Ellen Dreyfuss drove the red Porsche, glancing now and then at the purple sky as it yielded the first evening stars. Her short, punk-black hair blew straight, and she spoke over the wind rushing passed the convertible.
“So why are you doing this, Jackson?” She turned and shone her quick intelligent eyes on me. “We both saw what happened in there. You delivered your goods and didn’t get another assignment. It sounded to me like they were going to take your Seven Dwarfs off your hands too. You’re in a holding pattern.”
“I didn’t hear you. There’s too much road noise.”
“Shit.” She gathered herself and tried again, louder this time. “All you’ve been doing is collecting chits. Tidbits. Krongartten’s operation is over.” As she saw it, I had been reduced to a courier. She glanced at me a moment as she drove. “You don’t have an answer, do you? You’re just kind of falling forward and thinking that you’ve got direction.”
I was surprised she didn’t say anything about my drinking. Gone was Ellen’s sassy southern accent. She sounded cold now. She had her Upper East Side personality going. Her cheeks had reddened. She was angry for some reason that I didn’t understand. We were two people discussing two different movies, and one was a cartoon. Was she joking? “Recruiting the Seven Dwarfs isn’t exactly aimless.”
“And now they’re gone.”
“Krongartten’s handing them over to Davidson. He practically spelled it out.”
I had no idea why she was reacting with such heat. We were partners. We had each other’s backs. Was she trying to provoke me?
“That isn’t what I heard in there,” I told her. “but I’ll give you the point. Where are you going with this? You think I’ve become a messenger boy?” I wondered if she had moved the chessboard around. “You think my curiosity is a naive impulse? Or maybe you think I should turn pro. Get some training.”
“If it’s curiosity that gets you hurt, isn’t once enough?”
“You’re talking about my concussion?”
“You know what I’m talking about.” She spoke loudly to be heard over the Porsche. She was referring to an ambush I witnessed in Iraq in 1991 where good men died and I was at fault.
“Everything’s curiosity for someone like me,” I told her. “It’s my prime mover. It’s who I am.”
“You got yourself beaten over the head today because of your curiosity.”
“I got ambushed doing my job.”
“You got insulted by Krongartten for curiosity.”
“I work for him. He was his usual nasty self.”
“You listened to those guys he was with split hairs — enemy, opponent, friend, third force. What is that?”
“It’s lubrication. They’re trying to make the parts fit. ”
I feared she would hyperventilate. “Stop it. You’re not doing this out of curiosity. You’re playing here. Pride goeth.”
I thought she understood what had happened to me. “Today screwed matters around.”
“And they’re blaming you.”
Suddenly I felt light. “Really? You think?” Had I been given an opening? If Ellen’s angle on the meeting told her that I was on the outs, then great. I’ve wanted out of this for some time.
“Don’t hold back,” I told her.
“You don’t get it.”
“I agree that these guys don’t think like us. That they’re only interested in outcomes. Everything’s stove piped. Live with it.”
“I think you should drop Davidson; he’s one of those guys. You should get far away, head for the mountains, head for the beaches. Take time to think. You need it. We all do.“
“I’ll think about it, but first Davidson.“
“I have the money. I can turn it into cash. There are ways for you to disappear, and you can always get back to me.”
And there it was. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“Maybe I’ve become a third wheel.”
I got a shot of those big red lips and wide smile. Her skirt had hiked from shifting. “If anything you’re the fifth wheel, Jackson. I’ve lost count. That doesn’t matter. It bothers you more than it does me.”
I tried to cut the tension by teasing her. “I lust after you.” It was no lie.
“You do get out of hand. You’ll just have to stay my hero.”
“No maternal urges? Ever?”
“You’ll be first in line Jackson, and no baster.”
“Baster babies. When they’re born are they considered basters or bastards?”
“This is what I’m talking about Jackson.”
I knew. I stopped. Time to get real. “Krongartten would be tough to shake.”
“I don’t think he cares.”
“I want to see Davidson.”
“What?” The engine backed down like an Indy race car. We were traveling at close to eighty, and she had pulled back into second gear.
“I have to see Davidson.”
She relented. “Me too.”
I needed to take another sounding, to look at my situation through Ellen’s eyes. Then it dawned on me that we might be walking into a trap, this chatter about Kestrel. I wanted to dismiss the idea, but my fears had already grown into a feeling, an actual sensation in my stomach, something like butterflies but more like churning gears. Everywhere I turn I see the links to disaster.
The added noise of an approaching auto with a tuned motor distracted me. I turned to look. A low-rider passed us and slowly checked Ellen out. A second pulled up the same way but rode parallel. I thought we were in for something, something more than machismo. Ellen didn’t like it either. She gunned her way past the two rock stars in their low rider taking third gear up to 110 miles-per-hour. When they chased, she shifted into second and took the next exit at 80 miles an hour and let them shoot past.
We looked at each other at the intersection. She was pale, and then she smiled.
“Don’t do that again,” I said.
She nodded and turned right taking us through a set of angles and dangles making certain she’d shaken her romancers. It took a moment before she sped up and turned back onto the ramp heading toward Albuquerque.
Maybe I was just making conversation, but I said, "Krongartten's an old man trying to get history off its knees."
"Nice phrase but you’re ignoring his fangs. And people are loyal to him. You don’t have to be. He doesn’t own you anymore. That’s what he was saying in there, back at the safe house.”
We sped along in silence, and I began to enjoy the race of the car running toward the setting sun. “I think the mountains would be better than the beach. If you’re high enough up, you know what’s around you. On a beach, in the flats, it can get busy and you never know who’s coming.”
“Are we clean?” she asked. She was talking about surveillance devices.
“There’s this car. Who knows?” Krongartten would have at least attached a tracking device to the Porsche. “And my gun.”
In the past, the big .45 caliber bullets loaded into the magazine of my 1911 were each traceable by surveillance devices. For a time that gave me comfort. I knew Krongartten had my back. Now there was a concern that having my back meant he was following me.
“Leave it at Davidson’s,” she said.
I laughed. It was a good idea. “No other tracking devices?” How far was I going take this?
“Batteries are out. You?”
“I’ve got a burn phone.”
“Throw it out. I’ll pull over onto the shoulder.” We didn’t speak until we were back on the road and roaring through gears. “I’ll get cash for you. No more credit cards.” For her it was a done deal.
“What about you?”
“I can say that I left you off at home. After that? Nada.”
“I could steal a car.”
“Something off the street.”
“Shopping malls. Ones with Target stores. Their lots are huge, crowded, and people forget where they’ve parked. I’d be gone before they knew what happened.”
“Maybe I’ll drop you there and do some shopping. Give you time to think.”
Since when did she shop at Target?
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