Nobody Wants to Die in Louisiana.
That someone else was the person that wanted the opal the most. But I had to find the stone first. Assuming LAPD didn’t have it, I had to arrange a meeting. Someone had texted from Jackie’s phone. It had to be Beebe just out of jail. I couldn’t figure it any way else.
I texted her back. “Where do you wanna meet?”
Her killing ground.
It made me wonder if she was in her right mind. If she ever was. Women are crazy, right. Hysterical homilies running through their heads. Men unable to decipher anything coming from their mouths. But I was trying not to get stuck in that whirlpool of thought. Beebe Bonilla had made it this far. She had her own story. And she’d been smart and wily enough to get into this position. I couldn’t go in blindly.
Big Willie had put the Smith & Wesson in the glove box of the Camaro. I had to believe that she wouldn’t be alone. Regardless of how La Pantera Rosa felt about Beebe, there was money on the table. I waited until dark and parked two blocks down on Kenmore and walked in with the MP9 at the small of my back. Creeping up the western slope like I knew something about being a stealthy soldier. The hill was mostly manicured, so the going wasn’t too tough. I reached the plateau with most of my breath still intact.
Crouching down, I could make out a group of people in the lined trees. Same spot where Erik got got. I counted six guys, plus Beebe, Ed and their older brother. Money is thicker than diluted blood lines. They were all strapped and ready. Beebe hadn’t said a word about being alone. Or to come alone. But they had to know I wasn’t carrying that barrel of cash up those steps from the parking lot.
Unless they thought Big Willie was with me.
I was still crouching there on the western edge of that great, flat lawn when I saw a flash of something. It was more like a gleam. A catching of the sepia park-lights hidden in the trees over there, further to the left of where I’d marked Beebe. A dark shape was moving along a bush. The gleam shimmered again, and I knew what it was. Who it was.
A badge on a chest.
But no Martinez. Could be he was down in the parking lot, waiting to escort me up. Wonder if Hosseini knew his pet pigs were drawing paychecks from MS-13? They just shot to kill a man. For the real-estate tycoon. Was Hosseini’s reach more Byzantine than I thought? Was he working Martinez and Matos against Flores? Pink Panther wasn’t that naïve. He’d know what dirty cops were like. Which means they’d have to know about Big Willie. But not about the money. They didn’t know it was in Hosseini’s garage. I stayed crouched there for a long time. Waiting. Watching. It’s what I did best. Seeing it all go by. The world spin, and the people come and go. Out along the edges. Never touching and never being touched by it. A place I knew well. A good place for inertness. Waiting for the world to come to you. They don’t tell you to live your life that way. They tell you to grab it by the horns. Be the aggressor. Be a go-getter. I hadn’t lived my life that way. I’d stayed back, crouched along the edges, just like now. Anxious for what the night will bring. Crouched and gawking for the hawk to pounce. And the world didn’t let me down.
A bright light hit the row of trees.
A beam from above.
A deep thwapping could be felt in the chest and the tops of the trees were swaying. A helicopter with a search light. Everyone looked up. I did for a second, and then watched the search light hit the group in the trees.
Matos was the first one to disappear. Down the hill towards the parking lot. But came right back up, trailed by dudes with bulletproof vests that read FBI. The vatos in the trees ran in the other direction, but there were more FBI agents rambling up the southside of the plateau. They were boxed in.
Then somebody started shooting.
I don’t know who it was that shot first. But the Feds opened up and it was nothing to be happy about. Things were blurred with movement and gun smoke. I didn’t dare move at first. Frozen in my crouch, it was happening so fast. Trying to keep my eye on Beebe. But I lost track of her. The frenzy became too much, and I had to move. Down the side of the hill that I’d come up and around to the parking lot. Slow, slow, slow. Keeping my head down and crouching between the few cars that were parked in the lot. Sporadic gunfire could be heard. Peaking over the hood of a Kia Soul. There’s a guy with the government’s acronym stenciled on his back. He’s carrying an assault rifle. He’s lingering under the sepia lot light. The last one, left behind from the staging point. His back was to me, and his head cocked up, looking at the hill. He was missing out on the action. Maybe that’s why he didn’t see the dark figure slithering down the hill on the north side of the park. Not using the concrete stairwell but snaking through the trees.
I don’t know how I saw her, but I knew who it was right away.
Somehow, she’d escaped again. Beebe Bonilla, the artist. She had a knack.
The FBI agent didn’t see her coming until it was too late. But he did see her. Raised his gun, then his head whipped back and he crumpled like a drunk.
Perfect headshot. She was a stone-cold killer.
Beebe walked towards me, stepping over the agent. I stayed down, but she knew I was there, behind that Kia Soul. Then remembered the two guns and pulled them and stood up straight. She was about twenty feet away and smiled at me. Her gun down by her side.
“Where the fuck you been?” Beebe asked.
I looked around, trying to find words to answer her, and shook my head instead. “I been around.” Saying finally.
Beebe kind of giggled and looked around. “Where you got that money stashed?”
She didn’t even blink. Didn’t even care if I was packing. Maybe she didn’t even think I had it in me. To pull a gun on her. To shoot a person, much less a woman. Point blank range when all the world was looking for her.
“It’s in a garage in Westwood.” I told her.
Now she blinked. Maybe she didn’t have me all that pegged. “Westwood?” Her mind was turning like those blades on that helicopter still thwapping above us. Slashing its spotlight every which way.
“Fucking Flores.” She shook her head.
Beebe shot me a glare. “A garage in Westwood, huh.” She nodded. “Your boy not around to carry it.”
“Matos tell you she and her partner shot him down in a fucking 7-Eleven.” I wanted to spit, but my mouth was dry.
“It’s good to die close to home.” She looked around. Probably thinking she wasn’t that far from home. “Where’s this garage in Westwood?” She asked.
“You know where your old landlord lives?”
That confused her. She blinked some more and got all fidgety. Her fingers started moving over the gun at her side. “Hosseini?” She asked, but her uncertainty was like a hidden dagger.
“Who you think called in the calvary?”
It made sense to Beebe. A flat slate of recognition laid out calmly on her face. She nodded, slightly. “It’s always good to have some white friends.”
“Is that what Persians are?”
“I don’t know what the fuck a Persian is.”
“Your friend all the same.”
“Hosseini?” She spat.
I just stared at her. My hands still lingering behind my back. I was surprised she hadn’t said anything. It was such an odd gesture to be frozen in. She probably knew what was at the small of my back. Maybe she wanted me to go for them. A duel. A duel in the police spotlight.
“You lived in his building.”
Beebe grimaced. “That was Erik, man. He worked that deal out with Hosseini. His dad and shit.” She looked over her shoulder.
The action was all back there. No more gunshots could be heard. The night bird was still circling. The spotlight hit the parking lot and we both ducked down. Beebe coming around the car to crouch down with me.
“The Agassi’s wanted that opal back.” I said, leaning my back against the Kia, feeling pain in my bent knees.
“Erik wanted that.”
“Yeah. When he found out Jackie had it, next door, shit man, he fucking nutted in his fucking pants, man.”
“He killed her.”
“Been trying to tell you.”
The nightbird circled away from us and seemed to take all the oxygen with it. There was just dust left to breath. “Why’d you kill him?”
“He was…” She shook her head and looked towards the entrance of the parking lot. Cars kept on rolling by on Hollywood Blvd. They were used to helicopters in the sky. It’s a big city. Lots of things happening. “You know why.” She looked at me and all the hardness in her eyes went away. There could’ve been regret in there somewhere.
“He killed Jackie Meaux.”
“For that fucking opal.”
I sat down on my ass. Knees up, gun biting into my lower back. I took it out and Beebe didn’t seem to mind. “People get killed for less.”
“Where’d you park?” Beebe sidestepped my forlorn flippancy.
“Couple blocks down.” I pointed East.
“Think we can make a break for it?”
And there it was. I could feel the slotting of things. A slight nudge in a new direction. The taking over of a role that someone else had held for some period of time. A new man. A new job. She needed a new Clyde. But to what end? A hail of bullets in Arcadia. Some dumpy town in Louisiana. Not even a town really. Just a gas station. A stop-over crowded with pine trees and wide ditches that could be confused as bayous if you were counting them.
Nobody wants to die in Louisiana.
Beebe Bonilla didn’t wait for me to answer. She just got up and ran for the exit of the parking lot. And I found myself following her. But my heart wasn’t in it. I don’t know if it was old age or what. Just couldn’t be following women around anymore. Not like that. Had I ever? Yes, to a certain extent with Jackie. One day you look up and find yourself in a strange city. Los Angeles. And wonder why you’re here. Why you stay here. Cause you have one friend. And one friend only. So, where else are you going to go? Making friends is so hard when you get older.
Beebe was out on Hollywood Blvd at this point. Running down the sidewalk with a strange gait. LAPD was nowhere to be found. A tacit agreement with the G-Men. The Armenians were nowhere to be found. Tacit agreement with the G-Men. The Salvadoreans were going down. Made sense who was more Anglo. As much as I wanted to point her towards Hosseini and let her rip, it wasn’t the move right now. Going into this meet, I thought it was, but the man had the FBI on speed dial.
What now or whatever. The magnificent malaise again. You chose one or the other. You care or you don’t care. Both have consequences. I caught up to Beebe. She’d turned left on Kenmore and she was slowing down. Something was slowing her down. She had a hand to her lower back.
“You okay?” I asked, weakly, out of breath.
Beebe stopped and looked back at me. “I think somebody shot me in the ass.”
I looked at her butt. It was a nice butt. It was too dark to see anything but the round shape of things. We kept trudging along. That helicopter was still circling the hill behind us. Finally, some cop cars came racing down Hollywood Blvd. None of them paid any attention to us. Watching that nightbird in the air. It was their beacon.
The Camaro was where I’d left it. Nobody cared about a stolen car, either. We both hopped in and headed away from Hollywood Blvd. It wasn’t until we cut down Normandie and hit Beverly that I was able to breathe again. Wasn’t even sure where we were headed but breaking that yolk of Barnsdall sure made the air thinner and crisper. I had the windows down and cruised down Beverly with some Zam-Rock playing. Witch playing No Time. I was feeling loose. At the end of something. Still had no idea where we were going, but it felt good somehow. Or maybe I did know where we were going and could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Beebe hadn’t said anything since we’d gotten in the truck. Thought for sure she’d have something shitty to say about my wheels. She was just propped on her left hip, lips pressed together like angry fault-lines.
“You still got that opal?”
“Yeah, I swallowed it before your boys squeezed me.”
I blinked. My boys. “Matos was just going through the motions, huh.”
“She goes back with us a ways, but yeah, she had no choice. That fool Martinez is a fucking dope.”
She goes back with us a ways. We hit a bunch of green lights and cruised all the way down to Rossmore without seeing a cop car. “Who posted your bail?”
“Who you think?”
I didn’t have to. Her sister, Ed, had slipped out of the dragnet. She’d probably gotten word to her brother, La Pantera Rosa. “You swallowed the stone?” Going back to that.
“Still waiting to shit it out.”
Um, okay. I guess we’ll just ask Hosseini if she can use his bathroom. We took a left on Rossmore and burned down towards Wilshire. Not rubber, but exhaust. That Camaro had been built in a different time. But nobody notices in Smog City.
“That all you care about?” She asked.
“It’s an heirloom a certain family might want back.”
“Agassi.” She spat.
“How did Erik lose the stone?” I asked.
“What?” She blinked, and a tear rolled down her cheek.
I stayed silent, watching the road, afraid to look over in the chance that I might glimpse a shade of compunction from her. Too late. The plomo had poisoned her. She was in full on remorse mode. Flipping through the rolodex of years in her mind’s eye.
“I did love him.” She finally said.
Still didn’t have any words for her. Moments like that make you think if answers aren’t your thing. Forever caught in the curve of the question mark. It’s a comfortable place to be. Answers have the flatness of finally meeting nothing. What’s there left after the solution?
“There was at time…” She started and stopped. “There’s always a time, right.”
We cruised passed the tar pits and LACMA on our right. Right across the street was an art installation. Concrete, freeway dividers, stood up lengthwise. Captain America painted on one. The Kirby Cap. JFK and Reagan on other dividers. Nelson Mandela with his arms crossed, smiling.
“I don’t know.” Beebe was still ruminating. “It’s always good in the beginning. Then you stop caring when the hurt comes in.” She shook her. “Stupid shit. Petty shit. Dumb-ass resentments.”
“What stupid shit?” Just making conversation.
“That stupid fucking stone.” She made a face like she needed to fart. Shifting her body, a little to ease it out. “I used to hide it from him, at first, just to fuck with him. Why though?” She shook her head. “That thing ain’t nothing but poison. Why’d I play with it like it was some secret we could keep?”
The gauntlet of Beverly Hills came up and we caught some red lights because there’s one every ten feet. Proceed slowly through this ville. Take a gander at all the wares. We’ll even sell them to you if you got enough dough.
“It might come in handy for you, finally.” I told her.
The car shifted slightly, as Santa Monica Blvd came up. “What’d you mean?” Beebe asked.
“Just worry about shitting it out.” I told her, and wondered about how that would go with a bullet in her ass.
So was Beebe. A grimace carved over her face and she put a hand on her shot buttocks. “I can’t feel it.” She murmured.
The light turned green, and I wheeled a left onto Santa Monica, and we rolled through Century City. New money usurping. But that was decades ago and nobody really cared. They were just tall, glass buildings gleaming at night.
“You can’t feel your ass?”
Westwood coming up, and the Los Angeles California Temple on the left. Its golden statue on top, waiting for a western turn towards the Pacific with the second coming of Jesus. A horn ready to blow for saints in the latter.
“Where the fuck are we going?” She asked.
I looked forward and cranked the steering wheel to the left, just missing a line of cars parked along the curb. “We’re going to get your money.” I told her.
“What money?” She asked.
A right on Westwood all the way up to Wilshire and another right. “What’d you mean, what money?” I asked Beebe.
“My butt feels weird.” She stated.
It took a minute to turn left on Westholme. Car zooming by. Hosseini’s house came up on the right at Thayer and Le Conte and I pulled up to the curb in front and stopped.
“This is it, huh.” Beebe pointed out.
“This is it.”
“I need to take a shit.”
“Just in time.”
Beebe’s feet touched the ground gingerly. She had an arm over my shoulders, and she winced, her face a wrinkled plain of agony. “It was Ed’s idea.”
We started for Hosseini’s front door, slowly. “What idea?”
“To have Buddy take a look at the thing.” We made it up the concrete walk and I rang the doorbell. “Maybe it was worth something we thought. Get something for our pain, you know.” No one had answered the door yet. Beebe motioned to sit down on a white bench a few feet to the left of the door. She sat down, leaning over on the cheek that had no bullet lodged in it. “Our pain.” She scoffed. “That’s how she sold it to me. She didn’t get what I got. That’s for sure.” Beebe Bonilla looked out at the lawn and nodded toward something. “You got the right house, Easy Money?”
Turning to look over my shoulder, I saw a for sale sign.
P & C Real Estate.
His own fucking company.
There were big windows to the right of the front door. Peering in them didn’t give you the impression that Hosseini had moved. Furniture was still there. Everything looked like people were still living there. Since this morning. They couldn’t have moved that quickly.
But they could’ve left.
Leaving Beebe on the bench, I ran down to the garage. There were no windows on the garage doors. Along the side, that faced the house, was a door that wasn’t locked. I opened it. Cars were gone and the barrel of dough too. Splitsville, U.S.A. They put the house up and would sale everything in it. As is. Fucking Andrea. Played me like a mandolin.
I walked back up to the house. Beebe was in the bushes, popping a squat.