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Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Crime/Gangster · #1662405
The end of the saga. Moses&Curio square off with a depraved cartel hitman sent after them.

“I ain’t never seen him like this, Griz.”  Curio Phelonie sipped a glass of decent red table wine at Mullatte’s.  Most of the carafe was emptied in a hurry already.  Wine rarely stayed around long in her presence in the days since the death of a Texan woman she never actually met. 

Her oyster muffaletta was eaten in the casual chomps of a woman seeking the minor comfort of a good taste in her mouth and a decent bellyful after a crappy week.  The sandwich came after she had inhaled the Cajun-spiced potato logs dipped in remoulade, a few bites of crab cake loaded with sweet onion and some hominy, a basket of garlic and parmesan-soaked sour dough rolls, three jumbo shrimp fried in a coconut batter and some fried pickles. 

Curio looked at the faces of the happy people just sitting and enjoying the day, envious. The room was alive with the smell of burnt cornmeal and catfish.  Televisions kept March Madness and NASCAR in the fray.

She rarely envied what people in a war deemed civilians.  Looking around at young couples, old couples, beer buddies and the staff working hard but clicking as a unit and jovial as they scurried about, she thought of her own situation and shook her head.  Carefree and at ease with how their days were scheduled to unfold was a luxury she somehow knew she could not know ever again.

For the first time in her life, Curio Phelonie was actually being pursued personally by enemies.

There was always the chance of a job going awry and the repercussions proving beyond escaping.  After the death of Kenny and Althea Jennings and subsequently the various stages of stupor in which Moses kept himself, the full brunt of her years working as a hired killer affected her as never before.  Most of their jobs were mere housecleaning for the mobster Grizzly Fontenot.  A few however, had morphed over into the civilian world with horrendous consequences.  The action they took to avenge Althea Jennings' sexual assault had ended up getting Althea, Moses' son Kenny and the entire Jennings family, including the children killed by cartel assassins. 

While Moses drank and moped, she sat and thought. A lot. 

It was not a thing Curio Phelonie liked to do.  Thinking brought up regrets.  For a woman who had grown to enjoy her job, the notion of now having to regret a job, albeit a personal one for Moses, was not kosher.

On top of it all, she was flat-out lonely, as she had been before meeting Moses.  Curio spent a great deal of her time chain-smoking Newport’s and looking out of the window at Le Nuit Blanche, her tiny cottage.  Most times, she was happy in the house.  Moses found it and bought it for her soon after she began working with him instead of waiting like a frantic puppy in whatever town he was tasked to do what he did. 

Now it was a sort of prison.  Her chains were the telephone lines that would call her to him, unbreakable.  It was not Moses who called her, though. 

When the boss, Bertrand “Grizzly” Fontenot, sent word that she was to have lunch with him, she jumped at the chance to see what the latest news was within his mob faction.  It was also a true joy to just get out of the house and be seen. 

Sitting at home while Moses filled up on whiskey and the occasional pill binge seemed like such a waste of her youth and beauty to her.  She loved him, to be sure.  But try as she might, she just could not find the sympathy for the ex and Moses’ son.  Even if she had taken part in an atrocious act of vengeance on their behalf, she looked upon it as just another piece of business.  Just more personal on Moses’ part. 

She could understand why he was morose and secluded.  It ended horribly and unexpectedly tragic.  Curio just did not want to take part in the sorrow. 

Life goes on, she thought as she sat at the table.  Shit happens.  He of all people ought to have known that.  He’s preached it from the day I met him.

She shrugged at their former employer, Grizzly Fontenot, as she chewed her meal.  Mullatte’s was just what she needed.

“He’s drinking all the time, sure.  I assumed that.  You assumed that, I’m bettin.  He drinks a lot and he don’t need much excuse beyond the day ending in y to do that.  I have seen that and it don’t bother me really.  But it’s that hangdog look in his eyes.  Man, my man is just wasted away emotionally.  It ain’t a thing I ever thought I would see in him.”

Grizzly shrugged and sipped his drink.  “He done been through a lot.  He done went out der and tried to kick some ass like always and it cost him.”

And I’m about to be havin’ to clean dat up, cheri.  Fontenot thought to himself.  It’s gonna take one helluva janitorial job to clean dis here up…

Blowback was a very real concern for the first time since he had employed Moses and later- against his wishes- Curio.  The blowback was not some local county lawdog finding a careless thumbprint at some dead hood's murder scene.  It was a national story concerning a massacre in Texas.  The government was kicking over every ant mound in west Texas as they sought out the perpetrators of the bombings of a Mexican restaurant in Odessa and a crew of Mexican cartel members in an ambush in the streets of Midland.  Having the entire Jennings family turn up brutalized and massacred after Moses and Curio attacked the local cartel wonks had only turned up the scrutiny that much more.

Grizzly Fontenot nodded at his beautiful young worker as he scooped up some corn and black bean salad.  He would never have admitted it, but seeing the occasional, “you lucky bastard” glance shot his way by the men sitting with their significant others sort of tickled him.  The girl was a knockout to be sure.  She was still wearing her hair shorter than her skirt and she knew to put her breasts high up in a blouse.  Her face was made up impeccably.  The outfit fit her well.  Looking around at the stolen glances at them by the men in the restaurant, Fontenot could see that smidgen of extra spit in every straight man’s mouth in the joint.

She lookin' likes dat dessert tray they bring ‘round to let you see just how tasty getting a bite of it might be!

Summoning Curio was easier than trying to meet Moses.  The Atchafalaya Mudbugs Crime Syndicate’s head honcho was a man chased like at few other times in his life.  His rats within the U.S. Justice Department were worrying him with implications that he was being looked at by a few officials as a having some loose affiliation with suspects wanted in connection with the bombings in Texas.  Using Feds was a necessity and usually a safe one once he got to dropping nice bundles of cash their way for relatively innocuous bits of internal gossip.  Most of the lower-end analysts and data entry clerks were pissed on by their bosses yet they were doing most of the heavy lifting.  They worked like hell just so the boss could get the plaques and the hopeful facetime on CNN when the sound bite comment needed to be made.  Dropping a profitable kernel about a drug raid or racketeering probe about to begin every now and again rarely hurt anyone.  How he and his brother handled the Feds was of paramount importance to how they stayed in business.

Now the low-end informants were a wiseass lot when he and his associates pressed the sources for information.

Hey buddy, can’t talk at you right now.  Sorry.  Perhaps he had heard of that act of terrorism?  It was on the news a time or two…every ten fucking minutes!

His sources looked at him with a dubious eye.  It was one thing to tip off their guy about some chickenshit drug raid or racketeering probe.  Getting caught passing him juice from inside the department when it was possible he was involved with the Tuscadero Massacre, as the press now called it, was a bridge too far for most of them. 

At least that was the theory to which Grizzly ascribed.  It made sense to him that everyone he knew that could drop some of the inside scoop on the agents always trying to take him down were probably cutting their losses and working full-time for the Man.  If an underling could get the goods on Bertrand Fontenot having a role in the worst domestic terror act in decades, it would be their turn for the plaque and a nice desk with a view.  Out of the computer pool and into a corner office with his incarcerated ass to thank for it.

His job was getting tough.

Curio knew most of that.  She liked Grizzly but could really give a damn about a gangster’s issues.  She knew enough to know Grizzly Fontenot had fingers in enough pies and enough dirt on many in the know of him to stay off some bullshit court docket. 

All she could think of was Moses. 

“Moses just looks like a beaten dog.  He’s like a man dat done gave up hope.  I never thought I would see him in such a way.  Just a month ago, we was camping, fucking and happy as dead pigs in the sunshine.  Now,’ she threw up her arms, limbered with wine, “it’s just all fucked.”

Because of her.  Because of him.  Because of them.

“It’s a tough spot, cheri.  You can’t put yo’sef in his shoes cuz you young and you ain’t had no babies.  Dis nyah is a raht piece of shit mess.  I hate havin’ to tread so lightly around it.  I want to go and kick ass mahsef.  Damn feds done got all over it and dey done messed me up on what I can get done.”

“Well, it’s not like you have a lot of fingers in pies in west Texas.”

“I got a few out dat way.  Dey searchin’ round.  One ole’ boy I use out der, he a real sharp kid.  Like Moses used to be when we was young.  Way before when he used to get all raw in his asshole and just done all dat drinkin’ and fightin’ every sumbitch he think he don’t like.  This kid, he’s busy as a beaver out der.  He thinks he got a way to take off some of the steam from around here.  It’s a bold piece of work, downright suicidal and risky as all get-out, but it just might work long enough and good enough to get loose-a some prying eyes.  You and ole Tex are needin’ to cash in y’all’s chips in a big way and get gone.”

“If you got business out there, why ain’t we been sent out der before?  Everyone can’t be behaving.  You know, with da boss way out over here.”

“You two ain’t my only folks who do wut y’all do, Curio.  Besides, I don’t really actually run a lot of stuff out dat way.  Just casual business partners with some ole boys, ya know?  Dat good stuff you like to smell from time to time, it done come across dat gate from down dat way as much as it do on all dem ships stacked down at Pilottown.  Dat’s one of the reasons why I can’t get a lotta’ info outta’ dat bunch.  Dey got feds and federales both combing the place for you two.  Even if dey don’t know it’s actually you two dey hunting for yet.  I'm sho y'all hid your footprints, but even dem blind oinkers find an acorn, ya know.”

“You think they are on to us?” Curio paused, alarmed suddenly.

“I’m pretty damn sure, someone…dey got you two figured out by now some kinda way.  Too many folks back there knew Moses.  Him and Althea, being that her daddy was big shit around there back then, people remember them.  Dat town of his, it was just too small.”  He ate slowly.

“Ain’t nowhere near enough whiskey bars to hide a face in back den.  People knew they were together on account of who he was and who her daddy was.  Dat old man of hers mighta been a dead man walkin', but when whoever put him down and den his family down too?  Folks up in dem parts took offense.    People also knew Tex was a Marine.  Folks used to pay attention to their neighbors back then.  People out der, dey knows he ain’t around and a few probably know why.  Moses might have put them behind in his mind, but he just one mind.  They gots dozens of dem minds justa' goin out in Odessa.  With him on at least a few of ‘em.  He a ghost now, but to dem he was his ole man Holliday's son and dat Jennings fella's fuckup son-in-law dat da old man run off.”

Curio was intrigued.  She of course knew Grizzly Fontenot’s fingers were spread out across the south.  She had no idea he had fingers reaching back as far as Moses’ hometown.  The notion suddenly struck her that Moses probably knew more about what had been going on in Odessa over the years than he let on to her.

“No idea of who or what killed them?”

“Just dat dem Mexicans probably done it to smoke y’all out.  It working, cheri?”

“What do you mean is it working?  He’s too fucked up right now to watch for smoke signals.”

“Althea getting her head blowed off was the smoke signal.  He knows that.”

“I know that, too.  Them fuckin’ beaners play rough, boy.”

“They play for keeps.  You don’t lose sight of that.  We are a hard lot in our own right in these circles.  But you can’t hold a candle to da casual brutality of yo’ average brown man from a third world country.  I don’t care what kind of brownie dey are.  African, Cuban, Gook…” He stabbed a shrimp from his pasta bowl. “…or Arab.  Dey don’t play by our rules.  Moses oughta’ know dat by now.  He just thought he was the baddest sumbitch.  All Texas badass, gonna’ go out der, hunch his jeans way up his waist.  Slide on dem cowboy boots and say looka how big dem cods-a his was and all dat.  And he gonna show dem cholos they don’t do no lady no wrong or there’s hell to pay and whatnot or he gonna kick some ass.  And now I’m guessin’…” Grizzly shrugged. 

“…It finally done hit him it’s a big world with plenty of sumbitches in it and they pay dey entrance fees to get into da gates of hell same as he do.  Maybe dey pay more, who knows?  Dey damn sure got my vote for VIP in hell.  Dat’s some kinda shit to go cuttin’ off kids’ heads and all that kinda stuff.  I don’t doubt Moses would repay dat tenfold if’n he could.  But he cain’t.  He knows he cain’t and he knows he cain’t ever.  Dat’s a helluva thing to know you bit off more den you can chew and git yo kin done in so bad because of it.”

“It sucks.”  She replied.

“Don’t stop him from getting mad because it went bad.  He’s thinking we just piss-ants.  Too low on the totem pole to reach over across the ocean and get some payback.  He just has to sit back and sulk in it and it ain’t his way.  And he’s right.  You can’t go that high on the totem with less than a goddamned Marine tank division.  They got whole countries hiding them out.  They can just sit back and send dey killers and dey mules over here, do the deed and never worry.  If some of dem get killed or caught, no big deal.  Hey you!"  Fontenot feigned pointing at a minion, "You wanna make more money than your papa ever saw?  Your time to shine den, Paco.  Batter up!"  He shrugged and kept on as Curio drained some wine.

"It sucks but it is what it is.  It’s a damn frustrating thing for me cuz I wanna’ help him sort through it and I gots no pull out where it needs to be.  I got my own problems lately.  Jowanski is in on dis thing in Texas.  I can feel it.  He always been one to smell blood in da water and boy, I tell you, dey’s plenty lately.” 

He thought of Roy Scheider throwing the chum in the water for Jaws.  Jowanski rising out of the water with a warrant instead of the robot shark to scare the piss of him.

“Moses never wanted you in on it.  He said when he first told me about what happened.  He said, ‘this ain’t Grizzly, this is Texas.’ And he meant it.  I don’t think he had going as far as he did in mind but when it landed in his lap like it did, he saw red and decided to send the message.”

“He sent a message.  Trouble was…" Fontenot stifled a belch. "...he should have expected a reply that rivaled it.  Now he knows.  And we done told him befo’ he went gallopin’ home to go kick ass dat Jowanski had an idea who you two are now.  Kickin’ over bars full of Mexicans ain’t da smartest move when you got a Deputy Attorney General and his pussy’s attention.”

“He's a wreck about it all, Griz.  Just ain’t normal.  Ain’t much I can do.  I tried to but he needs more than me right now.  He needs satisfaction.  He thinks he got out-done.  Probably got some weird measure-your-pecker thing about it all in his head somewhere like all you men got.  But what do I know?  I’m just little cute cheri to all y’all.”

Grizzly smiled and swallowed another bite of cold salad.

“I tried to call him a little bit.  He don’t answer the phone.  Probably a good thing under deez circumstances, but I would like to say hey to the man.  Where he hiding out?”

“Oh, he’s up in Catahoula."  She sighed. "He got himself a pop-up set up on the north end of Catahoula Lake.  He’s up there plotting and planning and drinking and snoring.  But at least according to him, that crying in the shower when he thinks I can’t hear him is over, I’m glad to say.  He told me he shot a hog the other day.  Wants me to come up there and stay a while and help him eat it.  He put it in the coonass microwave today.”

“He probably just went somewheres else besides the tub to cry.  He a hard bastard when it comes to business.  But when it comes to you and to his people he cared for, he a softie of astronomical proportions.  You need to go on up there.  Your charms are probably a useful thing for him raht now.  Plus a cochon du lait is always a good thing to do.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know.  I know.  A little Curio swamp pussy and some smoked pork and taters never hurts, right, men?  Fuck some pussy a while and eat some meat and, hey, it’s all good no matter what happens, huh?” She shook her head at him, frowning.

“Maybe I can get up and go get his beer or freshen up the whiskey on demand.  Go up there and knock some skid marks outta’ his BVD’s for him.  Do a little light dusting and hoeing the garden fer ‘im, right?”

“I ain’t mean it like dat, cher’.  You know what I meant, girl.  You and him got a good thing going.  He needs you around, even if he say he don’t.”

“It’s just a lot to take in.  I didn’t even know about Kenny and Althea two months ago and now all this went down.  Fuck, man.  We was retired.  We was getting married and it was all gravy.  Now he’s a wreck and we got Feds looking into us bit by bit.  It’s a lot to get used to.  It changes things.  This thing, it just went bad.  And shit, he was thinkin’ about gettin’ gone pretty soon.  He really took what you told him about retiring out from all dis shit to heart lately.”

“Times always a-changin’, lil Curio.  He stayed the same for a many a year.  He done changed a lot since he met you.  Some for the better, some for the worst, in my opinion.  I say that with all due love and sincerity to you.  I give you shit when he first lost that concrete mind of his for you.  I knows dat.  But you been a thing that the ole boy needed and never knew he needed.  I can’t say Moses wouldn’t have done what he allegedly done if you hadn’t melted his heart for him.  At least not fo’ sho.”

“You think he wouldn’t have gone and went to Texas if he hadn’t met me?” Curio glared over Grizzly’s shoulder at a polished diner with slicked back hair and a bolo.  She could see was trying to stare her into making eyes at him.

“Fuck off!” She mouthed at the man and angrily gave him the bird.  He averted his eyes back to both his stack of empty oyster half-shells and to his wife, who sat with her back to Curio and Grizzly, oblivious.

“I think he might have handled it differently before he met you.  If anything, you made him live a little louder than he used to.  Made him feel like he needed to prove himself a little for his lady friend instead of just doing the jobs.  It’s a macho thing for us men.  Even Moses got a little ego in him.  He comes off all tough and aloof and like he an all-around professional cock-knocker.  He all hardcore and all dat shit.  Tougher’n woodpecker lips, I call him.  But, he got his personality glitches like any one of us got.  I mean, shit, look at his job.  Da boy can't be too right in da head to do what he does, can he?"

"Few are."  She drank more wine. “I make no claims to sanity.  That’s for damn sure.”

"Having a fine young lady like you, a girl who can have a king if she wanted one and coulda’ found one…it puts a man on the defensive.  Make him bold.  I think when he found out he been partying with his little Curio and Althea was off getting all beat up and violated like she was, he had a little crisis of faith.  But dey ain’t no mo Althea and Kenny.  Dey’s only you.”

For better or worse…  He thought. I’ma probably need you to get dat man back in fighting form. It’s going to be needed, sooner or later.

“You need to somehow make him realize dat.  He loves you.  He ain’t forgot dat none.  I know him.  He got a cross to bear, fo’ sho.  But he got good shoulders of his own and yours are der to help out with da load.”

“Do you regret what he done, Griz?”

“I’ll regret it if it gets y’all caught or killt.  Dem Feds, dey some cagey sumbitches.  He a smart one, dat Moses.  He covers his tracks raht goodly.  But when things go boom and pieces of people get to flying apart in public places, folks in charge take notice.  Now dis bad thing done come to Althea and her family.  It’s big now.  And it’s gruesome enough for a press to park dey asses in a quiet part of Texas where dat kinda shit don’t happen.  The media is in it balls deep now.  They got some bright minds and where some people might not talk to dem Feds, they will talk to a pile of hundreds if a media man leaves dem out on the table for dem to see while he smiles and asks dem to talk a lil louder into da mike.  I ain't so sure dat dem cholos are done huntin', either.”

“You should have seen dat shit, Griz.” Curio giggled and sighed. “It was a righteous bit of vengeance we did in dat bar.  Dey never seen dat coming.”

“I bet.  You was in fine form, I’m sho.  Felt good, didn’t it, Babydoll?”

“Bon temps, Griz.” She mopped up a dollop of remoulade with the hoagie bun. “Or should I say, buenos tiempos.”

“You know you never talk like dat coonass you are til you around me?” Grizzly Fontenot speared a piece of chicken and mopped up some white wine sauce with it.

“You my peoples, Griz.” She chuckled. “You give me a po-boy and a few glasses of this red tongue grease and you never know what kinda’ accent you gonna’ hear out of me.  I been known to scream in tongues if he make me do it da right way.”

“It’s cute.  I forget sometimes you a child of N’awlins.  You done had so many wigs on and been so many places and people lately.”

“Elysian Fields representin’ yo.” She imitated a gang sign. “True dat, always.”


“Respect.”  She thumped her chest, winking and smiling. “Like they even let thugs in Elysian Fields.” She chuckled at the thought of her bringing home a nice black boy to her dead aunt’s home as a teenager.

“Way off subject, I know.  But something I been wondering.” He sipped his tea.  Curio nodded and listened. “You ever talk about yo’ mama?”

“You feeling like a shrink today, Griz?”

“Naw.  Just wondering.  You never mention her all dem years I done been around you.  I heard about dem specifics from Pete.  I always had a soft spot for ya’ cuzzadat'.  Had to be hard seeing dat go down in de front of you like dat.  My daddy died in Korea.  You know dat?”

“Yeah.  Mama Ruby told me he died in da war.”

“Three days before they signed da ceasefire.  Got hisself hit by a cannon shell.  Me and Moses got hit right near de end of our war.  When I got hit, my Papa, he da fust thing I done thought about.  Me and him died for nuttin’.  War’s done and here we is getting blown up.  Course I lived cuzza' yo old man.  Like I done told you.  My daddy just was in da wrong place at da wrong time.  Den three days later, orders came down to stop killing each other and sit and wait until it’s time to start again.”

“Must suck dying for nothing like dat.”

“You seen a many a sumbitch die, lil Curio.  I like to think most of dem, dey dropped dead cuz I had to keep order and I take personal insults a lil tougher than most folks.  I been doin’ a lot of thankin’ and drankin lately.  A lotta’ dem folks, dey just saw a chink in ole Fontenot’s armor and went for what dey thought dey could get.  Course, what they ended up wit’ was never much worth dey life…” he pointed a fork at her, “…except to me.  And in da end, dat was what counted.  Dem muthafuckahs shoulda thought dat through a lil better before dey fucked around with a man named Grizzly Fontenot.  At least in my opinion.”

“Rest assured, Monsieur Fontenot, a few of them, dey had time to think long and hard about the worth of their lives in relation to what dey done took or what dey done did to end up like they did.”

He waved aside the details.  Dead was dead and sufficient to know.

“What about yo’ mama?  She have time to think about what she done?”

Well, kinda, sorta, but not really…You see, she owed a crack dealer some loot and was trying to duck him.  But then this one day, me and her, we was walking down to Checkpoint Charlie’s to look at some music and one of his homeboys saw us.  Next thing I know, I hear a these pops and half my mama’s head started raining on me from the sky.  Another bullet hit a lady shoppin’ in a bodega.  Went through the window and she took it in the stomach and went to screaming from inside the building. 

That sumbitch doing the shooting tried to get a new clip in to use on me cuz I saw him real good.  His driver handed him a gat and he emptied that at me, but I used Mama’s body as a shield and cuz he was using a .38.  Mama, she was a big girl by then, they didn’t get me. I felt three hit the body in the back.  They peeled out and got four blocks down Governor Nichols when a patrolman saw them hauling ass and tried to do a traffic stop.  They freaked and shot at him and eventually the two of dem got shot to death after a traffic chase ended up in uptown.  Then the real fun started when the child welfare folks got to going…

“Mama was a junkie stripper most of the time I was coming up, Griz.  She lived a bad life and died a bad death.  Ain’t the first one to do dat around here.  I suspect she ain’t the last by a damn sight, either.”

“But she yo’ mama.  You gotta’ have some good times you pull up about her.  You loved her?”

“Well, yeah.  Of course.  When she had money, we would head out like tramp-ass valley girls and take in the town.  She liked the zoo a lot.  We shopped a lot.  Visited friends.  She had friends over a lot.  A lot of 'em…all hours of the night.” She shrugged.

“You know the kind, right?  Stop by, they disappear for a few minutes and come back out lookin' around guilty and all.  But hey, some of them actually weren’t junkies trying to fuck me behind her back...when I was eight.  But hey, some were, you know?  That was real shits and giggles time when they were.  It was real fun was trying to get loose and jump out a window to get away from dem while Mama was rocking it up with some black bastard in the next room.  I gotta tell ya, it was win-some lose-some.  It sucked, literally.  So you can kinda understand why I don’t bring it up much.  It’s also why I don’t take kindly to perverts and ninety-nine percent of hard-ons I meet with.”

“Uh uh uh.  Dat’s a hard way to come up, cheri.  No wonder you took to the job so easy.  You was hardcore coming out the belly I bet.  Born with a bottle in one hand and a pigsticka in da other.”

“Well, it wasn’t all tragedy, Griz.  Somedays we hit the French Market.  Take a tour now and then.  School functions.  She went to Mass sometimes.  Times like when she felt bad about some junkie done gave her the crabs that ended up in my hair somehow.  Or when she got the holy hell beat out of her by some guy she tried to sell some soap to one time.  I bet a lot of people find Jesus when they cough blood after an ass-kickin' over some fake crack.  Church was a nice getaway, back then.  Nothing to worry about but that eternal damnation thing.  Course, da church and I parted ways kinda quick after I was forced into their all-embracing hands.”

“When did you and the church start parting ways?”

“When I first figured out I could touch myself and it felt good but the Church was not into that, I started reading the writing on the wall.” She chuckled.

“Not many good Catholics up in heaven if dat one is a legit sin.” Grizzly shrugged.

"Not a one.  I remember one thing we did a lot not too long before she died.  We ate at Coop’s a lot.  She used to have a thing for one of the cooks over here.”

“Who?  I been eatin’ der for twenty years.”

“I knew him as Mr. Tadlock.”

Grizzly smiled and nodded. “Voncille Tadlock was his name.  His mama was a seamstress when I was a kid.”

“I think so.  He used to put a lotta’ extra parmesan on our gator tails when we ate 'em.  He seemed real nice.  I think he really liked Mama.  I think they knew each other when they was young.  Maybe from school, I never knew or can’t remember.”

“He was a nice fella.  He died of a heart attack about four years ago.  Knocked him down in his tracks leavin' his grandkid’s baseball game out in Kenner.  He cooked down der for twenty-three years if I recall.  Good fella.” Griz looked out of the window pensively.

“He was a joker, I remember.” Curio sipped her wine, smiling.  Her smile was infectious, Grizzly loved to see it.  It had not been out much in a long while. “He told her a joke one time.  Seems dumb now.  Old coonass joke.”

“Boudreaux and Thibodeaux?”

She chuckled.  “Of course."  She looked around and began with a devious grin.  "See, Boudreaux, he wanted to learn how to skydive.  When he got outta’ high school, he enlisted in the army to learn how.  He tells Thibodaux, ‘When I comes back ole’ Tib, I gonna’ be a paratrooper.’ And off he goes.” She nodded in gratitude as the server dropped a fresh glass of red wine in front of her. 

“So he’s gone many months and den one day, boom! Here he comes home on leave and goes to sees his best good friend, Thibodaux.  Thibodaux and him, dey sits down, pop a few tabs, ya know, and get to catchin’ up.  Ole Boudreaux, he tellin’ Thibodeaux all about boot camp and going to airborne school.  He say, ‘first few weeks we learn how to fall, right?  We learns how to bend da knees, how to pack dat parachute.  The next week, we practice jumping with our static rigs and getting’ ready for da next week weeza gonna’ jump out dem planes.’ So Tib, he asks him. ‘You jump, Boudreaux?’”  She downed the wine and continued.

“So Boudreaux, he say, ‘Well Tib, we gets up in dat plane, we had dis bigass nigger jump sergeant.  Biggest, meanest sumbitch I ever done seen or met in all my life.  I mean he make Mean Joe Green look like PeeWee Herman.  So I’m the last one to jump from dat der plane, right?  But Tib, old boy, I done been looking out dat window fo’ an hour…and man, weez high up in dat sky.  My knees go to shakin’.  I done nearly pissed mahsef.  We get over the target zone and dat big blackass jump sergeant tells us to hook up.  Dey open dat door and evahone jumps out da plane but me.  I’m the last one on da plane and I look out dat door and I see dat ground way down der and I sez, 'Hell no!'  So I sez to da jump sergeant dat I'm scared and I cain't do it.  He looks at me and he say, 'Private Boudreaux, you git yo sorry cracker coonass outta’ my airplane or I’m a-gonna’ bend you over and pile driver fuck you in the ass with a foot of angry black mamba back here.  And I’ma do it all da way home ‘til we land.’  So, Thibodaux, he laughin’ like a wino.  He say, “Well Boudreaux, you jump?’ Boudreaux, he hang his head a lil bit.  Den he say, ‘Just a little bit at first!’’”

They laughed together.  Tears rolled down Grizzly’s face before he could get himself composed.

“Ole Tadlock was a funny old sumbitch.  God rest his soul.”

Those were the last words of Grizzly Fontenot. 

From across the road, a rifle’s report thundered through the shattered front window of the famous Mullatte’s Oyster House.  Glass flew inside.  Bertrand Fontenot was hit in the forehead.  Most of his head covered the lady server working the two-top behind them and the wife of the guy she silently told to fuck off.

Pandemonium ensued.

Uncharacteristically screaming in horror, Curio Leblanc ducked beneath the table, trembling.  She reached in her purse and pulled her Luger pistol, pointing at the shattered windowpane. 

“First sumbitch pokes his head through that window gets shot, I don’t care if it’s a grandma or the fucking Pope!” She stammered.

She trembled and tried to hold the pistol steady.  Looking over at Grizzly’s shattered face- his mouth lying bloody and open- she broke down and sobbed, kicking herself frantically away from the sight of him, her face a mask of unfettered panic.  His fake leg was lying three feet from him. 

Swallowing her fear as she held the gun on the window, she forced herself to think rationally.  Curio went through what she had on her and very little came into her mind.  She had to get out of the city.  She knew that one fact immediately and certainly.  Grimacing, she quickly rolled the corpse over and pulled his wallet out of the back pocket.  He was carrying a wad of cash in it.  She felt her front pockets and felt the money clip he carried to pay tips with.  It was enough between the two wads of cash to get loose of trouble in a hurry.

“Thanks for saving my life this time, Boss.” She choked on tears and quickly patted the dead man’s real leg dotingly.  “Sorry about all this shit.”

When the sirens began drowning out the pandemonium, she crawled on her belly behind the wait station, passing three waitresses crying and trembling as they tried to console the one who was nearly catatonic from being covered with a man’s brains.  She also had food all over her from crawling wildly through the mess of over-turned tables as people went nuts.

“You guys see who done it?” She snapped at them, holstering her pistol in her purse.

“No, it just happened outta nowhere!  What the fuck!” A chunky black girl cried out.  It was one of the cooks who came out front for a soda at the wait station.  Curio could see dried batter on her apron.

“Don’t know.  Looks like a mob hit.”

“You was eating with him!” The bloodied waitress shrieked, pointing a shaking finger at Curio. “You know him!?”

“Hold up!  I’m just an escort, honey.  We met by appointment this morning.  I never seen no shit like this before.  I’m gettin’ the fuck out of here!” She hopped to her feet and ran for the front door, figuring whoever shot Grizzly was long gone from the front of the restaurant.  He or she probably had a teammate covering the back of the house in case she went out that way.  She assumed whoever would shoot Grizzly Fontenot had to know who she was.

A pale-faced manager, stuttering as he urged the screaming patrons to stay down, tried to arm-bar her from escaping.

“Ma’am!  Everyone here is a witness!  I must insist…”  Suddenly, he had a pistol jammed into his chin.  His eyes widened as he saw the tiny beauty staring coldly at him.

“Motherfucker, move outta my way or I’ma burn you down!”  Curio cocked the Luger.  He moved.  She had barely enough to time see his pants’ fly suddenly get wet before she exited.

Easing out into the street, she ran for her life, waiting for her own head to pop like a grape.  At least she hoped she was that lucky.  Death was not always so ingratiating.

An empty cab saved her.  She jumped in front of it and the Bahaman driver nearly choked on the Sprite he was sipping.

“Bus station!” She dove in and laid on the back seat. “And fucking hurry!  There’s a psycho Ku Klux Klan man trying to kill me for fucking a black man in there.  He’s chasing me!  He might shoot you just for being black, bro!  You don’t know, man!  He’s jealous as fuck and he’s shit-faced on angeldust!”

He got the message and the cab rounded a corner just as the first patrol units screeched up in front of the famous restaurant.

Pure adrenaline kept her from crying.  For most of the ride, she wiped away food from her clothes with a paltry pack of wet wipes and checked her face nervously for splatter.  She paid the cabbie a nice tip for his diligence and jumped on a bus headed to the new casino Mecca of the South, Biloxi.  When she went in the john on the Greyhound to pee and get her face together, the adrenaline waned enough to allow her to sit and sob until she vomited in the bathroom stall. 

Grizzly Fontenot was the only true friend her lover Moses Holliday had besides her.  He was her friend and employer and she mourned his death in her own right.  For Moses, finding out about what happened in his current state would be too much for him to bear, she figured.  He was stinking drunk at his camp, oblivious to the outside world most of the time but endlessly plotting whatever vengeance he could conjure when he decided to not drink and do something he deemed productive.  Knowing his pain and vulnerability would be increased exponentially when she brought him the news, she cried for him.

It occurred to her that Moses himself could be on the hit list.  Not knowing who hit Grizzly was the biggest 'if' in that equation.  She fretted on that and tried to call him every minute it took to get to the station in Biloxi.

“What?  Are you fucking serious?” Deputy U.S. Attorney Randall Jowanski paced in his Baton Rouge apartment, not believing what he was hearing.  He was wearing a pair of skivvies and black socks, nothing else.

“Just Grizzly?  What about Pete or Chellette?”  There was no sign of Pete Fontenot, Bertrand’s brother and bodyguard or Henri Chellette, a trusted capo. 

The details were just coming in.  Someone had gotten a clean line of sight and shot him in the head through the window of Mullatte’s on a crowded Sunday lunch shift.  He had been eating with a female but she was in the wind.  A 7mm Magnum casing was found about a hundred-fifty yards across the road in a parking lot.  That was all they had. 

Jowanski was a known judicial adversary of Grizzly Fontenot’s.  The Orleans Parish DA was giving him a courteous heads-up.

“Holy shit!  Rival gangland hit, you think?”

Could be, came the reply.  Fontenot had a long list; most of his ilk did.  Be a while before they got it sorted out. 

“Any idea who the girl might be?” Jowanski rubbed his chin.  He had a hunch.

She was seen with a gun and gave some quick line to a witness about just being a hired whore for the day.

“What kinda’ gun?” Women with pistols were not numerous.  Jowanski rubbed his bald spot, waiting to hear what he already knew he would hear.

“At least three men said she had a Luger.  Not sure if it’s reliable.” The DA, a woman named Florida Blanchette, told him.

“It’s reliable as hell.  Damn lucky break!  Put out an APB for a Lemarie Curio Leblanc.  Alias is Curio Felony, spelled P-h-e-l-o-n-i-e.  She’s a known associate of his.  Also look up a Moses Truitt Holliday.  They are a couple.  We think they do some hitting for Grizzly.  They are to be considered more than the average beat cop can handle, you understand?  Armed and dangerous ain’t scratched the surface.  Grab her as a material witness but y’all assume she could be a shooter.”

Jowanski’s girlfriend came into the living room, wearing a pair of high-cut black panties and one of her white silk blouses she liked to be interviewed wearing.

“What’s up?” She sipped from a lukewarm cup of Community coffee.

“Grizzly Fontenot just got himself shot in the face eating lunch at Mullatte’s.” He cupped his hand over the receiver as DA Blanchette relayed his instructions to an officer on scene.

“Holy shit!” She reeled and caught herself.  She sputtered on the coffee. “I didn’t see that coming.”

“Hey, Florida?  I know you’re busy.  Give me a call tomorrow at the office.  I’m up to my eyeballs on the Detrick Butler trial but when I get in tomorrow I’ll see to it you get a packet on that piece of shit mob stiff you got down there.  Of course you know who you got, but trust me, there’s a lot more to this than you know.  I’ll call you.  Okay. Good hunting.” He hung up.

“Wow.  Holy shit!  How’s that for a Sunday brunch surprise?” Ellen Prudeaux shook her hair back and forth, trying to dry some of the matted sweat from it so it was poof out, as she was accustomed to seeing it.  “Who did it?  Rival mob?”

“Dunno.  Sniper got him.  Shot him in the head right in front of a woman I'm bettin was Curio Leblanc.  She’s in the wind.  At least I think it’s her.  Didn’t get a description but a witness put a Luger in a woman’s hand.  Gotta’ be her.  We’ll know tomorrow.”

“How much you gonna’ share with that DA?  You know we can’t bring too many fingers into this thing.”

“Well, I’m actually gonna’ drop them some juice to be nice.  We need them to round up the rest of the crew.  They can’t find Pete or that other scumbag Chellette.  What the hell was Grizzly Fontenot and Curio Leblanc sitting there eating lunch without Holliday or at least Pete around?  They were just cuttin’ up like an old couple at Sunday brunch together like that?  It doesn’t wash.”

“Maybe they were fucking.  She is a goddamned whore after all.” Ellen purred.  She patted the place next to her on the couch.  “She wouldn’t be the first woman to fuck the boss.”  Randall flopped down beside her, suddenly naked.  He was in the middle of some nice sex with his assistant when the phone rang. 

“Could be.  The autopsy will probably tell us.  Hey!” He jumped upright. “Her DNA is all over that place if they were fucking and eating.  I need to call that Florida back.”

“They’ll get it.  You tell her you want a sample she’ll get wind that the trail leads past her and the case might be kicked up the chain.  If it’s there, the crime scene guys will get it.  They do know how to work a murder in New Orleans, honey.  A man like Grizzly Fontenot gets it, they’ll handle it right.”

“Let’s hope so.  Still, I need a Bureau guy on it.  I’m calling Charlie Gill.”  He had the Special Agent in route within minutes.

“Man oh man.” He hung up with Gill and reclined himself across her lap, rubbing her side softly. “No more Grizzly.  I pity Moses Holliday.  No more ties, no more money.  We catch Curio, no more pussy.  Texas will fry him for Odessa with my help.  If the Mexicans don’t get him first.”

“What makes you sure he didn’t kill Fontenot?  We know they have been low key even before the Odessa thing.  Ole’ Fontenot was getting tired of fucking people over and all, if the wires are to be believed.  This Odessa thing was probably more shit than he wanted to put up with and Holliday killed him before he could get himself retired.  That’s a lot of shit to bring down on a boss.  He had to know it wouldn’t sit well with Grizzly.”

“Yeah, but you forget their history, dear.” He slid his hand under a breast and lightly touched the nipple, more fascinated with its size than horny.  “Them two were in combat together.  They go way back.  Hell, they were friends more than bossman-underling.  Grizzly tried real hard to keep Holliday’s name out of things so he could use him because he was a friend and a real operator.  It’s the girl that messed things up.  He got sloppy.  But I don’t…hell, I won’t believe he shot Grizzly.”

“It’s always the girl that messes things up, ain’t it?” Ellen leaned forward and kissed him slowly, her hair falling and covering his head.  They parted.

“If she was fucking the boss, would that change the play?”

“Perhaps,” Randall smirked. “But I don’t think Curio was after Grizzly.  Yeah, she probably gets around but it’s always Holliday calling the plays.  They love each other best we have been able to piece together.  Whatever that word means between them two evil fucks.  It’s a twisted thing, sometimes.”

“It’s always seemed too fucking weird for me.  Old enough to be her daddy.  Drunk old man takes a street whore under his wing, gets her to killing people with him.  Doping up, partying with Fontenot’s skuzzy bitches every once in a while but then dropping off the radar and then coming back?  Now the Odessa thing.  It’s fucked and it’s wrong.  I can’t wait to be there when we get those two.”

“Still taking that slap he gave you personally?” He bit his lip, squinted and pinched the nipple.

“Wouldn’t you?  It’ll be worth it when he gets the needle.  God, if I had known he was who he was back then…” I would be the boss, not you, schmuck… “…I would have been on him so fucking hard.”

“We’ll get him.  He did a good job covering his ass in Texas.  But old cowpokes and drinking buddies with long memories will get you every time.  I’m just wondering, if it’s the Mexicans that killed Fontenot, how did they know it was him and that he worked for Grizzly?  It’s just a working theory right now.  Not many out that way know about it.”

“Informant?  Leaky field office? Who knows?  Maybe one of the family talked before they were killed.”

It was known, but unreleased to the media, that at the residence of Althea’s sister, Donna Douglas, the murders that took place had been carried out over the course of at least two hours.  One of the children who died at the scene was bound and sexually tortured in front of the mother before they were all shot to death.  The fatal stabbing of their ailing father in his hospice bed had been brutal but at least swift.

“Much to do.  I gotta’ plead Butler this week.  Too much going on now for me to be dickin’ around with his lowlife ass.  I’ll lock him up for a dime and a half and that’ll free me up for the Texas thing.  The AG is all about it.  Ann Richards damn sure has it on her radar.  They can use my help on this for damn sure.” He leaned his head back. “Shit, I guess I better put in for a transfer out to Okie.  I gotta’ get in on that juice out that way while it lasts.  Get to packin’, baby.  We moving up and outta here.”

“Where do you reckon Holliday goes from here?”

“He’s a Texas boy.  Nothing to tie him down around here now.  Except her, but they’ll probably hook up somewhere and head that way.  Unless we catch one of them first.  Then, who knows?  Curio has always been the soldier.  He’s the general.”

“Fontenot is the general.”

“No, Fontenot was the President.  He made policy and Holliday enforced it.  Thing is, you need soldiers, generals and the puppet masters.  Lose any one of those and nothing gets done.  Soldiers need orders or why have them?  Generals need soldiers.  Presidents need generals.”

“Yes, but any one of those gets lost in the mix, they can all go rogue.  One could say, that without Fontenot they have unfettered freedom to do whatever they want.  They worked with the boss holding the reins to some degree….mmm.” The nipple was in control of her loins now.  She, like he, had not liked being interrupted by the phone.

“True.  Guess we’ll just have to see what shakes out.  First thing we need to do is catch them before some local law gets into a shootout trying to take them down and the whole thing gets messed up.  I want them alive and in the process of doing something so we can catch them.  If we play it right, we can sniff out whoever is leaking the info to the Mexicans, if they did the hit.  Getting Holliday is one thing, but I want whatever motherfucker cut off that kid’s head and shot Althea Jennings in the mouth, too.  That shit is brutal and I want that bastard to swing for it.  It’s getting to be a big net to cast now.” He sighed.  Her hands were reciprocating his.

“DEA, ATF, FBI, Border Patrol, local boys.  It’s quite the shitstorm.” Ellen Prudeaux leaned forward and directly let him know talking shop was officially put on hold for a while…if for no other reason than a celebration was in order. 

Grizzly Fontenot was no more. 

Jowanski enjoyed himself just a little more than normal thinking about it while they passed some personal time together.

Hermano Duermo sat on the upper deck of the riverboat, Mississippi Belle.  Reclining on the sun deck, he let the sun bake his face a long while, watching the wake churn behind the boat as it made its pass up and down the river.  Around him, tourists leaned against the rails.  They watched the river traffic and the gulls diving for alms.  He breathed slowly, relaxed as he sat calmly rethinking the day. 

         Early that morning, he had risen from his bed at the Hilton and checked out after having a wonderful cup of chicory coffee in the lobby.  Though he was a Columbian and coffee was a staple, of course, there was a certain joie de vivre sieved into the grounds of fresh chicory coffee boiled in the water from the New Orleans aquifers.  They had fresh mint available and he tried it on impulse. With just a hint of some heavy cream and a Splenda packet, the tinge of mint added a nice lagniappe, to use the local phrase, he mused, to the cup.  He would have to try it again in Bogotá when he was finished with his chores in Los Ustados Unidos.

         Hermano Duermo was born Felipe Alessandro Elfizo in Cali, Columbia in 1954.  His father was the Columbian ambassador to France during most of his formative years.  He enjoyed a cultured and exotic upbringing, a child of both the rich hills of Columbia and the Champ Elysee.  When he was sixteen, his mother committed suicide with her French lover when his father was recalled to Columbia after the national elections did not go his party’s way.  The new President wanted a new diplomatic corps, as was his prerogative.  His father was shamed by his wife’s affair and the subsequent investigation into her death tainted his career.

The elder Elfizo worked until his last days as a bank official, hiding drug money for traffickers.  First, it was the heroin dealers.  Good money but usually from foreign sources with stringently watched government banks.  When the coca plant began its rise to power in the late Seventies, the all-American greenbacks flooded the nation and took over the trade.

         With no siblings and little expected of the shamed offspring of his shamed father, Felipe wanted for nothing as he grew into a young man.  The spoiled young man matured into a dapper adult that sampled a huge smorgasbord of sex and personalities by the time he hit twenty years of age.  He found quickly that his tastes ran toward the sadistic around the time he began to run with some of the sons of the emerging cartel honchos. 

In the slums of Bogotá and Cali, there was no shortage of streetwalkers and captured daughters of rival gangs for him to practice his lusty degradations.  His father caught him in the middle of a particularly horrible deed and promptly called in a favor with an old colleague and sent the boy off to join the French Foreign Legion.

         The Legion showed the man how to fight.  It also stationed him in places where again, there were never shortages of expendable bodies for him to play with.  His soul was calloused when he left the Legion.  He was a trained killer, eager to continue fighting wherever he could find a war for which he could be of service.  The war turned out to be the War on Drugs that Nixon began when his father was important but still raging without an end when Reagan was el Presidente.  By then, younger Elfizo was primed for the battle.  His was the last face countless dozens of the dead had the misfortune of seeing before they were mercifully killed.  It was rare they enjoyed a simple demise at his hands.

         He was called in when something dramatic needed to happen to make sure a proper message was sent.  The past few weeks saw him pass the word as he saw fit.  Destroying utterly the Jennings family told his quarry that the Tuscadero hit and the subsequent killing of Santoya Froma and his men was a bridge too far for the cartel to cross without retaliation.  Duermo expected a swift reaction.  He assumed at first it was a militant group of some kind.  Far-right types, Nazis or Klansmen, perhaps.  No one stepped forward, however.

Killing the cartel people in such a brazen fashion was the work of someone dedicated, fatalistic, and proficient.  There were at least two people involved in the assaults.  It perplexed him when nothing happened after he dispatched the Jennings.  Subsequently, Duermo spent a great deal of time and cartel money trying to unearth the culprits.  Dodging the Federales swarming around Odessa was a sincere obstacle.

He figured whoever bombed the cantina was a local or from somewhere nearby.  The sister of Althea Jennings, Donna, spoke of her nephew’s father as merely some old drunk in Louisiana before he killed her.  He replayed her face and voice in his head many times and now thought she lied to him.  Even as she had said the words, he sensed she was withholding something.  Had he the time and equipment with him, he would have made sure of her truthfulness.  He had a small window in which to interrogate her and it cost him the whole truth, he reckoned.

A source in the local law's investigation indicated the sister once drunkenly got in the face of an ex-boyfriend in a bar and threatened to get her sister’s man, an ex-Marine, to "take care of him."  Locals knew of Althea’s running around with an old drunk trucker, name of Holliday.  A lot of those locals, when asked, did not take kindly to him maybe having come back and bombing a bar that served good burritos and stout margaritas.  Having not seen him in the area in over a decade, few thought he would or could be able.  Nothing he had done aside from going to war would indicate he had the knowledge or capacity to pull a job such as the Tuscadero or the ambush of Santoya Froma and his men.

Exhausting all leads, a miraculous source of information dropped in his lap.  It whispered, "Go to New Orleans" to him.

Hermano Duermo now had a personal source within the Justice Department that linked Holliday to a Louisiana gangster named Bertrand Fontenot.  So Duermo went and shot Fontenot.  He did not need his quarry hiding behind the money of a connected mobster.  It could prove too time-consuming to find and kill Holliday.  Dropping the boss put this Holliday in the wind.  The police would shake trees far and wide trying to find out who killed Fontenot.  With the wind carried with it the scent that Fontenot may have been involved in the Tuscadero Massacre, the hunters would drive his quarry to ground for him.

And in that wind was where Duermo would find the scent of his targets best.

Talmedge Hardesty, “Hard,” if he introduced himself to someone, drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of his black ’71 Dodge Challenger as he roared south from Kansas into Oklahoma.  Behind aviator sunglasses, tattooed biceps and subdued dog tags, his mind tried to piece together the pros and cons of the events he helped set in motion just a few days before.

He sipped from a glass bottle Coke as he felt the big motor purring under his foot.  The last cold snap was done for the Plains, a blast of Canadian frosty just after Easter.  Now there was only sunshine and the occasional April tornado in store for his neck of the woods.  Today was a sunny classic.

On his radio came blaring Cobain screaming, “Teenage angst has paid off well, but now I’m bored and old.”  Cutting his eyes toward the Kenwood, he sneered at some pissed-off, moody Washington kid all grown up with a smoker’s voice and a loud guitar.

         “If it pays so well to ruin my beloved metal, the least you can do is cut that stringy mop of hair or get some hairspray, some lacy panties and some earrings to go with it, you whiny pussy-fag.”

Hard kept a military buzz cut at all times.  His cadence of speech was usually the amped-up staccato of a drill instructor circa-Nam.  Since he hit the JROTC at Broken Bow High School in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, his voice had that fervor.  It was part and parcel of the man he wanted to embody…right down to the DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR tattoo he had stenciled across his chest the night he graduated from AIT at Fort Benning.

         Hard worked as an on-again, off-again problem fixer for Grizzly Fontenot.  He was twenty-five years old, five-foot eleven, one hundred and eighty-five pounds of daily weight-lifting and the occasional cycle of ‘roids.  Besides the motto on his chest, he took great pride in keeping his biceps large enough to make the barbed wire encircling the left and the belt of ammo on the right stand out nicely.  He kept his shades on indoors, got a hard-on when he saw Old Glory, never went without his highly-shined Cochran jump boots bloused…even in a suit.  His usual reply to a yes or no was affirmative or negative.  Any baseball cap to adorn his squared away head was crimped at the top of the brow, Ranger-style, even though he was never a Ranger. 

         Musically, Hard was a man born ten years too late.  The grunge that dominated rock, in his opinion, was a substandard commodity compared to the greats of heavy metal.  It pissed him off to no end that Metallica put out that candy-ass black covered album to finally win back their stolen glory from Jethro Tull when everyone knew …And Justice For All was the greatest fucking album of all time. 

Seeing Cobain with his screechy guitar…the drummer was not too bad though…listening to Vedder curse fame yet not play a cheap coffeeshop because that would not pay for a Benz…watching Alice in Chains dancing on razor blades because that lame-ass singer needed a needle to find his soul… it infuriated him.  Give him Lemmy or Bruce Dickinson anytime over those weepy prisses too worried about a woman’s right to choose to try getting their rocks off balls deep and give those bitches a reason to hit the vacuum. 

Hell, give him those girly-fags, Poison.  At least they enjoyed the spoils of rock without moping or cursing the GOP while crying and sniffling in some weeping woman’s lap…with her panties still on, of course…about how wrong men around the world had treated them and how great Tori Amos’ soul was.

         It was killing, pussy, beer cans and twisted honor that kept Hard rolling in his Challenger to parts unknown at the behest of the quirky one-legged coonass he worked for.  For an old Marine, ole Fontenot was not half bad.  He lost a leg back in Nam, a sacrifice that entitled him a massive respect and added attention to detail from Hard.  The man was in the real shit- Nam, man…not at all like that three vacation days worth of plinking off surrendering Iraqi sand niggers for the Man when he was a Spec-4 Infantryman in the 24th Infantry. 

Sure, he saw a few guys fuck up and take some hits from some lucky Iraqi mortar crew, but Grizzly told him all about the day in ’72 when his fuckin' Lurp unit came under assault by a whole damned battalion of pissed NVA infantry backed up by rocket and heavy mortar support.  Told him all about taking a 122mm rocket round that fucked him all up and killed a couple of jarheads next to him.  The rocket sprayed his friend Holliday with frags, but that bleedin’ sumbitch never flinched.  He was engaging targets at three hundred meters with his M-14.  Headshots, at three hundred meters!  With tracers and 60mm mortars coming in at him when the rocket barrage let up and actually passing on either side of his head while Grizzly lay in a foxhole bleeding out and watching it go down.  He was awarded the Navy Cross for the action.

         Hard rode on a Bradley picking up pussy-ass Shiite conscripts- “soldiers” who would surrender to a muff-diving news chick's phallic microphone if they could- during his three days of combat glory in a beerless desert. 

         Fucking Nam…some real shit.

He tried his damndest to make himself worthy of Fontenot and that hardcore killer Holliday.  Grizzly had not told Hard that Holliday was still a friend and worked for him until just after some crazy bastard dynamited a beaner nightclub out in west Texas.  That was just a month after Hard dispatched a pair of crooked men from San Antonio with silenced shots to their foreheads.  With the pay envelope came a note that Grizzly needed to see him in person.

         They met at Zilger Park in Austin, Texas…Hard’s hometown when he was pressed to say where he lived.  Actually, he maintained several places across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas.  Austin was full of dirty hippies for the most part and that kept him from staying there too much lest he end up in jail for trying to scalp away a ponytail from one of those free-loving, hacky-sackin’, bong-toking little communist motherfuckers on general principle. 

It was a large city, though, with some operational perks.  Namely, the laid-back attitude of the Lone Star's little commie enclave meant people lived and let live without prying too much.  That “Doing your own thing” mantra came in handy when a weekend might mean running a bayonet up into some dumb bastard’s kidney with a hand over his mouth to silence the scream.

         Plus, it was a little bastion of fledgling college communistic hippies.  Everybody knew hippie girls liked to fuck and there was a college campus full of them.  All of them on some kinda hippie dope and gagging up Jaagermeister shots by the dozen every weekend.  Of course they all were loving a real man with muscles and a complete set of hairy bull nuts instead of those long-hairs with white scrawny chests, wearing those ridiculous wool sock hats and hemp bracelets with peace and love signs on them, for Christ's sake.  Fuckin’ guy liner on their faces...Hard frequently had to stop himself from pissing in their faces to wash away mascara that clearly did not belong on a man.

         “Hard, my man.  How’s it hangin’?  Damn, you getting purty deez days.  You ain’t been hittin’ dat hippie holla’ too much, have ya?  Be a shame to lose you to dem ass-lovers up dat way.” Grizzly met and shook hands with Hard at the put-in for the canoe rides one may take at the downtown park.  They agreed to talk shop during a quick two-mile float.

         There was a nudist resort on nearby Lake Travis that was named the Hippy Hollow.

         “I try to go everyday, Mr. Fontenot.  First time I went I seen all them lil gaywads lil prisses out there had peckers that was smaller than mine, I knew if I let my bigass garrison flag fly, them clit-cleaners would all see the light and know they could leave the girlie box alone, shave those Buckwheat armpits, and have the real deal instead.  Just good business for my ragin' cock if you ask me.”

Hard was ever-punctual and prepared to receive the boss.  The canoes were loaded and ready for departure when Grizzly arrived.  They shoved off immediately.

         “Looka' dat, Hard.  You getting yo picture took with lil ole me.” A pair of easily discernible feds pulled up in a nondescript black SUV, leapt out and started firing off rolls of film from long-lens cameras. “You gonna’ be famous if you ain’t careful.”

Hard pulled his cap down a little further on his brow.  His omnipresent aviators already hid most of his face and the loose long-sleeve shirt and long pants hid his build and tats.

         “Or infamous one day.  What brings you out to the hills, if I may ask, sir?” He gave the agents the finger and then imitated a cock poking his cheek from inside the mouth. “Sorry motherfuckers in this world, sir.  A million crackheads and fucking beaners jumping the border and they gotta’ mess with you.”

         “I sell crack to dem crackheads too, Hard.” Grizzly chuckled.

         “Sorry if I offended, sir.” Hard recanted quickly.

         “I know what you mean, my good boy.  None taken.  Let’s put a little room between us and dat set of bat ears dey over der tryin to get to work, eh?” 

Making small talk about the nice weather, the House takeover by Newt’s bunch last year and the sorry treatment Randy Weaver received from his government just in case the Feds could hear them, they made way for the safety of distance.  They dug at the cold, crystal-clear water furiously with their paddles and made for the opposite shore. 

Once downstream and thinking they were safe enough, Grizzly beached the boats and they hopped out.  Hard pulled a pair of tumbler glasses, a flask of Glenfiddich and some ice from the tiny cooler he had stowed.  They clinked glasses.

“That was a nice favor last month.  I haven’t had the time to say so.  I been a busy little bee lately, Hard.”

“The favor paid nicely, sir.  Thank you for the kind words, though…sir.  It was an easy mission, though.” Hard scanned the river upstream.  He was certain the Feds would get a canoe and follow them.  Any idiot could rent one at the office and have an easy float without trouble.  It would be funny to see them in their dark three-piece suits and black shades firing film at them while fumble-fucking in the shaky aluminum canoes.  He would give one of his hairy beans to see a canoe full of Feds flip a boat.

“Glad you think so.  Let’s get to it, Hard.  I guess you a-heard about dat mess over in Odessa?”

“It’s all over the news.  Yes, sir.” Hard was intrigued already.  Odessa was some real shit.  A sweep and clear, a target snatch under duress, and then someone used an IED with sniper support to ambush and clean up the Mexican honcho dumb enough to try to get his kidnapped son back.

“You could say dat.  Worldwide news.  It’s a problem for me.  Gettin' to be a real issue and perhaps beyond my control.”

“What do I need to handle for you, sir?"

“Well,” Grizzly rubbed his temples and took a long slurp of the scotch. “For starters, I’m gonna’ leave you with some info on some people I may want you to get in touch with.  Dey some of my eyes and ears in da Justice Department.  The ones who will still talk to me because I gots dem by dey shoat and curlies.  Dis here thing in Odessa has a tie to me.  I done told you a while back dat deyz dis Fed who done got a notion dat putting ole Fontenot on a perp walk is his stairway to dat blissful heaven dat is ole Miss Reno’s left sucklin' titty.  I already heard dat my man’s handiwork out there in Odessa done got him flagged.  Don’t know all the specifics and ain’t much I can do ‘bout it raht now no-ways.”

“You need intel, sir?  Need me to infiltrate and recon a place for you?” Hard was already trying to think of what he would need to do so, if possible.

“Naw, dey got the intel.  I just need you to handle getting it and squirellin’ it down to me securely if and when you get some worth note.  Also, this business with dat woman and her family gittin’ killt is a bit of a personal thing for one of my men.  I need you to dig around best you can and see what you can know about dat fucker dat done done it.”

“Beaners ain’t much on talking to gringos, sir.  With all that heat, it may not be in my capacity to learn much from them.  I will try though, sir.  And I will succeed in that mission.”

“Of course you will.  Just so’s you know, I think verah highly of you, Hard.  I gots others tryin to learn what’s what out der dat way, doh.” Grizzly cocked his head at Hard.  The man was standing in a loose parade rest stance, arm stuck in the small of his back, the scotch barely touched and held parallel to the ground.  He smiled at the machismo. 

Hard had a special place in his heart.  The man was thorough, fairly sober, cocky as hell, and downright vicious on command.  Grizzly found himself wondering about a possible pairing of him and Moses.  It struck him that such a thing might work, if Curio Phelonie could act right.

And dat ain’t possible with her if Moses’ head ain’t in da game like it is raht now.  But her and ole Hard might do some good…

“I thank you for your commendation, sir.  I try to be of help.”

“You been a good help.  I done ever told you about da man who saved me when I got hit in Vietnam?”

“A Marine named…Holliday, I believe you said, sir.” Hard looked away, squinting as if trying to recall a small, forgotten factoid.  He in fact had devoured every detail of Fontenot’s story when he first heard it.

“Moses Holliday, Hard.  He works for me.  He did dat thing in Odessa.”

Hard felt a shiver of admiration travel from his head to his boots.

Damn!  That’s so hardcore!

“May I ask why, sir?  Story in the papers says it’s a hate crime or maybe some revenge killing by a cartel outfit.”

“It’s a tale to tell, Hard.” Grizzly wiped his brow with a shirt sleeve. “A long time ago, Althea Jennings was Moses’ wife for about two minutes.  He heard about what dem cholos did to her and he went off half-cocked about it.  Dat kid dat got his head cut off…dat was his son.”

“No shit?  That explains a lot.”

“It does.  It also tells you one thing.  Don’t go fuckin’ with dem Colombians.  Now, ole Moses is a fine man in a lot of respects.  He do what you do and done been doin’ it for me since you before had training wheels.  Him and dat crazy little cheri of his, dey went out there to drop a hammer on dem two sorry sumbitch Mexicans that beat her up and raped her for a few days.  Dat cartel honcho had ‘em hid out someplace, but Mo convinced him it was better evah last fuckin’ one of dem just end up dead.  And dat honcho took dat advice by showing up at ole Tex’s humble invitation.”

“I heard all about it, sir.  It’s a sorry piece of shit that does that to a woman.”

“Well, one thing about Moses Holliday is he a verah blunt man.  Evidence, dat bar he laid flat.”

Hard smiled.  “Laid flat, shot every Taco Bell motherfucker in the place and ended up snatching a drug lord’s kid and killing him very dead if I recall correctly.”

Then killed the drug lord and an armed detachment of gang-bangers, too…What fucking-A balls!

“Like I said, he’s a blunt force trauma kinda man at times.  Trouble is, he went off without his normal cautionary chitchat from me.  He jess fount out about po’ ole Althea, packed his shit, and locked and loaded befo’ he headed home for a reckoning.  And of course his little coochie had to go.”

“He had a woman working with him?” Hard took a drink and raised a surprised eyebrow.

“Curio, yeah.  She more dan a podnah, Hard.  She’s his woman, too.  And she’s a crazy little bitch, Hard.  Cuter than two puppies huggin’, but she cut a throat in a second if she thinks someone has it coming.  And her threshold for who needs dey throat cut can be mighty thin at times.  At least Moses just hauls off and punches a stupid asshole.  Of course dis time he punched dem sumbitches with dynamite but a lick is a lick, right?  Now dat Curio?  Dat’s her name by da way…now dat girl?  She lure a man in with dat rack of hers and do him some dirt-nappin’ mighty quick.  It comes in handy a lot fo’ da job, mind you.  But dem two together done got way past sloppy.  And all dis after dey retired from da life supposedly.” Grizzly sighed and took another sip of scotch. “I don’t know where all dis gonna end up but ole Fontenot ain’t a happy Pierre about it, I can tell you dat.”

“Sir?  Are you thinking of making a personnel change on account of this?”

“Naw, naw, naw.” Grizzly Fontenot smiled sadly and shook his head. “Dat man saved mah life and he a friend.  But he done got a heap-a trouble come down my way.  What he did, I agree with in spirit.  How he did it was dumb and emotional and public.  Very uncharacteristic of dat ole Moses but now he in love with dat wild little girlie of his and he done started doing too much feelin stedda’ thinkin.  Dat touchy-feelin bullshit is a damned inconvenience when it makes a sumbitch start throwing bombs at Mexican drug-runners and dey trim sittin’ around eatin’ tacos one night, I tell ya.”

“I would guess so.  Do you need me to partner up on something with these friends of yours?”

“Well.  I dunno yet.  Moses is a damned wreck.  Dey get da grave closed on dem poor souls out der for a little while.  I’ma let him drink like a fish a while.  Dat lil Curio can work whatever voodoo dat black magic twat a-hers can do on him a lil while,” Grizzly winked at him, “and we’ll see how it shakes out.  Depends on what we can find out about what’s goin’ on with deez fuckin Feds and dem Mexicans, too.  I know he gonna want da head of whoever done dat to dem folks of his.  He wasn’t in dey life at her request.  But he saw how dey done her and went to do…I dunno…something.  Gawd know what done went through his head.  It’s da one time I can honestly say he was da impulsive one and not dat alley cat Curio.  I woulda loved to know how he talked her into coming out dat way with him.  But den again, she a killah through and through.  Might notta’ took dat much talking to to make her saddle up.  She one odd piece of work, Hard.  I’m tellin’ ya.”

“You don’t like this woman, sir?”

“I say dat smiling, Hard.  She a good friend to Moses.  They in whatever you wanna call it…love, lust, companions, fuck buddies or soul mates.  All I can say is he one happy old Marine since he met her.  I couldn’t believe his ass when I fount out he had that lil cheri working with him but I gotta tell ya, she took to da job better den even you in some ways.  She been working for me since she could barely piss a hole in a ground.  She’s been more help than hurt, shall we say.  She is a verah capable worker, too, if you follow.”

“Affirmative, sir.  I copy all.”

Grizzly chuckled. “I like to say she wilder than a buttermilk fart.”

Hard laughed.  “Some kind of lady, then, sir.”

“Woman, yes.  Lady…” Fontenot made a so-so gesture. “She has da high heels, but not den high manners.  I cain’t blame her.  Dat girl come up rough.  She got scars inside on her soul dat need feedin’ and dem two fed dem a-plenty of souls over the last few years.”

“Five by five, sir.” Hard drained the scotch in one gulp and tossed the glass into the river. “So I understand my mission is just intel and reporting?”

“Not quite, Hard.” Grizzly laid his hand on Hard’s shoulder and leaned in close to his ear.

“I been doing some thinkin’.  Now if dis scares you, Hard, I understand.”

“Few things scare me, sir.  After I saw that singer lady’s pecker come floppin’ out in that Crying Game movie, I’m solid.  Ain’t nothing can ever scare me as bad as that ever again.  I have no fear left after that day.”

“Yeah, dat lil cheri had some set-a nuts, ain’t she?” Fontenot guffawed. “I think Pete was thinkin’ about strokin’ one out to dat fellah until he saw it wasn’t a she.  And we live in Nawlins, you would think we shoulda caught onto dat quicker.”

“Given the general state of pussiness of the average males these days, I think we can all be fooled now, sir.”

“Probably.  But all bullshit aside.  Dis thing I’ve been thinkin’ about.  It’s a one-time thing for all of us.  It gotta be handled safe.  Beyond safe, actually.  Failsafe to da max.  Or not at all.”

“I copy, sir.  Lay it on me.”

“Hard, you still talkin’ to dem fellas from yo’ old unit?”

“Yes sir.”

And Grizzly Fontenot laid it on him.

Hard crossed the state line after having met with his war buddies.

“Infamy has an odd ring to it, sir…” His words to Grizzly almost a month before came back to him.

He giggled to himself as he looked at himself with his aviators gleaming and his head shaved by the book. He thought of Quint from Jaws.

“Hoo-wee, that taxidermy man gonna’ have a heart attack when he sees what I brung him.”

It was audacious and a damned fool's errand in his estimation, but even though he was nervous about his role in the deed, he applauded the balls of his one-legged Cajun employer.

Crazy bastard!  But man, the stones to pull that big a trigger...

Talmedge Hardesty flipped the empty Coke bottle out the window and headed for Texas.

Curio Phelonie rode an airplane from Jackson, Mississippi to the tiny airport in Jena, Louisiana.  She was dead tired, somewhat airsick, and tired of the veiled come-ons of the pilot she hired to hop her from Hawkins Field to the hillbilly airstrip in Catahoula Parish. 

She tipped the man a hundred and thanked him but no-thanked him when he pointed at an approaching thunderstorm and suggested they find someplace to get a cold one and wait it out.  He insisted he was not about to take off in that kind of weather.  When she pointed at a waiting cabbie that had driven all the way from Alexandria to meet her at the expected time and rushed away to get in the car, he managed to have enough sudden bravery to take off and head home to his wife.

“Sorry I’m late.  That goddamned pilot took the long way around to get here, I just know it.” She flipped her purse and a new duffel bag full of clothes and toiletries in the back with her.  “Pervert bastard.”  It bounced and hit the far door with a metallic thump.  She winced.  The Luger was loaded.  Jarring it hard on the grip was a thing to be avoided.

“Ain’t no thang, baby!  It’s yo’ dime.  I ain’t been here all that long really.” The cab driver was a fat black woman in her late fifties.  She wore her hair in a Jheri-curl.  A large cross hung from the rearview mirror and a large sticker on the dash indicated the cab was “Prayer conditioned.”  The car reeked of hot fried cracklins.  Curio looked at a smiling headshot on the dashboard ID card.

Margeaux Rice…

“You got any of whatever I smell left?  I’ve had a shitty couple of days and I’m really starving.”

“Them’s was some hot cracklins you smell.” Margeaux looked at Curio curiously in the mirror as she pulled out of the airport. “I got them from a man selling them on the side of the road on the way out here.  Ain’t none of them left but there’s a little burger place right up here in town we can stop by.”

“Man, I could go for that!  I haven’t eaten much since brunch a coupla days ago.”

“I’ll hit it for you then.  How are ya, sweetie!  My name’s Margeaux.”

“Wore out.  It’s been a rough couple of days.” 

God, I’m tired…

She slumped her head against the hot window. 

There was little time to rest for Curio after she bailed out of Mullatte’s with some of Grizzly Fontenot’s head stuck to her.  Her days were a few bags of chips here and there, drinking canned Sprites, burning up a pack of cigarettes one after the other when she was in a smoking section of a terminal.  She rode a bus from New Orleans to Biloxi and then from Biloxi up to Jackson.  It was a long, boring ride but it gave her time to think and worry…two things she did desperately and unceasingly in between unanswered calls to over a dozen phone numbers she had to use for Moses.

Panic had set in by the time the Greyhound reached downtown Jackson.  Still in the same clothes she had when Grizzly died, she taxied over to the Metrocenter Mall and hit Dillard’s.  Leaving the ruined clothes in a trashcan, Curio made a mad dash through the mall, snapping up a few functional outfits, some toiletries, a walkman and three more throwaway phones.  Realizing she had only the rounds in the clip of the Luger and no other weapon, she walked across the parking lot to an outdoor store and managed to find a decent dagger with a leg strap like she always carried.  She also bought a box of bullets.

“For my boyfriend.” She told the amused clerks at the gun store as they warned her not to poke her eye out with that knife, Little Missie.


She then called another taxi and went out to Hawkins Field, a small airport that took a lot of the private Piper Cub and private jet traffic off the bigger Jackson International out in Rankin County.  She had the cabbie let her out at the small terminal and went into the restroom to put on her best “battle face” as Moses liked to call it when she made herself up sexy.

Three different pilots sat around in the terminal lobby.  All three were waiting on her; it appeared.  They flew to her yellow jackets to a Coke can.  "Yes, Miss-ing" her, laughing and winking at her when she flirted and tapped them lightly on their forearms as she listened to them pick at each other about the size inadequacies of their respective planes.

One was willing to forego his pleasure cruise around the reservoir and hop her way over to Jena, Louisiana…sure thing, no problem!

He even offered to do it for just the gas cost.  Such a nice guy.

Curio was glad she bought the walkman.  She listened to Jagged Little Pill the entire way over.  By the time Alannis Morisette was done wailing about being done over by her man, Curio had commiserated nearly enough with her broken-hearted Canadian angst to kill the flirty pilot.

“You looking tired, dear.  You got peoples around these parts?  Meeting someone?” The cabbie asked her.

“My man is out here.  He lives out by Catahoula Lake.”

“Yeah, they told me I was taking you out that way.”  She looked Curio over.

Pretty little white girl.  She looks like she done been through the wringer.  Needs her some Lord God Jesus to set that dirty mouth straight.  Dead tired.  Wore out and at so young an age.  That makeup don’t hide a thing from me or God, dear.  Whatever it is you doing with your days, it don’t agree with you no more.

“You married?”

“Engaged!” It made her perk up to say it.  Beaming, she held up her ring.

“That’s so nice!  He treat you right, baby?  You sho look tired.”

“He’s been very good to me.” She stifled a chuckle. “For me…that’s another thing probably.”

“You look so beat though, dear.”

“I’ve had better days than the ones lately.  But when I see him things will be better.”

“What’s your name, baby?”

“Lemarie Leblanc.” It sounded so foreign to her to use her Christian name.  It was a long time since she said it aloud.

“Where you from?”


“Ooowee, that’s a big ole city, ain’t it?  I gots some peoples down in Algiers.  You don’t sound all that Cajun.”

“I’ve been living in a lot of places for a while.  When I get back around there, I find the accent has a way of slipping back in me when I’m around my people.”

Probably be a while before I get back that way, though.  Curio thought about Grizzly.

“How long y’all been separated?”

“Too long.  We’ve lost some friends over it.” 

Put mildly…

“Friends come and go, I’ve found.  Only God stays with you forever.”

“He had His ways, that’s for sure.”

“You got God in your heart, Lemarie?”

Surprised, Curio looked at the woman’s pleasant face in the rearview mirror, she smiled warmly.  There was a sweet sincerity in the question.  A mother looking out for a wayward child, though not her own, out of genuine Christian concern.  It was a sweet gesture and not one Lemarie Leblanc could remember since perhaps a nun’s genuine concerns about her well-being.  The sincerity of the sister’s questioning what kind of home life she had was one of her fondest memories from her childhood.

Not that anything came of it, of course.  Mama made sure I never was alone with Sister Jean again.  But at least she cared enough to ask.

“Not much, ma’am.  I can’t say God and I are in sync lately, no.  In fact, I don’t think he and I have talked much for a long time.”

“He is always talking to you, Lemarie.  When you don’t talk to him, he just speaks loud enough to be heard.”

“He does love his thunder at times.  And lightning strikes in the damndest places.”

“If that is what it takes to get your attention, he sends it.  Young folks these days take a more loud a voice I reckon.  They’s just too much living large and living loud nowadays for just the written word.  All this music and TV and sex everywhere.  The drugs.  Fallen preachers.  Evil men running countries.  Just wickedness everywhere.  Any good man tries to make his mark is in for one trial of Job after another after Satan’s helpers get to working on him.”

“My man likes to say things ain’t no more worse now than they’ve ever been in history.”

“He might be right.  Sure seems like it, though.  All you hear about is the evil now.  Never the good.  But I won’t preach to you.  Just know that every breath we take might be our last.  Only God knows the time of your passing.  You gotta be right and ready in your heart at all times.  I try to stay in His good graces best I can and one day, Lord willing, I’ll be at his side with all my loved ones again.”

“Amen, sister.” Curio nodded, her head still leaning against the window. “His good graces might not be such a bad thing for once.” She muttered.

“That little drive-through burger place is just up here.  You want something for real?”

Curio breathed in deeply and sat up to grab her purse. “Yeah,” She opened it and flipped out a twenty.  The cab pulled into the drive-through.  She rolled the window down.

“You want something?  I’m buying.”

“Oh, no thank you, sweetie.  I about ate myself sick on them cracklins.  They was so durn good though.  I love me some hot ones fresh from the grease.”

“You sure?”

“I’m good, thank you.”

She is just being polite…she can eat apparently.

Curio ordered up a BBQ sandwich and fries.  Suddenly remembering she would be seeing Moses, she ordered him a jumbo bacon cheeseburger the way he liked it: mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomato.  It was the first time she could recall ordering for him.  When they ate out, he always ordered for her when she had decided and the server came.

“Oh, and two large strawberry shakes for me and my friend here.” The cab driver started to protest but only thanked her as the voice in the box gave her the total and said to drive around.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I don’t like to drink alone.” Curio winked. “You sure you don’t want nothing?  The boss is paying.”

“Your man is your boss?  You playing with fire if that’s the truth.”

“I love fire.  And yeah, my man is the boss nowadays.  Kinda.” 

A strong clap of thunder echoed from the west, the direction Curio knew she was headed.

“Oh I hates me some thunder.  Sounds like an angry God a-calling.” The cabbie put it in park at the pick-up window.

“He does speak louder than words, don’t he?  Action is so much louder than words.”

"It's gonna be some storm when it gets here."  The driver shook her head and looked at the swelling thunderhead.

"It is that."  Curio Phelonie stared toward the west as they drove. “It’s certainly been building up to it.

Epic proportions…

Moses Holliday let the stiff wind of an approaching thunderstorm rock him in his hammock on the bank of Coins Bluff on Little River, just a few miles above where the river widened out and fed the upper portion of Catahoula Lake.  He was clad only in a pair of faded and holey blue jeans.  The wind teased his nipples taunt.  It had a cold bite to it as it rushed around the edges of the thunderhead.

In his hands was a long rifle barrel, endlessly stroked up and down its length with an oiled soft rag for hours that day.  It was nearly four in the afternoon, he figured.  Of course, he could have been off three hours either way…not that he cared. 

It had been almost four days since he started up the Bronco to make sure the winch had enough power to drag a treetop across the bend in the river downstream from where he lay.  He worked quite a while with an ax to bring the tree down across the river only to have it fall incorrectly.  With much cussing and bushwhacking a trail to get the Bronco close enough to winch the tree in increments to where he wished it to lie, he managed to block the downstream approach of anyone wishing to come upriver to fish and possibly see him. 

At least until someone told someone to get a chainsaw and take it up that way. 

The river was low.  Not too far upriver of his position, it was probably crossable by foot.  He hoped if someone motored up from Catahoula Lake in a johnboat, they would only have enough water to keep happily fishing downstream.

There was an old man in a long yellow kayak that came around every now and again to hunt the banks for arrowheads and look for the elusive cougar rumored to live up near Coins Bluff.  He was a friendly enough old man.  Moses talked to him at least five times in the ten years he camped up on the river.  His visits were erratic, though.  So far, he had not paddled down from Georgetown.  With the water being so low, Moses reckoned it was too hard a slog for the old man to attempt to float very far.

No sign of anyone since I dropped that log down there.

Moses liked it that way.  He needed his mind clear.  It had not been clear for a great many days.  When the liquor, the pot and the beer ran out…then the food aboard the camper as well, he was forced to be clear and sober.

It was then that the sincere tears came.  Tears of revulsion, tears of self-immolation.  A deluge at times.  Tears of the horror of knowing his only son- a kid who never knew why a man was taking a knife to his neck after shooting a man dead in front of him- had been done that way because his unknown father decided to reassert himself, albeit twisted and vicariously, into his life for his own ultimately selfish reasons.

There was no doubt in his mind that Thea, a daughter of Buddy Jennings- a man who was as tough as they come until he was too feeble to fend off a knife to the heart in his hospice bed- could have and would have dealt with what happened to her as best she could.  Thea did not need or want him to help in any capacity.  She wanted him to leave and never come back.  There had not been a caveat of time or condition on her want for his disappearance to remain permanent.  In the end, she was right.

Because I’m a piece of shit.  Always was.  Everyone knew it.  My daddy saw it early.  My mama probably saw it later.  If she had been sober when I met her, Thea would have spotted it right off the bat.  Hell, until I saved his ass, Grizzly knew it.  Probably still thinks it, but just too nice to say it, because I was a good killer for him and that’s rare.

He began to hear thunder in earnest.  The first flash of lightning crackled to the ground somewhere in the forest to his north.

“Well hell, Cletus.  Guess we better get inside.” He rolled out of the hammock and laid the barrel on a canvas tarp where the other parts of his CAR-15 rifle lay cleaned and dutifully laid out as if for an inspection by someone in charge.

He nonchalantly gathered up the edges of the tarp as he felt the wind grow colder instantly and began to hear rain pattering through the pine needles.  Carefully, he pulled the edges together, the pieces rolling around within the tarp in a soft jumble.  When he had them bundled, he lifted the sack and strode inside the camper.

The rain drummed softly on the aluminum camper’s roof for many minutes before a crack of thunder exploded and then the bottom let out.  Gusts of wind rippled across the tiny camper.

Inside, Moses assembled the rifle deliberately.  Every piece slid into place with aplomb, the way he liked and expected.  When it was complete, he slid a high-power scope in place atop the carrying handle and looked out the window across the bank.  His eyes caught movement out by the bank.  Immediately he slapped a magazine into Cletus and armed it before aiming through the window.

In the rain, it was difficult to see anything.  As he lowered the rifle, he saw a magnificent sight.

A mother cougar with two babies in tow loped down the far bank of Little River, shaking their bodies reflexively now and again as they hunted shelter from the downpour.  He got a full twenty seconds worth of visual before they left his line of sight.

“Old man, wherever you are, I got a story to tell you.” He thought of the old man floating in that yellow kayak quietly down the river.  His old eyes still sharp, his mind clear, he told Moses a year or two back he thought he saw the cat once but could not be sure. 

“Of course if I do see it,” he told Moses, “I’ll not tell too many people.  Too many sportsmen around here that’ll want his fang for a damn necklace or a keychain.  Poor thing will end up getting shot by some hick who’ll tell some tall tale about it charging him or some other lame bullshit tall tale.  I ain’t against hunting.  I just don’t like rednecks calling it sport.  I say live and let live if you ain’t starving to death.  I’ve been hungry and I’ve killed to eat.  But I never wanted a head on the wall to remind me I had to.”

Am I a demented sportsman?  Moses asked himself as the wonderment of the sight he witnessed floated across his mind.  Someone who just wants a trophy.  Just shoot because I could give a shit.  Just something to do so I don’t have any responsibilities beyond those that keep me and Grizzly…and now Curio…out of danger?  Guess what, dickhead.  You failed miserably due to your wanting some vengeance you could keep as a trophy for your wall.  It sho nuff was fun high-fiving your girl when you thought you had gotten over on them cholos. 

The deluge continued unabated for over an hour.  His mind had little else to do except wonder about Curio and the gang.  What was happening in the investigation?  What was he going to eat?  When was he going to leave and rejoin everyone? 

Could he even do so?

Most of all he wondered where that motherfucker who cut off his kid’s head was.  He hoped the bastard was coming to find him.

That one’s head, he would keep for a trophy for damn sure.

Hard first caught a portion of the incredible news on a ticker scrolling across the bottom of CNN screen, as he ate lunch at a TGIFriday’s in Arlington, Texas.  It was a long while before the text repeated itself.  Almost on cue, a taped report about the death of Bertrand Fontenot, shot to death by a sniper while eating lunch at the famous Mullatte’s Restaurant in his hometown of New Orleans accompanied the crawler at the bottom.

He slumped noticeably on his stool as the impact of the statement hit him.  The pretty, pixyish bartender, who gave him her undivided attention both because he was fine and the only one eating at the bar in the middle of a lunch shift, rushed over to him.

“Hey soldier boy, you a-ight?”

Seeing his pale complexion, she freaked. “Sir?” The employee in her sounded off.

“Yeah, I’m okay.  Just heard some bad news.”  Her head swiveled to the TV.  It was now sports update time.

“What? Your team get beat?”

“Yeah, we took it full-on up the ass yesterday.  They fired the coach.”

“He probably needed to go, right?”

“I was hoping for a few more seasons.  He wasn’t too bad a coach.” He took a finishing swig from the Lone Star beer he was nursing as he ate his festive chicken sandwich.

“Well,” she patted his hand and winked. “You can’t win ‘em all.  Other teams practice and want to win too, right?”

“They sure play rough in some leagues.  That’s for goddamned sure.  Y’all got a pay phone?”

She nodded and pointed. “Back there by the restrooms.”

He got up and slid a twenty across the bar.  “Tab me out.”

Hard walked back to the rear of the busy restaurant and found a number in his wallet.

When he dialed it, a man answered the phone.  His voice was shaky.

“Bon jour.”

         “Hard for Pete. Over”

“That number won’t be available for thirty-six hours.” The man hung up.  Hard nodded and sucked his teeth.  He needed information…sooner rather than later.

He went back to the bar.  The cute pixie came over to him immediately after finishing a smoothie for a waitress.  His eyes noted they were speaking about him.  Their mannerisms gave it away.

“You get your business taken care of?” She asked with a sexy squint of her eyes.  Her lips had a fresh sheen of lipstick applied.

“Not really.  Is there a library around here close?  I need an internet portal.”

“They got one over on Sam Houston Parkway.  Close to the stadium.  You know the area?”

“No, not really.  I’m from down Austin way.”

She pounced on that. “Here.” She drew out a map on a cocktail napkin, explaining details of the route.

“And just in case, here’s my number.  If you get lost…or whatever.” She blushed. “Give me a call and I’ll get you there if you need some help.  I bet you don’t though.”

“How long before you might be able to get me there?” He folded the napkin and put it in his shirt pocket with a wink.

“All depends on how long you think it might need to take to get there.” She smiled as another series of bar tickets pumped out from her printer.

“In that traffic, I may never get there.” He pointed with his nose at the steady stream of orders coming her way.

“Well, at four.  All that traffic thins out.  Keep it in mind?  My name’s Darla by the way.”  She talked and walked over to the service bar.

“Damn skippy.  Thanks again.”  He left.  Her eyes were on his ass as he left and he knew it.

Her directions were dead on.  After hassling with signing up for a library card, he logged onto the World Wide Web and began looking around for information concerning who killed his meal ticket.

An interesting tidbit caught his eye almost immediately.  A Justice Department hack named Jowanski had given a lengthy interview to the Dallas Morning News about Grizzly Fontenot.  In it, he detailed numerous possible offenses the late Grizzly Fontenot was involved in and added his own take on what his death meant for the organization known as the Atchafalaya Mudbugs.  Hard knew the name and knew why the Fontenots hocked and spat the name whenever they said it aloud.

“With his death, the focus of my office’s investigation into that insidious group of drug dealers, killers, gangsters and all-around blight on the face of the earth has now turned to who in fact did kill Bertrand Fontenot and why.  It also means he cannot run cover for those underbosses and foot soldiers who did his dirty work for him.  I intend to catch them one by one, two by two or ten by ten if I can.  These people were involved in some horrible crimes and I intend to see they pay.  I can’t prosecute Bertrand Fontenot, only God can do that.  But we know exactly who we want for various crimes committed under his aegis and I intend to see them locked up forever for what they’ve done.”

“Randall Jowanski,” Hard mouthed the words to himself. “speaking from his office at his new office at…” His eyes lit up as he read the closed caption. “Nice!”

After reading a few perfunctory articles about the supposed mob hit in New Orleans, he dashed out to the Challenger and hauled ass back to Kansas.

© Copyright 2010 D.L. Glenn (oddtunes at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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