where the writers are
High Steaks Part II, Chapter 34,35,36
"High Steaks" by Rob Loughran: 2002 New Mystery Award Winner

34

Future Glue, from the force of Vergil’s misguided bullet had been knocked down.  Glue neighed and struggled to his feet.  Concrete from one of the hundred pound sacks flowed like viscous liquid onto the dock.  Jeff whimpered and rolled in the sand.  Svoboda pulled his .38 and waved it at Davis, who motored down the hill on the BSA with Vergil, and his Dragunov, riding shotgun. 

“This should be fun,” said Rooster.

Davis and Vergil coasted to the verge of the dock.  He killed the engine and Vergil dismounted. He said, “I’ve already called the Mounties.”

“Too bad this ain’t Canada,” said Svoboda.  He pointed his .38 at Vergil, which was a mistake, because Vergil fired his 9mm Dragunov from the hip and, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, Svoboda was dead. 

“I apologize,” said Vergil.

“A little late,” said Davis.  He shook his head; despite the number of dead bodies he’d seen, in one short week, he could not, would not, become inured.  Each death affected him. Svoboda, moments before, was a living, breathing, pain-in-the-ass cop; now he was dead.  Jeff lay bleeding into the yellow sand and sage.

 Davis had been made to believe that life was complex, tedious, and esoteric.  But having seen, this week, several bodies with that wisp called Life removed he realized—had been made to realize—that Life was effortless: when you eat, Eat; when you sleep, Sleep; when you love, Love.  And with the word love came a crystal vision of his daughters and an intimation, an inkling, of a life with Tasha; and, amazingly, sympathy and forgiveness toward Joan who showed him everything attraction was and love shouldn’t be. 

He hoped she’d learned the same. 

Guns and dead bodies and people stories and horse stories and fish stories and Davis knew who did what to whom.  Time to tell and get on with life.

“I apologize,“ said Vergil, “not to him. To you guys.  That wasn’t professional, it was personal.  Woody was my friend. We soldiered together.  And now the fucker who killed him is dead.”

“Svoboda killed Woody?”  said Davis.

“Yeah,” said Vergil, “but he was aiming for her.”  He pointed at Kaitlyn.

“I had some pictures of him,” said Kaitlyn. “Leverage.”

“The idiot paid for the dynamite with a credit card,” said Vergil.  “My sources found out almost immediately.”

Two black cars cruised down the hill toward the lake.

“The Mounties?” asked Davis.

“Federal agents,” said Vergil, motioning toward Jeff, “for asswipe.”

Rooster tossed the .45 in the lake.  “At least the mayor’s clean.”

“Since he,” Davis pointed at Svoboda, “ is gone.  Who’s gonna arrest Kaitlyn?”
            “For what?” said Kaitlyn.

“Killing Freddy Finnegan,” said Davis.

“I didn’t do that,” said Kaitlyn.  “He did.”

“I hate this fricking town,” said Jeff.  He struggled to his feet and screamed to Kaitlyn, “You said you loved meeee.

“I say that to everyone I sleep with,” said Kaitlyn.  “Grow up.”

“No one’s ever said it to me,” said Jeff. “Not even the Colonel.”

“I’m gonna puke,” said Davis.

“Was Davis,” said Vergil to Kaitlyn, “the only one in town you weren’t screwing?”

“She screwed me,” said Davis.  “With Freddy’s body in my Saab,” said Davis. “And Wanda Marie’s body in my freezer.”

“She killed Wanda Marie?” said Rooster. “Why?”

“Two horses,” said Davis.  “Two twin horses.  One could run.  Wanda Marie brought them to Woody, who, I figured, came up with the plan. Train the quicker of the two out here.  Stable the hoofer at Nightingale Meadows.”

“How--” said Vergil.

 “There’s a picture of Wanda Marie standing atop them.  I remembered the horses when I read the Twain quote and thought of Woody fishing where he knew the fish.”

“Shit,” said Rooster, “I doped the wrong horse.”

 Davis said, “And Woody knew his fish. You guys. That’s the hustle.  Lose money all year on the slow horse, then cash in.  But Wanda Marie loved horses and, correct me if I’m wrong, Kaitlyn, part of the plan was to kill the slow horse.”  That, thought Davis, was Zenny’s premonition dream about twins—Castor and Pollux—in jeopardy.  “Wanda Marie couldn’t go along with that, so you killed her. At John Barleycorn’s, with an injection of potassium sulfate—to cause congestive heart failure—the official cause of death.”  Davis nodded at Vergil, “Which his government doctors confirmed after he stole Wanda Marie’s body and had it flown out on a big-ass helicopter.  Did you think no one would notice?”

“I didn’t think anyone was awake that late,” said Vergil.

“Kaitlyn threw the syringe in the wrong trash barrel at the restaurant and Pigframer Trane returned it to me.  I didn’t know what to think—a syringe?  I don’t have any diabetic employees and Zenny doesn’t shoot his drugs, and,” Davis motioned toward the dead Svoboda, “he told me that Evitch told him that Wanda Marie—young athletic—died of heart failure.”

The black cars loomed closer, Kaitlyn dropped the pistol.  “And I showed you the jar of potassium sulfate when I explained the KYB formula.”

“I knew when I saw the Sagrado Derby it wasn’t the same horse that had run before.  I’d been arguing with my twin brother, thinking about my twin girls, twin busboys—I’d done a talk show on twins--”

The most exhilarating thing about twins,” recited Kaitlyn, “is climbing on top and riding them.  Woody McGuire, after a lifetime of bluster and bravado, had been touched: softened by the woman he’ll always remember as the tomboy in Belize.  He didn’t want to kill the horse either.  So I killed her.”

“Just like that?” said Davis.

“Just like that. I told her I needed to see her at John Barleycorn’s.  I had secrets from Woody; he had secrets from Wanda Marie—he still had the restaurant keys.  I jabbed her in the armpit with the syringe.  Left armpit.  Brachial artery—my KYB research, again—near the heart.  The stick would look like she nicked herself shaving.”

“Sonuvabitch.”

“I carried her outside to the Jaguar—and then to Lake Wally—but this Frosty Acres semi pulled into the lot.”  Her voice had changed; it acquired the dull, flat, lethal monotone of a person confessing to an atrocity, as if the stale tone could somehow atone for the sin committed.  “I pulled her back in. Hid in the women’s bathroom; then stashed her in the freezer.  Two days later Freddy reads the paper and decides to shake me down.  So I accidentally-on-purpose bump my crotch against his—“ she pointed at Jeff, who was now ashen, losing blood, and reclining in the dirt, “—and get him to kill Freddy.  It was his idea to stick him in the Saab.  He got the keys, and that’s not all, from your ex-wife.”  

If Ta-Da were a pose, that’s the pose Kaitlyn struck.  “You fed that bum Freddy, every night.  If it weren’t for him…”

The two black cars arrived.  Black suits flowed out of them and accomplished official tasks.

“Kaitlyn?” said Davis.

“Yeah?” This was the first time in her life she wasn’t smiling and moaning while in handcuffs.

“Woody was the guy who started feeding Freddy.”

 

35

Davis made good on his promise to eulogize Woody—and not use the word God. The funeral took place in early June on the forested shore of Lake Wally.  As a camouflaged OV 10 Bronco, flown by Vergil, approached from the south, bearing Woody’s ashes, Davis said, “An Irishman walks into a bar and says I’ll take three shots of Irish whiskey. The bartender pours them and the Irishman drinks them down, One Two, Three.  The next day he’s back, I’ll take three shots of Irish whiskey.  The bartender says, I could put those in one glass for you.

Davis spoke not softly, but deliberately, as if he were delivering a soliloquy instead of a eulogy.  The crowd assembled for Woody McGuire’s final services closed in around Davis like rose petals after sunset; automatically, just knowing they needed to gather closer together thorough unspoken necessity.  Rooster, Alexi and Jennifer, Dirk, Tasha, Ken, Umberto and Mauro, Len, Roger and Rodney Trane listened as Davis continued, “You don’t, said the Irishman, understand the logic behind my drinking in such a manner.  This shot, of course, is for me, these two are for my brothers William and Thomas, both of whom still reside in Ireland.  Drinking in this manner serves to warm my heart as well as my liver.  Every day for two years the Old Irishman comes in and has three shots.  Then one day he enters and says, Two shots of Irish whiskey, please.  The barman fears one of the old man’s brothers may have died so he asks, Are your brothers okay?  The Irishman replies, They’re right as rain, it just that I’ve quit drinking.

The laughter started as a shrill chortle from Rooster.  Dirk and Len and Ken and Tasha picked it up and it spread throughout the group; including Umberto and Mauro who considered this casual, outdoor funeral a sacrilege.

Jennifer said, “I don’t get it, Dad.”

“Jenn,” said Alexi, ”he was out of money, get it?”

The twins joined in the laughter as the Bronco circled the Lake and waggled its wings as Woody’s ashes were scattered over Woody’s lake.   The group stood silent for three minutes, then drifted, singly and in pairs, back to their cars.  And so it was goodbye to Woodrow McGuire.

Corine, had she attended the funeral, would have approved.

 

 

AFTER THE ENDING

 

When Joan O’Kane signed up with Ken to Tour the Orient she returned custody of Jennifer and Alexi to Davis.  Although Woody’s will granted Davis—as Jennifer and Alexi’s legal guardian—ownership of Nightingale’s only, now that John Barleycorn’s was soot and cinders, sitdown restaurant, Davis had cashed out Raymond LeBlanc who returned to France.

There is honor among restaurateurs as well as thieves.

He had used the money he earned by selling Rooster’s lost shares of      M & R Mining back to the mayor.  Davis and Rooster deemed the waterslide at TRAINTOWN! a more valuable resource than tungsten and agreed not to sell the stock to the US Government.  Davis painted and renamed Le Bistro, Les Gémeaux, The Twins.  Davis’ twin brother had made it to China and was working his conclusions into a paper for Scientific American.  The twin horses, Future Glue and Super Glue had the run of Woody’s ranch.  Jennifer and Alexi, supervised by Grandpa Dirk or Tasha, rode the horses regularly. Super Sitter Lisa was Davis’ new busgirl. Rohn and John worked as waiters at Les Gémeaux. There had been, so far, only one practical joke.  A spring-loaded snake popped out of the register during training.

The snake had been placed there by Davis.

Wanda Marie hadn’t left a will, but Davis had her ashes scattered over Belize’s rainforest.  With no restaurant to oversee, Mauro eloped to Spain with Pietro Ciccarelli. 

Umberto was distraught.

A despondent Jeff Thomas-Curtis attempted suicide in a federal holding cell in Reno.  Using the top bunk as a springboard he tried to smash his skull open on the cement floor.  He cracked three cervical vertebrae and now suffers from double vision.

Kaitlyn’s KYB was SOL because she now resided in a cell at Carson City’s Fifth Street Hotel.  Before she was incarcerated she managed to post Bill Svoboda’s pictures on a free access porn site. Svoboda’s body was shipped back home to Sacramento for interment in the family plot.

Vergil retired from the CIA and is a personal trainer for several Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The passenger-side door on Davis’ Saab was still broken.

Les Gémeaux’ first function was an invitation only buffet following the groundbreaking for the Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins School.  The new Principal, Len Arizona, acceded to Corine’s wishes, and allowed Roget the honor of cutting the ribbon.  Judge Roger Webster—who’d recently had Aloysius Tuggnutt arraigned on racketeering charges—removed the first shovelful of sand.  Then the delegation, which included TRAINTOWN!’s locomotive operator and three friends, gathered at Davis’ new restaurant.  Chris came out of retirement for the event and helped the Theroux twins distribute glasses of champagne.  Davis and Tasha sat, content and cozy, at a corner table with the girls.

Until Nightingale’s new Chief of Police, Yurri Briscoe, pulled up a chair.

Tasha and the twins left.  Yurri said, “Where’d you hide the money?”

“Congratulations on your promotion.”

He nodded.  “The money at Wanda Marie’s?  Woody’s stake?  The suitcase?”

Davis sipped a glass of Sancere.  “How’d you know about that?”
            Yurri tossed a piece of folded stationery onto the salmon-colored tablecloth.  “The epistle I told you about.  She tells you all about the twin horses, about arguing with Kaitlyn over killing the dud horse.  About Woody and your inane radio show.  And a suitcase full of money that I couldn’t find at her house the night she was killed.  She was supposed to lay off bets for Woody so nobody’d be the wiser.”

“That suitcase full of money,” said Davis, ”is building this new school.”

“You gave it to Corine?”

“It was donated.”

“Fucking amazing.”  Then he laughed and said, “Ah hell, at least it’s a good cause.  You got any real booze in this shithole?”

Davis pointed to where Zenny was pouring drinks.  He was working today, with Chris, then, with a computer in his shoe he was off to Vegas. Yurri crossed the room, managing to down two glasses of champagne, en route.

Davis tapped Wanda Marie’s letter with his index finger.  He finished his Sancere and picked up the letter.  He read in lowercase letters exactly what Yurri had told him.  But the cop didn’t mention the postscript:

p.s.  when we remember we are all mad, the mysteries of life disappear and life stands explained.  mark twain said that.

                                                                                                love,

                                                                                                wanda marie

 

 

 

 

THE END

 

 Purchase a copy of "High Steaks" at: www.robloughranbooks.com