“He’s sitting right here.” Blaster patted the round shape under the purple velvet shroud like a father doting on a real comer kid. “Man, I like, so hate to part company with this guy. He’s like a member of the family. But you know how it goes?”
Oh, I know how it goes, Bannock thought, looking around the dingy motel room. Not even a Motel 6; more like a Motel 2.3. On a scale of a hundred. Cat smell, dope smell, hippie smell. And the gorgeous girlfriend dressed practically in rags. Yeah, if I was “Blaster”, I might part with an incredibly valuable ancient treasure to shake this lifestyle.
Loris was leaning back on the ratty couch, already cutting the cord. Which was a good thing. Sick transit Monday. But she had a few last words on the oXo deal.
“He changed our lives. Seriously.” No need for that last word; her solemn brown eyes told the tale. “He showed us how to live, unsnarled our karma, opened us to The Love.”
Wouldn’t mind cracking a case of that myself; Bannock eyeing her just enough to let her know it was there if she wanted to nibble. But it’s all about business, isn’t it? He motioned towards the velvet lump, which somehow dominated a little clearing on top of the grungy, littered coffee table. “So, let’s see what we’ve got here.”
Blaster nodded, but Loris gave him a deadpan look and said, “Yeah, let’s.”
Bannock hefted his black Ballistic messenger bag and tapped it significantly. “As agreed,” he told her, not bothering to address Blaster anymore.
The shaggy dealer wiped his hands across the skidmarks on his hemp pants and reached for the velvet, saying, “Good enough for me.”
Then he whisked the cloth away and even a hard case like Bannock stalled out for a moment, struck by the presence of oXo.
Holy shit, Bannock thought, lotta starglow for a piece of rock.
oXo sat in the same gloom as the rest of the room, but seemed more luminous, as if touched by an overhead spotlight. “Aura” wouldn’t be all that farfetched. There was silence for half a minute, oXo’s usual effect. The toothy grin was enigmatic, but approachable: this was one skull that signified nothing of terror and death. The faint golden tone of the crystal seemed warm and wise, invited the touch. Enticed confidence.
Damn, maybe the whole crystal skull fetish has something to it, Bannock was thinking. At least he didn’t have to go into some grungy old temple full of boobytraps for it. Though thinking of the cluttered, toxic motel room, he modified that to more like, Not totally, anyway. His hand surprised him no end by moving out unbidden to stroke the top of the quartz cranium. It felt slightly warm to the touch, smooth and caressable.
“You’re going to take care of oXo.” Loris didn’t make it a question, more of a kind of pointless threat.
“Oh, I sure am. Lots of major people want to get in on his…” He glanced at her, the lovely young face now hard and the lissome body tense. “…guidance. His wisdom. There are lots of lives that need changing.”
She relaxed a little, but still eyed him suspiciously. Hey, ol’ oXo is sure as hell going to change my life, he thought. “How does anybody know his name?” he asked her.
“He tells you,” Blaster blurted out. That’s how we know it’s ‘Osho’, not like ‘ox-o’ or something.”
“There’s a label on the bottom,” Loris said.
The two men stared at her. Bannock picked oXo up with both hands, feeling a peculiar impulse to cradle the skull by his heart, wrap his arms around it. Carefully he rotated it, the crystal a dance of reflections and light shafts shattering down inner faultlines. And sure enough, there was a sticker: “Made in China”.
That tensed Bannock up, but Blaster practically levitated. He jittered out of control, goggling at the others, staring at the label like it was an ace falling on the dealer’s jack. The spasm passed over him and he fell back on the couch waving defensive hands towards Bannock and the quiescent oXo. “No way, Man. No fuckin’ way. He’s been… Look, I got him from Ginrick himself, he’s… Ah, shit!”
Loris leaned languidly forward and extended a natural colored but well-cared-for fingernail. She flicked the label off and leaned over to stick it on Blaster’s forehead. It might as well have said “Vacancy” in that location. She smiled a beautiful little smile and said, “April fool, asshole. Just wanted to find out if you were really washing him every day like you’re supposed to.”
Blaster was hors de combat, Bannock thought he might be in love for the first time since his teens. Loris leaned forward, her loose hempen top falling open a little, revealing no evidence of support garments. She bored right into Bannock’s eyes and said, “Now you show me yours.”
Bannock could have used a little more eyeball time with her, but there was the business thing. He set oXo down beside him in the rickety plastic deck chair, lifted the shoulder bag onto his lap, and opened it. “There’s good news and bad news about that, kids.”
Blaster showed him a mild befuddlement he figured was his usual game face; Loris looked calm but reproachful.
“The good news is, I’ve got the money,” he said, “The bad news is, you don’t get any of it. Sorry.”
Blaster jerked forward as if he’d been kicked in the balls. Loris slumped and looked around the room, then at Blaster, with a sad expression.
“More bad news,” Bannock went on, sliding a very wicked-looking little .32 auto out of the bag. It was fitted with a dummy silencer he’d picked up; didn’t work–and was therefore not illegal–but sure looked intimidating. Definitely slammed Blaster back onto the couch. “Good news, I never shoot anybody unless I absolutely have to.”
Loris turned a very searching gaze on him and said, “You should consult with oXo before you do anything rash. He can help you work this out.”
“I’ll pencil him in for this evening, honey.” Bannock slung the strap over his head, gently lowered oXo into it, slipped his gun hand inside to continue vaguely covering them, and stood up. She stood up, too.
“Just ask him what you should do,” she said in a neutral tone. “oXo knows about people, can get things done. Believe me, I’ve lived with him for three years.”
“Maybe one of the things he got done was bringing me here to get him out of this shithole.”
He got a different look from her, then. He was unsure what it was, but willing to find out more about it. Slowly, thoughtfully, she said, “That’s what I’ve been meditating about with him for the last few months.”
Bannock backed towards the door, but kept his eyes on the girl. She shifted her posture almost imperceptibly, and just like that he knew where she was coming from. He looked her over head to toe, scanned her face with finality. Said, “You got a passport?”
She squatted quickly and dragged a big Mexican hippie bag out from under the coffee table. “Right in here.”
Blaster stared at her but couldn’t seem to settle on the right question. As she strode toward Bannock she said, “oXo told me I should get one.”