Yellow Mama Archives

Kenneth James Crist

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robbypart1.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2017

Run, Robby, Run

Part 1

by Kenneth James Crist

 

 

Located on the grounds of Fort Meade, the headquarters for the NSA, the nation's premier covert intelligence gathering organization, is housed in two high-rise office structures, built and dedicated by Ronald Reagan in 1986, and in other structures on the base, including an estimated 10 acres of which are underground. At least 20,000 employees work for the NSA at Fort Meade, making it the largest employer in the county, one of the largest employers in Maryland, and the largest employer of mathematicians in the country. While the extent of NSA's technical facilities is guarded as a national security measure, the NSA's headquarters is believed to house one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. The NSA operates other computer labs, offices, and satellite interception posts around the world.

Four years almost to the day after Robby Metcalf received his honorable discharge from the United States Army, a small man in an equally small office read a memo on his secure computer at Fort Meade. The memo had to do with rumors about an ex-Army Ranger who had sustained a head injury in the Iraq war and, as a consequence, could now talk to animals.

In most government offices, the memo would have been shredded or perhaps filed away somewhere and ignored, as being too incredible to waste valuable time on, but not at the NSA. The small man in the small office, buried several stories below the main building, logged into the mainframe and began doing what NSA does best—gathering intelligence. . . .

 

Having rescued a 20-year-old woman from captivity, torture, rape and sodomy and perhaps eventual death the night before, Fuzzy and I decided we’d sleep in. At some point, I figured we’d have to deal with Detective Tambar, and, hindsight always being 20/20, I felt we should have skipped that step in the process and left him out of the loop. Too late now. But Tambar had a pretty strong sense of right and wrong, and I could probably tailor my story to make everything turn out okay.

I knew we couldn’t sleep too late, though, or we’d miss out on getting any kind of a decent breakfast. It was almost ten when I finally dragged my ass out into the daylight and brushed my teeth and put my boots on. Fuzzy went out and made some quick rounds and then we set off, headed toward downtown.

Most of the birds I always listened to for chatter about what might be going on had flown south for the winter. The exceptions were crows and pigeons. Crows are some of the world’s great bullshitters and you really can’t trust much of what they say. Pigeons, at least the city version, are horny bastards with mostly sex and getting handouts on their minds. They don’t pay much attention to what’s going on unless something really bad goes down.

We went by Castle’s on 3rd street, but our favorite cook was gone on vacation, so we headed on down to Punkie’s Coffee Shop on Cleveland. There, the menu wasn’t much, but they made huge cinnamon rolls and that would hold us until lunch. Turk Wilson was tattooed and looked like a swarthy Middle Eastern type, but he grew up in Boston. When he wasn’t supplying yuppies and millennials with their expensive coffees and lattes, he was the road captain for the local chapter of the Road Devils M/C. The Devils weren’t into crime of any kind, in spite of the name, and there was probably more legal talent in their ranks than in any other organization of bikers. They were mostly cops and lawyers.

Turk fixed us up and when he got a break, came out back to talk for a few minutes. “There were a couple of suits around yesterday, askin’ about ya,” he said.

“Suits? What, tax people? Cops?”

He shrugged and said, “Government types. Plain car with about forty antennas all over it, kiss-me-quick haircuts, shiny shoes.”

“You tell ‘em where ta find me?”

“Shit yeah. Drew ‘em a fuckin’ map. Asshole!”

“Okay, sorry, I shoulda known better that ta say that. They say what they wanted?”

“Pretty close-mouthed, for guys who wanted citizen cooperation. They used the old ‘matter of national security’ rap. Just lookin’ for ya, is all.”

“Hmmm. Can’t say I really like that. . . .”

As Fuzzy and I were walking back, I asked, “Did you get any of that back there with Turk?”

“Not really, but I can tell you’re not happy. What’s the deal?”

“I’m afraid we’re gonna hafta move.”

“You mean find another bridge? Or a house nobody’s usin’?”

“Maybe worse than that. We may hafta leave altogether.”

Fuzzy stopped and just stood. I stopped and waited, thinking he was looking for a good pee spot. But when I looked back he was just sitting, staring at me. Finally, he said, “You mean leave town. And then I’ll never see you again.”

“No, I said ‘we.’ I won’t leave you behind. Wherever I go, you go too.”

“How will that work? I can’t go on a bus or a plane. . .  They’d want me to go in a crate. . . ”

Fuzzy understood crates and he loathed them. I never asked, but I was sure he’d had some bad experiences with being crated at some point in his past.

“No. We won’t use public transport. Nobody’s goin’ in any crate. I’ll figure something out.”

We walked on in silence and we were getting close to our bridge when I saw Fuzzy’s nose come up. “We got trouble, Boss,” he said.

I looked across the end of the block, our position still hidden by trees and parked cars, bushes and the corner of a house. There was a slick-top Dodge Charger under our bridge and it wasn’t Julius Tambar’s ride. I could see two white men in suits and they had all my worldly possessions dragged out and scattered all over.

“Okay,” Fuzzy said, “this is just wrong. Who the hell are those guys?”

“Government. FBI, CIA, NSA. Who knows? But we gotta split and I mean right now.”

“Did we do something wrong?”

“No, but I don’t think that matters. They’ve probably found out about my ability. . . ”

Fuzzy looked up at me and said, “You have an . . . ability?”

“Being able to talk to animals, dummy.”

“Oh, yeah. Is that against the law?”

“No. But I’m sure it’s something they think they could use.”

“Use it for what?”

“C’mon, let’s walk before they spot us. This way.” We began cutting back through alleys and back yards and soon we were several blocks away.

Soon, Fuzzy asked again, “Use it for what, Boss?”

“Spying, probably. If you’re in a foreign country and you can talk to the animals, it would be an advantage. Maybe they think I could teach spies or soldiers how to do what I can do.”

“Could you? Teach them?”

“Nope. I don’t know how I can do it. So how could I teach anyone else?”

“So, just tell ‘em that and yer good.”

“Not that easy, Fuzz. Why would they believe me?”

“Where we goin’ now?”

“Gonna hafta find some money.”

“Okay, the ATM, then what?”

“No, not the ATM.” Fuzzy had seen me use the ATM card dozens of times, so he had picked up the term. “Gonna need a different kind of ATM this time, Buddy.”

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

My name is Robby Metcalf. I was a soldier and I fought in Iraq. It was tough duty, but I was okay until my squad’s Humvee was blown up by a roadside IED. I was up top in the gunner’s seat at the time and I was blown clear and when I landed, I still was clutching the M-60. I survived along with my medical corpsman. I was sent stateside to recuperate and eventually got my Purple Heart and my discharge, along with the ability to talk to animals. Something in my head causes it and I have no control over it. If I take enough meds to turn my head into mush, I can make it go away, but then I can’t talk to my friends, like Fuzzy and Lucille. . .  

We walked about fourteen blocks north, getting into sleazier areas all the time. I had abandoned all my stuff, but it was just that—stuff. Nothing I couldn’t replace or do without. But if we were going to head out and disappear, we would need money—cash and quite a bit of it.

When I started seeing cars cruising slowly through the neighborhood, I knew we were getting close to what we needed. Cars full of white people only cruise areas like we were in during the daytime and then for only two things, illicit drugs or illicit pussy. I stopped on a corner and knelt to untie and retie a shoe. I told Fuzzy, “Go around to the front of those first couple of houses and come back and tell me what you see.” He sauntered away, sniffing, lifting, peeing a few drops here, a few there. In about four minutes, he was back.

“Second house has two big, mean-lookin’ guys on the front porch. And a pit bull. And kids runnin’ back and forth to cars that are stoppin’ in front.”

“Can you kick a pit bull’s ass?”

“Does a squirrel do weird shit with nuts?”

“Okay, you go tear up the pit bull, but don’t get shot in the process. I need a distraction so I can get in through the back. Make it real noisy, okay?”

“Kay. Be careful, Boss.”

Typical. The dog was going around front to lock asses with a pit and he tells me to be careful. When I heard the shit start, I ran directly to the back of the second house. There was a porch with an old wooden screen door, held shut with a granny hook. I snatched it open, the hook flying over my shoulder, and slid quietly inside. It sounded like Fuzzy was taking on all the dogs in the city out front. I figured I had three minutes. Dope dealers love a good dog fight, until their dog starts losing.

I found myself in a kitchen. I did a quick search, cupboards, freezer, under the sink. Nothing. I went left into a bedroom. Dresser, nightstands, nothing. Closet, under clothes, upper shelf, and—payday. A red Nike box with three fat rolls of money, one roll of hundreds, one roll of twenties and one roll of tens. I took them all, stuffed them in my pockets and shagged ass. When I made it to the alley, I woodchuck whistled, and presently Fuzzy came bounding around the house. I expected to see the pit bull chasing him, but he was alone. There was quite a bit of blood and none of it was his. We ran about eight blocks, expecting pursuit, but none was forthcoming. Presently we slowed and when our breathing settled a bit, Fuzzy said, “Think I may have killed him, Boss.” He was grinning and panting. Looked like he’d had a good old time for himself.

“I’m surprised the assholes didn’t shoot ya,” I said.

“Never saw any guns at all. Weird, huh?”

“Yep. I thought all the dealers had guns handy.”

“Where we headed next?”

“Better see if we can find someplace to wash the blood off you. Next, we gotta buy a car. Then we’ll go back by our place and see if the Feds are still around. I need my cell phone. It’s got some numbers in it I don’t wanna lose.”

“If the Feds went through all our stuff, why would they leave a cell phone?”

Sometimes the dog was smarter than me.

I didn’t feel we had time to do the whole dog groomer thing, so we stopped at a car wash. The weather was cold enough they had left the machines on winter settings, so there was a small stream of warm water coming out of the spray nozzles all the time, to keep them from freezing up. Fuzzy wasn’t too pleased, but he didn’t like smelling like blood, either. I washed him off while he stood patiently, giving me the stink-eye. I found one old towel someone had left behind and fluffed him as best I could. It would have to do. We walked on, toward Broadway, where the car lots were. Not the good lots, those were more uptown. I wanted the buy here-pay here lots, where I could make a quick deal.

We looked on six lots in about forty minutes. We kept ourselves to pickup trucks, bypassing SUV’s and regular cars. We also stuck to the smaller foreign trucks for economy reasons and ease of parking. I insisted on four-wheel drive because if things got bad enough, we might have to take to the hills.

We settled on a ten-year-old Mazda that had actually been a one-owner truck. I looked for signs of good care and a picky owner. The mileage was high, but the service records were all there and they were impressive. I remembered all the Mazda trucks I had seen in Iraq, carrying soldiers and machine guns and everything else one could imagine. They seemed to run forever with a minimal amount of care. The dealer wanted about a thousand too much, but with no trade-in and cash only, I didn’t have much wiggle room. I got him down five hundred and the deal was done. I waited while they put a 60-day tag on it and checked everything over, then we were on our way.

The back seat was a joke, the truck being early enough that it was not a true four-door. Fuzzy claimed the front passenger seat and I did not argue. I headed back to take a last look under the Ninth Street Bridge. It was a waste of time. The Feds were parked a block down with a good view of the place and all my stuff had been picked up and was probably in the trunk of their car now. I drove right past them and, since they didn’t know the truck, I didn’t get a second look.

“Well, Fuzz, I guess it’s time to make like a tree and leave,” I said. He didn’t get that one. . .

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

As we passed through the outskirts of town, I decided to stop at good old Walmart and spend some more of the dealer’s money. I didn’t plan to do any camping, but there is always the matter of survival. I bought a nice sleeping bag and some canned food, toiletries and such. I got a couple boxes of Milk Bones. I drew the line at actually purchasing dog food. Fuzzy had always eaten whatever I ate and it seemed to suit him. I got some candles and a couple lighters and a stainless steel water bowl for Fuzzy. A case of bottled water went into the cart. As I was about to hit the checkout, I saw a display of cell phones and, from the brochures, I realized I could use the same carrier I’d had before and probably download all the numbers that had been in the other phone. I had to buy a car charger, as it didn’t come with one, but that was a small nuisance. Twenty-five minutes later, I officially owned more stuff than I’d ever had since my discharge from the Army.

Almost as an afterthought, I pulled in at a sporting goods store and bought a handgun. I had trouble deciding between a used 9mm Beretta and a new Glock Model 22, but in the end, the Glock won out. The Beretta was blued steel and pretty, but the Glock had fewer parts to rust. I bought a box of .40 caliber shells to go with it and we left the city behind.

Some dogs get nervous around guns. Fuzzy just looked at it as I was loading it and stashing it under my seat and said, “I see you finally wised up.”

“What’s that mean?”

“The world’s a bad place, Boss. I feel better knowing we got a gun, that’s all. Especially since you’ve taken to ripping off dope dealers.”

“Hey, that was a one-time thing. Besides, dope dealers should be shot in the head and their money taken as a matter of course.”

“One-time, huh?” He turned around twice and curled up in the seat. “We’ll see. . . .”

 

The drug dealer’s name was Levi Espinoza, and he was pissed. It took several hours for him to figure out that the dog fight, in which he’d lost one of his best breeding dogs, was merely a distraction. Later that afternoon, when he went to the bedroom to add money into his stash, he realized what the deal was really all about. In the far distance, he’d seen a man join up with the German Shepherd and he’d sent a couple of his boys to find them, but they’d been unsuccessful. Once he realized the incident had been about more than just a dogfight, he made some calls, and among his contacts, he found someone who knew about a guy with a big Shepherd who lived under a bridge. . . .

 

I didn’t really start to relax until we entered Pennsylvania on I-84 at Port Jervis. By then, having seen nothing suspicious in the traffic around us, no one following us, I began to figure we were probably okay. It was getting late in the day and I was ready for some supper and a room with a shower, a bed, and a door that locked. We found a place with motels and fast-food eateries forty miles east of Scranton and we pulled in. I fed Fuzzy while sitting on the tailgate of the Mazda, in the parking lot of a burger joint. I filled his bowl with water and we ate and people-watched, maybe a little more intensely than we normally would. Nobody paid us much attention except one guy about thirty years old with a couple kids. They stopped and made a fuss over Fuzzy, and he ate it up.

I picked a fairly cheap motel, figuring they would be more receptive to having a large dog in the room. The place was built with cinder blocks that had been plastered over at some point with stucco and it was outlined in pink and green neon. Forty-five bucks got us a room. The guy was a short little prick with a large goiter on his neck that I was trying hard not to stare at. He wasn’t too happy about Fuzzy and wanted to know why the dog couldn’t sleep in the truck. I carefully explained that Fuzzy was a service dog and that I had PTSD from being in the war. I told him that without the dog, anything could happen. I could go off at any time and maybe hurt somebody. When the guy looked up at me, I gave him my most demented look and he bought it. Meanwhile, Fuzzy was staring at the guy’s neck and whining, “What the fuck is that thing on his neck, Boss?”

In the room, I showered and turned in. Fuzzy didn’t want any part of the bed, so I rolled out the new sleeping bag and he was happy on the floor. It was the first time either of us had slept indoors in a long time.

 

The NSA agents had decided Metcalf wasn’t coming back. They were also aware that there were some other people looking for him, but they didn’t know why. Levi Espinoza hadn’t called the cops. What would he say? “Hey, a guy killed my dog and ripped off my dope money stash?” Dope dealers tended to take care of problems like Robby themselves. By nightfall, they began to realize he’d probably skipped town and they started making phone calls. He had to show up somewhere

. . . .

The NSA started looking at ways Metcalf could have blown town. They checked the airport, the bus terminal, the train station, talking to people and reviewing video from security cameras. Nothing. They had no idea what kind of resources he might have, although the only bank account they found showed a balance of under a thousand dollars and no withdrawals. They couldn’t see him trying to hitchhike, not with the dog. But if he did, he would eventually get stopped and checked by a cop somewhere, so they did the expedient thing. They entered him in NCIC and hoped for the best. As soon as they did that, they got a hit. He had purchased a handgun earlier that day at Jake’s, a well-known gun store on the west side.

Agents made contact and, from the store’s video feed, saw the Mazda pickup as it pulled out of the lot, headed west. The tag was a temporary and they were unable to get a number. Agents started checking car lots about the time Robby and Fuzzy were eating burgers on the tailgate. They started with car lots that were within walking distance of Metcalf’s bridge. By nine-thirty, they knew the year, color and VIN number of the Mazda and how much Robby had paid for it. The mystery deepened: Where did Metcalf get the money to buy a truck and skip town?

 

Fuzzy got me up at 2 A.M. to go outside and pee. When we stayed under the bridge, he would just get up and go do his business, and I’d often sleep right through it. I was glad he had sense enough to wake me. Once back in bed, I was restless and antsy. I had the thought of pursuit in the back of my mind and I was no longer tired. About two-forty, I sat up and said, “Fuck it. Let’s roll.” I didn’t have to tell Fuzzy twice. I think the restrictions of being indoors bothered him. I rolled the sleeping bag and put it and all our other stuff in the truck, dropped the key in the night box outside the office, and we headed out, again travelling west and south, down to Interstate 80.

 

The dope dealer had the best luck of anyone, so it seemed. There was a Mexican cleanup guy who worked at the car lot where Robby Metcalf had bought the Mazda, and guess where he bought his dope? In the process of bullshitting their way to a transaction, he and the dealer talked about what had been going on lately. When the dealer got down to “that god-damned white boy and the big fuckin’ German Shepherd,” the lights went on. In three more minutes, the dealer knew the make, model, and color of the truck Metcalf had bought. He didn’t have the VIN number, but he didn’t need it, either. He sold the cleanup guy his heroin for half off and got on his phone.

 

Interstate 80 runs more or less straight west across Pennsylvania and Ohio, where it joins I-90 and goes to Chicago. Fuzzy and I made routine fuel stops and got chow whenever we were hungry and just rolled on. I knew at some point, we were going to have to get off I-80. I had no desire to see Chicago or go anywhere near it. I figured the more rural we stayed, the better. Fuzzy was restless and seemed to spend a lot of time sleeping or just lying on the passenger seat. I finally asked him what was bothering him and he said, “Boss, I’m ready to go home.”

It seemed hard to believe he could be lonesome for a bridge underpass in the middle of a fair-sized city, one that was also inhabited by a six-foot black snake, but there it was. I knew in a couple of days, he’d get over it, but I hated to see him so down.

 

The dealer called his “best boy,” a large, black ex-cop and high-powered skip tracer who went by the handle Pappy Ray. Pappy Ray happened to be gay and his best boy was a diminutive Puerto Rican named Thomaso Angelino Rodriguez, AKA Tommy Beans. They dropped what they were doing at that moment, which was fairly disgusting and involved rope and water-soluble lubricant, and jumped in Pappy Ray’s pink antique Chrysler Imperial and made a beeline to the dealer’s.

The dealer got them lined out on Robby Metcalf, the German Shepherd, and the Mazda pickup, and launched them west like a big pink cruise missile. . . .

 

In four days, we were in Texas, and the weather had turned downright sultry. I think it was beginning to dawn on Fuzzy that the bridge part of our lives was over. He had settled in much better and he was enjoying seeing the cattle and pronghorns and oil wells and anything that was new and different. It had become an adventure, and I had begun at last to relax.

On day six, we stopped early at a motel just outside San Antonio and we did the takeout thing as a late lunch. I also stopped at a package store and got a six-pack of Millers to put in the fridge. I was seated in a white plastic stack chair outside Room 37, drinking a cold one, when an absolute vision pulled around from the office driving a yellow Jeep. I noticed the machine first. It was lifted three or four inches and sported white-letter mudder tires. It had no doors, but it had a black canvas surrey top, strictly for shade, and a roll bar, a light kit, and a winch.

Looking where the driver’s side door should have been, I saw a long, tanned leg and a black cowboy boot. My attention was suddenly riveted. I watched her as she took her time getting out. Her shorts were Daisy Dukes, raggedy as hell. The boots looked like they might have belonged to her grandfather. A red blouse was rolled up and tied just under her boobs, which were considerable. Her face was a bit angular, with pronounced cheekbones and pale blue eyes. Her ash blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail, held in place by some kind of sparkly elastic thing. I glanced at Fuzzy and he was staring, too.

“Don’t suppose you got another-a them beers, do ya?” She smiled, revealing dimples and teeth so white, I figured they were capped.

“Fuzzy, would you get the lady a beer?”

Fuzzy sprang up and shouldered his way into the room. I didn’t have to watch him do his beer trick. I knew he would nose open the fridge and very carefully ease out a bottle, then set it on the floor, and push the fridge door shut. In a minute, he was back, the cold beer held carefully in his teeth. He approached the Jeep lady and she squatted down to pet him and take the beer. That afforded me a brief look down her blouse. I liked what I saw.

She cracked open the cap and took a hefty gulp of Genuine Draft and said, “How long did it take to teach him that trick?”

“I never taught him anything. He learns stuff on his own. His name’s Fuzzy.”

“Well, thank you, Fuzzy.” She ruffled his neck hair, then stood and said, “Thanks for the beer.”

She walked back down toward the office and unlocked Number 34 and went inside without so much as a glance back.

“She’s quite a package, huh Boss?” Fuzzy said, “Hey, you think she might wanna . . . you know . . . make puppies with ya?”

“Probably not, Big Guy, but ya never know.” It was getting hotter where we were sitting, which was on the west side of the building. I was debating whether to go back inside, but if she came back out, I didn’t want to miss the show, so I sat and waited a while.

In about twenty minutes, the door of Number 34 opened, and a bare arm holding an empty beer bottle slid out. “This beer is empty,” I heard her call, “and I think I need one more.” This time I went in and got it.

I walked down to the room and the door was standing four inches ajar and the arm was still there with the empty bottle. I took it out of her hand and replaced it with the full one, already opened. The arm disappeared back inside, but the door remained ajar.

 I gave it a minute, waiting for an invitation, then finally just slowly eased the door open. She was seated on the end of the bed, naked, and as I watched, she took the ice-cold bottle and ran it slowly over her left breast, causing the nipple to pucker up and harden. Then she did the other breast. I was frozen in place and momentarily stunned. I could see the wetness from the condensation on the bottle, making the perfect tan of her breasts shiny. Then she spread her legs wide and rubbed the bottle on her shaved vulva, gasping as she did so. “It’s just too fuckin’ hot out there today,” she said. I stepped the rest of the way into her room and pushed the door shut and didn’t say anything for quite a while.

Sometime during the next hour, about the time I was doing her from behind and just after her fifth orgasm, I had the presence of mind to ask her name. She was huffing and puffing, straining to get off again and she said, “It’s Alice . . . Ann . . . Ackerman. . . . Oh, God . . . honey . . . what’s yours?”

I waited until we had finished that round and then said, “Robby Metcalf, at your service, Ma’am. . . .”

Holy shit. Alice Ann Ackerman. Triple A, for sure. About nine o’clock, I finally stumbled back to my own room. Fuzzy, who had been waiting patiently outside the door of Number 34, trudged along beside me. He made no snide comments. None at all. Unusual for him. He drank half a bowl of water and we fell into bed and slept like we’d been pole-axed.

In the morning, the Feds had the place surrounded.

I had been dreaming one of those hard-on inducing dreams that you remember vividly for about three minutes. In it, I was in the process of marrying the hot Jeep-driving blonde and taking her to live happily ever after under the Ninth Street Bridge. Fuzzy was the ring bearer, carrying the rings on a pillow strapped on his back. The Jeep had a “Totally Fucked” sign on the back instead of “Just Married,” and there were a lot of clear Miller bottles tied on the back.

Pounding on the door, along with Fuzzy’s barking, brought me out of that one, and I padded barefoot to the door over carpet that was slightly crunchy from being shampooed about a million times. I cracked open the door to find two agents in suits aiming guns at me. My own gun was still under the seat in the Mazda. Oops.

Fuzzy’s low growl was not even very articulate, but I told him it was okay. I didn’t want him shot trying to defend me or himself. I merely stepped back, turned around and placed my hands on the back of my neck and waited.

“Agent Matthews, NSA,” the bigger of the two said, as he walked over to the table and pulled out a chair to sit. His partner stayed at the door. Fuzzy’s lips were still lifting and he was charged like a live wire.

“It’s okay, Buddy,” I said.

He snorted and it sounded very much like, “Bullshit!”

“Please sit, Mr. Metcalf. We’re all on the same side, here.” Fuzzy snorted again.

“If we’re all on the same side, why are you guys chasing me?”

“Why did you take off?”

“Let’s just say I love my country, but I fear my government. Rather than lock assholes with you guys, it was easier to just leave.”

“Mr. Metcalf, we’re going to take you into protective custody.”

“What are you protecting me from?”

“A certain drug dealer, one Levi Espinoza, who has now sent a team out to find you. Did you ever count the money?”

“Twenty-two thousand and change,” I said, “and I’ll take my chances, thank you.”

“No, Mr. Metcalf, we can’t allow that. You’re much too valuable to allow some dope-dealing shitass to have you killed.”

“Valuable? Me?”

“Yessir.” He looked very dedicated at that moment, and very emphatic. “You have a very unique talent that we want.”

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

I was impressed with the manners and the efficiency of the NSA boys. In forty minutes, they had the Mazda towed to a “secure facility,” had me and Fuzzy loaded into a car, and whisked away to the nearest airport that was big enough to take jet aircraft.

As we were being walked out to the car, I saw Alice Ann standing outside her room, watching. She called out, “Robby! Are you some kind of wanted desperado?”

I just smiled at her and left it at that. If she wanted to go the rest of her life believing she’d slept with the modern-day equivalent of Billy the Kid, it was okay by me. I figured I’d never see her again, anyway.

When we rolled onto the tarmac at the small airport, Fuzzy looked around and whined quietly, “Am I gonna get crated, Boss?”

“I don’t think so, Fuzz.”

Agent Matthews turned in his seat and asked, “Was that a conversation?”

“Yeah,” I said, “he wants to know if he’s gonna hafta ride in a crate.”

“No. Hell, no. No crates for that big guy. You and he are the stars of this little show.”

We rolled up to a Gulfstream 5, and in less than ten minutes, we were wheels up for Maryland. Fuzzy got a window seat and I got champagne. . . .

 

 





robbyptii2.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2017

Run, Robby, Run

Kenneth James Crist

Part 2

 

Pappy Ray and Tommy Beans got a call on Pappy Ray’s cell phone from the dealer, and he was not happy.

“I just got word that a white dude and a German Shepherd dog got picked up by the Feds in San Antonio. Where the fuck you guys at?”

“We not that far away,” Tommy answered. When the phone had beeped, Pappy had handed it to him. One of Pappy’s pet peeves was fuck-heads that talked on phones while they were driving. “We just comin’ outta Austin on I-35.”

“Well, kick it up, muthafuckahs, the name a the place is the Traveler’s Rest, and it’s right on the highway. Call me!”

Tommy Beans told Pappy Ray the news and the antique titty-pink Imperial kicked its fuel consumption up from its normal ten miles to the gallon to eight. Pappy figured his badge and retirement card and a tsunami of bullshit would take care of any trooper that might stop him.

 

Fuzzy looked out the window of the Gulfstream for about ten minutes, then he curled up in his seat and didn’t bother looking out again. One of the agents asked me, “Is your dog nervous about flying?”

“First of all,” I said, “he’s not my dog. We’re friends, but nobody owns Fuzzy. Second, he’s not any more nervous than if he was in a car or a boat, but when you’ve seen one section of Texas from thirty thousand feet, you’ve pretty much seen it all. Fuzzy and I believe you should eat when you can, because the next meal is never certain and you should sleep when you can, because you may not get another chance for a while.” With that, I kicked my seat back and took a nap, one hand resting on the dog that wasn’t mine.

 

In San Antonio, an hour later, the pink Imperial pulled into the lot at Traveler’s Rest and Pappy Ray and Tommy Beans got out. Pappy was pulling his slacks out of the crack of his ass as they walked toward the office.

In unit #34, Alice Ann Ackerman picked up the phone, dialed nine and then another ten digits. After a moment she said, “This is Ackerman. The two idiots in the Imperial just showed up. I’ll be making contact. Start me a backup.” She hung up the phone, pulled on her cowboy boots and unbuttoned another button on her blouse, grabbed her keys and stepped out, walking toward the office.

When she walked in, both the big dude and the little faggot came to attention like bird dogs on a scent. Evidently, they weren’t as gay or bi as they thought. She swung her ass a little more as she walked across to the cooler at one end of the office and pulled out a bottle of water, then came back to the counter and handed the clerk two bucks. She smiled at the two idiots and batted her eyelashes and swung back out.

They watched her all the way down to #34, then went back to questioning the clerk. In another forty seconds, they learned from the clerk that Metcalf had spent a goodly amount of time in #34 with the cowgirl chick and they headed down there. Knocked on the door.

Just as the door was opened, a voice behind them said, “Step right on in, gentlemen.” Pappy Ray glanced over his shoulder and saw a white guy in chinos and a leather jacket. He was holding a Glock 9mm with a suppressor and it was pointed at Tommy Beans’ neck. Pappy said, “Oh shit!” and the blonde cowgirl produced a silenced weapon of her own.

Pappy and Tommy stepped into the room and Pappy said, “What? What do you want?”

Alice said, “Nothing,” and shot him in the heart. He fell back across the bed. Tommy stared for one second and then turned to bolt for the door. He took a round from the other agent’s Glock through his forehead. Alice dug around in Tommy’s pockets and found the keys to the Imperial. Tossed them to the other agent and said, “Go get that pink piece of shit and back it up here.”

Ten minutes later, Pappy and Tommy were in the Imperial’s trunk and the agents were headed south, she in her Jeep, and him driving ol’ pinkie. They would meet a contact at the border, at Hidalgo, who would take the Imperial, dispose of the bodies and keep the car. It would soon be repainted and sold, probably to some Mexican politician or drug lord.

 

We landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at about one in the afternoon. Lunch on the plane had been ham and cheese sandwiches and bottled water. I ate one sandwich and Fuzzy ate three.

When we stepped off the plane, a black limo with red and blue lights in the grille was waiting for us. We were ushered into the back, along with one agent, and the other sat up front. We went out a side gate and onto a minor service road, then onto a highway and things sped up.

By my watch, it was eighteen minutes later when we pulled into Fort Meade, Maryland. As we pulled in past the military at the gate, the agent in front turned around and asked, “Does Fuzzy normally stay in a kennel?”

“No, he sleeps with me. We live under a bridge. And by the way, whenever it’s convenient for you guys, I’d like all my stuff back that you took. That’s all personal property. I especially need my meds.”

“What are you being treated for?”

“I’m bipolar and I have PTSD. I also have pain meds for when my headaches come.”

“Do you get those often?”

“Are you a doctor?”

“No need to be hostile. I’ll get it taken care of.”

“When?”

“Later. Right now we have a meeting.”

 

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

          Fuzzy was a bit nervous in the elevator. I could never remember us  using one before. They had elevators at the VA hospital, but Fuzzy always waited for me outside when we went there.

We had passed through security quickly and I had been issued a visitor’s badge. When we got on the elevator, it was crowded, and it made several stops before we got where we were going.

After the first stop, Fuzzy asked, “How do they do that, Boss?”

“Do what, Fuzz?”

“Change everything so quick. The doors close, the doors open, and everything is different.”

I patiently explained to him that the room we were in was moving down and we were seeing each successive floor as the doors opened. When we reached the proper floor, the agents stepped out first, then Fuzzy, then me. “How far underground are we?” I asked.

The older of the two agents smiled and said, “That’s classified.”

We walked forty feet down a plain poured concrete hall. The walls were a light green, the ceiling suspended white tile, the lighting fluorescent. The agent rapped on a door and went in, stepping aside to allow the rest of us in.

It was a small conference room containing a table large enough to seat eight people. There was one man in the room. He was short and partially bald and he was wearing an off-the-rack suit and a tie with a gravy stain. He stood and reached across the table to shake my hand and waved me to a seat. He introduced himself as Clyde Jensen and said he was the project director.

“So, now I’m a project?” I didn’t care for where this was going.

“More correctly,” he said, “your extraordinary ability with animals is the project. We will study what you do and how you do it and perhaps we will find ways to replicate the effect.”

“And why, exactly, would you want to be like me? Do you realize what it’s like to wake up in the morning to what you would perceive as birds chattering and be able to understand everything they say to each other? Bird talk gets to be boring as shit after about five minutes. And have you ever had a rat scoot around a corner and tell you your shoe’s untied?” Mr. Jensen’s smile was beginning to fade a bit.

“Don’t get me wrong, sir, I love the relationship I have with Fuzzy, and I even have a friend who’s a snake and we get along fine. But until I learned to control this, it very nearly drove me bat-shit crazy. I really wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

“Well, Mr. Metcalf, why don’t you just relax and work with us a while and we’ll see where it goes, okay?”

“So, we’re going to be held here against our will for however long this takes. Is that it?”

“In the interest of national security, Mr. Metcalf, I’m afraid that’s how it has to be.”

“I couldn’t just come back a couple times a week and meet with you guys and work on this ‘project?’ ”

“Afraid not, Mr. Metcalf. We’ve already had to chase you more than halfway across the country, and people have died for this. Now that we have taken an interest, there will be people from other countries interested, too.”

“Wait, what—people have died? Who? Who has died over this?”

“Doesn’t concern you, Robby. Mr. Metcalf.”

“Wait. There was a woman, back at that motel in San Antonio . . . did you fuckers kill her, just because I—”

“No, Mr. Metcalf, Alice Ackerman is fine.”

“So you know her name. You checked her out. You people are amazing! I can’t believe this shit. . . .”

“Alice Ann Ackerman is one of ours, Mr. Metcalf. Not her real name, by the way.”

“She’s . . . what, she’s an agent? You had her move on me, and all that was part of your planning?”

“She did . . . whatever she did, in order to keep you there, until other agents could arrive. We don’t know what all that involved and we don’t care. Our agents often improvise and use tactics that are . . . shall we say, convenient to the moment.”

“Convenient to the moment? Well, fuck!” I was beyond dumbfounded.

“You can discuss that with her if you like. She’s on her way here now. You’ll see her in the morning. For tonight, I’d advise you to get some sleep.”

“What about Fuzzy?”

“He’ll bunk with you, of course. Whenever he needs to . . . go out . . . an agent will take him out and walk him. He’ll be fine.”

With that, the project director got up and left. The agents walked me to my new home, which was on the same floor, a few hundred feet from the conference room.

When we got there, we found what looked exactly like thousands of motel rooms across the country. There were two double beds, a table and chairs, a sofa and a nice bathroom. All of my property was parked on one of the beds. I dug through it and found my cell phone and turned it on. No signal. Probably jammed or blacked out for the entire building.

There was a phone on the nightstand between the beds, but there was no keypad on it. I assumed it went to a switchboard somewhere in the complex. I wondered if there was room service.

I spread the sleeping bag on the floor, but Fuzzy said, “Nope. Think I’ll take this other bed, since you won’t be needing it.” He jumped up and made himself comfortable. I lay down on the other bed and stared at the ceiling for a while, then I picked up the phone.

There was an immediate answer. A low, feminine voice said, “Yes?”

“Um . . . this is Robby Metcalf in . . . um . . .”

“I know who you are, Sir, and I know where you are. What can I help you with?”

“I was thinking about some supper and my dog needs to go out and . . . do his business.”

“An agent will be right there, Mr. Metcalf.”

I hung up and in about thirty seconds, there was a knock, and an agent entered the room. He had a leash in one hand and a restaurant menu in the other.

Fuzzy looked at the leash being held by a stranger and said, “Ahhh, Boss . . .”

“Let the man walk you, Fuzz. It’ll be okay. I’ll be right here when you get back.” He snorted and stood while the agent hooked up the leash to his collar.

He turned and gave me The Look, and I said, “Don’t piss on the man’s foot, Fuzzy. Don’t even think about doing that.”

He sighed, and as they walked out, I heard him say, “What. Ever.”

 

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Fourteen blocks from Robby’s old home at the 9th Street bridge, eleven agents of the NSA and DEA assembled a half block from Levi Espinoza’s house. They had already had their final briefing and the shooters had been designated, as had the man with the door-knocker, the interpreter, the video guy and all the rest.

They moved on the house at four in the morning, the time normal people are most vulnerable. Once they stepped into the yard, radio and verbal silence were strictly enforced, hand signals being the rule. There were no lookouts posted, the dealer being closed for the night.

At the front door, the team leader held up one hand, five fingers extended, then four, then three, then two and finally one. When his last finger dropped, the ram guy swung the door-knocker and, with one stroke, took the door completely down. Eleven guys charged through the door, screaming “Federal Agents! Search Warrant! On the floor! On the floor! Get down!”

Levi Espinoza met his end as he came up out of a deep sleep and reached for a Beretta 92F that was laying on the nightstand. The designated shooter said, “Perfect” under his breath and shot Espinoza in the head, killing him so quickly, he never knew for sure what was going on.

The rest of the raid was routine. Drugs and weapons were seized, lab people went over the house top to bottom, and the house was sealed.

Levi Espinoza took his last ride in the coroner’s wagon as the sun was coming up.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

They started me with rats. It was the following morning, and they already had seen enough of my communications skills with Fuzzy. They wanted to see more. Alice Ann Ackerman was the agent who took me to a lab on a different level, again, classified, and introduced me to a PhD named Justin Phillips.

She looked very different in a black suit and gray silk shirt and smart, low-heeled shoes. As we left my quarters, I said, “Agent Ackerman, nice to see you again.”

“Not as nice as the last time, though, right?” She grinned at me, flashing those pale blue, icy eyes at me.

“No, I’m sure this won’t be nearly as pleasant.”

“Well, don’t worry, pal. They won’t saw the top of your skull off. I don’t think. . . .” There was that grin again.

Justin Phillips was into all kinds of things, it seemed: behavioral science, abnormal psychology, nonverbal communications, etc. He would be studying me and attempting to figure out how I did what I did. I was looking forward to him giving up in despair and being able to say, “Told ya so.”

We walked into a lab room with three cages sitting on a table. Justin said, “Let me introduce you, Mr. Metcalf, this is . . .” I held my hand up and stopped him.

“Don’t tell me anything. Let them tell me.” Inside each cage was a standard white lab rat, a common mutation of the Norway rat, known in the scientific community as Rattus Norvegicus.

I slid one cage to the side and hopped up and sat on the table between it and the other two cages. I sat cross-legged and got comfortable. I started talking to the rats.

“Hi ladies. Gentlemen. I’m Robby. Who are you?”

“Fuck off, Man.” This was from the male. It was clear he had an attitude.

“Yeah, fuck. Off.” This was the smaller female. Kind of an attitude there, too. The larger female said, “I’m June. He’s Syd and she’s Lulu. The hell you want? Gonna stick more needles in our ass?”

“Nope. I’m not the needle type. I’m here just to talk to ya and see how yer doin’.”

The male stopped pacing and came to the wire and said, “Would you like it if you lived in this thing and in this place and they stuck ya alla time?”

“Nope. I don’t think I’d like that at all. I’d spring ya if I could, but I’m a prisoner here, too.”

“For real?” This was the smaller female, Lulu. “They stickin’ stuff in ya that makes ya sick, too?” Her whiskers were twitching in indignation.

“Not so far, but it could happen any time.”

Syd said, “You smell like dog, Dude.”

“Yeah, that’s my friend, Fuzzy. I’m afraid he wouldn’t like you, either.”

“Is he a big dog?”

“Yeah, pretty big. . . .”

“Time,” Justin said. “Tell me what you’ve learned so far.”

“That one is Syd and he has an attitude. That one is Lulu and she’s the friendliest. This one here is June and she talked to me first. They don’t like it here because you keep sticking needles in them and making them sick.” I turned and looked at Justin, and his mouth was hanging open. It was gratifying to see. Finally, his mouth snapped shut and he said, “How do you do that?” There was a sense of wonder and mystery in his voice.

“I really wish I knew,” I said, “I guess you could try getting blown up in a Humvee. This shit started right after I got my Purple Heart, and they let me outta the hospital.”

“We’ll need to get some X-rays and an EEG for starters. . . .” he said, and then he seemed to get lost in his own thoughts.

I wandered the lab a bit and found a lot more rats. Some were friendly, and some were not. Sort of like people. I found a couple guinea pigs, but all they wanted to talk about was food. I wandered on.

In a few minutes, Alice came into the lab and said, “I’m supposed to escort you over to the clinic. I think they’re ready to look inside your head.” She grinned at me evilly and said, “Maybe this is where they open up your skull.”

We started down a long hallway and I said, “You just love fuckin’ with me, don’tcha?”

“As a matter of fact . . .” She turned and reached up and slid both arms up around my neck and pushed me back against the wall. She kissed me long and deeply and when we broke apart, she said, “I’ve been assigned to keep you happy. I think they’re afraid you’ll figure out how to get away or cause an animal riot. They want me to keep you content.”

“I don’t think you’ll have any problem doin’ that,” I said.

“Good. I’ll see you at dinner tonight, then.” She reached and opened a door.

There were four people inside and an X-ray table, plus an MRI machine. The tech said, “We’ll need all metal objects off. Step in there and change into this gown, please, and leave all your clothing in one of the lockers.”

I didn’t argue. That would come later, when the shit started to get serious. I wanted them to remember I’d been cooperative all along, until it got stupid. Then I’d raise hell. Right now was too early to start screaming about my rights and all that.

When I got back from X-ray and all the other indignities, Fuzzy was all rested and ready to go out and take on the world. When I told him he might as well get used to being an inside dog for a while, he wasn’t happy with that. While I was trying to explain the situation, there was a knock on the door and Alice Ann stepped in. She was still in her professional clothes and she said, “Told you I’d see you at dinner. Are you ready?”

“Only if Fuzzy gets to come along. He’s restless and bored in here.”

She reached down to pet him and said, “Okay. Done deal. We’re gonna get outta here for a while.”

She had a typical government set of wheels. It was a black Ford Explorer with hidden red and blue lights built in. She drove and Fuzzy had the backseat all to himself. “Whataya think, boys? Burger night?” She smiled at us, as we cleared the gate and headed out into Maryland.

I looked back at Fuzzy and he was practically drooling. “I think that’ll work. But how do you get to just take us off the base? What if we tried to escape?”

She nodded her head toward her side mirror. “Another carload of agents right behind us. We’re not really alone.”

“Dang. I was hopin’ for some alone time.”

“Later, maybe. I’ve been designated as your handler.”

“Handler? Like a dog has a handler?” I glanced in the backseat and said, “No offense, Fuzz.”

“None taken, Boss.”

“Somebody has to be responsible for you. And a handler gets a lotta leeway. Other agents know what’s goin’ on, but they keep their yaps shut, because it may be them next and they like to have their leeway, too.”

Changing the subject, I said, “How long until the dweebs decide they wanna take my head apart?”

“Won’t happen, Robby. They know that whatever causes you to be able to do what you do, it could be ruined by messing around in there. You’re pretty safe.”

“Well, that’s good to know.”

“Actually, I expect whenever they get done with their little tests, they’re gonna offer you a job.”

While I thought about that, she found a fast-food joint and pulled in through the drive-through. “How much can Fuzzy put away?” She asked.

“Oh, trust me, you do not wanna know. When it comes down to burgers, he’s the world’s champ. He will make himself sick. Get him two triples plain and he’ll still be beggin’ fries from us.”

I dug in my pocket and pulled out two twenties. She said, “Let Uncle Sam get this, Robby.”

“Nope. It’s dope dealer money. Might as well let them buy . . .”

“Okay. That being the case, we’ll let the dead dealer buy dinner.”

“Dead? What happened?”

“The NSA and the DEA happened to the boy. There was a raid and he went for a weapon, and surprise, surprise, he got shot. Means there’s nobody gonna be lookin for ya, now.”

We got our food and Fuzzy was finished in about thirty seconds. Alice and I took our time, chucking the occasional French fry into the back. Finally, she asked, “Does it bother you? That the dealer died? Cause he’s not the only one.”

“No. You deal that poison and fuck up other people’s lives, ya deserve whatever ya get.” I was pretty casual and would never mention some things that had happened to dealers before, because of me.

Later, when we got back to the base, an agent took Fuzzy out for his evening stroll, and Alice and I spent the night together. Fuzzy still had command of the other bed.

There followed three more days of testing and experiments, after which I was taken “upstairs” to an office in the middle of the complex, and I was “put on retainer.” It was their way of keeping track of me, and keeping me handy for when they needed my services.

I was given a salary and an apartment less than three blocks from my bridge and a new cell phone to replace my old one. It was fancier and did a lot of shit I’d never use. I was sure it would be monitored at all times. They also offered a car, but I turned it down. Said maybe later. After we saw how things went for me. The apartment came furnished. All I needed was a key.

The evening of the day they turned me loose, I took a walk up to the bridge and sat down and waited until Lucille finally came out to talk.

I explained to her that I wouldn’t be living at the bridge anymore and told her where she could find me. I even offered to let her stay at my place. She asked if I had rats and I said I didn’t think so.

She slid off my lap and said, “Come by any time, Darlin. I’ll be right here. You’re a good friend, Robby. Be careful out there . . .”

Then she was gone, back into a hole under a freeway overpass.

The walk home seemed twice as long.

 







robbyptiiib.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2017

Run, Robby, Run

by Kenneth James Crist

 

Part 3

 

I had passed a sort-of pleasant two weeks. Fuzzy had his own yard and I had Alice Ann, my new, government-provided, live-in girlfriend. It was the easiest way for them to keep track of me and I didn’t mind at all. Some of Alice’s kinky tricks made the initial episode in the Texas motel with the beer bottle seem pretty tame.

Eventually, they came to the conclusion that they couldn’t duplicate whatever it was that made me able to converse with animals and they gave up. It wasn’t long, though, before they began sending me out on assignments. They gave me credentials and everything. I had a badge and an ID card that said “Provisional Special Agent” on it.

The first case they sent me on was a no-brainer. Fuzzy and I were put on a plane and sent to Casper, Wyoming. A rather prominent business guy had been killed in a home invasion. His dog was there and saw it all, or at least they figured it had. Alice and Fuzzy and I were assigned the task of questioning the dog, an Irish Setter named Jimbo.

It was ninety miles from the small airport to the ranch the businessman owned, and we took off in two cars right from the airport. I was ready for some lunch and Fuzzy said he was going to die any minute if he didn’t get a cheeseburger, but it wasn’t happening.

The ranch was an actual working ranch, with cowhands and cattle, horses and manure, corrals and fences scattered around. The house was pretty elaborate, but then, the man didn’t have to subsist on what the ranch made. He had his hands in real estate, banking, stocks and bonds and he even owned a chunk of the airport we flew into.

As we arrived, we saw the Irish Setter. He got up off the porch and came out to meet the cars. He didn’t bark, which I took to be unusual and it seemed his spirit was broken. He and Fuzzy walked around each other, chuffing and smelling and doing what dogs do, but still, there was no barking. Tail wagging was at a minimum.

We were introduced to the lady of the house. She was maybe fifty, but I was immediately taken with her. Yes, her hair was graying; yes, there were character lines in her face. But her posture and figure were still those of a much younger woman. Her eyes were somber, but I could easily imagine a sparkle there. Her husband had been a lucky man.

She wouldn’t talk until we had been fed. She put on an impressive lunch and she made sure Fuzzy was fed, too. The local sheriff was in attendance, as it was actually his case. We avoided discussing any of the circumstances, because if I knew anything about it, it might tend to shade whatever I learned from the dog.

After lunch, I asked everyone else to stay in the house and Fuzzy and I went outside and sat on the porch with Jimbo. I parked in an old, creaky glider that needed to be sandblasted and repainted. Fuzzy sat beside the glider on the floor. Jimbo was curled up next to the steps, watching us.

“Jimbo. You like that name?”

His head came up and his eyes were filled with intelligence and curiosity. “Yeah, I like it fine. It’s my name. Always been my name.”

“I know. Are you sad?”

“You know I am. The Man is gone. They say he’s gone forever. Dead. Like cows sometimes. They die and then in the spring, we find them and they stink and the men bury them in the ground.”

“Can you stand to tell me what happened out here?”

“Some men came and kicked in the door. Man was here and I was here. I barked and warned the Man and he was getting a gun and they shot him. I ran and hid. I was scared. I should have been brave, but they had guns. I hate guns.”

Fuzzy said, “You’re not alone there, friend.”

Jimbo asked, “What’s your name?”

“Fuzzy. I made up my own name.” Jimbo got up and came over and sat in front of me. I reached down and scratched his ears and said, “Who were the bad men? Did you know them?”

“One I knew and the other I didn’t. One was the Man’s friend who comes here all the time for meetings. His name is Jack. The other man was real tall and he smelled like beer and Jack called him Junior.”

“Do you know Jack’s last name?”

“Last name? No, I just know Jack.”

“And he’s been here a lot? Many times?”

“Ever since I was little. I don’t know why they wanted to hurt Man.”

“What was your man’s name?”

Jimbo lay back down with a sigh and placed his head on his paws. He said, “Blake. He won’t be back.”

“Jimbo, I know it hurts, but it will get better. Thanks for talking with me.”

“I talk all the time, but nobody understands. You’re the first.”

“I know, Jimbo.”

 

When I went back in, the sheriff had his glasses on his nose and his notebook in hand. I sat down and the lady poured me another cup of coffee.

“What did you learn? Anything helpful?” The sheriff was looking at me over his glasses.

“First, understand that I haven’t been told anything about this case or about the victim, okay?”

“Okay. . . .”

“Jimbo tells me his master’s name was Blake and that two men came and kicked in the door. One was a man who has come here for years, named Jack.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the lady of the house put her hand to her mouth and then to her breast, as if she might faint. “The man with him, Jack called Junior. Jimbo is sorry he wasn’t more brave. But it only would have gotten him killed. As time goes by, he’ll get better, but you need to understand just how much he really understands. Let him know what a good dog he is and what a good witness. And when you make your arrest, you need to let him know. Closure would be a good thing.”

The sheriff stared at me and then said, “Well, I can’t prosecute on the word of a guy who says he can talk to dogs. . . .”

“We understand that, Sheriff,” Alice said, “but what this actually does is allow you to concentrate your efforts on two suspects and not have to spend a lot of time spinning your wheels looking at everyone else. And you can be assured that Robby here can actually do what he says he can. It’s been proven over and over under laboratory conditions and if we didn’t have absolute faith in his abilities, we wouldn’t have burned the jet fuel to come out here and help.”

“Okay, well then, I’d best get to work. Thank you for your help.” He touched his Stetson in cowboy fashion and stalked out to his car.

On the way out, I stopped once more and petted and talked to Jimbo. “Not sure the sheriff believed me, but he’s gonna work on it. He’ll catch them soon, and you helped a lot. Glad we got to meet you, buddy.”

He watched us all the way to the car and clear out of sight. Alice said, “While you were talking with Jimbo, I got another call. How are you with horses?”

“Okay, I guess. They’re almost as intelligent as dogs and in their own world, they definitely rule. Where we goin?”

“Shamrock, Texas. It’s out by the state line with New Mexico. Got an arson case out there where somebody burned down a barn with the horses inside. One managed somehow to get out. The rest perished in the fire. We figure the horse probably knows who set the fire.”

 

Shamrock, Texas is about as far west as one can get in the Lone Star state. Again, we met with a county sheriff and also a Texas Ranger. The Ranger was a tall guy, with a dark complexion, and high, prominent cheekbones showing Indian blood. In contrast, his name was O’Reilly. Must have been an Irishman in the woodpile. The sheriff was a good ol’ boy named Benson, who probably got elected because he’d been there all his life and knew everybody and their kids and dogs. He didn’t seem to know a lot about police work.

We used a loaner car, an older generic blue Crown Vic, from the nearest FBI office and followed the Ranger’s big silver Dodge pickup out to a holding facility for abandoned and abused animals about forty miles south. The horse was still under veterinary care, due to some burns he’d received in the stable fire. The sheriff rode with us and filled me in on the case.

“Horse is a four-year-old gelding named Pancho. He’s all black, with three white socks and, of course, burn marks now. Ever since the fire, he won’t go inside a building. He’s pretty hard to approach, and he’s bitten and tried to kick a couple people. You know much about horses?”

“Not a hell of a lot,” I said, “but I can probably talk to him. We’ll just hafta see when we get there.”

“Well, ya wanna be careful. Stay away from his back end and watch his head. They have to rope him and snub him down to give him antibiotics and stuff. He’s not trustin’ anybody right now.”

We turned in the drive at the facility and were met with barking from about thirty dogs, all raising hell in their kennels. We let the dust settle before we opened our doors and then got out into the dry heat. O’Reilly settled his Stetson on his head and pointed across to a corral adjacent to a large metal barn.

I looked across and saw Pancho. Saw the piebald patches where his hair was burned away. Saw some areas that were still carrying scabs and were shiny with ointment. The horse’s head was down and he looked defeated. I turned to Fuzzy and said, “You might wanna hang back some. Don’t wanna upset him. . . .”

Fuzzy flopped his tongue out and said, “Nope. He wants to see me. He needs ta talk. Maybe you better hang back.” Fuzzy headed for the corral, his tail wagging madly, like he’d just found his long-lost brother.

“Better call him back,” O’Reilly said, “he’s apt ta get killed in there.” Fuzzy was just slipping under the lowest bar of the corral.

Pancho stepped forward and Fuzzy reached up. They smelled each other and Pancho raised his head and blew, then whinnied and dropped his head back down to nuzzle the dog. Together, they set off for a walk around the corral. I knew they were conversing, but I wasn’t catching much of it.

O’Reilly cocked his Stetson back on his head and I heard him mutter, “. . . be god-damned. . . .”

I watched Fuzzy work some dog-on-horse magic for about thirty minutes, before I finally approached Pancho. It even got down to them playing tag and working up a sweat, dodging back and forth. Finally, Fuzzy remembered what we were there for and he came over to me and Pancho came with him. The big horse shoved his head over the fence and smelled me and I could almost see the wheels turning as he smelled Fuzzy on me and associated the two of us together.

“Hey, big guy,” I said, stroking his cheek, “you doin’ okay now?”

“Better,” he rumbled in his throat, nodding his head, then. “Does the dog have a name?”

“His name is Fuzzy. He likes you.”

“I like him, too. He’s good dog. Good friend, too.”

“You have any other friends, Pancho?”

“Not any more. I had a person friend. Julie. But not now. She’s gone away.”

“What happened to Julie?”

“She made fire. Burn, burn, burn. Burned the barn. Burned the horses. All but me.”

“I know, Buddy. It’s very sad. You see her make the fire?”

“I did,” he said, the head nodding again. “She put some tractor stuff on the straw and lit it.”

“Tractor stuff. Tractor gas? Stinky stuff they put in tractors?”

“Yeah.” Nodding again. “Bad stuff.”

“How did you get out?”

“I kicked my stall. The door busted open. I ran out and she closed the door.”

“Who was she? She the owner?”

“No, Pete was the owner. She worked there. Clean and brush. Take care of horses.”

“Stable girl?”

“She was there a long time. She went crazy. Bad in the head.”

“I’ll be back in a minute, Pancho. You keep Fuzzy company, okay?”

“I like Fuzzy. Good friend.”

I walked back over to Benson and O’Reilly. “Pancho says a stable girl named Julie did it. Used tractor gas and put it on the straw and lit it off.”

O’Reilly took the Stetson off and wiped the band with a handkerchief, then set it back on his head again and said, “She was top of the suspect list. And right now, we can’t touch her. She cut her wrists later that night and now she’s up in the state mental hospital. We might never be able to prosecute her.”

“Better collect yer dog, then, and we’ll get goin’,” Benson said.

“Well, first of all, he’s not my dog. . . .”

 

Much later, we flew to San Antonio and collected my truck. Alice, Fuzzy and I were allowed to drive to Washington D.C. with only one car following with two other agents. We enjoyed the trip and managed to stretch it out to three days and two nights, which we enjoyed immensely.

We had plenty of time to talk along the way and I was settling into my new life-with-government as well as could be expected. Somewhere in Kentucky, I asked, “How long do you think Uncle Sam is gonna require my services?”

Alice looked thoughtful and didn’t answer right away. Finally, she said, “I guess you still haven’t figured this all out, huh, Robby?”

“Figured what out, Babe?”

“This is a life-time deal, here. They’re never gonna just turn you loose. They can’t.”

There was a rest area a mile ahead and I didn’t say anything until I had the truck stopped and Fuzzy was out doing his business. Then I said, “The fuck you mean, lifetime? They can’t keep me for the rest of my life if I don’t wanna play anymore.”

“You have no idea, Robby. Here’s the thing. At any given time there are spies from about twenty-four countries that we know of under surveillance by our agency. We use deep-cover people who will do absolutely anything necessary to protect this country and its people. I know of one agent who is legally married to the subject she had been assigned to cover. And if the shit hits the fan, she will kill him and disappear without a thought. You’re not dealing with pussies here, Robby.”

“So my rights have no bearing. . . .”

“Rights? Don’t make me laugh. You will always be under surveillance and protection, and your income and safety and comfort are guaranteed for the rest of your life.”

“Just because I can talk to animals. . . .”

“No, just because you are the only person alive that we know of who can do what you do. Think about it, Robby. Take a city like New York City. Eight million people and at least that many rats. Rats go everywhere. They have stealth and they are hardy and disease-resistant. They come out mostly at night and they see and hear just about everything. That’s over 8 million operatives that you, and only you, can debrief. If an enemy of our country knew about you, one of two things would happen. They’d capture you for themselves, or if they couldn’t carry that off, they’d kill you. Period. End of story. You cannot afford to go unprotected. Ever. You are too great an asset.”

When we arrived at Fort Meade, we were told that two arrests had been made in Wyoming and the sheriff had obtained a confession from Junior. He would plead to accessory to murder in exchange for a lighter sentence. Jack was still holding out and would most likely be charged with first-degree. He was looking at life in prison.

In Shamrock, Texas, the stable girl, Julie, had been through a sanity hearing and had been temporarily adjudicated as mentally incompetent to stand trial. . . .

*     *     *

Three nights later, Alice left Fuzzy and me alone in our house. She had paperwork to catch up on, back at her office. Outside, an unmarked car with two agents kept watch. Fuzzy was parked, lying down in the center of what had become his bed. I stepped over and flopped down beside him and said, “You and I need to talk, buddy.”

He was on his side and he didn’t even bother to move. “Yeah? What about?”

“I need to know what you think about our new lifestyle. Are you happy? Do you think you can get along with all this traveling and living in a house and being taken care of by these secret agent-types?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah. Honestly.”

“I’ve been thinking about running away again.”

“You’d just take off and leave me like that?”

“I’ve done it before, when everything got to be too much. I could do it again. I liked it a lot better when there was just the two of us and every day was a challenge to survive and we weren’t so damn . . . comfortable. Does that make any sense?”

“Okay, you’re gonna hafta excuse me, but I’m gonna hug you, whether you like it or not.”

Fuzzy didn’t care to be hugged, except by little kids, but he put up with it. Even licked my ear a little.

After that, we began to make our plans. It would take time to disentangle ourselves from the government. We would have to convince them, very gradually, that I had lost my ability to talk with animals. Fuzzy would have to help, by becoming aloof and even disobedient and uncommunicative.

The only way we would ever get away was for me to become worthless to the federal government. We couldn’t start too soon, as that would be obvious to Alice, after just having talked with her about my role in their plans and never being able to leave.

 

Next: Part four—Robby’s escape…





robby4kduncan.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2017

Run, Robby, Run

 

Part 4-The Conclusion

 

By Kenneth James Crist

 

 

To say that the work was not interesting would be an outright lie. And being squired around in federal cars and airplanes and fed for free and living in a free house wasn’t a bad deal, either.

 

Fuzzy and I solved crimes, or pointed agents in the right direction, so that their efforts weren’t wasted. We streamlined investigations by talking with rats, squirrels, birds, snakes, dogs, cats, and horses. Sometimes we had a lot of slack and Alice Ann and I did what we could to fill that time and not get too bored. A constant supply of nookie was a pretty good deal.

 

But at the same time, Fuzzy and I both chafed under government ownership. We made our plans at night, when we were alone, always aware that when we were in the house, we were most likely under surveillance. When Alice and I were alone in our bedroom, they turned the cameras off. At least that was what they said. I wondered often if it was the truth. Alice was enough of an exhibitionist that I figured she might go for having the cameras on when we were banging each other’s brains out.

 

Fuzzy and I only talked when we went out for walks. The agents were always there, a short distance away in their car, but we were good at talking to each other without anyone being aware. Much of what we said was non-verbal, a look, a glance, a sniff, a tail held just so, a finger scratching an ear.

 

Three months after we made our decision to get out, we botched our first case. We did it intentionally and made it look like an inability to perform. We were flown to St. Louis, Missouri on a missing child case. The child’s body had already been recovered and the suspect was in custody. Local police had only the family’s cat as a witness. The NSA volunteered our services.

 

We were met at the airport by the St. Louis P.D. Homicide Commander and a Lieutenant and whisked away in an unmarked car. Alice and I sat in the rear, with Fuzzy between us. He curled up and parked his head on my knee. I wasn’t sure how much help he’d be this time around, as cats weren’t his favorite people.

 

We drove for forty minutes, chatting with the homicide guys and finally arrived at a gray and white, two-bedroom bungalow on the south side. I walked Fuzzy for a few minutes, while he marked his way around the area and set off every pit bull in the neighborhood.

 

Finally, Commander Riley brought us to the door and introduced us to Calvin and Margery Laughlin, the parents of the girl. We were welcomed into their home and eventually, the cat came wandering in from wherever she’d been hiding when we arrived. I had asked that, after we met her, each of the other humans gradually get up and ease out of the room. Surprisingly, Fuzzy and Thomasina got along great. Another hurdle conquered.

 

Talking with cats is never the same twice. Some cats tend to be reticent, others aloof. This fucking tabby would not shut up. She was so distraught over the loss of the girl she’d grown up with, she told us the whole story, not once but many times. It kept getting better. At some point, I began to realize she wanted so badly to see this maniac who stole her mistress punished, she was embellishing the story.

 

We gave her a while to run down, long enough that we knew the cops had the right guy, beyond any doubt. Then I went back to the homicide guys and had them step outside with me.

 

Riley looked me up and down while Fuzzy was off, checking the privacy fence again, just to see if he might have missed a spot.

 

“Okay, what’d the cat have to say?” He had about half a smirk on his face and I really wanted to wipe it away so badly, but instead, I just said, “Nothin’. Not a goddamn thing.”

 

“What? I thought you were some kinda big whiz-kid at talkin’ to animals. . . .”

 

“Yeah, I know. I don’t know what it is. I just couldn’t get a thing outta that cat. I’m sorry, Commander Riley. This really doesn’t happen very often.”

The smirk was back, big-time, but he was gracious. He drove us back to the airport and put us back on our Gulfstream and we flew back to Virginia. It sucked having to write the after-action report and make up a bunch of shit about our abject failure to perform at getting information out of a kitty.

 

Fuzzy and I got a decent night’s sleep and in the morning, I was called on the carpet.

 

 

 

Clyde Jensen, the project manager, was not a happy man. I was pretty sure he had visions of failure of the project and of that in turn, damaging his career.

 

The overhead fluorescents shone on his bald head and there was sweat there. His complexion was red and he looked like a heart attack waiting to happen. There were sweat marks under the arms of the white shirt. He got right to the point.

 

“What happened, Mr. Metcalf?”

 

“Robby.”

 

“Robby, then. What happened?”

 

“No idea, Sir. I found a cat I couldn’t talk to. Or, maybe it just wasn’t in the mood. . . .”

 

“Look, don’t fuck with me, Metcalf. . . .”

 

“Robby.”

 

“No, goddamn it. We’re not on a first-name basis here. Not until you get your shit together and start performing again.”

 

“So, as long as I put out for you, I’m fine, but if I can’t, I’m fucked.”

 

“No, Metcalf, un-fucked would be more like it. Agent Ackerman has been reassigned, temporarily. At least, we hope it’ll be temporary. If you get my drift.”

 

“Oh, yeah, I got it.”

 

“You need to think about your position here. You were hired to do one job and one job only. . . .”

 

“I wasn’t fucking hired, Dude.”

 

“What?”

 

“I was kidnapped by my country and forced into servitude. I wasn’t given a choice.”

 

“Robby, we have tried to make things as comfortable for you as possible. . . .”

 

“But I’m still a prisoner of sorts.”

 

“Nothing I can do about that. I’m sure you understand.”

 

“Yeah, I get it. So, no talkee, no pussy. That about it?”

 

“Get outta here, Metcalf.”

 

I was dismissed and taken back to my house by a burly male agent I’d never met before. When I got back, I flopped down on the sofa and thought about the situation.

 

It was a good thing, I reflected, that I wasn’t in love with Alice. It would have been easy to allow that to happen, but when it was all said and done, she was still a government agent. I remembered her telling me about the agent who was married to her surveillance target and how Alice said the agent would kill him in a heartbeat if it became necessary. How do you fall in love with someone that ruthless, when you know exactly what she is? I’m not that big a fool. I got up and grabbed Fuzzy’s leash and said, “Let’s go out and walk, Big Guy.”

 

When we were clear of the house, I said, “We did good, Buddy.”

 

“How much trouble are ya in now?”

 

“Well, they’re not happy. They’re not gonna let Alice come visit for a while, until I shape up.”

 

“Shape up? What’s that mean?”

 

“Get my act together. Start performing again. Start being their pet animal talker.”

 

Fuzzy’s shoulders slumped a little and his tail drooped. “So, I guess we’re not goin’ home, huh?”

 

“Wrong, ol’ Buddy. We’ll be goin’ home soon. I’ll just have to get worse and worse at my job. Until they no longer feel it’s economically feasible to keep me.”

 

“What’s that mean?”

 

“Until they get tired of payin’ me for doing nothing.”

 

He sighed and said, “I hope that’s soon, Boss. I miss our special place. I almost miss that snake. . . .”

 

 

 

A week later, I had Fuzzy commit what for him was almost a felony. I told him to take a dump in the hallway when we were headed out for a mission. This kind of thing never happened ordinarily, and I knew it would get someone’s attention.

 

The thing that made it priceless was when one of the agents stepped in the mess and almost slipped and fell.

 

“Jesus Christ! Can’t you control your goddamn dog?” He was pissed. His Italian loafers were gonna need a clean and polish.

 

“Well, for starters, he’s not my dog. . . .”

 

“Yeah, yeah, shit! Heard that before. . . . I’m not too impressed with your communication with him, if yer gonna let him shit all over the place.”

 

I chastised Fuzzy sternly, just as I had told him would happen. “Fuzzy, dammit, you know better than that!”

 

Fuzzy just wagged his tail and grinned at me like we shared a secret, which we did and like he was the dumbest dog on the planet. It was hard not to burst out laughing, he did such a good job. I started looking around for something to clean it up with, but the agent said, “Leave it. We’re gonna be late for our plane.”

 

Just to top things off, when we got to the plane, Fuzzy casually walked over to the main landing gear and pissed on one of the tires. The pilot was fuming by the time we took off. I hadn’t told Fuzzy to do that last part. He dreamed that one up all on his own.

 

When the agent went back to clean up his shoes in the lavatory, I leaned over to Fuzzy and said, “Nice job, Big Guy. I think the message is coming through.”

 

Alice was already on the plane, and her demeanor was cool and somewhat aloof. That was okay with me and more than okay with Fuzzy. We were headed to Florida, specifically to Key West, to talk to a dog that happened to be in a bank with its owner when a robbery went down. The robbers had killed four people before the shit was over and they left with their measly $46,000. Among the dead was Morton’s owner. Morton was a beagle. In my opinion, beagles are the most scatter-brained of all dogs, and I didn’t figure it would be too hard to pull a bad performance out of this one. I was wrong.

 

Morton was being kept at a shelter, and the plan was to adopt him out, once we had gathered as much information as we could. When we landed, it was the usual drill, a ride in an unmarked Ford Explorer Interceptor to the animal shelter, and a quick briefing from agents working the case.

 

FBI Special Agent Muncie was the team leader and he was okay. His partner was named Williams and he was a bit of an ass. I could tell he would rather have been anywhere else in the world than doing this doggie bullshit. To his credit, though, he took a liking to Fuzzy right away. Apparently, he’d been a K-9 handler somewhere in his career. We decided not to even go inside the shelter. The introduction of a new dog would only stir things up. Morton was brought out to us, and Muncie and Fuzzy and Morton and I all took a walk around the neighborhood.

 

Fuzzy and Morton got acquainted and soon, Fuzzy said, “Boss, this good dog here is a pretty sad guy. He lived with his man and there was just the two of them. Now, he’s gotta go to a new family.”

 

“Yeah, I know. And that’s if he’s lucky.”

 

“Lucky?” Now Fuzzy and Morton were both sitting, looking up at me.

 

“Yeah. If somebody doesn’t take him, well . . . it won’t be good. . . .”

 

“They’ll kill him, right?” Fuzzy dropped his head as soon as he said it, and I wished he hadn’t.

 

“Well, that could happen. So, the better job we do here, the more valuable he will be.”

 

I handed Fuzzy’s leash to Muncie and told him, “I’m gonna have Agent Muncie walk ya for a while, Fuzz. I need to talk to Morton alone.”

 

“Kay, Boss.”

 

I took Morton and we moved off by ourselves and soon we were down close to the water. “Tell me about the thing that happened at the bank, Morton.”

 

“My man got shot. Bad guys came in with guns and people got shot. I don’t know why.”

 

“Money is why, Morton. It’s all about money. What can ya tell me about these guys?”

 

“Well, there were two black guys and two white ones. The one white guy did most of the shooting.”

 

“Okay, what else?”

 

“One of the white guys worked there at the bank.”

 

“How do you know that?”

 

“His smell was all over the place, before he even came inside. As soon as he came in, I knew him. He’s helped my man before.”

 

“Helped him with what, Morton?”

 

“Something he had to sit at a desk for. And write on some papers.”

 

“Did he shoot anybody?”

 

“No. He kept tellin’ the other guy to stop. But he didn’t stop. That other guy just wanted to kill people.”

 

When we returned to the shelter, I pulled out all the cash I had and left it to feed and house Morton as long as it would last. I briefed the detectives on what Morton had to say, and they were very interested in the idea that it was an inside job. They would check to see what transactions Morton’s owner might have had to take care of and that should give them a line on which employee was involved. We got back on our plane and headed home.

 

I could tell Fuzzy was worried about Morton. I told him it would be okay, but I wasn’t sure he was buying it. It helped when I told him about the donation I’d made to keep Morton as long as they could.

 

He settled in for the plane ride, again being sullen and uncommunicative, as was the plan. We couldn’t just suddenly stop doing what we did. It would look too suspicious. We needed to do this gradually, over a period of months. But Fuzzy’s lack of patience and normal doggie attention span would make it difficult.

 

 

~     ~     ~

 

As it turned out, it took another three months before the NSA project failed, and my “lack of perceived communications skill with animals” became so sporadic and undependable that the government opted to stop wasting money on “an experimental project with no redeeming factors” and the powers-that-be finally pulled the plug.

 

I was called in to the director’s office on a Monday morning and asked what I wanted to do. Rather than being fired, I would be retired with a stipend paid monthly into my bank account. I asked for a ride home and was met with questioning looks. Clyde Jensen’s eyebrows travelled clear up to where his hairline should have been. “Home? You mean . . . back to where we found you? Under a fucking bridge?”

 

“Yessir, I believe so, if it’s all the same to you. Fuzzy and I lived there for several years before you guys got interested. We’d like to go back.”

 

By Wednesday evening, we were outfitted with a new sleeping bag and some camping gear and dropped off with a quick handshake from an agent I had never met before. We curled up and slept the night in peace, and for the first time in almost a year, Fuzzy was happy.

 

In the morning, as the sun was coming up over the bridge, Fuzzy moved around a bit and said, “Boss, that damned snake is back. . . .”

 

I reached down inside the bag and felt the smooth dry scales of my friend, Lucille.

 

“Good morning, Lucille.”

 

“Good morning, Lover. Where you been?”

 

Fuzzy snorted in disgust. “Been workin’ at a job I hated and now we’re back.”

 

“Are you back to stay?”

 

“That’s the plan.”

 

She snuggled down lower, toward my feet and said, “That’s good. Really missed you.”

 

I heard the crunch of tires on gravel and Fuzzy was suddenly up and on alert, his hackles raised, and his tail blown out. He was in fight-or-flight mode, until I calmed him. A federal car was pulling in under the bridge and I thought, Well, here we go again. Fuck!

 

It parked and when the car door opened, Alice Ann Ackerman stepped out. She was dressed in a navy skirt and low heels, light blue blouse and her Glock .40. She looked good.

 

“Morning, Mister. Back to your old haunts, huh?”

 

“This is not a haunt, Lady, this is home. So, what’s up?”

 

“Well, I knew they took their cell phone back and I didn’t know if you had a new one. And I wouldn’t have the number anyway. . . .”

 

“So ya drove half the night just to come see me?”

 

“Well, I didn’t like the way things ended with us, so yeah. I couldn’t sleep, so I got up at three and lit out.”

 

“You didn’t like the way things ended? You were my control. You were agent in charge. And we did a lotta boinkin’, but we never got around to using the “L” word, so . . .”

 

“I’m sorry, Robby, but you can’t do all that we did and not have some feelings for the person you’re involved with. Am I right?”

 

I found myself looking down at the ground, and just then, Lucille slid out and made her way toward her den up under the bridge.

 

“Holy shit! Did that come outta your sleeping bag?” Alice was wide-eyed, not with fear, but with amazement.

 

“She’s a friend. Her name’s Lucille. . . .”

 

“So I’m playin’ second fiddle to a snake? Is that how it is?” I could hear amusement in her voice and when I looked up, that old mischievous sparkle was back.

“No, but I don’t imagine you’re the kinda girl who would wanna crawl into a sleepin’ bag on the ground and go for it.”

 

“No, but I might be the kind who would come up on her days off and get a nice room somewhere to spend time with you.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really.”

 

“Okay. I wouldn’t mind that at all.”

 

“Gimme your cell phone number. I gotta get rollin’. I’m on duty later today.”

 

I gave her the number and then took her in my arms and kissed her. It was good, but it didn’t last nearly long enough. As she got in her car, she said, “Oh, hey. I almost forgot. Morton got adopted. You’ll never guess who took him home.”

 

“No, probably not. . . .”

 

“Agent Muncie. His kids fell in love with that dumb dog. . . .”

 

“Got news for ya. That dog’s a canine crime fighter.”

 

She snapped on her seat belt, shut the door, and dropped the window. I leaned in and got another smooch and then she rolled out, headed back to the grind and all the bad juju that goes with government service.

 

Fuzzy bumped against my knee and said, “Are we up for the day, Boss?”

 

“Shit, no. I’m goin’ back ta bed for a while.”

 

As I settled back into the sleeping bag, he curled up against me and sighed. It sounded like he said, “Perfect.”





nome.jpeg
Art by Ann Marie Rhiel © 2017

Nome 


by Kenneth James Crist


 


Carrying my backpack and keeping to the shadows and doorways, I move up the street, toward the setting sun. The sun is up there. I know it is, even though I haven’t seen it in a year. The cloud cover keeps it hidden and also keeps it cold here in the city all the time.


The trees and everything else in the plant kingdom are now dead, never having enough sunlight to survive. Animals that lived on plants are mostly gone now, too. Some predators survive and, of course, rats. Rats and cats. Rats because they are om . . . let me look it up . . . the dictionary I found is in my backpack. Here it is . . . omnivorous. It means they can pretty much eat anything. Cats survive because they can catch rats.


Back to the sun and its problems. Late in the day, the cloud cover will turn orange, and I know it will soon get dark. Then it’s time to get barricaded in somewhere, before the monsters come out.


The monsters are just like anyone else, except things have gone wrong in their heads, and the food has just about run out, now. The monsters will eat humans, if they can find any. I once saw four of them, roasting a gutted human fetus over an oil drum fire. I once also thought they could be helped. Now I know the best thing for them is my crossbow. I use it because I never liked guns, and gunshots will bring the monsters.


I’m not very big. Maybe a little small for a fifteen-year-old girl. I know I’m undernourished, and sometimes I don’t get my period at all, for months at a time. I just started getting boobs last year. I know if I don’t get barricaded inside at night, they’ll find me, and I’ll be raped, and probably killed and eaten. But that’s the reality of the world.


I’m sure there are others like me, somewhere, but I haven’t seen any, and the presence of the monsters makes me distrustful. How do we define normal, anyway, after six nuclear exchanges, nuclear winter, and lives shortened drastically by radiation?


I call myself Nome. Because I can no longer remember my name. Or my parents. Or where I lived. There is little I do remember of the old time. I remember my dog, Pete. He was a black Lab. The dogs died early, when the war started. Dogs sniff everything, so most all of them picked up a lethal dose right off the ground. Bald, bleeding dogs dropping all over the place. I remember petting Pete as he was dying, and his fur coming out in wads, sticking to my hands. When Pete died, that was the last time I cried.


I’m good for tonight. I found an apartment this morning that had hardly been looted at all. I’ve got my backpack filled with canned stuff, and I hid a bunch more. I never go back to a store or apartment once I’ve been there and made it out alive. Sometimes monsters set traps for people like me, baited with food or other things needed for survival. My crossbow has saved me three times, when I wasn’t careful enough.


Getting darker now. I go inside a building that looks like it was once a bank. Desiccated bodies still behind the counters in the tellers’ cages. Vault standing open. Money scattered like so much trash. Worthless in this new world we created. Maybe I’ll sleep in the vault tonight. If the time lock still works, I can set it for eight hours or so and get some good sleep for a change.


Outside, I hear a sound so out of place, I move carefully to the door and listen, then, fascinated, I move out to the street. Above the cloud cover, I can hear bells. Tiny, jingling bells.


Hastily, I dig into my backpack and find my calendar. I have been marking off the days, but I may have missed a few. But I’m pretty sure it’s December 25th. The bells are fading now, moving away.


In spite of everything, I think that may be the loneliest sound I’ve ever heard. . . .


 




coasting.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2018

Coasting

 

By Kenneth James Crist

 

“What the fuck, Elaine!” David was pissed, mostly because he wasn’t getting his way. He was winding up into temper-tantrum mode and I was throwing shit into boxes, working fast, because this wasn’t going well. I was moving out and there was nothing David could do about it. We had lived together in his off-campus condo for a year, but now it was over. He just wasn’t getting it, yet.

“We’ve been over this, David. I don’t love you. I made a mistake moving in here in the first place and for that, I’m sorry, but I just have to move on. I was too young and naïve to know what I really wanted, and I thought living with you would be fun. I was wrong.”

“Wait. Wait, we had lotsa fun together, Babe. . . .”

“No, you had fun, David, making me do things for you . . . to you. As usual, getting everything your way. You’re a rich, spoiled, know-nothing, David, and I can’t stand being with you, anymore. I don’t know how I could make it any plainer.”

He went into his normal pouting mode, slumped on the couch with his lower lip hanging almost to the floor. It was almost comical, I thought, and I kept right on boxing things up and carrying them to the pickup I’d borrowed from a friend for the move. I didn’t have a car. My dad had offered me one of the pickups from the farm in Kansas, but I had declined. I was in my second year at a college in Massachusetts, on a scholarship, and my bicycle did just fine for getting me around. Kept me from having to go to the gym and endure the stares from all the jocks, too. In between playing with his iPhone, David continued glaring at me. That was another thing I was sick of. Playing second-fiddle to his phone. We couldn’t get through a meal or spend any time without him glued to the damned thing.

I’m what you might call a Kansas corn-fed farm girl all the way. I was raised in a no-nonsense environment of honesty and hard work. David was almost the complete opposite. He was raised by doting parents in a filthy-rich world that I couldn’t even conceive of, a world of little or no responsibility and anything you might want. I had reached the point that I’d had enough, and besides, I had recently  met the perfect man.

I met Monroe in the library, a place that was steadily failing as the internet took over as The Source for most college students. They could jump on the ‘net, plagiarize others’ work to their heart’s content, rearrange some wording, and get their “B+” grade and move on. I hadn’t been raised that way. I believed in doing my own work and getting the credit for it, not to be shared with anyone else. It turned out, Monroe was that way, too.

I’d started going to the library because I got tired of using David’s laptop and I couldn’t afford my own. It seemed everything I did on David’s computer was subject to his inspection, and even though he made mediocre grades at best, he always felt he could advise me on every paper and project.

I caught Monroe peeking at me over the terminal he was working at, sneaking looks at me almost constantly. At first it was irritating, but then it got to be cute, like watching a chipmunk waiting for a treat. And Monroe was definitely good-looking, although he didn’t seem to know it. The exact opposite of David.

David enjoyed tooling around in his custom-painted Corvette, paid for by doting Daddy, and watching all the campus cuties swoon while he ogled their bods, even when I was right there in the car with him. Monroe, it turned out, drove a four-year-old Camry that he’d worked and sweated for, gutting out those “easy” car payments as a carpenter’s apprentice at a cabinet shop in town. He was one of those guys who wanted a college degree, plus a trade that he could fall back on. In the event he wasn’t able to find a teaching job right away, cabinet-making paid at least as well as teaching, maybe better.

On that first day, when I met Monroe (Monroe was his last name and what everybody called him—first name Travis, which I seldom used except when we were making love. More on that later) I had finally gotten tired of the peek-a-boo routine and I just reached out and pointed at him and said, “Hey, Sport-o, how ‘bout some coffee?”

He had stumbled and stammered, also very cute, and finally we headed off to a Starbucks a block south. Over small lattes, I had checked him out, as he had been checking me out. He was taller than David and slimmer, but in a rawboned way. His hands were work-hardened and his face was angular, softened somewhat by a Clark Kent set of horn-rimmed glasses that magnified his hot blue eyes slightly. He had the little curl of dark hair on the forehead, too. He was quite a package and he was definitely interested.

“So, Monroe, why the library? Is that where you normally pick up girls?” I was being a bit of a bitch and I knew it, but I decided he might as well get the full treatment right up front. If he panicked and ran, well, maybe he didn’t deserve to even get to first base. After David and his spoiled-ass, expectant ways, I was ready for something different. And did I ever get it. In spades.

“I don’t have my own computer yet. And I can use one of the ones at the library free, so I spend a lotta time there.”

“Yeah, okay. I’m from Kansas, and I’m not rich, either. Up here on a scholarship and all. My dad would prefer I not be so far away from home, but . . . ” I realized I was babbling and made myself stop. Monroe was grinning at me. Straight, white, even teeth. Good dental care. A great smile. Damn, he was pushing all my buttons and he didn’t even know it.

“Well, there’s one thing we have in common,” he said, “being poor is okay, though. Makes ya work harder and you appreciate the things you do get that much more. So, there I am at the library at least four nights a week.”

I finished my latte and said, “Guess I’ll see ya, then, okay?”

“I hope so,” was all he said, that first night. I was still with David then and I had gone to the condo and curled up with him and sucked his cock just the way he liked me to, then mounted him and raced to keep up and get something for myself before his usual quick ejaculation left me unsatisfied, as he had done so many times before. And it wasn’t too hard to do that particular night, because I was thinking of Monroe and what it might be like to have his workman’s hands on me the whole time. . . .

Weeks went by and spring came to Massachusetts, all in one day, or so it seemed, and dammit, I fell in love. Big-time. Monroe had a loft over a garage four blocks from campus, and I found myself studying there more and more. “Studying” included a lot of fooling around and lovemaking breaks after the first few nights.

That was how we thought about it: Lovemaking, not just fucking. Because Monroe was different in that area, also. He was never in a hurry. He was always amazed by my body, which I didn’t think of as anything special. His touch was always gentle and yet when he touched me there, and there, and especially THERE, he awoke something in me that I’d never known I had. The man definitely set me afire.

His man-parts were average. His chest was brawny and covered with hair. His hands were hard, but gentle and loving. His attentions to my lady-parts drove me into a shaking, gasping mess and he loved to make me cum. I never had to hurry or try to catch up with Monroe. He usually got me off several times before he permitted himself the pleasure of orgasm. After a couple of weeks, I knew he was gone on me, too, and that was good.

I had hated facing the move-out, because I knew David so well. I knew how spoiled he was and how he felt he owned me. I saw him now as a petulant child and I couldn’t wait to get away from him. I knew he was vengeful, too and I was just a little afraid of him. Not too much, though. I had pinned him once when we were just wrestling for fun in the living room. He pouted for days and claimed I cheated, but I knew better. Having grown up on a farm and had my own share of chores to be done without fail every day, I knew I was just the stronger person. He had never hit me and that was a good thing, because I was pretty sure I would have kicked his ass quite handily.

I loaded the last of my stuff and fired up the pickup and headed for Monroe’s place. It was far enough away, I figured I wouldn’t have to keep running across David every time I turned around. And for that, I was glad. I looked back once as I left and saw David standing on the front stoop, hands on his hips, glaring at me. Maybe I shouldn’t have laughed, but right at that moment, I couldn’t help it.

It was a glorious summer. As soon as the semester ended, we took off for Kansas, riding the Trailways bus to Wichita, where my family met us. We stayed at the farm, my family’s farm, for two weeks, sleeping apart for decency, sneaking off to make love whenever we could, because we had to.

When our stay there was over, we took another bus to Indiana and went to his folk’s place. They were a bit more open-minded and Monroe and I shared a bed for the next two weeks. We made love at night, slowly and as quiet as church mice, with just the occasional giggle slipping through. Monroe’s mom said we made a cute couple.

~~~~~~~~

The summer was miserable for David. He was not only spoiled, he had a decided lack of coping skills and he spent the summer brooding about Elaine and her new guy. He missed her, to be sure, and he told himself it was because he loved her so much. But it really was because her leaving him was such a blow to his ego. Before he went back to college in the fall, he paid a visit to his dad’s man-cave and procured what he needed to take care of the situation. As he headed back to school, he was a little happier. He knew everything would work out okay, now.

~~~~~~~~

Monroe and I worked through the rush of getting our classes set for the semester. We compared schedules and arranged everything so we would both get the classes we needed, but we could still have the maximum amount of time together. The first week went smooth as silk and Friday afternoon, we left the library early. As we walked outside, hand-in-hand, there was a sudden sound from beside me. It sounded like an axe splitting wood. I will always remember turning to Monroe and seeing the wide-eyed look of shock on his face and the bloom of blood on his chest. He staggered backward and then just collapsed. Looking back, I think he was dead before he even hit the ground. The far-off sound of the rifle shot barely registered in my mind and I found myself screaming and trying to hold onto Monroe, even as his blood and his precious life were slipping away.

At the spot where Monroe landed and the spot where I wound up, we were behind a concrete park bench, which was probably all that saved my life. The firing of the rifle went on and on, and others were screaming and taking cover. Some were falling, struck down by the unreasoning rage and ego of my ex-boyfriend, David. He had stolen his dad’s AR-15 rifle and thirty rounds of ammo and he intended to use it up.

When he was at last surrounded by cops, being basically a coward, he dropped the rifle and gave up without fighting the police. Later, I heard that several of the officers were sorely disappointed they didn’t get a chance to kill him. Final score: three dead, thirteen wounded. David was booked into jail on three counts of capital murder and thirteen counts of attempted murder by use of a firearm.

And there he sat in jail, because there was no bail allowed for what he had done. I once again rode the bus to Indiana and attended Travis Monroe’s funeral. My heart was broken and it matched the grief of his parents. Somehow, we got through it, and when it was over, I went back to the college to somehow continue my studies. And to plan for the next event in my life.

First, I shipped a lot of my stuff home to Kansas and then, with the bare minimum of possessions, I moved back into the dorm. I got stuck with a roommate who was a total squeaky-voiced airhead. She could have been an irritation and a vexation to the soul, but I would not allow it. I ignored her. Blocked her completely out. I had too much to do in preparation for what was coming next.

In addition to keeping up with my studies, I self-educated in anatomy and biology, learning enough that semester that I could have easily aced any final exam in either discipline. For the other thing I needed, though, I turned to the internet. I hardly ever shopped online for anything, but I needed it to find one single item. The technology was just new enough, I couldn’t find what I needed in the books or catalogues available at the library.

Once I found what I needed, I ordered it, expensive though it was, and had it shipped by overnight express. David’s trial date was fast approaching and so was the event I was planning. The package arrived three days before David went on trial. The box was four-and-a-half inches long and one-and-a-half inches wide. It weighed four-point-three ounces. The contents fit nicely into my front jeans pocket, and there I would keep it until event time.

 

Day One of David’s trial. It was tedious to the extreme. Jury selection was a pain in the ass. An unnecessary pain in the ass, I thought. Picking a jury for someone like David? The cops should have made him kneel, right there on the grassy knoll, which was how I thought of his firing position, and shot him in the back of the head and left his carcass for the crows to pick clean. To commit such a heinous act as multiple murder of innocent people with an assault rifle, be taken into custody, and then be somehow magically transformed into a “suspect” was personally repugnant to me.

But, the jury selection was necessary so that precious David, coddled David, spoiled-ass David could be assured of a fair trial. He had no less than three attorneys at the defense table with him. The best legal talent that money could buy, to cross-examine and browbeat every witness, to examine and question every action of the police and every piece of evidence, to use every means, fair or foul to get David off, worthless David, the evil, spoiled little shit. And whenever they would bring him into the courtroom, the fucker would smirk at me. Impossible to believe I had ever liked this man enough to move in with him. To . . . well, to do the things he liked so well. . . .

Day Two. More jury selection. The triple-threat attorney team was plowing through jurors as my Dad used to say, “like shit through a goose,” getting them knocked off willy-nilly. At this rate it would be a month before actual proceedings began.

Day Three. People were becoming bored with the whole process. The courtroom, which had been packed on Day One, was now down to half-full. Good. Very good. Boredom and apathy would only work in my favor. Hopefully, in a few more days, people would be asleep in their seats. One could only hope.

It seemed to me that David was enjoying himself immensely. It was apparent that he was quite sure Daddy’s money and Daddy’s legal team would get him off, if not scot-free, then with a minor slap on the wrist. He had taken to pushing his swivel chair back from the defense table and leaning back against the wooden rail that separated the judge and legal folks from the commoners who were merely there to spectate.

Day Four. I arrived early and was first into the courtroom, when the Bailiff unlocked it for the day’s business. I took a seat in the front row, directly behind where David would be sitting. And I waited. As I waited, I thought about the love of my life, now tucked away so neatly in his grave, never to love me again, never to touch me again in his special way. I would never again hear his voice or lay my head on his chest and hear the stalwart beating of his heart. That had been forever stilled by the thoughtless act of a spoiled, jealous twerp of a coward.

I snapped out of my reverie as the bailiff called the court to order. Rose to my feet as the judge entered. Slipped my hand into my pocket and withdrew the very expensive Boker super-ceramic folding knife. A knife I had carried into the courtroom each day, without once setting off the metal detector. The blade was black as obsidian and three times sharper than any metal razor. The grips were of black carbon fiber. As black as David’s soul. It was double-edged and designed to last a lifetime. And it would. Last a lifetime. Not mine, but David’s.

The prisoner was brought in and after he was seated, his handcuffs and belly chains were removed. His feet remained shackled as a precaution against him attempting to flee. More jury selection. More boredom. More examples of excellent attorneys doing what they do best. Litigating and generating billable hours.

David leaned back against the rail and got comfortable. Today, he was being aloof. If he had even noticed me when he was led into the courtroom, he had given no sign. I gave it a couple of minutes. I looked back at the exit doors. The security guard was all but asleep on his feet.

Then, I flicked open the blade of my weapon and reached forward, casually and almost nonchalantly shoving the super-ceramic blade between the vertebrae in the back of David’s neck. It went in so easily, it was almost like cutting Jell-O.

I severed David’s spinal cord, and nothing moved. There was no shaking. No convulsions. Nothing. Except David ceased to live. No heartbeat. No respiration. No signals from body to brain that anything was wrong. No signals from brain to body telling the heart, lungs or the rest of the nervous system what to do. I had learned the biology and anatomy. I had learned it well. There was almost no blood.

Then, I just stood up and walked out to the center aisle and calmly out of the courtroom. I might have been headed out to the ladies’ room. The security guard even opened the door for me. Out in the hall, I picked up the pace a little, but I still did not run. I walked to the bike rack and retrieved my bicycle, adjusted my backpack and mounted the bike.

I rode south, down the hill toward the center of town, upshifting through the gears and building speed, coasting occasionally, then shifting up again and accelerating, always accelerating. Five blocks down the hill, I again coasted, then accelerated and shot through a red light intersection, not caring about the traffic. The bus station was now eight blocks ahead. The seat of the bicycle was rubbing me in a sensuous manner, almost like a lover. All the money I possessed was in my pockets, and the bus was still the most anonymous way to travel.

A freshening breeze lifted the hair away from my neck. It had been many months since I had felt this free. And no matter what happened from here on, I was satisfied that everything was as right as I would ever be able to make it.

Behind me, way back, miles away, over the roar of morning traffic and other city noise, I heard the barking of the first police sirens. . . .








saltonsea.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2018

Salton Sea

A Barry Wilder Short Story

Kenneth James Crist

 

It’s never a good deal when your dog dies. When you lose one of your all-time best friends and your dog within a month of each other, it totally sucks.

Roland Nesper was a retired Sheriff’s detective from Carbon County in Wyoming. He and Iva Gonzalez had moved down to Wichita with me and Iva had paid for that decision with her life. We had been ambushed right at my own home and it had been our final contact with the cartel and the bloodthirsty bunch of assholes who made up that jolly band.

Commando Cody, the huge Doberman, had been trained initially as a bomb dog for the Carbon County Sheriff’s department. That didn’t work. He was too enthusiastic for bomb work. They cross-trained him for drug work. Again, too much enthusiasm. When it was decided he would be put down, Roland stole him and after that he was Roland’s and Iva’s and mine, too, I guess. We had all loved him and cared for him equally, but after Iva was killed, I began to see him decline. Roland and I worked with two different veterinarians, but they were both of the same opinion. Large breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans, and even dogs in relatively good health eventually die.

My personal opinion was that he died of a broken heart, pining for his mistress. When his time came, he was curled up in his bed and one morning he just didn’t wake up. Roland and I took turns digging his grave in the hard Kansas soil behind my house. We buried him wrapped in Iva’s old leather bomber jacket and we put in a box of dog treats and several of his favorite, chewed up toys. When we were finished, neither of us had much to say. Roland took off his glasses and mopped his face with his bandana. It wasn’t just sweat he wiped away. He walked off toward the house and, when he was out of earshot, I said, “Goodbye, Cody. You were a good dog and a good friend. I’m sure I’ll see you soon. Take care of Iva until I get there.”

There are those who believe that heaven isn’t open to animals. That they have no souls, and they know nothing of God or Jesus or Vishnu, or Yaweh or any deity, so they cannot enter the Kingdom. I believe those folks are full of shit. Commando Cody had been highly trained and highly functional. He had saved lives and taken lives and, since I never knew him as a puppy, I often wondered if he had always been a serious warrior, dedicated to the protection of his people. Dogs who serve as Cody did deserve a place in whatever we call the afterlife. To paraphrase Will Rogers, “If dogs can’t go to heaven, when I die, I want to go wherever they go.”

Roland didn’t have it that easy. He already had two stents in his heart when he came to live in Wichita. We both knocked around my big old house, as content as two old guys can be in each other’s company, both nursing our losses and wishing things had turned out differently.

Commando Cody had been in the ground not quite three weeks, when Roland and I were sitting at the breakfast table, having morning coffee and he suddenly said, “Shit, that hurts!”

I said, “What?” But he wasn’t answering. He keeled over and slid to the floor, managing to break his own fall, barely knocking his glasses off. He was clutching his chest and I snatched up the phone and called 911, getting paramedics started. I found Roland’s nitroglycerine pills and got one under his tongue.

Firefighters from Station 17 arrived and started CPR and the ambulance took him to the emergency room. He survived that heart attack, too. Roland was a tough sumbitch. The following day the cardiologist decided to try and place another stent and during the surgery, Roland coded, and they were unable to get him back. I’m convinced he was halfway over to the other side and heard Cody barking and just said, “Fuck it, I’ve had enough, c’mere, Good Dog!”

I had Roland’s Power of Attorney and he had mine. He wanted to be cremated and I had that done. I drove his ashes up to Natrona County in Wyoming, and had him interred right next to Iva. When it was all over, and I was once again alone, I fell back into my old ways. I took Thumper, my Harley Ultra Classic, to the dealer for a tune up and oil change and while he was in the shop, I cut off the mail, put all the house plants outside and made sure all the utilities were on auto-pay. When Thumper came out of the shop, I packed my shit and hit the road.

As I had done many times before, I looked at the weather forecast and picked the direction in which I would encounter the fewest storms. I headed southwest. In one day’s ride, I was in Pueblo, Colorado and I stopped for the night. The following day, I rode to Taos, New Mexico, one of my favorite old haunts. I visited Kit Carson’s grave and also that of the famous actor, Dennis Hopper. I stayed the night, gambled a little at the tiny Indian casino, then moved on.

Southbound toward Las Cruces, the weather warmed, and I was soon in shirtsleeves and getting baked in the good, dry desert heat. Sometimes, when things have been going shitty, it takes several days and numerous tanks of gas to get my head straightened out. Moving on from the loss of friends is one of the most difficult things for me to deal with. In my imagination, a whole group of friends rode along with me and Commando Cody paced my bike, whenever he wasn’t distracted by a rabbit.

From Las Cruces, I headed further south and west, into the eerie desert country near the Mexican border. The last time I came that way, I had been going the other direction and had been caught by a storm. I had sheltered in an abandoned gas station and had been joined by a Western Diamondback rattlesnake, or perhaps by a woman. It had been a strange episode. I knew the snake was real and I dreamed the woman, but her footprints were there when I awoke. Now, as I travelled west, I watched for the old gas station, but I never saw it. Never even saw any place where it might have been. That in itself was disturbing. It was not the only disturbing episode I’d ever had when riding alone and somehow, I was sure it wouldn’t be the last.

When I reached Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I decided to be a tourist for a while. I still had a National Park senior pass I’d bought at the Grand Canyon years before and the Ranger at the entrance allowed that it was indeed still valid. Best ten bucks I ever spent.

The day had turned exceptionally warm for the time of year, this being October, and I found myself buying extra water at the gift shop before I moved out into the park. I had done the tour and seen all the huge old cactus plants a guy would ever care to see, and I was headed out, when I stopped at a turnout that had restrooms. Figured I’d hit the can one more time before I headed further west.

When I stepped out of the restroom, there sat the most worn-out, bedraggled Jack Russell terrier I’d ever seen. No collar or tags. She just sat in the shade provided by the roofed overhang of the restrooms and panted. I looked her over and I knew she was in trouble. First, there was no one around. Second, there was nothing to drink, and third, she had accumulated several cactus spines in her feet.

I know enough about dogs to know that they cannot sweat. Therefore, they pant, to get rid of excess heat. Without water and shade a dog can sicken and die very quickly. I walked over to the bike to get some water. The Jack stayed right where she was, watching me. When I pulled a bottle of water out of the tour trunk, she saw it and stood up. I saw her tongue flop out and I could see it was swollen.

I walked to the trash barrel nearby and rooted around and found a Styrofoam container and popped it open. There was some dried ketchup in it, but it would have to do. I walked back to the dog and put the container down and poured it half full of water. She set to, lapping it up. As she drank, I walked around the area, looking for anyone else who might be around. I needed to find this little lady some help. There was no one but me.

When I returned, she actually wagged her stump of a tail and looked at the water bottle expectantly. “Okay,” I said, “but if ya make yourself sick, I’m not cleanin’ it up.” I poured the rest of the bottle into the improvised bowl and watched her go after it while I thought about those cactus spines in her feet. I knew that the cactus plants naturally shed a certain number of spines every year. She probably picked them up wandering the park. I supposed I’d never know how she came to be out here abandoned and alone.

I went back to the bike and pulled my tool kit and got out needle-nose pliers. I sat on a bench that was tucked up against the restroom wall in the shade and when the Jack was finished drinking, I gave her a couple minutes. She went around the building sniffing and peeing, but never letting me out of her sight. Finally, she came over and sat at my feet.

I petted her for a few minutes and talked to her, then carefully lifted her up to join me on the bench. I showed her the pliers and told her what I was about to do and that it would probably hurt. I started with the back feet, snatching the cactus spines out quickly. They had been in her feet long enough that none of them bled and several appeared to be infected. They would require more attention later.

My next problem was getting her to ride on a motorcycle. We’ve all seen Jack Russell terriers perform on stage and in circuses. They are one of the smartest and most agile breeds, but training must begin early for almost any dog to be comfortable on a motorcycle.

I walked her over to the bike and let her sniff her way around it. She carefully avoided both tires and I took that as a good sign. She was smart enough to know about the dangers of wheeled vehicles. In a few minutes, I lifted her up and set her on the seat. I figured that would be fine, until I started the motor. That’s when almost any animal will bail—when the machine starts making all those scary noises.

I let her get used to sitting on the seat while I put on helmet and gloves. Then I threw my leg over and sat down with her, putting her on the saddle in front of me. She turned and looked up at me and I didn’t quite know what her expression was telling me. I stood the bike up and flipped up the kickstand. She looked over the side to see what that noise was. I turned on the ignition switch and the fuel pump whined, and the radio came on. I killed the radio. I figured we didn’t need The Eagles right then, doing Witchy Woman.

With my left hand, I steadied the dog and with my right thumb, I reached out and touched the starter. I expected the Jack to bail right then, in a mad scramble to get away from this two-wheeled work of the Devil. I felt her shiver and she looked up at me again. I figured this deal might work out after all. I could feel her tail wagging, catching me right in the crotch. “Well, okay,” I said, “let’s do this.” I clicked the shifter into first and the Harley made its characteristic clang as it went into gear. I eased the clutch out and we rolled off, headed out toward the ranger station. In spite of the heat, I could feel the dog pushing herself back against me.

We rode several miles and when I rolled up to the ranger station, I killed the engine and the ranger tried to wave me through. I stopped and called him over.

“Sir?” He was looking at the dog and speaking to me.

“Has anyone reported losing a dog in the last few days?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but let me check a couple things. Sit tight for a minute.” He went back inside and picked up a phone. Talked for a minute. Hung up and made another call. Talked again. Hung up and made a third. Finally came back out and said, “No reports we’re aware of. Do ya wanna turn her in? We can have animal control come out and get her.”

The Jack turned and looked back up at me again and I knew what the score was then. “Nope. Think I’ll just take her along and we’ll see how that works out. Have a nice day.”

I started the bike again and we moved on out. I spent the first fifteen miles expecting the dog to just go, fuck this! and jump, especially whenever we leaned into a curve, but she hung in there and we soon rolled into a place called Ajo and I decided we’d call it good. I figured my new friend could use some chow, and air conditioning wouldn’t hurt, either.

I picked a small, single-story motel called, predictably, the Cactus Motel and got us a room. The dog waited outside the office and the desk guy asked, “Is yer dog house-broken?”

“Probably better than most of your guests,” I said, grabbed the key and went to the room.

When we got inside, the dog made the rounds, checking everything out. I watched her carefully to see if she was going to do anything she shouldn’t. In a few minutes, she jumped up on the bed, turned around a couple of times and lay down. I headed for the shower.

 

Thirty minutes later, we headed out to find food. I had no leash, but the dog stuck close and didn’t seem inclined to run off. We walked a couple blocks and found a hamburger joint with outside seating that was in the shade. I went to the window and ordered two double cheeseburgers, one plain and one with everything, a large order of fries, a Coke and a water, easy on the ice. I sat at an old red-painted picnic table that was scarred with many names carved into the wood. The dog ate off the wrapper of her burger and licked the paper clean. I fed her fries while we talked. I knew I was going to have to come up with a name and a collar and vaccination tags, and a leash would probably be a good idea, too. I was sure these were all things she was used to. After we ate, we walked around the town a bit and she got barked at by some Pit Bulls and some junkyard dogs. I was looking to see if there might be a veterinarian’s office, but I never saw one. We wound up back at the motel, watching TV on one of the three channels available until just past ten, when she jumped off the bed and went to the door. I let her out and watched from the door as she made her rounds. When she was ready, we went to bed. As I was drifting off to sleep, it occurred to me that this Jack Russell was getting me trained quite nicely.

In the morning, I knew her name. I don’t know how. I didn’t know then and I still don’t. I just woke up and looked at her, curled up beside me on the hard motel bed and said, “Bonnie, you ready to go out?”

In characteristic Jack Russell fashion, she bounded off the bed and yapped at the door. I said, “Hush now. Let’s not wake everybody up. Go do your business.”

She quieted immediately and went out into the lot, then found some straggly grass. I didn’t watch her. I figured if she was inclined to leave me, she would at some point. Might as well be sooner as later. I left the door open an inch and went to use the can. In a few minutes, I heard the door squeak as she shouldered it open and then her nervous pacing as she looked for me. Heard her sniffing and blowing under the door. Then, she tried to dig her way under. I said, “Hey. Quit that. I’ll be out in a minute.” She stopped digging and blowing and when I came out of the bathroom, she was again curled up on the bed.

We rode on up highway 85 to Gila Bend, where I was able to find a pet supply place and they clued me in on where to find the best vet in town. By noon, we were sitting in the vet’s waiting room. Bonnie was wearing a new collar and was on a leash. A box of liver-flavored doggie treats had been added to the cargo in Thumper’s trunk and we were next up to see the doc.

When the vet came in from lunch, I had a bad moment. She looked so much like Iva, the resemblance was uncanny. She was obviously Hispanic, but her name was Curry. Angelica Curry, DVM.

As she examined Bonnie, I told her how the dog came to be in my possession. “First thing we should do then, is see if she’s microchipped,” she said. She tucked Bonnie under her arm and confidently marched off down the hall somewhere. In a couple minutes, she was back. “Looks like you got yourself a free dog, Mr. Wilder. There’s no sign of a chip. So, I guess we’d better get her current on shots and get a fecal smear to check for parasites. No chip means no records, so we gotta start from scratch.” As soon as the doc said, “scratch,” Bonnie sat down and scratched her right ear with her back foot. The doc and I looked at each other and then we both laughed. Bonnie tilted her head, wondering what the joke was. She looked like the dog ‘Nipper’ in the old RCA ads, his head tilted just the same, listening to “His Master’s Voice.”

A half hour later, I had spent a hundred and eighteen bucks and Bonnie had a rabies tag and we were on our way. We had some ointment to put on her feet to help the cactus spine punctures heal and the doctor assured me that as soon as I put it on, Bonnie would try to lick it off. “Try to keep her occupied for a while after you apply it, so it has time to soak in and do some good.”

The day was hot, and we rode west on Interstate 8 toward Yuma. The heat of the sun and the heat off the Harley’s engine were tough on me and I knew Bonnie had to be suffering. We made frequent stops for water and potty breaks and just to find some shade. We stopped in Yuma and found a Dairy Queen and got ice cream. I figured this would be a novelty for the dog, but once she got started on it, I realized it was not her first rodeo. She worked the waxed cardboard cup all over the sidewalk and reduced it to sloppy shreds in short order. More water and more potty time, then we rolled into California. When we pulled out of Yuma, I tried putting her on the back seat, thinking she’d be further from the engine heat. It didn’t work. Up front was where she wanted to be and she almost fell off once before I could get pulled over into the breakdown lane and move her back in front of me.

Another fifty-seven miles put us in El Centro, and after a break, during which I gave Bonnie a rubdown with bottled water, we went north on state road 86 toward the Salton Sea. This was a huge lake that had been created in1905 by an engineering problem with the Colorado River and it had become quite a booming tourist attraction for a number of years. Since the 1970’s it had been in the process of dying. The salt content of the lake, along with pesticide runoff from farming in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys had killed off most of the marine life and the receding shoreline had killed the hopes and dreams of many entrepreneurs and property owners. I had wanted to see it before it was all gone back to desert and besides, it was on my bucket list. I figured it would be a glimpse into the past and also a good example of environmental disaster. I was right.

Just about everywhere we stopped, the skeletons of dead fish littered the shoreline and the place stank of death. There were whole towns that were abandoned, and they might have been fun to explore, but I figured there might be quite a bit of danger there, too. I didn’t need Bonnie getting attacked and killed by a wild dog or further injured by falling through a floor or something. Her cactus spine injuries were enough for her to deal with at the moment.

I did stop at several places that were just too picturesque to pass up. I took pictures of an old salt-encrusted pier that fell a quarter mile short of reaching the water. An abandoned motel that was now the target of taggers and vandals. An old boat, left high and dry several hundred yards from the water. A ruined aluminum house trailer, half filled with weeds and trash. At each stop Bonnie ran and sniffed and came back for more water. It was at the old trailer where we found the girl.

When she staggered out into the sunlight, Bonnie went right to her. No hesitation at all. But the girl turned away, as though she were afraid. I tried calling Bonnie, but she wasn’t inclined to return. I was also looking around for a car or any other form of transportation. I flashed back to when I found Bonnie, alone and left for dead in the National Monument.

I approached the girl slowly. I could see she’d been beaten and her clothes were torn. She looked to be in her late teens, maybe a little older, but not much. Her eyes were dark, and the wide planes of her face indicated Indio blood. As she saw me, she looked like a deer in headlights. She was ready to bolt, to try and run away. But she kept looking at my hand. I realized I was still carrying a bottle of water. I held it out to her as an offering of peace. She backed up another step. Thinking quickly, I sat the bottle on the ground, called Bonnie and backed away. When I was back fifteen feet, the girl moved forward, picked up the bottle and moved away again. She opened the water and drank greedily, glancing at me from the corner of her dark eyes, making sure I wasn’t moving on her.

When she had finished the water, I said, “You’re in trouble. How can I help?”

“You stay away from me…” Her jeans were ripped up, but I was pretty sure that was just fashion. People seem to have the desire to pay big bucks for torn-up shit nowadays. Her shirt was a feminine-styled T-shirt and it was torn, too. I was quite sure that wasn’t a fashion statement. She was holding herself together, not just the shirt, but her injured psyche, too.

From my back pocket, I pulled something I seldom use. When I retired from the Wichita Police department, I was issued a black leather wallet containing a retirement badge. I opened it to show her the badge and the retirement ID. She was too far away to realize it said I was no longer a cop.

As I tucked the badge wallet back into my pocket, I said, “What happened here?”

Suddenly, it clicked. I was safety. I was The Law. I was the person who would get her out of whatever horror had befallen her. Then, she rushed me, and I caught her as she threw herself in my arms and I held her as she sobbed and wailed and bawled out her pain.

Getting the entire story out of her took a half hour. I needed to get myself and Bonnie into shade, but the girl, Lupé Rodriguez, would not go near the trailer. Her story was a tale of abduction and rape and threats that if she came back and told, she would die.

She knew her abductors. She was from San Bernardino, and she had been working hard to keep her younger brother away from drugs and the local gangs. For her trouble, and as a lesson to her and others, they had abducted her at gunpoint and brought her here. Tortured her and raped her. Beat her and left her for dead.

Between Lupé and Bonnie, they finished off the water, so I knew we needed to move on down the road. I went to the bike and dug out the extra helmet. It’s a shorty helmet that doesn’t take up much room and it was packed full of socks and underwear. I got it out and gave it to Lupé and said, “I’ll take you home or to the nearest police station we can find. Your choice.”

She said, “No. No police. They’ll kill me.” She didn’t mean the cops.

I said, “Not if I find them first.” I dug a clean t-shirt out of my saddlebag and gave it to her. We had no water left, so I could do nothing about the crusted blood around her nose and mouth. She turned her back to me and stripped off the remnants of her own shirt. She wore no bra. Whether that was by choice or she had lost it to the thugs, I never found out. From what I could see, she was well endowed, but seeing the livid bruises on her body turned off any sexual desire I might have had. My t-shirt swallowed her up, being many sizes too large, but it covered her up too, and it, along with the helmet, would make her harder to recognize if we came across her attackers along the way.

I showed her how to mount Thumper’s rear seat and I avoided touching her as she slowly managed to get seated. Bonnie jumped from the ground and landed on the seat in front of me and we headed north, looking for food and water. And maybe some medical attention, too.

We didn’t see anything but desert until we reached Indio, which sits right on Interstate 10. I pulled into the first service station I saw because Thumper was running on fumes and Lupé headed for the ladies’ room. After I filled up, I moved the bike around front and went inside to get water and snacks. Bonnie sat by the door for a minute, and then changed her mind and went around to the shady side of the building, which also happened to be where the restrooms were.

In a few minutes, Lupé came around to the front, with Bonnie trotting happily at her side. Lupe came inside and went straight to a display of sunglasses. She picked out the largest, darkest pair she could find and looked over at me. Raised her eyebrows. I nodded and motioned for her to bring them. They would help hide some of the damage to her face and further disguise her. On the way up, she had told me about the car her attackers were driving. I was keeping my eye peeled for a white Honda with slammed-down suspension and blacked-out windows. Couldn’t be more than a few thousand of those in Southern California.

As we got ready to go, I asked the clerk where the nearest hospital was. He gave me directions, but when we got back out to the bike, Lupé said, “No hospitals, okay?”

“You need medical attention,” I argued, “there’s no telling what they might have damaged, beating on you like that.”

“No. Too many questions. Plus, the hospital would have to call the cops. If I was gonna die, I would have by now.”

We moved on up Interstate 10, headed toward Palm Springs and Beaumont. It was getting late in the day and it was starting to cool down a bit.

It was as we were passing by Palm Desert that Lupé leaned forward and said, “I just saw the car!”

“Where?”

“Back there, at that casino!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. It was Hector’s car, for sure!”

I jumped off at the next exit and circled back. Took some confusing side streets and eventually came up on the Agua Caliente Casino and Spa. We cruised through the lot and she pointed out the car. I parked some distance away, and we got off the bike. I dug out my road atlas and phone and started working to find someplace not too far away that I could lure them to. I needed them away from the Interstate. Somewhere more isolated.

The town of Yucca Valley looked pretty good. It had a population of 20,700 souls and was just up highway 62 about thirty-five miles. I got out a pad of paper and a pen and wrote a note. It said, ‘I have Lupé and I know what you did. Yucca Valley tonight, pussies.’ I said, “Stay here,” and walked over to their car and tucked the note under the wiper on the driver’s side. Walked back and we mounted up and rode out. Found highway 62 and went north. I figured whenever they found the note, they would probably get the security at the casino to review the camera footage of the parking lot and they would see the bike and me and Lupé. They would know I was for real and they would need to find me and try to finish what they’d started and shut me down, too.

When we got to Yucca Valley, I figured we had time to eat. We found a diner and got burgers and fries. We both saved some for Bonnie, who was waiting out front by the bike. When we had finished and fed her, we went and found a motel. Nothing fancy, just a mom and pop that looked clean. I got a room with two queen beds and installed Lupé in the room and told her to keep track of my dog, then took off to find somewhere to ditch Thumper.

Less than a mile back the way we’d come from, there was a U-Store storage place. In fifteen minutes, I’d rented a unit large enough to park Thumper in. I would use it once and then disappear. Eventually, maybe after thirty days, they’d check the unit and find it empty and just rent it again. I parked Thumper inside, backed in, so I could get him out quickly. I broke out weapons. I unloaded my Glock Model 22 and carefully wiped off each of the rounds, then put on gloves and put each round back in the magazine, charged the weapon and tucked it in the waistband of my jeans in the back. I figured I might not have time to pick up any expended brass and I didn’t want to leave any prints.

Took out a new ultra-ceramic folding knife and carefully wiped it, too. It had a blade that was probably at least twice as sharp as any metal blade. I liked it because it wouldn’t set off metal detectors. I put it in my right front pocket.

Dug around in the trunk and found my brass knuckles. They weren’t really brass. Actually, they were made of stainless steel and they had half-inch spikes sticking out of each knuckle. Illegal in every jurisdiction I’d ever had occasion to check. They went into the left front pocket. I looked around in the storage unit and saw that they hadn’t bothered to clean it out very well. In one of the back corners, I picked up a dusty old Dodgers ball cap, a plastic Wal Mart bag, and a four-foot chunk of mop handle. Perfect.

*     *     *     *     *

Hector Lopez, Gene Fuente and Mark Jimenez found the note about an hour after it was placed on their windshield. They didn’t go back into the casino. Instead, they flagged down a casino security officer who was cruising the lot.

Hector talked to the guy. “Hey, Bro, you see anybody fuckin around my car?”

The security guy looked like he might be a retired cop. Gray hair, buzzed off short, red face, overweight. Wearing a tan uniform with epaulettes on the shirt. Probably couldn’t run thirty yards to save his ass. “This about the note?”

“Yeah, man. On the white Honda there.”

“Some guy on a blue Harley. Had a chick on the back and a fuckin little dog with ‘em. I was watchin’ pretty close. They didn’t do anything to the car. Just left the note and split.”

“Thanks, man.” Hector didn’t like this shit. The bitch shoulda been dead by now.

As they walked back to the car, Mark said, “I wanted ta choot her, man. I woulda chot her when you was screwin’ her, but you said no…”

Hector just gave Mark the stink-eye and said, “Get in the fuckin’ car, man. Let’s go find this biker asshole. Teach this gringo fuck to mind his own business.”

They piled into the Honda, the screwed-up suspension creaking and groaning as their weight settled in. Hector fired it up and the loud, expansion-chamber exhaust crackled into a rough idle. He slammed it in gear and spun around in the lot and headed for the exit. They would try very hard to be in Yucca Valley in thirty minutes.

In actuality, it took them more like forty minutes. As they came blasting into town, they never even noticed the old dude in the ball cap and jeans beside the road with a stick and a plastic bag full of aluminum cans. He was such a common sight, he didn’t even register. They drove around town for a half hour and found no sign of a blue Harley. They decided they’d stay the night and have another look in the morning. It was getting dark and they were in strange territory. The motel they decided on was a little nicer than the one Barry and Lupé chose. It was about a half mile further north. When they got their key and went to their room they failed to notice the guy with the stick and the bag of cans for the second time.

*     *     *     *     *

I waited until the three idiots were in their room, then strolled across the lot and wandered around the motel until I found a utility room that was unlocked. I stepped in and swung the door until it was open about an inch. From there, I could look past the ice machine and down the row of rooms right to their front door.

“How we gonna find this biker dude, bro?” Gene was pacing back and forth across the room and around the beds. He always paced when he was nervous or agitated. “This fucker knows all about us and we don’t know shit about him.”

“Relax, Bro,” Hector said, “if we don’t get him here, we’ll get him when he brings the fuckin’ bitch back home. That’s where we got the advantage. He’ll come to us if we miss him here. Either way, we’ll cap his ass. Take care a his dumb ass…”

Mark said, “Hey, you guys want somethin’ ta drink? I’m gonna get some ice and a Pepsi.”

Hector pulled out some money and handed it across and said, “Mountain Dew, man. Thanks.”

Gene just shook his head. He was clearly worried.

It didn’t take long. I figured they’d have to have ice and some sodas, and the smallest of the three guys got elected. He came padding toward me barefoot and went to the ice machine first. Filled his ice bucket, then stepped over to a noisy, clanking beverage machine. As he was putting money in the bill acceptor, I stepped out and started to walk past him. As his head turned, I wiped the blade of my knife across his forehead, opening a six-inch slit that went clear to the bone. In moments his eyes were flooded with his own blood and he was effectively blind. As he spun around, frantically wiping at his eyes and face, I carefully stuck him just above the right kidney at an upward angle, perforating his diaphragm. Now, he couldn’t see, and he couldn’t get enough breath to scream. As he stumbled around, I took one more swipe, catching his left carotid artery. I sidestepped the blood spray and walked away.

“What the fuck? He hafta go ta fuckin’ L.A. ta get ice? Jesus, Man…” Gene was still pacing.

Hector said, “Fuck, Dude, if you’re so goddamn worried, go check on the little fucker. Maybe he got his hand stuck in the machine or some shit.”

Out in the parking lot, I crouched between two cars and waited. I figured fifteen minutes, but it only took ten. I guess they were impatient for their drinks. The second guy was a little taller and heavier, and as soon as he came out the room door, I started for him. I reached him just about the same time he saw his buddy, lying by the soda machine. He was so busy staring at the body there on the bloody concrete, I just walked up and slugged him with the brass knuckles. I caught him a perfect shot right in the temple. I had all my weight behind it, and he went down like a sack of stones. There were four perfectly spaced holes in the side of his head. There wasn’t much blood and in a minute, I checked him for vitals. Found nothing. I checked him for weapons and found a nice little Defender .380. Probably stolen. I took it and dragged him over to join his buddy, then scurried across the lot and hunkered down in the ditch at the edge of the parking lot. I tucked the Defender into the front of my jeans. I had a view of the room door from about twenty-five yards away. I waited.

Inside the motel room, Hector was watching Jeopardy and managing to catch about every third answer. He was smarter than he let on. He had actually done almost two years at USC before he figured out he could make more money cooking and selling meth than he’d ever make in legitimate work. He dropped out and went to making drugs full time.

When the program cut to commercial, he suddenly sat up. He realized Gene had been gone six or seven minutes and Mark ten minutes longer than that. Something was going on. Briefly, he thought about the biker dude. Could he be out there? Was he that good? Could he have already fucked up Mark and Gene?

He got up from the bed and picked up an AMT Hardballer from the nightstand between the beds. It was a typical Colt 1911 knock-off, packing 7 rounds of .45 ACP. It was a brutal weapon and very scary-looking. He stepped to the door and cautiously opened it. He never had time to realize it was a mistake.

Six minutes, this time. The room door opened, and the third guy was there, silhouetted in the doorway. I centered my front sight on his head, which was turning right and left, and squeezed off one shot.

A single gunshot in an urban area will seldom even generate a 911 call. People who hear a single gunshot will first ask themselves if it was a gunshot or a car backfire. Most people who commit violence with guns are so unskilled they tend to completely unload their magazine and fire the weapon dry, hoping to hit something vital. Among cops, that’s called “spray and pray.”

My single .40 caliber round entered through the guy’s right eye and caused his head to snap back as it passed cleanly through. I know it passed through, because I saw the curtain on the far side of the room jump as the round struck it. I got up and walked south toward my motel. In seven minutes, I was in the bathroom, washing off a small amount of blood and gunshot residue. Seven minutes after that, I was in bed, with Bonnie curled against me.

From the other bed, Lupé asked quietly, “Did you find them?”

“Sure did.”

“Are they…taken care of?”

“Listen. You can hear the sirens coming.”

“Thank you.”

“My pleasure…”

In the morning, I walked down to the storage place and retrieved Thumper, then we got breakfast and I took her home. When we got to San Bernardino, she directed me to her neighborhood, but then had me stop a few blocks from her house, at a small park. We took bottled water and walked to a picnic table and sat.

“You understand, you can never say anything about this to anyone, right?”

She looked at me, then took my hand and said, “And you can’t either, Mi Amigo.”

“I have something for you, if you want it.” I took the Defender .380 out of my pocket and laid it on the wood beside her. She looked at it. Didn’t pick it up.

“You took that off Mark, huh?”

“If that was his name…”

“He pointed this at me when they made me get in their car.”

“You can keep it. For protection. But it may be stolen, I don’t know.”

“Okay. I’ll keep it hidden. Maybe I won’t get raped again or killed.” She picked up the gun and shoved it in the back pocket of her jeans.

“I’ll be heading out then. Have a good life, Lupé Rodriguez.”

Vaya Con Dios, Barry.” I looked for tears, but there were none.

I walked back to Thumper and Bonnie jumped up on the saddle. I stroked her head and said, “You ready, girl?”

She looked over to the park, where the battered young woman was walking away and yapped a couple of times, then looked back up at me.

       “Nope,” I said, “we gotta go home now. You gotta new house and yard and neighbor dogs to bark at. Squirrels to chase, too. We’d better head on down the road.” I turned on the ignition and thumbed the starter. Bonnie yapped a couple more times as we got under way. The girl never looked back.


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lateonenight.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2018

Late One Night, We Killed Them All

A Barry Wilder Short Story

Kenneth James Crist

 

Being home from the road actually felt pretty good for a change. I had been home several weeks, catching up on chores, getting the house cleaned up and the yard ready, doing everything from fertilizing the grass to shampooing carpets.

I was back from a road trip of several months, after the death of two of my best friends. Commando Cody, the big Doberman, had gone first. Natural causes for old Cody. He just got old and when it was time, he went as gracefully as he could. The vet said he was healthy right up until he wasn’t. In other words, he ran out of heartbeats.

Roland Nesper didn’t fare quite so well. He had a series of heart attacks, stents installed and all that, but the heart killed him in the end. I had carried his ashes to Wyoming and planted him next to Iva Gonzalez, a woman we had both loved at different times, but never competed over. I had buried Cody in my backyard, wrapped in an old leather jacket that had been Iva’s.

A lot of the miles I have ridden since the loss of my friends are a blur. There was that incident at the Salton Sea and a major disagreement with some gang people that they had lost, but other than that, the days have pretty much flowed together.

I inherited a dog along the way, a Jack Russell terrier I’ve named Bonnie, and she has taken to the lifestyle like a duck to water. She seldom even lets me out of her sight. I think she’s afraid of being abandoned again, like she was when I found her, wandering in the park at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. She has perfected the art of riding on Thumper’s saddle, either sitting upright in front of me or lying crosswise across my lap.

It was about the time I started running out of chores that I ran across what was at first only a curiosity, but later became a mystery and finally an obsession. On my handy-dandy home computer, I had installed a copy of Google Earth and sometimes when there was nothing good on TV, I would play with the software, like most people, getting satellite views of famous places: The White House, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids at Giza. Then I started getting interested in things other people had found, mostly by accident. Area 51, which we all know doesn’t exist, but there it was, big as life, overflown by LandSat, the unclassified satellite that takes nice clear pictures everyone can see. I looked at shipwrecks and the hulks of crashed airplanes, based on coordinates anyone can find with the investment of a little computer time.

That got me interested in a game, or sport maybe, called Geocaching, in which people place small boxes or cans at certain hidden places and then publish the GPS coordinates on a website. You make your way to the site, find the cache, log in on a notebook contained there and if there’s anything you want in the box, take it. The only catch was you had to leave an object, too. That was fun for a while and on pretty days, Bonnie and I would go find a couple sites. I always logged us as Barry and Bonnie. Never bothered to tell anyone that Bonnie was a dog. She often left small Milk-Bones as her part of the contribution, and I actually think she was smart enough to understand that someone else would find the box and perhaps give the treat to their own dog.

One evening around the first of May, I was on Google Earth, looking at places in Kansas and seeing how recent the pictures were. Of course, you always have to look at your own house. The picture of my place was almost two years old. The detail, especially whenever a spot was available in street view, was pretty amazing. I “flew” out of town and looked at a couple of lakes in the area, seeing boats and swimmers from the equivalent of just a few hundred feet up. In the back of my mind I wondered, if the imaging from an unclassified satellite was this good, what must the high-performance military birds be able to do? The ones we mere mortals were never allowed to see. I had heard that if the angles and lighting were right, they could read a license tag on a car from orbit.

Skimming across the landscape, I found myself looking at everything from wind farms to combines cutting wheat, to tall granaries, to individual cars on the highways. Far out in western Kansas, I swooped over seemingly endless fields, many made circular by the use of irrigation rigs that travelled slowly around a central point. I swooped over a John Deere tractor with a doll beside it and a guy digging in the middle of a field. I was getting sleepy and I soon turned off the computer and went to bed.

That was at 10:30. At 4 A.M., Bonnie needed to go out and patrol the yard. I got up and let her out and stood on the sunporch with a .40 caliber Glock in my hand. I had been hearing our local coyote pack singing a lot lately. Coyotes get pretty bold at night, even in rather densely populated areas. And they like nothing better than a tasty little dog or cat for a midnight snack. As I stood there waiting and watching Bonnie doing her business, my mind wandered back to the satellite images I’d seen the night before. Something was bothering me about something I’d seen. I almost had it, but then it was gone. A few minutes later, we went back to bed. Bonnie tunneled under the covers and crammed herself against my feet. Gotta love those four-legged heaters. . . .

Over a bowl of raisin bran at a quarter to seven the next morning, my brain finally kicked in and a sudden chill ran down my back. A John Deere tractor with a wagon. A doll beside it on the ground. A guy digging . . . but if that was a doll, why was it as big as a person?

Ten minutes later, breakfast forgotten, I was back on Google Earth, looking hard and retracing my path across western Kansas. It took a half hour to find it again, but there it was. Big green tractor. Wagon hitched on behind, looked to be painted red. Figure of a woman, nude, or partially nude, splayed on the ground. Guy with a gray shirt, overalls and a red ball cap . . . and a shovel.

Digging a grave.

Oh, well, fuck. Here we go. Call the sheriff? What the hell county was it in? This would require some research. I knew how to take screenshots and I got busy. Pictures of the tractor and the guy digging, zoomed in as tight as I could get. Then working my way around, looking for the closest habitation. Finally finding a farmhouse and outbuildings, four miles to the east on what appeared to be a dead-end dirt road. No street view available. More screenshots. Printer working its ass off, printing everything out in living color. Then, looking for the nearest town.

Greeley County. There was Tribune, where the timeline ran through just east of the town, separating Central Standard from Mountain Standard time. I slowly worked my way back north and west, counting squares. Kansas is laid out on one-mile square grids in most areas. Seventeen squares north, and eight west of Tribune.

There was my spot. I switched to the GPS function and laid the crosshairs on the grave the unknown guy was digging. I scribbled down the coordinates and stopped to think about this. What were the chances that the satellite would be right overhead when some guy was burying a body out in the middle of nowhere? If it weren’t for bad luck, this poor schmuck wouldn’t have any luck at all.

But, was he really burying a body? Maybe the crazy bastard knew the satellite would be overhead at a certain time and did this shit for a joke, to show his buds and laugh about over a few beers. Some farmers plowed and planted pictures into their land—the American flag, maybe an actual portrait—knowing satellites and people in airplanes would see their handiwork. Maybe this guy had a goofy sense of humor and bought a blow-up doll and was having some fun.

And what were the chances that I would be dicking around on Google Earth and see the image? I thought, maybe I should run out and buy a lottery ticket . . . because I already knew it wasn’t a doll. And it wasn’t a prank. It was a woman. And she was dead.

Now would be a good time to call the Greeley County sheriff and tell them what I saw. Let them deal with it. But then, I thought, fuck it. This is mine. Why else did this chain of events take place? So I could call some county sheriff who probably has two deputies and three pickup trucks? Nope, I’m gonna take this as far as I can. If I get in too deep, then I can drop a dime on the local boys and bail.

Bonnie started paying attention to me, then. I guess she could smell excitement coming off me in waves. First, I went to the gun safe and looked to my weapons. I pulled out my Mossburg New Haven 12-gauge shotgun. It’s cut off to a legal 19-inch barrel and still retains the original stock and forearm. It is essentially a riot gun. A box of .00 buckshot and a box of deer slugs. Next, my Ruger AR-556 rifle. My “assault rifle,” some would call it, not knowing the AR designation actually came from Armalite, the original Colt model name for the rifle, which was sold to the U.S. military as the AR-15 and the M-16 during the Vietnam era. This one had a starlight scope mounted and sighted in for 100 yards.

Then, handguns. An old European model Berretta 92-S in blued steel, 9-millimeter, 16-shot capacity. A Glock Model 36, chambered for .45 ACP, its barrel threaded for a suppressor, and last, a Smith and Wesson Shield in .40 caliber. Lotta guns? Yeah. I’d rather have ‘em and not need ‘em than the other way around. This would not be a motorcycle trip. I was figuring a lot of dirt and gravel roads and maybe some cross-country driving through fields and rough terrain. I took the guns to the garage and opened up my Toyota Tacoma pickup. In the back seat, there was a doggie “hammock,” which fastened around the headrests and was designed to keep dog hair and other debris off the upholstery. Bonnie didn’t care for it, but I’d left it in the truck because it was easy to hide stuff under and still be able to reach from the front seat. The shotgun and rifle went under this, lying on the seats with the stocks toward the left side door.

In the Tacoma, the back seats unlatch and swing forward, with storage areas behind them. The Berretta went behind the left seat, the Glock behind the right, along with a box of ammo for each. The Smith went to its usual place, in the waistband of my pants, in the back. Two spare magazines went into the center console glove box.

Next, I went to my walk-in closet and started rounding up clothes. I was headed for farm country, and while I was not kidding myself about trying to blend in, I still rummaged around and found some old bib overalls that fit, some plaid flannel shirts, and some clodhopper boots that still had mud on them from the last time they were worn. I packed a medium-sized duffle and included my shaving kit and all the stuff I normally keep in there. I completed my ensemble with a couple of cheap, giveaway ball caps, one in black, with a Cat Diesel Power emblem, and one in red with Northcutt Trailers on it. Northcutt had a facility in north Wichita.

I thought about taking Bonnie to the animal hospital a mile from my house and having her boarded, but I knew she was smart enough she could prove useful, and besides, I hated leaving her. The look of reproach I would get from her would just about freeze my heart. I grabbed a bag of kibble and her water bowl and packed those in the truck and a half-case of bottled water went in the bed, under the locking tonneau cover. I threw in a spade and shovel and a pickax. I strolled across the street to Steve and Jeannie’s house and told them I’d be gone for a few days. They would pick up my mail and the daily paper and keep an eye on the place.

When we were ready, Bonnie hopped up into the truck and we set the alarm on the house and rolled out. I stopped on west Kellogg and filled the tank and we cleared town just before ten o’clock.

A hundred miles west lies the small town of Greensburg, Kansas, made smaller on the night of May 4th, 2007 when about 95 per cent of the town was destroyed by a tornado. Now, eleven years later, much of the town had been rebuilt, but there were parts that would never return. It was being rebuilt with an eye toward energy efficiency and was touting the slogan “Greenest Town in Kansas.”

I pulled into the Dillon’s store on the south side of the main drag and let Bonnie out to run. I said, “If ya got business to take care of, now would be a good time.” I watched her as she slipped around the back of the truck and carefully assessed the traffic, then, when the coast was clear, she set off across the street and into a number of vacant lots where a mobile home court had once stood. Once I knew she was safe, I went inside for coffee. My interrupted breakfast hadn’t lasted long and I noticed a display of muffins and snagged two on my way to the register. A few minutes later, I was back at the truck. I looked around for Bonnie, and when I didn’t immediately see her, I began to look around the parking area.

Two stalls to the west was a dilapidated old Chevy station wagon that had once been green. Inside the car were three or four kids sporting dirty faces and snarled hair. By the driver’s door was a fat, red-faced woman who was holding my dog. Bonnie seemed to be undecided as to whether she should be enjoying the attention or struggling to get free.

“This yer dawg?” The woman had a smirk on her face I didn’t like and there was a belligerence in her voice.

“Yep, she’s mine.”

“Ya know it’s ee-legal ta let a dawg run without no leash.”

“You the sheriff?”

“No, I am not. But I know him. I could call him an’ git choo in some trouble.”

Bonnie had now decided she didn’t care for this woman and she had begun struggling. “I’d suggest you put her down now,” I said, “and go call your friend the sheriff, then.”

“I’ll put her down when and if I get ready. Maybe I’ll just keep her for my kids, since she was runnin’ at large.”

I smiled tolerantly and then said, “Okay, Bonnie. Tell the nice lady bye-bye and let’s go.” I opened the truck door and Bonnie kicked her struggles up a notch. The fat woman had her hands full now and Bonnie had entirely lost her friendly demeanor. I heard the woman say, “Damned mutt, settle down!”

Then, Bonnie clamped down on the webbing between her thumb and index finger, whereupon the woman started shrieking. It didn’t take her long to let go.

Bonnie shot over to the truck and jumped into the passenger seat, as the woman continued to howl and hold her bleeding hand. I added insult to injury by saying, “I’d get that looked at, if I were you. She’s had her shots, but ya just never know.” By this time half the kids in the car were staring, and the other half were bawling. Mama got hurt and they weren’t quite sure how all this was going to turn out.

“I’m gonna sue yer fuckin’ ass! That animal’s dangerous!”

I decided I’d had enough at that point and I stepped over to the woman and moved up well within her personal space. Very quietly I said, “Her name is Bonnie. You had no business touching her, and in spite of that, she saved your miserable life today.”

Now she was sniveling, and she whined, “Whatta you mean?”

I eased my Smith and Wesson out of my belt just far enough that she could see it, but it wasn’t visible to anyone else. I said, “She kept me from having to shoot you dead in this parking lot. Go home and put some peroxide on yer fuckin’ hand and forget this ever happened.”

As I got in the truck, the woman had retreated into her car and was wrapping her hand with a filthy handkerchief and staring at me. I smiled at her and waved as we pulled out. Bonnie had discovered the muffins and had forgotten all about the woman dog-napper. As we rolled on west, we shared the muffins and had a good laugh.

Our total time to Tribune was four-and-a-half hours. When we got there, I decided we needed a place to stay before we did anything else. A room at a Best Western cost us eighty-six bucks, which included a “dog deposit,” presumably in case Bonnie ate all the wallpaper and sheetrock or destroyed the carpeting. I looked at the weather channel and discovered there would be a full moon that night, and I decided right then that I would go find the proper spot and do my digging in the dark. I fed Bonnie and we took a nap.

At around eight-thirty, we were on the move, grinding slowly up and down dirt and gravel roads, trying not to raise too much dust or attract too much attention. The area was all but deserted. I decided we should take a turn past the nearest habitation, the farmhouse I’d seen in the satellite photos. I pulled out the pictures I’d printed out and kicked on the dome light. I found the house and figured out where we were and then cruised on, making a couple turns and then we were moving up the dead-end road. The house wasn’t really a house, as such. It was more of a compound. At first glance, it reminded me of the Reverend David Koresh’s compound near Waco, Texas, where the U.S. government had backed itself into a corner it could not get out of gracefully and had wound up killing a shitload of people.

There were six buildings, but none that actually looked like a proper house. All were painted the same shade of tan and roofed in the same green metal. And other than that, there wasn’t much to see. Except a big green John Deere parked in the grass beside the biggest building. And a guy with a rifle standing in the yard. There was a big halogen yard light on a pole, lighting the place up like daylight, and the man with the rifle was making no effort to be stealthy. The rifle was some kind of lever-action carbine, probably a Winchester or maybe a Marlin, most likely a .30-30. He had it casually balanced back on his shoulder, holding it one-handed. He was comfortable with it, for sure. I was stopped at the end of the driveway and I decided to just play it cool. Just some guy who’s lost. Nothin’ ta see here, folks.

I put the truck in reverse and K-turned across the drive and drove away, feeling a cold spot on the back of my neck. I watched the rifle-guy in my mirror as we left. He never took the rifle down from where it was resting on his shoulder. He kept his eye on us as we left and as we were almost out of sight, I saw the flare of a match or lighter as he lit a cigarette.

“Okay, Babe,” I said to Bonnie, “let’s go dig us a hole.” Fifteen minutes later, the Toyota was tucked in behind the hedgerow on the east side of the correct field and I took the shotgun, the shovel, and the pickax, and we took a stroll.

Bonnie found the spot, as I knew she most likely would. In the drenching moonlight, her coat looked almost silver, and the ground was level enough, it was easy walking. My portable GPS got me within about five yards of the spot, and Bonnie did the rest. She walked right to the spot, where the ground was actually mounded slightly, and stood and then sniffed and pawed the dirt.

“Yep, that’s the place, Bonnie. Good girl! Let’s find out what’s down there.”

I slipped on some leather gloves and set to work. The pickax was not needed. The soil was loose enough, it was easy digging. Twenty minutes and I could smell what Bonnie had been smelling from above the ground. The body had ripened quite a bit. I was surprised the coyotes hadn’t been digging at the spot. I only removed about two and a half feet of dirt before I saw blonde hair and another ten minutes of careful work fully exposed the corpse of a woman, maybe twenty-five.

I dug out a small flashlight and took a long look around, then turned on the light. Near her feet, there was a cheap black plastic purse. I tossed it to one side and examined her as closely as I could stand. I would be throwing away the gloves. She had been beaten badly enough that her head appeared misshapen and I saw no other signs of injury. No gunshots. No stab wounds. Beaten to death, evidently. I turned off the flashlight just as Bonnie growled, and a woman’s voice said, “Freeze! Federal agent! Do not move!”

I let go of the shovel and raised my hands. Bonnie was still growling and I knew in just a few seconds, she would erupt into shrill, furious barking. “Bonnie. It’s okay. Settle.”

“Take off the gloves and drop ‘em.” The voice had a slight shake, maybe excitement, maybe fear. Definitely nerves. I don’t like nervous, armed people. I did what I was told.

“Hands behind your back. Don’t do anything stupid.”

I placed my hands behind me and my thumbs were grasped in one hand and cuffs were applied with the other. Very quick, and very professional. A very bright flashlight came on and the woman said, “Gettin’ ready to move her some place better?”

“No ma’am. Just seein’ if what I thought was here really was here.”

“Sounds like you and I need to have a talk. First, I’ll read you your rights….”

She proceeded to do that. I didn’t tell her I knew my rights better than she did. I didn’t figure it was the right time. She picked up my shotgun and checked it, stripping the rounds out of it and rendering it safe. “Let’s leave the shovel and pick here. We’re gonna take a walk to my car.”

She had parked right behind my truck and I had heard and seen nothing. She was good. At her car, she opened the back door and said, “Take out your ID and give it to me.” I surrendered my wallet and then she said, “Watch your head getting in. . . .”

There followed a few minutes in which she and Bonnie sat up front and she talked on her radio and petted my dog. Finally, she hung up the mike and said, “Okay, Wilder. Retired cop. One of the good guys. Vouched for by about thirty different people, even at this time of night. So exactly what the fuck are ya doin’ out here, diggin’ up a body?”

I told her all about my chance viewing of the burial going on, shot by satellite and my curiosity and need for something to do. She took my keys and went to my truck and retrieved the satellite pictures and looked them over.

Finally, she said, “Where ya stayin’?”

I named the motel and she said, “Okay. There’s a recovery team comin’ here to take . . .” She looked at a driver’s license she’d taken from the black purse. “Janey Rickett out there to a morgue and work the crime scene. I’ll follow you to your motel and we’ll see if we can get this shit straightened out.” She let me out of the car and uncuffed me, handed me my keys and wallet and let my dog out. Back in my truck, Bonnie stood with her back feet on the passenger seat and her front feet on the dash, watching the road and periodically looking over at me. I felt like she was enjoying the shit out of me getting arrested by the FBI.

When I reached my motel, I walked to my room and stood waiting while Bonnie ran the lot and took care of business and the FBI talked on her radio some more. Finally, Bonnie came back and we went in. I left the room door ajar and went to use the restroom. In a minute, I heard Bonnie’s collar tag jingle and I figured she was on the bed. When I came out, the agent was by the bed, again petting Bonnie and making friends.

“I should introduce myself,” she said, hooking her red hair back over her ear. “I’m Carolyn Foster, AIC of Western Kansas Division.”

I shook her hand and only thought to myself, Holy shit! Agent-in-charge? She’s young for that. . . .

“So, Mister Wilder—”

“Barry.”

“Barry, then. What do you imagine is going on out here?”

“No idea. Some guy’s idea of a quickie divorce?”

“Not exactly. I’m just glad I found you out there tonight, instead of the Mission of Life Ministry idiots. . . .”

“So, you’re dealing with a religious cult?”

“They just like not paying taxes. And having total control over their brides, the adults and the children.”

“The compound out on the dead-end road?”

“Yeah, you were out there, too?”

“Just long enough to turn around in the driveway and get some looks from a sentry they had posted.”

“This Janey Rickett was one of theirs, I’m pretty sure, but the women are brought out so seldom, we can’t even be sure of that. We know they have some really young girls there and that they marry them as young as eight years old, then let them grow and develop and consummate the marriages later.”

“When they’re of legal age?”

“Not always. The few times we’ve been able to even talk to any of the women, it’s been apparent they’ve been browbeaten and brainwashed into believing their leader sitteth at the right hand of God Almighty.”

“What’s his name?”

“Chas Burgher. He’s a big, mean, nasty son-of-a-bitch. Doesn’t care much about personal hygiene, either. I ran across him in Tribune once, in the Dollar Store. His body odor alone cleared the place out.”

“Have you tried finding some way to get an operative inside?”

“Twice. Both agents have gone missing. No contact and no reports after the first day. Both young women agents, cute and smart. They may just be captive, or they may be dead. We can’t be sure, but I’m not sending in another agent.”

“So, can’t you get a warrant and raid the place?”

“No, not really. I sent the agents in off the books.”

“It wasn’t authorized through channels?”

“No. I fucked up, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Now, I’m at a loss. I don’t know what my next move is gonna be.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t do anything. . . .”

She sat down on the end of the bed, still petting Bonnie. “What’s that mean?”

“Maybe if you just bide your time, the problem will solve itself. . . .”

“Huh. I don’t see that happening.”

“Oh, I think it could, if you and your folks just pull back and put your feet up.”

“Well, now, I can’t allow you to do anything . . . illegal . . . or improper. Besides, you’re just one guy. What could you possibly do, against them? I know they’ve got lots of firepower out there and they have the advantage of ownership. As soon as you step foot on their property, you’re a trespasser, and they could be within their rights to kill you.”

“Know what, Agent Foster? You worry too much.” I stepped over to the door and opened it. “I need to get some sleep. I’ll say goodnight now. . . .”

“Best you go back to Wichita, Barry, and forget about this. If you get in trouble, I won’t be able to help ya.”

“Yeah. I know. G’night, now.”

“Well, okay. I put my phone number in your phone, just in case you might need to talk to me . . . at some point. . . .”

I gave it thirty minutes and then took Bonnie out for another walk. I wanted to be sure Agent Foster was gone. Once I was sure, I took everything out of the motel room and we loaded up and drove back north, toward the Mission of Life Ministry.

I made one stop at a combination truck stop/convenience store and bought a gas can, a gallon of unleaded, and a package of road flares. Nothing illegal, just ordinary, everyday stuff every motorist should have.

I made my approach from the south, since the prevailing wind was from the north-northwest. If they had dogs, I didn’t want to set them off from too far out. I parked the Toyota over a mile south and hauled out the Glock .45. I reached under the driver’s seat and felt for the two Velcro strips and peeled them loose. Into my hand dropped an eight-inch long suppressor, which I stashed in my back pocket.

I grabbed the AR-556 rifle and the filled gas can and road flares. I knelt down and spoke to Bonnie. “Okay,” I whispered, “really quiet now. No barking, okay? Gotta be sneaky. . . .” I was pretty sure she got it, but ya never know with dogs unless you trained them yourself.

We started hiking north, directly across plowed fields, and as we got closer, we kept in the long shadows thrown by the buildings from that extra-bright yard light. We made it to the south side of the largest building, which was a hay barn, and in a quick check of the side of the building, I found a door set into the side near the east end. There was a hasp, but no lock. It had been secured by putting an old, rusty screwdriver through the hasp. I pressed in on the door and silently removed it. I opened the door as quietly as possible, but there was a bit of noise from rusty hinges. There was light inside, but not much. A couple of old, dusty electric bulbs were set high up on two of the walls.

Bonnie and I slipped inside and looked the place over. There was baled hay almost to the roof on the south end, stair-stepping down toward the north end, where there was an old table and a couple of chairs. Maybe this was where the boys came to play cards and get away from the women.

We climbed to the top of the hay bales and settled in to wait. I wanted to hit them at about 4 A.M. It was the best time to attack, when people are at their lowest and most vulnerable. As it turned out, we didn’t get to pick the time. Instead, we got to meet Chas Burgher himself.

We had been in place maybe four minutes, when a door at the north end of the barn flew open and he came in, dragging a small, struggling teenage girl. I watched as he dragged the child to the table and then strapped her face-down with leather restraints I hadn’t noticed before. The upper half of her body was on the table, and her feet were not quite touching the floor. He fastened more restraints around her ankles, to the table legs, as she moaned and begged. She knew what was coming, maybe from experience, maybe from the other women who had been there.

As he yanked down her jeans and panties, I pulled the suppressor from my back pocket and screwed it onto the Glock .45. From a nail on one wall, I watched Chas take down a razor strap. I was familiar with the strap, or “strop,” as it was properly called, from my own childhood. I knew it would cause a lot of pain and if overused, it could cut and split flesh. It was leather on one side and canvas on the other and almost three inches wide. Bonnie was sitting up with her ears raised and she didn’t like this shit at all.

He didn’t waste any time talking, but immediately began smacking her ass with the strap. She wailed and screamed, and he hit her about seven or eight times. I had Bonnie’s collar in my hand, keeping her from bolting down there to try and eat the guy. As we watched, he stopped and talked to her. I could not hear what he said, but I had an idea what was coming next. The girl did too. It was apparent, when she began really fighting the restraints, much harder than before.

I watched Chas Burgher unbutton his overalls and drop them to his ankles. He wore no underwear. He was much too well-equipped for the child he was about to rape, and as hard as it had been to watch the beating, I knew I was not about to let this shit happen.

As he took himself in his hand and stepped forward behind her, she took a deep breath. She was ready to scream loud enough to raise the roof. I squinted down the barrel of the Glock, over the suppressor and squeezed off one shot. He had just tipped his head down to watch his own penetration and the round took him in the top of his head. It blew a fine mist of blood out onto his back and he toppled backward onto the floor, dead before he hit the dirt.

There was silence for a moment, and then Bonnie was scrambling down, headed to the girl. I followed her down and went to the table and got out my ceramic knife and cut her restraints.

“Get yer jeans pulled back up and we’ll get ya outta here,” I said.

“Who are you?” She was sniffling and wiping her nose on the back of her hand. “You the cops?”

“Nope, but you’re safe now. Not gonna let anything happen to ya. What’s your name, Sweetie?”

“Ellie. Eleanor. Eleanor Miner.”

“How long ya been here, Ellie?”

“A . . . about a month, I guess. They grabbed me right off the street in Denver. I think they were gonna send me someplace. Maybe overseas, like to some Arab place. I got in trouble with him, ‘cause I wouldn’t behave myself and keep quiet.”

“How many women are here?”

“Maybe thirty, thirty-five, in three houses. Some of them are their own wives and stuff. We’re not all people who’ve been kidnapped. . . .”

“Okay, we gotta get ya outta here.”

“No! I wanna stay with you!”

“No, listen, it’s gonna get really bad here, shortly.” I took her face in my hands and made her look up at me. I wiped her tears away with my thumbs. “I want you to take this. . . .” I pulled out my truck keys and pulled the remote off the key ring. “Go out this door back here and walk straight south. In a little over a mile, yer gonna find a silver Toyota truck. Unlock it with this and get inside and lock the doors. My dog here is gonna go with ya. Her name is Bonnie. Can ya do that for me?”

She nodded her head and swallowed more tears and said, “Kay . . . okay.”

“Keep the dog with ya, okay? I’ll be there in a little while. . . .”

I walked her over to the door, and she and Bonnie slipped out into the dark. I gathered up my flares and gas can and got to work.

I splashed gas on the hay bales, on the table, on the walls of the barn, and especially on the body of Chas Burgher. When the can was empty, I checked myself and made sure there was no gas on me. Then I walked to the back door and ripped the tab on a flare and ignited it. As soon as it was burning intensely, I threw it back into the barn and shoved the door shut and leaned against it. Felt the force of the ignition push on the far side of the door like a dragon-beast from a fairy tale, blowing its hot breath around the door, lusting for blood.

I shoved the rusty screwdriver back into the hasp, grabbed my rifle and took off to the east, getting back into the dark, getting distance from the carnage that was coming.

It took a few minutes. Long enough for me to pick my spot and get into my prone shooting position. First, I heard dogs. Sounded like two, maybe three, raising hell, howling and barking. Then, I heard two gunshots, probably from the sentry’s rifle. That brought men out of the houses, and the yelling began.

I could hear, “Fire!” “Fire!” “Barn’s on fire!” Brilliant fuckers. Gonna do something about it, or just run around and yell at each other, belaboring the obvious?

I switched on the night scope, then immediately switched it off. The yard was too bright. Carefully, I sighted on the yard light and squeezed off one shot. The roar of the fire from the barn, along with the popping and cracking of old, dry wood, covered the sound of the shot nicely and the yard light winked out.

Men were running around in the dark now, trying to hook up garden hoses and get some water going. Waste of time on a hay barn, but I guess they needed something to do. The nearest fire department was twenty-four miles away. The barn would be gone by the time the first unit arrived, but maybe they could save the rest of the buildings.

I turned the night scope back on and went to work. The men were ghostly green figures in the scope, with a bright green dot at the aim-point, where the bullet would strike. I took my time and got the first three before they began to realize what was going on. As soon as they got their shit together and went for weapons, I moved. They had seen muzzle flash from the east. When they came back out with their own rifles, I was gone, moving through the dark around to the north. I picked a spot and dropped to the ground again and got a good shot and took out another guy. Now there were several women moving around, too, making it more confusing. No kids, though. I was glad. Kids didn’t need to see this. I got up and moved again.

As I reached the northwest corner of the buildings, I saw the lights on the big John Deere tractor, and I heard its big diesel engine start. Now it would get more interesting. The tractor started out, bouncing and roaring toward me. I stepped around the corner of a building and waited.

When the tractor came roaring by, I raised the rifle and shot the driver. The tractor was a fancy, air-conditioned, full-cab model. I watched the driver slump down, dead at the controls.

The machine continued on out into the fields, making a long arc around to the east. I tore my attention away in time to see a man taking aim at me with a shotgun. I dropped to the ground as he fired, and most of the shot load went above me. I felt the sting of some pellets on my left shoulder. There wasn’t enough impact for it to be lethal. It was most likely birdshot, rather than something deadlier.

He racked the slide, raising the gun nearly vertical to do so. Bad technique. He could have held on target while he operated the slide; it wasn’t that hard to do. As he started to lower the shotgun, I fired twice, both snap-shots with little in the way of aim.

The first shot missed. The second staggered him backward, and I saw blood erupt from his neck. He landed on his back and thrashed around for a few seconds. Very few. He was no longer a threat.

I looked back to the tractor and saw it still going and still turning. If it kept going like it was, it would soon be back. In its headlights, I saw a small brown and white dog, racing toward the buildings. Damn dog . . . you were supposed to stay with the girl. . . .

I could do little or nothing for Bonnie. If I whistled, she might or might not hear me and I might give away my position. I saw her go behind one of the buildings and then I saw two German shepherds headed my way. I looked for someplace to go, but I would not be able to make it anywhere before they would nail me. They were much too fast for me to have any hope of outrunning them.

They slowed as they saw me, hesitating just a little, not quite sure what to do, but I was upwind and they soon had my scent. And they smelled my blood. I saw their hackles come up and their tails bush out and then they were in motion again, coming on strong.

Then, from my left, a small brown and white rocket shot across in front of them, barking shrilly and raising hell. As one, both shepherds turned and started pursuing this interloper. I glanced around to make sure I wasn’t about to become meat, then looked back into the compound. Things were lit up nicely now by the fire, and I watched as Bonnie did an amazing thing. As the larger dogs closed on her, she made a sudden tremendous leap and landed on the low-hanging limb of a dwarf pear tree and scrambled over more branches until she was out of reach. Until that moment, I had never seen a dog climb a tree.

The shepherds milled around below the tree, confused and wanting very badly to kill this dog-cat. Or cat-dog. They had completely forgotten me. Then I ducked as more gunshots came, but they lacked that special sound you only hear when you’re out in front of the gun.

I moved around the outside of the compound and watched as several women, two in particular, shot several men, even walking over to where they had fallen and shooting them again, just to be sure. Most likely the two missing FBI agents, loose now, and armed with rifles they’d either found in the houses or picked up from the fallen. I decided maybe it would be a good time to move out. I looked back to Bonnie’s tree, but she wasn’t there. The two shepherds were gone, too.

I worked my way around to the south side of the compound again and saw Bonnie, racing between buildings, dodging back and forth, wearing out two big shepherds, then I didn’t see her again for a while.

And then, here came the damned tractor again. I watched in amazement as it drove itself directly into what was left of the burning barn. Its engine stalled, and it didn’t come out the other side.

I was halfway back to the truck, when Bonnie came up on me out of the dark. The other dogs were gone and there was no way she could tell me how she lost them. She seemed pretty proud of herself, though.

At the truck, I had to knock on the window to get Ellie to unlock the doors and let us in. She had actually fallen asleep in the passenger seat. When we got in the truck, Bonnie kept trying to crawl over the seats to get to me and I finally realized it was because of the blood from my shoulder wounds. I got in the back of the truck and dragged out my first aid kit and stripped off my shirt. Ellie helped me clean the pellet holes and apply a big gauze dressing. It would have to do, until I got back to Wichita.

As we left the area, I pulled out my cell phone and called Agent Foster’s number. She answered on the first ring.

“Ya better get out there. All kindsa shit going on out there, fires, shootin’, lotsa trouble.”

“I’m already on the way. The local cops are headed there, too. What did you do?”

“Me? I didn’t do anything. Oh, by the way, ya know that convenience store there on the north side of Tribune?”

“Yeah . . .”

“If you send somebody by there, you’ll find a young girl named Ellie Miner. She’s a kidnap case outta Denver. She’ll need a ride home. I think maybe there’s a number of kids out there. Human trafficking, I’m thinkin’.”

“Did you see anything of my two agents?”

“You mean the two who were walkin’ around, shootin’ assholes? Nope, didn’t see ‘em. Wasn’t even there. . . .”

“Good night, Mr. Wilder.”

“Barry.”

“Good night, Barry.”

“You got this, then, Agent Foster?”

“You betcha. And thanks. I think. . . .”

“You’re welcome, Carolyn.”

I dropped Ellie off at the convenience store. As she was about to get out of the truck, I said, “Promise me you’ll wait for the cops and not take any rides from truckers.”

“Okay. I promise. And thank you.”

She told Bonnie goodbye and kissed my cheek. I gave her twenty bucks so she could get an ice cream. Then we hit the road, headed home.

Bonnie curled up in the right seat and I could swear she was smiling in her sleep.





reba.jpg
Art by Kevin Duncan © 2018

Redhead Reba

Kenneth James Crist

 

“What’s this doggie’s name?” Reba June was sitting cross-legged on the carpet of the living room. From my vantage point in the kitchen, looking through the pass-through, I could see the smooth, white flesh of her upper thighs and a bit of her black panties. She was wearing a short green skirt, the same shade as her eyes, and a halter top. Her kinky, curly hair was just as red as I remembered.

“Motherfucker,” I said, and watched her dissolve into helpless laughter. The Corgi puppy backed up a step and cocked its head at her and just made her laugh harder.

“Why would you name it that?” She was still giggling and I added another slam.

“Because ‘Booger-snot’ or ‘Cock-knocker’ just didn’t have quite the pizzazz I was looking for.” Now, she was flat on her back, gasping and guffawing great gales of laughter. The three glasses of wine were making her a bit giddy, too, I suspected.

I had run across her at Quinn’s, a pub down in Old Town that I hadn’t been to in several years. It had been that long since I’d seen her, too. She had aged a bit, but chosen not to mature.

I finished fixing her screwdriver and carried it in, setting it on the coffee table.

I dropped down