“Brian, just think about it a bit, okay?” she said, her voice soft, careful, “Don’t discount it out of hand.”
“You mean don’t say no, right, Penny?” Bachman replied.
“C’mon, Brian. It’s something she wants, something that will make her happy. You’re a Sergeant now, your schedule is looser, you could pick up a detail maybe…”
“Work an extra off-duty job so Chrissy can ride a horse?” He shook his head, “Penny…I work narcotics, remember? We don’t often work extra details, they’re usually uniform jobs. Hell, you know this. And what about the kitchen? You been bitchin’ about the kitchen since you moved in with Chrissy. What little more money I got with the promotion is gone quickerin’ shit around here.” He rubbed his face with one big hand, not caring if he got the sandwich crumbs out of his mustache.
“Well, Brian,” she forced a smile, not wanting this to turn bad, “You like what comes out of the kitchen, right? And I just think we could break down and get a stove that has more than two burners working, and maybe even a fridge that will hold more than two bottles of beer and a package of hotdogs.”
“C’mon, baby. You said we could fix up the kitchen, and maybe do a little with the master bath. Maybe we could get a loan from the credit union.” She knew it was a mistake as the words came out of her mouth.
“We already tapped the credit union, remember?” he said in a tired voice. “Chrissy can’t go to a dentist like other kids, oh no. She needs a special pediatric guy…charges us a coupla hundred every time she goes there.”
“Ah, Brian…” She turned her face from his, and added, “I’m just part-time in the school office for now, but they’ve already said they’ll take me full-time as soon as they can. And because I work there, we get a break on Chrissy’s tuition, right?”
He looked at her. Penny Barton, his second wife. Former wife of a firefighter. Fight it though he might, he felt the same rush, the same urges he felt every time he looked at her. Ten years younger than him, golden, sleek…just humming with girl energy. She wore baggy white shorts as she stood in front of him, a thin cotton sleeveless t-shirt, no bra. Stared at him with those damn green eyes that constantly challenged him, constantly asked…you man enough, Bachman?
“It’s still private school, Penny,” he countered, “And your ex-hero just can’t seem to manage his support payments, can he? He got a new Camero though, don’t he?” He heard his own words, and thought about the child support payments he was making to his first wife, Lydia. He had a son and daughter, both in elementary school, public school. Lydia’s new hero was a lawyer, for cryin’ out loud, and the bastard was on him if a support payment was five minutes late. Through the court, of course. Sniveling weasel wouldn’t come face-to-face, no way. “Crap,” he said.
Penny moved close to him, brushed his mustache with her fingers, then wrapped her hands around the small of his back. She pulled until their hips came together, smiled, raised one eyebrow, and said quietly, “Do I hear a certain, um, anxiousness, in your crabby voice, Bachman? I mean, you sound like you’re all tight and all, like you might not be getting’ enough lovin’.”
Her face was too close, her eyes devouring his. Her warmth pushed against him, her skin glowed, her lips sort of fell away from each other, revealing that pink, knowing tongue. “Penny,” he said tightly, “Come on…we’re talkin’ about things I can’t change…the money…I mean…” Shit, he thought, This is no fair. No fair.
“We’ve got over an hour before Chrissy gets home, Brian,” she said. She kissed him as she massaged the back of his neck with one hand, his bottom with the other.
“Dammit, Penny,” he said as his felt himself surging against her. He followed her into the bedroom like a man possessed, tearing at her clothes, and his.
Three hours later he sat in his leased sedan with Alabamatags, tapped his knuckles impatiently on the steering wheel as he watched the jammed traffic, and thought about her words. The lovemaking had been good, like always, and he had marveled at the intensity, the physicalness of it. He still found it almost hard to believe that a woman like her would be in any way attracted to a guy like him. He was leaning toward forty, an angular, hairy man with long forearms and one crooked ear to match his crooked nose. His thick, rough head of black hair was definitely entering the salt-and-salt stage. He had begun to thicken in the middle, and felt the large metal belt buckle on his wide leather belt actually helped hold things tight. He was prone to faded jeans, work shirts, and worn cowboy boots. He didn’t smoke anymore, at least, but he did like his scotch whiskey. He wasn’t sure if a bottle a week made him an alcoholic. Penny had never given him any grief about it, though. But man, he thought, the lovemaking. She took from him, gave to him any part, any way, all he wanted until she cried out, over and over. He had immersed himself in her, given himself over to her touch, her power. He had fallen unresisting into the core of her, his mind exploding in white light, his body a hungry nerve-end on fire against her, around her, and in her.
“It’s just an hour riding lesson, baby,” she had said as she watched him get dressed, “On Saturday mornings. On a pony that the riding school provides. It’s been a dream of hers for a while now. I know it’s impractical, I know it’s…hard to justify. But it would make her happy, and she would know you did it, and it would be good…”
He had simply nodded as he stood over her beside the bed. Her eyes held his as he tucked his Sig-Saur into his waistband near the small of his back. He forced his eyes to leave her face, down through the hollow of her neck, across the golden skin of her collarbones to the creamy fullness of her breasts. He bent, kissed first one nipple, then the other. Then he ran his lips lightly down until he kissed her navel. She caught her breath as he moved lower, she put both hands on his head, her fingers in his hair, as he put his face between her legs, and breathed deep the essence of her. When he felt her hips raise up and push against him, he stood, kissed her quickly on the mouth, and left for work.
He glanced at his watch. Stupid traffic. Where the hell were all the motorcycle cops anyway? Sittin’ someplace bein’ cool, he thought, Tryin’ to impress the ladies He needed to get into the office, get on the phone, get the team briefed. An informant that he had personally nurtured for over four months was finally giving him a fat one. Three houses, this evening, tonight. Three houses on the water, with docks. Three houses that would be filled with dope, filled with dopers. His informant, not surprisingly, was also working for a DEA Agent, so something he had been working on had now become a ‘Task Force Operation’…headed by the Miami DEA office. Another fun night in the tropics, he fumed. DEA would be on his streets, with his guys, telling him what to do. “Whatever,” he said to the surrounding traffic, “It’s all for the cause.”
His cellphone buzzed. He looked at the number, grimaced, hesitated, and said tightly, “What?”
“Oh…it’s mister personality,” saidLydia, his first wife, mother of his children. “You sound like you’re not getting enough pussy, Bachman.”
“Lydia,” he said. He bit back his first three immediate responses, took a breath, and added, “What? What,Lydia?”
“Money, Bachman,” answered Lydiabrightly, “Your children…remember little Brian, and Becky? Yes, Bachman, even though Dale is forced to keep mailing you certified letters so you’ll cough up your child support, I’m actually going to have to ask you for more.”
“Weasel-boy has more money than me, Lydia,” said Bachman, “Why do you have to keep bustin’ my balls?”
“Because you emptied those little balls into me, Bachman,” came her reply, “And out popped your children, okay? Yes…I have married a man with a real career now, and he does make a good living, but you are still responsible as a father…”
“What is it, Lydia?” he said, the total frozen hardness in her voice still incomprehensible to him. What did I do to make her hate me so much? He wondered again. “What is it now,Lydia?”
“Braces, Bachman, Teeth, orthodontia, baby. Both of your babies have crooked teeth, and that’s it.”
“Lydia,” he tried, “It’s gonna be hard, right now. I mean…”
“Don’t even start that shit, Bachman,” said Lydia, “Don’t tell me that little nympho you married isn’t getting child support from her ex. And her little girl…where is she going to school? She’s not in public school like your kids, huh?”
“Don’t crap me, Bachman. You still got that stupid bass-boat with all the goodies and that big macho engine stuck on it?”
Yeah, he thought, I do have a used bass-boat I bought from a guy goin’ through a divorce. I actually take it out fishing once in a while, out where its quiet but for the wind, the water against the hull. Keeps me from goin’ totally friggin’ nuts. Now it’s under a tarp in the back yard, growing mold. He loved the boat, simply said, and those rare times he got to use it.
“Yeah,” he said wearily.
“So sell it, Bachman,” said Lydia, “And maybe you should get the hell out of narcs and go back to uniform, back on the road with patrol so you could line up some fat details and make some money. You need to make more money, Bachman, you hearing me? You got to take a break from what’s between that blonde nympho’s legs and make some more money.”
The traffic light ahead of him changed, he pulled forward slowly in traffic, and thought about cops and marriage. It was like a circular pattern, he decided, of desire, hope, failure, renewal, desire again, hope…again. Cops need partners, he knew, they just couldn’t keep them. Cops married, had kids, then divorced, re-married, and raised someone else’s kids. He had grown very fond of Chrissy, Penny’s daughter, and of course he loved his own Brian and Becky. It wasn’t only cops, he acknowledged as he thought of Chrissy’s dad, the firefighter now re-married, and the lawyer who had married Lydia after divorcing and giving up his kids. Admittedly, cops had, in his view, taken the whole coupling thing to a new level. There was a captain on the department who held the record with six marriages, although one of those was a repeat. Then there were the two guys, motormen and best friends, who both divorced their wives and promptly married their friends’ wife. It was an even swap, house, kids, dog, bed, wife…and so far it seemed to be holding. He wasn’t naturally sentimental, but accepted the fact that with each change of spouse the cop-dad had to spread his love…for the kids…around more.
He finally made it to the building that housed the Organized Crime/Narcotics offices, waved at one of the secretaries who pointed to a stack of pink message forms, and sat wearily at his desk. He opened his briefcase, pulled out the letter he had been carrying around since the day before, and opened it. One of his credit cards was at its limit, and his payment was late. The company, though reluctant to do so, was suspending his account until he paid the minimum amount plus the late fee. His head pounded, and he rubbed his temples. “Crap,” he said. He rifled through the sheaf of messages, sighed, and called his sister, Mary, who lived in Georgia. While he waited for her to answer, he thought, At least she’s still married to the same guy she started with. Not that it helped, he admitted, since the guy took a nice tumble down the stairs in his own house and broke his neck. Her husband was paralyzed, and Mary worked part-time. He knew what the call was about, of course, as he had been helping out when he could for a few years now. A couple of hundred now and then. Mary answered, and they talked for a few minutes. When he hung up after the usual promises and reassurances, he pinched the bridge of his nose, hard. “A couple of hundred, now and then,” he said. One of the other messages scattered on his desk was from an auto repair shop. The mechanic was the son of a guy Bachman had known for years, had a small shop, survived by word-of-mouth and old customers. The air conditioner had gone out on Lydia’s car, and she had nagged him about his kids riding around in an oven because he couldn’t make it right. He still owed the mechanic three hundred for the stupid compressor. He stuffed the message form into his briefcase, and slammed it shut. Love isn’t the problem, he thought savagely, It’s the friggin’ money, baby.
* * *
It was full night, still, muggy, and wet. Bachman sat in his car in the deep sooty shade of a sprawling fichus tree. He listened to the quiet mutterings on two secure-channel radios, and glanced at his work cellphone again. All quiet, was the word. The word from on high, he thought, Word from the all-powerful, all-knowing DEA. He glanced over at the other car parked next to his. One of his guys, a young guy, new to the narc team, beat a nervous tattoo on the steering wheel with his thumbs. The man beside him wore dark sunglasses, and a stingy-brim straw hat with manatees on the band. He was young too, and from the DEA. They were in an upscale, waterfront neighborhood on the east side of town. It was a peaceful area of tree-lined streets, fine houses, and high property taxes. Many driveways had SUV’s, or Volvos, Mercedes, Jags, or all of the above. “Whatever,” he said under his breath.
“You say somethin’, Sarge?” asked the new guy. The DEA agent did not turn his head.
“What about this house we’re gonna take down, Sarge?” asked the new narc, “Gonna be some bad guys? Gonna be some dope like DEA says?”
Bachman shrugged, and thought, Do I look like I got a crystal ball, kid?
“Think they’ll fight?” asked the narc, “Or think they’ll run?”
“They’ll run,” said the DEA agent beside him without turning his head, sunglasses protecting his eyes from the intense night.
“Well,” said the narc as his thumbs beat up the steering wheel, “They can go ahead and run…but they can’t fuckin’ hide, baby.”
Bachman sighed. They had three houses to cover, and had formed, along with the DEA agents fromMiami, three teams. DEA thought they had the “main” house, the “headquarters” house, identified through what the informant told them. All three houses would have load-boats out back, all three would have off-load crews to be arrested, and dope to be seized. The main house, however, would have the largest load, and the ‘main guys’ in the smuggling organization. There might even be some cash there to be seized, although they all knew most of the time the big cash wasn’t anywhere near the dope. Naturally the DEA had set it up so their guys would hit the main house, and the local narcs, with unhappily designated DEA agents in tow, would take care of the others. When it was all said and done, Bachman and his little team had been assigned the smallest, and in DEA’s eyes the least important, house. The teams would move in on the houses when the informant signaled that most of the dope had been off-loaded.
“Whatever,” said Bachman again. The hours passed.
“Go…go…go,” said the voice over the radio, “I say again, go…go…go.”
“Let’s go easy now,” began Bachman as he started his car, but the young narc beside him said, “Yeah…all right,” slammed his car into gear, and spun sideways in the wet leaves until the tires slid onto the pavement. Bachman followed behind the other two as they rocketed toward the house, which squatted in the quiet night one half-block away. Now there were excited voices on the radios, units moving in, superfluous orders being given, call-signs and observations blending and bleeding all over each other. Bachman drove carefully to the house, cut his lights, and coasted into the drive. One small car was there, the windows gauzed with dew. He parked, got out, and pulled his pistol from his waistband. His mouth was dry, his eyes wide. One of the voices on the radio was yelling about someone running, another screamed about having “two at gunpoint in the rear yard” at one of the other houses. Bachman saw the DEA agent and the young narc, already out of their car, which sat sideways in the narrow street at the end of black skid-marks, run toward the house, guns up. The DEA agent looked over a side fence, toward the back yard, and the narc crouched behind a low hedge and peered into the house through the front windows.
“Nothing going on in back!” shouted the DEA guy.
“No movement at all inside!” answered the young narc.
“Hit the back,” called Bachman to the narc. He had carefully gone over their approach with the other two hours ago. He and the DEA stud would hit the front door, the young narc could cover the rear yard. In the excitement, he could see now, that had all gone out the window.
The young narc turned and looked at Bachman, but before he could say anything another voice on the radio yelled “They’re running!” It was from one of the other houses, but both the DEA guy and the narc heard it. At that moment they also heard an engine start, and from the next house a black pickup truck reversed out of the drive and skidded its tires on the street as it sped off, eastbound into the night. That did it.
“There they go!” yelled the DEA agent as he turned and sprinted across the yard to the narc’s car.
“Fuckin’-A!” shouted the narc as he dove behind the wheel.
Bachman stood there and watched as they sped off in pursuit of the pickup truck. “Crap,” he said.
He stood motionless in front of the house for a moment, taking in the night. The enveloping quiet had returned to the neighborhood, and it was peaceful. He looked at the house. There were a few lights on, but no movement. It had the feel of a place unoccupied, abandoned. Still, he made a wary approach, gun drawn. He tried the latch on the side gate, lifted it, and pushed the gate aside. The lawn and shrubbery of the place were manicured, there was a small kidney-shaped swimming pool between the back of the house and the seawall, and a thirty-foot go-fast boat was tied to the sturdy dock. He moved to the rear sliding glass doors of the house. One was pushed open, and he stepped inside on the balls of his feet. He heard moaning.
He froze, his head turned toward the sound. The moaning was that of a woman, and she was not in pain. He moved cautiously into the well-appointed living room, saw no movement, but his eyes were drawn to the flickering light coming from a large flat-screened TV against one wall. There, he discovered the source of the moaning. A porn film was in full throat, and he cocked his head slightly to determine exactly what part of each player he was looking at, and their relation to each other. It took a few seconds to decipher, and when he did he mentally bowed to their agility and prowess. He moved through the house then, quickly, professionally, gun up, eyes wide, mouth agape, nostrils flared. In a minute or two he knew he was alone in the house. Okay, he thought.
The radio bubbled, he listened to the DEA supervisor calling for a couple of marked cars, for the suspects captured, and the two panel trucks on standby…for the dope. Must have hit the mother load at one house, he mused. He waited, but did not hear anything on the radio from his two missing heroes. He shook his head, and began to look around. He knew already there was no dope in this house, not a load of the stuff, anyway, no bales of grass, no bags of coke. He looked into each of the three bedrooms, and opened the kitchen door that lead to the garage. A Lexus SUV was parked there, the hood cold, empty. But the briefcase was in the kitchen, sitting open on a countertop, near the fridge. He approached it slowly, his gun down by his side. His eyes swept the contents in slow motion, he felt a gripping tightness in his chest, and he muttered, “Crap, bullshit, and crap again.”
Money. It was money in the briefcase, layered, banded, green, and powerful. Stacks of hundreds, and his practiced eye tripped from side to side, up and down, and came to the figure of three hundred thousand. He sighed. He remembered something he had noticed in the living room, turned his eyes from the briefcase, and moved out of the kitchen. He nodded as he saw again the two large cardboard boxes he had seen when he first entered the house. They were television boxes, and a thought had crossed his mind as he passed in front of the porn film on the big TV: More TV’s? He stood and listened for a moment, the house, the night, still and quiet. Even the radio was silent. He walked toward the boxes. The top cardboard flaps were
closed, but not taped. With the barrel of his pistol he pulled one back on the nearest box. He leaned forward a bit, and looked in.
“And bullshit again,” he said as he stared down into the green. It was money, money, money, complacent, condescending, at ease in its own latent power and sinister, captivating attraction.
He nudged the box with the toe of his right boot. It did not budge. He stepped around it to the other, opened it the same way, chewed his lower lip as he saw more money. Couldn’t move that box with his foot either. He backed across the room, and sat without looking in a leather chair near the big TV. He stared at the boxes, his gun hanging from his fingers. The girl on the screen beside him began raising the pitch and frequency of her moans, and he turned his head. He noticed she had either purposely shaved in a pubic Mohawk, or had designed it to look like a pulsing pink exclamation point. Three men stood around her now, and she had her hands full. A sudden wave of irrational white-hot rage crashed within him, and with one arm he swept the video/CD player off the top of the large TV. It crunched onto the floor after banging off a teak and glass table, pieces of black plastic and tangled wires scattering across the floor. The moans stopped.
He stared at the boxes, thought of the briefcase in the kitchen, and listened to the quiet house. He was alone. He was alone, and would be for some time…plenty of time. He existed in a temporarily disconnected bubble, invisible to the good guys, the bad guys, his men, the brass, the fucking feds. He pursed his lips, then rubbed his temple with the thumb of his gun hand. He stood, walked across the room to the boxes, and more carefully examined them. This time all the banded stacks of bills he could see were thousands. He looked at the size and depth of the boxes, toed them again to feel their weight. Right off the top of his head, and for a moment he thought the top of his head might actually come off, he guestimated the amount of the boxes to be somewhere in the area of maybe ten million. Maybe more, maybe less…one three, five…it was over a mil, and under the national debt. He straightened. He listened. He looked down into the boxes. For a very long moment he stood motionless, frozen, the sound of his own heart his only affirmation of reality. His eyes swept across the money in the boxes, his mind bounced all over the place. He remembered a drug smuggler he had nailed a couple of years ago. The guy called the cash, ‘Happy Tickets’. So many happy tickets in one place, just sitting there, almost vibrating with potential.
“So, Bachman,” he said. He waited. A voice in his head answered, “So? Bachman?”
“So?” he whispered in a voice filled with conflict, anger, and despair.
Again the voice in his head answered, “So?”
He stared at the boxes, and sighed.
He called the dispatcher on his radio, told her his location, and requested a Shift Commander contact him by radio, then meet him there. He would tell the Shift Commander to call out the two or three bank employees they had used on other deals, and their money counting machines. They would need uniformed guys…one for each box, one for the briefcase. They would need Crime Scene, for the photos. The case and boxes would be weighed, and photographed, and every banded stack of bills marked, dated, and initialed. The integrity of the chain-of-evidence would be carefully maintained. The Chief would be called, and the Public Information Officer would be on hand to answer to the media. It would take hours. It would be a total, gold-plated, ball-busting, Olympian, pain-in-the-ass.
He used the other radio to contact the DEA boss, told him to come to this house, pronto.
“Why?” asked the DEA supervisor, irritated, busy, “That’s the last house, right? The small house?” Before Bachman could answer, the agent said, “What? Okay? Sergeant Bachman…one of my agents told me not to worry about your narc officer and my agent that was with him. They managed to stop a pickup truck that fled from your scene with two suspects, but, uh…they’re not sure they are suspects, uh, might just be neighbors. Anyway…they’ll be heading back to you shortly.” He paused, “What did you need, Sergeant Bachman? Arrest anybody over there?”
Bachman counted to five, took a breath, and replied into the radio, “No sir, no arrests. No contraband here either.” He paused, then said, “We got money, though…lots of money.”
“Money?” came the voice of the DEA boss, “Money? Funny money, foreign money? Monopoly money? What?”
Shut up, piss-ant, thought Bachman, but he answered, “Just money, okay? Plain old cash, the old-fashioned, beaucoup-trouble kind of cold, hard, serious cash money.”
“Who is there with you?” asked the DEA supervisor, his administrator-bureaucrat mind already hard at work.
“Fuck you,” said Bachman.
* * *
Bachman got home the next morning as the gray turned to orange-gold, a few minutes before Penny’s alarm went off. She would take Chrissy to school in about an hour. He let himself in the front door quietly, balanced on first one leg, then the other while he wrestled the cowboy boots off, and lay his Sig-Saur carefully on the night table beside their bed. His back ached, his head pounded, and he felt tired to the marrow of his bones. He also felt a lightness, like a freedom of some kind, but wrote it off to fatigue. He stood over Penny, staring at her as she slept, her hair tousled and flung across the pillow. God, she was lovely. He bent and softly kissed her on one ear.
“Hmmm?” she said.
He tiptoed out of the room, went to Chrissy’s room, and looked in at her. She slept also, hands on her chest, face angelic in repose. He turned away, and as he crossed the living room again he stopped in front of a framed photo of his other children, Brian and Becky. He held the photo, stared at it, and nodded. He glanced to where he had set his car keys and radio. Saw the yellow newspaper-like monthly publication he had picked up at an all-night newsstand on the way home. It was a boat-trading magazine, with listings and photos from all over the area.
He had decided to sell the bass boat.
He began to strip as he headed for a hot shower. He wanted to wash away the night, and there might even be time to wake up Penny, the best way.