oXo was on a pedestal. Literally. And not the first time in his experience, either. In fact, this hand-carved hardwood planter holder from India, supporting him on a brass disk held by the trunks of rampant elephants, was fairly cheesy compared to various niches and alcoves from which his blank quartz eyes had stared. But it was a nice gesture. For a tract house in Van Nuys. Which might have summed up Kenny and Gareth’s whole film career: decent props from Pier One housed in an off-the-rack structure built right on a fault line.

Kenny was currently meeting the leveled gaze of those transparent eyeballs without seeing much except the color of the wall behind them. (“Melba Toast”, a rather insipid shade of beige.) “I just don’t get it. This thing is supposed to be such a great communicator.”

“No, that was Reagan. And you actually produced that spot for his campaign, for the fat lot of good it did you.”

“But he’s our director!” Kenny was edging over into what Gareth thought of as his “turbo-whine”, the way a airliner engine can suddenly jump up from mere noise to something truly deleterious. “How’s he going to direct if he can’t talk to us?”

“Well you have to admit that a director who doesn’t shoot off his mouth is refreshing.”

Kenny smoldered awhile longer, staring into the twin crystal balls and trying to make his own eyes go out of focus, like when you try to see the design hidden in those tacky posters. “I try making my mind blank…”

“Not exactly a stretch.”

“Bitch. How do you find his wave length?”

“You mean, What’s his frequency, Kenneth?” Gareth chuckled like a jealous deb. “No messages from the ether? He wants points on the back end? He wants you to meet this girl?”

“Are you doing any better, SuperHag? I’m more receptive than you are and you you know it.”

“Yeah, receptive at both ends.”

“Two apertures, no waiting. But, you know…”

“If I knew, would I be asking you, for the luvva gawd?”

“Well there is one thing I’ve noticed… I don’t know… Probably nothing.”

“What?” Gareth glanced around in a frenzy. Maybe a crowbar? “What?”

I just keep thinking about this place, sort of seeing this… you know, place. I think I might have dreamed about it last week.”

“Glad you came forward with that bit of data. So, what kind of place? A leather bar?”

“Oh, please. No, it’s like it’s in the jungle. But there’s this building.”

“A pyramid? Some kind of ruins?”

“Oh, nothing like that. It’s beautiful. Like… Robinson Crusoe. Or Rivendell. Or you know that plantation Clark Gable had in ‘Naked Jungle’?”

“No. Because Gable wasn’t in ‘Naked Jungle’. That was Charlton Heston. You’re thinking of “Mogambo”.”

“Oh, riiiiight. Ava Gardner. But I think I mean Heston’s place.”

“Good, so we can rule out the House of The Seven Gable. Can you tune it in a little more? Any details?”

“Like the date on the cornerstone? What can I tell you?”

“Nothing, apparently.”

“It’s like a daydream, stupid. A vision. Not big on production values or rolling credits.” Kenny stood up and flounced off. Or as much as one can “flounce” wearing a 1890’s bathing costume with wifebeater straps at top and mini-shorts at the bottom. Canary yellow with baby blue accents. “I was just trying to help. I’m going to go tinkle.”

“Try it standing up. It’s very butch.”

“Oh, make a big splash. Which guess who’s the only one who would clean it up?”

Gareth stared at oXo some more, fuming. Not getting even a jungle daydream or Kung Fu flashback. Then Kenny was back.

“I just can’t get that place off my mind. Like some stupid song you just can’t… oh, snap!”

“Do tell.”

“Well, this might not be…”

“TRY ME!”

“There was this sort of theme song. Well not song, really. I just remember this little background vocal thing, maybe like you used to hear these harmony chicks doing stings for radio stations? Like, ‘The highly successful sound of Radio Looooooondon’. Or ‘Rollin’ with the rockin’est…’”

“Would you spill it!”

“If you’ll quit shouting, maybe. It was like ‘Something, something bids you go… to Falcon Oh…”

“Is that like the letter ‘o’ or a zero or what?”

“How could I tell, you simp? I just heard it. And what does it matter?”

“Because,” Gareth snapped, heading for the Mac terminal, “I have to type it in to Google.”

“Good idea. Look in ‘Images’. I don’t suppose Google has “Visions”.

“Not according to Bill Gates, they don’t.” Gareth was madly typing, zipping through pages of images. “Was it ‘Falconhurst’?”

“Of course not. I’d have recognized that one. It was on a river, by the way.”

“No help.”

“Oh, and you know…”

Gareth looked up at him as if ready to throw his smart terminal at his dumb partner.

“It might be more of a ‘b’ word. Like ‘balconies’ or something.”

Gareth moaned and typed more. Then stopped with his fingers poised, staring at the screen. “Kenny, come here,”

“Oh, yes, master. The way you’re acting I’m better off over here talking to this piece of rock.”

“Get your well-reamed butt over here, goddamit. Look at this thing.”

He spun the monitor sideways as Kenny dawdled sulkily across the worn shag carpet and was rewarded by a piercing shiek: “That’s it! That’s It! Oh my God!”

“Blancaneaux Lodge, apparently.”

“So it’s real? Where is it?” Kenny was practically jumping up and down.

“Give me a minute. Oh, Christ! Guess who it belongs to?”

“If I could guess would I be pleading with you to tell me?”

“Whoa! This is pretty spooky.”

“Oh, you noticed that. My fantasies are on the internet. I wonder if some of the sexier ones made it. Google…”

“It belongs to a film producer.”

“Oooo, that is spooky. Does it say who?”

“No it just says, ‘Belongs to a famous director, seen one, you’ve seen ’em all’. What do you think?”

“So tell me you… felchmonster!”

“See how it feels?”

“One phone call. That’s what it would take to have you killed.”

“Did that Brando thing awhile back.”

“Oh, that’s really… Wait, you mean Coppola?”

“You got it.”

“Wow, that is spooky.

“Reading on down it gets even spookier.”

“He didn’t die, did he? The third one after…”

“No, listen. He has seminars at the lodge. Bigshot writers and producers, like a dude ranch for film wannabes.”

“You mean like people pay to go?”

“Duh… would you pay to go hang out with Coppola and, hmmm, lemme see, Buck Henry?”

“Buck fucking Henry? Jesus, how much?”

“Or lessee, Shane Black, Michael Klawitter.”

“Who’s Michael Klawitter?”

“Producer for just about every Pacino film except the Godfather ones.”

“Holy shit, Pacino? Would we get to meet Coppola? Where is this place?”

“That’s what I meant about it getting spookier. Belize.”

“Belize, Belize… Africa, right. By the Ivory Coast?”

“You bet, Miss South Carolina. It’s like a hundred miles from a little place in Mexico you might have heard of.”

“Acapulco? Cancun?”

“Close. Playa del Carmen.”

“Oh, God that is spooky! When is it?”

“That’s the spookiest part yet.”

“Oh, Lord, don’t tell me.”

“Okay.”

“Fuck you, Suzy! It’s during the festival, right?”

“Nope, three days later.”

“Well, we just have to be there, is all. How much?”

“Seminar plus a week room and board, $3,275 per each.”

“Ouch. But it’s doable, right?”

There was a pause while Gareth squinted at the monitor and fidgeted his fingers across the keys.

“Excuse me, I said, that’s doable. RIGHT?”

“Well, look, we’ve been socking those credit cards pretty hard…”

“Cards? What happened to… call me old fashioned but… cash flow?”

“Good question, now that you bring it up instead of running into the night at the mention of paying those two…”

“Okay, okay. Don’t bring that up and snivel about it another three months. Basically, we gotta go and that’s that.”

‘So that card we got from PayPal should be good for the sixty-five hundred. And how much to get there?’

‘That’s the point, idiot. We’ll already be there. We’ll grab a bus down from the Playa for like twenty pesos and a tortilla with a picture of the virgin on it.”

“And take oXo. Absolutely. Bring him into the circle of stardom.”

Hmmmph.” Kenny turned to regard oXo, luminous with faint afternoon light. “I think he’s already there, don’t you? And did you ever get the idea that maybe he is bringing us?”

“Sorry, I just used up my spooky quota for the whole week.”

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Read the Episode Leading up to this one

Nobody at the table seemed very happy, but that was often the peculiar case in resort fun spots. No joy on the faces of Fric and Frac over there, two metrosexual urbanoids who thought dressing down meant wearing Hawaiian shirts under their unstructured cotton Miami Vice blazers. Certainly none on the stolid countenance of the beefy, amoral cop type on their side of the table with “federales” scrawled on him as vividly as “crooked bodyguard”. Across the table, the slim, lovely brunette seemed to be visiting a personal tragedy. And the beefcake beside her, who should have been exhilarated to have a woman like that leaning against him and touching his arm, was nothing but a brochure on operational readiness pose.

And at his elbow, the small leather backpack swarming with a golden sheen of bees. Winston let the waiter glance askance; he plowed towards the table with Xchab in his wake, her faser set on Maximal Gawk. His thoughts on the nature of the gathering at the bee-anointed table were confirmed as he drew close enough to hear:

“Look, you told me you’d go as high as quarter mil,” the big muscley guy was saying. “And here it sits for two hundred grand. Just what are you sniveling about?”

“Nothing, nothing…” This from the sleeked-back weasel who looked like sniveling was probably his main function in life. “I just figured a guy like you would be resourceful enough…”

“Resourceful? You sent me out on a snipe hunt for some magic crystal skull, no idea where it was but fairy tales and Hollywood scuttlebutt. And there you sit with a nice glass of Argentine Chablis and I’m laying the thing right on your table. How much more resource you want?”

Winston had been waiting to see if the other semi-suit sounded as gay and supercilious as he looked and was rewarded beyond his expectations. “Liiiiisten, Butchy. The world lives on negotiation and wiggleroom.”

“Glad you’re aware of that.” The big guy looking for a waiter, scribbling on his hand to signal for the check. “I’ve already had more attractive offers.”

That lit up the two straights just the way Winston, who’d renegotiated many a stinky deal in his time, expected it would. Boiling down to the most useless question, but always the one they bleated out first: Offers from whom?

The honeypie in the tipica outfit broke off their sputtering with a soft comment, “I think he’s talking about me. Please pay no attention.”

“I dunno,” Winston stuck in from his peripheral hover around the table. “As offers go, you’re damned attractive.”

They all turned to look at this new voice in the jam-up; gnarly old Mr. Natural with a cute little Indian trick who squirmed under their stares.

“And just who,” lisped Frac, the gay one, “Might you people be?”

“Well, I might be the Ghost of Christmas Pretend to Come,” Winston answered solemnly, “But what it is, he called me so I came.”

The producer turned on Bannock with a gaze a little too watery to be the Eye of Flame he hoped for. “You called somebody to meet us here?”

“No. Duh.” Bannock rolled his eyes. “I’ve never seen this codger before.”

“Not him,” Winston said, getting the same dismissive quality without having to do an eyeroll. “Him.”

He pointed at the backpack.

That pronouncement nailed Loris’ attention right to the wall. Xchab stared at Winston, ready to hike up her skirt and sprint for the kitchen door.

“What? Who?” So Fric, the nominally straight dork, wasn’t any sharper than the gay one. “Who called you?”

Winston just stared at the backpack for so long that everybody started fidgeting, Xchab was edging towards thataway, and the straighter jerk was nodding significantly to the bodyguard, who folded his napkin slowly as Bannock came on full alert. Then he said, “oXo.”

Leaving Loris intrigued, Bannock flabbergasted, and the straight arrows aghast. “What the fuck is going on here, Bannock?” they bleated in unison.

“What’s going on is this.” Bannock crunched out the tone he hoped would carry complete finality. He wasn’t above just grabbing the money and dealing with the ramifications–as previously demonstrated–but would rather not. “You sent me to get something. I got it. You owe me money. I have no idea who George Carlin’s ghost is but after a few days around that skull I’m prepared to believe about anything. Maybe oXo got a cell phone and hailed the freak so he could score. Nothing to do with our deal, so don’t try to use it as an excuse to welsh.”

“Know what I’m wondering?” Winston said mildly.

“What you were just talking about?” Frac minced out cattily.

“Nope. What the hell I’m doing here. Is this some sort of reality show?”

“I doubt you’ve showed anywhere near reality since Altamont, Mister Natch.”

“So everybody’s wondering the same thing,” Loris put in. “Do you have any hunches?”

“I saw him in a dream. Big gold, glowing skull hovering right over this very table. He told me to come see him. Bring shrooms.”

Everybody goggled a bit except Loris, who purred, “And did you?”

“Wouldn’t you?” Winston shrugged. “A summons like that?”

“Won’t you sit down?” Loris pushed out a vacant chair and caught the waiter’s eye. “You and your friend?”

“For Christ’s sake, Bannock,” Fric remonstrated. “Did I miss a sign out front: Welcome Rainbow People Conventioneers?”

But by then it was pretty obvious to everybody, even their own sneering bodyguard, that it was time to cut the crap. Talk turned once again to money as the waiter laid glasses of sangria and bowls of chips and guacamole in front of the newcomers. Xchab was on the edge of her chair, inhaling the sound, look and smell of money, power, and self-satisfaction.

Winston leaned towards Loris, who met him halfway. “Excuse me, but do you happen to see anything kind of, you know… hovering… around my faithful Indian companion? Like, buzzing her, maybe?”

Loris took a measured look at Xchab, not breaking it when the girl turned to spot her gaze and twitched away like a mouse caught in the pantry. Finally she told him, “Nothing but the clouded aura of a seeker in turmoil. Why do you ask?”

Winston’s turn to stare. He cruised her shamelessly, then smiled and patted her arm. “Ah. I believe we might be family.”

But it was time for the backpack to be proffered within reach (straps tight in Bannock’s husky grip) and the stereotype briefcase nudged forward to be inspected. Loris watched Xchab as Bannock satisfied himself that the stacks of green bills were for real: the girl irradiated by the sight of the money. Garcon, a glass of water and defibrillator for the muchacha, please. She willed a quick mental message to the Indian girl: greed is self-defeating, honey. Sit in your own skin.

But when she saw these two L.A. jackals peering into the pack, gloating over their possession of one of the world’s four coveted authentic crystal skulls, she also strained to will a missive to Bannock, wishing she could speak into his head like oXo could: Remember the pistol trick, big boy? Walk out with the money and The Love?

Then caught herself. Possessiveness, grasping, force: the primordial roots of our self-immolation. Take your own advice, woman: tread the path, trust the path, be the path. She breathed deeply, in a healing cadence.

She had wondered how strongly she would feel the impulse to walk out behind the yoyos, stalking oXo. And heard his voice in her head. Not saying goodbye, but bidding her look to her left. Where Bannock sat, motionless as he watched the Californians and their goon walk out. Life’s a trade-off, she thought.

Aware of her look, he turned and murmured. “I’m really sorry. But a deal’s a deal.”

“Life is a circle,” she whispered to his ear. “I love it that you knew what I was feeling. And cared.”

She heard a sigh behind her and turned to see Xchab seething with an almost religious avidity for the briefcase and Winston meeting her look with a sad kindliness. “The wheel turns,” he said.

She gave him a wan smile and he reached to her ear, did a magic flourish and zippity-zap, held a mushroom between his fingers. “Think we oughta eat these babies and go for a swim?”

Bannock glanced at the darkness outside the cunning colonial windows and asked, “Swim? Where?”

“Punta Nizuc.”

Rang a bell. Oh, wait. “Isn’t that where Club Med is?”

Winston beamed. “Can you stand it?”

Read the Episode Leading up to this one

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The darkness was full of skeletons.

Not a novelty.

Well, these were a little different from most of the skulls and bones clanking around in Winston’s bummer dreams. Whole different attitude.

As he crept forward through the darkness, white grins popped out on either side, soared around overhead. Not your Day of the Dead types, not grisly Lost Temple stuff, either. More like Cemetery Spring Break. These skeletons frolicked, essentially. They paddled kayaks, balanced on surfboards far over his head, sat three deep on motorcycles, zoomed on jet skis, waved beers and margarita glasses. They wore tourist trap sombreros and NBA jerseys. They waved at him, made out with each other,

This had felt like a prophetic dream from the start, but he was beginning to have his doubts as he wafted along through the cavorting dead. He shouldered past a bunch of skeletal mariachis with old silver horns and entered another chamber, this one better lighted and painted with murals of Mexican revolutions and colonial life. Overhead was a balloon with two dead in the gondola, dressed like Villa and Zapata. Winston mentally shrugged and ghosted on, smoothly dollying in on dreamwheels.

He passed a table set with fruit and bottles, two handsome skeleton couples dressed to the nines for luxury dining. A skeleton parrot sat on the shoulder of the woman with the silvery gown. Then he saw the other table, over in the corner, and knew this particular dream was about to cut to the chase.

Four skeletons sat at this table: two dressed in the satire finery of fatcats in murals by Rivera and Orozco, a big-boned male in funeral suit sat across from them beside a set of gleaming white bones clothed in an embroidered peasant huipil. A shower of gold fell from the darkness above, flitting around before coalescing into a golden, translucent skull floating above the table and regarding him with eyes like holes punched in Hell’s back furnace. Winston, no stranger to the appearance of deities (benign, malign or design) in his visions and occasionally real life, was wiped out. He felt like falling to his knees in front of this pulsing, luminous creature whose eyes spoke of vision permanently focused past infinity.

In a thunderous echo owing much to The Great Oz, the skull spoke to him. “Are you trippin’, fool?”

“Who, me?” Winston said out of reflex. “No way. I wish.”

The skull’s glow throbbed like wind-stoked embers. “That’s what you think.”

“Actually, I think I’m dreaming.”

“Dream on, turkey.” The skull thundered. “Tomorrow night I’ll be right at this table. Be there or beware.”

The terrible glow faded, and the skull diminished without relinquishing eye contact. It was almost invisible when it suddenly popped back to full resolution and fireflush pulsation. “Oh, yeah. Bring some shrooms.”

Winston had learned that the last thing Xchab wanted to hear, while playing house with him and waiting for a whiter knight to sweep her onto a more reliable charger, was replays of his dreams and drugged visions. But this one required some information to understand and he had also learned that in such cases the best bet was to blurt them out to anybody who’ll listen. Some mousy secretary trapped on a diner stool or sodden wino slumped on the bus might just barf up the one key required to point one in the proper direction. And bingo. He’d barely gotten into the first leg of the cavern of skeletons when she fixed him with one of her stonecarved Mayan expressions. “Sounds like Pericos,” she said, in a bored tone. The old fart thinks he knows all this stuff about the Yucatan, but has no clue where people party.

Not that she’d ever partied there, personally, but she’d gotten a wistful nose to the window, coveting all the toys and doggies and lollipops, on her grim treks to sell woven bracelets and shell jewelry to the choked flow of First World twerps beer-bonging their way through Cancun’s hospitality ghetto feeding frenzy. Holding up her chintzy goods and suffering tourists snapping cellphone shots of her Mayan get-up while she soaked up the vista of all the moneyed, sophisticated, superficial glitz she coveted. Until the wait staff headed her off and hustled her back to the Yaxchitlan sidewalk.

But now it looked as though Winston, of all people, was actually going to take her there. Walk in and get a table, find out what these people eat and drink. She looked as stony as ever cruising across Palapas Park, but inside her a thwarted soul beat its untried wings.

Winston was blasted, of course, which might have explained a few things. He’d been glad Copper had declined to come along, muttering woodenly under the grip of Ketamine. They’d left her floating in an innertube, her bare bottom bulging down into the water: what she called “trolling for barracuda.” Her addiction to that rather nasty and consciousness-lowering drug was a mystery that Winston found at turns annoying and tragic. He didn’t like being around people who were “Ko’ed”: they were like amplifiers on stand-by mode, meat puppets who’d swallowed their own strings.

He, on the other hand, was toasted on some very fine Affy weed he’d scored at the hostel and augmented with just a pinch of mushroom dust and wouldn’t have minded a third party checkoff on what he was seeing.

He’d noticed it as soon as they came into the park, little kids with ice-cream cones staring at his loose hempen duds and weedeater hairdo, adolescent hand drummers calling out to Xchab over their beats but getting her usual basalt head snub job. There seemed to be a lot of bees around Xchab. Luminous golden bees. They followed her at first, stringing out in swelling squadrons. But by the time they left the park for the alley over to Yaxchitlan the swarm was all around her, shifting their pattern to create a scintillating veil around her dark, ordered features and short body. They towered over her head, milling and buzzing in a high register that almost reminded him of tin whistles. Too bad he hadn’t brought his flute. The glow from the bees lit their way through the alley.

He made one attempt to discuss this phenomenon with the girl, but she’d made it curtly clear that she didn’t want to hear any of his crazy shit at the moment. She was already up ahead, luxuriating in the interior of Pericos.

Winston strode into Pericos like he owned the franchise, imperiously waving off the waiters proffering menus and the worried looks that appeared when jipis and indios showed up amidst the carriage trade. He’d walked into too many pitiless courtrooms, forbidding boudoirs, raucous cellblocks, hellish Angel showdowns, and stonecold busts while partially decapitated by substances of unknown origin, trajectory or allegiance to quail at whatever dicey deal was going down in Chez Skeleton.

Because the dead were indeed at hand, floating around high up under the peaked palapa roof: real life skeletions. Up there on real motorcycles and jetskis and outriggers and crap. Far more troubling than anything in a dream, actually. Winston generally considered reality to be too weird for him: a crutch for those who couldn’t handle dope.

On the other hand, it was drug of choice for Xchab. She was getting hot over the whole proximity of wealth and leisure and the ability to deploy them. She leered artlessly at the displays of money, but her rookie stun quotient was out of synch with what the people themselves rated: she might read a Rolex or Prada gown as just a timepiece or black dress, while waxing ecstatic over a ripped Metallica shirt appliquéd in gilt or some switchblade cell phone or cunningly curved cheap sunglasses. The poiint being: this was The Stuff. And these were The Ones Who Be Havin’ Stuff. And above all knew how to get it, what to do with it, and how to evaluate and deploy it. She trailed Winston, stumbly and agog, her eyes and ears drinking the place in.

As soon as they entered, Xchab’s bee escort buzzed past her, eagerly leading the way. He followed the glow of the yellow bee road into the back room. Where he immediately saw the tables he’d dreamt, except that only the first one was really skeletons. Back in the corner sat four real people, more or less, and the bees were all around them like a seething gold lantern.

He was sauntering up to a table he read as freighted with enough greed and potential violence to make many a person’s “too high for this shit” lists, but wasn’t fazed. Well, he was impressed by the way the bees all coalesced around a small leather backpack sitting on the table, close to the big guy in the linen guayabera. In Cuba a guayabera might mean one thing, but in this part of Mexico, Winston tended to read them as, “there’s a gun under these starched shirtails”.

Xchab was staring at the two assholes in Melrose chic, magpie eye for the glister of expense. Winston was more interested in the guy with the pack. Muscle, but not a musclehead. Unlike, oh, say the per-diem ex-cop bodyguard sitting behind the pose monsters. And also flanking the pack, sensuous in white peasant drag, was one extremely hot gabacha. Hmmmmmm. Smelled like money and nogoodnikism to Winston’s veteran nose. Just like back in the day.

Read the Follow-up to this Episode

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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.”

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