Baylor and Des were up nearly at the break of dawn, having been awoken twenty minutes prior to Des’ wristwatch alarm activating by the blaring horn of one truck, then another, followed by a third and maybe a fourth. It was a sort of morning rallying cry of the league of truckers at the truck stop.
“Christ,” Baylor said, rolling back and forth in his reclined bucket seat, rubbing his eyes. He had slept as well as could be expected in a car. Des stirred too, and Baylor took great delight in looking at her face, her puffy eyes and wry, tired smile.
“Coffee?” She asked.
“Sure,” he said. She yawned.
“I like mine with sugar,” another wry smile, followed by a tired half-laugh.
“Goddamit.” Baylor groaned, stretched and opened the car door, grabbing his wallet as he went.
He returned with the coffee, one in each hand, to find Des brushing her long dark hair. She seemed more awake now, and the brief walk in the brisk morning air to the front of the truck stop building had done a good job of waking him up, too.
Over the course of the next fifteen minutes the two plotted out the back-road course into Little Rock, staying off I-40 almost entirely, followed by one last look at a well-worn map of the city. Their first stop would be easy to get to, and Baylor fired up the car and put it in gear. They were just outside the city limits within an hour and a half, no sign of police anywhere.
Baylor pulled in to the Wal-Mart and parked the car in the middle of the lot next to only a handful of other cars. The store was open, but it was too early in the morning for many customers. Besides, they had arrived a little earlier than they expected. Baylor decided to let her tell him more about Bella del Cruz, Mexico.
“Like I said, it’s a sort of resort. Only not cheesy.”
“How’d you ever hear about it?”
“Well, it’s sort of like a Club Med, only for…” She looked away, slight exaggerated grimace.
“Something like that,” she said with a insincere sounding chuckle, and began fishing for a cigarette.
“So, everyone talks about it?” He accepted the cigarette she offered him and began unsuccessfully fishing around his pants pocket for a light.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. We talked about going there for a long time. Do one more job then head down to Bella del Cruz. Cheap liquor, lots of gambling, nice hotels. All on the waterfront, too.”
“Sounds really nice.” He tilted towards the tiny flame from the match she had struck.
“I think it will be. You’ll like it.” Something in her voice troubled him but he couldn’t say just what it was. Later he’d wonder why he didn’t press her on the subject.
For the next thirty minutes or so they sat in the parking lot, talking mostly about nothing important. When they felt ready, they wordlessly got out of the car and headed in. Baylor went in one direction, Des the other. Within fifteen minutes, they’d met back up at the cash register. Baylor had several cans of spray paint piled in his arms, Des had clothing. They paid in cash and left.
“Around back, you think?” Baylor had already started the car as Des placed all of the items in her lap.
“Sure, check it out.”
The back of the store was perfectly empty. Baylor parked by a dumpster and got out.
“We’ll paint it first. Then change.” He was already shaking up a can of glossy spray paint and the little metal ball inside was clack-clacking away. Des had her own can and was doing the same.
“Just watch the windows.” They went to work, and in less than half an hour, they’d painted the red car entirely black. It wasn’t the best paint job ever, but it was more than passable. In fact, Baylor was somewhat proud of the amateur paint job. Very little spray had gotten on the windows, and there was none on the wheels.
“So,” Baylor said, completely oblivious to the fact that black paint dotted his face and arms. “What’d you get us?”
Wordlessly Des opened the car door and threw Baylor a pair of pants and a shirt. The pants were nice, dark slacks with a deep crease. They were a dark gray, nearly black. His shirt was a white Oxford, a button up. Des had a similar outfit, only her pants were lighter. Baylor’s regret was that his outfit didn’t quite match his casual brown shoes. It didn’t matter, she told him, after watching him change. As she disappeared behind the dumpster, next to some bushes, he wished he could peek at her again, as he had in the motel room. Baylor reminded himself that if any discipline was to be shown at all, today was the day to do it. Des reappeared in a matter of minutes, looking better than ever.
“Let’s get down there,” she said.
# # # #
Bobby Ray ‘Dunk’ Bradford was the kind of man who had made very few mistakes in his life and had been the recipient of very little bad fortune, starting with his birth. He was born to Mister and Misses Bobby Ray Bradford, Senior, wealthy landowners in central Arkansas, a people who came from very early railroad and timber money. Bobby Ray, Sr. had served in the Arkansas Legislature for a number of years, as well as on several local and national boards and commissions. It was all to occupy his time. There hadn’t been a true working Bradford for generations. None of them ever had to. But Bobby Ray the elder was a strict disciplinarian and a tough dad – he wanted his only son to know the value of hard work, and he demanded no less than excellence from the young man. Dunk Bradford graduated at the top of his class in high school and was an all-state basketball star, which earned him a full scholarship – not that he remotely needed it – to the University of Arkansas. Dunk could’ve gone to school anywhere but his father had also taught him a love of his home state, and the young man went to Fayetteville to become a Razorback. He was a basketball star there, too – hence, the nickname Dunk, though the only thing he ever dunked was a doughnut into his morning coffee – as well as a stellar student. He graduated in the top of his class before going on to get a law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Dunk Bradford didn’t have to, but he decided to go in to banking, becoming the youngest Chief Operating Officer an Arkansas bank had ever seen. Within a year, he married a former Miss Arkansas. Within two years of that, he had his own son. Within ten years, he would become Chairman of the Board not only of the First Union Bank of Little Rock, but serve on the board of a trucking company, a foods distributor, and two charities. With technology taking off, he was beginning to explore business options there as well.
Most days Dunk Bradford drove around town in his brand new Mercedes – he bought one every year, trading in the old one – thinking that he’d gotten to where he was by making the right choices. In fact, Dunk Bradford would’ve been roughly in the exact same spot had he never, ever made a choice in his life. The biggest worry he had was that his son, about to graduate from high school himself, might be planning to go out of state for college, which he was. LSU, of all fucking places. This caused him severe stomach pains and violent headaches.
What Bobby Ray ‘Dunk’ Bradford didn’t know was that he had indeed made a poor choice in his life. In fact, several, starting with his wife. Sadly, he wasn’t aware that his wife, the former Miss Arkansas, had not only formed a very heavy dependency on a variety of pills, but had taken to performing some pretty fantastic sex acts with a number of lovers slightly lower on the Arkansas social scale than the Bradfords themselves. The pool boy, a waiter downtown, a mechanic (Mercedes, of course) and a fellow who had been delivering pizzas for more than ten years figured they were just about the luckiest men in America. Miss Arkansas still looked pretty good.
There was another, ultimately more costly problem concerning Mrs. Bradford. She had taken to gambling to cover her necessary expenses with pills and lovers. On the face of it, this seemed ridiculous considering the many millions she had easy access to in the First Union Bank of Little Rock, for starters. But if there was one thing about Dunk Bradford, it was that he was the curious sort. That, and he liked to keep the checkbooks balanced, such as they needed to be. Of course, there were several blue-chip accountants to handle this for the Bradfords, but Dunk kept a close eye on them. Mrs. Bradford – her name was Holly Anne – knew this, and knew that if money started hemorrhaging from the accounts, Dunk would notice. She couldn’t have that.
At first, Holly Anne went to Tunica where there were plenty of casinos. Turns out she was a terrible gambler and lost several thousand on her first few trips there. Dunk screamed at her for a week. She thought he might actually have a heart attack, as his old man had done, and then it wouldn’t matter. He didn’t.
Holly Anne needed another way to get money, lots of it, and fast. It was her doctor, the man who blindly wrote her prescriptions for whatever she needed – meaning whatever she asked for – who finally pointed her in the direction of a man named Alton Washburn.
Alton Washburn, a bookie with a solid reputation as far as bookies went, operated out of an apartment in Southwest Little Rock. During her first visit to Alton, he showed her just exactly how he operated, putting money down on football games, how to cover the spread. Alton even covered the horse races at Oaklawn when they were in season, baseball, boxing, whatever she liked. He showed her how to take fifty dollars and double it. Or a hundred and double that. Holly Anne Bradford, the former Miss Arkansas, whose talent had been to sing ‘How Great Thou Art’ and whose turn-offs were rude people, gave Alton Washburn five-thousand dollars and told him she wanted to turn it in to ten, please.
Alton Washburn, much like Dunk Bradford, liked to think that he had made a lot of smart choices in his life. Which is why he did exactly what Mrs. Bobby Ray Bradford wanted that first time. When she returned later in the week, he shook her hand, smiled a toothy smile and said “Congratulations!” handing her nearly ten thousand dollars in cash, minus his commission. Of course, she hadn’t won by a mile, but customers don’t come back if they lose. The first time. Holly Anne won the first three times she placed bets – all at about ten-thousand dollars, her regular allowance allocated by the man of the house. The fourth and fifth time, she barely broke even.
The sixth time, she lost. Alton Washburn calmly explained to her that, hey, you can’t always be a winner. Holly Anne Bradford simply could not grasp that concept, though it didn’t prevent her from coming back the next week to place another bet. She lost again. Within a year, and with the acquisition of another lover for whom she felt obligated to pay for ‘special services’ rendered, and with her pill expenditures lining up, she had extended a vast line of credit with Alton Washburn. In fact, she was in the hole for nearly one million dollars. In those first days, Alton had neglected to mention the concept of accruing interest.
She’d managed to keep all of this from her loving husband. But the situation was getting desperate and Holly Anne was starting to panic. The phone calls came from Alton first. She told him not to call anymore. Then he came by the mansion. She politely asked him to stop that, too. Then it was strangers coming by. And the strangers were woefully out of place in the Bradford’s neighborhood. It was almost funny how they didn’t really seem to care… almost. What they did care about, and what they made clear to Holly Anne, was that Alton wanted his money, and he wanted it much sooner rather than later. Holly Anne was losing control, and Dunk Bradford was oblivious. But she was only aware of the tip of the iceberg; she only thought her problems were bad. What she couldn’t possibly have known was that she was not in debt to Alton Washburn.
She was in debt to Mavin and Odum Harlan, for whom Alton Washburn worked.
The first bad day that Dunk Bradford ever thought he had was when he twisted his knee in college and was told he could never play basketball again. In fact, he recovered nicely from the sports injury, and since it was the sole reason he managed to avoid the war in Vietnam and go on to extraordinary success in his life, it was actually a pretty good day. His first bad day, ever, really, came late one afternoon, after another slow day at the bank, as he turned his silver Mercedes into his driveway. His cell phone rang.
“You need to give your wife a little money.” Dunk didn’t recognize the deep, southern, gravelly voice at the other end of the line. With a sudden jolt, Dunk Bradford realized that no one had ever told him anything in his life; everything had been a question, or a request, or a very gentle, very respectful suggestion. Dunk didn’t like it.
“Who the fuck is this?” He hit the brake and sat idle in the driveway, staring at his mansion.
“Give her the money she owes. Do it today.”
Dunk Bradford hung up. He shut off the ignition and got out of his car. It was the strangest thing, and he was sure it had been a prank caller. Though there was something in the timber and inflection in the man’s voice that troubled him. It didn’t matter, because things quickly began to fall apart when he walked into his enormous house. He decided to approach Holly Anne about the phone call.
“Damndest thing. Someone says I need to give you some money,” he laughed, standing in the foyer, his jacket draped over his arm and his tie loosened. Dunk Bradford was still a handsome man, as if wealth and success weren’t enough, and he held himself well, hoping that he’d get a laugh out of his wife. It occurred to him that she had seemed a touch distant lately. Maybe he needed to take her on another one of his famous golfing trips. Every year they jetted off to Scotland so that he could golf. He assumed she shopped.
The instant he spoke, Holly Anne Bradford broke down. She confessed everything: the affairs, the drugs. Dunk was particularly angry about the pizza delivery guy because he’d often chatted the fellow up and given him a generous tip when ordering a pizza on game day with his son. Watching the Razorbacks and gorging on pizza with his kid had been one of his favorite pastimes and now it was ruined forever. After listening, red-faced, to Holly Anne for a good forty-five minutes, Dunk Bradford made arguably the second-worst decision of his life. He called the police. What he couldn’t have possibly known was that a beat reporter for a local TV station was sitting at the police dispatcher’s desk when his call was patched through. The news was there almost before the cops were. He had ostensibly called the police to go find this goddam bookie, but Alton Washburn was long gone. Instead he spent that evening chasing off the news trucks, then later, with a drink in his hand, he watched a frantic version of himself on his giant TV chase down cameramen on his perfectly manicured lawn.
The next two months saw Dunk Bradford age by fifteen years. His hair began to fall out and his skin became pasty and wrinkly. He was losing weight dramatically. In the most public manner possible, Dunk sent his wife to re-hab and immediately filed for divorce. His son became distant and resentful, confused by the whole ordeal. He didn’t go to the bank for weeks, just sat around in his underwear, wondering what furniture in the house his wife had violated, wondering just where he’d gone wrong.
The worst part was, the phone calls didn’t stop. But in this, he held firm. He simply refused to pay whoever in the hell kept molesting him about his wife’s gambling debts. Fuck ‘em, was the only thought he offered up. He thought about calling the police again, but decided that the public spectacle he’d created earlier hadn’t done him any good. Why bother now? He changed his phone number. They still called. He threw away his phone. They called his home number. He threw that phone away. They actually left a phone on his doorstep, and called him on it. Always the same gruff voice, always the same message: We want our money.
Dunk Bradford was fairly sure he was losing his mind, but he would be damned if he’d pay that money. He sat in his comfortable chair, stewing. Even his business world was starting to suffer. The charities had discreetly asked him to resign, and every board except the bank had more or less thrown him off. He didn’t care. Besides, he didn’t think he was that bad a guy. While he rather suddenly found his wife to be an abhorrent whore, he did take the liberty of at least sending her overseas for treatment. He told himself it would be the last thing he ever did for her.
Some time early in October, the phone calls stopped. Dunk Bradford was thankful.
Previous Chapter : : Click Here
Coming Soon : : The Redneck Gambit