Baylor Roman wouldn’t have woken up for hours more from the nightmare he was having if the little bedside alarm hadn’t gone off. It was blasting at an ear-splitting decibel an old tune.
“…when the chimes ring five, six and seven… we’ll be right in seventh heaven… We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight!”
Baylor slapped at the radio, finally silencing Bill Haley and his Comets. He did not remember, before crashing into the bed face first, setting the alarm. But he was glad it went off anyway. The digital display glowed 8:30AM. It was time to go.
He sat up slowly in the bed and took in his surroundings with the morning daylight shining around the edges of the drawn curtains. There he was, in the still-made bed. A small table and two chairs that had seen better days sat not three feet away, the bathroom to his back. His pack of cigarettes lay on the table. He’d forgotten Jimmy’s lighter and hadn’t bothered to get one on his way down. Baylor wiped his mouth, nasty and cottony, and groaned. There was crap in his eyes.
After he’d sped off in the Pontiac, Baylor cruised down to Interstate 66 and then on to Interstate 81, traveling alongside the Shenandoah National Park. If it had been earlier in the day, and if he hadn’t just fled the scene of a shooting in which he was the shooter, he would’ve been able to appreciate the beautiful drive. He was well into the depths of Southern Virginia before exhaustion finally consumed him. The drive wasn’t that long – just a few hours – but after leaving the races, it had gotten dark fast and the adrenaline rush had continued to hammer his body even as he got further away. He’d driven past Roanoke and gotten off the interstate onto highway 220 southbound. It took him twenty minutes to find Tall Oak, Virginia, population two hundred eighty-two. The ‘town’ seemed to consist of an Exxon, a BP, a Cracker Barrel, a seemingly nameless general store featuring a vague Dixieland theme, a McDonald’s, KFC, a Best Western and the Great 8 Motel, which is where he was, room 330. And with the exception of some modest houses set back from the freeway, not much else.
Baylor was mildly pleased to see he hadn’t slept in his clothes. His underwear was all he had on, his clothes piled in a corner by the little table. The bedding on which he had slept remained unmolested by his night of sleep, folded and tucked. The sheets and the blanket had a funny hotel room smell, a combination of stale air, bleach and, something disturbingly organic.
After a moment of coming to and shaking off the whiskey and adrenaline hangover, he began to shiver uncontrollably. It took him a moment but he realized that the air conditioner was on full blast, and he remembered walking in to the room with the heater on and nearly passing out. The little room was an oven at the time, but now the damn thing was a practically a meat locker. He stood up and flicked it to off, bending down to examine his clothes. They were covered in Jimmy ‘the Deal’ Yakimoto’s brain goo and it caused him to nearly gag. The clothes sported an odd odor as well.
Baylor did another quick rifle through his crumpled clothes, avoiding as he could the contents of Jimmy Yakimoto’s head, looking for the gun.
The gun, he thought, though he nearly said it out loud. Oh, shit. It wasn’t in the room. And he decided that it was safe enough, probably still in the car. His head buzzed. Baylor wondered for a moment what to do next. Find the gun? Get cleaned up? Turn on the TV? Call Ritchie Torres?
That one hadn’t occurred to him before now: calling Ritchie Torres. But what good would it do? No. He wasn’t ready for that yet.
Baylor settled on getting cleaned up, and for some reason the idea of showering with his clothes on seemed like a brilliant idea. The water, the logic went, would just wash away all of the gross stuff and matter that had now dried to a sickening crust. After pulling on his pants and shirt he trudged to the bathroom, took a long, satisfying piss and started the shower, hot. He stepped in, clothes and all. As it turned out, showering in his clothes was a remarkably terrible idea. Everything was stained. Cursing his idiocy, he stepped out of the shower and slogged back to the bed. Finally, the best thought he’d had yet hit him: coffee. It would set everything right.
Baylor took off his sopping wet clothes and laid them on the vent of the unit that now chugged hot air, hoping to God they’d dry quickly. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he leaned over to the remote control which was bolted to the bedside table. He flicked on the television, not quite sure what he was looking for. Cartoons, a preacher who sounded suspiciously like Lorrie Beth Hammond, another preacher who sounded less like the other one though no less fire-and-brimstone, a commercial, then, there it was: the news. Finally. He sat on the edge of the bed watching for a few moments, dripping dry in the cold air that was slowly warming up. The news was local so he figured they most likely wouldn’t run a story on him. Then again, it paid to be cautious.
Baylor’s stomach began to grumble and he finally said, “Screw it.” Flicked off the TV after just a minute and climbed back in to his soggy clothes. He grabbed the room key and the keys to the Pontiac off the table and fished for a cigarette, realizing only after he got it out that he had no matches, no lighter.
Outside was a clear, cool morning, the sun shining bright in the sky, brighter than he expected. He shielded his eyes and looked up, taking in the fresh air. It was very quiet in Tall Oak. Baylor approached the Firebird, leaving wet footprints from his clothes behind him, and peered into the dark window. He thought he’d heard that tint was illegal, which bothered him, and he looked in through the windshield. Kicking himself, he saw the gun sitting on top of the duffle bag in the shotgun seat.
Jesus, he thought, what if some kid happened to see that? What if… He didn’t allow himself to finish the thought, the notion of someone not as innocent or friendly as a child seeing it too horrible to think about.
Fumbling with the keys a bit, he unlocked the door – at least he’d locked the goddam door – and grabbed the duffle, leaving the gun under the driver’s seat. He put the duffle bag full of cash in the back of the car and slammed it shut. He started to walk away, towards the office of the motel, but something stopped him. Baylor turned back to the car, unlocked it and grabbed the big .45 from under the seat. He checked the safety – in the ‘on’ position – looked around and stuffed it in the back of his pants, his shirt covering it.
Upon approaching the motel office he remembered a feeble old woman from behind the counter the night before, and damned if it wasn’t the same old woman this morning. She was listening to one of the preachers on the radio. Baylor couldn’t have been more thankful that it was the same old woman, not checking his ID against the fake name he’d put in the registry, mostly because she was on the darker side of blind. She said Thank ya’ now, honey, held her hand in his general direction and took the room key from him. He’d paid in cash the night before.
Baylor was starting to relax, just a bit. At least there weren’t fifty deputies sitting outside his room waiting to haul him in. He walked across the deserted road to the general store across the street, ‘Dixie’s Dime Store’, said the sorry looking sign above the entrance. Baylor remembered the Dollar General Store from his youth and this was a clear rip-off. But, he could see through the pane glass window, they had clothing, and that was just fine with him.
In fact, the only difference between a Dollar General Store and Dixie’s Dime Store was that Dixie’s did not feature the luxury of racks or shelves. Everything was piled onto cheap fold out tables, assorted roughly by gender and size. Men’s pants in one pile, women’s shoes in another, and so on. Under the watchful eye of the sole woman at the front, Baylor sifted through the piles of men’s clothing, finally picking out an appropriate outfit, one that wouldn’t have embarrassed his mother too badly. He plucked a white Oxford shirt that was beyond ironing and was missing only two buttons, a pair of seemingly clean socks, a faded blue blazer with black patches on the elbows that were themselves well-worn, a pair of wildly faded khaki pants that he knew were too big and a threadbare t-shirt that featured the insignia of the Tenley Roosters, whoever they were, a big blue rooster leaning on a baseball bat and wearing a t-shirt himself that said ‘T’. It was, without question, the best combo he could come up with.
Baylor brought his haul to the clerk, a plump lady with pouffy hair and thick glasses, setting everything down in front of her.
“Honey,” she said, sweetly, “what in Heaven’s name did you get in to?” Her weird smile of the world’s worst fake teeth made him wince, and he was acutely aware of the weight on the gun tucked into his pants, the shirt just covering it.
“Paint,” he blurted. “Paintin’ a house.” He jived her with his southern charm, a quick wink and the smoothest smile he could muster. Baylor immediately regretted the lie and wished he could’ve done better, thought it out more. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if she asked where he had been doing this awfully sloppy painting, as she would surely know everyone within a fifty mile radius, or at least in the town of Tall Oak.
“Sugar, you’d better just go back in the back there and change.” She began to ring up his purchases, totaling twelve dollars and fifty cents. Again he paid with cash and quietly thanked God that she didn’t want to know any more than he’d already volunteered.
After tucking the gun into the loose waist of the new pants – the new pants only being held up with some effort by his belt, which he kept – he walked from the back room and quietly thanked the clerk. Feeling much fresher, he climbed into the Pontiac, throwing the old stained clothes in the backseat.
Baylor adjusted himself, squirming in the seat, and fired up the car. Only stopping for gas at the BP – paying in cash, again forgetting a lighter or matches – he started back out on the road, headed south.
- - - -
Baylor was still desperate for coffee, and just barely stopped the car in time. Billy Jo’s Diner was tucked neatly away just after a sharp curve to the left off of Route 10. The only thing that caught his attention was the sign, one of those large road signs with the lit arrow over the top that featured the yellow flashing lights (which were now off). The sign featured seventy-five cent coffee, free refills and something about a blue plate special. There was a brown van parked beside the building.
Pulling the car in to the lot, turning it around to face the exit, he heard the gravel crunch and wondered what he might get. Eggs? Eggs and bacon, with toast, grits and lots of coffee and juice. Maybe a waffle, if they had one. Hell, it all sounded good. Baylor smelled it as he stepped out of the car, headed for the front door.
Inside was a typical diner with a counter and a few vinyl booths by the windows, though the shades were pulled because the morning sun was so bright. A woman stood behind the counter apparently doing everything herself, cooking, taking orders and ringing up the customers, had there been any customers but one. There was a large man in the corner, a dark, thick beard, grimy overalls with a heavier plaid shirt. He had an old Cat ball cap, the kind with the plastic webbing in the back. Like its owner, it had seen better days. Baylor thought he looked like an old beat-up lumberjack, which he could well have been. The smell of breakfast in the nearly-desolate diner was overwhelming and Baylor wanted very much to sit down and order one of everything.
But he couldn’t because she was there. A vision of utter beauty and stunning elegance. She was shorter than his six-foot-two, but tall herself, a bit lanky. Her dark hair was cut short and seemed to dance around her head when she moved. He noticed her skin, perfect and clear, very pale but in a classic, porcelain way.
He very much wanted to touch her.
Baylor noticed too that she had style, a style that he admired. Her clothes were dark, understated, not at all trashy, and certainly not purchased at Dixie’s Dime Store. Dark black pants tapered to meet her boots just right, and what could only be called an elegant faded gray button up shirt exposing a little less cleavage than would make her trampy. That struck him, too – her generous breasts, good Lord. Probably fuller, bigger than the shirt she was wearing would let on, but nice for her frame. He saw the gleam in her eye, a shine from her ever-so-slight smile and quickly wondered if maybe this was what love at first sight was like.
She had a gun that looked exactly like the one Indiana Jones had in the movies, a big revolver, out and in both hands. That seemed strange to him, the gun – it was almost too big for her hands, but not quite. It looked heavy. He figured it was a .45 caliber, maybe even an old Webley revolver.
“Billy Jo, let’s get moving.” Oh, her voice! If it had been any other situation, he might’ve swooned. Her voice was magical, lyrical. The kind of voice that’s just an octave below what you thought it might be, with the faintest rasp to it. He tried to think of the celebrity she most sounded like but was interrupted.
“You just going to stand there?” She was looking at him now and there was no mistaking the fact that she had stopped smiling.
Wordlessly he fumbled to unbutton his blazer and reached behind him for the silver .45, pulling it out without playing with the safety.
“Okay, Billy Jo. Back to business. The cash register.” The woman behind the counter, in the yellow checkered apron let out a very sincere Oh, my Lord while Conway Twitty played on the jukebox in the background. The angelic woman with the big gun kept it trained on the woman whose nametag indeed identified her as Billy Jo, Baylor could only assume of Billy Jo’s Diner fame. Baylor kept Jimmy’s gun – his gun – trained at the fat guy at the end of the bar, who hadn’t yet moved.
“I hope you’ve got something good out there.” The woman glanced at Baylor again. Billy Jo worked furiously, beginning to cry quietly behind the register, stuffing small bills into a plastic bag.
“Uh,” Baylor seemed at a loss for words. “Yeah. A Pontiac? A Firebird?”
“Jesus, why don’t you just give them the plate number as well.” The young woman rolled her eyes. “Alright Billy Jo, give me that .38 I know you have back there, too. Real careful, now.” Billy Jo let out another Oh, my Lord, and with the tip of her forefinger and thumb dropped a black snub nose in the sack.
“Okay,” said the pretty woman, “let’s go. Thanks Billy Jo. Bye.” She lowered her gun and strode out of the room. Baylor blinked, then followed her.
He climbed into the car, throwing the gun on the floorboard, and fired it up. Leaning over, he unlocked the passenger door. No one got in.
Baylor leaned forward and looked out the windshield. Where the fuck had she gone? She was right there. Baylor started to breath heavily, sure that Billy Jo was on the phone to the police.
Then suddenly a loud knock on the window.
“Well, this is a nice ride.” The black-haired angel said, climbing in. “You weren’t gonna leave me, where you?” He couldn’t place her accent.
“Uh, no. No, sorry.”
She had a full backpack in her hands.
“Listen, I’d recommend leaving,” she began to duck her head below the dashboard, “right now.” Suddenly there was another huge reverberating boom, just like the .45 had done the day before. Baylor swung his head back – it was the fat guy holding a double-barreled shotgun. He was recovering from the recoil of the first shot and steadying to fire again. Baylor threw the car in gear and slammed the accelerator, spewing gravel back towards the fat guy. They were twenty yards out of the lot when the second boom went off. How the fat guy missed at such close range the first time remained forever a mystery.
“Sorry to be so short with you back there. You kind of threw me for a loop.” She was starting to smile again.
“Oh, that’s okay. Threw me for a loop, too.” Baylor was finally catching his breath, slowing it down a bit, but not much, wanting to get away from the diner as fast as he could.
“I’m Desdemona, by the way. Desdemona Elspeth Culpepper. Everyone calls me Des.” She didn’t take her eyes off the road. “Nice car.”
Des waited a minute, and now Baylor truly was speechless. He wasn’t sure where to start, or even if he should start.
“Well, you look just like they said you would. I mean, Mavin and Odum.” She pulled out a cigarette from a pocket in her backpack and lit it with her own lighter. She finally looked at him, and with genuine sincerity, asked, “How are your uncles, by the way?”
- - - -
“I just wasn’t… I wasn’t expecting...” Baylor said, his first verbalized thought alone with Desdemona Elspeth Culpepper.
“No, I’m sure. I had to go over to Winston-Salem. Something about running smokes up north. Whatever,” she waved her hand in the air dismissively. “I thought I might be able to beat you back to Little Rock. I guess you’re early.”
Baylor didn’t respond. He leaned to crack his window and toss out the last of his cigarette. He would have to ask a little more about the Winston-Salem trip at some point, but not now. The Harlans did a lot of cigarette smuggling – it’s where some of their best stories came from, in fact.
“So, this was…?” He rolled his eyes back, indicating the Billy Jo’s Diner incident they’d put behind them some twenty minutes ago now. The Tennessee border was coming up.
“Side job for your uncles. I didn’t get all the details, but I got the impression Billy Jo screwed them over somehow at one point. Who knows when. Mavin seemed especially pissed. Makes you wonder.” There was a little trick, maybe it was a Southern thing, which Baylor had never understood. Everyone called the Harlan Brothers ‘Mr. Harlan.’ If you had to address both of them you just said it twice. Mr. Harlan. Mr. Harlan. Even when they weren’t around that’s what you did because it was like they had ears everywhere. And yet here was this woman, Desdemona Elspeth Culpepper, speaking their first names. Unheard of.
She continued. “I’m not sure, but I got the sense that maybe she and Mavin…” An innocent look to Baylor and a slight shrug of the shoulders.
“My experience, I’ve found it’s a hell of a lot better not to ask on that kind of thing.” Baylor kept his eyes on the road and on the speedometer. He was acutely aware that they needed to find a side-road, fast. The police would’ve been called and if there were any cops near the freeway…
“I’m sure that’s true,” she said. Taking a minute, reading the signs on the road. “You could take the next exit. It’ll get us into Tennessee.” And then changing the subject. “We’ve met before, you know.” She smiled. It occurred to Baylor that this was the first time he’d seen her smile, genuinely smile, not the fake thing she’d curtly given Billy Jo earlier, and it pleased him greatly. She had a beautiful smile.
“You were four, I think. Maybe five? I was probably two. Mavin and Odum brought you to Nashville. My father was their number one get-it-done guy for years, he could get anything from point A to point B, and always on time,” Des suddenly seemed a bit sad, nostalgic. Baylor had remembered a man – it must have been her father – that they had called ‘Ol’ A-ta’- B’. He thought they were saying Olattahbee, some kind of weird Arabic name, or something. Took him years to figure it out. Point A to point B. She continued, “There was even a picture of us playing together. I think you pulled my hair and made me cry.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” Baylor having no recollection of their having met even being mentioned.
This evoked a laugh, which he liked even more than the smile.
“God,” she said, drawing a breath, “whatever. Forget it. I just thought it was funny. Us being set up like this and we met when we were kiddies.” He liked her use of the word ‘kiddies’.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “Your father – he had his own crew for awhile, didn’t he? I remember now. Mavin and Odum sort of bought him out.” The memory of Olattahbee slowly coming back to him.
“You could put it that way.” Her smile, fading now.
“So, whatever happened to your father?”
“My experience, I’ve found it’s a hell of a lot better not to ask on that kind of thing,” she said, mocking his words, and he immediately regretted the question. It was very difficult to live for very long in the world of Mavin and Odum Harlan.
He went back to something she’d said before.
“So, this is a set up?”
“Not, like, a set up,” she posed her hand in the form of a gun, pointing at the windshield. “Like a blind date set up. You knew that, right?”
No, in fact he didn’t know that. It’s not what he’d discussed with his uncles, not at all. He was just supposed to meet the girl in Little Rock, and…
“Well, no. No, I didn’t. I…” Suddenly at a loss for what to do or say. This got her laughing again.
“Don’t worry about it,” a gentle hand on his right elbow, soft and nice, almost friendly. “It’s pretty obvious your uncles care about you a great deal.”
“I’d say so.” He raised his eyebrows, throwing the compliment up in the air and overboard so that she’d get the point. It kept her laughing at him.
“You know what I mean.” She pulled out another cigarette and cracked the window. They were on a rural highway now, heading in to Tennessee. “So, do you know where we’re going?”
“Yeah, and we’ve got a ways to get there.” He sighed and settled in to the bucket seat.
“Then we should know something about each other. I’ll start.”
“Okay.” He smiled and peered ahead, ready to listen.
Des began with her birth in Alabama, her father barely around, her mother flitting from job to meaningless job. They moved a lot. Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, her father always on the move from the law or from enemies in the business, which was primarily smuggling cigarettes and running an illegal sports book out of Nashville, where the family eventually ended up.
“It was always his dream,” Des said. “To make big money running the numbers. Hard to do, though. Hard to build up the reliable clientele.”
After the family life, she talked about being on her own. Baylor hung on every word. Early on, Des had worked very hard not to follow in her father’s – or her mother’s – footsteps. But she was a natural.
“Probably the only time in my life I wasn’t stealing stuff was when I was in California. God, it was awful. I never really fit in out there. It was just so different,” he didn’t ask her if the lifestyle was different or the work – thought he’d save that one for later. “Stayed just over a year and finally moved back this way. Dad was still working for Mavin and Odum, your uncles. Dad didn’t even ask me twice. I went to work with him the next day. Bank job. Pretty decent take and the cleanest getaway he’d ever seen, he said.”
“A father-daughter team. You don’t hear about that every day.” Baylor said.
“Well, he had his crew. He started me out just like everyone else. Scoping out the score, taking notes. Everything. It was hard work. I didn’t get here because of daddy.”
He sensed she was getting a touch defensive.
“No, not at all. I’ve heard you’re the best.”
“I don’t know about the best. We’ll see, I guess.”
Silence filled the car for several moments. The roadways had been mostly clear. A couple of rigs and several locals going home from church had passed them, or followed for a few miles, but otherwise, nothing.
“What do you think about Berryville, up ahead? By the way,” She pointed out the sign for the town, just a little bigger than Tall Oak, “your picture on CNN was terrible.”
This took him aback.
“What? Jesus Christ…”
“Yeah. CNN. It’s in the regular circulation. The feds are involved, and they’re being very selective. What,” she said, picking up on his shock, “you didn’t think they’d have figured it out by now? I mean, figured out it was you? Hell, you left your car there.” She wasn’t being unusually cruel, just truthful.
“Yeah,” he was resigned now. “But I thought I could get an extra day out of it. Shit.”
“So,” she said. “How did it go?”
“Do you want to hear how it went, or the whole thing?” He was enjoying talking with her, but wasn’t sure he was ready to recount the story yet. It was awfully fresh.
“How about the whole thing. But why don’t we pull behind the Motor Inn, here first. Check in and hunker down. Otherwise we’ll be a day early in Little Rock, and I don’t want to dawdle around there. This place is a lot less visible.”
Baylor pulled the car in and swung it around to the back of the Berryville Motor Inn, hidden from the roadway. He took ten minutes to check in to a smoking room on the first floor, paid with cash and found a soda machine. When he got back to the car, Des had scribbled a note:
Gone to get beer and snacks. Back in a minute. Write the room number on this note. D.
And there was a P.S.:
Don’t forget to clean up the ‘mess’ you left on the floorboard.
She had drawn a little kooky-faced person with zig-zagged eyes and a tongue sticking out. He found it to be strangely affectionate. Using the pen she’d stuck with the note under the wiper blade, he wrote ‘112’ on the back and tried to scribble an equally funny face himself. It didn’t work out as well as he’d hoped.
After throwing his old clothes in a dumpster near the car and discreetly stuffing the .45 in his pants, he walked to room 112, unlocked it and sat on the edge of the bed, fiddling with the remote right away, holding back his urge to pee. A few flicks and he found CNN. They were not running the story about him yet but he left it on, the sound low, just in case. Right before Des walked in with a bag full of two cold six-packs, chips, pretzels and other assorted junk food, Baylor began to wonder about the bed situation. There were two beds, of course – don’t want to be presumptuous, even if it is a ‘set-up’, goddam Uncle Mavin and Uncle Odum – but he didn’t have time to take the thought far.
“I get the bed by the door. Sorry. Called it.” She was smiling now, very pleased with herself. “It’s just a thing. I’ve got to have the bed nearest the door.”
“Oh, well…” He waited a beat too long.
“Mr. Stud, here. Goddam, didn’t think you were going to get lucky on the first date, did you?” She was clearly enjoying harassing him. All he could do was blush and shake his head.
“You’d better give me a beer, or you get to sleep in the car.” He was making the best effort he could to tease back.
Rather than answer him, she peeled a can off the plastic ring and tossed it in his general direction.
“You on there yet?” She nodded to CNN.
“Not yet.” The beer cracked open with a refreshing hiss and he took a long pull.
“Well, okay.” Des settled herself in a chair by the table which was not unlike the table from the motel in Tall Oak. “Let’s hear it. How’d it go in D.C.?”
“Farquier County, actually.” He said. “It went fine.” He took another long drink. “But here’s the whole story. ‘Bout a year ago, I decided it was time to retire…”
“Wait! Stop. Just wait a minute.” Des held her hand up in protest. “I’m sorry, but…retire? Give me a break. You’re my age. I thought the retirement age was sixty-something. Don’t you have thirty or so more years to go?”
“If I wanted to stay in the business, sure. But I found out after awhile that, unlike you, I’m not a natural at this. I think too big…”
“Oh, excuuuuse me.” She said, pushing it.
“You wanna hear this, or you just gonna give me shit the whole time?” The half a can of beer already allowing him to lapse into his Arkansas drawl.
“Sorry.” She shrugged defensively.
“It’s okay,” he said past the can nearing his lips. “Anyway, every job I did was half-assed. I wanted to do the big-time stuff.”
“But you never wanted to work to get there.” Des muttered. Then, defensively, “Sorry, sorry.”
He just looked at her.
“I started with being a messenger. A courier. Like your dad. Then I got in to the numbers, like your dad did, too. An’ just like you, Uncle Mavin and Uncle Odum started me at the bottom. I was an apprentice to a guy in D.C. Great guy. Taught me everything about the business. I built up my own clients and did okay for the business and for myself. Kept a semi-legit job as a bike messenger because otherwise I’d get bored as hell. And it was a good cover.”
“That’s the worst part of the lifestyle – it gets boring a lot.” This time he didn’t mind her interruption so much.
“Yeah.” He fished around in his pocket for a smoke and placed one in his mouth. “Poor Uncle Mavin – he’d just about lose it every time I came to see them. He’s the one with the temper. Uncle Odum’s a little cooler.” He was patting his pockets for a lighter or matches, which he didn’t have. Des stood and walked over to him, lighting a match under his cigarette.
“Thanks,” he said, and was thrilled when she sat just across from him on the other bed, facing him. “I’d have some huge, elaborate, foolproof idea. Couldn’t go wrong. ‘Son, you gotta work your way up to the big time.’ The sure loved to lecture me.” His impression of his Uncles was remarkably accurate.
“So, they never listened to anything you said.” Des had opened another beer and was handing Baylor a second can.
“Oh, no. They did after awhile. Ever hear ‘bout the triple armored car job in D.C.? Probably not…”
“No way! No fucking way! That was you? Jesus Christ! That was art! Real fucking art!” Des was quite animated now and Baylor took a moment of joy in watching her lovely figure bounce up and down off the bed in excitement.
“Well, I didn’t do the job, but it was my idea.” This seemed to let some of the air out of her excitement. Baylor read her mind. “Mavin and Odum didn’t think it’d be a good idea for me to go. But it was mine, anyway.”
“Is it true they took more than two million on that job?” Des seemed fascinated.
“A little more with the bonds.”
“Woah…” Des was smiling, drinking her beer.
“Well that one worked out for them. And I’m glad it did. But I needed to get out. I know that Mavin and Odum had this idea that maybe I’d take over the business someday,” he sighed, drew on the smoke and exhaled, watching her light her own cigarette in anticipation of the good stuff. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just lazy at heart, maybe. Or greedy. Hell. I don’t know.”
They momentarily turned their attention to the TV and CNN, which had just gone to commercial.
“So, I spent the last ten or twelve months trying to talk Mavin and Odum into letting me out. I guess it’s worked so far.”
“Every time I try to get out…” Des, doing Al Pacino from Godfather III now, “they pulllll me back in!” Not bad. It got a hearty enough chuckle from Baylor.
“Yeah, exactly. But I’m done. So, we worked this deal out, and…” He hesitated on saying ‘I will be set’ as opposed to ‘we will be set’. Events of that morning had fairly well confirmed her as his partner. She picked up on it and was sympathetic, for now, leaning back on one shoulder, holding the beer with the other hand.
“Tell me about the asshole.” She said, not taking her eyes off him. “I mean, I know about him, but what are the details.” He wondered if she’d picked up a bit of a California accent in the time she’d been out there. It was strange.
“Jimmy ‘the Deal’ Yakimoto. Piece of shit. A goddam sellout. Skimming heavy off the top for years.” He realized he needed to back up, took a drink, and did so. “Sorry,” waving his hand, “you know that Mavin and Odum have a contract with a gang called the Tokyo Tigers, right? Supposed to be the American Yakuza. It’s all very complicated but basically they’re used as a front for Mavin and Odum. They drop some stuff about a guy in Japan who’s supposed to be the criminal mastermind behind pretty much everything they do. Mavin and Odum give them some space in D.C. to have a little fun, do whatever they want on the side, and everything’s kosher.”
“So,” Des said, eyes narrowing, “there really is no Yakuza.”
Baylor nearly spewed beer out of his nose.
“Oh, shit yeah there is. Damn. Big time. It’s just that Mavin and Odum and the Yakuza have a sort of gentlemen’s agreement. Everyone realizes the world is big enough for the both of them. World domination shit is for the movies.”
“Huh.” Des shrugged her shoulders, seeming to understand.
“Well, this guy Jimmy was low on the totem pole. But he’d been around for a good long while, now and I guess he just got greedy, got sloppy. Anyway, you know Mavin and Odum. They don’t take chances and I was on deck,” he took another drink. “so I got the job. My favorite part, though, are the lawyers. See, Mavin and Odum are smart. They convinced Hideo – that’s the Tokyo Tiger’s guy in D.C. – to hire some lawyers. One of ‘em, a guy I know, Jesus, what an asshole. All they know is they’re rolling in the cash to represent these Japanese gangsters. Mavin and Odum like their system of checks and balances. The lawyers help keep the Tiger’s cash in line, the Tigers do the real dirty work – street-level drug deals, gun running – and everyone is pretty happy.”
Baylor went on to explain his relationship with Ritchie Torres and all the things he didn’t like about the city. Then Des spoke about her situation in Little Rock, which led to the deal as a whole. They were up until nearly midnight going over everything for the next day.
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