We never had a chance.
The sun was just going down and it was fast becoming a clear, crisp April eve.
“Well, what’ll it be tonight, boys?”
The question was absurd. The Meg Chittenden-Robert Gregory Browne jello wrestling pay-per-view was still three hours away, so continuing to drink was, of course, the order of the evening.
The “boys” consisted of five: Barry “The Hair” Eisler; a little too good looking, a little too talented, a little too obsessed with sex to be taken seriously, but he could drop you with a Uchi Mata faster than it takes to write a James Patterson chapter, so we kept him around.
Joe “Little Joe” Konrath. A former postal worker who now tried to fit writing in between signings.
Laura “Double L” Lippman. Yeah, she was a girl, but she was a hot girl, and she could write like Pelecanos, drink like Fitzgerald, and fight like Parker. Posey, not Robert. But hey, I said she was hot.
Rounding out the boys was Duane “Swizzle Stick” Swierczynski, who was a sick dog, and then there was me.
The vehicles of the night were two. Little Joe’s “Scamp,” an oddball vehicle for what in reality was a 1996 Suzuki Sidekick, and Eisler’s “Incubus,” a ‘91 Ferrari F40⎯the fastest, most powerful, and most expensive machine Enzo ever produced⎯and the last real Ferrari ever built, according to The Hair.
Little Joe, Double L and myself piled into Scamp, The Hair and Swizzle into Incubus. Scamp cruised idly for a while, Little Joe making half-hearted attempts to keep his Ball jar of Jack Daniels below window level. Incubus scared vehicles out of its way, as The Hair sipped thirty-year-old Macallan from an official CIA Athletic Club sports bottle.
Inside Scamp, Double L scrunched down as low as she could get. “I don’t want anyone to see me and know I’m not home,” she said. “Burglars. Burglars will so rip you off if you’re not home.”
“Look!” Little Joe yelled. “There’s a Walgreens. They might have some remainders I could sign.”
Little Joe pulled into the Walgreens parking lot. The Hair followed, parking Incubus a ways away.
“Be right back,” Little Joe said.
“I better get some more beer,” Swizzle Stick said, barely feeling the effects of his nine Duvel lunch. He slid out of Incubus and beat a fairly straight path to the store.
“See if they’ve got any Ardbeg,” The Hair said, then went back to writing a sex scene for an upcoming book.
“Aardvarks?” Swizzle asked.
I looked back at Double L and said, “I think you can sit up now. The parking lot’s empty.”
Double L’s blonde mane started to rise, and she slowly peered out Scamp’s back window. "Someone's out there," she said. "Burglars." And she ducked back down.
I glanced around, saw nothing but darkness. The Hair made his way over and sat inside Scamp, and we chatted about sex for a few minutes. Then Swizzle Stick exited Walgreen’s loaded with beer.
He opened Incubus' passenger door, sat down, and the voice of God was upon us.
Spotlights blinded us as the voice boomed out, “Police! Don’t Move!”
God, in the form of James O. Born, Florida Department of Law Enforcement. I strained to see past the lights and counted at least a dozen cops.
“Come out with your hands up!”
“That doesn’t make sense,” noted The Hair. “Does he want us not to move, or to come out with our hands up?”
“He's still a cop?” I asked, more to myself than anyone else.
“I bet he’s here because someone burgled my house,” Double L said.
“I’m not going to tell you guys again,” Born said.
“What’d we do?” Swizzle Stick yelled from inside Incubus.
“Let’s start with open containers and public lewdness, and as far as your Polish ass is concerned, I’ve got almost a dozen counts of home invasion.”
“That was a book tour!”
“Don’t talk back."
“Yeah,” came another voice from behind the lights.
“I’ll handle this, Montgomery,” Born said.
“Oh, sure, and you’re doing a credible job, but I feel like there’s a lack of tension in the current scene. You need to ramp it up, really put everyone on edge, or else you run the risk of losing our interest.”
What the hell was David J. Montgomery doing with Born and his men?
“Fucking critics,” Swizzle said, and climbed out of Incubus.
Swizzle Stick flashed a two-fisted Bird, and that was his last act on earth. A shotgun blast shattered the night air and Swizzle Stick’s upper body was separated from his lower body a nanosecond later.
James O. Born stepped out from behind the lights. He wore jeans, an FDLE polo, and a belly bag flipped open⎯an FDLE logo covering his genitals like some official Apache loin cloth.
“Why’s he wearing a fanny pack?” Double L asked.
“I think it’s called a belly bag,” I said.
“No,” she said. “That’s a fanny pack.”
“I believe if it were reversed,” The Hair said, “thus the bag section hanging over his anus, it would be a fanny pack. But in this incarnation it can be accurately described as a belly bag. Would you like to read my latest sex scene, Laura?”
“I don’t think now’s the time for sex, Barry.”
“Now is always the best time for sex.”
Born yelled something and we turned to see him holding a book over his head. “Just wanted to let you guys know that my new Duarte novel hits the stands on Tuesday.”
“While I prefer the Tasker books,” Montgomery said, “I think this new series is exciting and filled with page-turning twists. Something this standoff severely lacks.”
I thought I could just make out Born rolling his eyes.
“Give it a rest, Montgomery,” Born said. “Now, Eisler, Lippman and Mister Showbiz. Are you coming out, or do I have to send my men in after you?”
“Do you have any women you could send in?” The Hair asked.
“You’re like David Duchovny or something, aren’t you?” Double L said. “A sex addict.”
The Hair’s eyes went dark, and his voice came out in a guttural snarl. “Do not ever use the word like in that context again.”
“I don’t think I used like the way you think I did," Double L said.
“I cannot stand people using that word that way. Am I sex addict, Lippman, or am I like a sex addict? Which is it?”
Double L had forgotten the first rule of traveling with The Hair: Never, in any context use a hedge word. Whether she had or hadn't, we know from history, never stand too close to the white tigers. And come to think of it, it was the third rule of traveling with The Hair, the first two having to do with sex and whiskey.
“I asked if you were like David Duchovny, meaning are you similar to him in that⎯”
“Excuse me,” Born said. “I’m the representative law enforcement here, and you should be listening to me right now, not squabbling over your little writerly semantic issues.”
“I don’t think writerly is a word,” I said.
“Uh, finish that novel yet, TV boy?” Born retorted.
He had a point.
“We better surrender or Born’s going to be really pissed,” Double L said.
“That was not a good sentence,” The Hair said.
“Okay, now you’re just being mean,” Double L said. "I'm leaving." She opened Scamp’s door, and stepped out into the night.
A shot rang out, and Double L’s head exploded like a ripe eggplant. I looked beyond Born and could just make out Montgomery holding a smoking fifty caliber Desert Eagle.
A deafening silence fell over the parking lot. Nobody moved, nobody spoke.
Then the Walgreens doors flew open and out tromped Little Joe, completely unaware of his surroundings⎯his left hand pouring Jack into his mouth, his right hand holding a remaindered copy of RUSTY NAIL.
The first cop took off Little Joe’s left arm at the elbow, sending the Jack crashing to the pavement. The second cop hit him in the right knee.
“My God,” I said. "They’re going to take their time.”
Born’s cops had small caliber weapons and were shooting out Little Joe’s elbows, kneecaps, and ankles at a slow rate.
“We should leave,” The Hair said.
We broke for Incubus. I hit the ground and tuck-and-rolled my doughy whiteness toward the F40. The Hair danced and dove, spun and flipped, like a cross between Tony Jaa and Paula Abdul⎯early Paula, like in the Opposites Attract video, not drunken American Idol Paula⎯and we made it to Incubus without injury.
“They’re getting away,” Montgomery screamed. “This is a very unsatisfying ending!”
“It’s not over yet, you moron,” Born said. “Uh, I apologize, David. You’re not a moron, and my new book comes out on Tuesday.”
The Hair fired the ignition, and I took one last look at Little Joe, who was now just a pitiful glob... of Little Joe. His left arm still clung to his remainder, though, and I thought I heard him say, “Tell the book sellers I loved them.”
The Hair hit the gas and Incubus erupted, slamming our heads back against the seats. Two turns and twelve seconds later we were on the highway, with Jim Born and his critic long gone.
One thing we had neglected: Guglielmo Marconi and the invention of the radio.
There was a small army waiting for us at the state line. They had lined up several pieces of heavy equipment and set them ablaze. The Hair slammed on the brakes.
We sat there in Incubus, contemplating, thinking. The Hair scribbled down a quick sex scene for an upcoming book.
I heard sirens and looked in the side mirror. Here came Born and his crew. I popped out some Japanese jazz CD and inserted Dylan. If I was gonna die, it wasn’t going to be to the sounds of a flugelhorn.
Incubus idled impatiently.
The Hair stomped the accelerator and Incubus responded like a machine possessed.
Behind us were a dozen cops, and one angry critic. In front of us, an inferno.
I looked over at The Hair. His eyes riveted ahead.
Some Barry Newman film flashed in my mind.
And barely being heard above the tremendous din outside was the wailing voice of Bob Dylan:
When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.
The Hair hit that firestorm at over 170.
I promise to raise a toast to my fallen brothers and sister over their graves, and I will, as soon as I get back.
But Vanuatu is just too nice this time of year.