* * *
“I don't disagree with you, but you have to admit, this puts me in a delicate position.”
And it did. I wasn't just bullshitting him. This deal was of the damned if I did, damned if I didn’t variety.
“Delicate position? You kidding me?” Jumberson laughed. “The only delicate position you ever get into is when you let Ms. Ken Landry get on top.”
“You don’t get it,” I told him.
He nodded. “Oh, I get it. You and Longman were tighter than a fourteen-year old. Sweet. Save the waterworks. Should have thought about that before you gave another man’s wife a back rub. Pissed him off right, did you.”
I tipped back the whiskey bottle, let the nectar torch my throat. “So, what is it you suggest I do?” I asked before wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
Jumberson grinned. “Quite simple, I must admit. Get it done. Or else.”
I frowned. “Or else what?”
He stood, shrugged as he put the chair back. “Or else.”
Jumberson turned and made for the open front door. I looked up at the clock. Five minutes, he'd been in. Such a short time, yet enough to get his point across.
I lifted the bottle again, stopped when Jumberson's head popped back in.
“One more thing,” he said. “Be fast. Gotta be done before sunset.”
Looked like my evening was shot.
Patty Longman's ranch sat in the foothills on the western edge of town. The road leading to it was dusty and sineous, one you wouldn't care to navigate while guided only by the faint light of a half-moon.
Lucky for me, it was still light enough to keep my trusty old Ford pickup on the road. It wasn’t fast, but I got there.
All seemed quiet on the ranch and beyond. No sign of Patty. Or of anyone else, for that matter.
I killed the engine, grabbed a shotgun from behind the seats, and walked gingerly toward the ranch.
There was nowhere for me to hide, so I had to rely on my lucky star. And my quickness. I'd always been quick, no problem there. Tonight, I needed to be Kenyan-quick.
I made it behind the main building without being seen. There, I found what it was I was looking for.
On instinct, I raised my shotgun and curled my finger around the trigger. Took me longer than it should to realize how stupid that was.
I approached the target, grabbed it, and dashed madly to the Ford.
There, I dumped my loot into the bed, slammed the door shut, and climbed in.
I drove toward town for a few miles before pulling to the side of the road. I took my cell phone out and dialed. While I waited for Jumbo to pick up, I glanced at the rearview. Nothing but setting darkness. It appeared I had made a clean break.
Jumberson's ever-so-kind greeting.
“Good work. Bring it out by the house. Park the truck in the back, then leave. You can come back tomorrow to pick it up.”
“I'm supposed to walk home?”
Jumberson chuckled. “You can slap the missus and ride the wave home.”
Again with the knock on my spouse.
And I had nothing to drink.
When I got to Jumbo's house, I did as I was instructed and waited.
A short time later, a car pulled into the drive behind me and three big men piled out of it. They strutted over to my truck, peered into the bed, and exchanged satisfied grunts.
Jumbo crawled out from wherever he’d been hiding. I joined the party.
The bigger of the men, bald guy with a heavy gait, looked over at me. “Any trouble?”
I shook my head, spit on the ground. “Quietest goat I've ever stolen.”
The man nodded, turned to Jumbo. “He's a good man. Must be why you didn't want him killed.”
Jumbo smiled, shrugged. “I just don't want his missus to get depressed over losing him and start eating her emotions. There's already too many children going hungry, know what I mean?”
Jumbo got a good laugh out of that one. The big man reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. He counted off a bunch of bills, too fast for me to keep up, and handed them over to Jumbo.
“Now, I believe this is mine,” said the big man, and he and his buddies grabbed the goat and pulled it out of the truck bed.
While the two henchmen pinned the goat on the ground, the big man locked his hands around the animal's throat and broke its neck. There was a slight yelp, and I turned away.
I finally dared to turn back, but what I saw made me regret it. The goat was on its back, feet pointing up, and the big man was cutting it open, slitting the fur from the neck down. Blood gushed everywhere, and the big man reached into the cavity. His hand travelled inside, searching as he grimaced and grunted. I looked away again, feeling my guts churning.
“Son of a bitch!” he hurled when he withdrew his hand. “Finally!”
“That's it?” one of the henchmen asked, sounding excited.
Intrigued, I took a tentative look.
The big man held a bloody bag in his hands. It looked so big, I couldn’t begin to imagine how that poor goat must have suffered from having that inside him.
The henchmen congratulated each other, slapping hands like they had just won a Little League game.
The big man turned to Jumbo, nodded. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
Jumbo nodded back and the three men piled back into their car, drove off.
“Crazy fuckers.” Jumbo looked down at the goat's corpse, shaking his head.
I had questions. Thousands. “What was in that bag?” was the first one out.
Jumbo looked over at me, shook his head. “You should know better than to ask, Landry.”
“So you don't know?”
Jumbo smirked. “Could be the Colonel’s friggin’ secret recipe, for all I know. Or the love doodles George W. Bush made for Condoleeza Rice. Fuck do you care? You got paid, and your little indiscretion is all but forgotten.”
I scoffed. “Until the next time.”
“Keep your hands to yourself and your pecker in your pants, you'll be fine. Save it for Grimace. Put a smile on her pretty little mug.”
Jumbo looked down at the goat, nudged it with his foot.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to get this back to its rightful owner?”
I shook my head. “Leave it there. Bear’ll come and eat it.”
“Didn’t you say her name was Janet?”