PIE TOWN (novella)

 

PIE TOWN

 

 

 

CH 1 TRAPPED

Bursting awake struggling to breathe, the smell of kerosene permeates the available air. His body rocks back and forth without conditions. His sight is blackened as he urges his eyes to open, only to realize that they are.

Straining to make sense of his surroundings FBI agent Louis Tennent is overwhelmed with the madness of being buried alive and begins seizing at scattered objects.

Swirling, suffocating, trapped. He is crippled by the inability to extend his arms and legs as he gasps for hot air. His ears are ringing like an abandoned teakettle. His head throbs as if every heartbeat is a brick dropping on his skull.

The only sliver of actuality is the acknowledgment he is, in fact, trapped in a small space. A fact only heightening his freak storm of dementia. Failing to comprehend the time and place, Lou’s mind is thrust into a horrible memory.

I am trapped on a ride. In a shabby metal cage, endlessly spinning and speeding up.

Remembering the panic of being trapped on a rickety carnival ride as a child, his pain recedes as he rehearses the excitement and euphoria of his friends as they waited in line at a fourth of July carnival, to ride the “Zipper.”

We were finally tall enough. This was the year we came of age.

Standing in single file, a psycho looking toothless ride attendant, smoking a cigarette, checked their height and took their tickets before they ascended the platform. Two at a time, they climb into the cage like compartments. The last cage is lowered. Lou is guided on and he sits alone as the small compartment rises.

Twisting his head around and up, struggling to get a glimpse of his comrades’ faces, he can hear laughter and wants to share it, but there is no one.

As the ride accelerates, the small compartment flips upside down. He feels a sudden shock of nausea and fear.

The screams of the other riders become his own and he is paralyzed. The ride continues to speed up. As it does, his anxiety spikes. The Doppler effect distorts the laughs and screams as they swirl around him from all directions.

They’re laughing at me. I’m afraid and they all know it.

Fear sickened, he strains to make eye contact with someone, even the ride attendant.

If only he could see my face he might stop the ride.

With each passing of the cage, he yells to the attendant, “Stop!”

With each passing, he becomes more sure the ride will never end. A feeling of madness overwhelms him as he resigns from the thought of rescue.

Struggling to breathe, Lou clumsily searches with hands and feet to brace himself and hold on for dear life. Grasping tightly to a handrail, he closes his eyes as a way of escaping but escape is impossible. The need for connection becomes greater than ever and he summons his eyes open in search of his companions

He catches glimpses of his friends against the swirling collage of earthly objects and briefly takes refuge in the thought that they are all in this together. The faces in the cages change from one to the next until his friends are replaced by the familiar faces of adults. In one cage there is Vince and Nick, in another, Manny and Filiberto, finally, Toni and Kendra.

Down below, spectators blankly stare without emotion as their heads move in circles following the ride. A group of elderly gentlemen stand, waving as one of them wags his finger in a shameful manner.

“AAAHHH!” HELP!”

The throbbing pain in his skull comes rushing forward again. Ambiguously, Lou’s thoughts dissociate between his current and past trauma, which is eerily similar.

Straight away, he feels the ride slow and eventually grind to a halt with shrieking scrapes, conflicting metal parts and the loss of inertia. The anticipation of being set free is joyous and numbing.

The sounds of the carnival wax and wane through his ringing ears. There is the popping of a shooting gallery, followed by the clatter of a small roller coaster and other clanking rides.

The compartment becomes motionless. There is a momentary silence. Then, the steps of the psycho carnival attendant approaching. The hatch opens. A rush of cool air pours in.

Now able to breathe, see and hear, Lou realizes that he is in the trunk of a car. In the fading dusk and against a dark wooden background, the silhouette of a man with a cigarette and a gun stands before him. The man draws a puff from his cigarette and stares down into the trunk, “Looks like you pissed yourself kid. Get out! Time for the fireworks.”

Lou recollects the events preceding. He struggles to peer out as he scans the surroundings and wonders how it came to this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 2 THE MILKMAN

Deputy Assistant Director Colin Geiger stands with his hands on his hips staring unapologetically at Lou, “Looks like you’re the one. You’re going to Pie Town to retrieve the Milkman.”

“Excuse me, Sir?”

“Just, make it happen.”

The room is dismissed and Lou is requested to stay behind. Everyone walks out with looks of relief on there faces, except Ron, who leans into Lou’s ear and whispers as he walks past, “Suck ass.”

The last person out closes the door. Standing, Geiger describes the sordid details and the twisted secret of Pie town.

Geiger’s office smells of old man. There are numerous picture frames on his desk. A baseball on the mantel and a mug that reads “Best Dad.”

“You’ll fly out tomorrow morning. Look…, this place Pie Town, where we think he’s hiding is kinda screwed up. This is going to sound weird, but they have a law preventing an arrest while a person is eating.”

“Eating?”

“Yes, it won’t affect you, since you aren’t arresting him but the town has become, well, some kind of a criminal commune, a safe haven for lawbreakers. Now, while you’re there, just stick to getting Milkovich. Don’t get yourself mixed up in the local business. However, I would like you to report on what the local officials are doing, and take note of any wanted criminals. You can just call those in if you see someone wanted for a federal crime.”

Geiger hands Lou an envelope containing everything known about Pie Town. Including, contact information of an Albuquerque detective, currently on assignment named Vince Prince and continues to explain how a year and a half earlier, a resident named Eugene Salazar was arrested. He was apprehended in a local diner while eating. During the arrest, he choked to death while handcuffed and face down. He died on the floor of the diner opened by his parents. The family sued in civil court and was awarded a monetary amount in damages that left the small town broke. The family left and sold the diner.

Largely punitive towards the police, the city council passed “Ordinance 12,” which prohibits the arrest of any person who is in the process of consuming food. Once their mouth is clear an arrest can be made.

That afternoon, Lou stands before his car preparing to leave. He drops his head, rubs his eyes and turns to look at the building. Remembering some things, he makes the journey across the parking lot, into the building, up the stairs, and down the hall. He withdraws the key to his office door and presses it against the keyhole. As he pushes, the door swings open. It’s unlocked. Lou questions if he forgot to lock the door, walking to his desk, intuitively sensing the environment with innate suspicion. The room looks normal, but there is a faint familiar scent of Hai-Karate aftershave and cigarette smoke. It reminds him of someone in the office. He pauses to analyze the odor and feels a breeze from the ventilation system. This causes him to dismiss the notion and he continues to retrieve his things.

On his desk, face up sits the airline and car rental confirmation. He slips them into his pocket, walks out, looks back at his office and, checks the lock after closing the door.

Three months earlier, from behind a two-way mirror, Lou Tennent watched his colleagues escort Nikolai Milkovich a.k.a. “The Milkman” into an interrogation room. The room is small and ventilated in such a way, to be made comfortable or uncomfortable, depending on the situation. On this day it is kept cool. Minimalist in its decor, there is a table with enough chairs for the planned meeting. One trash can in a corner and a telephone on the table. Gray paint covers the cinder block walls. On one side, a large inset mirror bordered by a metal frame provides a minor distraction.

Momentarily, Milkovich stops and stares into the mirror. Unknowingly, he is only four feet away from Lou on the other side of the glass. The two men seem to gaze at each other. The Milkman stares with the curiosity of being watched. The agents in the room show no interest in the mirror, which provides a sense of vacancy behind the glass. Shortly, his attention is arrested by his own reflection. A reflection that is again a solid reminder he is held in an inescapable room, Gray, bleak and sterile.

Disgusted by the Milkman’s presence, Lou imagines they can see each other through the two-way mirror. Knowing most of the Milkman’s despicable deeds, he wants to show the disgust on his face. Lou begins to lose respect for the process which is about to take place. The Milkman is being offered clemency for his crimes in exchange for becoming a confidential informant.

Dark hair and olive skin with a dense five O’clock shadow, the Milkman makes an obvious attempt to appear ruthless and foreboding. He waits patiently for the FBI agents as they thumb through documents.

A Serbian immigrant with ties to a Russian crime syndicate, the Milkman is suspected of past murders. However, there has never been enough evidence to bring charges against him, even though he has been known to brag of his exploits.

He sits and greets two men in a thick eastern European accent, “Hello my cowboy friends.”

Lou watches as the thug sits with a smug look on his face waiting to be thrown a bone.

“So you’re the Milkman?” One agent says.

Nikolai raises one eyebrow and grins from one side of his mouth, “Dat’s what day call me.”

One of the agents smiles, “Been delivering any milk lately?” The other agent forces a laugh, knowing this is a charade.

Milkovich leans forward and glares back, “Maybe not?”

The agents act as if they are not confused by the logic or his accent.

There is a dim reflection on the opposite side of the glass where Lou can see the remnants of the athletic man he once was. Muscular but soft in shape, a plain look of quiet confidence adorns his face. A look that could be mistaken for naiveté or innocence. Disarming and honest was his way. Even though he was naive about many things, he was not about facts. Lou was slavish in his honesty and prone to overlooking opportunity in the way most men approach the world. As a result, Lou stood thinking, this is all a waste of time.

Lou is approached by another agent, Darrell Mathis, “Reporting for duty Lieutenant.”

Lou confidently smiles, “At ease.” They laugh. “Did you get the cheese danish?”

“Yep and here’s the coffee.”

“Sweet, oh, this is a relief.“ Lou takes a sip and points to Nikolai while squinting from the hot beverage, ”Look at this knucklehead getting the V I P treatment. If only I could have nailed him five years ago, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Darrell curls his lips and shrugs, “This is the business of it. We all work for the Man and this is what the Man wants. This is how we get the big dogs.”

“I know, but it still hurts.”

“It only hurts cause you didn’t get him, but he also didn’t get you. You should think about that. A hitman like that could strike at any time and not think about the consequences.”

Lou glares through the glass, “I’m not scared of that schmuckaroo.”

“I didn’t say you were scared. I said he’s dangerous.”

Lou continues to stare, “Something in his face doesn’t look dangerous. He looks like a knucklehead, like a schmuck.”

“Well, maybe that’s why he can get away with what he does, cause he doesn’t look like it. No one sees it coming. Maybe, that’s why we can do what we do?”

“What are you saying?”

“What I’m saying is, do we look like what we do?”

“I’d like to think our general appearance is professional.”

Darrell holds up quotation marks with his fingers and points to the men in the room, “Really, would you say their general appearance is that of sellouts to a hitman?”

“I’m beginning to… But the most important thing is we represent justice.”

“Perhaps. Or maybe, it’s just about finding the truth and doing what’s right.”

“If you saw the people he killed you wouldn’t say it was right. Some of those guys were messed up.”

They turn their attention back to the interrogation room. Watching as the Milkman agrees and then disagrees on various topics. The agents conducting the interview offer him soda pop, cigarettes, and pretend to laugh at his jokes.

“It’s pathetic.” Lou bats his eyes and shakes his head, “I don’t know who I have less respect for, him or us.”

After two hours and three bathroom breaks. Nikolai Milkovich is escorted out. Lou walks out into the hallway to watch the Milkman saunter down the hall as he is lead out of the building.

From around the corner, agent Ron Miles who interviewed the Milkman, approaches Lou, “Reporting for duty Lieutenant.” Ron clicks his heels together and salutes. “Man that never gets old.”

Ron puts his fist to his mouth to clear his throat, “Ahem. Well, we got everything we wanted. Nikolai is now a confidential informant. He’s going to come back in a few weeks and give us details about Russian mob activities and possibly wear a wire when the time is right.”

Pessimistically Lou smirks, “You trust him?”

“I trust that when I told him we had some information about his younger brother Vilmos, he was worried. One small screw up, and his brother’s visa is revoked. Back to the old country he goes, ha, ha.”

“What did he do? His brother I mean.”

“Nethin,” Ron smirks, shrugs, and holds his palms up. “Well, he probably did something. What? I don’t know. Anyhow, it doesn’t matter now, I got him. You know, they don’t call me ”run miles“ for nothing. I go all the way brother. Always cheat, always win.”

Lou watches Ron grin with over-enthusiastic confidence that makes him want to barf. Lou is still glad there are guys like him in the agency. His gross confidence doesn’t allow him to see failure and he’ll do things others wouldn’t to accomplish a goal.

Lou stands pondering the idea of fairness, of lying as a means to an end, an end that is beneficial to the job, to society.

Lou acknowledges Ron’s accomplishment “Well, good for you. If you can do things that way? I mean, I probably wouldn’t have done it that way.”

Ron bobbles his head and eases his face close to Lou’s, “That cause you’re a queer-bait.” Ron squints and chuckles.

They launch into their daily routine of back and forth insults that Lou usually comes out on the low side of.

“You’re such a butt sniffer.” Lou fires back.

Ron turns sideways while walks away, “Say hello to your boyfriend for me.”

Lou cups his hands on the sides of his mouth, “That wasn’t my boyfriend, it was your mom.”

“Hey, he admits it.” Ron raises his arms in the air and looks around with his eyes wide open. Then struts away down the hall like a peacock, indulging in any curious glances from passerby’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 3 LIEUTENANT AND THE PRINCE

The following day, Lou steps off a plane in Albuquerque. The heat hits him like opening an oven door. His nostrils wither in the dryness as he saunters through the outside air and temperature adulterated corridor extended from the terminal to the jet.

He retrieves his luggage and waits to get a rental car for the three-hour drive to Pie Town. He rests his bags next to another man who is also waiting outside at the car rental. Patiently waiting, his sweat evaporates as quickly as it is produced and realizes that he is overdressed for the climate. His long sleeve button up shirt displays wet circles of perspiration under his arms that noticeably vanish like time-lapse photography when his arms are raised.

Scanning the distant desert landscape, heat-induced shimmering silver pools waver in thin bands on the grounds horizon. Wisps of hair like tendrils project upwards just above the pools like spirits tethered to their graves straining to break free.

Mirage or oasis.

Lou isn’t fooled by the illusion but toys with the notion of a refreshing splash in the distant pool.

The other man is holding a magazine over his eyes and looks over towards Lou, “Should get to 102 today. It’s dry though. You know, that dry heat?”

Lou glances over with an unrelieved expression, “Yeah, I’ve heard that. Doesn’t help.” Lou wipes his brow sweat up through his hair for a moment of evaporative relief.

The other man looks out across the sky and in the same direction as if he too sees the mirage, “July is the start of the monsoon season. We just need some rain to wash it all away and cool everything off. Then, everything will be nice again.”

Lou turns to the man as his car pulls up, “Thanks for the weather report.”

Lou is shocked by the scorching leather car seat and fidgets, straining to adjust. The steering wheel, dashboard and even the console separating the front seats are burning reminders of his ill-preparedness for his journey. Within a minute, the air conditioner begins to provide welcome relief. He checks his reflection in the rearview mirror and readjusts it. Checking his travel bag for a map and extra drinks, he grabs his phone to text Vince in Pie Town, “Leaving Albuquerque. See you in three.”

After three hours of driving through the remote desert landscape, heading west, the elevation gradually increases. He enters a zone of jagged bluffs and hills with a sparse ponderosa pine forest. After which, the elevation lowers and levels out ten miles out from Pie town. He tries to call Vince but there is no phone service.

Approaching Pie Town, there are glimmers of new and old road signs. Semi-arid vegetation gives way to ramshackle buildings. Rolling past what looks like a windmill graveyard with a rusted out pickup truck, Lou ponders the telltale signs of its past or its tattered present.

In Pie Town, he pulls up in front of the post office on US 60 and withdraws his phone. He stretches his legs from the long drive and overlooks the surroundings. It appears dismal and drab, like a sleepy rest stop with an abundance of makeshift buildings. To the South, there is a single distant dark mountain top sticking out like a large rock. Other than that, the scenery is bleak.

A few groups of men, sparsely mixed with women, pause to notice Lou’s presence. Some stare. Some look away. Others become scarce. A small group stands near a food cart across the street near a barbershop. It has a large umbrella with the word WIENERS written across the top. Everyone present is positioned, like a bundle of wieners, under a constrained swatch of shade.

Near the cart is a small band of mongrel dogs. Waiting, watching and panting, the small band jostles for position and a chance for a meal. When a morsel of meat is lobbed in their direction, the sound of ravenous fiends rattles from deep in their throats until there is nothing left. The fever stops and the small band is calmed.

More dogs fleet near and far. Some lonely and timid, poke their noses out from behind corners. Some with noses raised dart with a quest underfoot. Others wait in limbo like empty sad four-legged things. Even they pause until some notion of their instincts inspires a rush of excitement, which gathers up an intention to scurry.

There is no animal control except for the harshness of life, which favors the lucky. The unlucky find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Slaughtered by passing cars, guns, or starvation, a dog’s life is one of chance and freedom, not unlike the criminals passing through Pie Town.

Lou calls Vince to notify him of his arrival.

Shortly after, a thin athletic man, standing 100 feet away, in front of the next building shouts and waves.

Lou walks over and they both reach out to shake hands. Lou reaches out with fingers pointing forward and thumb pointing up, “The gentleman”. Vince reaches out with fingers pointing up and thumb back, “The cool”. Their hands don’t match up and they try to adjust. The moment is awkward but they both chuckle and bump fists.

Noticing Vince’s athletic physique, Lou realizes his own handsome beach boy looks have faded to a slower but more powerful looking man.

Vince is a young FBI detective from Albuquerque. He is tall and wiry, in his early 30’s, a real motivated up-and-comer. Vince sports dockers and a polo shirt. He is chewing gum and his stark white teeth proudly shine against his dark skin. Sharply pointed jaw muscles magnify his chewing as they protrude out from the sides of his narrow chin. Muscles running up the sides of his temples throb in and out as he chews, making it nearly impossible to look him in the eyes as he speaks.

While they both stand to make small talk, a group of rugged looking local gentlemen steps out from the building in front of them. Clearly not lawmen, they all wear guns on body holsters. They are walking straight towards Lou. Uncontrollably, he telegraphs his sudden concern to Vince who immediately speaks up, “It’s fine, this is a right to carry state. They can carry guns, just not in government buildings.”

The men are all wearing hats, some cowboy, and some baseball caps. One of the men with a bearded face, wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a shallow crease, pinches the front brim down,

“Howdy.” The man walks past.

Vince smiles and gives a two-fingered salute, “Later Tucker.”

Seeing pedestrians casually walking with guns causes Lou to reassess the situation. “Does everyone carry guns around here?” Lou scans the people in the vicinity looking for more weapons.

Vince senses Lou’s distress and reaches out to calm him, “Just certain people carry a firearm. Ironically, it creates a certain level of civility among everyone. Nobody can be certain who has a gun. A criminal around here would be a fool to cross a local. They’re kinda clan-like if you know what I mean?”

“I guess?” Lou tilts his head with a smirk and changes the subject. “Man it’s hot! I need to get inside.”

“Hey let me show you to your place. It’s got air conditioning. You can drop your stuff and call me later if you want? Follow me.”

Lou follows Vince. They stop at a trailer parked along a dirt road one minute from the post office. The street has a mix of new and old trailers.

They stand outside surveying the streetscape, “Well, it’s not much but nothing is around here,”

Vince hands Lou a key and an envelope and pauses looking around with his hands in his pockets, “There is one other thing you should know. It probably won’t affect you but there are some bounty hunters.”

“Big deal, there’s some everywhere.”

“These guys are different, they investigate aggressively and disappear. One night they’ll show up and raid the houses and round up like a dozen criminals and skedaddle. It takes them half an hour and they’re gone.”

“Does anyone try to stop them?”

“There is a police chief, but she doesn’t get involved unless someone breaks the law and it’s not against the law.” Vince shrugs, “Besides who is going to stick up for a criminal? I’m sure someone’s human rights are being violated, but it just happens so fast. It’s like hornets raiding a beehive and it’s been a couple of weeks since the last raid, I’m expecting another soon. Look, I’ll see you around.”

They bump fists once more. Vince walks to his car while turning to face Lou, “Try Guy’s diner in the morning. They got good coffee. Later, oh, by the way, that’s where it all started.”

“What started?”

“The ordinance, You know, where that fella choked and died. It happened in Guy’s.”

The next morning Lou makes his way to Guy’s. The sun shines in a bright reflection against the Northeast facing glass of the diner.

Lou enters, standing upon what feels like a stage as his eyes adjust to the sea of bland expressions. He passes beyond the momentary stare’s that quickly evaporate as the diner murmur builds back to a normal level. The turning away of everyone’s eyes is his cue to admittance.

The patrons are a mismatched bunch of ruffians, scoundrels and delinquent standouts. Largely the criminal type, Infrequently, the crowd is sprinkled with locals, but as things go in the natural world, the abundance of one organism naturally excludes another. And in this case, local folk naturally occupy other establishments. And so, the melange of destitute faces of many-a-criminal type make up the collective appearance of the diner. Each face individually contains its own story of waywardness. Yet collectively, there is what Lou calls “a look” something criminal in its totality. Not a sole feature like shifty eyes or crooked nose, but something intrinsic, indelible, something inborn and inbred by nature and nurture.

Various characters standout, as this is their nature, others are quiet and calculating and still, others maneuver between those forces to survive. Certain types largely keep to themselves yet interactions inevitably occur and pecking order is established. Territorial disputes arise over seating locations and inevitably a certain order results much in the manner of pack animals.

The locals that frequent the diner are normally holdouts from an earlier time. Not the young or timid, but rather, the older rancher type. This variety is used to hard work and hard men, struggling hard times and rowdy good times. These men have the capacity to get used to the newcomers slowly filling the void of seats, much in the manner of a man-camp. Men like Dodge. Men that new biding in a man-camp and reasoned with squabbles over resources and livelihood. Men that would possibly kill over a warm place to sleep and likewise forgive a man who did, because it was a man thing to do. Likewise, they were men who would not forgive another man who beat or raped a woman and would, in addition, look the other way if such a man were dealt with in a violent manner.

Lou sits and stares at his coffee cup, He looks down the diner bar and back into his cup, “The coffee’s good and that’s all that matters at eight in the morning.”

Not long after sitting, Lou is approached by Vince Prince. Vince arrived in Pie Town, for the first time about three weeks before Lou and is tailing a notorious identity thief by the name of Charles Negron. Negron, like most shady figures in Pie Town, likes to congregate in public places for safety. This helps construct an alibi they are in fact eating during a time of an arrest.

Vince approaches Lou with no warning, from a remote table in the diner. Lou is at the bar turned with his back to the bar on a swivel chair. Vince walks up to Lou and posts both elbows on the countertop. With their cheeks near one another and staring in opposite directions, Vince urgently whispers, “Go into the restroom and open the window after I leave.”

Lou opens his eyes a bit wider and slowly turns his head towards Vince but not directly at him,

“What?”

Vince glances back in Negron’s direction then down at his watch. “It’s Eight twenty. He craps at Eight Twenty-four every morning. I know this guy. Go open the restroom window and make sure the coast is clear. Besides, after I get him, I can leave Pie Town.”

Vince makes his way out of the diner and takes a left down the street, seeming to disappear.

In a coy manner, Lou reluctantly gets up from his stool, takes a slow deep breath and glances at his watch. In an unenthusiastic manner, pats his belly and walks to the restroom straining to make sense of Vince’s plan.

Lou enters the restroom and waits for the door to close and any residual noise to dissipate. He checks the two stalls for legs. Gently gives each stall door a nudge, stands for a few seconds to listen for any noise from outside of the room and walks to the window.

The window is about 24 inches square. Lou sizes up the window. It looks like a tight squeeze. It seems only large enough for a child to get through.

This is more of an acrobatic stunt for a contortionist.

A hand crank extends the window frame upward and out with two hinged flat metal arms that straighten to their fullest extent.

“Vince!” Lou whispers in a loud straining hiss.

Lou taps on the glass and repeats. “Vince! It’s clear.”

Instantly, Vince’s head pops up almost filling the window space and startling Lou, “Watch out.”

Standing on the corner of a dumpster, Vince stretches to squeeze his head and one shoulder, with one arm, extended, through the window. He wriggles his body, with legs pumping up and down. He pulls his other arm through and begins to slink his body to the floor with legs applying pressure to slow his descent. His lanky body making one last flop to the floor like the birth of a baby giraffe.

“Get out,” Vince motions Lou to leave while he snatches the toilet paper from the first stall. Lou opens the door to leave and glances back one last time to see Vince disappear into the second stall holding the confiscated toilet paper.

All is quiet, as Vince patiently sits on the tank of the commode with his feet planted firmly on the seat.

As Lou makes his way down the poorly lit hallway parallel to the kitchen area. Negron stands and motions to the others sitting at the table he is heading to the restroom. Lou strains to look uninterested as he enters the dining area. He exits the hall and takes his seat.

A standoff is about to occur. A feeling of superiority and sick anticipation overcomes Lou as he waits for the altercation to start. It seems like minutes have gone by but it has only been 30 seconds or more since he sat.

The background noise in the diner is a mishmash of clanking dishes, mutters and occasional outbursts of laughter. The business of the cash register and the kitchen orders called out in Spanish and English round out the diner sounds.

Lou is thinking to himself, repeating, Wait for it. Wait for it.

Then, there is a creeping echo, like an approaching train that quickly makes it presence known, the roar of a scuffle breaks the background noise. The sounds of awkward steps and elbows bashing into walls becomes ever-present.

The rants and thrashings of an apprehended criminal take hold of everyone in the dining room. The clanking of dishes, mutters and laughing sinks as the bedlam of an unanticipated arrest involving an angry criminal with a full colon, is wrestled through a narrow dark hallway into the light.

As the scuffle spills into the dining area, Vince’s jaws muscles are clenched tighter than ever like the mandibles of a praying mantis. He has one hand on Negron’s cuffed wrists and the other directing his forward momentum.

Negron’s eyes are open wide as he tries to telegraph his predicament to the others in the diner, motioning to all that can see, a call for help. His eyes are fixed on one patron from his table. Negron opens his mouth wide and makes unintelligible grunts like a baby who wants a milk bottle. Without warning, a solitary piece of a muffin is lobbed through the air, attempting to meet Negron’s open mouth. It misses.

Soon, everyone in the diner who has a stake in dissolving the arrest starts making free-throw shots of eggs, bite-sized pancake pieces, and fruit. Negron moves his head back and forth frantically trying to catch any debris that could potentially set him free. It’s not known whether a mouth full of food would render an arrest void after apprehension, but the appearance might present a legal argument.

Vince and Negron are both being pummeled with breakfast food. As they get closer to the front door, the food portions increase in size, frequency, and in a greater array. Ketchup, mustard, and Tabasco bottles are emptied like fire hoses to extinguish the arrest. Whole sweet rolls and hard boiled eggs are bouncing off of their heads.

Lou grabs a busboys tray, pushes his way past two people and attempts to hold it over them like an umbrella. The three men are recklessly moving through the crowded room. They are halfway across the diner floor heading to the front door when the food fight overcomes the entire dining room. He begins plowing a path through the crowd and grabs the front door while letting go of the tray. Vince makes one last push on Negro’s back and they squeeze past Lou. They pour out onto the pavement from the diner. Lou pulls the front door shut behind them as some hands withdraw from the pinch of the door.

The kitchen activity ceased. The commotion dies and blank stairs are frozen on the faces of the employees in the diner and sad looks of resignation overcome the faces on most of the patrons.

Lou peers out through the glass door at Vince and Negron. Vince is sitting with legs stretched out in front of himself and over top of Negron’s legs while leaning on one arm. Vince gazes at Lou with an exhausted smile.

Negron is on his side stretched out straight with hands behind his back. His eyes are closed and covered with syrup and mustard. His lips, still reaching out into the air, in reflex-mode, grasping for food like a sea anemone.

Lou looks around surveying the unhappy faces and smiling proudly while Vince stands and struggles to lift Negron to his feet. Both are covered in multiple splotches of bright colored goo as if they were freshly painted by Jackson Pollock.

In front of the diner, a car is parked. A man gets out. Runs around to the right passenger side and opens the door where Vince escorts Negron into the backseat.

Lou stands silent and amazed as he realizes how Vince got the whole thing done in a matter of minutes, the plan, the timing, and the car. Lou stands proudly watching Vince drive away knowing he scored one for the team. He reflects on how one crazy law can have such a profound effect on everyone’s behavior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 4 TONI

That afternoon in Pie Town, New Mexico, Totsoni Begay, the Chief of Police is on horseback with binoculars, watching a new arrival to Pie Town. Perched on a horse in a semi-wooded and desert landscape, near a parabolic research antenna, she watches from a distance. The man is standing and waiting, holding a briefcase. Waiting for what seems like an hour.

She promised herself she wouldn’t give much thought to these outsiders. They were the end of the last police chief. Six months ago he gave up. The mayor hired her in a pinch and she realized early that they were more trouble than they were worth.

A population of two hundred and sixty-four requires one police officer. Pie Town has a fluctuating population of over fifteen hundred on a daily bases. The other twelve hundred are nameless drifters, thugs, and conmen.

Toni examines the suspect and categorizes the man, as she does all men. What is his type? What is his hunter type? Looking the man over she enumerates the types and manner, the brutal attacker, the cunning stalker, the lazy fisherman, the weak trapper, and the loathsome poacher. Romantically, they are of the same nature, they bully, stalk, entrap, rape and those that don’t, simply buy.

The town is riddled with these types of men. They come, they go, some stay, some vanish and she couldn’t care less. Except, rumor has it that bribes for business and real estate contracts involving the mayor are occurring in Pie Town. High profile criminals wanting to avoid apprehension have been rumored to pay big bucks to maintain anonymity by procuring property that would have otherwise been unavailable through the help of the Mayor, Manny Caldwell.

As Toni patiently watches, the mayor drives up, gets out and walks to the fence surrounding the antenna. Mild in size and strength, common among men in this part of the country, the mayor is of a healthy 50 something. Remnants of an athletic body and clothed in a fashion to hide his indelible haunting paunch. His salt and peppered hair and goatee are groomed as the sole survivor of a dignified existence.

The waiting man approaches the mayor. The mayor makes a quick call on a cell phone. Someone from inside the fenced area around the antenna walks out and lets them in.

It’s getting late the hottest part of the day has past but it’s little relief. Cicadas are whirring under the dismal blanket of warmth. As Toni sits, she can feel the horse falling into a trance. His eyes blink as the temperature drains both of their bodies. His tail occasionally whips this way and that repelling flies. He stammers to gain better footing. She knows it’s cruel to make the horse wait like this but it’s her job and it’s his job.

She daydreams with her eyes fixed on the fenced area. Her mind drifts elsewhere as an imperceptible breeze stands the hair up on her neck. She thinks about her home, her bed, a shower, and the rain. Clouds and rain and wind and cool nights. A smile grows on her face anticipating the rains. The rains that fill the arroyos and green the mountainsides, that rejuvenate the dry grasses and feeds the wildlife. The rain that brings hope and a smile to the faces of everyone she knows.

Before dusk approaches, the unknown man exits the fenced area and drives away. Shortly after, the mayor walks out holding the briefcase, gets in his vehicle and drives away. Toni pauses and decides to take the horse back to the corral. She has seen enough. As she carefully guides the horse home, just a short distance north of the telescope, she struggles with the idea of caring at all about what the mayor is doing.

It’s unethical but maybe it’s fair if the mayor and possibly the town makes a few bucks.

She considers the effect on the locals.

Is he forcing people to sell? Is he making threats? If so, I’ll do something about that. What? I don’t know.

Toni feels alone with the thought of taking on the mayor, almost sick. The strain of the heat drives her emotions to give up as she and the horse catch a glimmer of the aged corral through a break in the pinion trees. The tired horse picks up his pace in the anticipation of a cool trough of water. The thought of water or even a cold beer would be a fair trade to forget what she saw, reminding her of what dehydration really does to the mind. The desire for water is greater than any other in a time of need. It distorts one’s judgment.

It’s better to make decisions when you’re not thirsty.

Horse and rider move unnecessarily faster in the last hundred yards for any promise of relief.

Ahead, Dodge is waiting to take the reins. Grizzled and “bacony”, Dodge waits with a smile and knowingly hands Toni a pail full of cold well water. The same pail that he just used to fill the trough.

As she drinks, the horse stammers rocks his head and flares his nostrils. Sensing his discomfort, she hands the pail back to Dodge and dismounts. The Horse leads the way to the trough with Dodge following. The sweating animal puckers his lips and submerges his mouth into the cold refreshing pool. Dodge takes the pail, hooks it under the water spout and begins to pump the lever as he whistles to the tune of Camptown Races.

Toni and Dodge say their goodbyes and Toni makes her way to her vehicle. In her front seat is a small cooler with water and soda. She retrieves the soda, opens it and quenches her thirst once again. Her strength and clarity return and she becomes more sure that some action is necessary.

How do I confront him?

She thinks, rationalizing the decision.

He appointed me, he could just as easily fire me. What’s my job then? Do I uphold the law? Do I look the other way? What’s the right thing to do? I have to do what’s right.

Toni starts the car and returns to the center of Pie Town.

She weighs the consequences of confronting the mayor and it’s difficulties and contemplating the influx of criminals into Pie Town.

It’s always been this way since any civilization encroached on another. Once one group of people accumulate in number to such a degree that they overwhelm the resident population, greed and ignorance abound and all bets are off. They abandon their promises when they reach a critical mass. It has happened throughout history, it will happen again and it may very well happen right here in Pie Town.

Already, it is becoming a boom-town. Already land is scarce and scarcity creates value.

Driving up to the Mayor’s office, Toni notices the Mayor’s car is parked in front and a light is on in the building, which doubles as Toni’s office. A double-wide trailer, with a makeshift lobby in the center. She reluctantly enters the building and taps on the mayor’s door. “Manny? Are you there?”

“Come in Toni.”

Entering the room, Toni can see the Mayor has a bottle of tequila open on his desk. “Celebrating Manny?”

“Si Senorita. Can I offer you a drink?”

“No Sir, not while on duty.”

Manny is leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed behind his head. A confident smile stretches across his face. “Big things are happening in Pie Town, big things.”

Toni crosses her arms and stares into Manny’s eyes. “Big things like what? Like Money? Like selling out the locals?”

Manny sits up abruptly, “Don’t you talk to me like that. You work for me.” Manny pours a shot and quickly drinks it down, takes a drink from a can of cola and clears his throat.

Toni steps forward, “My job is to take care of the people in this town. That’s what I was hired to do.”

“What are you accusing me of anyway?”

“There has been a lot of talk about people selling their properties against their will. I saw you meet a man near the telescope, he had some kind of briefcase and I saw you leave with it. What was in it?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. Besides, what business is it of yours what kind of case I carry around? Huh? Are you spying on me? You don’t trust me? You think I’m one of these criminals floating in and out of this town? Huh?”

Manny pours another shot. Tosses it down his throat and winces. Looking noticeably woozy, Manny’s tone becomes more belligerent. With a crazed glossy stare, he seems to look beyond Toni as he shows his teeth and raises his voice, “I built this town into what it is and I gave you this job. I can take it away again you bitch! How dare you accuse me of anything. You can’t prove a thing and besides, I bet a poor girl like you from the res is probably finding her own ways to make money on the side.”

Toni stands silently listening to what is almost a confession, knowing that she, in fact, has no proof. She watches Manny as he justifies himself with a repugnant denial. Knowing that logic or an appeal to the truth is hopeless. Manny indignantly rants from a position of authority that grows not from a leader but from a fading drunken star listing and wavering to maintain its position.

Regretting that she approached the mayor in his drunken state, Toni tries to put him at ease. “Listen, Manny, just calm down. My job is to ask these questions. You know, I really don’t care if you make a little money on the side. You don’t have to worry about me. Ok?”

Manny’s breathing slows. His expression softens and he sits back in his chair again. He pauses and then leans forward, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll just forget about this whole thing. Got it? You’re not the only person who carries a gun in this town, you know that?”

“Are you threatening me?”

Manny leans back again and smiles, “No… Just that I can hire someone else to do your job if I want. That’s all… I’m done talking.”

“Yes, Sir.” Toni leaves the office thinking things did not go as she planned. Concerned about Manny’s intentions, she gets in her Bronco and heads home. On the way, she rehearses the mayor’s words. “You’re not the only person who carries a gun in this town.” Toni thinks about the meaning. She considers the grimmest possibility, that maybe he would hire one of these drifters to kill her.

Who would be stupid enough to kill a cop?

Then, considers that Pie Town has the greatest concentration of criminals in the country and that Manny probably knows quite a few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 5 MORNINGS

The next day, Lou drives around to get a look at rural parts of the town. He stops to see a foundation for a new building being poured. Teenage boys stand around watching the cement truck while resting on their bicycles. Further beyond, a few more lots are being etched into the natural landscape. Lou pauses to contemplate a momentary feeling of loss, like the innocence of the town, is being violated, though the townspeople don’t appear to feel that way.

As Lou contemplates the future of the town, he hears gunshots and looks around trying to pinpoint the origin. As he does, the boys also take notice. One boy points in a general direction southeast. Most people seem uninterested in the noise. Even the boys lack any curiosity to investigate.

Lou is unable to ignore his curiosity. His desire to investigate is almost Pavlovian. Every one of his senses is on alert as he drives away in the general direction. Driving south on W. Bar rd, he sees a turn off with a makeshift wooden sign that reads “Dump Road” in blue paint. He turns on to the road and continues a few hundred yards. He slows when he sees a group of men and women standing in a row, including the one named Tucker. They are arm’s length apart holding pistols and rifles of different types. One man is marching towards them from the front.

Beyond the man stands hills and mounds of dirt and garbage adorned with bottles and cans standing at attention. After the man returns, there is a pause, someone gives a verbal signal, and the air erupts in a chorus of gunfire that continues until the last object is gone.

When the gunfire ends, a silvery blue smoke fills the air above their heads as they laugh and reload. A volunteer marches out to stand up another row. Lou begins to realize he overreacted and that a gunshot is just not as significant in this part of the country.

How do you tell the difference between lethal and recreational gunfire?

Momentarily, a lone mongrel dog creeps wearily upon a distant mound sniffing religiously back and forth across the debris, sweeping his head like a metal detector. Working meticulously with his nose, he becomes unanimous to the attention of the shooters who curiously watch with their heads turned to the side and follow his accent across the top a single mound. When the animal stops, sits and leans on one hip to scratch his ear, a single rifle points toward the dog from amidst the crowd. There is a sense of patience and reserve among the shooters. A quiet sense of calm, until a lone explosive round, reverberates in the air. Appropriately, the animal is laid waste in an instant with a bounce and lightness that seems more antiseptic then cruel and sends the liberated soul over the hillock to an open grave just on the other side.

Almost without notice, the crowd moves their attention back to the bottles and cans as if the shooting the dog is not just an exercise in aim, but an exercise in the resignation of emotion that is required to actually use a gun in its most designate moment.

Stunned, Lou looks to the crowd to see the shock on their faces. There is none. And though he knows that this act was abjectly wrong, the sense of reciprocation that a social being needs to fully understand how he feels was missing. There was no expression on the faces by which to compare his own remorse. A numbness fills his heart where there should have been a sickness. A feeling of dread guides his decision to flee. He sinks into a sadness. With no other desire, Lou turns and heads out of the dump.

As he approaches the exit, Toni sits in her light green Bronco, wearing sunglasses. Lou slowly drives past. She follows him with her eyes. He takes note of her vehicle. –Clearly law enforcement-.

Still shaken, he is upended by the notion that in this place nothing abnormal happened and he doubts his own emotions as he swallows the lump in his throat.

As Lou drives back into town, he becomes accustomed to the sound of the gunshots until he just doesn’t hear them anymore.

Lou continues back and drives around town. He parks, gets out, walks in somewhere and then leaves, parks again and does the same thing. Every morning Lou heads out to Guy’s diner on US–60 for his morning cup. He spends his time spotting known criminals, writing reports and forming minor relationships.

After a couple of days, it seems futile. Lou just walks to the main streets and strolls about. It’s nice. He finds it easier to engage people, get to know the locals and ask questions.

After a while, he goes unnoticed. Lou walks around and takes note of suspicious persons while waiting and searching for Nikolai Milkovich to appear. Here, his behavior seems normal. Normal for a town with an abnormal amount of criminals and detectives.

On the third day, he orders a meal and listens to the diner sounds. The diner has dated green pastel colored vinyl seats and countertops. The waitresses wear pink skirts or pants with white bibs and scarfs on their heads. Lou enjoys the laid back small town atmosphere and dated surroundings of an old diner.

After the waitress brings his coffee, he takes his first sip and swivels his stool around to look out over the street activity. Lou confidently scans the crowd.

It’s nice to show these goons that I can go wherever I want.-

Looking around, Lou is astounded at the number of new faces. The facial landscape changes so often that it almost feels like a bus station. He glances around until he makes eye contact with Sarah, a girl that works at the diner. Sarah smiles, but she smiles at everyone. He still doesn’t know her last name and doesn’t dare ask, as it would seem too obvious.

Besides, he’s sure most people in town he’s a spook. Mainly because an old fellow who goes by the name of Dodge once sat next to him and boldly asked,

“Howdy. They call me Dodge. Wuch you do son?”

Lou mildly smiled, “I’m an FBI detective if that’s what you mean?”

Dodge nodded in agreement, stood and answered, “Good enough for me!” Then, got up and walked back to his table. He sat down with three other ancient ranchers, riddled with age spots and crooked hands, Dodge muttered something, and then they all nodded in agreement, look over and smile.

After that everybody smiled and Lou could no longer tell the difference between real and contrived smiles. The good thing was that most town folks felt comfortable with law enforcement.

Daily, more supposed criminals rolled in or out, behind them, more detectives. The townspeople seemed strangely detached from the ebb and flow of strangers. These three factions somehow developed a symbiotic relationship, which had its own sense of order.

The day Lou spots Nikolai, Lou was stepping into the convenience store at the corner of Custard and US 60. At the ATM stood Nikolai. Lou recognizes him immediately. Why I didn’t notice him all of this time. He looks fatter than I remember.

Nikolai is clearly 50 pounds heavier.

Lou watches as the Milkman scans the aisles and the refrigerated drinks like a woman admiring a rack of expensive shoes. He runs his fingers over chocolate bars and beef jerky packages as if the texture of the container feeds his senses with information about the contents. Lou says nothing, just watches while Nikolai browses the aisles and checks out.

Lou casually purchases something and delays in following him out of the store.

“Does he come in here much?” Lou says to the attendant.

“Na, I don’t know. Maybe, I just started working here.”

“Great. Say, where do people go around here at night?”

“Well, a lot of younger people hang out here under the street light. We got the only street light in town right there over the gas pump.

“Nice.”

“Yeah. It’s cool. It’s broken too. It flickers at night like a strobe light.”

Lou walks out to the parking lot only after Nikolai drives away. He stands in the parking lot, takes notice of Nikolai’s car and the direction it’s going.

While watching him drive west on US 60, Lou sees a tall woman with long straight dark shiny hair get out of a light green vehicle and walk into the post office, about 300 feet away on the other side of the street.

-It’s the police officer who watched me at the dump.-

Lou hasn’t been inside the post office yet and decides to have a look. By the time he walks up to the door, the woman is on her way out.

She abruptly pushes the door open as Lou reaches for it. “Whoa, watch out their partner.” She says with a smile.

Lou reaches, grabs the handle and justs to hold the door, watching her walk away. The air around her was sweet and floral. Attractive and confident, statuesque but athletic, she casually turns back and they exchanged glances. She climbs into her light green Ford Bronco and drives away.

He enters the post office. There is a small waiting area. Behind the counter is a mountain of brown boxes and packages. There is one thing in common among the boxes and packages that stand out, They all say in bold letters HIKING.” Lou looks down and sees a nameplate, “Lauri Anaya.”

“ Hi Lauri, my name is Lou Tennent. I gotta ask, what’s with all of these packages with the word hiking?”

Lauri ignores the question, “Lieutenant of what?”

“No, that’s my name, Louis Tennant.”

Lauri smiles, “Oh ok. Well, people hiking along the continental divide like to send supply packages that they can pick up when they arrive.”

“So, you just stack them up like this until they get here?”

“Well, it’s like this, they send supplies to all of the post offices along the route, all the way up to Canada. This way the hikers don’t have to carry all of their supplies, just what they need to get to the next post office. However, during the last year, the amount of these packages has increased dramatically. When there used to be six packages waiting on hikers, there’s now 60. The number of packages began to increase after the newcomers arrived. If you know what I mean?

The hikers count on us to provide those packages. It’s really a small inconvenience but lately, it’s gotten worse. As long as people come and get them, I don’t care.”

“Have you ever found illegal items, like drugs or weapons?”

“No, but I’m sure they’re in there.”

“Are you curious?”

“Nope.”

One thing Lou knows is that there is a subtle difference between curiosity and assumptions in detective work. Lou reminds himself that a good detective can be curious and make assumptions at the same time. Like a scientist, a detective should be partly driven by curiosity, but not so much that a fact-based path is ignored. Equally, assumptions can be made, but not so much that one is invested in the outcome of an assumption. One must not search to prove an assumption correct, but rather to prove them wrong.

This is where the science of detective work becomes polluted by desires and ego. Assuming someone is guilty and trying to prove it, is an error. What is far worse, however, is assuming innocence and allowing a criminal to go unnoticed.

In this new place, Lou feels he doesn’t “Get it”. He has to learn about the place and the people, stay open-minded, optimistic and curious but on guard at all times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 6 PIE TOWN

New Mexico’s southwest corner is smattered with small cities and towns. The slow pace of life grants the inhabitants clean air, water and little to no wrinkles in their lives. Pie Town is an inconspicuous road stop in the area. For visitors, it has remained a remote but pleasant stopping point when traveling across the continental divide through the southern part of the state.

Long ago the town had its first growth spurt after the great depression and when the dust bowl forced many homesteaders and ranchers to flee Oklahoma and surrounding areas.

The 1940s and 50’s reminisce as Pie Towns heyday when families thrived for a short time during and after WWII. There are still remnants of mid-twentieth century civilization, like an abandoned gas station from a bygone time. Remnants of rusted out tin signs with the faint markings of Cola and gas stations dot the roadways.

Since then, the population has declined due to periods of drought and lack of jobs. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 186. Miraculously, today, the population is estimated at over 1200.

Out of the way with only a few roads intersecting highway US–60, Pie Town set itself on a journey to rival all of the drama of a big city complete with law enforcement and criminals. All because of a law that exempts criminals from arrest as long as they are eating, Ordinance 12.

Most locals own thriving businesses. One way or another the locals benefit from the arrival of the “city folk.” They go about their lives often complaining about the new pace of life but also grateful for the new encounters of restaurants, cable TV, and a convenience store.

The Convenience store is home to the only street light in town. A street light that has developed a flicker. Many young people tend to congregate in the parking lot of the store where the light is good. The store provides a quick drink or cigarettes.

The reason for all of this couldn’t be more bizarre. After ordinance 12 was passed, the unforeseen consequences were staggering. In a matter of two years, the town flourished with criminals evading justice. It’s a trade-off. Eat to be free or go to jail.

As a result, the lifestyles of know criminals are a continuous hand full of snack food and dining out. Eating or pretending to eat is a constant. No activity is complete without consumption. Liquids don’t count. A milkshake or smoothie is under debate but nobody takes that chance.

With only two hands, one is always engaged with the holding of food while the other is constantly acting alone to answer phones, open wallets or doors.

Sleeping is another game. The convenience store sells easy to administer nighttime snacks. Tricks and gimmicks are employed at all cost to avoid apprehension. Carrots suspended from a string above the bed. Candies taped to the upper lip, Pillows stuffed with marshmallows. Even alarms and tripwire traps ready to stimulate a handful of peanuts to be launched into ones face.

There are a few restaurants in town and a few roadside stands conveniently assembled for that quick bite.

Auxiliary businesses are springing up. Real estate is booming. Billboards are scattered along the streets. Most of the streets are still dirt but sidewalks have been poured. Utilities are growing out into the suburbs and ironically crime is down. Too much honest money to be made.

Police detectives frequently arrive to investigate the whereabouts of suspects. They stay a while and leave, sometimes apprehending someone. Bounty hunters lurk around as suspicious as the criminals. Trying to blend in, they wait in the shadows to nab wanted criminals for money.

With the concentration of criminals frequenting the small town, one would think catching crooks would be like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s not. It’s much more complicated than that.

The true identity of most people in town is unknown. Faces come and go. Transactions are carried out in cash. Money affects people’s memories so it’s difficult to rely on eyewitness accounts of this person or that.

In Pie Town, there are 100 criminals for every one detective. This creates a precarious neighborhood of strangers gradually becoming aware of each other’s presence. Locals have become accustomed to the growth and rarely bat an eye at the behavior of outsiders.

There is no shortage of mindful glances, penetrating stares from across streets and dreadful pauses as one waits for another to pass, giving up his intended destination. If you watch the streets long enough, you can see strange men standing, waiting, then moving and waiting again.

As there is an increase in strange people that go unnoticed, so too there are strays and packs of dogs that loiter, rummage and gang-around. The packs resemble circus freaks, clowns and carnival folk. Their behavior is that of dogs, but no less that of loathsome desperate men. The kind the floats in and out of Pie Town. And like the human folk, the dogs go about their day exploiting the world that allows their behavior to go unchecked. Just as a domesticated dog will swipe a morsel of food or sleep on the sofa, so will a man take what is not expressly denied him or sleep in whatever bed most excites him. Only when those that deplore an action by another speak up, or at the very least like man to man and joke about it, can a man even begin to fend off his descent into animal behavior.

And because dogs and men behaved this way so regularly, that no one takes notice even as they passed by on foot. Both the observed and the observer neglect to admonish their actions. The reinforcement of neglect spoils the chances of recovery. Only those with a true sense of self-reflection can overcome this viral behavior.

Among the dogs, in this great scheme of biologics, the bitch-dog must choose which derelict to succumb too. And when she does, she gives up all right to the method by which he delivers his seed. For, it was only this that he is a slave and all else is a means to its end. When a dog eats, runs, sleeps and waits, it is only to achieve this secret purpose, even when his passions seem otherwise. And if the female type realizes that the male type knows no other cause, it is then that she can manage the pack of panting malingerers. Too strong and her power is robbed by those who would take. Too weak and she will be pursued even more so by those that stalk and poach for a chance. This does not mean that her efforts are now eclipsed but that her thwarting must now intensify.

The city limits are frequently staged with regular law enforcement vehicles. It’s not uncommon for State police to pull over vehicles coming or going. Locals get a wave-on-by while unknown trucks and cars get a thorough looking over. This is not to say that they always do. Often, there is no patrol in sight.

The new chief of police spends her time acting in her professional capacity, responding to calls, seeing to the wellbeing of the local community, and upholding the law even if that includes a ridiculous one. She drives a ford bronco painted light green. It was purchased through GSA from the forest service. Occasionally, she is seen on horseback.

It sounds crazy but the logic of it all lies in “Liability.” After the city was sued for the wrongful death of a citizen who died at the scene by way of asphyxiation, the police were blamed. Largely punitive towards the police, the law made little difference in the lives of Pie Town residence. Until, a year later when word got out, about a safe haven, and the population started to grow.

At first, most newcomers to the town kept a low profile. As the numbers grew, so did businesses, and modern conveniences. Soon, the small town started to thrive. Eventually, high profile criminals showed up and then police detectives. Abandoned residences and vacant lots began to become occupied, legally and otherwise.

The nearest town east of Pie Town is Datil. To the West is Omega, which is smaller than Pie Town and halfway to Quemado. From Datil or Quemado a person can drive south. The two roads meet at Apache Creek in the Gila Wilderness. It’s there that a person can hide from the world if Pie Town isn’t far enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 7 THE MAYOR

Lou stops in to see the mayor of Pie Town, Emmanuel (Manny) Caldwell. The trailer is situated next to the Pie Town post office, in between The Gatherin’ Place, and Pie-O-Neer Pies, two cafe hangouts frequented by the locals.

Lou enters the mayors’ trailer and encounters a young woman at a desk. She stares up at him with a blank expression. Lou checks for a nameplate. It reads Dominique with a piece of masking tape covering the last name. She has a short straight dark hair cut in a bob, half-rimmed black reading glasses and a white blouse with a colorful scarf. She holds a small tanned colored Chihuahua, shivering and gently squinting his eyes. Dominique cradles the dog in her left forearm and holds its two rear legs in a bundle with her right hand. She raises its little paws up to her nose and sniffs. The dog is tilted almost horizontal but is unmoved.

Dominique continues to wait for an action from Lou. Lou introduces himself, “Hello, my name is Louis Tennent I have an appointment with the Mayor.

Dominique responds with a restrained smile, “Hi I’m Dominique. Pleased to meet you. This is Corn Chips.” She holds up the dog slightly and whispers, “one second.”

Then, raises her chin and yells out, “Manny! Louis is here!”

From behind a thin partition wall covered with rustic wood paneling, Manny calls back. “Come on in Louis.”

Dominique gives a quick nod with her head to the right, urging Lou to enter the back room and then kisses Corn Chips.

Manny is on the phone behind his desk, to the right sits a tan skinned mustachioed man with slicked-back shiny black hair. The mustachioed man smiles at Lou with big bright eyes and makes a quick nod in the air with his head as if to say hello without disturbing the mayor.

Manny looks at Lou while trying to pay attention to the person on the phone. He holds up his index finger as if to imply one minute.

Lou takes a seat furthest to the left of Manny’s desk where he then makes eye contact with the other man once again. The other man just stares and smiles. Lou looks away and around the room as if to not notice.

Manny is finishing a phone call, “Ok Jered. I like it. I like it a lot. I’ll finish up with my council and we’ll tell you just how many we need. Thanks again… You too… By for now… Ok.” Manny hangs up the phone and confidently looks at the other man. “We got em Filiberto!”

The other man clenches a fist, grits his teeth and squints his eyes, shouting, “YES! How many?”

“At least 50 and then extra cows to fill it out if we need em.”

Filiberto stares straight up with clenched fists, “Fifty bulls, this is going to surpass my greatest expectations. What kind again?”

“The bulls are a hybrid mix of Chianina and Texas Longhorn.”

The two men are ecstatic. They both rejoice and begin stirring their bodies with wide smiles and distant looks in their eyes as if they are both having the same hallucination.

Manny turns to Lou and apologizes. “Oh sorry, Louis you just caught us in the middle of finalizing some big plans. Wow. This is gonna be great… How rude of me, this is Filiberto Gonzalez Pie Town’s Barber. He has a shop just across the street and up away. Filiberto is what I like to call my council.”

All great men have great men behind them. Behind the scenes and working diligently to not let their great man fail. Truth be told, they are only as great, or more so, as the sum of their secret counterparts. Those like Filiberto who stridently force the great man’s efforts to seamlessly and effortlessly become reality. The great man’s skill is not necessarily his knowledge and insight but in his ability to delegate and make habitual his followers into believing that his success is theirs. Knowledge and insight are the responsibilities of those that are not tainted by ego, as is the great man’s folly. However, in some cases and this is one, the counter-part manipulates the leader. Ignorantly, the wishes of the secondary man become the efforts of the primary man and since the primary lacks insight and has been groomed by his own ego, self-aggrandizing endeavors fill the agenda.

Lou looks over at Filiberto who is smiling and nodding in agreement. Manny continues, “Filiberto has conceived of a wonderful idea that is going to make Pie Town a national attraction.”

Really, what is it?” Lou asks.

Filiberto interrupts proudly, “The running of the bulls.”

Lou makes no effort to speak. Manny and Filiberto both stand quietly waiting for its impact to take hold of Lou.

Lou realizes that it’s his turn to talk and says, “Oh. Like in Spain.”

Lou’s answer breaks the awkward silence and everyone nods in relief.

Manny instructs Filiberto. “Now go tell the others. I have some other things to take care of. I’ll see you back here later.”

Filiberto astutely answers, “Ok boss.” Then marches out of the room.

Manny turns his attention to Lou. “Well, what can I do for you, Mr. Louis Tennent.” While he reads from a notebook.

Lou speaks up, “Well, Mr. Mayor.”

Manny interrupts, “Just call me Manny.”

“Fine.” Lou answers, “Well… Manny what I wanted to talk about was this ordinance.”

Manny rolls his eyes, “Yah, yah, Ordinance 12.

Lou continues, “Well it just seems to create a whole lot of trouble. It protects criminals and makes law enforcement work much more difficult. It just doesn’t make sense. I understand it’s up for review?”

Manny reacts, “All right detective I get it. It’s a huge inconvenience. Well, you need to get this, this law saved Pie Town.”

Manny begins to recite the ordinances as if he has done it many times, while Lou crosses his arms in front of himself in defiance, “Ordinance, 12 section(a), subsection(1). No person within the city limits of Pie Town shall be arrested while consuming food. Listen, when the Salazar family sued Pie Town in a wrongful death lawsuit, it emptied the coffer! Now, for better or worse we have a fighting chance, a great chance to make something fantastic happen here.”

Lou slowly blinks his eyes and then looks up, “For the worse, I say. This madness has to end sometime and when it does maybe there will be something left to be proud of here. If this goes on another two years, there might not be anyone to save it for, just a bunch of thugs pigging themselves out.“

Lou pauses, “I don’t think you know where this thing is going to go.”

Manny places his hands on his hips and replies in a louder voice, “I don’t care! We finally got something better than we ever had. In two weeks we’ll vote again on repealing the ordinance. That will be two years since its introduction, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. One year ago I might have said it wouldn’t make a difference.”

Manny holds his hands in the air, “But, in the last eight months, things have dramatically changed. We are even planning new events throughout the year. The most important will be our own running of the bulls.

Manny holds up his hand and points into the air in an easterly direction, “Like they do in Spain. Filiberto the barber across the street is planning on being the MC.”

Manny continues to point with his finger in the air while nodding quickly, “Have you seen the construction on W. Bar rd?”

Lou shakes his head with a short quick motion and a confused look on his face saying, “Uh I guess,”

Manny continues, “There is a quarter mile stretch with a six-foot fence on both sides of the street? It ends just before town, where we have a corral setup to capture the bulls at the end of the run. When the corral is closed the road opens. Every safety precaution has been considered. We are expecting a huge outcome. Besides, there is not a single business owner that does not benefit from this ordinance. Revenue is skyrocketing and jobs are through the roof. For once the young people don’t move away to look for work. What more could we ask for?”

Lou looks down and smiles, then looks up at Manny, “Justice?”

Manny leans forward and sticks his chin out, “What’s justice?”.

Lou quickly responds in a definitive voice. “The Law!”

Manny smiles confidently saying. “Right, the law. So, you follow the law and don’t make any arrests while they’re eating. I follow it too but there is one thing more, I’m interested in… Fairness. It’s only fair that we benefit from the law. As far as I am concerned, things are finally getting fair around here.”

Lou nods and acknowledges, “I see your point but that doesn’t change my job. Thanks for your time Manny. I’ll see you later” Lou saunters out of the Mayor’s office. His lumbering steps resonate in the open space below the trailer. Hollow and empty, the trailer feels shabby and impermanent. While the door is closing behind him, he hears Manny. “Later, and no more food fights.”

Lou leaves the mayor’s trailer and steps onto the porch and into the open air of Pie Town. He pauses for a moment to take a deep breath and survey what he can see of the small dingy town.

One huge contrast to New Jersey, Lou immediately notices, is the lack of tall trees. This creates a vista of a big blue sky dotted with small pearl white puffy clouds and distant views. The stark contrast of tan and rust red rock make the sky that much bluer. The ground cover is a blend of dry grasses and dark green scrubby piñon trees.

His train of thought is broken by the sputter and hum of a small plane which seems to be nearing. Lou scans the airspace above to reveal a small single-engine plane buzzing no more than a half mile overhead. Struggling to complete the journey across the open air of Pie Town, he equates the dismal little plane with the dismal little town and smirks in disregard.

Lou steps down from the porch into the dirt. Parked on the shoulder of US–60, in front of the mayor’s trailer, about 30 feet out, is a 4×4 patrol car with light green paint.

Leaning back against the hood on the passenger side facing the office is the beautiful woman he saw at the post office. Lou realizes that she’s a cop.

Tall, statuesque with an athletic build, Her obvious toned arms fill out her shirt. Long shiny dark braided hair hangs over her left Shoulder. Her smooth tanned heart-shaped face, high cheekbones, and big brown eyes have a pleasant demeanor.

She casts a smile in Lou’s direction, as Lou closes the gap between them.

He notices her hat. It’s an off-white rancher style with a tall crown. The hat makes her look that much taller as he gets closer. A wide leather hatband sits on top of the brim at the base of the crown. It has a rustic looking buckle and a small black and white feather tucked in the left side.

There is mutual respect among law enforcement everywhere a lawman goes and Lou extends a hand and says with a smile “Good morning.”

Toni smiles back and replies with “morning” as she straightens her body and takes one step away from the car. They shake.

Lou adds to the introduction, “Louis Tennent, FBI, Newark, New Jersey. Friends call me Lou.”

Toni nods and replies, “I know who you are. I’m Totsoni Begay, Pie Town Police Chief. Ramah, New Mexico, You can call me Toni.”

Both pause in acknowledgment for a moment. Toni casually asks as a smile grows on her face, “Here to catch a crook?”

Lou replies while scratching his head, “Uh, yeah. How did you guess?” They both laugh. “So you’re the police chief?”

“Yep,” Toni replies and waits.

“How many others on the force?”

“Just me,” Toni states confidently.

“Really, with all of these criminals on the prowl?” Lou asks.

Toni pauses to think for a second and then chooses her words carefully, “Well, you have to understand that there is really only about 200 permanent residents. You know, the original townspeople. Those original folk who were here before things blew up. All these others are well… Tourists.”

“Tourists?” Lou questions in a sarcastic tone.

“Sure,” Toni says. “They come. They go. Some stay longer than others. As long as I don’t have to intervene in there lives, I don’t. It’s like a vacation destination. For spring break in Daytona Beach or Cabo, the local police know tourists represent income for the city. They know that there will be frat boys passing out in gutters and young ladies flashing their boobs.

Like it or not, it’s what they spend their money on. Besides, it isn’t any of my business what they did back in their hometowns. Know what I mean? I look out for the locals and try to help the tourist get through their stay in Pie Town. It’s the right thing to do. I try to do what’s right and be kind to everyone. Besides, I’m plenty busy with the locals and if I ever need assistance, I can call the county sheriff of the state police. You’ll see them around now and then.”

Toni pauses and looks down with a concerned expression, “There is one other group you should probably know about.”

“Who?”

“The bounty hunters.”

“I know about bounty hunters. They’re actually not that bad.”

Toni shakes her head with a disturbed look on her face, “These guys are different. They can pull people out of here in the night and nobody knows where they end up. Since most people don’t divulge their full identity or stay very long, it’s difficult to really know enough to verify anything. Only when a local gets caught in the middle, I intervene.”

Lou changes the subject, “Is that your vehicle?”

“Yep,” Toni confidently replies. “I use a horse every now and then too.”

“A horse? What is this the O.K. Corral?” Lou jokes sarcastically and laughs.

“You think it’s funny. Have you ever rode a horse?” Toni asks.

“Well, no.”

“I know it sounds strange to a city cop, but a horse is the best off-roading vehicle you can find, especially for this kind of terrain. Horses can go anywhere and they don’t get a flat. Besides, it’s easy to get lost out here. A horse can always find his way back home even if you can’t.”

Lou nods and blinks, “Good point.”

Toni continues. “Out here there’s stretches of open grassy land with cactus and yucca and areas with thick dense piñon trees, cottonwood or ponderosa pine. Then suddenly, it drops off into an arroyo.”

“A what?” Lou asks.

Toni repeats it, “An arroyo. Like a small dry river or gulch that only flows during the rainy season. You can come up on one kinda sudden. They’re deep with sand and a truck can get stuck pretty bad. Then, you’ll have to hike out to get help. You don’t have that problem with a horse.”

Lou nods as if he gets it, “This might be a dumb question, but where do you keep the horse?”

“Right.” Toni answers. “Well, there’s quite a few folks with horses around here and some of them rent out stable space for a fee. I have an arrangement with an old fella that goes by the name of Dodge.”

Lou interrupts, “Yeah, I’ve met him.”

Toni laughs, “I bet you have, he gets around quite a bit for an old boy. Well, like I was saying, I help out with his horses, like brushing and shoeing, and he lets me ride them when I want. He lives just north of here, about a quarter mile north of the giant Telescope.

He’s not so good at taking care of the horses since his wife passed and she loved them. It’s been a few years since she’s been gone and he’s all alone up there, so it’s also a way to check in on him. It’s the least I can do and frankly, I love to ride. It’s good for the horses too. Everyone benefits. That’s how I do things around here. The people count on it. Especially with things changing the way they are.”

Lou nods in appreciation of Toni’s outlook on life, “Sounds like you know these people well. Gotta say I wish I had that kind of confidence about the people I look out for.” Lou stops to ponder something Toni mentioned, “Telescope you said?”

Yah,” Toni proudly answers. “It’s really a giant parabolic antenna that scientist use to monitor for light waves or cosmic radiation. It tracks and identifies black holes, galaxies, and killer asteroids, stuff like that. The turnoff to the road is just a half mile east down US 60. You might have seen it when you drove in here. There’s about a quarter mile dirt road leading up to it, it’s kind of a tourist attraction. Everyone goes and sees it at least once”

“Well, maybe I’ll check it out. See ya around Chief.

“Later, and don’t be a stranger” Toni replies.

Lou walks past Toni’s truck, to the edge of the road. Lou looks back at Toni. They both smile. Lou turns back, looks both ways down the road. Toni watches Lou as he quickly walks across.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 8 TUCKER

Lou pauses across the street from the mayor’s. Standing near the barbershop and the wiener stand, Lou decides to step in out of curiosity. Walking in, he notices the room is vacant and remembers that Filiberto left from the Mayor’s office in a hurry. Lou stands and looks out of the plate glass window, watching the street activity.

Staring out at the street, Lou mindfully debates the difference between justice and fairness, of right and wrong. “Arresting Nikolai would be justice but not fairness and it wouldn’t be right. Yet, letting him roam free is wrong.” For once Lou struggles with complying with the law, as it relates to his own personal feelings. The mayor’s comment about fairness makes sense. The police Chief’s idea of doing what’s right makes sense.

Then, what is justice? What is the law? What is necessary? Where do I go from here?

Lou stands paralyzed by his thoughts, watching the wiener stand accumulate a few new customers. One is stocky, relaxed and familiar looking. Another has a new face. He is lean and poorly dressed with shifty eyes. He looks around quickly, anxiously, as if he is waiting for something to happen. The stocky man does all of the talking, obviously introducing the other man to Pie town. Neither is of interest and Lou looks beyond the men back across the street towards Toni.

She is looking down at a cell phone, appearing to check and read messages. A window covering in Manny’s office is pulled back and Manny is staring out, staring down towards Toni. It is almost as if the two men are staring at each other with Toni in the middle. Manny’s face vanishes as the window covering falls back. About 10 seconds later Manny steps out onto the porch as Toni looks up at him. She stands quietly as Manny shakes his hand in a berating manner. She continues to stand motionless as Manny stomps down from the porch making accusative motions. His face is red and a vein is swelling out from his neck.

Manny walks up to Toni and looks up at her face and her down at him. He puts his hands on his face and shakes his head. He stands silent and then reaches out to clutch her arms at the elbows. She withdraws while whipping her hand in the air. She storms away, gets in her Bronco and drives off.

Manny stands silently looking in the direction of her vehicle. He looks up towards the barbershop, where Lou is standing. The two men look at each other until Manny is distracted by something down the street. He stares just to the side of the barbershop following something. A moment later, Filiberto walks quickly into view, waves at the mayor to get his attention. The two men stand on either side of the road shouting frantically at each other. Filiberto turns and enters the shop where Lou is standing.

Filiberto Stands silently with a look of impending doom. “You’re a police officer.”

“Well, yes, with the FBI.”

“We need your help. A boy is missing. He was taken by a man.”

Fearing the worst, Lou knows that the town is filled with every type of criminal and that time is of the essence. “You have to get ahold of everyone you can, text or call. We need everyone to look for him right now, and I mean now. I hope it’s not true, but if this child was abducted by some kind of perv, his best chance of survival is to be found right away.”

Filiberto nods, “Ok. I have nearly everyone in town on my cell phone. I can mass text everyone right now.”

Lou stares at Filiberto. “Do It!”

Filiberto sends out a mass message. “Kyle Calderon. Missing possible kidnapping. Everyone stop and look for him now!”

After completion of the text message, Lou puts his hand on Filiberto’s shoulder, “Great, do you have a car?”

“Yes, right out back.”

“Let’s go look for him.”

Filiberto and Lou get into Filiberto’s pick up truck. It’s white with telltale signs of rust around the wheel wells.

Lou turns to Filberto, “I have an idea. Let’s drive to that Dump Road.”

“Why?”

“Just a hunch.”

Filiberto and Lou turn the corner to Dump Road. Off the side, in a drainage ditch is a small bicycle. Ahead, down a winding road that weaves in between mounds of dirt and garbage is a pickup truck and a small car sitting at the end of the dump where a small gully begins and tall cottonwood trees are growing.

From behind they hear a honk. Filiberto and Lou look back, it is Chief Begay motioning with her hand to move. Filiberto speeds up driving his fastest to the parked vehicles. Behind them is Toni’s Bronco moving just as fast. As they come to a halt behind the small car, Toni is already out and running up to them holding a rifle.

Filiberto frantically asks, “Did you see the bike?”

Toni is looking around, “Yes. Did you see anyone else?”

“No, just these cars.”

Toni points to the truck, “This is Tucker’s but I don’t know the other.”

Just then, gunshots ring out from beyond the dump in the forested area. The three of them run to the sound of the shots. As they approach the tree line, they see a man holding a pistol with the faint remains of gun smoke floating gently away above his head like an angel.

Toni motions with her hand to Filiberto and Lou to stand back. She moves halfway between the gunman and the cars. “Police! Drop your gun!” Toni holds a rifle pointed straight at the man and walks up on him slowly.

A bearded man drops his pistol, holds his hands in the air, and turns his head, “It’s me Chief. Tucker. Everything is in order. I got your kidnapper.”

Toni continues to walk up cautiously. Behind the man is a young boy, Kyle Calderon. “Kyle, Kyle. Are you ok?”

Kyle looks up red-faced and crying. He is stripped down to his underwear, sitting with his arms wrapped around his knees, pulled to his chest. Tucker is standing calmly with his hands in the air. Beyond Tucker, sitting slumped against a cottonwood tree is a shirtless man with multiple gunshot wounds, motionless.

Tucker has his back to Kyle and then turns his head around as far back as he can to face the crying boy, “The boogie man’s dead Kyle. He’s dead. Don’t you worry, Nobody’s gonna hurt ya now.”

Toni leans down to pick up Tucker’s gun “Just stay there Tucker.” She then attends to Kyle. “It’s ok Kyle. You’re safe now. We’re gonna call your parents. Ok?”

Toni calls Filiberto and Lou over. “Filiberto, do you have Kyle’s home phone number?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Want, I should call them?”

“Please. Hey Lou, can you check out the man against the tree? I have to take care of the boy.”

Tucker stands silently with a dignified stance and a confident but mild smile on his face. “It was self-defense. He was hurting that boy. He’ll go to hell for what he tried to do. You should thank me for coming along when I did. I got Filiberto’s message just as I was driving into the dump for some target practice. A productive practice session I got to say.” Tucker pauses, “ Filiberto, you can tell his parents that nothing bad happened, if you know what I mean? He’s just scared.”

Toni stands up holding Kyle to her side, “Tucker, thanks. Just stay there. I gotta report this to the county Sheriff. Don’t worry, I understand what happened.”

Toni walks back to her Bronco and waits while Kyle’s mother and others are driving up to meet them. When the boy’s mother gets out the car, the boy breaks from Toni and runs to his mother. The two embrace crying. The mother looks up weeping, “Oh god thank you. Thank you, Toni. Thank you so much. I don’t know what I would have done?”

Toni interrupts, “Don’t thank me. Thank Dave Tucker.” The two women look back towards Dave, who is standing silently. Tucker raises one hand and waves to Kyle’s mother

After Filiberto and Lou arrive back at the barbershop, the two men thank each other for their actions and Lou makes his way out of the barbershop and slowly towards the convenience store contemplating what happened.

No matter how Lou reconstructs the events, he agrees that shooting the man was the right thing to do. Anything to stop the abuse of a child. Anything to stop a criminal. Anything to protect the innocent. “But what about the law? What about justice?”

Lou begrudgingly struggles with the meaning of being an FBI agent and resigns to the idea that there is more to justice than the law. Sometimes fairness means letting people fight for themselves and do what they see is right. Lou reconciles the difference by telling himself “If that Tucker guy broke the law then he can pay the consequences. It’s really none of my business. I have to concentrate on bring Milkovich back to New Jersey.”

Lou steps inside the store and selects a six pack of beer and walks back to his trailer, noticing all of the strange characters out and about.

The convenience store parking lot is full. The Wiener stand is crowded. The cafe traffic is nonstop. Cars seem to be scurrying around town as if there is some strange energy forcing them to drive. The lights are on in the Mayor’s office. Everyone seems to have something to do or someplace to go. A strange force seems to have grabbed this little town and plugged it into insanity mode.

Lou begins to feel distant and detached from the chaos of this ramshackle oasis. “Pie Town is a fluke, a mistake. This can’t go on. It’s all a nightmare, that’s all. I’m not going to waste my energy trying to figure out this crazy place.”

Lou strolls down a dirt road making his way back to his trailer. Up ahead is a group of boys and girls on bikes. They’re talking and laughing and biking in circles while a few dogs race alongside in what seems to be a made-up game involving made up rules that fit the moment, or whatever they think is fair at the time.

Lou recalls his own childhood and remembers the made up games and how the rules seemed to only make sense at the moment and he realizes that this is exactly what is happening in Pie Town. They’re just making up the rules as they go along. As crazy as it seems, this is right for now. It’s fair right now. Everyone in town is just playing a game that doesn’t make sense to anyone else.

Lou gets back to his trailer, makes a sandwich, opens a beer and realizes that Vince new this. Vince got it. It’s all a game. Just play the game and get out. Don’t fight the madness. “Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow I confront Milkovich.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 9 MILKOVICH

Nick Milkovich became a “CI” Confidential Informant. Maybe he flipped and told the truth or maybe he turned and told the FBI what they wanted to here. What is worse or better for whom?

The Milkman faced jail time if convicted and fashioned his testimony to please the ears of his accusers. This strategy attracts leniency. Leniency that enables the freedom to operate in public. Operate, the FBI hoped, in a way of “wearing a wire” or exposing other mob operations.

To the CI, it’s simply freedom. In the case of the Milkman, it was the freedom to flee to Pie Town where he could live without fear and perhaps just hide.

Nikolai Milkovich has resided in Pie Town for almost three months. When he disappeared from New Jersey he was a powerful looking man, no more than 5ft. 9in., weighing about 210 pounds he was muscular and intimidating. Now, he has ballooned to 260 pounds, a real whopper. He still postures himself to retain the confidence of his powerful persona he worked so hard to create.

Milkovich has two things on his mind. One, avoiding being taken back to New Jersey and having to act against the mob and two, avoiding assassination by the mob.

Milkovich knows that there is a detective in town who is interested in him. He has recently seen Lou in different places. Milkovich tries to remain hidden but when in public, he naturally continues to eat to avoid an opportunity to be apprehended.

Milkovich is sitting at the counter in Guy’s, one day after the food fight. He is having the one thing that Pie Town is known for besides criminals, pie.

Milkovich listens mildly to the conversations around him. He listens closely to one particular group of elderly ranchers sitting behind him at a table.

“They wanna pay in dollars to borrow my bulls to chase people down a dirt road. I was like, fella I don’t think your head is screwed on right and you want how many again? Then, he was like fifty or more and I was like, well if that’s what you want? But if ya ask me it’s kinda dangerous.

“Good gosh! You gonna do it?” another voice mumbles.

“Well, I might as well rent em, if I’m not doing nothing else, but can you think of anything more dangerous than a stampede of bulls chasing ya down a narrow street?”

Milkovich slowly turns and faces the table of elderly men with a confident look and states, “Plutonium.” Blank stares envelop the faces of everyone listening.

Nearby, Lou Tennent is watching and listening. He gets up walks up to Milkovich, “Hey Nick. You don’t know me but I know you. I’ve been watching you for a few days now. In fact, I’ve been wanting to meet you for quite a few years.”

“I know you. You’re the man who like follows me.”

“Right, that’s what I said,” Lou redundantly replies.”

Milkovich stares down at his plate, “Well, I got big news for you, I am witness protection. Until the time is up, I go nowhere. Understand?”

“I understand that you were required to stay in the state of New Jersey, but I don’t think you understand that the longer you remain unprotected, the shorter your life might get. I have been assigned to bring you back. I could just drag you back to Jersey, but I would rather you just agree to head back with me.”

“My life is no trouble, as you think. Anyway, you don’t know the story. You have nothing for me and that’s the truth my Yankee doodle friend. No one does.”

“No one but the mob, you think they are going to take a chance on you running your mouth to the feds? I don’t think so.” Lou pauses for a while to see if his words have sunk into the mind of Milkovich.

“I have a question, Milkovich.”

Nikolai glances over to Lou without moving his head. “What?” Milkovich snaps.

Lou tries to act very matter-of-factly, “Nate Jackson. Remember him?”

Milkovich takes a deep breath, giving away its significance and answering, “No, I don’t know.”

Lou tries to sound nonjudgmental, adding, “Well, its common knowledge that you were the one who put Nate out of his misery. I’m not judging you. I’m just interested in the facts. Besides, you already agreed to become a confidential informant in exchange for protection. First, let me just say that Nate probably got what he deserved. I just want you to know that you can tell me anything you want about Nate and anything else and I won’t judge you.”

Milkovich pauses and painfully finishes a bite of his apple pie. The turquoise pastel-colored vinyl stools begin to look unsettling. He was stuffed but knew he couldn’t stop now. “It’s all or nothing,” he thinks as the syrupy cinnamon sweetness gums up his mouth.

“You can’t keep living like this” Lou says as he sits down next to Milkovich, facing the opposite way with his elbows on the counter.

Lou ambiguously enjoys watching The Milkman gorge himself. It was a sort of pleasant payback for having to travel all of this to this podunk-cowboy town. Milkovich turns around on his stool to engage Lou and anyone within earshot that heard the comment.

Lou starts in again. “You gotta stop eaten sometime Nick… And when you do, my ass will be sitting right there”.

“UP YOU!”. Milkovich fires back.

“What’s “Up You”?”

Milkovich confidently replies, “Its Up Yours and Screw You, together. I invent it.”

Lou ponders the significance as Nick turns back around.

Nikolai turns and then realizes something is missing. The waitress has just walked away with his plate that still had some pie crust on it. He had no food and he just swallowed his last bite. It begins to dawn on him that he has made a mistake. Nikolai frantically tries to wave the waitress down and realizes he has to act before Lou catches on. Nikolai is fearful that Lou will arrest him at the moment.

Nikolai quickly raises his body up out of his stool. Like an elephant seal trying to pin a mate. He reels his rotund torso up on the counter, frantically swiping and grabbing for an éclair that was sitting on a cake serving plate beyond the counter in front of them.

“Hey”! Lou exclaims and then begins to realize as Milkovich did. “Stop right there. That’s stealing!” Lou says in a forced enthusiastic voice.

“Put it on my tab”. Milkovich casually mutters, meaning all of his other crimes.

From across the diner, a woman’s voice squeaks over the sound of clanking plates and dinnerware. “Are you paying for that?”

“Yes, babydoll,” Nick blurts out with a mouth full of éclair. Then drops a $20 on the counter holding his newly seized alibi and makes his way out to the street with éclair in hand.

Lou watches quietly and gently swivels his Diner chair slightly back and forth as Nikolai descends out on to the street. He knows the Milkman will make that éclair last longer than he wants to spend watching him.

“You’ll crack one day.” Lou thinks to himself and he casually scans the diner for any other persons of interest and decides to order a coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 10 ANDY

After ordering his coffee Lou confidently swivels his chair around to oversee the diner. Then, catches sight of another FBI agent, Andy Shannon. Andy was present in Geiger’s office during the meeting but more important, he assisted Lou with the Nate Jackson Murder.

Lou blinks his eyes and refocuses to be sure it’s him. His appearance is unexpected. Andy is wearing eyeglasses with thick lenses that cause him to look more deliberately at his surroundings. His skin is loose and weathered. His lower jaw has a protruding shape. His lower lip is just slightly forward. Probably, from a bad fitting bottom denture. It gives his mouth an obvious grimace.

One feature is as prominent as Lou remembers, his ears. Andy has the curse of the Irish, large ears. They protruded from the sides of his head like two halves of a pear. This and his other features make him look chimpanzee-like.

Andy is hunched slightly. Beyond a doubt, he was grizzled but oddly intimidating as if he has “been around the block” and wasn’t afraid of going around again. Lou cringes with memories of Andy.

He first met Andy 5 years earlier in New Jersey when Lou was just started with the FBI and Andy was already a seasoned veteran. Lou was on his first case. A case involving a small-time criminal named Nate Jackson. The same Nate Jackson that the Milkman murdered. Nate was apparently connected to some mob insiders like Nikolai Milkovich.

Nate had been picked up on a petty charge of stealing a watch from a jeweler. These Jewelers are connected and wasted no time fingering Nate. Nate was about to turn over some juicy details about Milkovich’s activities in exchange for light treatment.

The FBI was called in when the information seemed to be of a federal crime nature. Tennent was called in to speak with Nate. Before Tennent could make it downtown to question him, someone posted a bond and he was gone.

After Tennent arrived at the county lockup, there was Andy Shannon. He walked up to Tennent and said. “You’re too late kid, Nate’s outta here.”

“Who are you?”

“Andy Shannon,” Andy extends a hand. Lou reciprocates, and they shake. Andy continues, “I’ve been with the FBI going on 19 years. I heard you were on your first case so I made a special request to help you out. Just like you, I came down here as soon as I heard Nate had the beef on some mobsters.”

Confused, Lou optimistically curls his lips, “Well maybe I can catch him at home and just ask him a few questions? Besides, I just wanted to talk to him about another perp named Nick Milkovich.”

Andy squints his eyes as if to be extra interested, “Yah right… Milkovich” and slowly sounds out his name. “Just stick with me kid. I’ll show you how to nab these knuckleheads.

“Wow, great. Where do we start?”

Andy smiles with one corner of his mouth and nods with confidence “Well, first, don’t make any reports out just yet about these guys… I got a hunch. Let’s go get a cup-a-joe”.

Lou and Andy sit down in some obscure coffee shop, where Andy recounted the good ole days in the FBI. After an hour or so, Andy gets up, “Man, gotta run. Hey, why don’t you check out some of the pool halls on the East side? Nate might be hanging out over there. You know to avoid this part of town.”

Yah. Ok?” Lou leaves and walks back to his car, sits down and retrieves a file folder. In it are some papers describing Nikolai Milkovich, an early mugshot and a recent photo of Nikolai standing on a street. Lou studies the photos for a minute, drops it and drives away.

The next day after Lou arrives at the office. He finds a note on his desk.

NATE JACKSON DEAD! EMMET ST. AND AVENUE C. NEAR THE RAILROAD TRACKS. Darrell.

“Holly Crap!” A few people within earshot casually look over.

“Sorry,” Lou announces, checks his pockets for essentials, grabs a few things and runs out.

After 30 minutes of driving, Lou arrives at the scene. In access way of a fenced-in vacant lot, about 200 feet from the end of a dead-end street, lies the body of Nate Jackson. Wearing a red matching running outfit with two white stripes down the sleeves and legs. He has three bullet holes through his chest. Lou just stares down as police radios are bantering. Nates body lies next to the fence, surrounded by garbage bags. Crime scene investigators are rummaging through the bags looking for evidence of ownership. Other bits of debris, leaves and foreign objects are scattered along the lower part of the fence like a tapestry. Each fragment, an indicator of time and place. Every inch of the scene is carefully analyzed, photographed and documented.

Lou senses the wind direction and stares into it, intuitively looking for the origin of objects blowing past. His eyes follow a piece of paper heading straight towards them. It blows in past the fence and gets caught upon Nates big toe. It hangs there flapping, stubbornly reluctant to fly free. Lou steps closer and grabs a scrap of paper. Holds it up and reads. “DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG UNDER PENALTY OF LAW.” Lou stands silently pondering the irony, wondering what kind of degenerate would tear the tag off of their mattress, then lets it go in the wind.

Without warning, from his right side Lou hears a voice speaking mildly but near him, “What a shame.”

“Whoa,” Lou turns around startled.

It’s Andy Shannon. “Sorry kid. I didn’t mean to scare ya. Looks like your boy Nate got whacked. Did you get a chance to talk to him?”

Lou struggles to answer, “Uhh, no, no. How did you…”

Andy interrupts, “I got a call. You know, when you’ve been around as long as I have you just hear things. People tell you things. It’s a shame. Look, kid, I was thinking, you never filled out that report about Nate did you?”

“No.”

Andy looks over at the body then back at Lou, “Well, seeing that you didn’t do what you were supposed to do in a timely manner, it could look a little weird that you left some information out and then this cat just wound up dead.”

“But, you said.”

“I know what I said.” Andy interrupts, “But listen to what I am saying now. Just forget about it, it’s over. If you try to explain this, it will only create a lot more questions that you can’t answer and a lot more paperwork. You don’t want to cast any doubt on your professionalism this early in your career. Believe me, I’ve seen guys get the boot for stuff like this. Just act like you don’t know anything. Trust me, when the time is right, we’ll catch the knucklehead who did this.”

Lou sits in the diner staring across the room at Andy, remembering all of the grizzly details of Nate’s murder. How it all happened so fast, how he felt so naive, how Andy took control of his decisions, how he felt bullied by Andy, how he felt like the knucklehead, how he knows in the back of his mind that he didn’t do the right thing, and how Nate laid there barefoot in the cold.

Lou, could not stop thinking about Nate while he stared across the diner at Andy. He knew the Milkman committed the murder of Nate Jackson and he couldn’t prove it. The Milkman bragged about it. Yet, he always had an alibi for this and other suspected killings.

Then, nervous anxiety came over him. He felt sick and then a feeling of shame. He wrestled with his thoughts.

What did I do wrong? I have nothing to feel bad about.

As Lou stares at Andy, Andy slowly turns his head in Lou’s direction. Their eyes seem to meet. Andy looks right at Lou, but not in a recognizable way and then robotically turns his attention to the view outside. Lou turns away slightly and pauses to wonder whether Andy really saw him.

Lou turns back around to the counter with his back to the dining area. Across from him sits stainless steel mirror like cabinets under the order window. Like a carnival mirror, Lou watches the distorted, and grotesque figures of the people sitting behind him in the reflection.

Lou is shocked by Andy’s Satan like appearance. As Lou stares, Andy begins turning his head in a slow uninterrupted manner. He gazes in Lou’s direction once again. Their eyes seem to meet through the murky reflection. Only this time, Lou feels paralyzed and can’t look away. He is filled with a tremendous feeling of dread. Without finishing his cup, Lou drops a few dollars on the counter, stands, turns and heads straight for the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 11 THE BARBERSHOP

Lou turns right from the front of the diner and walks east on US–60 about 100 feet. He starts to walk past the barbershop. Stops and turns to steps in.

Two men get up and instantly and leave. Lou briefly scans the room and finds an open seat on the far left side. He sits down and politely acknowledges the men next to him without really looking.

Sitting silent, trying to calm down, he realizes that his abrupt entrance interrupted a conversation. Lou tries to act naturally by picking up a magazine and pretends to read. A few people clear their throats.

The barber, Filiberto Gonzales, who is grooming a young man sitting motionless, speaks up as if to make a long story short. “Well, it’s a good idea. That’s all! It’s set for the Fourth of July. That’s all I’m saying.”

Another voice coming from the right of Lou speaks up. A rugged elderly rancher with both hands wrapped over the top of a cane sits up straight. It’s Dodge. He’s wearing a yellow shirt with suspenders and jeans, “It’s a bad idea!”

Filiberto turns his attention from the boy in the chair and continues to momentarily snip in the air while talking, “This town needs another lasting tradition not just this Pie Festival in September. We need something to put us on the world map and The Running of the Bulls in Pie Town would really be something! We got dirt roads and plenty of bulls. Besides,” Filiberto stabs his scissors into the air, “it will be muy divertido!”

Dodge nods his head in dismissal. “There ain’t nothing fun or dee-ver-tee-do about getting gored in the bunghole by a bull or running your fastest to not get gored in the bunghole by a bull!”

The men in the barbershop cringe and chuckle.

Filiberto once again stops cutting and holds his palms in the air and shrugs, “That’s actually very rare.”

The older men in the room look around at each other confirming, with tightly curled lips that you will, in fact, get gored by a bull.

Filiberto looks around at the dejected faces in the room and dramatically demonstrates with his arms, “In Spain, The fiestas of San Fermin are celebrated in Pamplona, every year starting on the Sixth of July. The bulls are lead through the streets of the old quarter by runners. It’s a global attraction.”

Dodge looks down shaking his head, “I get it. That’s fine for the people in Spain cause they like that kinda thing.” The other patrons start laughing. “Now I can’t speak for all Spanish people, but all the white folk I know around here don’t run so fast. So, that leaves one outcome… A bad one!” Chuckles fill the room.

“I remember you had this epiphany about two months back when the Mason boy was sitting in that chair right there getting his hair trimmed for his graduation. And on that day, you were so awe inspired and keyed up that you were masticating every head that came in that day and you made that poor boy look like a damn fool.”

Dodge takes a deep breath, “now, I ain’t one to stomp on another man’s epiphany but your enthusiasm needs to be tempered with some common sense. Now, I’ve been formulating on this ever since and my supreme conclusion is that it’s a bad idea and it’s gonna end up like that boy’s head. All jacked up!”

Lou peers up from his magazine and sees Dodge finalizing his statement and his three old buddies sitting, smiling and staring in his direction.

Lou begins to relax and looks around the room. His back is to the front window of the shop which faces US 60. To his left is another large picture window. Lou peers out of the window. Looking east he can see the convenience store at the triangle of US 60 and Custard Junction. In the parking lot, is Nikolai Milkovich. He is standing next to a car, on the passenger side, leaning down and talking to the driver.

After a couple of minutes, a car pulls in off of 60 and parks in the shoulder of the road between the barbershop and the convenience store. The occupant never gets out. It’s Andy. Through the rear window, Lou can see Andy is just sitting and staring East, towards the convenience store parking lot. After a moment, it becomes obvious that Andy is also watching Nick. Lou is now more focused on Andy.

Andy sits in what looks like an early 80’s Chevy Camaro with New Jersey plates. It’s midnight blue with a few light blue stripes on the side that blend into the name Z28 in a similar monochromatic tone.

Without opening a window, Andy lights a cigarette. Lou watches Andy’s chest rise and fall as he deeply inhales. With each breath, the smoke looks suffocatingly thick. After a few puffs, the silky thread of smoke rising from the cigarette fades into the foggy air filling the compartment.

Andy seems to tinker with some kind of decorative charm hanging from his rearview mirror. He bats it with his index finger like a cat playing with a toy.

After a couple of minutes, Nick gets into the stranger’s car. They continue to have a more intense conversation as Nick appears to be gesturing emotionally with his hands.

The strangers’ car starts up, lunges into reverse and the rear of the car pulls sharply to the right. It pulls forward and out onto 60. As it begins to drive away, Andy’s car, which has been idling the entire time gently glides away in the same direction staying about 200 yards behind. Both cars continue out of sight eastward.

After the cars vanish, Lou looks out across the street towards the Mayor’s office, which is nearer and across US 60. Some men are hanging a red, white and blue banner across the front of the mayors’ porch with Dominique standing out in front, giving directions and occasionally holding Corn Chips feet to her face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 12 THE TELESCOPE

Lou steps outside of the barbershop. The open air feels good. He calms down and is inspired by a feeling of curiosity. His curiosity gives him courage. He knows that curiosity is a detective’s greatest asset. Without it, the truth can never be revealed. Lou once again decides to let his curiosity be his guide and have the courage to follow it.

Intensely curious about the destination of Nick and the stranger, Lou is slightly curious about the gathering across the street and lets himself wander over. He sees there are no cars coming and briskly walks across. Walking down US 60 towards the Mayor’s office, Toni drives up to the Mayors in her Bronco. Lou is still 50 feet away and watches the whole crowd turn to greet her. She stands there taller than the rest and then turns her head and watches Lou walk up.

“Where’s your car?” Toni asks Lou as he comes closer. He answers with a smile, “At my place, I walked over. I’m not in a big hurry these days. I noticed you spend a lot of time at the mayors.”

Toni watches everyone struggle with the banner and answers, “My office is at the other end of the trailer from the mayors. I usually stop in and out throughout the day. If you wait around long enough you can catch me here. Were you trying to catch me here?” Toni smiles from one side of her mouth and gives Lou an obvious wink and a nudge with her elbow.

Lou’s pale skin blushes instantly. He attempts to act sly by looking both ways to see if anyone can hear. He whips his hair to the side and replies, “Maybe I was?” They both stand in silence, giving a smile and then begin to chuckle like two kids.

Toni pulls the flirtatious moment back, “I guess the mayor has a big speech planned.”

Lou nods, “I think it has to do with this bull run and that construction on the South side of town.”

“Yeah, I guess they’re really gonna do it?”

Lou asks, “Is there something wrong with that?”

Toni shakes her head, “I don’t know? It just seems kind of… Well… Crazy.”

Lou nods in agreement and looks down, “Not to change the subject, but I have a question. Before you drove up, a couple of cars were heading east. Did you see where they went?”

“Yeah,” Toni responds, “was one of them some kind of old muscle car?”

Lou answers, “Yes. A Camaro,”

Toni quickly answers, “They went to the telescope.”

Lou pauses and thinks, “Can you take me there?” Toni smiles, “Sure, I’ll take you there.” Then, smiles and lures Lou to her truck.

“Hold on.” Toni turns the vehicle in an abrupt u-turn while accelerating. Lou grabs tight to the door. His heart pounds with excitement and surprise, he didn’t expect such aggressiveness from a woman. After he relaxes he realizes that her liveliness is a welcome change from what he is used to and requires the entire distance to the turnoff to recuperate. After they turn off onto the dirt road leading up to the telescope, Toni turns to Lou and says with a salacious smile, “This is where all of the teenagers go to make-out.” Toni continues to smile and stare out at the curvy road as the car gently rocks them both back and forth.

As they come to the end of the road, the Camaro is parked by itself. Another hundred feet further, the strangers’ car is parked alone off to the side near the start of a hiking trail. As they drive by, Toni begins to slow down.

Lou waves with his hand, “Keep on going. Don’t stop here.”

Toni looks at the car, “Hmm, New York plates.”

They continue to the end of the dirt road that pulls up towards the fence that surrounds the telescope and the small building next to it. Toni stops the truck and pauses, waiting for Lou to say something.

Lou looks out of the back window to get a view of the cars, “Let’s just wait here for a bit and see where they are.”

”Ok,” Toni answers, “what should we do?”

Toni stares straight at Lou with her big brown eyes. Lou stares back. Toni’s body language is inviting. She turns her body and lays her right thigh across the seat.

For a brief moment, Lou feels intimidated and then remembers his vow to pursue his curiosity. He suddenly feels bold and courageous again and forgets all about the cars. He turns and reaches out with his left hand and puts it on Toni’s thigh. She puts her hand on his and runs it up along his muscular arm. Lou takes his right hand and grabs Toni under her shoulder and pulls her close. They both pull each other together. Kissing each other passionately as their arms clumsily fall over each other. Lou becomes intoxicated by her sweet floral scent. He begins kissing her neck as she moves her head to the side to let him. Suddenly, an engine roars. Lou recognizes the sound of Andy’s Camaro and reluctantly pulls himself from Toni. They both look back to see the Camaro rumbling away down the dirt road. The strangers’ car sits alone.

The intrusion ends the moment. Lou and Toni get out. Lou looks over at the car, “Let’s just stay here for a bit, in case they come back.”

“Ok,” Toni replies and tries to act normal, “Let me tell you about this telescope. Well, really it’s an antenna. We just call it the telescope. It’s a twenty-five-meter dish antenna. It’s one of ten identical antennas spanning over 5,000 miles from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands. It’s the world’s sharpest dedicated telescope array.

Lou looks stunned, “Wow, you seem to know a lot about it.”

“I’ve given this speech quite a few times.” Toni looks around and then notices something strange. The gate accessing the antenna is open. Toni points out that usually the gate is locked.

Toni and Lou enter the gate and walk up to the door of the building near the base of the telescope. It’s locked. They knock and wait. There is no response. Toni comments, “Well, that’s kind of normal. There is usually some college physicist inside there somewhere or up in the telescope, unable to get down fast enough. They normally don’t like to be bothered but they show up into town every now and then to get supplies.”

Lou and Toni stand for a minute in awe of the enormous antenna. 75 feet across, it towers above the tree-line. The underside contains an intricate web of mechanical and electrical parts. It sits on a pedestal intertwined with stairwells resembling an M.C. Escher drawing.

Toni and Lou leave the gated area and investigate the trailhead. Toni is standing with her hands on her hips. “Well, they probably went on a hike. This is where the trail starts.”

Lou smirks, “I don’t know? This guy Milkovich isn’t the hiking type.”

Toni replies, “They’re clearly not in the car. There is only one way for them to go. Down this trail. Do you want to walk down away?” “Not really” Lou replies. “Let’s just wait a little bit.”

Toni pauses and says, “I have an idea. Let’s climb up the Antenna.”

“Can we do that?” Lou replies.

Toni smiles, “Of course we can.”

Toni and Lou walk back through the gate and approach the antenna, which seems to loom ever larger. They begin to ascend one of the stare wells which crisscrosses and turns around the base of the telescope as they climb higher. At the top, they are under the telescope dish. From this point, they can see the surrounding landscape for miles. They gaze out in the direction of the trail. There is no movement. They both stand silently enjoying the view.

From her vantage, Toni pinpoints the exact place that she sat on horseback watching the mayor and the stranger with the briefcase. She calculates the distance and follows her path back to Dodges stable to the North, easily visible from the telescope and then back out along the path of the hiking trail to the West.

Toni turns with her back to the rail, leaning back and resting on her elbows. Lou stairs and admires her beauty. Then, pulls out his phone and says, “I have to take your picture.”

“Ok,” Toni says as she lets her hair sway to the side and slightly purses her lips.

“You look gorgeous,” Lou takes the picture. He continues to take a few more shots as Toni tries new poses. “I feel like I’m taking pictures on the Eiffel Tower.”

“Oh, now that would be great, what a dream.” Toni sighs.

Lou stops taking pictures and lowers the phone. “Maybe I’ll take you there one day?”

Toni’s expression turns serious, “Don’t say that.”

“Why can’t I say that?”

Toni responds in a melancholy tone while studying her hands, “Because you won’t be here for long, that’s why.”

He can see that Toni can’t handle an emotional relationship, “Ok, let’s just have fun while we can, I love looking at you.”

“Ok,” Toni answers and starts smiling again. Then, looks out over the landscape. “Look, there they are,” Toni says excitedly and points.

About a quarter mile west, one figure is walking back on the trail. Lou and Toni watch for a moment proposing different reasons for there being one person and not two. Lou and Toni decide to head back to the truck.

When they get back to the truck, Toni turns to Lou, “Look, I can’t hang out here. Let me drive you back and then you can drive back over and wait if you want. As I said, I don’t spend much time on these tourists.”

“Fair enough,” they get back in the truck and drive back to town. Toni occasionally looks over at Lou and smiles and he smiles back. She drops Lou off at his trailer,

“Is this your place?.”

“Yeah,” Lou shrugs.

“Well, I guess I know where to find you?” Toni hints.

“How about you?”

“I live in Quemado about 20 miles west. Rents too high here.”

Lou cautiously asks. “Well, how do I get a hold of you?”

Lou and Toni exchange cell phone numbers.

“Remember the phone service is spotty around here.”

They say goodbye and kiss one last time. They don’t speak. Lou gets out and watches as Toni drives away.

He goes inside to get some things and then gets in his car and drives to the telescope. When he arrives, the strangers’ car is gone.

He decides to walk down the trail to get a better look. He wanders a few hundred yards out. The trail winds through scrubby trees and brush and then opens up into a grassy arid field momentarily and finally, another hedgerow of thick trees.

Lou begins to return to the parking lot and can see two figures standing at the top of the stairs of the telescope. He’s too far to see a face but concludes that they probably see him. “Did someone follow me? Is someone watching me like I was watching them?”

Back at the parking lot, there are a few cars parked near the gate of the telescope fence. One of the cars is familiar but he can’t remember where. He gets in his car to sit a moment and have some water.

From a distance and through the window, he recognizes the Mayor, standing in the doorway of the building near the telescope. The mayor is motioning adamantly. The two men look over and towards Lou. They stop the conversation and walk into the building and shut the door. There is nothing to see Lou drives away, returning to his trailer.

It’s hot. the afternoon heat is the worst. He checks his messages, writes a report and opens a beer. He’s drinking more now than he did before. Is it boredom? Is it anxiety? Is it the heat?

Lou ponders the recent events and the significance of the stranger, Milkovich, Andy, and mayor. Nothing makes sense. He drinks another and another until it’s dark and he’s too tired to care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 13 BOUNTY HUNTERS

Shockingly awakened from the sound of yell, Lou lays motionless listening, wondering if he is dreaming. There is no sound. Then, a distant window smashes, a pounding and then more yells. Filled with a rush of adrenalin and a slight headache, Lou springs from his bed, looks out of an adjacent window and out over the streetscape. Rubbing his eyes, he realizes there are people running in different directions, climbing out of windows and men wearing a combination of SWAT gear and camouflage, chasing, tackling and dragging people from their homes.

They look like law enforcement, but he can’t be sure. Lou clumsily falls while putting on some pants. He puts on his shoes without any socks and knocks over a glass while grabbing his Ruger. He rushes to the door and cracks it open just as a man is stepping out across the front path. He is overcome with a vibrant uneasiness as if he were being closed in on by a predator. With both hands on his gun, Lou pushes the door open with one foot and swings both arms through the opening. The gun is pointing straight at the man in the dark, “Freeze! FBI!”

The man stops and puts his hands up, “Bounty hunter pursuing a wanted criminal, Sir!”

Lou flicks on the porch light, “What’s going on out here?” He keeps the gun pointed straight at the man.

“It’s a roundup.”

“A roundup?”

“Yeah. We’re doing this town a favor and getting all of the riff-raff out.”

Lou stands motionless, holding a gun and watching the street action as the man stands silent. Looking him over, he appears to be in his early twenties. Just then, a body darts from behind a bush near the corner of his porch and towards the back of the trailer.

“There he goes mister like I was saying.” The young bounty hunter looks anxious like a dog ready to chase a ball. Lou looks at the darting figure, then back at the young man, pause and gives a wag with his gun to go. The young man sprints off into the darkness. Lou knows perfectly well the thrill of chasing down a criminal, the adrenaline, the testosterone, the righteousness. In many ways it’s selfish but he allows it, just the same. The men vanish into the darkness of an adjacent property.

Walking out further into his front yard, he watches the chaos unfold. The sounds are like a tapestry of car engines, squealing tires, slamming doors, breaking glass, men yelling, some laughs and the ruckus of dogs barking near and far. As lights spring on in the trailers down the street, some simultaneously turn off. Criminals instinctively turn their lights off and the bounty hunters instinctively move towards those trailers. In the distance, there are figures running far and wide as the bounty hunters nab their intended targets.

“There has got to be something wrong with this,” Lou thinks, as he struggles with the contradiction of what he perceives as reckless but also beneficial. Slowly, the activity simmers down, the vans drive away and the lights all turn off. Reticent shadows of scurrying dogs shift in and out of peripheral view. After the remains of a few distant car engines fade, all that is left is a cool breeze, some distant barks and the hum of insects in the night.

Suspiciously, Lou wonders if Nick got caught up in this mess. Lou gathers his things and drives to Nick’s residence, a few streets away. From the car, he sees Nicks trailer is dark with a dim light on somewhere inside. Nick’s car is in the driveway.

Upon further investigation, he can see that his door has been kicked in, “Nick, It’s Lou. Are you ok?”

There’s no answer. He pushes the door open slowly, “Nick. Are you there?”

The trailer is empty. He walks from room to room. There is a bedroom window open with a curtain blowing in the wind. He pulls the curtain back to look out. In the distance is the construction of the bull run across a field and nothing else. Lou walks back to the kitchen where a light is on. There is a freshly opened bottle of beer on the counter with condensation dripping down the sides. The evening air is still hot in the trailer. Lou picks up the bottle, embraces the ice cold sensation and drinks it down.

Lou sets the bottle down and decides to slowly cruise a few streets with his lights off, hoping to find Nick. Stepping into his vehicle, he looks to the end of the street and sees Toni’s bronco slowly drifts past the intersection of the next corner. Cautiously setting off to catch up, he turns right towards the end of the bull run and sees the vehicle parked cockeyed against the curb. Lou parks behind and gets out. The vehicle is running. A faint murmur is evident from outside of the car. Lou steps up to the drivers’ side door only to find it vacant.

Beyond the vehicle, out in an open field, three bodies are walking close together entering the path of the bull run. Up the dusty road, the figures march together, sandwiching the taller person in the center. To the left is a thinner man struggling to keep hold. To the right is a stockier man controlling the direction of the three.

In the glowing moonlight, Lou silently follows and it becomes ever more apparent that Toni is being taken against her will. He sticks to the side of the fence under the wistful moon stricken shadow of the fence as the three lumber down the center of the dirt road, occasionally stumbling. The two men are becoming weary as Toni struggles against them. She digs her heels in and attempts to break her arms free. As she does, Lou can see that her wrists are tied and her mouth is gagged.

The road is riddled with stones and Lou’s sickles shoes are filling with bits of gravel. He picks up a few larger stones. He considers rapping a good wallop on one of the assailants’ skulls but their uneasy precarious manner makes a poor target. Rather, he launches one over their heads against the opposite fence. The sudden noise stops them in their tracks and steals their attention. He does it again and they become more defensive and focused on the sound in front of them.

Lou raises his gun and once again utters the musical lyrics of his trade, “Freeze! FBI!”

The two men turn quickly loosely holding Toni. The stocky man lets go of her arm and raises his right hand. In the darkness, a flash of gunfire erupts from his appendage just a fraction of a second before the sound of the shot. The sight and sounds seem out of sync as the shooter fires a flurry of rounds. Lou crouches down and reluctantly fires back fearing he will hit Toni. Instinctively, he knows he must and empties his pistol in the direction of the shooter.

Through the flickering flashes of gunfire, the figures dash away in different directions as if in a zoetrope. Their bodies seem to disappear and reappear in different positions. The shooter drops to the ground frame by frame as if in slow motion as the thin man runs to the safety of the far wall. Unable to climb out, he scrambles with hand and foot to make his accent over the fence.

Lou takes notice of the fallen man and scans the darkness for Toni. “Toni it’s Lou.” There is no answer and Lou fears the worst. He runs in a semicircle around the side of the man and takes notice of his fallen body and quickly grabs his gun. Against the fence in the darkness is a panting figure sitting in the fetal position. Another intrepid loser who’s odds quickly changed when he tried to kill a cop and who will surely join the ranks of a penitentiary. Ironically, even in Pie Town, he is not safe.

Lou approaches slowly with the other man’s pistol pointing forward. Lou says nothing as he stares down at the quivering stickman.

“Put your hand out in front of you and lay down.”

As the man gently lays on the rocky dirt road, the sound of footsteps steals their attention.

Toni begins to emerge from the shadow of the opposite fence, “Lou is that you?”

“Yah! Are you ok?”

Lou quickly turns to see Toni approaching with tied wrists and a bandana around her neck.

“How did you know?”

“I didn’t.”

Lou turns his attention back to the man, “Don’t you move.”

Lou turns back in the direction of the shooter, “I think that one is dead.”

Toni walks to an adjacent wooden post of the fence near Lou and begins using it to saw the twine tying her wrists. The snap of the twine is a relief and Toni wastes no time requesting the pistol from Lou, who quickly obliges.

Without hesitation, Toni steps on the back of the thin man’s neck, “Who hired you?”

The man says nothing and Toni asks again and then places the barrel of the gun against the back of his skull.

Lou gently places his hand on Toni’s shoulder, saying nothing. She shrugs his hand off, staying focused on the thin man, “Answer! Who?”

“I don’t know?” The thin man points in the direction of the dead man. ”It was his idea.”

After some discussion, Toni heads back to her vehicle to call the County Sheriff’s office as Lou stays and watches. Fifteen minutes later, Toni opens the access gate and drives back through into the bull run. With the headlights on, they can see the dead man’s bullet hole riddled body.

Toni walks up to the dead man and stares down at his motionless figure. After a short pause, she looks at Lou, “Nice shooting.”

Toni walks over, handcuffs the thin man to a fence post and they wait for the county Sheriff. The thin man lays on his side with his head resting against the fence, resigned to the idea that he is caught. Toni stares down at him while a look of disgust grows on her face. Wearing pointed cowboy boots, she takes a step back and then kicks the thin man deep in his rectum. He squeals and gasps for air as if he were drowning. After catching his breath, he begins to cry and starts confessing that he didn’t want to kill her, that it was the other man who was called and that he spoke with someone on his cell phone before they drove out and waited, that this person knew who she was, where she was and how she would arrive.

Toni’s lips become stern and her eyes seem to dilate as she steps away from the thin man, knowing deep down inside that only one person could know that much… The mayor.

Under the night sky, Toni confides in Lou, “Thanks. I’m glad you showed up when you did.”

Lou sighs, “This whole mess with the bounty hunters woke me, and well, I got curious. While I was out, I just saw your truck and wanted to see you. Were you trying to make an arrest?”

“No, I got an anonymous call and when I showed up, it was like they were waiting for me.”

A cool breeze blows past. Toni and Lou trade stories and begin to talk about their childhoods, about growing up and how they ended up in law enforcement. Toni reaches out to Lou. They stand silently holding hands and looking up at the stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 14 MAYOR’S ANNOUNCEMENT

The next day, nearly a hundred people gather in front of the mayor’s office. The crowd is spread out wide along US 60. Many are standing as far away as the “Gathering Place” on one side and “Pie-O-Neer Pies” on the other. The Mayor is standing on his porch with Filiberto, a few other prominent citizens, and Dominique, holding Corn Chips.

Lou stands impatiently scanning the crowd, checking his watch, and looking for Toni. He knows that she will show up and he thinks more about her than Nick, Andy or the stranger.

Manny holds up a megaphone, clears his throat and starts his announcement, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Like most of you know, we have been constructing a starting gate, a corral and a fenced-in path on W. Bar rd. This project is the beginning of a new Fourth of July tradition we are starting here in Pie Town. One that we hope will rival our Pie Festival in September. I invite anyone who wants a thrill to join the festivities by running with the bulls.”

An odd mixture of expressions spread through the audience, some optimistic, some confused and some concerned.

Manny pauses and then continues, “Over time, we hope that it will become a national and even a global attraction. The event will start tomorrow late afternoon when things cool down a little. Plus, we need a little more time to get things in order. As some of you know, we had a little incident there last night. Anyhow, when the bull run is over, we invite everyone to celebrate in the local eateries. Most of the restaurants in town will stay open later than normal. If you have any friends or family nearby in Truth or Consequences or Las Cruces, call them up and get them down here. I know, this is short notice but we just got everything sorted out, and we really want to start this tradition on the Fourth of July.

So, everyone should meet up at the top of the bull run or anywhere along the path if you want to be there for the first annual run. I hope to see you all there and now I am turning it over to our master of ceremony, Filiberto Gonzalez.”

Claps and cheers clammer from the crowd as Filiberto takes the megaphone. He begins to speak and is mixing his words with small jokes as Toni approaches Lou through the crowd.

“Lou, something just came up.”

“What?” Lou scans her face for emotion.

Toni pauses with an urgent look on her face. “You better come with me. ”Toni leads Lou to her truck. “Get in.” After the doors are shut. Toni turns to Lou, “We found the car you were following abandoned on Elk Pass Loop, north of town about half a mile.

“You want to go now?” Lou asks as he nods in the direction of the speech, “or listen to the rest of the speech?”

Toni gives a short quick shake of her head and scrunches her nose,“ Not really, I heard them practicing in the office already and besides I don’t really feel like seeing the mayor right now.”

Toni pulls away from the crowd. They drive north out of town on 603 until they get to Elk Pass Loop. About two hundred feet beyond a state patrol car is parked and an officer is at the scene. The strangers’ car is parked off the road halfway in the brush. He can see it’s the strangers’ car. The doors and trunk are open.

They walk up to the trooper and Toni introduces Lou, “This is the guy I told you about.”

The state police officer looks at Lou and asks, “Do you know the owner of this vehicle?”

Lou looks at the car and nods saying, “Kind of. Well, no. I mean, I recognize the car but I don’t know the owner.” Lou walks closer to the car. He peers inside and can see that the seats have been cut open and pulled back.

Lou looks back at the trooper, “It looks violent.”

The officer points out that the only trace of blood so far is on the steering wheel.

“What happened?” Lou asks

The officer answers, “Well, so far, I suspect that the driver wrecked, and for whatever reason, walked away from the wreck. Then, someone or something came by later and tore through the upholstery.

Toni asks Lou in front of the Trooper, “What do you know about this guy?”

“Uh, nothing really, I don’t even know who he is.”

Toni keeps asking, “What happened when you went back to check on that car last night?”

“Nothing,” Lou answered, “the car was gone. I was tailing someone else and I thought it was him. I guess I was wrong.”

Toni looks into Lou’s face scanning for the truth. Toni turns to the trooper, “See ya, Doug”.

He replies. See ya, Toni, I’ll call you and we can exchange reports.”

“Ten-four.”

Toni and Lou walk back to the car and get it in. Toni puts her hand on the ignition but doesn’t start the car. She looks over at Lou, “Want to go to my place?”

Lou smiles and answers, “Sure. Where again?”

“About twenty minutes away, in Quemado”

Lou smiles, “I’d love too.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 15

QUEMADO

Toni and Lou drive too Quemado. Halfway, as they pass the town of Omega, Toni nervously turns to Lou. “My house is kind of small, and I have a roommate. We met back in college”

“That sounds great. Don’t apologize for your home, I love the scenery and frankly, the old homes around here are cool.”

Toni continues to confess, “When I was very young, we lived on a reservation. There was a lot of family members around but tribally, there was a lot of politics. In between the family and the tribe is the clan. Your clan can make you or break you. We were part of the Tl’ohchini Dine’e clan, but I haven’t been back there for a while.

My aunt, who stays with me sometimes, still does things the old way. I learn what I can. One thing I have learned is that you have to take care of the ones you love. Sometimes, I feel like I do all of the caring. It’s lonely sometimes.”

Lou reaches out and puts his hand on her thigh, “I know the feeling. Let’s listen to some music”

As pop music fills the void of thought and expectations, Toni and Lou take turns glancing over at each other. One looks over and then the other returns a quick glint of the eye which causes the first to look away. Sometimes each waits and sometimes they stare at the same moment. The game continues until they both erupt into laughter.

As they approach Quemado, things begin to look modern. There is a high school with a football field and a running track. Brightly lit gas stations and a supermarket,

Lou looks around, “Wow. Life’s pretty good here. Looks like we’re back in civilization.” He casts a gaze over Toni and watches her bite her bottom lip as she focuses on guiding the car off the road and into a parking lot. She slowly releases her lip from her upper teeth and turns to Lou, “I have to get something from the store.” I’ll just be a second.”

Lou is holding his phone as they pull into a parking space of a supermarket. “Go ahead, I have to check my messages.”

Toni looks pleasant and frisky as she bounces out of the car, “I’ll just be a minute baby.”

Lou watches Toni’s supermodel like strut as she crosses the parking lot and into the store. After she vanishes, he looks down at his phone. There is a message from another agent starting with an emoji that is sweating and running, It’s Ron Miles. “Hit out on Nikolai Milkovich, probably, there. Watch out. Call me!”

“I knew it, the stranger.” Lou thinks and intuitively scans the parking lot as he considers the possibilities. He glances down at the phone once more just to be sure. While looking around, he sees familiar faces and cars. Unmistakably, there is Andy’s Camaro parked at the edge of the parking lot. The tinted glass makes it difficult to see inside. Lou stares at the vehicle waiting to see any sign of life. After a minute, like a faint beacon, the orange glow of a cigarette rises in the air like a firefly brightens and then dims in the dark hollow of Andy’s muscle car.

“Who is he staking out? There must be someone in the store he’s watching. Maybe I should walk up and tell him about the strangers’ car?”

Suddenly, Toni comes back, “Miss me?” She giggles gets in, starts the car and they pull away. Lou says nothing about Andy.

“My place is just a couple of blocks away. I got some cold beer in the fridge. We’ll make some hamburgers and maybe something for dessert.”

Lou smiles and rolls his eyes back, “Oh yeah! Sounds great.”

Toni pauses and then looks over at him seductively, “I hope you like seconds on your dessert.” She winks, a smile grows on both their faces as Lou ponders the possibilities.

Upon arrival, Toni parks in the driveway. The place is a quaint one-story adobe house, covered in stucco and the remnants of an old adobe wall in front. The original mud blocks are exposed giving it an almost ancient architectural artistry.

The faint whirring of a motor is present against the white noise from thousands of cicadas, near and far, chirping in the endless summer heat.

Scanning the trees and home for the origin of the sounds, Lou pauses, “There’s that noise again.”

“Those are cicadas. Also, the swamp cooler is running.” Toni takes very little notice of the sounds and leans in to open the door. Like the breaking of a vacuum packed seal, a rush of cool moist air flows over them both like a wave.

“Oh yeah, the air.” Toni sighs in relief as if she had been holding her breath since she left home that morning.

Lou follows her in and feels the same sense of soothing cool moist air, “Man that feels good.”

Toni looks back with a smile, “That’s the swamp cooler. I love the smell too.”

Lou draws in the sweet smell of wet straw, “Ahh.”

As they walk inside, Toni’s roommate Kendra is in the kitchen and turns around to look through the doorway. She glances up, quickly dries her hands with a towel and walks towards them.

She is in her mid-twenties. About five feet, two inches tall. Her curly strawberry blonde hair rumbles down to her shoulders. She smiles large with both rows of teeth showing. Her blue eyes contrast her pale skin that is covered in freckles extending from her face down to her breasts. She is wearing a light colored summer dress imprinted with faint flowers and no bra. Her firm small breasts lift the dress slightly and form points in the sheer fabric. Stunned by her cute sexy appearance, Lou tries to look away, but can’t, his eyes dilate as he glares uncontrollably down at her. Toni takes notice and laughs.

Kendra walks right up to Toni and gives her a small kiss on the lips and then smiles at Lou while Toni introduces them. Kendra puts out her petite hand out to shake. Lou reaches out and holds her smooth supple hand, trying not to crush. Staring straight at Lou, she says to Toni, “You weren’t kidding when you said he was handsome.” Kendra then, takes Lou by the arm and leads him towards the kitchen, “Want a bear?”

“Of course.”

“Dos Equis or Corona?”

“I’ll take whatever.”

“Ok. You’ll have Dos Equis, we’ll have Corona with lime.’

Kendra hands Lou his beer, “Oh, can you flip the burgers in back on the grill, I just put them on.”

“Absolutely!” Lou exits out back and inspects the grill. From the back patio, He can see the girls inside the kitchen talking and laughing. Then, they both turn and stare at him. He looks back and then makes a spanking motion with the spatula. Toni responds by making a surprised look on her face, cupping her mouth and putting her other hand on her rear. Shortly after, they disappear from the window.

Outside, the July heat combines with the heat of the grill. That and the whirring noise of the cicadas gives Lou an exhaustive petulant feeling. He wipes his brow and then takes the full bottle of beer and chugs it. The refreshing blast of cold liquid quickly eases his mood. He looks up just in time to see Toni through the kitchen window and holds up the empty bottle to request another.

Toni walks out with another beer, “Wow that was fast?”

“I think the heat was getting to me.”

He takes the next ice cold bottle and holds it up to his forehead, “They” re almost done. Just a couple of minutes and I’ll be in.”

“Ok baby.”

Alone in the yard, Lou stands in the shade of a nearby tree away from the grill, waiting to turn the meat. From the side of the house, a tan thin dog stands silently staring in Lou’s direction. He motions only with his tongue, licking his lips and then slowly opening his mouth to pant.

Each rip on the animal is visible. His eyes are bloodshot and show only remnants of a kept life. Alone and forgotten the creature has found an opportunity to eat and utilizes the few manners he possesses to ingratiate himself to a person. Only when Lou notices the animal, the dog makes a subtle tail wag. Then, with an intense stare, it abruptly ends

The two beings curiously watch each other sharing the brutality of the heat and a chance to eat.

“Want some fella?” Lou calls in a soft patronizing tone. The dog responds in kind, obliging with a sideways-turned head implying curiosity at the sound of his words. The animal sits and simultaneously tamps his front paws in a nervous repetition, looking quickly back and forth between Lou and the grill.

As Lou walks back towards the grill the dog’s tail wags firmly in the dirt he sits upon. Only as Lou reveals a piece of burger, does the animal approach. Lou sets a piece to the side to let it cool, knowing that the hungry critter would swallow the scalding lump whole before realizing his mistake.

Finding a plastic container, Lou sets it under a faucet at the rear of the house and lets it fill. Then walks back to the grill to finish his duty. He retrieves the burgers on a plate, turns down the gas on the grill and just before leaving, drops the warm treat to the ground.

Lou turns back to watch the tortured pup scarf down the reward. Again, the dog sits and stares up at the man with food. The two beings once again share a moment of solidarity as both long for some contact.

During dinner, Toni and Kendra reminisce about college and the fun they had. Kendra begins playing with her food. She sticks the tip of the beer bottle in her lips and pretends to suck it while looking at me. Slowly, she pulls it out and sticks her tongue in the bottle whole. Then, gently caresses the rim and follows it with her tongue, “He, he, he, he.” She lets out a mischievous giggle. Toni laughs alongside while turning her burger sideways and tongues out some ketchup.

After they finish eating, they retire to the back patio to have their drinks. Outside, in the early evening air, they share their plans and pasts, successes and failures. Everyone is at ease. The wind picks up and they move indoors.

They all walk into the kitchen. Toni lures Lou away while Kendra cleans up, “I’m ready for a shower. Will you scrub my back?”

Lou just nods in agreement. As they begin to walk down a hall, Lou looks back and sees Kendra holding a plate and staring.

In the shower, they take turns scrubbing and caressing each other. They hug, kiss and become intimate with every inch of each other.

As they leave the bathroom, Kendra squeezes past, “See ya later,” Kendra says while giggling and closing the door.

Entering the bedroom, there are two separate sleeping areas.

“Hold on.“ Tony says, pushing the two small beds together, “There that’s better, lay down.”

Wrapped in a towel, intuitively know to lie and wait with his hands behind his head. The background noise of the swamp cooler hums the refreshing promise of its cool relief while a Rolling Stones track is quietly playing in the front room. Toni stands before Lou and drops her robe, while staring straight into his eyes, “Ready to get your mind blown?”

“Yeah,” Lou says, knowing that he has no idea what she is going to do.

Toni sits over top of his abdomen, leans forward and starts kissing his neck. She slides her body up until her legs are over my chest, “I love your hairy chest against my legs,” and begins to undulate her hips back and forth.

After a minute, She lowers herself back over his lower body. Lou becomes aroused and she knows it. Toni positions herself and like riding a horse, Toni starts at a smooth walk, then a trot. She puts her hands on herself, becomes lost in the moment and breaks into a cantor. She rides him, thinking only of herself.

Lou gazes up at her bouncing breasts and moans out loud. As he does, she breaks into a gallop. The creaking of the beds must be obvious to anyone in the house.

Lou put his hands out to caresses her thighs that are thrusting past his light touch. He feels a nearing climax, holds his breath and looks away. Watching Toni’s satisfaction pushes him to the edge. His confidence soars knowing that she is enraptured and that he is the instrument of her pleasure. Lou is encapsulated by her desire.

He looks away every time he feels the overwhelming appeal of her beauty. Looking around, objects in the room seem to swirl as he gazes upon them in order to stave off the inevitable.

Secretly, Kendra peeks into the room. She slowly enters. As the door opens wider, the music gets louder and a rush of cool air blows in.

Lou sees her and begins to tense up. Toni realizes that Kendra is present and holds him down, “Relax baby,” Toni leans forward over him and maintains the momentum.

Kendra walks up behind Toni and caress her back, stands away and drops her robe showing her bare body, bends over and kisses Lou on the lips.

He starts to pull away, “Wait. Wait.”

Toni looks down and whispers, “It’s ok baby. I want you too.”

He ponders the possibilities, thinking, “Things to do before I die.” He gives in to the moment and engages Kendra, pulling her closer.

Shortly after starting, she pulls away, stands and starts kissing Toni.

Her curvaceous backside and petite waist are hypnotic. “What a tease!” Lou says out loud. He begins to feel entitled by her withdraw and cups her cute little bottom in his palm and lightly move his hand over its shape.

Sordid pleasure overcomes him as he watches the two girls. Toni reduces her pace to a longer slower stride and Kendra restlessly fumbles her lips past Toni’s.

The scent in the air is thick, sweet and musky. Their bodies move together naturally wet. The swamp cooler hums in the background. Beneath the hum is the melody of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”.

Kendra looks back to check his position, then swings her leg over his body and sits over his face. Lou is immersed in Kendra’s essence, while the two girls face each other and continue to kiss intensely. He is completely in the moment, overwhelmed by the two ends of his conscious spectrum. He gives in and begins to feel crazed and wild.

Slowly, the moment brakes. They catch their breath while Lou consciously checks one off from his bucket list, he feels like the king of the world.

Toni sits on the edge of the bed near Lou’s feet. She leads Kendra towards her and holds her down over her knees and spanks her. Lou sits up. Kendra looks back at him with her blushing sweaty face and pouting lips.

Toni caresses Kendra smooth bottom, swirling her fingers around her curves and watches the goosebumps rise over her buttocks. Then, pulls Kendra’s cheeks apart and looks at Lou with a determined expression, “I want to hold her little tush open and watch you do it. Come on baby. Do it for me!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 16 THE STRANGER

The next morning, Toni shakes Lou awake. “We have to go! Something happened in Pie Town.” Lou struggles to pull his physically worn body from the bed.

“There has been some kind of trouble at the post office, we have to go. Come on.”

Still gathering his senses, Lou looks over to see Kendra unmoved by Toni’s words.

When they get out to her patrol car, there is the obvious sign of a break in. One window is broken above the lock and the rear hatchback is open.

“Holy shit. What happened?” Exasperated, Toni clenches the sides of her cheeks as she struggles to continue with getting in the car and heading back into town.

Lou touches the back of Toni’s arm, “Oh god. I’m sorry.” Knowing nothing that can be done, Toni and Lou race back to Pie Town with the emergency lights flashing. Lou surveys the damage in the vehicle as they race back to Pie town. “It’s really not bad, nothing seems to be missing. They just broke in. Good thing you didn’t leave your gun in the car.”

“I can’t believe it, this has never happened before… I guess nothing good can happen without something bad happening.”

Upon arriving in Pie Town, they pull into the post office parking lot where a crowd has formed.

Toni pushes through the crowd and looks into the glass door of the post office. The floor is a mess with torn paper and boxes across the floor. Toni turns to the crowd.

Manny is standing right behind her and starts explaining what he knows. “I got to the office and noticed Lauri’s car was here. That’s when I saw the mess inside. I looked around and in the diners. Then, more and more people came and a crowd formed when they saw something was wrong.

“Where is Lauri?” Toni asks.

Manny looks around and says, “I don’t know? Her car is right here.”

Manny takes charge, “Relax everyone, nothing to see here. It’s the 4th, so the post office is closed anyway. If anyone sees Lauri, tell her to come to see me or Toni. Ok?”

Toni is standing with her face against the glass door of the post office and her hands cupped on the sides of her face to look in. She pulls away and looks at manny, “Manny, keep everyone here. I’m going to the back to see if I can get in. Lou, come on if you want.”

Toni and Lou walk around back and see a window that has been smashed and opened. Toni climbs through, and then Lou behind her. Lou is standing staring at the pile of torn boxes paper, while Toni calls out, “Lauri! Lauri!”

Toni turns back to Lou, “Lauri sometimes spends the night when the work runs late?

Toni checks the rooms and sees a cot with a blanket next to it on the floor. “This doesn’t look right.” She yells to Lou.

Toni calls out for Lauri again and then goes to the front door. She opens it a few inches to prevent anyone from entering, “Manny, check if Lauri is in one of the restaurants.”

“Already did.”

Lou calls out, “Toni, You better come here.”

Toni locks the front door again and walks back, “What?”

Lou points to a foot sticking out from under the boxes and paper.

Toni looks down, “Oh my god!”

They start brushing away the boxes and brown paper until they uncover the body of Lauri Anaya. She is dressed in only pajamas with a large open gash in her head.

Lou calls the incident into the Albuquerque office of the FBI and starts the initial investigation of a crime on federal property.

Lou and Toni have secure the scene and start taking notes when Toni get a call about a particular person about 500 feet past the fork of W. Bar and Ed Jones rd., six miles away.

“Lou, I got to run.”

“I’ll come with you.”

Toni and Lou approach a pickup truck with three young men in the back parked on the side of the road. The men just point in the direction of a single lane dirt side road. Toni turns in and About forty feet up, they come to a stop. By himself, out in a grassy area, is a man sitting on a wooden chair, staring off in one direction.

Toni and Lou get out and start walking towards him. Toni calls out, “Hey! Hey you!”

As they approach the man from the back, he continues to remain motionless. Toni walks to his front. A horrified expression overcomes her face as she cups her mouth, “Ahh!” As Lou walk to his front side, he realizes her disgust. The sight is gruesome. He stares motionless while Toni turns away.

Toni talks through her muffled mouth, “Is it the stranger who left the car?”

“I can’t say. I barely got a glimpse of him in the car but I think so.”

His body is naked except for a tee shirt. His skin looks sun baked and bruised. He has dozens of tiny holes over his body that show a small dot of blood at every puncture. His eyeballs have been squeezed from their sockets and sit bulging from his skull with one far enough out to point down. His bare feet expose broken distorted toes that have no uniformity.

Toni struggles to look back at the body, “What happened? Who would do this?”

“Looks like a mob killing. This is how they get information and they never stop even when they get it. They torture a person until he dies. It’s the only way to get what they want to know everything and not worry about him later.”

After some looking around, Toni points out what looks like small candy wrappers scattered about, “What are these little packages.”

Lou picks one up, “Says Ammonium Carbonate. That’s smelling salt. This is what they use to keep someone from passing out from the pain. They make them stay awake and squeeze your eyes out so you have to see everything they’re doing to you.”

“Who would do a thing like this? I’ve seen some bad stuff but never anything like this before.” Toni holds her stomach.

Lou tries to comfort her by putting an arm around her, “This was done by a professional.”

Toni looks back into Lou’s eyes, “Do you think they’re related? The two killings I mean.”

“I don’t know, they both happened last night or early this morning. We might have more than one killer. I have to tell you something, I’ve been following a mob hitman. He’s the only one I can think of who could have done this. Call the state police or county sheriff out here. I’ll get with my office. I gotta bring this guy in now.”

OK. I’ll drop you off at your place and head back to the post office.”

“Sounds good.”

They drive back. Neither talks. Toni drops Lou off at his place and drives away. Confused about where to start, he stands motionless staring at the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 17 SEARCHING FOR NICK

Standing in front of my trailer staring wildly into the ground, then up and off to the side searching his mind’s eye. Lou nervously, runs his fingers through his hair on the sides of his head, feeling guilty about not picking up Nick earlier when the strangers’ car was found, about not sticking to protocol when the appropriate factors were obvious.

Damn! I got distracted and things fell apart.

Lou fumbles for his keys, when a voice surprises him. “Know where that knucklehead Milkovich is?”

Lou drops his keys as he wobbles, steps back and then catches his balance, “Huh? What?”

Andy Shannon is standing right behind Lou with a cold stare. “Didn’t mean to scare ya kid. I think your boy Milkovich has been up to something. Do you need help finding him?”

Lou stands with a confused look on his face, “Huh, yeah. Do you know where he is?”

“Well, I know where he isn’t.”

“I have to ask, why are you interested in Milkovich?”

I’m not, I’m interested in finding the hitman sent out to whack him. I guess they didn’t tell you. There is a hit out on the Milkman. I was assigned to find him so you could bring Milkovich in.”

“Wow. I didn’t know. I saw you around town and well, it was strange that’s all… Yeah, let’s find him.”

Andy makes a motion with his hand, “Let go in my car. We can share what we know.”

“Sounds good.” Lou walks over and climbs in the front seat of Andy’s Camaro.

“When was the last time you saw Milkovich?”

“Yesterday, he got in a car with some stranger. Do you think that could be the hitman?”

Andy stares out of the windshield, “I don’t know who you’re talking about?” I’m still waiting around to see someone suspicious.”

“Well, it’s probably nobody,” Lou answers, knowing Andy saw Nikolai with the stranger and is perplexed by his denial.

Andy nods in agreement, “Have you seen him with any packages? And that stranger, how about him? Was he carrying a large package or a suitcase or something?”

“What does that matter?”

“Huh its and M.O. You know, modus operandi. Hitmen, they always got a bag of tricks and what not.”

Remembering the tortured man, Lou understands and starts to relax. He sees that Andy has experience and skill in analyzing the criminal mind.

Andy continues to stare out of the window, “Where should we start?”

“I know, his place.”

Andy smirks, “Uh, already did that. I gave it a pretty good working over too. If you know what I mean?”

Lou quietly ponders the meaning but not quite certain, “Yeah, ok. Well, let’s try the restaurants then?”

“Did that too, but you never know he gets hungry fast. Let’s check it out.”

They pull in front of Guy’s and wait. Lou tells Andy about the post office and the stranger in the field, hoping to solicit some information from Andy. Andy just stares straight ahead expressionless, holding an unlit cigarette.

Without being prompted, Andy recounts a childhood story, describing the loss of his little brother. He stares straight ahead through the windshield lost in his memory.

“I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. We lived on a small farm and my father worked part of the time as a mechanic. When I was about ten years old my mother wasn’t around much. I don’t know why, but I had to watch my little brother a lot, he was six years old.

One day we were exploring the farm past where we were allowed to go. We wandered into another field where there were an old barn and a silo. We walked around for a while and suddenly there was this big hole in the ground. It was weird, it had bricks stacked up around it. I know now that it was an old well but at that time I was really curious. It was dark inside. I was afraid to look in, so I told my little brother to look in. He didn’t want to but I ordered him to do it cause I was his big brother and he couldn’t say no.

I told him I would hold him while he looked. First, I held his head over but he couldn’t see anything. Then I pushed him farther so his chest was over and then his waist. He cried and begged me to pull him back. I told him to stop crying. Finally, I pushed him all the way over and held him by the ankles. He was screaming. I yelled at him to shut up and told him I would pull him back when he told me what was there.

When I decided to pull him back up but I couldn’t. I had held him for so long, I was getting tired. I could barely look up to see if anyone was around but I knew there wasn’t. I remember sweating. I remember digging my toes into the dirt trying to pull myself back. I felt my elbows burrowing into the bricks. Then, the bricks started to fall away and we both started to slide forward. I tried to change my grip and I felt my hands move over his shoes. I promised him I wouldn’t let go. I held him forever. It felt like forever. Suddenly, he felt light. I yelled, “I got you.” My eyes were clenched shut. When I opened my eyes, all I was holding was a pair of shoes, these shoes.”

Andy points to the small pair of shoes hanging from his rearview mirror.

“I’m so sorry. That sounds terrible.” Lou tries to change the subject. “Maybe we should go inside and wait and get something to eat.”

Andy lights his cigarette. “You go ahead. I’ll drive around. We’ll meet up later.”

Lou gets out and Andy immediately drives away. Lou stands in front of the diner. He looks in, doesn’t see Nick and decides he has no appetite. He wanders around feeling nauseous from Andy’s story. “The poor guy.” He thinks as he strolls around Pie Town hoping to get a glimpse of Nick.

As he walks, strangers move this way and that, dogs dart in and out from makeshift paths frequented by the growing number of resident strays. Man and dog alike develop their routines guaranteed by the actions of the previous travelers. Tried and true modus operandi. The survivors of Pie Town quickly learn what works and what does not. When bounty hunters or detectives are on the prowl, when luck is in favor and when it is not, when food is available and when it is not.

Still uncertain whether Nick got caught up in the bounty hunters raid, Lou walks by Nick’s place one more time. As Lou approaches, he sees Nick’s car is gone. He remembers seeing Nick’s car in the driveway the night of the raid and decides to head home and come back later.

That afternoon, Andy shows up to Lou’s. They agree to look for Nick once again. Driving around slowly, there is a constant flow of people moving along the streets in one direction. Cars, kids on bikes, and people walking are all converging on the South side of Pie Town. The Bull run is preparing to start.

Andy and Lou stop along US 60 get out and check the diners, the barbershop and the convenience store. They get back in the car and agree to head up custard lane, then back towards the trailer park. At the corner of Custard and South Pie Town, There is Nick walking to his trailer with his car parked in front. Lou points with his finger, “There he is.”

“Ok, wait,” Andy orders.

“No, I can get him.”

“Stop, you’ll scare him off.”

Impulsively, Lou springs out of the car and slams the door. As soon as it shuts, Nick looks over and sees them.

Lou waves his hand in the air in a friendly manner, “Nick, come here. Hold on.”

Nick pauses and then turns to run in between the trailers. Andy sticks his head out of the car window, “See what I told ya. You scared him. Shit!”

Lou crosses the road on foot and jogs towards the spot where Nick was standing. Andy races past in his car, he takes one look in between the trailer, then, he makes a one hundred eighty degrees spin in the dirt road and drives back the other way, leaving a cloud of dust floating in the air. Meanwhile, Lou continues in between the trailers following Nick, “Nick wait, wait.”

Behind the trailers is an open space. Nick is just a hundred yards beyond, blubbering his way across the field towards the bull run, struggling to jog through the sandy soil. Trying to keep up and not lose sight of Nick, Lou quickly loses his breath. As Lou comes up on the starting gate of the bull run, crowds have gathered in the hundreds. On the right side of the starting gate, a mass of bulls is being herded forward. On the left, is a large wooden platform with stairs leading up. On top of the platform, there are a number of prominent figures including Toni.

Lou waves to get her attention, “Toni, Toni!” She looks around, scanning the crowd for whoever was calling. Lou yells again and Toni turns ins direction.

“Come up.” Toni waves with her hand, motioning.

On top of the platform overlooking the start of the bull run, Toni stands alone separated from the small crowd that is mostly seated. Lou climbs the steps and pauses, realizing he is out of breath but continues to scan the audience for any sign of Nick.

“What happened to you? You’re out of breath. You got here just in time. The bull run is about to start.”

Lou changes the subject, “What about Lauri?”

“The county Sheriff and crime scene investigators are there. It’s roped off now. I just have to write a report. What about you?”

I’m Looking for that guy Milkovich I told you about, He’s here somewhere. I lost him.”

“You think he killed Lauri and that stranger?”

“Probably, it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have let him stay here this long. I should have just brought him in, and now he could hurt someone else if I don’t stop him.”

Toni grabs Lou’s arm to get his attention, “What about Tucker?”

“Tucker? You mean the guy who saved the kid?”

“Yeah, I was thinking Tucker could have killed the stranger? He already made a statement and is free on his own recognizance. I wonder if he could be lashing out as a vigilante of some sort.”

Lou wipes his brow, “Possibly, but it just seems mob related. Like someone being questioned. I still don’t get it though, what would someone question him for. Why would Milkovich question him or more so, why would Tucker question him?”

Toni sounds surer of herself, “Maybe Tucker enjoyed it. You know like he enjoyed killing that pedophile. Did you see the look on his face?”

Toni leans in close to Lou and whispers, “I think those men who grabbed me were sent by the mayor. He threatened me. It’s a long story, but I am going to stand right here where the mayor is and see how he behaves. I am trying my hardest to act normal. Don’t look at him.”

Continuing to look for Nick, Lou notices some commotion regarding the bulls and looks just beyond the staging area. “There he is. I have to get over there.”

Toni holds his arm, “Let’s just watch him from here. We can see everything from this spot. This will end shortly and when it does, we’ll get him.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 18 RUNNING OF THE BULLS

Everyone waits for the start of the bull run. Next, to the starting gate, Toni, Lou, the Mayor, and others watch from a platform that has been erected to give many prominent members of the community a good vantage point. Complete with red, white and blue banners hanging in front, it is still unpainted. Carpenters and cowboys are milling around checking the gates and making final touches. Lou and Toni stand atop the platform behind and away from the mayor and his party.

Starting about a quarter mile from the center of Pie Town, north on W. Bar rd., the area near the opening gate is narrower than the street and begins to spread out about 50 feet down. Hundreds of people from the town have gathered to watch the event. Most gather near the starting ate and many others spread out along the route. Latecomers, trickle in and find a comfortable spot farther down the bull run path.

Over 70 bulls are corralled behind the starting gate. Their broad brown bodies are nestled together like boulders rumbling in a static avalanche preparing to pour out when the starting gate is opened. Averaging six feet high and over 900 pounds with long pronounced horns, their sight is menacing. One of the hulking beasts stands out above the rest, Frodo, a prize-winning bull who’s appearance make the others look like juveniles.

About a 100 yards from the intersection of S. Pie Town Rd and W. Bar Rd, is a diversion barrier set up to corral the bulls and hold them until they can be safely driven back to the ranch where they came from. At the end of the run, in the distance, men on horseback hover at the end of the path, waiting to close the corral when the last bull arrives.

Filiberto enters the starting area of the bull run and stops about 30 feet from the gate. He is wearing a red vintage western shirt that has black shoulder patches with embroidered roses and a red and black sombrero. His portly figure makes a commanding impression on the crowd who wait patiently for the start of the event.

Part ringmaster and part rodeo clown, Filiberto raises a megaphone and announces the opening, “Good afternoon mi Muchachos and welcome to the first annual running of the bulls in Pie Town.” Claps and whistles meander through the crowd.

Everything Filiberto has dreamed of has culminated at this moment. No one else in Pie Town could take his place and he feels as if he is at the center of the universe.

“I believe this event will be such a popular attraction that one day the town might change its name to Cow Pie Town.”

The joke falls flat but Filiberto continues to laugh into the megaphone while a wave of groans spread throughout the audience.

“I encourage any and all to take a chance and run with the bulls for the first annual event. Come on. Who’s with me?”

About five or six enthusiastic men climb over the six-foot tall enclosure and into the street along Filiberto.

“Anyone else?” Filiberto pauses as he looks around at the audience. Then, looks up at the platform where Toni, Lou, and many others are standing, “Manny, how about you?”

Manny is surrounded by enthusiastic friends and family. He is put on the spot and forces a smile on his face. Those nearby him push him towards the fence to climb into the street. His wife alone pulls on his arm as he reluctantly steps down onto the dirt. Momentarily, Manny stands against the wall resisting the persuasive taunts of Filiberto who begins to chant into the megaphone, “MAN-NY, MAN-NY,” until the whole audience chimes in.

Filberto’s influence over the residence of Pie Town is both an asset and a crutch for Manny. The one person that has any influence over the mayor is the barber of Pie Town.

Manny steps out, waving to the crowd with a forced but proud smile on his face. He turns and looks at the bulls. The sheer size of the animals and their horns is disturbing. Known throughout the county, as the biggest and meanest, Frodo is standing front and center and starring straight towards Manny and Filiberto.

Filiberto continues announcing to the audience, “Thanks Manny you won’t regret it. Also everyone, Frodo this county’s award-winning bull is also attending. There he is everyone. Let’s have a round of applause for both of them.” Clapping sounds scattered throughout the crowd.

With the mayor’s presence, a few more people enter the street, including some teenage boys who are strategically moving to the front of the runners and furthest from the bulls.

Clearly, the fastest runners and familiar with running races, the boys know that getting in front of the crowd is the best way to win a race. They line up, crouched slightly, with their bodies turned sideways. They chuckle and fidget as they wait for the sound of a gunshot. There is a stark contrast between the boys’ seriousness and the other men who all seem to be standing around casually stretching their legs.

Filiberto shouts into the megaphone with all his fury, “Release the bulls!” He then holds his hand out in a gesture to hold on and walks over to the edge of the street to hand off the megaphone and sombrero. Filiberto walks back, and then give a wave with his hand.

A few seconds go by and all is silent. Everyone is waiting. Then, with a sudden shock, a gunshot rings out. “BLANG!”

The boys burst into top speed running straight and not looking back. The double gate slowly opens with a mass of bulls standing in place. The bulls don’t move. The men, all stand still with a few walking backward waiting to be chased. The men and the crowd are all silent. The boys have since disappeared down the straightaway.

Filiberto confidently motions to the ranchers managing the bulls, who are on horseback. He curls his lips, makes a quick nod with his head and a spanking motion with his hand. The bull manager gets the hint and lets out a loud “HEEYAH!” to rattle the bulls. He whips a few bulls on the rear with a stiff coiled rope and in a violent surge, the bulls let out moans of distress that cause the mass to stampede out from the gate.

With no time to react, the men all take off running. Filiberto and the mayor are closest to the bulls. They turn to run with Filiberto taking a small lead. Within seconds, the mayor vanishes underneath the tsunami of stampeding beasts.

The mass of bulls is cluttered with lumps of bulging muscles that heap around knots of bones and horns. Moving methodically, they rumble like a boiling torrent of brown mud moving anxiously but steadily in one direction.

Every man is running wildly. Some run straight, some take to the fence to climb out. Filiberto is in the center of the street running his fastest with the bulls closing in. He then takes a sharp left, running towards the fence. In his failed attempt, he is scooped up at the groin by Frodo and tossed back into the oncoming mass.

Shoulder to shoulder, the bulls toss Filiberto back into the air repeatedly. His plump body takes on new poses with each bounce as he appears to dance atop the horn points. His flailing limbs thrash violently in impossible directions but in unison as if he were a marionette.

Some onlookers turn in disgust while others watch euphorically with Filiberto’s inspirational words still ringing in their heads.

As the bulls move and spread out, Filiberto sinks beneath the thunder of rumbling hooves. When the bulls pass, the crowd breaks into action with many in shock. The Mayor and Filiberto are motionless, their crooked mushy bodies covered in mud. Filiberto is laying face down with one arm across his stomach and the other across his lower back as if he were taking a bow.

The bulls are in full stampede heading down the quarter-mile stretch towards the center of Pie Town. A mere four-foot high swinging wooden gate divides the bulls paths from entering the town. Young men on horseback are poised and ready to direct the arriving bulls into a sharp right turn to the corral. After which, the gate will be closed, which in turn, opens the road. It’s a perfect scheme.

About a hundred other people are spread out along the bulls paths, completely unaware of the tragedy at the starting gate. As the wave of bulls passes, many people taunt the stampeding animals. A few courageous individuals jump in towards the end to experience the fearful excitement. The bulls show no sign of slowing.

At the end of the path, Frodo hops over the small gate with little effort and continues to run. One after another, the bulls refuse to turn and continue to jump the fence until some are falling on it and smashing through. Eventually, every bull is charging straight into Pie Town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 19 THE CHASE

Toni jumps into action. She calls in the emergency to the fire department, accessing the situation and establishing order. The Fire Department is directly down the road from the end of the bull run. Their sirens fire up and they can be heard heading straight up the bull run to assist the injured. The audience that just watched the bulls run past, followed by some rodeo styled cowboying, are now watching an ambulance move in the opposite direction up the path.

Half of the people leave the scene wearily on the lookout for crazed bulls. Others stay and observe the chaos. As the crowds disperse, Lou realizes that Nick has vanished. Straining to peek above the crowd looking for a glimpse of him, He sees Andy marching off to his car. Lou feels the urge to climb down from the platform and race to catch up, “Andy! Andy! You know where he is?”

“Maybe, hop in if you want?”

Together, they drive to Nick’s trailer, haphazardly avoiding bulls.

They get on S. Pie Town and head west towards the trailer park which gradually turns north. As they near the park, Lou see Nick’s car quickly turn right onto US 60, heading east, “There he is!”

“Hold on!” Andy floors the gas pedal and simultaneously hits the power button on the dash and turns up the volume. “You Got Another Thing Comin” by Judas Priest is in mid-song. Andy air-guitars in between changing gears. He barely slows on the turnoff to US 60.

Lou ambiguously embraces the new Andy. Then, remembers Andy’s story. Entranced, Lou stares at the small shoes hanging from the rear view mirror rocking to and fro. Sickened but excited about the chase, he internally cheers for Andy to catch up to Nick. As they close in, Nick speeds up, clearly aware that he is being chased. Andy’s Camaro is a powerhouse. Lou is pulled back in my seat from the G-forces and react by trying to press an imaginary brake pedal at his feet.

The music is loud, the engine is rumbling like another electric guitar. Lou feels transported back to 1980 in Andy’s rock-n-roll machine. They are closing in quickly.

It’s dusk and up ahead the flickering street light of Pie Town begins flashing like a beacon.

Meanwhile, Toni has just arrived at the Fire station as Frodo runs past, heading straight towards US 60. A pack of dogs congregates in the passion of chasing Frodo, who is driven towards the road. Manny and Filiberto are in an ambulance being treated. Toni is about to check on their condition.

Two hundred feet ahead, The flickering light at the convenience store flashes like a strobe light, lighting frame by frame the images of passing objects. Toni looks up and sees a car speeding past the intersection under the blinking light.

She watches moment by moment, anticipating and foreseeing the inevitable connection between two objects. As Frodo heads toward the road, 500 feet past the convenience store, Nick’s car collides with the massive beast. The Frodo rolls over the hood, the car spins and slides sideways into the shoulder. Toni is stunned by the incident and prepares to start her bronco to investigate. Suddenly, She sees Andy’s Camaro arrive on the scene. She is relieved to see Lou and another person get out and run up to the car.

Nicks airbag has been deployed and he is holding his left arm with his right hand. He has a bloody nose and possibly, a broken wrist. Andy wastes no time yanking Nick out of the car and starts frantically checking the automobile.

Lou stands mesmerized by the suffering of the enormous creature bellowing in pain, while Nick falls to his knees clutching his arm. Andy seems oblivious and grabs the keys of Nick’s car and immediately opens the trunk, pulls out a solitary suitcase and dumps it. It’s full of clothes.

Andy grabs Nick and drags him to the Camaro, puts him in the front passenger seat, clutches his shirt collar and yells in his face. “Where is it?”

Aching, with a look of anguish, Nick strains to answers, “Where’s what?”

Andy grabs him tighter “Where is it? You know, the money.” Andy pauses, looking Nick in the eyes, “You were on your way to get it, weren’t you? You were on your way to the Antenna.”

Lou’s expression is a dead give away. As a reflex, he instantly looks Andy in the eyes then, tries to look away but it’s no use. Andy confidently smiles, “That’s right. You’re taking me to it.” Andy closes the door with Nick inside, dazed and in pain.

Lou interrupts, “Shouldn’t we call someone? He looks hurt and besides this bull is in bad shape too.”

Andy turns around, “Don’t call anyone! I’ll take care of it.”

It’s getting darker. From a distance, Toni notices that all three men appear safe. She watches in silence and doesn’t react, knowing that Lou can handle the situation until she can get there.

Chaos has overrun Pie Town and Toni is struggling while other calls and messages are coming in. She is listening to a voicemail as she watches Andy from a distance, march up to the fallen bull and fire one shot into the animals’ skull. Toni drops her phone from the unexpected sight.

“Holy crap!” Lou stumbles back holding his ears. “Did you have to do that?”

Andy walks back casually, “And let it suffer?”

Andy nudges Lou by the arm, “Let me show you something.”

They walk back to the rear of the Camaro. Andy opens the trunk and quickly retrieves an object, “Look at that.”

Look at what?” Lou looks into the trunk at nothing specific.

Andy holds the object behind his back, “That box back there. Can you grab it?”

Lou bends deep into the trunk, extending his body. As he reaches deep into the trunk, Andy retrieves a blackjack from behind his back and hammers Lou over the back of the head. His body falls limp halfway out of the trunk. Andy reaches into Lou’s side holster takes his Glock .40 caliber pistol.

Toni is struggling to retrieve her phone from between the seat and the console and sits up just in time to get a glimpse of Andy forcing someone’s legs into the trunk and close it. Andy scurries to the driver’s side of the car, gets in and speeds away.

Toni drops everything and drives to the wreck. Nobody is around. The bull is lying dead halfway in the road with the car on the shoulder. There is blood on the driver’s airbag.

Down the road, Andy’s rear lights are glimmering heading east. Toni takes off in pursuit. She makes sure her headlights are on and can see Andy’s car turn left to the Antenna. After a short time, she turns on to the dirt road to follow them.

There are no lights ahead and Toni is driving fast. The road gently swerves leading to the antenna. She is scanning the trees lining the road for any sign of a car. Nearing the parking area, a figure steps out on the road with one hand raised, holding a gun. It’s Andy.

Toni is going too fast to stop and tries to veer away. Andy begins firing into the side of the truck as she nears. After she passes, she tries to correct the swerve but it’s too much and then overcompensates in the other direction. The truck fishtails and then flips, rolling over again and again until it comes to rest upside down in the edge of the forest on top of some brush.

The dust from the road fills the air. Andy stands in the middle of the road observing the wreck. He signals to Nick who is on the side of the road, “Get over here.” Nick is in no condition to run and stands motionless While Andy walks slowly to the vehicle to investigate.

Toni is disoriented and is buckled in, hanging upside down in the truck. The door windows are all shattered. She looks around and through the passenger side window, sees the bottom half of someone’s legs slowly approaching through the haze of dust. She immediately unbuckles her seatbelt and slinks out through the broken window into the forest floor.

Andy steps into the crooked brush. Nick watches, nurturing his injured wrist. Andy bends down to look in, “Its empty. I can’t believe no one is there. Well, if that’s Lou’s girl, she won’t live for long. I got bigger fish to fry.”

Andy waves his gun in Nicks’s direction, “Come on.”

Deep in the forest, under the protection of the trees, Toni watches as Andy leads Nick to their car which is another hundred feet up the road near the hiking path. Toni follows under the cover of the forest. Andy puts his gun away and opens the trunk of the car. Retrieves a cigarette, lights it, stands for a moment, take out his gun, takes a puff and stares into the trunk, “Looks like you pissed yourself kid. Get out! Time for the fireworks.”

At gunpoint, Andy handcuffs Lou and pulls him out of the trunk. Momentarily, Lou makes eye contact with Toni who is deep in the wooded background. Lou blinks his eyes and then she is gone. Still gathering his thoughts after hallucinating in the trunk, he questions whether he saw her at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 20 THE NIGHT

Andy marches the two men into the darkness of the forest down a hiking trail. With a gun on Lou’s back and with Nick in front, the three men are walking in single file, stumbling in the darkness. Lou notices Nick is nurturing a possible broken wrist and is bleeding from his face. Nick hesitantly leads the way on the dark path.

Still shaken from being hit over the head and trapped in a trunk, Lou is grateful for every breath of fresh air, “What’s going on? Why are you taking us out here?

Andy stabs his gun deeply into Lou’s back, “Keep going. We still got a little ways to go. Ain’t that right Milkovich!”

Nick moans. “Hey John Wayne man, I don’t know what you’re talking?”

“Stop playing games. I figured it out.”

Lou is still confused by the turn of events and doesn’t understand why he is Andy’s prisoner on a death march into the woods, “What is this all about?”

Andy answers impatiently, “You’re a little slow on the take Lou. Your boy Milkovich here was going to skip town with some cash, over a hundred grand if my information is right. One hundred G’s that are shortly going to be mine. He was probably heading down to Mexico as soon as he recovered it if my guess is correct.”

“So, why am I cuffed?”

“Because this is a private party, you schmuck. I don’t need any more cops around here. Ok?” Andy pauses, “I’ll shoot either of you that tries to run. Got it? You see Nick when I finally caught up to that pal of yours, he didn’t have the money and said you already left town. I knew that wasn’t true. At that point, there were two options. Either it arrived at the post office as one of those hiking packages, Lou had it or you had it.

“So, you were following me and Toni in Quemado, weren’t you?”

“That’s right, I had to know if you left it in that cop lady’s car. So, I checked it out while you were having your Menaja twat.”

“It’s Manaja twa.”

“Whateva. Then I drove back and checked out your car. Finally, I checked the post office at night and some stupid bitch surprised me. So, I surprised her. Then I opened every box in the place.

That left one option, it was still hidden. See, Milkovich, I knew you were too smart to keep it with you. I also knew that if you tried to run, Lou would have you picked up and you’d lose the money.

Lou interrupts, “I thought he was a hit man.”

Andy smirks, “Wrong again golden boy. You see that guy drove out here on a goodwill mission to save a friend. I got wind of it from my connection back in Jersey. Then drove to Pie Town about the same time as him. I just had to be sure about the money and who was who. And, if Nick doesn’t find the money, I’ll kill him.”

A feeling of dread overcomes Lou and he nervously raises his cuffed hands, runs his fingers through his hair and scratches his head, “How much of this is true Nick?” Lou calls out.

There is a long pause and then Nick stops walking, “All of it,”

Lou turn partly towards Andy, “So, you get your money and I take Nick back to Jersey, Ok?”

“Wrong!“ Andy gleefully smiles, ”I get the money and Milkovich kills you and everyone lives happily ever after, ha, ha, ha.”

Andy calls to Nick. “Listen, Milkovich, when we get close, you point it out. Is it buried or what?”

Nick hesitates and answers, “It’s under a thick tree with a rock on it. It’s still a little ways away.”

It’s now pitch black outside. They seem to be aimlessly following a trail.

Walking slower than ever, Andy is becoming increasingly irritated. “Where the hell is it Milkovich?

Nick pauses, looks around and tries to answer, “I think we’re close. I’m not sure. There is a small clearing and then a bushy tree to the left, just a little farther I think.”

They walk about 200 yards and come to an opening in the landscape. The faint street light of Pie town flashes in the distance along with some flashing police lights more than a quarter mile south.

Andy looks around and tries to be patient knowing that they must be close but he can’t control himself, “Look don’t make me shoot you too Milkovich. This has got to be it. I don’t want to carry your stinky-ass shoes back to the car too, ha, ha, ha, ha.” Andy laughs incessantly.

Suddenly, Lou stops. He is filled with a feeling of dread hearing Andy’s laugh. He begins to picture Nate Jackson’s shoeless feet, the tortured barefoot stranger and Lauri in the post office. “It can’t be a coincidence.” He thinks. Then, he remembers the boxes in Andy’s trunk. “I was unconscious, but I can remember fumbling my hands around the trunk space trying to figure out where I was. There were shoeboxes stacked up in the trunk, four or five boxes.” He can hear Andy’s sinister laugh echoing in his head, and remembers the child’s shoes hanging from Andy’s mirror. Lou gets a sudden pain in his stomach. He can’t control himself. A huge wave of nausea overwhelms him. Uncontrollably, he bends over and starts vomiting. Andy and Nick spread out.

“Holly shit,” Andy yells.

Lou stands perplexed by his own reaction and slowly stand up straight. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve. Pale and shaking, he stares up at the horror that is Andy.

Lou glares at Andy thinking, “I know I’m dead. I get it now. For once I know the truth and I have nothing to lose.” Lou suspects that Andy is some kind of psychopath. “Oh my god, you killed them all. Why did you do it? Just for the money or are you some kind of a serial killer?”

Nick stands confused in silence, watching the two men stare at each other. Andy seems to recoil from the revelation of his darkest secret being revealed.

Miraculously, Lou stands up straight, unafraid as he overcomes Andy’s control over him. More sure of himself self than ever before, he stares Andy down knowing that he possesses the truth. Still handcuffed, he knows death is certain.

Andy retracts his withdrawn look. He begins to stand up straight again. He bows his chest out and takes a deep breath. His body language becomes less intense as if the burden of his greatest deception has been lifted.

“You think I kill people for their shoes, you schmuck?. I just keep their there shoes after I kill em.”

Andy looks around at the terrain, “This is far enough,” As they stand together in a small triangle about 8 feet apart, Andy looks down at the ground. “Stand back Milkovich.” Nick takes two small steps back.

Andy watches Nick then quickly interrupts, “That’s good. Ok, this is where you get it, Lou. I kind of feel like I can’t trust you anymore.”

Andy then casually turns in Nick’s direction. “Time to become the man you always said you were. Time to kill Lou.”

Nick stands motionless barely able to speak. He swallows repeatedly. His whole physiology begins to change.

Andy takes immediate notice. “You ain’t killed nobody before, huh?”

Nick pauses, “Sure I have. I just don’t know why we gotta kill him?”

”You don’t know why? Cause he knows too much, that’s why!”

“Look! I’m the Milkman! Everybody knows that. I got rid of plenty of guys before, namely Nate Jackson.”

Andy rolls his eyes, “Really? Nate Jackson? You know I should just let this go but I can’t.”

Andy clenches his fist and the gun. Then, looks at Nick with an indignant smirk. “Milkman my ass, you want to know who delivered the milk to Nate, Me! I’m the one who popped the caps in Nate’s worthless carcass.”

Nick and Andy stare each other in the eyes. Andy’s penetrating and unrelenting glare makes Nick cower and look away in shame.

Andy turns back to Lou, “Nick took the credit for mob killings to get street-cred.” Andy holds up his fingers in quotations, “That’s how he became the Milkman. Hell” Andy brags, with his palms facing up and loosely holding the gun, “Whenever I had to kill someone, I would just spread the rumor that it was the Milkman, and he was happy to take the credit every time. That’s why there was never any evidence to convict him. Which, just built his reputation up further, ha, ha, ha. I couldn’t have planned it any better myself.”

Nicks one claim to manliness was exposed as a fabrication. Stunned, Lou begins to question everything he believed was true about Nick and Andy. All these years he lived under the impression that Nick was a murderer and Andy was an insightful clever agent. Nick suddenly appears naive, impotent and weak and Andy more deceitful and ominous than he ever imagined.

Andy turns back to Nick, “Now, you’re gonna kill Lou or I’m gonna kill both of you and you’re still gonna get credit as you did in the old days.”

Andy rears back in laughter, “Ha, ha, ha, man you’re dumb but it’s too late now. You gotta keep this party going”

A feeling of desperation overcomes Lou. “No, don’t listen to him, Nick. If what he says is true, then you’re not guilty of anything.”

Andy confidently looks at Lou, “Oh but he will be. He’s gonna kill you but I’m going to give him an alibi so no one can quite prove it.“ Andy, begins to speak in a softer tone to motivate Nick, ”Are you ready Nick? I’m gonna to hand you a gun. You aim it and pull the trigger. Then, you can become the man you always wanted to be… A real killer.”

Andy pulls out a shiny silver gun. An older style FBI issued revolver, “Here take this.”

He flips open the cylinder and ejects all but one bullet into his palm and pockets the rest. Swings it shut and adjusts the chamber with the bullet to be the next one fired.

Desperately, Lou begs Nick, “Don’t listen to him. When this is over he’s going to kill you too. You know that. Right, Nick?

“Shut up!” Andy snarls.

Lou begs Nick, “You were safe all these years because you didn’t know the truth. Don’t you see? Now you know. He can’t let you live.”

Andy looks straight at Nick and directs him, “You got one bullet in that gun now use it.”

Nick takes the gun. It pulls his hand down. “Wow. Its heavy,” He nervously points it in Lou’s direction. Then, looks at Andy with an empty expression. He holds the gun aimlessly, for what seems like minutes.

A wave of dread quivers through Lou’s body. A strange Orwellian fear. Not because he is going to be shot but because he doesn’t know where he will be shot and every nerve is hypersensitive waiting for the explosive sting.

Andy points his gun at Nick and orders him again. “Do it fat ass!”

Nick pauses for what seems like a minute. With a turned head, he winces as he commands his finger to squeeze and then feebly fires a shot off into the air, missing Lou.

Andy shrugs, “You moron! I got to do everything myself.”

As the gunshot is still reverberating in the distance, Andy gazes into the night sky, appreciating the echo. “Listen to that. I love the sound of a distant gunshot.” He smiles and takes a deep breath.

As the gunshot fades, it blends into the distant whisper of a passenger jet sailing overhead. Wantonly, Lou scans the sky against the magnitude of brilliant stars searching for the jet, yearning for some contact with the civilized world. Moving past, the minuscule blinking red lights fade away. Like a castaway floating in an open sea, Lou watches the distant vessel casually sail away. He feels microscopic and helpless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CH 21 THE KNIGHT

It’s quiet. Their footsteps seem abnormally loud as each man occasionally takes micro steps to find a comfortable place to stand. The sound of other obscure animals and insects seem to riddle the background noise. For a moment, they all seem to be at ease, giving a moment of silence and respect to the outdoors.

Then, as they stand in the darkness waiting for the explosive sound of a shot from Andy’s gun, another sound begins to erupt. Something ominous begins to rustle the branches of the nearby scrubby trees.

Twelve feet up, the tree branches begin swaying and giving way. As if the forest is giving birth to some kind of creature in their midst.

Frozen in their steps, they are all wide-eyed, scanning the darkness with their peripheral vision. Trying to make sense of the sound of breaking branches and pounding steps, they all start muttering in harmony. “What the hell?”

Then, with even more fury, the thing comes crashing out from between a mass of vegetation. An inconceivable creature, barely recognizable in the murky darkness is rushing towards them. Pounding steps and reckless limbs with almost no comprehensible form, it steals everyone’s attention.

They are all breathless and stiff. As the great beast rapidly approaches, it begins to take form. Is it an elk, a bear or something else? They all start taking slow ridged steps back. Each body is reluctant to move but unable to stand still. They are nervously paralyzed by its sight.

As the creature closes in, it is heading straight at Andy. Nick and Lou start spreading out from both sides with Andy in the middle. Andy is standing up straight with the gun in hand. Both of his arms are bent at the elbow, pointing forward.

Then, as quickly as the creature emerged and closed in, it reveals its true self. Toni on horseback crouched down rises up from behind the horses head. Toni’s penetrating stair and gritting teeth match the horse’s large wide eyes and grin.

As woman and beast move in one fluid motion, Toni quickly lowers a long tree branch with jagged limbs, straight out in front and to the left of the horse’s head.

About 8 feet long, the branch is tucked under Toni’s arm like a knight’s joust. Horse and rider are galloping pell-mell.

Then instantly, there is an explosion of force as the tree branch collides with Andy’s chest. The collision snaps the branch in two with a resounding “CRACK,” knocking Toni from the horse.

The horse continues to run off another sixty feet or so, before coming to its senses. Toni and Andy are both laying on the ground. Toni is moaning and gasping for breath.

Lou runs up to her. She is on her stomach, “Toni, Toni, Are you ok?” he turns her over on her back to get a closure look. The left side of her shirt is torn. Her side is cut open and bleeding.

After a few quivering breaths, She begins to speak in an aching but measured voice, “Ok, ok… Oh god.” She is cut open badly on her left side from the breaking branch.

It’s not life-threatening and Lou gently holds her close with his cuffed wrists. “You’re gonna be ok baby. We’re gonna be ok.”

Lou looks up at the surroundings and then over at Andy. He is about 15 feet away, on his back with an expression of horror and amazement on his face. He has a long shard of splintered tree branch pointing straight up out of his chest. His body is curved upwards, being held off the ground by the other end of the branch sticking out of his back.

The joints throughout his body are making small movements. His arms are bent at the elbows, pointing upwards, with the gun still in hand. He stops breathing and becomes motionless.

Then, in one final moment of defiance, as if it was his last word, his clenched fists tighten and he fires one last bullet from his gun into the night sky. Lou withdraws from the sudden shot. The concussion of sound rings out into the night sky and slowly evaporates along with the fear of Andy. Everyone is motionless as the shot fades away.

With little delay, Nick starts rifling through Andy’s coat pockets with his one good hand, until he finds some keys. He puts them in his pocket and pries the gun from Andy’s hand. Then, stands to look at Andy, then Lou and Toni.

He puts the gun under his belt walks about 30 feet away to a large bushy tree. He almost disappears inside the branches, then emerges holding a medium sized box wrapped in brown paper.

Nick stops and looks around, walks back over, and sets the box down. Up close, Lou can see that the package reads in large bold print “HIKER” with the stranger’s name, Vilmos Milkovich.

Looking up, Lou asks, “Was he your brother?”

“Yah, my little Bruder coming out to say goodbye and make sure I got what I need to get away. Please, Lieutenant, leave him outs dis. He hasn’t done nosing wrong.”

“Ok,” Lou drops his head, realizing that Nick’s brother was the tortured man in the field. He just looks down and nods in agreement.

Nick takes out the keys and begins rummaging through until he selects a small key, bends down and unlocks the cuffs as Lou loosens them.

Nick stands, hesitates to speak, “Well, I guess you know the truth now. Good luck, cowboy man.”

Nick puts the keys in his pocket, picks up the box and starts hiking back on the trail towards the telescope and Andy’s car.

Toni reaches out to Lou’s arm, “Help me up. We need the horse.”

Lou helps Toni stand and then he gently walk up to the horse, take the reins, and coaxes the animal back to Toni. Toni painfully climbs up and they head through the brush as Lou walk beside towards the dim flickering streetlight of Pie Town.

In the distant dark sky, there is a mild flash of distant lightning. A breeze begins to pick up. Again and again, the distant flashes reveal the shapes of faraway thunder clouds stacked one in front of the other. Toni sighs with an aching voice but manages to smile, “The monsoon rains are coming.”

Lou breathes in the fresh air and confidently guides the horse, “July is the start of the monsoon season. We just need some rain to wash it all away and cool everything off. Then everything will be nice again.”

#

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About Kevin Urban

Living in the American Southwest is wonderful. It inspires me to write exciting stories with interesting characters and I write because I have incredible stories to tell and I take no responsibility for the things the characters say and do. I develop a character and that person becomes a free spirit exploring the world I create for them.