Lloyd stood in his underwear and unzipped the suitcase on the motel bed. Steam gathered outside the shower while an evening news station aired an amber alert for a missing child.
He removed the top layer of clothes to reveal the crumpled bricks of worn currency and peeled two bills for pocket change. He knew the money would improve their situation, but like all things in life, it would run out eventually.
“Can you get me a towel?” Jamie called out from the bathroom. She held her arms across her naked breasts and shivered in the cold air. “And turn down the AC. It’s freezing in here.”
Lloyd grabbed a towel from the sink. He removed his fake beard to let his face breathe again and checked his stubble in the mirror. “It’s a hundred degrees outside.”
Jamie dried herself and wrapped the towel around her slender figure. “Not any more. The desert gets cold at night.”
Lloyd kissed her softly on the cheek. “Did that hurt?”
“Not so much,” said Jamie.
Lloyd gave her a gentle hug. “Did you save any hot water for me?”
Jamie touched his face. “Maybe you should take a cold shower instead.” She turned her head and spied the cash in the suitcase. “I’ve never seen so much money in my life.”
“Me neither,” said Lloyd.
“Your father left this inside an empty grave?”
“Something like that.”
Jamie found a brush in her purse and worked it through her short hair. “Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”
“You never met my father.”
“Why don’t we buy a cheap car,” Jamie offered, “and drive the rest of the way ourselves?”
“That might draw too much attention.”
Jamie stopped brushing. “What about this afternoon? Those cops could have been searching for us.”
“This time,” said Jamie. “I just think we’d be safer on our own than traveling with a pack of strangers.”
“The cops could find us in a car just as easily.”
“What if someone on the bus recognizes us?”
“We’re not in the papers,” said Lloyd. He flipped through the cable channels. “We’re not on the news.” He tossed the remote on the bed. “Tomorrow’s a short ride. A few more days and we’ll be home free. The old Jamie and Lloyd are gone. Now we’re just a plain vanilla couple trying to get to where we’re going.”
“I like rocky road,” said Jamie. She blushed from the steady rhythm of bedposts tapping the adjoining wall.
“When the time’s right,” said Lloyd, “I’ll buy you a new car and a bungalow on the beach to go with it.”
Jamie nudged her towel down her chest. “I’m not with you for your money.”
Lloyd brushed the side of her breasts with his powerful hands. He kissed her gently on the mouth. “Does that hurt?”
“A tiny bit.”
Lloyd scooped the back of her thighs and lifted her onto the sink facing toward him. He wrapped her legs around his waist and brushed the tip of his tongue between her lips. “How ’bout now?”
“Not so much…”
Lloyd gingerly kissed her face and neck. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You’re not hurting me,” Jamie whispered.
Lloyd carried her to the bed and laid her gently on her back. He shoved the suitcase aside, spilling the contents on the floor—and then a knock at the door killed the mood.
“Someone’s here,” said Jamie.
Jamie pulled her jeans on and hid inside the bathroom. “What if it’s the police?”
“But what if—”
Lloyd checked the peephole and unfastened the privacy chain to greet the Austrian grandmother he recognized from the bus. “Can I help you?”
Undaunted by the bulge in Lloyd’s boxers, the grandmother asked, “Do you know what time the bus departs tomorrow morning?”
The woman glanced inside the room. “I thought I heard the driver say nine,” she said in her thick accent. “Sometimes I get my signals crossed. It happens when you get to be my age.”
“The bus leaves at eight,” Lloyd repeated.
“Have a nice evening,” Lloyd said to the intrusive guest as he started to push the door closed.
“Tell me—where are you from?”
“Texas,” Lloyd answered despite his better judgment.
“That’s a lovely area. My niece goes to college there. Her married name is Oswell. Maybe you know her husband?”
“It’s a big city…”
“Of course,” the woman replied curtly. “Sorry to trouble you so late. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Lloyd shut the door and secured the chain.
“Is she gone?” Jamie asked from the bathroom.
“She’s gone,” said Lloyd, his train of thought momentarily disrupted when he noticed his fake beard by the sink.
The State Attorney for Florida’s Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court drove a black Lincoln Towncar through a landfill service entrance that traversed a three-story mountain of refuse. When he reached the summit, he parked beside a yellow bulldozer with its bucket in the raised position and got out.
“You’re late,” a state police captain announced from an unmarked police SUV a few yards away. He got out and walked around the bulldozer. His patent leather shoes sank into the spongy soil. A thirty-year member of the Florida Highway Patrol, he grew up ten miles from the county dump. He’d seen his share of changes over the years. None for the better. “Where’s our public defender?”
“He didn’t make it,” said the state attorney. He shivered in a tweed blazer with a folded handkerchief in his breast pocket and lit a cigarette. He blew smoke from the corner of his mouth. His skin felt clammy against the sweat-soaked shirt beneath the oversized garment he wore to conceal the small caliber revolver he’d procured from a crime scene locker.
“We can’t afford that kind of heat right now,” the captain warned his co-conspirator. “Not until Blanchart’s shit-storm blows over.”
The state attorney blew smoke through his nose to mask the smell of landfill waste. His fever climbed passed a hundred and two degrees. “George suffered an overdose. The paramedics attempted to revive him, but he was gone before they got there.”
The captain toyed with his wedding band. The landfill was quiet at night. And desolate. “Jesus Christ, Jim. You told me you had your man under control. The last thing we need is another body on our hands.”
The state attorney flicked his ash from the unfiltered Camel. His head swelled like a pressure cooker. “You wanna say my name a little louder, in case your mike didn’t catch it the first time.”
“You think I’m wired?”
“I don’t trust anyone.”
“That makes two of us,” said the captain. “I’ll let you frisk me if you take your coat off and show me what you’re hiding under there.”
The state attorney rubbed his hand along his runny nose. His nerves buckled like wet spaghetti. “We’re on the same team here. We all share equal stake in this operation. Trouble for one of us spells trouble for all.”
“Who else knows about George?”
“No one outside the circle.”
“You didn’t have to kill him.”
The state attorney shook out his handkerchief and sneezed in it. “George was an irritating pimple that wouldn’t pop. A liability we couldn’t carry anymore.” He stuffed the snotrag in his pocket and took another drag. “Our revenue loss aside, we can’t afford the media exposure. Too many people are asking questions. Miami’s getting nervous. They want assurances that we have the right men in place.”
“I have the right men on board,” the captain stated emphatically.
“Like the two that showed up on Blanchart’s doorstep?”
“That didn’t come through me. I didn’t find out about the investigation until it hit the fan. It won’t happen again.”
The state attorney scratched the bald spot on the back of his head. “We can’t afford another Leslie Dancroft fiasco.”
“It’s under control,” said the state police captain.
“And what about the two dead cops in Blanchart’s house?”
“The media took care of that. Both men died in the line of duty defending the sheriff from a home invasion robbery. Their families were notified. Funerals are scheduled for next week.”
The state attorney blew smoke. “What about the other bodies?”
The captain gestured toward the ground. “You’re standing on them. We found a fake ID on the body inside the car Blanchart sank. The serial number on the gun we recovered came back to a Marsha Hollan from New York.”
“What’s her connection to Blanchart?”
“I’m still digging.”
“What about the other woman?”
“Samantha Barnes. A thirty-three year old stripper from Manhattan. Since Marsha Hollan was from New York, I’m thinking there might be some connection.”
The state attorney crushed out his cigarette beneath his penny loafer. “You think?” He stepped to the edge of the garbage mountain and stared at the cell tower lights across the interstate. “How much does Blanchart’s wife know about our operation?”
“She’s the least of our problems,” said the captain. He looked back at the Lincoln. “Rumor has it she was banging some guy on the side and Blanchart caught her.”
“Sounds like Blanchart couldn’t satisfy his own constituents. What about our missing convict? Where the fuck is he and how much does he know?”
“He’s on the loose, but we’ll find him.”
“Do it fast,” said the state attorney. “He’s a threat, and he’s facing jail time. All we need is some liberal judge with a sympathetic ear to engage whatever bullshit story this guy decides to spin about Blanchart and this debacle he’s promulgated. Everything comes back to Blanchart. This whole fucking mess falls on Blanchart.”
“Better to deal with the devil we know than the devil we don’t,” said the captain.
“Not this time,” said the state attorney. “Blanchart’s made himself a liability. I want you to take him out, along with the missing wife and her convict boyfriend. And put a bow on it this time. We can’t afford to have this blow up in our face.”
“You say this like you’re ordering Chinese take-out. I’m not in the murder-for-hire business. We can’t kill everyone who comes in contact with Sheriff Blanchart.”
“It’s called damage control. I’ll work on finding Blanchart’s replacement. You make sure the deed gets done.”
The captain looked up at the full moon shining above the landfill. He spotted the big dipper and caught the flash from a shooting star. “Must be my lucky day,” he said as he reached for the back-up piece he brought to the party to ensure his silent partner stayed silent.
The state attorney slipped his hand inside his blazer. “You got here early.”
“I like to be on time,” said the captain.
“You could have picked a better place to meet.”
“I could have picked a better partner.”
“That makes two of us,” said Blanchart from behind the yellow bulldozer. He held both men at gunpoint with the silenced .22.
“Where the hell have you been?” the captain asked him.
“Right place, right time,” said Blanchart.
The state attorney backed away from the men with his hands in the air. “What are you doing?”
Blanchart shot the captain in the forehead twice, then he pointed the gun at his second target. “Taking out the trash.”
“I was lying about everything I said,” the state attorney back-pedaled. “I had to sell the story to get the captain here. I had to sound convincing.”
“And the part about my wife?”
The state attorney moved slowly toward the Lincoln. “Just two guys shooting the shit. You know that. We go back a long ways. I put you in office. We had a deal.”
Blanchart motioned with the gun. “I don’t make deals. Get away from the car.”
Urine trickled down the state attorney’s leg. “You can’t manage this alone. It’s… it’s too big. You need me.”
“Who else knows about this operation?”
Blanchart shot the state attorney in the hand. A through-and-through that left a small hole in the palm between the thumb and index finger. “I’m not convinced.”
The state attorney clutched his wrist. Blood drizzled down his jacket sleeve. “I swear I would tell you if I knew.”
Blanchart shot him in the thigh, clipping the femoral artery. “Does that jog your memory?”
The state attorney dropped to the ground and screamed, “You’re out of your fucking mind!”
“You’re running out of time, counselor.”
“Wait!” The state attorney gripped his leg. Blood gushed between his fingers. “If there are any leaks in the captain’s department, I’ll help you find them and put this mess behind us. Then we can get on with doing what we do best.”
“And what would that be?”
“Making money. Lots and lots of money. In a few years we’ll both retire with more money than God and walk away. Your wife’ll have the life she always dreamed of.”
Blanchart thought for a second, then said, “I am the life she always dreamed of.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? I’m bleeding to death over here!”
“That’s the first truth I’ve heard all night,” said Blanchart.
Blanchart shot the state attorney in the head. Then he climbed inside the bulldozer cabin, wincing from a tender left arm, and started the motor. He lowered the bucket and shifted into forward gear. Tomorrow was a new day. And with it, another chance to reclaim what was lost.