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CHAPTER 4, Excerpt 12

Just north of Corpus Cyn pulled to the shoulder to make a call, believing it was unsafe to talk and drive at the same time. Should she call Jean and seek sanctuary? Better than Daddy, but it was always the same at Jeannie’s house: First came the wine or beer, followed by smiling sympathy and understanding, and then eventually the unasked for advice and the cracks about naivety and being a pushover. So damn it; that was no good, either.

Cyn put the phone down on the seat and chewed at her lower lip. She was feeling a curious mix of apprehension and exhilaration. Wasn’t the Fourth of July yet, just early April, but today was definitely Independence Day. Taking a deep breath and letting her senses take over, something she’d learned in yoga class, Cyn felt the rush of traffic going by and the heat coming through the windows of the Toyota. Gazing out the windshield, she saw the big Northgate Mall sign up ahead towering above everything else.

Maybe something is guiding me, she thought. But there was still an empty space where her plans should be. She’d just have to keep the faith and take advice from that Kacey Musgraves’ song, the nice Texas girl singing about following her arrow wherever it points. But to follow arrows you need a little cash and Cyn only had fifty dollars in her purse—two twenties and two fives—and three credit cards she didn’t want to use because she knew from the crime shows that law enforcement could trace the receipts and see where you’ve been. The joint checking account still had the household money in it but she was hesitant to use that for the same reason—Trooper Dan might come looking.

Ten minutes later Cyn was drifting through the air-conditioned comfort thinking everyone in the mall looked strange today. She found an ATM and slid her card in the slot. A cash advance would keep her free from them all, Dan and Jean and Dad and Mom. And for now that’s what she wanted.

Needed.

Watching those crime shows with Dan, sometimes Cyn would imagine herself a character in the drama. What would she do; how would she feel? And now here she was, back in the car, cash advance safely tucked away in her purse and feeling strung out. Not exactly sure what strung out meant, thought it had something to do with drug addiction, and that certainly wasn’t the case with her, but still she felt stretched out and worn thin and on edge and directionless. “Strung out” seemed to capture the essence of her being at the moment.

Cruising aimlessly now, she was fighting off a little envy. Hard not to envy the people living in these beautiful homes surrounded by lush foliage. They had beach and water access, luxury cars in the driveway—what’s not to like?

Cyn didn’t like feeling envy, one of the seven deadly sins, and told herself it was only the surface of things she was seeing. One shouldn’t be fooled by superficial illusions because what went on behind closed doors could paint a totally different picture. And, in Cyn’s experience, often did.

She smiled recalling her first ride through Corpus Christi, nearly twenty years ago, the family relocating from Minneapolis for her father’s new job with the tire company. How the feelings of awe and envy started for her then, sun, water, sand and palm trees offering up a rich and colorful contrast to the bleak snow-covered plains of her former home in Minnesota. And no, Cyn hadn’t made it to her own dream house yet, but that kind of thing mattered very little to her. Six years ago, being Dan Henning’s wife and the mother of his child was all she wanted, having chosen Dan over her other suitor at the time, Roy Owen. Bunky, they called him. Biggest car dealer in Corpus now (Owen Toyota, Bunky’s BMW, Roy’s Royal Rides), and he owned one of the biggest, gaudiest homes in town.

Well, Cynthia had made her choice and vowed to make it work and tried her darndest for six years and now where was she? She would gladly do without the waterfront mansion if Dan still possessed what he had back then, although, to tell the truth, she could no longer identify exactly what that was. Maybe it was a lack of something? Seemed like Dan was carrying extra baggage lately. Yes, that could be it.

Possibly things had started eroding after Danny was born. And yes, Cyn had read the magazine articles about first-time mothers losing their sexual desire, young women refocusing their lives around their child at the expense of matrimonial intimacy, but she didn’t think that was her situation. What it was, Dan started coming home with the scent of other women on him. Sometimes faint, sometimes stronger. And then the stuff really hit the fan with the incident with the prostitute, the cell phone picture and Dan’s suspension, the incident putting a spotlight on the problem and making it hard to deny—although Cyn had tried really hard.

God.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 10

Sam pushed redial and got a busy signal, his gut churning like a washing machine on spin cycle. He had no time to waste tracking down the pill bitch so he went in the bathroom and checked his supply, found five of the pills left. Definitely not enough to get through the entire ordeal. He dry swallowed one to push back the fear of running out and went to his computer, booted up and clicked onto Southwest Airlines.

Ah, Southwest, the Greyhound Bus of the airways, one more indignity to suffer through. Fucking Jimmy—why had he trusted the kid? But Jimmy had been straight with him in the past, part of Jimmy’s nature it seemed, and if what he’d said about the license plates was indeed true, then it really wasn’t Jimmy’s fault. Not Sam’s fault, either. And hard to believe that Bob Ryan messed it up, but what else was there? So it was a good thing that Jimmy escaped. Who knows what secrets he might’ve revealed if the jackbooted Texas fascists had got hold of him, hooking electric cables to his testicles and such.

Sam clicked through, found a seat available on a flight to San Antonio with connections to Corpus Christi, and, although he hated to use a credit card online, finalized the transaction with his Visa card.

Sam shut down the computer, went to his bedroom and started filling a bag, stuffing in clothes without much thought because his thoughts were like young flies scattering—hard to hang on to. Soon the pill would take over and everything would slow down and the thoughts would be lying there stuck in the mud and he could pluck them out at his leisure, leisure being perhaps the wrong word. If he hurried, he could still get a cab and make it to the airport in time for boarding. He glanced at the Browning 9mm in his sock drawer, wishing he could bring it along. But those days were long gone. In today’s world a toothbrush was considered a dangerous weapon for someone of Middle Eastern descent.

As he was zipping up his bag, the landline in the living room chirped. Wanting to get out of here fast, Sam let it go to the answering service. But then, before he knew it, his cell phone was dinging from the top of the dresser, screen showing R. Ryan. Sam picked up the cell, his hands trembling. He thought he felt the beginnings of the languid chemical onslaught coming through his veins. He put the phone to his ear and heard his name being snapped off like a hammer hitting metal: “Sam. Sam. Sam.”

Sam said to the hammer: “Bob, how are you this morning?”

“Aggravated, Sam. My man in sagebrush country just called to tell me the van hasn’t checked in yet. You were supposed to be making my delivery today. Fuck is going on here?”

“I was just going to call you, Bob. There’s been a little problem with the van. Nothing I can’t handle, you understand.”

“You were supposed to be down there with it, Sam. This is very disturbing news, not the kind of thing I expect from you.”

“What makes you think I’m not in Texas, Bob?”

“Because I’m standing outside your goddamn door, asshole. I hear you in there, goddamnit.”

“Oh.” Sam felt his throat constrict and his sphincter lock up. And on weakened knees he shuffled to the door and let Bob Ryan in. Ryan was big, six-two, wiry and wide shouldered, wearing loose fitting jeans below a brown suede jacket and white shirt, the man’s sharp-featured face gray and rough and scowling down at Sam, Ryan showing his particular fake-smile that resembled a dog baring its teeth. “Sam,” Ryan said, nodding.

Sam said, “I’m on my way to the airport right now, Bob. I know I told you I was driving the van down myself, but several emergencies came up and I was forced to delegate responsibility to my extremely trustworthy right-hand man. In fact I—”

“Not that degenerate wop Ireno, I hope.”

Ryan seemed to grow larger in Sam’s eyes. “As a matter of fact, it is Jimmy.” Sam getting short of breath. “But I swear he’s changed his ways. Jimmy’s actually quite responsible now. In fact he called me this morning, said the van had broken down and the repair shop wouldn’t accept his credit cards—some kind of mix-up concerning expiration dates, I gather. I’ve scheduled a flight down there to straighten things out. Other than that, everything is fine.”

“I appreciate you finally doing what you were supposed to do in the first goddamn place, Sam. But why don’t you just wire him the money or use one of your own cards over the phone?”

“Well, he’s stuck at some backward dust hole outside Corpus Christi, Texas, and they won’t do that. You know how things are these days. And since I’ve cleared up my local emergencies, I thought it only right I fly down and take charge.”

Ryan squinted at him, scowled some more and shook his head. “And I know doing the right thing is important to you, Sam,” Ryan laying on the sarcasm. “But don’t you think it might be wise to have somebody with their shit together as your right-hand? Too much incompetence makes a man unhealthy, unwealthy and dead, Sam.”

Sam wanted to mention the license plates, but didn’t, fearing Ryan’s legendary capacity for rage. Instead: “I’m sorry, Bob, I truly am. I’ll be straightening everything out quite soon. Just hold your faith a little bit longer and I guarantee everything will be fine.”

“Better be, Sam. Hate to attend your funeral. And just to be on the safe side, y’know, I’m sending my assistant Frankie Neelan along with you.”

This was not what Sam wanted to hear. “But my flight leaves in two hours, Bob. I don’t know if we have time. I—”

“He’s waiting in the car outside, Sam. I’ll run you two out to the airport.”

“You sure your man can get a ticket?”

“He can do it on the drive to the airport. These kids today can do anything with their goddamn phones. Maybe Frankie can teach you a few things.”

Sam hated the idea.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity, Bob,” Sam said, pulling at the loose flesh around his Adam’s apple.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 9

Sam had the pill trollop on the line when the call-waiting click hit his ear. Times like this, he wondered why he’d ordered the damn service. Leave this one waiting, you might lose her for days, twat sliding off to Sopor Land. Girl had all the new drugs the kids were getting hooked on these days: Oxies, Vics, Special K—that stuff—a new one coming along all the time it seemed.

Reluctantly switching over to the incoming call, Sam heard Jimmy Ireno’s nasal whine on the other end. Sam’s spirit lifted. Ah, sweet Jimmy, always giving you pause but then coming through in the end. The boy still like he was on the basketball court: making mistakes, being reckless, but coming through at the buzzer. “Eye” Ireno’s fourth quarter heroics had rescued Sam from financial disaster more than once, back in the day.

“Jimmy, my friend, good to hear your voice. I confess I was a little worried, but I should know better, shouldn’t I? Trickster that you are, always taking old Sammy to the brink. But everything is forgiven now that the vehicle has been delivered and you are all right.”

“You sitting down, Sam?” Jimmy said. “You better sit down and listen.”

“What is this Jimmy, more of your tricks? You haven’t given your old friend enough heartache already?”

“I’m afraid this is harsh reality, Sam. The van is now in the possession of the State of Texas. Fuckin’ license plates fell off somewhere along the line and the patrol pulled me over. I just barely escaped myself, had to run through the sagebrush for hours to get away.”

“Stop with the bad jokes, Jimmy, my blood pressure, you know.”

“No joke, Sam. Everything’s gone. But it’s not my fault. Whoever you had mount the license plates on the van, did one piss poor job, man. Must’ve been some real sharp guys. I know you’re a generous fellow, Sam, but did you have to hire the handicapped for this gig?”

Sam felt the heat rising to his face and his stomach acid jets blowing out volume. For a moment he feared passing out. Rubbing his forehead, he stared at the floor. This had to be a joke, yes, one of Jimmy’s pranks, the wop asshole just rolling him on the coals, seeing how much old Sam could take. But goddamnit, if what Jimmy was saying was actually true; they were both as good as dead.

Staring at the phone in his hand, Sam struggled to pull himself up from the nightmare. He tried to think but the thoughts just kept jumping around in his head like popping corn.

“Jimmy, you still there? Are these things you say really true? Maybe you’re trying to cut yourself in for the big payday? How can I tell, this far away from you? That vehicle was delivered to me by my client’s people. These are top-shelf people and not given to egregious errors such as you describe.”

“Doesn’t change the facts, Sam. I never would’ve been stopped if it weren’t for the missing plates. Never went over the limit the whole way. Your client must’ve hired temps that day.”

“You seem to be taking this lightly for a dead man, Ireno. You know I was responsible for that delivery. I told the man I’d be driving it down there myself. The only reason I didn’t was out of kindness to you, Jimmy. To let you make good on your markers.”

“And your charitable ways are known far and near, Sam. You think I’m taking this lightly? I’m stuck down here with no money, no clothes but what I got on my back, and more than likely a BOLO on me ringing across the police band as we speak. Consider yourself lucky that you weren’t driving. Really couldn’t see you racing through the briars and the brambles like I did.”

“If I was driving, maybe I would see the plates were loose. Were you high, Jimmy?”

“Fuck you, Sam. And no, I wasn’t high. Just a little speed for the driving. Toed the line the whole goddamn way.”

Sam was out of ideas. What the hell could he do, put in a claim with the Texas State Troopers? Call Bob Ryan and beg for mercy? Guys tried that became catfish food in the Mississippi. “Goddamn you, Jimmy, you have any idea who we’re dealing with? If Bob Ryan doesn’t hear from me or his man down there today, I’ll be the confetti in next year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Drunken micks will be eating corned beef and Sammy.”

“I sympathize, Sam, but what the hell you want me to do? Seems to me the only play you got is claiming the van.”

“Claiming the van? You are high, Jimmy. Or are you telling me the highway patrol might not have found the money?”

Jimmy had an answer ready, his mind coming back to normal: “No way they didn’t find the money. A blind man coulda spotted the gap between the panels all the way from Mexico for fuck sake. Another amateur job done by your so-called top-shelf people. Way too much gap between the panels, dude. But think about this, as long as there was no dope in the van, why not cop to unlawful transfer of legal tender or whatever they call it and see what your legal sharpies can pull off. Might get something back that way. Shit, I don’t know. Only thing I know for sure is that I forgot my tennis whites and I’m beginning to stand out around here like the accidental tourist. I need to find a place away from prying eyes.”

“Don’t hang up, Jimmy,” Sam yelled into the phone. “I’m coming down there and you better answer your phone.” All Sam heard was a click and a buzz and emptiness ringing in his ears. He’d wanted to say to Jimmy that perhaps if he hadn’t run away the highway patrolman wouldn’t have looked in the van, but now the goddamn little dago rodent was gone. Made Sam momentarily forget the pill-pushing wench on the other line. Remembering, he clicked back, thinking he’d need a real good load if he had to fly down to the Lone Star State. But coming back, the line was dead; bitch was gone, Sam thinking she was off filling an anal syringe with Oxycodone… pill trollop floating away on a fantasy bubble.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 7

Sam Arndt’s gut was still churning when he got up to take a leak at four-thirty a.m. Stumbling back toward his king-size bed, he wondered what was causing this intestinal distress, but was too zonked to care. Save it until morning—the beauty of downers.

But the next morning, as any experienced tranq user knows, he would feel dumb and pissed off and just a tad slow. Then you drink the coffee and maybe your gut tightens up again and you have to go back for more Pepto. Then you read the paper and see where the Blues scored three times in forty-two seconds and you lost a shitload. But the thing really upsets you is that goddamn Jimmy Ireno hasn’t called from Texas like he was supposed to and now there’s a message on your phone from Bob Ryan, the “Associate” whose money you are responsible for: “Sam. What the fuck is going on? Answer your goddamn phone, goddamn it.”

So now Sam had a pressing need for more of those pills. And would have to call the fat chick in St. Paul gets them from some Mexican by the carload, see what she has in stock. And to make matters worse, he was getting hooked on the goddamn things. Sammy’s little helpers.

Help.

Sam was thinking he’d personally skewer Jimmy’s balls on a shish-ka-bob if the kid screwed this deal up. That is if he could keep his own gonads out of Bob Ryan’s Mulligan stew long enough to get his hands on the wop-cokehead-weasel-bastard-sonofabitch Ireno.

 

Dan Henning was feeling loose. Texas Highway Patrol could kiss his ass goodbye this time. See how often Theodor lunched with the governor after Henning was gone. Goddamn Cyn could be replaced too. Woman was turning their boy Danny into a sissy the way she smothered him. Always preaching the “Christian Way,” and that’s suppose to be good, but Danny was getting too—not sure what to call it—just something not right about him these days.

Henning was thinking maybe he should take Danny away for a while, put a little distance between the two of ’em and Cynthia. But man, sometimes it got hard to be around the boy. So maybe Danny was better off with his mother. She could teach him to live the nice clean life—no drinking, no swearing, no whoring.

Poor kid.

Henning swung the red Dodge Ram pickup onto his hardpan driveway and rolled through the trees surrounding the trailer. Coming into the yard he cut the wheel hard, hit the gas and sent the truck into a dust-throwing slide. He’d polished off the beaner’s shitty lime vodka on the way home and didn’t have to be back on the job for two days. Planned to request a personal leave of absence his first day back. Tell them it was a family-based decision, take that route: personal problems sir, that kind of thing, easy for everyone to relate to.

He got out of the truck. He stood and watched the sun peeking above the eastern hills. Soon it would be up bright and hot. Expecting some kind of scene from Cynthia, Henning lit a Marlboro to mask his booze breath and went inside to face her. But in the coolness of the trailer’s mint-green interior he sensed the emptiness. No Cyn to greet him. No smell of his breakfast cooking. No sound of his son playing. Just dust floating inside a sunbeam and the soft hum of the refrigerator. All the dishes were clean and put away. Nothing in the sink. Coffeemaker was empty.

Scratching his head, Henning looked out the window above the sink and saw nothing out there but dirt and trees. Now he had a hole in his gut and thoughts he couldn’t control were pushing in.

So where in hell were they? What was Cyn pulling this time? Goddamn woman was always messing with his plans. Someday maybe he’d show her the error of her ways.

Heart pounding faster in his chest, Henning turned away from the sink and went into the bedroom. Bed was made and Cyn’s dresser drawers were open. Wasn’t like her to leave them that way. He saw a piece of paper on top his blond dresser, small piece of notepaper held down by a can of Gillette shaving cream:

Dear Dan,

     Please don’t be alarmed. Danny is at Furillo’s Day Care. You can pick him up any time before six. I’m not sure how to tell you this, so I’ll just come out and say it.

     I’m going away for a while. Maybe forever. I just don’t know right now. Back when we were first married, I never could have imagined the loneliness and emptiness that I feel today. And everyday, truth be told. Something has been bothering me for quite some time now, and you don’t seem to know or even care. You have become a stranger to me. You come home from another world expecting me to be at your beck and call, and although I was raised to stand by my man, it seems to me it should go both ways. Instead, you seem to be standing farther away every day. My mind is so full of questions and confusion I don’t even know what it is I want anymore.

     Reading this, you’re probably fit to be tied, but please try to swallow your anger and understand my feelings. I’m not abandoning our son. I will call you tomorrow so we can talk. In the meantime, try and get to know your boy a little. It will do you both some good.

–Cynthia

“Jesus Christ, here we go,” Henning said out loud. He couldn’t say he’d seen this coming but Cynthia and her instability were always just a short and curly away from total lunacy. And now here it was.

Leaving him? Hell with that. He was leaving her. Just like her to bail at the same time he got rich, woman’s timing always piss-poor. Like the time he was facing suspension and she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and he had to beg Theodor into stalling the suspension long enough to keep the medical insurance viable. Yep, goddamn Cynthia was getting like an anchor he had to drag around, and who the hell needs that?

Henning returned to the kitchen and took the bottle of Johnnie Walker Red from the cupboard where Cynthia always stuck it, the woman not wanting it out in plain view in the light of day. Typical of the shit he had to put up with.

But hey, not anymore.

From now on it’d be JW blue label sitting out where everyone could see it. Nothing but the best, goddamnit. Little Danny would learn how real men carried themselves. Maybe they could take a trip down to Mexico, just the two of them, pick up an RV from one of the used-car bandits down there, travel around and let the kid see how real men live.

So there was a plan.

Let’s see what she has to say about that.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 2, Excerpt 6

Corpus Christi was the kind of place Jimmy Ireno could get behind: big beautiful houses on his right, big beautiful houses on his left. Could still see the water in quite a few places. Feel the genteel comfort, the sea-breeze luxury and the laid back attitude, sending your troubles away into the soft night air.

But for Jimmy, reality was rubbing against the serenity. The stolen pickup was almost out of gas and he needed a nice big hotel parking lot to dump it in. Cops would likely be looking for it by now. And given his pressing needs, Jimmy thought it weird how the warm night air brought on the inappropriate impulses, the cravings.

Jimmy knew better, but just the same, he was thinking some cocaine would be nice. Shit would clear his head; help him think. But in the absence of any white powder, a drink at one of the numerous oyster bars in the area would have to suffice. Jimmy had no plan; no apparent options and only seventy dollars cash in his pocket. His wallet contained an overdrawn Discover card and two Master Cards, all three cancelled for lack of payment. He also had a checkbook from the Western River Bank of Commerce in Minneapolis, Minnesota, account closed.

As he navigated the light evening traffic in downtown Corpus, Jimmy’s gaze flicked back and forth between the gas gauge and the surrounding buildings. Be a drag to run out of gas and have a cop show up. Glancing around, nerves getting up, he locked onto a glowing green and red neon sign announcing The Bayside Motel, a two-level job with a sizeable parking lot on the side of the building.

Jimmy swung the truck in the motel parking lot, shut off the ignition and dropped the keys on the floor mat. No good reason to make it hard for the people at the ranch house, their truck had served him well. A nice old truck, a retro classic. No rust at all. Truck this old back in Minnesota would be a rust bucket.

After walking out of the parking lot Jimmy turned toward the darker, older part of the city and blended in with the night. Enjoying the salty air, he was drawn toward the blue-green pulsing neon above the Sand and Sea Oyster Bar. Soft light was coming out of a small porthole on the front door had tinted glass the color of seawater.

You didn’t see many oyster bars back in Minnesota.

Jimmy went inside to a pleasant, half full room, fishnets and sailfish mounts on the corkboard walls and blue padded stools in front of a long and dark, backlit bar. Leaning his elbows on the glistening wood, shivering slightly from nerves and the air conditioning, Jimmy scanned his environment.

Forty-something couple looking very Texas: tall and large boned in Western-style garb, shit-kicker boots and cowboy shirts, on his left. The gentleman two stools to his right seemed like a tourist: thinning white hair, Hawaiian shirt and a sunburn. Bartender looked to be around Jimmy’s age, tall skinny guy with a suspicious gaze and a brush of bleach blond hair on top a square head, the man wearing a yellow T-shirt and wrinkled, white, over-the-knee cargo shorts.

Craving something tall and cool and tropical with a southwestern twist, Jimmy ordered a tequila sunrise, pulled a twenty from his pocket and set it on the bar. When the drink arrived gold and glistening, tall glass sweating and a red ribbon of grenadine drifting slowly through the shimmering orange liquid, it conjured up two familiar images from Jimmy’s past: Cocaine swirls floating down and turning red in a glass of gold Clorox, and his former fiancé, Elizabeth. The two of them used to consume sunrises in excess back in their early days when things were still fun. Used to make them with two shots of tequila and one shot of gin.

Texas bartender wouldn’t know to put gin in the thing, Jimmy thought, rolling his shoulders in an attempt to ease the lingering tension. Was probably a good thing, though, he needed his wits about him, was in one hell of a fix this time. Jimmy picked up the tall glass and sucked the drink down like it was life itself, keeping his eyes focused straight ahead at the bottles and amber-colored glass brick behind the bar, not wanting to give anyone a full frontal. But halfway through his second drink—shit was tasting good—Jimmy was swinging around on the barstool checking out the stuffed fish on the walls. Sailfish, marlin, billfish—he didn’t know the difference. Then it wasn’t long before he was going to the men’s room and stopping along the hallway to scope the old photos of ships and bridges and paunchy men in hats standing next to huge dead fish hanging from large metal hooks.

Yes sir, Jimmy was in another world now.

Tequila World.

Next ride coming right up.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 1, Excerpt 5

Patrolman Henning jogged back to his darkened cruiser where it sat idling, lights off, a hundred yards down Gamble Gulch Road from the Chevy minivan. He’d considered putting a few rounds from his sidearm into the van to give it that Texas “been-here-a-while” look but decided against it because noise carries and crime lab nerds can identify slugs.

Having stuffed the cash in a military-surplus duffel he’d found in the back of the van—Christ, a ton of money in wrapped packets, all denominations—Henning threw the olive-drab bag into the trunk of the cruiser and drove back to the Interstate.

Nothing on I-37 but blackness.

Good.

His watch ending soon, Henning needed to get the hell down the road and make a bust a long ways from Gamble Gulch before some citizen called in the abandoned minivan. Tearing down the highway at eighty-five, passing everything in sight, which fortunately wasn’t much—couple tourists and a few semis—Henning got to Lake Corpus Christi Road in a few minutes, made a U and started back north. Wasn’t long before he came up behind a blue Ford Focus with its rear license plate light out.

Henning pulled the loser over. And when the kid rolled down the window, reefer smoke floated out thick as the pubes on a Jaurez whore. Just like I figured, Henning thought. Young spic doper out for some fucking and sucking. And the girl was white. No crime, but maybe her parents would want to know the company she was keeping. No doubt he’d find contraband if he searched the car—but Henning was feeling too good tonight for complications. And it was getting late. And hell, when you got down to it, spics weren’t that bad. Worked hard for shit wages and were better than niggers any day.

Going through the motions, Henning scanned the kid’s license with his flashlight, wrote out a ticket for the faulty light and gave his usual stern lecture about the dangers of inattentive driving. And how kids should be home doing schoolwork or sleeping this time of night instead of out on the highway looking for trouble.

The driver, likely thinking he was off the hook, seemed about ready to jump out the window and give Henning a kiss. Kid was looking at the ticket and slobbering. “You’re right officer, it is very late. I lost track of the time. We’ll go directly home, I promise.”

Something in the boy’s tone annoyed Henning. Now he couldn’t help himself. Staring down at the nervous kid, he said, “Before you leave, Alex, I’d like you to do one thing for me.”

“Yes, sir?”

Henning believed Alex would get down on his knees and slurp the snake if he asked him to, anything to avoid a search of the car. Grinning slightly, enjoying his power and rushing behind thoughts of the cash in the trunk of his cruiser, Henning said, “Come around to the passenger side with me, Alex. I have a favor to ask of you.”

Alex got out of the Focus and moped around to the other side, glancing warily at Henning. “Alex,” Henning said, stopping by the passenger window, “Open this door and reach inside the car. Push the button on the glove compartment with the back of your hand and then step back out of there. I have this sneaking suspicion there’s something in there going to do you and your friends harm. Would you do that for me, Alex?”

Henning stood there grinning, watching the kid and tapping his fingers on the butt of the Glock 17 in his hip holster. Henning saw subservience in the kid’s eyes, the boy’s hands trembling. Henning hoped there wasn’t a weapon in the glove box. There was, he’d have to brain the dumb kid, same as the last fool he baited into trying something.

Alex Ruiz looked scared shitless and did exactly as told, leaning in to push the button on the glove compartment with the back of his right hand before backing out quickly. Then Henning’s flashlight beam settled on a pint of lime vodka inside the glove box. And reaching in to lift it out, Henning saw the edge of a plastic bag peeking out from under some papers. He lifted out the liquor bottle and set it on the roof of the Ford, reached back in and grabbed the baggie and let it unfurl, saw a few brown buds of marijuana. “Just as I expected, Alex, you were about to travel down this public thoroughfare without your rear license plate light and in the possession of dangerous drugs and cheap alcohol. I wonder what Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz would think about this, Alex? You do have parents, don’t you, boy?”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s good, son. A boy needs two parents in this world today. What about your girlfriend here? What’s her name?”

“Jenny.”

“Jenny what, son?”

“Jenny Lang, sir.”

“So, Jenny Lang,” Henning said, bending over with the baggie in his hand and leaning in closer to the frightened girl. “You have an ID with that name on it, young lady?”

The girl had her driver’s license ready and handed it up to him.

“Well, Alex,” Henning said after examining the girl’s license, the nervous eighteen-year-old boy shifting from foot to foot on the shoulder of the Interstate. “What do you think the Langs would think about this trouble you’ve gotten their pretty young daughter into tonight?”

“There’s only a Mrs. Lang, sir. Jenny’s old man split a long time ago.”

“So you thought you’d take advantage of a poor fatherless girl, huh, Pedro?”

“It’s Alex, sir, and it’s not like that at all. It’s her dope—her booze. I—”

“That’s where you’re wrong, boy. From now on, this contraband belongs to the State of Texas. And I’ll hang onto your driver’s license in case anything bad happens to cute little Jenny Lang here. In the case of said event, or any other goddamn stunts you might pull in the future, I will take this bag of dope with your license inside it and mail it to Ms. Lang’s mother. And I hope Jenny here has some second thoughts about givin’ it out to a whimpering snitch like you. So get your sorry ass down the road and have that light fixed or I’ll chase you down and bust your ass.”

Alex did what he was told.

(Chapter 2, to be continued)

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South Texas Tangle, Chapter 1, Excerpt 2

Cynthia Marie Mathews Henning felt light and airy, except for the tugging in her stomach when thoughts of her son came around. And now as the cool of dawn gave way to the heat of late morning, the elation of breaking free from Dan was fading with the dew. And as much as she believed what she’d done was necessary—mandatory even—second thoughts and second guesses were creeping into her head like scorpions seeking shade. Maybe she shouldn’t have listened to her sister Jean. Maybe she should’ve talked to Dan about marriage counseling before walking out. Maybe she should’ve stayed at home. But darn it, she couldn’t do things over, and Jean was probably right about Dan, her big sister saying Dan would pull a John Wayne and refuse any kind of help or counseling.

Cynthia knew state troopers could get mental health counseling within the department if they requested it. She also knew Dan would never request it on his own. Probably say he’d taken enough crap already from the guys about his “chicken-shit suspension.” Talk about a stubborn streak, the man was still sticking to his claim that the Latina whore was forcing herself on him, Dan insisting he’d pushed the tramp away just a second after the cell phone photo was taken. And the picture wasn’t that clear—really—so Cyn did have some doubt.

Just a little.

Or maybe not.

Yes, she was trying very hard to believe her husband. But sadly found herself coming back to the way she’d felt for the last few months: a big, aching hole inside her and despair when she looked ahead even so far as next week. Freedom demands eternal vigilance was one of her father’s favorite sayings, but what, exactly, was there to be vigilant about here? Was she supposed to be following Dan around 24/7? Hacking in to the NSA to track his movements? It was all too confusing and draining.

Her sister Jean kept telling her she just needed time on her own, Cyn having gone right from college into a “dead-end marriage trap,” Jean never bothering to soften her rips at Dan. And maybe it was good advice. Cyn wasn’t sure so she was giving it a try. But what the heck should she do with this time on her own?

That was the question all right.

Money wouldn’t be a problem if it came down to that. Her Daddy would be more than happy to help her cut loose from the “cretin with a badge,” her father’s exact words six years ago when Cyn told him she was marrying Dan. And perhaps a few weeks on her own was what she needed to get her thoughts in order. Her mother always said Jesus would guide the way and Cyn was hoping old J.C.—or anyone, for that matter—would come along and point her in the right direction. At the moment she could barely imagine spending much time away from her baby boy, so that needed some adjustment. And, well, a few days away might be long enough to get things straight, but if going back to her husband meant putting his penis in her mouth like he was always asking, she just didn’t know, thing smelling like stale Vienna sausage under the covers. Maybe after a shower….

And that was the actual truth, but she wouldn’t be putting it on her Facebook page anytime soon.

(to be continued)

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