Friday, May 16, 2014

San Diego Caper - Part VI

San Diego Caper - Part VI

     We walked through the hotel and out onto the boardwalk. It was a gorgeous day, bright blue sky with a few white clouds. The boardwalk was alive with people. Some were riding bikes and others on rollerskates; most were just walking. It was a day that you felt great to be alive. 
     We walked out a few paces from the sidewalk onto the beach, scanning the sky.
     “Where are the kites?” asked Hank.
     “I don’t know,” I said. “Some kite festival, not a kite in the sky.”
     “Must be the national convention,” I replied.
     “Yeah, they’re probably having their business meeting,” Hank said.
     Then we heard a voice, high-pitched, and half yelling at us, say.
     “Kites?  Are you looking for the kites?”
     We turned to see an old lady sitting on a bench. She wore sunglasses that had a rainbow colored swirl on each lens, and she held a large orange canvas bag in her lap, which didn’t match her baggy bright green dress that appeared to have a white prehistoric fern pattern on it. On her feet were pink running shoes and with white ankle socks.
      She sat on the bench, clutching her large canvas purse, and looked straight ahead. She sat there stoically. I wasn’t sure if she or some disembodied voice had just spoken.
      “Excuse me?” I said. 
      “Are you looking for the kites?” she asked.
      “Yes. Yes, we are,” responded Hank.
       “They were here yesterday.”
       A man was approaching the bench. He was slightly bent at the waist. He moved slowly. He wore a faded blue sweater, wrinkled tan pants, and a white polo shirt. He sat down next to the woman, and said. “They weren’t very good.”
      The woman nodded.
      “What do you mean?” I asked.
      “Well,” said the man shakily taking his fore finger to brush the bottom of his nose where a little bit of moisture had formed, “they didn’t fly very well.”
       “Looping and diving,” said the woman.
       “That’s right,” said the man. “Even with two strings on either side of the kite they couldn’t stop them.”
        “Two?” said the woman, as she fished in her purse and brought out a sandwich in a plastic bag and handed it to the man, who began to take it out of the bag. “Some of those kites had four lines!”
       “And they still couldn’t control them,” said the man, who then took a bite of his sandwich.
       “They needed more tail,” said the woman.
       The old man nodded, his mouth full. There were crumbs of bread spilling out onto his lips and into his lap. “More tail.” He nodded as a cascade of crumbs came out of his mouth.
       “You would have thought they would have known,” I said.
       “Yeah,” said the man.
       “The kites were beautiful,” said the woman. “But they couldn’t control them. Except for those big bags that looked like fish.”
        The man nodded. “Those were real kites. Stayed in one place like a rock in the sky. They even had another kite on the same, line way up high. Never seen one like that. It was square.”
        The woman nodded, “Square kites and bag kites that looked like fish, who would have thought? We used to buy a kite for a nickel. Dad put them together, and we’d go to the school yard and fly them.”
        “Lots of tail,” the man said, “that’s what they needed. We’d put them out so far you could hardly see them. Had to send my little cousin to the store three times to get more string.”
        The woman nodded. “They don’t make them like that anymore.”


Thursday, May 15, 2014

The San Diego Caper - Part V

Part V - The San Diego Caper

     He stood on a hill 75 yards away. He wore a tan leather jacket with fringe and cradled a shotgun in the crook of his arm. He was a stump of a man. His white gray stringy hair ducked out from his greasy baseball cap that had a logo on the front with big lettering saying “Freedom First.”
     He looked at us, and yelled, “Now hold it right there.”
     Hank kept walking right at him.
     “I told you to hold it right there. You understand? Speaka da English?”
     “Yeah, I heard you,” said Hank. “Of course, I speak English.”
     “Well then stop where you are and state your business.”
     Hank kept walking and drew out his wallet. He flipped it open and held up the side that had his Sheriff’s badge prominently displayed. “Hank R. Murphy, Sheriff, and this is my associate Mr. Bryce Holliwell. We’ve been on deep undercover assignment in Mexico when we got discovered. We must get to San Diego immediately.”
     “I’ll do be doing the questioning,” said the man.
      Sheriff? I was thinking. Here we go.
      “Well, that’s fine sir, go right ahead and do all the questioning you want. By the way can that weapon of yours shoot down a Hell Fire missle launched from a drone cruising at twelve thousand feet?”
      “Course not,” said the man. “Why?”
      “Well, I don’t want to alarm you but as you can see from the condition of our most recent mode of transportation.”
      “And escape,” I added.
      “Yes, and escape,” Hank continued. “Then I, as Sheriff of Conestoga County, and as his attorney...” He jerked a thumb in my direction and I nodded. “Recommend that we take cover immediately. Do you have transportation readily available? We only have a few minutes before  - you know.”
      “You know,” I said, crossing my arms and nodding sagely.
      “I don’t know what you boys are talkin’ about. But you don’t look like no drug smugglin’ mules to me.”
      “Well shucks, we ain’t,” exclaimed Hank.
      I was afraid Hank was going to start doing his Dukes of Hazard impression. He has a way of imitating the accent and manner of speech of whomever he is around. I don’t know which is worse his fake hillbilly or his fake erudite scholar. Seemed like he was going for hillbilly Libertarian gun tottin’ Tea Partier. I hoped I could keep a straight face. The best way for me to do this I decided was to pile on to whatever he was saying and see how thick I could layer it without getting caught.
      “No sir, we ain’t that. As a matter of fact, we are undercover agents trackin’ them kind,” I heard myself saying. I wondered where I was going with this and where it would end.
      “Yes that’s right we be undercover U.S. guvment agents,” said Hank. “We gotta get out of here right quick. You hear me?”
      The man stared. “Undercover huh? Mule trackers.”
      We nodded.
      “Almost got caught though?” he asked.
     We nodded again.
      “Look, they got a lot of fire power chasing us and I’m afraid we don’t - unless you got something bigger than that,“ I said pointing at his double barreled shotgun.
      Hank looked up in the air and said, “they don’t have a bead on us yet. Did you see that glint?”
      The man looked up in the sky, “No, I didn’t.”
      “Drones,” said Hank. “Tomahawk model sevens with mini-Hellfire Vulcan 6Bs. Deadly. Hopefully, we’ll be out of here before they get their bearings.”
       “We’ve got to get to San Diego immediately,” I said.
       “San Diego? Well, I don’t know.” said the man.
       “Either you take us their or we’ll have to make an emergency acquisition of your transportation. Which is?”
       “Ford - pick up. They make ‘em like that no more.”
       “Damn shame,” said Hank. “Come on, time’s a wastin’ We gotta move.” 
       He walked right by the man and headed for the dusty blue truck parked at the edge of the highway near where the man was standing. I wasn’t sure if the man was going to shoot Hank in the back or not. I thought I could hear two banjoes playing a fast and furious breakdown. I expected a Dodge Charger to come surging up over a hill at any moment.
       “Hey,” the man said as he began to nearly run to catch up to Hank. 
       “Naturally, the office will cover all your expenses, and if we’re lucky I can get you an accommodation,” said Hank. 
       “All expenses? You mean like a meal and gas?”
       “That’s right Pardner, you just go to the local FBI office and tell ‘em Sheriff Murphy sent you. I’ve got carte blanche,” said Hank, “Let’s saddle up and get going before them drones find us.”
        The guy looked up at the sky.
        “You’ll never see it coming,” I said.
        “Until it’s too late,” said Hank, “Come on now. Vamos!”
        The old man lowered his gun and headed for the rust bucket he called a truck. It took him a while to even get it going and once he did we headed out at about thirty miles an hour.
       After a mile Hank yelled, “Stop.” The guy put both feet on the brake pedal, not that it did much good. The brakes were so mushy that the thing rolled and slid to a gentle landing. 
      “What’s wrong?” asked the old man.
      “I think it’s your carburetor,” said Hank. “Lemme check it. Pop the hood, keep the thing running.”
       Hank got out and looked under the hood. I heard the engine race. He looked around the hood at the windshield and yelled, “You better come here.”
       The guy got out and Hank was motioning for him to grab the throttle and goose it a few times. The engine roared. Hank came back to the driver’s seat and got behind the wheel. “Man we’ll never get there if he drives,” he said. Then he yelled out the window, “See what I mean?” 
      The fellow shook his head.
       “Okay, never mind,” Hank yelled, “Get in.” He began to move the car forward and the man twisted away from the truck. We went forward about fifty feet. The fellow was running after us cursing and screaming. 
       “Close the hood please,” Hank said to me. I jumped out and slammed the hood down and jumped back in the truck. Hank slammed the thing in reverse and passed by the fellow, almost hitting him. It spun the old guy around several times. Then Hank pulled up beside the fellow, leaving the old guy on the passenger side. 
       “Roll down the window please Bryce. Let’s see why he’s so excited.”
       “You sons of a ...”
        “Hold on, sir. I’ve got to get to San Diego pronto. Are you coming or are you going to stand there jawin’ at me?”
        I opened the door. “Better get in and hold on,” I said.
        He climbed up and was hardly in the cab when Hank floored the truck.
        “Whoa!” cried the fellow. I held on to him.
         Hank did a little wiggle in the middle of the road and the door slammed shut.
         “Please be quiet,” Hank said. “It’s best if I concentrate on my driving.”

        I don’t think the old fellow knew what to do or what to make of us. He sat bolt up right, grabbing whatever he could. I do believe he was going through his list of things he had wished he had taken care of in his life before this morning.
        There weren’t many vehicles on the road and that was probably a good thing for the old fellow’s heart, because Hank has a belief that when you are going considerably faster than the surrounding traffic they are, for all intent and purposes, standing still. A view he shared with us when he got the truck up to over ninety. At that speed the wind was rattling the bumpers. Whatever straw and dirt that might have been in the bed of the truck had left or was sucked into a corner. We came upon a convoy of several trucks with some cars nestled in between. Hank never hesitated and began to pass them all. It was at that moment that over a rise another truck appeared, coming straight for us. I tensed. The old guy started screaming, “Holy Jesus! Mary and Joseph!”
      Hank cut the wheel and we nosed in behind a truck. We were so close you could see the rivets in the sheet metal of the truck’s rear doors. We popped out on the other side, running on the shoulder, We heard the truck’s horn in the other direction go from high pitch to low, as it zoomed by the truck we were passing on the shoulder. Once we were clear, Hank cut back to the passing side of the road only to meet another truck and have to duck back again. By now the old fellow had closed his eyes and was just screaming. Hank never took his foot off the gas. 
     “See no problem,” Hank said. As if to demonstrate the techniques he had just been describing. Before we left the last truck, the one leading the pack, Hank decided it was a good time to demonstrate slipstreaming. He pulled up to within a few inches of the back of the lead truck. He gunned the engine while pulling up on the emergency brake. He pulled up just enough to slow the forward motion of the car a bit while the engine raced. He released the brake as he cut the wheel to one side and the truck lurched out to pass. 
      “See how that’s done. Nothing to it,” said Hank.
       The old guy’s eyes were bulging. He was catatonic. His eyes were red and and moist. I think he was saying good-bye. Good-bye to life, to his sweet old truck, to everything. 
       As we got close to the beach Hank said, “Haven’t seen any drones. But we gotta be careful. Tell you what. I’m going to pull into this hotel garage, where they can’t follow us. You take over and go out the other side.”
       “Me?” said the old guy startled.
       “Yeah, you. Get ready.” He cut the wheel hard and careened into an double decker parking lot. Slammed on the brakes and jumped out. I followed him. 
       “Quick,” said Hank, “Go out there so the drones won’t know anyone got out. We’ll be in touch. Go to the FBI office. Tell ‘em Sheriff Murphy sent you. Now vamos!” 
        Hank ran for the hotel door and I followed. We heard the truck pull away.
        Once inside the coolness of the hallway we slowed to a walk.
       “Who was he?” I asked.
       “Don’t know,” said Hank.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Part IV - The San Diego Caper

Part IV - The San Diego Caper   

     I’m sure there are more terrifying words than Hank saying, “I know a shortcut,” when we are going to no doubt be chased by a motorcycle assassin team and probably a few pickup trucks full of pissed off hombres. But the thought of waiting a few hours on the Mexican side of the border didn’t leave me with any good ideas. The whale of a Cadillac was rocking and rumbling down little dusty streets. Hank was turning the wheel furiously one way and then the other. 
     “I’ll try to lose them,” he said.
      I wedged myself into the front seat by pushing down on the floorboards and up on the roof. I apparently pushed a bit too hard as I felt the floorboard under my right foot give way and I could now see the road streaming past through the small openings of faded stringy carpet and rusted floorboard. I moved my left foot to prop itself agains the bump running down the center of the car.
     “Would you mind grabbing that cinder block out of the back?” Hank asked casually.
     I looked over the front bench seat. There on the floor was a three hole cement cinder block. 
     “Where did that come from?” I asked.
     “Oh I requisitioned it from the front of that cantina we were in. I thought it might come in handy.”
     “Really?” I said as I dove halfway over the seat to reach the block. I pulled it up and over the seat. It was then that I saw a motorcycle speeding toward us down the road.
     “I think we have company,” I said.
     Hank glanced in the mirror, “Uh huh. Looks like it. We’re almost there. Say, would you mind placing that block down here on the floor next to the gas pedal. We may have to make a quick exit and let the car go ahead on its own. I’m sorry we don’t have a better form of cruise control.”
     Hank cut the wheel down an alley and then turned on the street running parallel to the one we were just on.
     “Hey your heading back in the direction we just came!”
     “Yeah, that ought to confuse them. Be ready to open your door in case they jump over here a few blocks early.”
     We were running parallel to a large cement wall.
     “What’s that?” I asked.
     “The border,” said Hank.
     The road and the fence diverged.
     “Hey we’re getting farther away from the wall,” I said. It was obvious and a stupid thing to say, but when you’re stressed I’ve found; you say stupid things.
     I saw the motorcycle pop out from one of the side streets, hesitate and then head for us. “Here they come again,” I said.
     “Yup,” said Hank. “I think I see an opening.”
     The road and the fence were now a quarter of a mile apart and the gap was growing wider. The motorcycle was advancing rapidly and I saw the young man from the bar on the back lowering his revolver.
     “He’s getting ready to shoot,” I said. 
     Hank yanked the car to one side. It careened wildly and the tires squealed. “That should calm him down until he gets closer,” said Hank.
     Sure enough, the shooter had sat back down and the motorcycle was closing.
     “Here we go,” said Hank. He jerked the car off the road onto hard pack. Cacti, flew by, we were leaving a trail of dust. The car bounded up and down.
     “Crappy shocks, need struts,” said Hank. the car was heaving up and down, front to back. “Stay low, Bryce man.” Hank was steering by looking through the space between the steering wheel and the dashboard, when he looked at all. Most of the time he stayed hunched down below the seat, which was a good thing as a burst of bullets came through the top half of the car. The glass shattered into many little chunks and rained down on us.
     “Get ready with the block, I don’t know if we’ll need it or not. Sit up! Brace yourself!”
     I swiveled from where I had been huddled and shot my legs straight out and stretched my arms out to try and keep myself in one place. Before us two maybe three hundred yards away was the cement fence. There was a small gap between two sections. Could the car fit through there? I wondered.
     The more immediate problem was the flatland we had been traveling on was ending and there was a gulf, a dry riverbed that was in front of us. The car careened over the edge. The weight of the engine caused the car to go nose first toward the ground. At that moment the motorcycle went flying by Hank’s window. The driver and rider were hanging on for all they were worth. Hank opened his door but was too late to hit them. He braced himself for the impact of our landing. The engine had revved until he took his foot off the gas. The car burrowed into the side of the riverbed and then emerged in a cloud of dust. It was so dusty I couldn’t see a thing. Hank had his foot holding his door open. I heard a thud.
     “Got ‘em,” said Hank. He floored the car and it lumbered across the dry riverbed. I looked out the back of the car and saw the driver of the cycle sprawled face down. The shooter was crouched trying to line up a shot. 
     “He’s shooting again.”
     “Keep low and put that block on the gas. Jump on my signal.”
     Bullets pierced the roof. I got down on the floor and moved the block next to Hank’s foot.
     “Ready for the switch?” he asked. 
     “Ready,” I said.
     “On my signal, put that bad boy on the gas and hit the door, dump and roll. Then run.”
      “10 4.”
      “3 2 1, now!”
       Hank moved his foot and I crammed the cinderblock into place. I moved for my door. We had slowed considerably as we came up the far side of the riverbed. The Caddie was churning up dust and dirt. It’s big engine struggling with the incline. I could hear the front wrist pins grinding as the oil ran to the back of the engine. The car had slowed to twenty miles an hour. The cement wall rose up before us. There was a slight gap between its massive sections but then I noticed that the gap had a chain link fence and a giant yellow metal post blocking the way. 
     There had been a momentary hesitation in the engine’s revving between the moment Hank took his foot off the gas and I got the block in place. It was as if the old whale took a gulp before roaring upward. It was in that time that I leapt from the car and noticed the gap in the fence, and the pole. 
     I hit the ground and rolled. Finally, I got my footing and held on to the ground. I sensed our buddy, the assassin, still had it in for us. It was at that moment that the Caddie hit the chain link fence with its right bumper as the left began to climb the cement wall. Astonishingly, she kept grinding right up the cement face until the car was nearly vertical. At that moment the rear wheels came off the ground, and spun free. 
      It was a majestic sight, if only for a moment. The car seemed to halt all motion as it reached the zenith of its climb, like a whale when they leap part way out of the water to have a look around (“spyglassing” is what the whale watchers call it.) For that moment, the car, the shooter, Hank, I, and the world came to that split second when time was meaningless because nothing moved. The world and time halted as the Caddie made her last dying gasp in one magnificent pirouette. It had climbed the sturdy cement wall with its left side and had ripped the chain link fence out of the ground with its right. It held the fence in the maw of its grillwork as it spun on its back rear right corner of its bumper. The car spun into the gap, exposing its underbelly of rusty pipe, muffler, and undercarriage. It was beginning to fall when the cement wall on the other side of the gap caught its roof. The car had begun to slide backwards but now the downward force was translated into a sideways movement that began the car’s tumbling side over side down the embankment from which it had just climbed. 
      I had to run crabwalking as fast as I could to avoid the rolling car with the chain link fence wrapped in its grill. The car rolled past me and I could feel the air being whipped as the chain link fence twisted past. With each roll the fence hit the ground making a loud Whump sound. Clutching the ground, because the ravine was so steep I looked over my shoulder to see the shooter at the bottom of the slope. He had been taking aim at me but then he saw the car rolling toward him, his eyes got big - really big - and he ran to avoid the twisting metal, but he wasn’t quite fast enough. A tendril of chain link fence reached out and ensnared his waist, picking him up with ease and tossing him, like a wind swept tornado, into the air and casting him onto the dust dirt beyond.
     All was calm. The car lay on its roof gasping its last. The engine still running. The wheels turning. The engine belched and a cloud of black smoke came out from under the hood, followed by white. It had surrendered to its fate. The shooter lay on the ground, He wasn't moving.
     “I don’t think we should stay here admiring the view,” yelled Hank from some hundred and fifty feet away. “I, as your attorney, would advise you to head with all due speed to the opening I have created for you to the U S of A.”
     With that we crawled and pulled ourselves up to the opening and rolled through, happy to be alive.
     It was then that we saw the man with the shotgun.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Part III - The San Diego Caper

Part III - The San Diego Caper    

 I decided I needed a break from all this. I needed a chance to clear my head, to make sense of it. I felt I was in a cheap Mexican spaghetti Western. I sensed danger, but I didn’t know from where exactly.
     “I gotta pee,” I said to Hank, and got up and went to the back where the sign for Banos was. 
     The door opened onto a small dirty hallway with a mop in bucket that was so dry I was surprised it hadn’t self ignited. There was a set of metal shelving holding extra cleaning supplies and candles for the tables. There were two doors: one had a picture of a bull fighter, the other a picture of a lady dressed in Flamenco attire. I went in the bull fighter door. The room was filthy with green film in the corners and black grim. There was a three part horizontal window whose middle section was tilted open into the room. There was a rusted screen and bars on the window. The bars were in a frame held in place by rusty screws. Everything seemed to have dissolved and oxidized into place over years of neglect and disinterest.
     When I came out Hank was standing by our table. There was a cheap leather briefcase on the table. It was open and four rectangular bags of white powder, wrapped in clear plastic filled the case. Three men stood looking at Hank. The one in the center was thin and sported a pencil thin mustache, and wore a slightly soiled white linen suit. If ever there was a character from central casting to play the part of a drug middleman he was it.
     The other two were big, muscular and fat. I would have burst out laughing and insisted that the director of this bad movie send these actors back to get someone more realistic, but the problem was it wasn’t a movie set. We were in a cheap bar in Mexico. No one knew we were here.
     “You deliver this to my friend,” said the man in the suit to Hank, “And everything will be okay.”
       Hank stood there. For once he didn’t know what to say.
      “Hey,” I said as I approached the table, “what’s this?”
      The man in the cheap linen suit smiled. It was, you guessed it, a cruel smile that twisted up on one side of his face. “What do you think it is?” he asked.
      “Flour,” I said, “or sugar.” I looked straight at him. He flinched. His upper lip drew up cruelly. 
      “You are mistaken,” he said. “It is some of the finest ‘product’ in all Mexico.”
      “Really?” I said. “then you don’t mind if I sample it to make sure it is as good as you say.”
      He hesitated and nudged one of the goons, who promptly slammed the case shut and held his hand on top of it.
      “That will not be necessary because it is the best in all of Mexico,” he said.
      “The best what?” I asked.
      There was a flurry of Spanish that came from the man’s lips, as if he were having a conversation with every Spanish speaker in the room. Several men laughed derisively at me.
       “You know what I mean. Now, take the case.”
       The two goons were warily moving an arm toward the middle of their backs, where I assumed they housed their revolvers. The young man was also moving his hand and it came to rest on the butt of his gun. The barkeep, who had stopped cleaning glasses, now seemed to be holding something just below the counter, like a shotgun.
     Hank looked at me and swallowed. I nodded at him. “My man,” I said to Hank. “Would you be so good as to fetch the car?” He was about to say something when I silenced him with a nod. I turned to the man in the linen suit and said, “Very well, we’ll take your advise that this is the best product in all Mexico and deliver it, but first I propose a toast. 
     “Tequila!” I shouted, “for everyone. Dos bottles please.” I said to the barkeep.
     This stunned the crowd for a moment. I was able to keep smiling an said through my teeth to Hank, “Bring the car behind this place by the men’s room window.”
      The bartender had brought over the tequila and glasses.
“Please pour,” I said. When he was done pouring we lifted our glasses in salute. “Get the car,” I said to Hank. He headed for the door and the goons let him pass. All eyes were on Hank’s departure. So when I tipped over the bottle of tequila and splashed it on the goons pants no one was the wiser and it must have seemed to them an accident.
      “I am so sorry,” I exclaimed. “Let me get a napkin.” I moved quickly to the bar where I grabbed a napkin and a pack of matches.
      “It is okay,” said the man. “Please, take the case and go.”
      “Of course,” I said. “but first I need to  - how you say? - banos?”
      He nodded and smiled.
      I grabbed the second bottle of tequila and headed for the men’s room. I grabbed the mop, tilted it mop head up against the door to the bar and set it on fire. I doused the hallway with most of the tequila. I went into the bathroom, stood on the sink and placed a foot through the window and kicked at the screen and the bars. Nothing moved. I panicked and kicked some more. It gave way just as Hank pulled up in the Caddie whale. I managed to slide my body out the window as I heard shouts from inside the bar. I threw the tequila bottle hard against the floor and heard it shatter. I lit the whole pack of matches and tossed it into the bathroom. 
     There was a harumpf  sound as the floor burst into flame. I jumped into the passenger seat and Hank stepped on the gas. He swung around the building and made sure to knock over the little Japanese rice rocket that no doubt the motorcycle assassin used. We were careening out of the parking lot when the first people tumbled out of the bar. The thugs had their pant legs burned off and were trying to fire in our direction. The young assassin and his driver were running over to the bike. I hoped Hank had done enough damage to forestall them following us.
     “We can’t wait at Customs,” I said, “They’ll find us for sure.”
     “Don’t worry,” said Hank as he looked intently over the steering wheel, “I know a shortcut.”

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Part II - The San Diego Caper

Dear Wolf,
“I don’t think that was a good idea,” I said.
“Look,” said Hank, “all we have to do is go a couple miles out of our way, pick up a package, and deliver it to a buddy of his. What do the directions say to do next?”
“Hang a right at the big intersection up ahead and go for 12 miles.”
The highway undulated in a hot straight line. Heat shimmered off the surface and there was enough rise and fall in the road ahead that I was not sure if we were alone or if there was an 18 wheeler lurking in the hidden recesses of the next dip and fold of the road ahead. We said little. I rolled down the windows trying to get some air. This car was old enough to have little triangular windows in the front corners of the side windows. I turned mine so that there was a stream of hot dry air pushing against me. I opened my shirt to try and cool off. I looked at the sweat on my chest. The car had cloth seats that had that smell of old dry fetid dusty cloth. I guessed it to be about a ’54 maybe ’48. It seemed like it would be more at home in Cuba today than on an American road. 
I tried to picture us as Bogey or Gabel in some 40s drama, but I kept coming up with Broderick Crawford and Highway Patrol,  which really made sense because every time the whale of a car rounded a corner the tires squealed. The only difference was our tires squealed when they went around a corner and not when the sound guy seemed to randomly put in the effect on the old TV show.
“Man, it’s not every day you score a Caddie like this,” said Hank. “Did you notice the cool little bump fins on the back? Or what about those gorgeous round clumps of chrome in the bumper?”
“Yeah, it’s cool all right. I’d be a lot cooler if it had air conditioning and the radio is AM only. I think it’s vacuum tube.”
“Very retro,” said Hank. “I wonder why they did chop and channel it?”
“Huh, did you notice the rust? There’s more rust than side panel. I think they bought it with that in mind and once they calculated the time to do it and the cost they said forget it. By the way what’s that gate up ahead? It looks like the starting gate at Churchill Downs.”
“Customs,” said Hank, “I guess our pal forgot to mention that we were going to Mexico.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Maybe that explains why he didn’t want to make the trip.”
“Probably, wouldn’t have been able to get back,” said Hank. “Zur papers please,” he said in a thick German accent.
Fortunately, we both had our passports and the stop was uneventful. When Hank opened his wallet the Sheriff’s badge on the side opposite his driver’s license flopped open toward the Customs agent.
“Police?” said the agent as he eyed us quizzically.
“Can’t say,” said Hank flipping his wallet closed.
“Okay, go ahead. Have a nice day.”
“10 4,” said Hank.
“You know, you really ought to get rid of that toy badge,” I said.
“Why?” said Hank. “You never know when it might come in handy.”
I started, “We don’t need ...
No stinkin badges,” we said in unison.
“How far?” asked Hank.
“It’s not clear as to distance but we are to go until we see the big red steel shed on the left with the advertisement for tortillas on the side and turn left. The Hacienda will be on the right.”
“Must be one of those big old two story places with a red tile roof and an open courtyard in the center with a circular fountain.”
After five miles we say the shed. It was more likely one of those maquiladoras where they assemble things for the U.S. market. Farther down the road became even more depressing, and degenerated into a series of potholes. On the right was a low slung building with a metal porch on three sides with hitching posts in front of that; I guess to give it that olde Western feel. Motorcycles and dilapidated Toyota pickup trucks were pulled up near the hitching posts in front of the porch. A raised wooden sign painted in faded red, green and yellow colors said “La Hacienda.”
“Here’s the place,” I announced.
“Perfect,” said Hank as he wrestled our whale off the road and into the parking lot bouncing in and out of water filled puddles of unknown depth. By the time the car came to a stop muddy water had flown up over the hood and windshield.
“Whoa doggie,” said Hank stomping on the brake and trying to get the wipers to work, being pneumatic they came on when the car wasn’t doing anything else, which in this case meant it didn’t start to smear the watery mud on the windshield until we were at a full stop.
“Great,” I said. “I have a bad feel about this place.”
We were parked parallel to the road about two car lengths from the corner of the bar. We could survey the front and the side nearest us. Nothing moved. A red neon sign behind a dirt encrusted small window shown with the word “OPEN” that was the only sign of life.
“You’ve seen too many spaghetti westerns. It will be fine,” said Hank.
There’s one thing I know in life to be true, when Hank says, “It will be fine,” it won’t.
I got out of the car and attempted to clean off the wind shield by flinging the remains of water from the bottle I was drinking against the semi-circles of smeared mud on the windshield. We walked into “La Hacienda.”
This didn’t look like a bar from the old west more more like one that Quentin Tarentino might use in a sequel to Kill Bill. One door opening to a partitioned entryway with double doors opening onto a dingy low slung drop ceiling whose original white had become a dark tannish brown. People, men, hunched at the bar. A few groups sat at tables. If anyone had been talking it had stopped when we entered.
I had that immediate sense that we didn’t belong here. I was ready to smile and back out, while we still could. Hank walked to the end of the bar nearest us and the only open spot. The men at the bar looked up with feigned disinterest. The bartender looked like he had been recruited from an L.A. biker bar: bald bullet-shaped head, tight dirty black tee-shirt, big biceps. He was drying a glass with a towel and I’d say that was the only thing moving in the place except Hank.
“Excuse me,” Hank said.
At that moment the doors to the kitchen swung open and a woman came out holding a tray balanced on her hand and her shoulder. She approached a table where two men sat and “served from the shoulder” expertly placing a plate of food in front of each of them. She wore a typical pleated Mexican blouse with embroidered images in the ruffles and an ankle length dark skirt. I’d guess her age to be late 30s or early 40s, but I’m notoriously bad and such estimates. Her hair was black and hung down in rivulets and waves to her collarbone, where her blouse was unbuttoned down to her décolletage, which was ample. There was a direct sexuality about this woman. Every man in the place seemed to watch her.
The bartender had looked briefly at Hank then looked at the waitress as she served the two men. He continued to dry the glass.
“I was wondering if you served food at the table, but I guess that answers my question. Thank you for your time,” Hank said, and he moved to an open table near the door where we both sat. 
I was seated with my back to the door, where I could watch the action, such as it was, in the room. A skinny young man was seated two tables away. He was nearly facing me, except the table was turned slightly. The other man at the table was seated to his right and seemed ten years older and he had a nasty look about him; they both did. I’m not sure I can describe it as much as I felt it. It’s the kind of smiling look that made me feel like they’d lure you into a corner and then do you in. 
The waitress came over and bent down, giving Hank a really good look at what a man looks at when a woman with an open blouse bends over. He was tongue-tied and she knew it. She spoke in slow soft Spanish. I could tell Hank had no idea what she was saying, because he wasn’t listening. She knew it. She was teasing him unmercifully.
I managed to order in Spanish two beers and some food. She closed her eyes as she nodded and then turned and headed toward the kitchen and made a “V” sign to the bartender.
Moments later we were sipping on two beers, ice cold. Hank mentioned the name of the man we were to see to our waitress. A quick flicker of recognition came across her face, she nodded, turned and left for the kitchen.
Hank had spoken loud enough that the young man facing me heard him. He looked up and closed his eyes ever so slightly. I noticed he had a holster under his armpit. Was he an assassin?  One of those fellows who rides on the back of a motorcycle and pulls the trigger? I thought as much.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Delayed on the way to San ... (Diego) Chapter 1

Dear Wolf,

No we had not made other plans. In fact, we fully intended to be there when events beyond our control forestalled our arrival.
We had landed at the airport. When our limousine was not there to pick us up we went to the rental agency to inquire. This company is very exclusive and not found at the airport terminal or even on the off access area. We took public transportation to get there, which in San Diego is an adventure in itself. After trundling our luggage down a sidewalk that was chipped, scarred and otherwise in need of serious repair I lost a wheel on my large valise as it descended from said curb onto the roadway, or more correctly, into the pot hole in the roadway.
I was considering leaving my luggage there and coming back for it after acquiring said transportation, but Hank pointed out that although the man lying on his side with his face pushed up against the bottom of the chain link fence and the weed strewn edge of the sidewalk might in fact be passed out; it was not a sure thing. The evidence of cars on blocks rusted and burned also steeled my resolve to drag the case on the one good wheel the remaining half mile to the agency, where to my chagrin and embarrassment I learned that Hank’s credit card had been rejected.
“I’m sorry Mr. Ortiz, but that card was reported stolen and it’s over the limit anyway,” said the young lady standing on the milk crate behind the counter in the mobile trailer that served as the office.
“Mr. Ortiz?” I thought to myself. “How did they pronounce ‘Murphy’ as ‘Ortiz’?” I thought it best not to ask.
“I’m afraid under the circumstances that your credit is no good here. You will have to pay cash,” said the woman in a matter of fact way. Her eye shadow was black and heavy, much to heavy for her age, but it did go with the outrageously long eyelashes and fingernails, which I assumed were both pasted on.
“Oh well, I see,” said Hank diving into his pockets as if there was something in there worth pulling out. “Then I guess my friend over here will have to ...”
“He will have to pay cash too. We will not accept your credit. In fact you will have to pay for the whole car - cash. After the last incident, we do not want to take any chance.”
“Cash? For the whole car? Certainly, you are joking,” I said, but her deadpan look made it clear she wasn’t. She looked at me and took another slow chew on her gum. There was no expression in her face.
I gulped, “How much are we talking?”
“Five hundra dollar,” she said.
“And we own the car?” 
“If you don’t bring it back.”
“And if we do?” asked Hank.
“We give you back your money, less the daily rate and gas,” she said.
“Can we take out insurance?” I asked.
She seemed startled by the question. “I guess so. But why? The car is so old.”
“Just in case,” I said. “Even though we are both safe drivers you never know if some nut will hit you and run off without giving you their information.”
She looked at me with a look that stilled her gum chewing. She seemed unsure what to do. After several long still seconds passed she shrugged. “Up to you,” she said, and started typing on her keyboard. She asked for driver’s licenses and an address where we were going and when we planned to be back. Somehow, he had forgotten about Mr. Ortiz when Hank Murphy handed over his license. She only looked at the picture. 
It was when I began to write out a check that she said. “Cash. No check.”
“Miss, we don’t carry that kind of money around with us. It’s unsafe, “ said Hank.
He neglected to point out that the other reason was that he didn’t have that kind of money to carry around.
“There’s an ATM over at Claremont,” she said.
“Isn’t that quite a ways?” I asked.
“Two miles,” she said nonplussed.
With a sigh of exasperation she turned and stepped off the milk carton and went through a door behind her that led to an adjoining shed set at right angles to the trailer. She was holding our check in her hand. There was a conversation between her and a man. It was muffled, but I could tell it was in Spanish.
Moments later, a man came through the doorway holding our check. He was in his mid-forties and his shirt, which was a size too small, had ridden up to reveal the mid-stage of a protruding stomach. It was hairy with a slight amount of sweat on it. In fact, he had sweat everywhere. His shirt had faint streaks of dirt, dried sweat, and white deodorant marks. His pants showed a shine on the thighs where he had no doubt wiped his hands after eating chicken like the drumstick he held in his other hand, which he held to his mouth and was gnawing on when he cam through the doorway. He was, exactly the kind of fellow you’d expect to find in such an establishment. 
He took a final bite of the drumstick and placed it distractedly in the ashtray on the counter. He rubbed his hand on his pants and then ran his fingers through his hair.
“This check. Is it good?” He asked.
“Of course, it’s good,” I retorted, slightly offended by the question. I was in fact trying to mentally balance my checkbook in my head and was not sure as to the validity of my statement. If it wasn’t good I concluded; it was darn close.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But, I’ll make you a deal. If you don’t mind picking up a package for me and delivering it to a friend; I’ll accept your check.”\
“Deal,” said Hank.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Post Apocalyptic Time Machine

March 26, 2014

re: Chris Christie found not to be involved in Bridgegate scandal by his lawyer, who did a “thorough and complete” internal investigation yet failed to talk to the persons who ordered it, implemented it, or tried to cover it up.

Dear Hank,

I know I haven’t written much lately, but I’ve been busy. As I think you know, I’ve been twiddling with my time machine. Got it out from under the dusty tarp where it’s been for several years and began adjusting the defribulating time-warp mechanism. The gravitron was the biggest problem, but now with the advent of hybrid solar that has been overcome. I stepped inside for a test run and came back from a post-apocalyptic future (Is there any other kind?) 
I have to say I was impressed. All the shopping malls were in ruins. Green vines strangling the remnants of the last white painted cinder block walls. The women were beautiful, if somewhat earnest. They seemed to be the only ones who had access to clean water and used it to take baths. Everyone’s teeth were immaculate, except for the cretins - who were all evil and dirty. 
Amazingly, I landed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There wasn’t much left of the old town. It seemed to have been blown to bits in a nuclear standoff that didn’t stand-down. I strolled onto the grounds of the White House and discovered these shreds of a document, which I found vaguely amusing. It seems to be a transcript from a high level investigation. Without further adieu, I give you - The Transcript:

“President Christie did you push the button?”
“No Sir, I did not.”
“You must have given the order to push it?”
“No, I did not. In fact, I had no knowledge that it had been pushed.”
“But only you, and you alone, have the authority to push the button.”
“Yes, that is absolutely true. I am the only one who has the authority.”
“Yet you did not do it, and you don’t know who did?”
“That is correct. Listen, a lot of things go on in the White House that I don’t know about.”
“Like initiating Global Thermo Nuclear War?”
“Well, like I said earlier, there’s a lot that goes on in the White House I don’t know about.”
“The button was on your desk. In the Oval Office someone pushed it and you say you didn’t do it, and you don’t know who did?”
“That’s correct. Maybe, it was a mistake. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? The end of civilization as we know it has happened and you think it might be a mistake?”
“Well, I certainly think it’s a mistake; if that is in fact what happened. But again, I didn’t do it. In fact I’m convening a blue panel committee to investigate exactly what happened, and when all the facts come out I think you’ll see that I’m not to blame.”
“Not to blame? There were only two people in the Oval Office at the time the launch sequence was initiated: you and your Chief of Staff. One of you had to have pushed the button. The world is destroyed and you’re not sure.”
“We’re not sure exactly what happened, but I did I fire my Chief of Staff.”
“Did you ask if they pushed the button?”
“No, what would be the point? They knew only I should push the button. I didn’t push the button so they had to have pushed the button. They shouldn’t have done that. So I fired them.”
“Without asking?”
“Look what’s the point? The world appears to be ruined; we won’t know for sure what happened until the investigation is complete. I didn’t push the button. If the button were pushed, and we don’t know if it was, they had to have done it, and they weren’t supposed to, so that’s akin to lying. I can’t have people on my staff who lie to me.”
“Your Chief of Staff and everyone you appointed to the Blue Ribbon Panel is dead.”
“That’s too bad. I’m sorry to hear that. But again, I had nothing to do with it.”
“We have a video tape showing your Chief of Staff leaning against the desk. Their palm is resting on something on the desk. It looks like it might be the big red button, is it?”
“Gosh gee, all the radioactivity sure has made the picture grainy. I’m not sure. I don’t think so. Well, maybe.”
“Seconds later there is a shot of you perched on the edge of the desk. We can’t see the button at all. Could it be that you sat on it?”
“Look, I’m not going to sit here - no pun intended - and speculate about what did or did not happen. Besides, I’ve lost a lot of weight so I doubt I sat on the button. Once the investigation is complete I’m sure all the facts will come out.”
“There’s no one left to do the investigation.”
“That’s too bad. But again, that’s not my fault. Or my problem. I’ve got a country in tatters and what’s important, now, is not to try and assign blame but to try - as best we can - to go forward, and clean up this mess. It’s a natural disaster no doubt made worse by my enemies. Have you seen the dustpan?”

At this point the transcript is torn and appears to have blood on it. It looks like a blood splatter, perhaps from a gunshot.

Oh well, gotta go. There’s a valve on “Olde Rusty” (that’s what I call my time machine) that’s acting twitchy again.

All the best.
Hope the hip replacement goes well.
It should last you until, darn it, I don’t know what the date on that memo I found was.