Rapture of the Heights

Bannock got the feeling oXo dug the vibrations of the big jet, but couldn’t have said where he got that impression. Like last night: he’d wanted to leave the skull in the hotel safe, but he just somehow knew that oXo hated being locked up like that. A distaste he strongly shared.

But he’d wanted to hide the skull because he’d gotten a feeling that he and the girl were going to let the second double bed in the suite go to waste. And had no macho vanity to con him into thinking a woman like that couldn’t leave him way too stunned and exhausted to wake up when she slipped out of the room with Mr. Muerte Under Glass. So he’d sent her down to the lobby for whatever personal items she didn’t have stashed in her monster bag from Oaxaca and slipped the ever-grinning oXo into the toilet tank. And immediately gotten a strong vibe that he’d picked the perfect spot to suit oXo.

He touched his foot to the carry-on bag that currently held the skull, tucked under the seat in front of him like the cute Aeromexico stew had told him. Plenty of room for his mystic aura here in First Class. Which he didn’t usually spring for, but there was Loris. You didn’t cram a beauty like her into steerage seats any more than you’d put an orchid in a jelly jar. Or let her run around in those Little Annie Amphetamine rags she’d come with. They’d lunched and shopped on Rodeo Drive, but she’d headed into way different shops than he had expected, came out looking like Congo Harem Queen meets Old Testament: soft, unstructured wraps in slubby weaves and warm autumns. He picked the Porsche Carrera sunglasses himself. He’d felt she was something he had to step up to, frame her right, choose the perfect setting for an unflawed stone: he’d wanted her to get the incognito movie star treatment the flight staff was lavishing on her. And yeah, okay, he wanted her to grace his life. He had it coming.

She leaned forward slightly to peer out the window he’d graciously granted her and he admired the way the raw silk russet wrap slid around her slim frame. Reminiscent of the way her hard peach-sized breasts had ridden around on the noble arch of her rib cage last night, the way her supple body had skated all over him, cloyed and burnished him like a fine coat of fragrant oil. Definitely, absolutely a keeper. First one he’d met, actually. And he had no idea how you handle the keeping. But he was going to figure it out. And had a strong indication that the key to it was a blob of yellowish quartz currently adding the airframe thrum of a 747 to his library of vibrations. She turned from the window and touched his hand happily, the perfect blend of pat and caress. Finder’s keeper.

“So where’d you get a name like that?” First time he’d bothered to ask a hippie why people called them Rainbow or Ganja or Snot or whatever.

“I made it up for myself.”

“So I’m guessing his folks didn’t christen him Blaster, either?”

Blaster was no longer a citizen of her universe. She said, “I did a quest for a spirit animal. The one that found me is called a Slow Loris.”

“Sounds like a Brit truck.”

“It’s kind of like a sloth.”

He gave her admiring glance. “Amazing. Anybody I ever heard who had an animal vision, it was always an eagle or wolf or cougar or something cool you’d name a car or NFL team after.”

“I didn’t choose it, it chose me.”

“You don’t seem particularly slow, to me.”

She smiled and rubbed the back of her hand down the side of his neck. And held up her boarding pass, with her still-uncolored fingernail on the destination. “If you were telling the truth about taking oXo home, Cancun’s certainly the right direction.”

“I’m pretty good with directions. And I’m doing this risky social experiment: telling the truth to a woman I’m sleeping with.”

“Then maybe I can get away with the kind of question I don’t usually bother asking men.” There was play in the gold flecks in her brown eyes, but backed up with a heavy dose of No Shit. “Snatching oXo wasn’t your idea, was it?”

“Luckily, I’m not one of insecure macho guys you hear so much about.”

“Yeah, I noticed the gun you brandished was kind of small. Good sign, I figured. Bet you drive a cheap compact, too.”

“Some people knew about it and sent me after it. That’s one of the things I do. Go get stuff and bring it back. And I get a decent amount of jobs. Know why?”

“Because you always bring the stuff back.”

“You got it.”

“No, you do. And you’re going to take him to these people, right? Criminals, probably. Certainly people with money.”

“I’ve found it best to work for people with money.”

“So people with money, who know about oXo, sent you to steal something they could have just bought?”

“Well, oXo hadn’t really kept in touch. They didn’t know he was slumming around with some raggedy-assed hippie. Last they heard he was hanging out in a coke mansion.”

“And…”

“I think I mentioned you’re not very slow for a Loris. They said they’d go as high as a quarter million.”

“He’s changed hands for much more than that in his time here. I know of at least two where he brought more money. Well, merchandise, anyway.”

“More wholesale money or street value?”

“You only offered Blaster a hundred thousand.”

“That what he told you?”

“Blaster quit trying to lie to me. So don’t you start.”

“Not a chance. Hey, I got the nine millimeter discount.”

“Your clients are going to be so pleased they saved so much.”

“I’m pretty ethical, actually. But not stupid.”

“An ethical strongarm thief. Interesting.” She leaned to touch her lips to his ear and whispered, “Especially the strong arms.”

He gave her the nicest smile she gotten out of him yet but seemed to want to make his point.

“Let me ask you this: did I really deprive Blaster of anything of personal value?”

“No chance. He hasn’t got a clue. Any benefits he got from oXo were second-hand from me.”

“Hmmm. Was your boyfriend once removed, by any chance, also a previous owner of oXo?”

“Matter of fact, he was.” Her look challenged him to make something of it.

“Hey, there are far shabbier things to be than a skull groupie. But how did that doofus get something that so many heavier people want?”

“He was there doing a buy when Ricardo’s house got busted. I made him grab oXo on our way out the back.” She shrugged, doing nice things to the drapey fabric. “Otherwise he’d have ended up in an evidence locker or something.”

“And he doesn’t like being locked in.”

She nodded, probably understanding why he knew that. “Neither do I.”

“So you tagged along with Blaster.”

“No, I offered him a ride. In my Mercedes.”

Boy could he ever go head over heels for this kid. “So why didn’t he just sell it?”

“I didn’t want him to.”

“Ah, I can understand that. But why did he offer to sell it to me?”

“His brain is starting to go kind of Swiss cheesy. Also, I think you scared the shit out of him. Go figure.”

Moi? But what I’m saying, am I really taking anything from Blaster? Other than you?”

“He could have gotten money from other people.”

“So you think there are other people with money who would give Blaster money for something instead of just taking it?”

“Okay, probably not. So who you took oXo from was me.”

“That worked out, though, didn’t it?”

She leaned back against the leather cushion, eyed him sidelong past a fall of rich brown hair smelling of Indian soap, an evaluating scan. She said, “So far, so good.”

Smiling and feeling as good as he ever remembered, Bannock looked past her to the window, a frothy cloudscape over the Sierra Madre. On a cloud just about covers it, he thought.

Then she said, “So now you’re going to give him to these rich assholes.”

“They’re looking for business advice.”

She laughed, a hearty male sort of laugh. “Then they’re in for a rough ride. Because it’s really hard to get business advice from oXo without being greedy. And greedy questions turn out to be self-destructive.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” she said, in the self-obvious tone we use to instruct slow children. “Because greed is self-destructive. So is violence.”

He did his own pause, staring out at the cloud-frosted blue. She waited without fidgeting or losing interest. “Know what?” he said casually. “I’m hoping you stick around. And not just because you’re gorgeous and sensational in bed. I think you’re good for me. I realize that’s not a romance novel declaration.”

“A violent thief wants somebody to be good for him?” Her eyes were back out at play.

“I’ll admit that moral reform exposes me to certain professional risks. On the other hand, I’m about to come into a couple of hundred grand capital and can swing some risk.”

“By turning over oXo.”

“Hmmm. So maybe you’d go with him?”

“Hard to say. Understand, I have a long, rewarding relationship with oXo and I don’t know you that well yet.”

He lolled back in his seat and smiled up at the comfort controls on the overhead panel. “Know what, honey? You’ve said a lot of interesting stuff since I knew you but so far my favorite word was that ‘yet’.”

“My favorite was ‘good for me’.

That seemed like a good place to shut up for awhile. He raised his right hand, palm upwards and spread. Her long, fine fingers slipped in and entwined. For a hundred miles they sat like that, seated in the clouds, rocketing towards the Yucatan through clean skies. Then he spoke to her in a soft, easy tone that she immediately recognized as the voice a man uses with his mate, not somebody exciting he’s trying to win.

“By the way, the buyers here aren’t exactly big CEO types looking for stock tips.”

“Lucky for them, then, because I could tell you about a few guys who tried that. They were asking so many questions about how fast things would go up they never got past that part of it. They’re talking to a genuine oracle and don’t want to know the whole future, can you believe it?”

“Oh, I can believe it. Half the jobs I do are because some smart, rich, powerful jerk did something incredibly stupid.”

“I don’t think they were the only people like that who went down the dumper with Enron.”

“This is different. These guys aren’t greedy, crazy, short-sighted egomaniac assholes. They’re movie producers.”

Tags: , ,