and plodding into the brine.
Porpoises, at least ten in the pod, were dancing and occasionally leaping in the surf, chasing a school of mullet they had bottled up in a shallow nook of the beach. She rushed into the water, not knowing whether she would scare them off but hell-bent on getting to see one up close. Curio waded until the water was belly-deep and immersed herself under the water, floating motionless, her long black hair erupting and waving in the clear blue sea. Two porpoises used her as a blocker for the mullet as they rushed away from her splashes. Curio could see clearly in the clear water as she held her breath beneath the calm surf.
The porpoises herded the school of mullet into a tight ball, making individual dashes through them and coming out with their breakfast in their toothy mouths. She could hear clicks and whirs, eerie and sublime through the filter of the ocean. When the mullet would try to flee in her direction, she would wave her arms in front of her and the tiny fish would pause, waiting for some orders from above that would never come. Then the pod would send in the hunters again.
She gasped soundlessly under the water after diving beneath the surface on her third breath. A mother and baby porpoise had come in from somewhere. They passed her by, the mother nodding her head and clicking somewhere in Curio’s direction. They took their place in the hunting order and made their breakfast runs. Curio watched them for a long while. The one she reckoned the big dog in the pack, came slowly up to her, circling her three times, rolling over in a 360 barrel roll and clicking loudly in the water. He breached and somersaulted from the water.
On a whim, Curio locked her hands in a giant ring form and held it out in front of her. Suddenly from behind her the alpha male came racing, seemingly from nowhere. With fascinating speed he slipped through her arms in a split second, never touching her skin. He made a rush for the cyclonic bait-ball, which parted down the middle as he snatched a six-inch mullet on the run and never looked back. The mullet made a run for the open sea, splitting up into mini-schools, which the porpoises followed.
Lemarie Curio Leblanc, never much for crying, had never seen anything so wondrous and enchanting in her twenty years. She had to wipe away a few tears before she crossed the sand onto the Bermuda grass as she re-entered the crime scene. It was surreal and as close to piety as she thought she might ever approach.
Moses got back a short while later, dripping with sweat, wearing a headband and new jogging shoes and a running suit. She dared not tell him what she had done. It was impetuous, probably dangerous, and absolutely awesome. No sense having the old man getting all pissy over it. They sat and watched TV for a long time, watching and waiting and hoping for a prompt delivery from the island.
At four-twenty in the afternoon, they heard the growl of a diesel motor come to a halt and the rapid thuds of hurried feet ambling across steel floor plating. Curio peeked out of the door and saw what they were looking for all along…deliverance from Florida.
“Big brown! Baby, hell yeah!”
She opened the door. A young UPS driver in his brown shirt with sweat-patches all over it and his brown shorts stood there with his electric pad and a shoebox-sized package in his hand. Curio jumped out and kissed him on the cheek, giggling and shaking.
“Thank God! I’ve been waiting on this for a week! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
He was flustered by the outburst. It was a great end to his shift and he would make sure he would tell the guys back at the hub how lucky he had been. Curio scribbled a fake name on the pad and thanked him again. As they were trained, the man merely nodded and bade her farewell. The big brown truck roared back to life. It was gone in a flash.
Moses took the package and popped the tape. Inside the cardboard, there it was…a walnut box the size of a thin shoebox, with a simple tiny padlock on it. He pulled it free from the cardboard and flipped it over, feeling the weight.
On the bottom, the carved letters, SS were there, just as Grizzly had said they should be.
“We’re out of here.” He tossed the box into the tactical bag. They took stock of what they may have left in the way of fingerprints, hair and the like. Satisfied they were as good as they could be; they piled into the Cadillac and drove until they got to the Neon. Moses had parked it at a Burger King. It was many miles from the target house. Curio remarked about how in shape he must have been to jog that far.
“You should be, too,” was his remark.
“You saying I’m fat?”
“I coulda’ made that hole half the size I did if it wasn’t for the manatee on the beach.”
He smirked, waiting for the retort. Moses received a nice slap on the arm and a titty-twister he would not soon forget before he could get separation. He tossed their luggage into the Neon quickly and made a show of locking the Caddy. Taking the keys with him for later disposal into the blue sea, he put the Neon on the road, heading for the mainland.
When they reached Miami some four hours later, they switched the Neon out for a Chrysler with more legroom and made like hell for the Fontainebleau Hotel.
Six days later, a couple, an older man and a young brunette nymphet, entered the Landry’s Seafood House Lafayette, Louisiana. A section had been set aside for both the couple and four other men. The staff would remember that she was a very fine-looking young woman and she turned twenty-one with much fanfare that evening. She was a giddy young thing, opening presents and hugging three of the men’s necks repeatedly as she bounced in place. Each of the men got good and ripped on multiple cocktails and an enormous specially-ordered low country boil. The person who looked like he was her Texas sugar daddy crammed a piece of birthday cake on her face and ate it off her, to the hoots of the others in the party.
A garish Cajun who seemed to be the loudest ringleader, wobbling drunkenly on an artificial leg, paid the huge bill and tipped tremendously. He and the couple left the other three to hunker together at the table, sip their next rounds slowly and flirt shamelessly with every young waitress who dared to try to work on their tables within reach of an ass-pinching hand.
Interviewed later by the FBI undercover agents who managed to follow Pete Fontenot from his home on the Tchefunte, only one of the staff heard the woman’s name uttered.
“I heard one of them say ‘Curio’ once when he got drunk,” the waitress repeated as a man asked her if he heard the name correctly. The waitress agreed it was an odd name, but it seemed to fit the brash little tart.
The agents noted in their report that Pete Fontenot, Bertrand Fontenot, and Henri Chellette- each and all members of the Atchafalaya Mudbugs- met with an unknown woman and a man later identified as Moses Holliday. The background check on him listed only an old address in Harahan that was long unused. He was convicted of numerous assaults and had done a few short stints in prisons and jails. He drew a disability pension as a result of combat wounds sustained during combat service. The agents reported the apparent camaraderie between Holliday and Fontenot- who was a veteran himself- led them to believe the two of them served together. It was verified later.
The woman was an unknown subject and apparently had something going with Holliday. The agents thought she may have been a prostitute or maybe a sort of girlfriend, but could not be certain. Attempts to procure a glass or other article she may have touched to check her fingerprints against any known felon or UNSUB in a crime were unsuccessfully thwarted by the fast hands and soapy water of a busboy’s bus-tub.
The agents also reported they were unable to follow any other of the subjects further, due to a punctured tire.
Moses, Grizzly and Curio drove to Moses’ cabin in Houma together, each one more drunk than the next yet trying to help Moses keep his Bronco between the lines. David Allen Coe blared drunken hillbilly sing-alongs from the speakers as they roared into the driveway. Moses made them sit in the car until he tried to clear the area for the boss.
“For Christ’ sake, Tex! Ain’t no one dat pissed at me lately!” Grizzly half-fell from the Bronco. “Hurry up and open dat door or I’m-a pissin’ on ya’ Michelins right here.”
“Man, I’m shit-faced!” Curio fell out next, giggling at her failing efforts to walk soberly.
The trio locked arms and swayed into the living room. They fell in a laughing, writhing heap on the living room floor.
“Oh shit! I ain’t drunk enough for a gangbang!” Curio laughed at the bottom of the pile.
“Shit! I forgot the box!” Moses ran out and fetched the box from the rear of the Ford. They were stumbling and falling into his dining room chairs when he returned and locked the doors.
“I hope this damn box was worth that bullshit, Griz. I hope I don’t see Florida again.” Moses shook his head in mock disgust.
“The Fontainebleau wasn’t too bad, baby.” Curio swayed in the seat. They had three days to unwind and frolic in one of South Florida’s nicest hotel resorts. Moses found some longnecks in the refrigerator and took his seat at the table with them.
“It’s a nice place,” Grizzly Fontenot nodded. He tapped his hands on the box, a queer smile across his face. “It’s done worked out for da best now, cheri. You showed a lotta’ nuts lettin’ Tex sit you down in dat catbox he made y’all dig. I’m impressed.”
“Thanks, boss.” She smiled and tried to light a cigarette. Moses took it from her. “Hey!” she exclaimed. Moses reached into the cigar box that a bowl of fruit sat on in the middle of the table and fished out a joint.
“Wrong poison, baby.” He lit the cigarette and slid the joint and the lighter over to Grizzly. Grizzly smiled at the job whoever had rolled it had done and lit it.
“You done good, cheri. I guess you kinda’ think I don’t like you around my man here. And at first you was right.” Grizzly blew on the cherry and handed it to her. “You done good lately, doh. You and Mo here, y’all ain’t dead or in jail so given what you been doin’, dat’s a pretty good thing.”
“I like to think so.” Moses nodded and rubbed Curio’s knee briskly. He had a hard time sitting still and upright. Grizzly swayed as he spoke.
“Thank you, Grizzly Fontenot! I try. I got a good man keeping me straight. He’s fucking awesome.”
“I know dat, cheri. Believe me, I know dat. He a one of a kind.”
Grizzly laid the box on the table and drummed his fingers on the cardboard. “Da ole boy ain’t too right in da head, but he my best-good friend and he pulled mah hot dogs out of da campfire a many a time.”
“I love him, Grizzly. I hope you know that. It took a while for his old ass to grow on me as deep as he has, but I’ll kill any sumbitch tries to mess with him and cut any bitch that thinks she wanna’ try.” She coughed harshly on the smoke.
“Without her permission or her joining in of course.” Moses smirked and winked at Grizzly. They all laughed.
“Well…yeah. Goes without saying.” She coughed and smiled.
“I knows you do, Mizz Curio. Here.” He slid the box across the table to her. “You didn’t think I didn’t get you nothin’ for yo buthday, now did ya’? You can git a fish dinner out of any coonass, you know dat. I been doing some thinkin’ and I want you to have dis on yo’ birthday. You done a lot fo’ Moses and fo’ me. I’m sorry if I fust comed-across as a cocksucker but you understand a man in my dubious position, as dey say…he not too eager to bring in a fresh face he don’t know.”
“You’re giving me the goddamned box we just got back for you?” Curio laughed. Moses took a drag off the joint and passed it to the boss. He inhaled deeply.
“I think what’s in dat box belongs in yo’ hands from now on der, cheri. I gots Moses to put a little cherry kiss on da top of it for ya’, too. A lil lagniappe.”
“Thank you, boss. Merci beaucoup!” Curio looked at Moses. He motioned to her to open it. She did, with the joint hanging out of her mouth.
The cardboard yielded the walnut box.
“Here.” Moses took out a tiny key from his pocket and slid it to her. She jammed it into the padlock and popped it.
“Man, if it’s some dildo or something, I’m gonna’ slap you two. Your ass rocket ain’t in here, is it Grizzly? I gots my own you know.”
“Ain’t no dong, baby.” Moses remarked. “It’ll fuck you pretty good, though.”
Grizzly watched her face intently, a crooked smile hiding behind his hand as he propped his face on it.
Curio lifted the lid to the box. A huge thick pink envelope with a hand-drawn “C” covered the inside of the box. She lifted it away and gasped.
“Oh shit!” Her eyes lifted from the contents to Grizzly. He smiled and motioned for the joint. Moses leaned back in his seat and stretched his back.
“That’s so fucking awesome! What kind is it? It looks fucking cool as hell!”
Her hands slowly reached inside and pried a sleek pistol free from its foam backing.
“Careful, cheri. It was loaded when it come up missing. You like it?”
“It’s loaded.” Moses nodded.
“Feel good in yo’ little hand?” Grizzly blew a smoke ring and pretended to shoot it with finger pistols.
“Unload it.” She handed it to Moses. He released the clip and ejected the chambered shell. Handing it back to her, he told her. “It’s a Luger, baby. It’s German.”
“Nice!” She aimed it out into the living room. “It feels hot.”
“It done a lot of work. It’s antique, cheri. It come from back in da war. Dis badass Nazi sumbitch used to carry it til’ he got hisself killt. Den his second in line carried it a while until after da war and he had to surrender it. He was supposedly stationed on the Russian front so you can rest assured, it done killed a many a man before your hot little mitts got on it. I expect it ain’t quite done wit dat little chore yet or you wouldn’t be havin’ it.”
“It’s the best, Grizzly!” She looked at her man. “Did you know he was giving me this?”
“No, but when it come up missing and he sent us after it and he didn’t come get it when we got back, I figured him being the ole’ softie he is, he would probably have something in mind for it.”
“Tex done got me read like one dem thinkin’ books wit no pictures he reads. He been readin’ my book before youze ever born, mon petite. He know a lot ‘bout me, cheri. A lot of what he tell about me is true. Because he know me, I didn’t have you go away for retirement. I trust him too much, I guess. But he ain’t proved me wrong too bad yet.”
“Why thank you, boss. Good to know you thought about retiring me.”
“Not that bad, cheri. Merely moved someplace like…Ohio.”
“Fuck that, it’s too cold in Ohio. Did you put the little skull on it?” Curio dry-fired it. It made a very methodical snapping sound. German engineering.
“No. It come like dat.”
“It’s cute.” She aimed it at a far wall. The gun fit perfectly in her grip.
“Cute? I wouldn’t go dat far, bebe. Here’s a quick lil’ history lesson. You mighta’ heard dis befo’, but dem Nazis were some evil, fucked up cockknockers wit’ some crazy schemes and ideas about how the world should be.”
“I’ve seen enough John Wayne movies to get the gist, Griz.” She nodded.
“Well hell! John Wayne? Dat’s all da history you need den.” He chuckled. “Your average ole’ Kraut out ovah der, he drinkin’ dem tall beers, he lookin’ at dem big white Fraulein Jizant Breastzens. He don’t wanna’ get in line wit’ all dat shooting and fightin’. But Hitler went to pickin’ fights with all dem pussy kingdoms and shit ovah der, so eventually most of dem Krauts ended up fightin’ anyway. But in war things, well,” Grizzly looked out at the blackness of Flechette Bayou to the rear of the house. “Things sometimes gotta’ be done dat yo’ average ole boy ain’t wantin’ to have on his mind, ya’ know?”
“That’s what tall beers and Fraulein Jizant Breastzens are for.” Moses drank his beer and winked at her. “Motivation.” She winked back.
“So Hitler, he needs some of dem bad things done and done by da book. So he goes and gets some hardasses who don’t mind dat kinda’ thing. He give ‘em the run of da place. They get special uniforms, special authority, special powers. Dey answer only to him, right? And dey go through da motions without question and do dat bad shit dat them average folks ain’t wanna’ do. And dey done it not only because dey believed in dat mighty Third Reich and a thousand years of all dat sieg heil bullshit. Dem fuckers did it cuz dey had a taste for it. Da man who had dat gun, before he had a run-in with some motherfuckers dat was badder than him, he was a one evil, twisted and methodical sumbitch who didn’t bat an eyelash about doin’ what was needin’ to be done when dat order was given. You dat kinda’ person, cheri. You come in shootin’ wit’ ole Moses the first time I seen you. I say then, ‘Wow! Moses got himsef some skirt.’ And a nice one at dat. He tell me…you and him, y’all go back a ways, done started making da sweet love and all. He kiss you aftah you swallow and all dat lovey-doveyness. You was wantin’ in on da job and his head wit no brain eventually let you in on it. And den, der you are, handin’ me a shotgun like a lil puppy brangin me muh slippers.”
Curio blushed and looked over at Moses. He was sitting with his chin propped on his arm, smoke curling from beneath his palm from the cupped Winston. He watched Grizzly as he talked.
“So first thing I say is ole’ Tex, he done too much cocaine and done drunk hissef piss-stupid again. He hittin’ da change of life and dat young squeezebox made him nutty.” He stuck his tongue out and cocked his head at his friend.
“Fuck you.” Moses chuckled.
“Look at how I seen it. Him taking on some little cutie pie? Moses Holliday? Tight as a drum Tex? Used to doin’ what da hell he wants and how he wants to do it when a job is der to be done. Never look or think twice about a partner. Don’t trust a soul. But, here he come now with lil ole purty you watching his six. Thinking he can put a piece in yo’ little hot hands and you can just go all badass Mata Hari on a bastard. He can just take you up to some sorry sumbitch, let you eyeball da man’s face and just do the job and dat’s dat. It ain’t easy or anybody would do it. I say da man crazy. But, lo and behold. Here you come; you got a knack for it. Skill and discretion, not so much.” Grizzly shrugged and waggled his hands.
“But you got dem ten-ton of bull nuts down in dem lacy lil panties, right where dey needs to be. Dem skills, da master here, he can teach you and he has.”
“I’m cute as well as instructional, too.” Moses nodded at Curio and stretched, flexing his lean, strong arms jovially.
“Goddamned right you are.” Curio concurred as she bit her lip and winked at him. Placing the pistol back into the foam, she picked up the clip and counted the shells in the clip.
“Dem hardasses I was telling you about, dey was called Der Waffen SS. Hardass motherfuckers. Shock troops, secret police, head crackers, crazy motherfuckers each and all. And dey had dat skull as dey logo on dey guns and on der uniforms so sumbitches knows to step da hell away. It was dem Germans dat done stamped dat skull on der. Back in 1937, if da paperwork I got is right.”
“Damn. Does it work?”
“As advertised.” Grizzly winked at her. Something in the look he gave her made her know he had tested it on a live target before.
“Shit.” She got up and hugged him around the neck, making sure her breasts mashed against his face.
“Thank you, boss. I don’t know what to say. It’s too much, really.”
“Happy birthday, cheri. Don’t forget to open da card. I gotta’ go pee.” He stumbled out of his chair and down the hall, farting loudly when he was out of smell reach. “Watch out y’all. Daze a big bull gator moaning around out nyah!” He bellowed from down the hall.
Curio opened the thick card. “Oh my God. Moses! It’s a fucking wad!”
“Start-up cash for our newest team member. Twenty large, all yours. Welcome to Fontenot Industries. No 401k and for fuck’s sake, don’t ask about the retirement package. It don’t come cheap, but it can come earlier than expected.” Moses chuckled.
“I thought I was already paid.” Curio fumbled with the hundreds.
“You were. You coonasses know what a lagniappe is, I must say.” Moses took a long, slow draw of the joint. “To the victor goes the spoils, sexy.” He grunted through a held breath.
“Goddamn! I never seen that much money in my hand in my life. Hell my mama never seen that in a year on her back.”
“You shit in a sand pit. I told him that rated a cherry on the cake.”
Curio looked at him, horrified. “I never shit in that hole! You liar!”
“Yeah, sure you didn’t. The crabs just kept coming over there because they smelled your banana sunscreen.” Moses leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. He got up and pulled down another wrapped box from the top of the freezer.
“Here.” He sat in front of her and gave her a peck on the cheek. Beaming, she opened it. Inside was a black leather holster with a skull clenching a red rose stenciled into the front of the holster.
“For the gun, of course. Turn it over.” She did. “Extra clip. Never know when more bullets might come in handy.”
“I love you, baby. I never had anyone as good to me as y’all been. I mean that.”
“And I love you back, my baby. Happy birthday!” Moses Holliday leaned over and held her to him, feeling her try not to cry yet relenting to at least a sniffle and a quick dab of an eye that she hoped he would not notice
“And many more…if we live that long.” He whispered into Curio Phelonie’s long black hair.
* * *