Angel and the Badman: The Story of Cort and Blanche
Part 10: Leaving Las Vegas
It was seven in the morning and Angel was still asleep in his bed, her hair tumbled, wisps of gold trailing over her eyes. Smoothing it back from her forehead, he’d kissed her awake to tell her where he was going and at her mumbled, ‘okay baby’ Cort smiled. He tucked the sheet closer around her shoulders, stood at the side of the bed and watched her for a moment, his hand lingering on her hair. She had already fallen back to sleep, her lashes dark on her cheeks. He felt a rush of fierce protectiveness unlike anything he’d ever known. It had taken a lot to win her trust, but now he knew. The fact that Blanche slept on proved that she felt safe with him, that she knew he’d take care of her.
The elevator let him out on the private level. His footsteps echoing in the cavernous garage, he paused to light a cigarette and with his free hand, Cort dug his keys out of his pocket, bouncing them once on his palm. The smell of exhaust and motor oil was heavy in the air, and even underground, the Vegas heat slapped him in the face. Cort passed his bike, parked in the smaller spaces near the elevator, and headed for the Avalanche. He’d have it gassed up and check the oil, get it ready for their trip on his way back from Spelling’s office.
He whistled through his teeth, a snatch of some vaguely remembered Mexican ballad, and thought about Rosarita. Blanche stretched out on the patio soaking up the sun, him beside her, a pitcher of Malena’s ice cold orange lemonade on the table nearby. The Pacific in all its wild and wave-tossed glory before their eyes, the low red tile roofed villa behind them. He’d already called his Mexican housekeeper and told her to get the place ready. He grinned. She was likely at the marketplace already, buying the makings of a feast as well as the things she knew he liked best...real stone ground meal for tortillas, strings of peppers and onions, red beans and rice.
Instinct and keen senses are thing a man hones over the years, especially when he’s lived a particular kind of life. His instincts had saved Cort more than once, and as he neared his truck, a warning prickle ran up his spine. He tensed and his steps slowed, then stopped. Blue green eyes squinted into the shadows, and he turned his body slightly to the side, waiting. Ready.
Bud White leaned casually against a massive concrete pillar. He heaved his body upright, squared off to face Blanche Donovan’s new man. Bud was careful to make no sudden moves...he knew this one was different from the pussy back in California. This one was in it for the long haul; he wouldn’t run scared from the LAPD.
Bud’s voice cut through the tense silence. "All alone, Davis?"
Cort took a deliberate drag of his Marlboro, blew the smoke out in a steady stream before answering, "You see anyone with me?"
Bud’s glare turned lethal. "Think you’re a tough guy, huh? Above the law. Like her."
Cort dragged again, held the cigarette pinched between his left thumb and index finger. His right hand rested easily at his side, poised for whatever came. He said softly, "Unless you got a real question to ask me, officer...I’m gettin’ in my truck."
A cool blue gaze searched, made the bulge of a shoulder holster under the leather jacket.
"I’m licensed," Cort said flatly, reading White’s eyes. "And you’re out of your jurisdiction, lawman." He walked to the driver’s side door and got in. There was the soft burr of a motor as he let the window down. The smile that twisted his lips wasn’t really a smile, it was more of a challenge. He flicked his cigarette out the window to land at the LAPD detective’s feet.
"Step on that for me, will you? Much obliged." Cort hit the ignition, and didn’t bother to look for White’s reaction as he pulled out of his parking space.
Bud stood with his hands in his pockets, staring coldly after him, then glanced down to the butt smoldering at his feet. "Sure hotshot. I’ll step on it." He crushed the cigarette out with the sole of his shoe as if he were killing a roach, his narrowed eyes following the Avalanche until it disappeared up the exit ramp.
* * *
Ray Andreen left Los Angeles at three in the morning, his detailed report on Blanche Donovan’s case and the involvement of the renegade Mongols locked in his briefcase on the passenger seat beside him. Figuring five hours travel time, he estimated his arrival in Vegas at eight o’clock, or thereabouts. A quick meeting, and there’d be plenty of time for Spelling to hit the golf course...what Ray had to say wouldn’t take long. By nine, he intended to be back at his pad off the Strip grabbing a few hours sleep.
The 15 was an undulating ribbon of highway into the desert. For miles there was nothing but sand, rocks, and cactus on either side, hardly any traffic at this time of the night. By five a.m. he was just past Halloran Springs on the border of the Mojave Preserve when a slow-moving truck prompted Andreen to pass. He floored the accelerator to kick his car into passing gear and got nothing but a low whine. Swearing, he babied the transmission in his 1999 Buick LeSabre for another few miles until it locked up and the car began to lose speed. There was nothing he could do but drift onto the shoulder and hope he got the ass end off the road before some trucker hopped on bennies came along and clipped him.
He sat a moment, disgusted, before he hit the door handle. As soon as he got out of the car, the smell of burning transmission fluid assaulted his nose. Andreen glanced up and down the all but deserted highway, watched the taillights of the eighteen-wheeler turn to red pinpricks as the truck barreled east. Fuck, he’d never make Vegas by eight now. He pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket and flipped it open. The screen read NO SIGNAL.
"Fuck." Ray Andreen impotently kicked a tire.
* * *
The Friese Building looked oddly deserted that early on a Saturday morning. The receptionist’s desk was vacant, the lights in the lobby were dimmed. Cort buzzed for the elevator, rode up to the forty-first floor and Spelling’s office. Janine wasn’t at her desk just inside the frosted glass doors, but the lights were on in Spelling’s office. Cort walked in to find the attorney with his feet up on the desk, his arms folded behind his head. He was alone.
"Morning, Mr. Davis." Mark Spelling swung his legs to the floor and stood to shake Cort’s hand. "Coffee?"
Coffee sounded good; he’d left that morning without bothering to brew a pot. "If it’s no trouble."
Spelling moved around the desk. "I made some myself when I got here. Should be ready by now." He left the office and Cort wondered if Spelling’s coffee would be worth the drinking. The man never touched the pot while Janine was around.
But it smelled good when Spelling came back carrying two steaming mugs.
"Yep. Thanks." Cort took an experimental sip. Not too bad. About as good as his own.
* * *
They talked desultorily until at ten o’clock, the light on Spelling’s phone blinked and from the outer office, they heard it ring. The attorney punched speaker and folded his hands.
The voice on the line was low and rough, as if its owner had smoked more than his share of unfiltered cigarettes. "Spelling, this is Ray Andreen."
Annoyance plain in his tone, Mark looked at Cort and said coolly, "My client and I are waiting for you in my office, Ray. We’ve been here since eight."
They heard Andreen’s grunt of irritation. "Yeah, well I apologize for that. My car broke down on the 15 out in the Mojave. I just got a tow back to Halloran Springs." He didn’t mention that he’d walked the three miles into town and waited in the cold desert night until the garage owner showed up at seven.
"You should have called," Spelling said petulantly, watching Cort’s face for signs of irritation.
"I did, first chance I got. My cell was dead out there. Something screwed up the reception, I don’t know. The goddamn place is a desert, Spelling. It ain’t like there’s a tower every mile."
Cort broke in before Spelling could alienate the man with his attitude. "Mr. Andreen, this is Cort Davis. No harm done, these things happen. I can send a messenger if you’ll let us know exactly where you are."
Andreen’s voice grated into the phone. "Mr. Davis, if I trusted a messenger, I wouldn’t be making this trip. I’ll deliver the package myself."
Cort frowned, wondered if the report was that damaging or if Andreen had another motive. He leaned closer to the speaker: "Good enough. Just get here when you can."
"Will do, Mr. Davis."
"Spelling will have something for you," Cort said. "I appreciate good work, and I show it."
Andreen shook his head, thinking of what it was going to cost him to get his Le Sabre on the road again. The bill would probably suck up every cent of Davis’ ‘show of appreciation’. Ah well, easy come, easy go. It was the story of his life.
"I’ll be there as soon as I can...the guy here says he’ll try to get it done today," he said. I should hit Vegas late tonight unless something else goes wrong."
"Shit," mouthed Cort silently, thinking that something always went wrong. He motioned to Spelling to wrap up the call.
The attorney spoke up: "Andreen, call me when you’re on your way. I’ll make arrangements to be here to pick up the report."
"Will do, Spelling." Andreen knew a dismissal when he heard one and clicked off without saying goodbye.
Mark looked at Cort, shrugged. "I’ll call you when I hear from him." He glanced at the clock and scowled in annoyance...too late to get a round in now. Too fucking hot out on the course. A whole damn day wasted, and who knew how many future clients missed? He brightened as a thought occurred. He could still make the clubhouse for lunch and a few drinks. Schmooze a little.
Cort put down his empty coffee mug, stood and started for the door. "When you get the package, call Paco," he told his attorney. "I’m going out of town for a spell, don’t know when I’ll be back. He’ll swing by and pick it up for me."
"I’ll arrange it, Mr. Davis."
"Thanks for the coffee, Spelling." Grinning, Cort said over his shoulder as he walked through the door, "It was about as good as mine."
* * *
Blanche was gone when he got back to his place, but she’d left a note.
Gone to pack a few things and get Sport. Call me when you get in. Love, B.
"Goddammit." He wished she’d waited for him; he didn’t like the idea of her out on her own. Remembering White’s livid face in the garage, Cort dialed her number and took a relieved breath when she answered on the first ring.
"Hey, I was just going to call you," she said. "What took so long?"
Her voice was light and easy and he reckoned she hadn’t run into Bud White on her way home. Briefly, he considered telling her about him, then decided to wait until they were long gone and White was no longer a worry.
"The guy I was supposed to meet didn’t show," Cort explained. "Car broke down. We waited two hours before he finally called. You about ready to hit the road, darlin’?"
"All ready and waiting on you. Do you want to pick us up or should I drive in?"
"I’ll pick you up. Leave your car in your garage so nobody will know you’re gone. Did you call your sister?"
"Yes," Blanche said, and Cort heard the change in her voice. ‘She’s happier than hell,’ he thought as she went on, "Mo booked a flight for late next week to San Diego. Said she’ll call with all the details later."
"Good enough." He looked at his watch. "Give me ten minutes to get some stuff together, and I’ll be on my way out there. Half an hour, Angel."
"Okay. Hurry up honey. We can’t wait to get out of here. Right Sport?"
He heard the damn dog bark in the background.
* * *
He kept a safe in his office, loaded with cash for emergencies and payoffs. Just like in the movies, it was wall mounted and hidden behind a bookcase that swung out from the wall on hinges. Cort dialed the combination, reached in and removed several bundled stacks of twenty, fifty, and hundred dollar bills. He counted out twenty thousand, put the rest back in the safe, locked everything up tight again. Dividing the money, he stuffed his wallet and tucked the rest into an inside pocket in his jacket.
He didn’t need much in the way of clothing...he kept enough on hand in Rosarita. A change of everything in his duffel, just in case they needed to stay the night on the road. You never knew what could happen...Christ, look at Andreen. He took his favorite boots, old and well broken, a hat in case he needed to shade his features. Throwing a box of .44 caliber bullets in the bag, he thought for a moment and then took them out and shook a dozen into his palm. He shoved those deep in his pocket and dropped the box back in the bag.
He checked his pockets: licenses for his gun and the car, the pink slip, his passport, his keys. He had everything he needed to get them safely to Mexico and the sanctuary of his house on the outskirts of Rosarita. One more thing to do, and then they were on the road. Cort sat on the edge of his bed and punched the speed dial.
Paco Benning answered on the second ring. "Yeah boss?"
"I’m out of town for a few weeks," Cort said without preamble. "You can get me on the cell or at the house in Mexico if you need me. Don’t need me, you hear?"
"Got it." Paco grinned. "That tall blonde goin’ with you?"
Cort took a deep breath to smother his temper and ignored the question. "Spelling’s gonna call you in a day or so," he said. "He’ll have a package for me. I want you to pick it up and fly down to SD with it. I’ll meet you there."
Paco fished: "Sure, boss. Something important?"
"Important enough. And confidential, you hear me?"
His tone set Paco’s teeth on edge, and he wondered if Cort Davis would ever trust him, or anyone else. "Yeah, I hear you," he said sullenly. "I got it."
"Good enough. Call me before you leave for San Diego. And Paco?"
"Don’t fuck this up."
* * *
Sport was a good traveler. Mostly he lay on the backseat and slept as the miles ticked away, comfortable on padded leather in the air conditioned comfort of Cort’s Chevy Avalanche. Every hundred miles or so he’d get up and lay his snout on Blanche’s shoulder, the signal that he had to go. He was doing that now.
Cort looked across the seat and grinned. "He got to go again?"
Blanche nodded. "Looks that way." She reached up and caressed the dog’s ear. "Need to pee, boy?" Sport’s ears pricked up. He knew the word "pee" well enough.
"I swear that dog’s got a prostate problem," Cort cracked, but he started looking for a safe place to pull over. They were in the desert just outside of Yuma, Arizona, about to cross the border at San Luis. It might have been an easier drive to head southeast into LA, but Cort had a bad feeling about California. He kept to highway 95, planned to pick up the 2D across the border in Mexico. Might take a little longer, but hell, he figured, they had plenty of time.
There was a wide shoulder up ahead next to a little rise bordered by scrub and cactus. Good enough place for a dog to piss. He pulled over and while Blanche hooked the leash and led Sport off a ways, Cort got his bowl and the jug of water from the back of the truck. He poured out a little, set the bowl down on the hardpan, then decided to water the cactus himself. He pulled down his zipper as he walked toward Blanche and Sport, his lips stretched in a comic leer.
With a hand shading her eyes, she watched him come and couldn’t keep from smiling. The sight of him, broad-shouldered, so strong and confident, made her heart beat a little faster, her belly flip and tickle. It was still so new between them, Blanche thought, new enough to make her react like a kid. But it felt old, too. Comfortable, as if they’d been together a long time. Maybe that was a good sign.
His penis in hand, Cort stopped near...but not too near...a saguaro with lethal six inch spines and let go. Blanche watched him, oddly touched by this very intimate moment. He glanced her way and smiled, then concentrated on the task at hand. The leash drew taut, and she turned to see Sport lift his leg to imitate his new master.
"It’s pissing men," she said wryly, and laughed.
Cort tucked himself away and jerked his chin toward the dog. "You need to go, darlin’? I can take him back to the truck, give you a little privacy." His shaded eyes took in the empty road that stretched in the distance, visible for miles. "There’s nothing coming...you wouldn’t have to worry about somebody seeing you...uh, doing your business."
The need to urinate was a tiny nagging pressure in her belly, but Blanche looked around at the cactus and rocks that were perfect shelter for things that crawled. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flicker of movement near a clump of cholla and shook her head. "Next rest stop, honey. I can wait. I’m scared I’d back up on a snake or something."
He was about to offer to stay and chase them away, when he remembered his dream. The sidewinder ready to strike, the bird flying off with it clenched in its talons. That the image came back to him now seemed like a sign, and Cort didn’t like signs. He leaned in to kiss her, knowing the taste of her on his lips would banish the memory. Her mouth was slightly parted when he touched it with his, and he took in her breath. ‘Kiss of life...’ he thought, and thumbed a caress over her chin.
"Sure thing, Angel. Next rest stop it is."
He took the leash from her, tugged it gently. "Come on, old boy," he coaxed and Sport followed obediently. Cort took Blanche by the arm with his free hand, just like an old married man.
"Back in the truck, you two. It’s only a little ways to the Mexican border."