Angel and the Badman: Ready for Maybe
The breeze was on full blast and his apartment was cold enough to hang a side of beef, but Paco Benning was sweating bullets.
"She ain’t with him. The chick I saw ain’t the blonde." He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. His right hand gripped his cell so tightly his knuckles were white, and he swiped at the sweat beading his forehead with his trembling left. His voice was tinged with desperation as he spoke hoarsely into his phone: "Goddammit Rock, I don’t know where she is, man. I can’t help you."
"Can’t help me?" There was a pause as Rocky Chavez dragged from his cigarette, and then his voice came low and threatening, "Don’t give me that shit, you fuckin’ pussy. If she ain’t in Baja, she’s somewhere in Vegas. Where you are. Fuckin’ find her."
Fear roiled in his guts and Paco’s tanned face twisted into an expression remarkably like a petulant little boy’s. "For Christ’s sake, Rock…you know how many people there are in Vegas? If she don’t wanna be found, I ain’t gonna find her."
The seconds ticked by while Paco’s mind sent formless prayers heavenward to deliver him from evil. God wasn’t listening. Rocky Chavez said slow and clearly, "You better find her, Paco. Or I’ll fuckin’ find you, and I promise you won’t like it when I do. Remember Little Jose, chocho? That’ll be you."
His hand shaking, he closed his phone. Jesus, Little Jose. Paco thought of him everyday, couldn’t stop thinking of him. He’d been high up in the organization, a teniente, but he’d crossed the brotherhood, sold out to the cops and taken off for Mexico. His testimony had been enough to send some of the Mongol one percenters up for five to ten, but there were enough left on the outside to put together a posse. Back then he was fresh meat, didn’t have enough juice with the club to be trusted on his own, but he was Chachi Benning’s little brother. He was invited to go along, and caught up in the excitement, even the bloodlust, Paco had ridden with them as they tracked Little Jose all over the Southwest. For Paco, it had turned into one long unending party, riding all day, getting drunk and smashing up bars at night. Nothing but good times.
And then they found him in a cantina just outside of Nogales in Sonora, and things changed. Suddenly it was all business, deadly business. Back then Paco had been willing to fight, maybe even to kill, for los hermanos...the brothers. But what he saw that night sickened him, made him realize he’d never have the balls or the stomach for the life.
Little Jose had been burned alive. It was Rocky Chavez who tied him to the dead stump of palo verde out in the desert. Rocky who dropped a tire soaked in gasoline around his neck like a clown’s fluted collar while Jose screamed himself hoarse, knowing exactly what was coming. His face melted before Paco’s horrified eyes as those screams echoed in the black desert night. Black oily smoke rose, carrying the stink of burnt rubber and charred flesh on the night air. The stench and the sight horrified him and he’d staggered away to vomit until there was nothing left to come up but bitter acrid bile.
Paco rode home to LA afraid to fucking breathe. He was terrified of the men who had seemed so cool and tough just the day before. He was terrified of the police tracking and arresting them for Jose’s grisly murder. He hid out in his ratty apartment for a week, barely daring to open his door, afraid to sleep for the dreams that haunted him. And then he went to his brother, begging for release from his pledge to the gang. He couldn’t do it, he told Chachi. He couldn’t ever watch anything like Jose again, let alone participate. He wanted out.
It was Chachi who got him out of the club. Chachi, the strongest of the strong, who told the rest of their chapter to let him resign or else. Paco knew his brother had saved sanity, his life. So maybe he should honor Chachi’s death and take revenge on the woman who’d stolen from him, who’d been with the cops who shot him down.
An eye for an eye...
The Mongols believed in Biblical justice, but to Paco, it didn’t apply here. Blanche Donovan didn’t kill his brother. Fuck, his brother had killed himself, coming out of that room with a gun in his hand to face down a fucking SWAT team. Paco knew he had to have been high on meth or H...Chachi was reckless and pretty fucking brave, but he wouldn’t have done something so stupid in his right mind.
Besides, it wasn’t revenge the Mongols wanted. Cesar Bennelos, aka Chachi Benning, was history, dead and buried with full Mongol honors. It was their jack...the money his brother had tossed out the window. The half million the LAPD believed Blanche Donovan had stolen from the back yard of the house in Los Feliz. That kind of bread bought a shitload of Harley parts, not to mention the guns they used to maintain their reign of terror, and the drugs the gang consumed.
He stood and paced nervously, his mind ticking like an old alarm clock. If Donovan wasn’t in Baja with his boss, then she was probably still here. After that first night when he’d fucked up and lost her in the casino, Cort Davis had never mentioned her again. But he knew they’d had a thing, he’d seen all the signs of it in his boss. Paco had no idea where she lived, what she did for a living. But he knew where she hung out...the Café Biscotti, where Davis had first met her. He’d start there.
* * *
Dawn graying the sky, the curtains stirring the breeze, Sport asleep in his bed in the corner. Silent, Cort held Blanche tight in his arms, his voice dammed behind a wall of emotion. They’d talked all night, a torrent of words, but he was calm now. The rage had settled, he’d channeled it into energy to use for preparation. If the Mongols came for Blanche, they’d get more than they bargained for.
"I have a gun," she said suddenly. "It’s old, an antique, really. A Colt .45. I bought it at gunsmith’s in LA while I was still with the LAPD, but it was never registered."
He lifted his head and looked at her, astonished. "You smuggled a hot pistola across the border? Sweet Jesus, you got nerve, darlin’."
A smile ghosted across her face, briefly erasing the lines of worry in her forehead. "It was in my purse the whole time." She shrugged, grinned wanly and rose up on an elbow. "You know cops...we feel naked unless we’re armed. It takes special ammo, but the Colt still works. I couldn’t get off enough shots with it to stop a guy with an automatic, though. And these guys will have an arsenal, Cort."
He pulled her head back down to her shoulder. "I got an arsenal here, Angel," he said coolly. "More than enough, you can take your pick. There’s a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber that’s close to the standard police issue model locked up downstairs. You’d probably feel better packing that."
Suddenly she laughed, the deep belly laugh of the truly amused, or the verging on hysterical.
"What’s so damn funny, Angel?" Cort bristled.
"Well, think about it," Blanche told him, wiping her eyes. "Here we are lying naked in bed on a quiet peaceful morning. The sun’s coming up, the breeze is freshening, I can smell Malena’s cinnamon coffee...and we’re talking about guns. I mean, doesn’t it strike you as ludicrous?"
His lips twisted into a lazy smile, relieved that she was taking it all in stride. No coward, his Angel. "Yeah, I reckon it is. It’s a damn serious business though, darlin’. Don’t lose sight of that."
She shook her head. "Of course I won’t." She lay back on the pillow, her fingers plucking at the sheet. "You have a plan or something? I mean, are we just going to wait for them to come?"
"As long as your sister’s here, there ain’t a thing we can do, Angel. Can’t risk her getting hurt, don’t want her involved. I reckon we’re safe enough in Mexico, at least for a week or so."
During their discussion the night before, Blanche had decided only one thing for sure. Maureen wasn’t to be told anything. She insisted...no, demanded...that her sister be kept completely in the dark. Cort saw her point, but because of it, he couldn’t take more elaborate precautions. He felt safe enough, though, for now. The Mongols were dangerous, but they were stupid too. Unprofessional. A loosely organized gang, no real leadership, no training. All they had on their side was the ability to terrorize their victims. And neither he nor Blanche scared easy.
"We’ll be all right," he said aloud. "Stick close to the house, go no farther than the beach. There’s the alarm system, the cameras. The fucking wall. And if they come on bikes, we’ll hear them long before we see them. No surprises, right darlin’?"
"No surprises. But there is one thing I want to do, Cort."
His eyebrow rose. "What’s that, honey?"
"A little target practice. It’s been two years since I used a weapon. I’m rusty, and that’s a bad thing to be right now. We can tell Mo it’s something we do all the time. She knows I used to visit the range all the time back in LA. We’ll say it’s a hobby or something."
He nodded, thought of the Colt .45 she’d hidden in her purse. The idea of firing a sixshooter again made his mouth water. "So long as you bring that old Colt along," Cort grinned. "Been a long time since I’ve seen one."
* * *
Maureen slept late...the jet lag and a long day had done her in, Cort reckoned. It was only eight o’clock when he and Blanche locked Sport in the bedroom and went down to the beach, the guns...the Smith & Wesson, Blanche’s antique Colt, a 9 mm. Glock, and a nickel plated .357 Mag he’d picked up in San Francisco a couple of years ago tucked into a canvas bag. An unregistered piece, he’d smuggled the Mag across the border soon after he acquired it, had kept it there. He liked the way it fit in his hand, the shape of the grips, the length of the barrel. It was close in heft and weight to the old Schofields he’d favored once upon a time. But it wasn’t the real thing, and he couldn’t wait to try out the Colt.
The beach was deserted, as usual. Cort set the bag on a flat-topped rock and began loading the Smith & Wesson for Blanche to try, but she took it away from him.
"I’ll do it myself. You know yourself it’s part of the practice...I have to be familiar with the works."
He nodded. She was right. In certain occupations, a gun was your best friend. He took the Colt, emptied the cylinder. Blanche knew what she was doing, there were only five beans in the wheel, the hammer on the empty chamber. Examining the revolver, he saw it was in damn good condition for a firearm over a hundred and twenty years old. A model 1876 single action, it was chambered to accommodate the Winchester ’73 rifle, thus the .45-40 ammo. She’d brought a box of black powder cartridges, similar to the ones used back in the day. The Colt couldn’t handle today’s bullets, the more powerful powder would have blown the cylinder...and likely the shooter’s hand...clean apart.
He reloaded, sighted down the barrel. Christ, it felt good in his hand, like it fit there, like it had been made for him. Showing off, he spun it in his hand, the trigger guard wheeling across his fingers.
Blanche stopped checking the S & W, looked at him. "Where’d you learn to do that?"
"What, this?" Cort twirled the gun again, gave her a show. "Nowhere...just practiced. Used to have days when there was nothing much else to do."
"Uh huh." She narrowed her eyes, showed him she didn’t buy it for a minute. "So what kind of a shot are you, bad ass? Think you can outshoot an ex-cop with a couple of silver medals to her name?"
The corners of Cort’s eyes crinkled into sun wrinkles as he smiled, amused. "Medals, huh? Silver...that’s what? Second place? You must be damn good, darlin’."
"Good enough," Blanche replied smugly. She was proud of her marksmanship, was pretty sure it was one area where she could beat him.
He raised his arm, sighted down the beach. The Colt wasn’t a long range firearm, it was dependably accurate at maybe fifty yards, so he chose a target closer. "See that pile of driftwood?" He pointed, she followed with her eyes. "There’s a single branch poking up in the air."
"I see it."
"Say we both shoot for that. First one hits it, wins."
Blanche squinted, extended her arm in the classic police pose, hand over hand. "Ladies first?"
Cort stepped back. "Be my guest, Angel."
She sighted, pulled the trigger. The report of the gun sounded over the crash of the waves, and a chunk of the driftwood below the upthrust branch splintered and flew.
"Nice shootin’," Cort said laconically. "You’re pretty good."
Blanche dropped her arm and pointed the muzzle at the ground. "Thanks. Let’s see what you can do, dead eye."
He didn’t move to square up in line with the target. His body seemed to tense infinitesimally, but Blanche didn’t see him move at all, other than his right arm blurring up from his side. She caught the flash of powder at the muzzle, and her eyes tracked the explosion of splinters from the end of the branch. Her mouth fell open as Cort crouched and fanned off four more shots, hitting the target each time until the striking bullets had whittled the branch down to a stump. He twirled the Colt, made it dance in his palm, a nice bit of fancy gunplay before he pretended to slide it into a non-existent holster at his hip.
She turned her head and met his grin. "I’ll be damned," she said. "You’re a trick-shooter."
Was it a trick to be fast enough to get the drop on anyone who drew on him? He’d never thought so, to him it was a skill. A life-preserving skill that he’d developed to stay alive and breathing. Cort said nothing, just shrugged.
"Were you in a show or something?" she asked, thinking of the TV westerns she’d watched as a child. He had the look, the attitude of a man from long ago. ‘Better than Clint Eastwood in his prime,’ she thought.
"A show? Jesus, Angel..." He threw back his head and laughed. "I practiced, is all. Got good at it." His eyes darkened as the thought occurred, ‘Too damn good...’
Her eyes went back to the driftwood. "Well, you’re better than I am, that’s for sure. And I thought I was going to beat the pants off you."
"Don’t go saying things that make my mind wander, darlin’," he teased. "What say you take more than one shot with that one," he nodded to the Smith & Wesson, then try out the others till we find the gun you like best."
She nodded, assumed her firing stance. "Stay back now. I’m going to blow that hunk of wood to kingdom come."
* * *
He’d hung around the Café Biscotti until he overheard a conversation between two customers, a man and a woman who smelled like cops, mentioning Blanche and Henderson. He wondered at his luck, didn’t question it. He made a phone call to the right person, and presto...he had her address.
The house looked just built, but there was lots of new construction going on in the suburbs of Las Vegas. Paco got out of his Dodge Viper and walked bold as brass up to the front door. He pressed the button, waited. And waited. Nothing.
He wondered if she was in there, looking out the peephole at him and laughing. Pissed at Rocky Chavez, at Cort Davis, and most of all at her, he pounded heavily on the door. It felt good to see the solid oak shudder under his fist, so he pounded harder. His back was to the street and he didn’t see the black and white prowler slow down. But when the car door slammed, he turned and swore as two Henderson cops came up the walk.
"You have business here, sir?" The twenty-something kid with the buzzcut and the attitude adjusted his shades and cocked his head impudently as he waited for an answer.
"I uh...." Nervous, Paco cursed himself for sounding hesitant and stupid. "I’m just checking on a friend," he explained quickly. "It’s been awhile since I saw her and I wondered if she was okay. She lives alone. You never can tell these days, you know?" He tried a conciliatory smile that didn’t go over. "Fuckin’ bad guys are everywhere."
"What’s your friend’s name?" Buzzcut asked, his tone cool.
"Blanche. Blanche Donovan. My boss used to see her...they were a hot item for a while. He still likes her, likes to keep tabs on her, make sure she’s okay." Paco grinned. "She was kind of a wildcat...got into hot water sometimes."
The other cop, the quiet one, checked his notes and nodded at his partner. "That’s who lives here. Blanche Donovan."
"Who’s this boss of yours?" The young cop wasn’t about to be deterred by one correct answer. The man standing in front of the door was the type he liked to roust...seedy sharp, about ten years out of step. He looked like a mob hustler...decked out in black jeans and leather in the Vegas heat, he was asking to be busted.
Paco hid a grin, knowing he had the little prick now. Cort Davis had connections in the Metro PD. If they made their call, these two rookie shitheads would be ordered to lay off.
"His name’s Cortland Davis. Runs a construction company in Vegas. All this is on the up and up, man. I’m just checking for a friend. He’s worried about her, is all. Call the Metro PD if you don’t believe me...they’ll tell you."
"Don’t think I won’t, pal."
Paco shrugged. "Fine with me, officer." He put on his best yuppie voice. "I’d appreciate it, actually. So would my boss. Be a relief to know she’s okay."
Buzzcut went to the prowler and used the radio. It was a while before he came back, but when he did, his attitude had changed. "Metro says the lady is away. A neighbor saw her leave with a man in a black Chevy Avalanche about five days ago. Even had her dog with her. Guess she took a trip."
A black Avalanche...son of a bitch. Paco’s lips stretched thin in a forced smile under his drooping mustache. "Well, there you go then. I guess my boss don’t have to worry about her anymore. Sounds like she’s hooked up with somebody new."
"Sounds like it. You mind leaving the premises before we do sir? We’re going to run a quick check on things."
"No problem. Thanks, officer. I appreciate your help," Paco said, and gave Buzz an insolent wink. "See you around, man."
He was careful to keep to the speed limit on his way out of Henderson, didn’t open up the Viper until he’d reached the highway. This time his smile was real. Looked like Cort Davis had two chicks down in Baja with him, and if that was the case, he wasn’t serious about either of them. He was getting his rocks off, nothing more.
For a minute Paco was distracted by images of two women in bed with his boss. Lucky bastard...two hot chicks, both of them naked, doing fuck only knew what to him. His dick throbbed in his jeans, stretched itself against tight denim. Paco rubbed his crotch absently until he needed his hand for the gear shift.
So what should he do? He thought, navigating the straight flat road instinctively. Call Rock and give him the word, tell him Donovan really was down in Baja? But what if it was a mistake, or what if they’d left Mexico already? Rock was ready to kill him now, he couldn’t fuck up again. He looked at his watch...one o’clock. He could haul ass for Baja now, make it there in eight hours or even less. The Viper could do 100 easy, shave time off the trip on the long stretches out in the desert. He’d spy out the scene, see if the blonde was there with Davis and the other broad, call Rock once he was sure. And then he’d beat ass back to Vegas, be there in the office tomorrow morning when what’s her name came in. Perfect alibi.
Paco slid off the exit onto the 15, floored the gas. He kept the Viper at a steady 95 all the way across the desert until he ran into the LA rush hour traffic, but he didn’t sweat it. He was making good time. Mexico was only two hours away, he’d be there by dark.
* * *
"She doesn’t want lunch. I think she’s coming down with something." A worried Blanche came down from Maureen’s room, a frown creasing her forehead.
The more he heard about Maureen Donovan, the more Cort believed she was an uppity spoiled brat. Had Blanche wrapped around her finger to boot. The last goddamn thing she needed now was to fret about her sister. But he hid his sour thoughts and said easily, "I doubt it, darlin’. It’s just the jet lag, maybe even exhaustion after a hard year at school. She didn’t seem sick yesterday."
"Maybe..." Blanche said consideringly.
Cort swung her into his arms. "She’s a big girl, Angel. She ain’t gonna lay down and die if she gets a cold."
"I know, I know. I wanted her to have a good time this week, though. And it’s all gone bad."
"Darlin’, it ain’t gone bad yet. Maybe it won’t. When I was a boy, my mother told me something once that stuck with me all through the years. I was worried about something or other, can’t even remember what now. But Ma told me, ‘Son, get ready for the maybe, and then forget it.’ Said it was all a body could do anyhow."
Blanche laid her head on his chest. "Sounds like good advice. Wish she would have told you how to manage it."
"We’re ready, Angel. I had a talk with Tomas, told him some of it. He’ll keep his eyes open. And I hired a couple of guys from his village...his relatives...to help keep watch. They’ll be here tomorrow. We’ll post them far enough out, give them cell phones. They’ll let us know if someone’s coming."
"I hate to get all these innocent people involved, Cort."
"So do I, but it’s necessary. I ain’t got eyes in the back of my head. And as soon as your sister goes back, we’ll finish this. Go back to the States, get the law involved if we have to, give that Bud White a real case to chew on."
"Maybe we should get the law on it now."
"Are you loco? You know damn well the Mex police are crooked as a duck’s ass. We tell them what’s coming, they’ll sell us out in a heartbeat. Forget it."
"You’re right," Blanche agreed, nodding against his shirt. "I should have known better. Well then." She lifted her head. "Maybe Mo doesn’t want anything to eat, but I do. You ready for some of Malena’s good cooking? It’s better than anything you’ll ever get out of me."
He hadn’t felt like eating since he learned of the Mongol’s vendetta, but he’d make a show of it. And maybe afterward, he’d take her back to bed. Love her slow and easy to make up for last night. Have a nap in the afternoon so he’d be fresh for tonight. He intended to stay up and keep watch.
"Not better than anything, darlin’. You got your talents." Cort let her step away but kept an arm across her shoulders as they moved toward the patio where Malena had set the table. "Come on then. Let’s fill up that little belly, and then I’ll fill up something else a little ways south of it." He gave her a wicked leer.
She started, looked up at him. There was something in his tone that made her wonder, but his face was innocent, as innocent as a man’s face could be when he was thinking of taking his woman to bed.
‘No,’ she thought, ‘he doesn’t suspect. Doesn’t have a clue. We haven’t spent enough time together for him to be familiar with my cycle.’ Silently, she cursed the Mongols again. She needed to get to town and find a store where they sold pregnancy tests. Blanche told herself that her missed period was nothing. It happened sometimes, to everyone. No reason to worry.
Only thing was, it had never happened to her. Until Cort and his loving. His powerful loving, and the desperate I need to get at you now recklessness that kept them from using a condom most of the time.
Unconsciously, she laid a hand across her belly and let him guide her out to the patio, where the suddenly nauseating smell of bacon and peppers made her stomach heave.
‘Oh oh,’ thought Blanche, but her mind rejoiced and the angels sang. It was a bad time to be pregnant, but she couldn’t help but be glad. She had a feeling he would be too, once she told him.
But not yet.