By the time the coffee had set in, his stomach had taken a turn for the worst. Lack of sleep, not having anything to eat and the caffeine were currently fighting a war with his inner balance, and you can guess who was winning.
The road was winding. That couldn’t help either.
Steadying himself, Owen tried to take solace in the beauty of the trees. But they were whizzing by too fast to be other than a kaleidoscope of madness. That same feeling he got when he first kissed Gwen in 7th grade was coming again. Different situation, same nerves. His abdomen was starting to contract. He could feel himself salivating more than would be healthy. He didn’t have time to, but he needed to. The problem was, the New Mexican backwoods didn’t provide ample opportunity for a pull over.
He took deep breaths. “It’s just another assignment.” He told himself. “It’s no big deal. You’ve done this before, Owen. Stabilize, man, stabilize.” It just stressed him out more. He thought of his son. He missed him. This made him sad. Made him want to cry. This made his stomach feel like it had no support from his brain and the end result was inevitable.
Owen made a judgment call, a poor one. He thought he could navigate the Explorer down the embankment without issue. Instead several stray rocks, coupled with his already compromised balance, forced his hand. Literally forced his hand. His hand slipped from the wheel, the wheel decided the tree was the best destination and the Explorer didn’t ask questions.
Owen jumped out of the SUV and tried to finish vomiting. By that time, the better, chunky part had gotten out and he was mostly just spitting up bile now. His cool blue button down had been transformed into a matte pastel of the donuts and sandwiches he had downed earlier that day and the night before.
Wiping it from his hands, he cursed. He had a spare shirt to report with, but he didn’t have a spare bumper to replace the one that had fought with the tree. Being as it was government-owned, this would not doubt be covered. That wasn’t the point. Here he was careening into an assignment he was criminally under-qualified for. Having worked nothing more than human slaving cases, an ongoing serial murder investigation was daunting enough. Undercover. That pushed it over the edge.
Owen assessed the damage and figured he could make it to the check in point. He just didn’t want to.
Climbing back in to the Explorer, he did his best to wipe the crime scene. It already smelled pretty poorly, so the air conditioner and pug-in air freshener had their work cut out for them. It was then, sitting and squirming around that he realized what other part of his body had failed him.
This was embarrassing. A completely green agent heading into the field for the first time, sure. A 50 or 60-year-old veteran who just experiencing the failings of his body over time, gross, but whatever. But a 28-year-old vet with no health problems? It was fear. Pure fear, plain and simple. Not a fear of the impact. He had dozens of those. More fear of after the impact. Now, with his stomach settled he would have no reminder as to why he should be afraid, and that made him more afraid. He would head off to that Diner and meet Joe and nod his head and say yes sir and gush about how excited he was and how he knows that they picked the right man for the job. But in reality, he did it he because he didn’t know how to say no.
For being so damn humid it was cruel irony that Irene had no water. Little streams here and there helped her along her way, but soon even the bottle she filled up would run out and that dryness returned to her mouth. The only moisture she managed to generate was the occasional tear, and even then it hurt to cry.
One man had given her a ride. Some creepy old cowboy type. Not cowboy…moonshiner. That’s better. The kind with a ZZ Top beard and hands that couldn’t keep off of young legs. The yellow and black smile didn’t haunt her, though. Neither did the things she had to do to get 50 miles. She had been used that had for years. It was the fact that running away still didn’t solve those problems. The fact that she still had to do it.
Oh well. Now it was at least in return for getting her where she wanted to go.
No mistake, it was kind of intentional. I mean, a young woman who looks like her doesn’t wear a tied up shirt and almost illegally short cut off jeans expecting to be treated classy. She knew that her assets could take her farther than Southern hospitality ever could.
Irene was no dummy. What she lacked in the books she made up for in the bed. No, that’s horrible. That’s just a cruel way of saying she knew how to manipulate people. I mean, after all they’re all the same. Women want men, money and more. Men want women. Give them what they want, and they’ll eat out of your hands. Or at least they’ll never suspect you…
As she walked she heard the sound of God’s blessing. The trickling pitter-patter of a stream not to far distant. Probably a tributary, the same one she’d been drinking from for the past two days. The need for water and breaking the monotony of thumbing drove her off the road embankment. The bad thing about dressing the way she was dressed is it provided little in the way of protection from the elements. By the time she made it down the relatively steep but short slope her legs were once again scratched up.
She was familiar with this area. Her daddy had taken her here a couple of times when she was younger. He was a big hiker. Thanks to him, she had just enough survival skills to make it on the road. She knew how to find landmarks, how to tell the weather, which animals were harmless and which weren’t and general sense of what plants were good and which would kill you. She kept walking downhill as the static flow of water became stronger. Her lips literally began smacking as she thought of the cool clear water. The freshness hitting her lips, the taste hitting her tongue and the rejuvenation as it hit her system.
It didn’t disappoint. The water was as clear as the sky, and the fish and salamanders played trippingly in it. She briefly considered abandoning her quest, taking up shack in the mountains and living the life of her Native ancestors. But she knew better. She drank generously from the flowing stream, nearly over-saturating herself with hydration. Food had never been an issue- she always liked to keep herself skinny and relatively fit. But water was needed. She spryly splashed a spritz of it on her lovely face, then filled her bottle and stuffed it back in her back pocket.
She had no agenda. No point, no schedule…just a destination and a dream. It was a beautifully sunny day out, and she figured a celebration of sorts was due. After relieving herself in some bushes down stream, Irene decide that just because she was a drifter didn’t mean she couldn’t have a killer tan. They all do in California, she reasoned with herself. And, hell, there wasn’t anybody around, so why not. She slipped out of her jean shorts, untied her top and quickly did away with her drawers. It was freeing. For the first time in a long time she was buck naked with no sense of impending sexual activity.
She found a rock that was smooth and flat, then proceeded to lay upon it. The sun hit her eighteen year old body, washed over her, surrounded her and comforted her. It was warm. Not hot, but warm. She began singing an old melody her daddy had taught her.
“I crossed on the river
There’ll be no returning
I crossed all the bridges
I watched all them burnin’
And now I’m a stranger
To a strange land I’m driven
Where all is forgotten
And nothing’s forgiven”
Her voice rang over the hills and valleys, sweet and true as the memory of the man who taught it to her. Her voice trembled on the last line. She knew a better life, no matter how hard, lay ahead for her. But she was still giving up a familiar one. And what you don’t know you fear. But that softly drifted from her mind as she lay basking in the sun, and for the first time in a long time, she was lulled to sleep.
Owen was still tired. The vomiting hadn’t settled his stomach like he thought. He was tired and hungry and scared. And alone. He had been driving down country roads forever, meeting with contacts and liasons and agents and such. This was the final stretch. The show would be in town the day after tomorrow. And that’s when his performance would begin.
And he still had to explain how he had managed to damage a government vehicle. Joe was a hard headed ex-Marine. He wouldn’t be happy that nerves were going to have to force him to do extra paperwork.
Owen pushed on, wiping the tired from his eyes as he went. The road wound like a roller coaster up the slight grade of the hill, flirting with being just too close to the edge for comfort. Turns had to be taken slowly, and had it not been for that, he may have hit her.
The young girl was, what’s the best way to put it…sauntering. She wasn’t walking with purpose, more playing with the world around her as she went, taking in the trees and the the air. Owen swerved to miss her and did barely. He skidded to a stop about twenty foot in front of her. Being a public servant, he was bound to check on her to ensure her safety.
She was visibly shaken, but still carefree. She had the smiling hesitant breath of someone with a newly appreciated lease on life. She ran up to him as he stumbled from the Explorer, clutching only a little handbag. Surely she was lost.
“You okay?” She shouted
“Yeah, but what about you?” He grumbled back
“Oh I’m fine, just a little shaken is all” She smiled back
“I understand that, but it’s six o’clock at night girl. What’re you doin’ out here?” Owen said, breathlessly assessing his surroundings.
Irene looked around for a moment pensively.
“Well, just makin’ my way I guess.”
“But where? What happened?” He asked
“Just goin wherever the four winds blow.”
Owen, dumbfounded, sighed.
“Look little girl, it’s getting late. Your mom’s probably worried sick about you. You lost?”
“I ain’t loss” She quipped, a rise coming out of her for the first time. “And I garuntee she ain’t missin’ me. I’m thumbin’ my way outta here goin’ to Cali.”
Owen laughed. “Well, you’re a world away from Cali, little girl.”
“I know that. And stop callin’ me little girl damn it, I’m eighteen.”
“Oh really?” He prodded. “Can I see your ID?”
“What the hell you need to see my ID for.” Irene’s instincts were kicking in. She said that suggestively, resuming her saunter and licking her lips a little. “You planning on doin’ somethin’ with me?”
Owen whipped out his badge. “Tell you what, I show you mine you show me yours.” He flipped it open: Owen Scarborough, FBI. “And I aim to take you home to your moma.”
Irene sighed. “Just leave me alone mister.”
“Fine. Just show me your identification and I’ll be on my way.”
Irene gave up. She didn’t have time to be standing around arguing with him. He had a point. It was getting late.
“Here. It’s outta state but it should work just fine.” She dug through her handbag and pulled out the card. Irene Waters, 3 weeks past 18, outta Oklahoma. “Is that good enough for you?”
“That’s fine.” Owen sighed back. “Look, all shit aside, it’s gonna start getting cold out here. I’m due for an appointment tomorrow mornin’ in the next town. Hop on in, I’ll take you there.”
Out of options, Irene shrugged, returning to her innocent, country ways. “I guess that’ll be fine.”
Owen was going well against regulations. No body should be riding in that Explorer except on government business. But he also had a crisis of conscience. Even though she was 18, she was completely alone in the wilderness, literally.
Irene climbed into the front seat. The heater felt nice against the coolness of the night. It was about as warm as the omnipotent sun that had sweetly laid her down earlier. Owen sat in the driver seat and put the car in gear. She was immediately comfortable with his driving: it was clear he was experienced in navigating winding roads. Not having to fear for her safety, she went for the next thing she was good for: conversation.
“So…what’s a G-man doin’ way back here?” She asked
“Frankly, that’s classified. I’m in an ongoing investigation. That’s all I can say.”
His curtness was, to be honest, offensive to her. She never liked people she couldn’t at least converse with.
Owen felt strangely comfortable with Irene. For the first time in days, his stomach wasn’t tossing. It wasn’t being smitten, beautiful as she was. It was more a sense of duty, why he had gotten into the field to begin with. Irene needed someone to help her and Owen could provide assistance. In all honesty, it was a warm up to the big game. And perhaps she knew something that could be useful. Probably not, but he could at least glean some of the mannerisms of the locals.
The moonlight sang its sonata over the vast stretches of Gila backwood forests. Hoot owls could be heard in the distance in support, while a symphonic cacaphony of wildlife harmonized for a sweet serenade. Owen could feel the exhaustion hit him. And he was out of coffee. With no other option, he had to talk to Irene simply to keep awake.
“So what preempted your departure?” He finally asked, breaking almost an hour of silence, extremely awkward silence.
“Um, well. My, uh, my momma was just getting’ to be too much.” Irene responded as though she was ignoring the question.
“Well, we’re kinda white trash. She was just jumpin’ boyfriends every few months. I was getting’ my fare share of em.” Her voice was a strange mixture, an ever-so-subtle southern drawl mixed with an attempted big city air to it.
“What do you mean?”
“If they weren’t hittin’ me they were hittin’ on me.” She was still doing her best to feign disinterest.
“Why didn’t you report them?” Owen prodded, trying to break down her walls.
“You don’t report anybody who lived like we lived.” She replied nonchalantly.
“I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, well, most don’t.”
Owen grasped at her meaning. Trailer trash often lived a misaligned life, but not so much as to fail to report molestation or statutory rape.
“What, pray tell, is your kind of livin’?” He suddenly realized he’d been using his native accent without thinking.
“Travelin’ from town to town, settin’ up shop long enough for momma to get wooed by some patron. Plyin’ our trade. Livin’ the life.” The pain was evident now, so she was doing her best to dance around the question.
Irene looked indignantly at Owen.
“If I wasn’t so damn tired I’d be insulted.” She shot back.
“Well excuse me but you are bein’ painfully aloof.” Owen said without missing a beat.
Irene paused for a moment, starting to get a little annoyed.
“Carnies, Agent Scarborough. We’re carnies. You know what that is?”
Owen replied. “Yeah.” Truth be told he knew all too well. “You’ve got remarkably good teeth for a carnie.”
“Well between the ass grabbin’, the drunken idiocracy and the endless rounds of drugs…I guess I just got fed up.”
“So you made a break for it?”
“It wasn’t like I’s prison. I just got in a fight with momma and told her I was leavin’. That was it.”
“So what broke the camels back this time?”
“Things were happening that I could not in good mind turn a blind eye too. The carnie mafia is strong, but they can’t keep you from walkin’ away if your strong enough.”
“Carnie mafia?” Owen struggled
“It’s a joke, Mr. Scarborough. Just good ole boys who think they’re tougher than they really are.”
“Like what kind of things?” Owen pressed.
“Honestly, mister, I’m a little tired of it all. I lived with it for 18 years and I do not wish to talk about it any more.”
A few minutes of awkward silence passed again.
“So, you gotta family?” She plied.
“Yeah, gotta gal and some yung’uns. Up yonder in Glastonville.” Owen responded hesitantly.
Irene raised one eyebrow. This was a game she had played many times.
“’Yung’uns up yonder in Glastonville,’ huh. Is that the best you can do?” She twisted her face in derision.
After a pause, Owen tried again.
“What do you mean?”
“’Yung’uns’ up ‘yonder’? Nobody fuckin’ talks like that anymore! Is that the best southern accent you can muster?” There was a tinge of anger in her voice as she delivered with a rapid fire pace.
“Oh what ‘muster’s any better?” Owen, for his part, matched her pace pace for pace.
“Hey don’t turn this on me, your the undercover agent here.” She said.
“Well, look I have 325 hours undercover logged and not once have I been detected.” Owen replied, trying to assert his authority.
“How long is this assignment?”
“Shit, I don’t know. Probably gonna take like 6 months at least.”
“Well then, correct my math if it’s wrong, but 325 hours equals out to roughly…like 14 days, right?”
Owen was silent.
“Now I know I’m a dumb carnie redneck and all, but last time I checked that’s only two weeks. Now unless you arrive on the scene and the guy walks right up to you and says ‘It’s me! I’m the guy your lookin’ for!’, it’s gonna take more than 325 undercover hours to get this done. And your workin’ with carnies, so there’s that. The way I see it here, Agent Scarborough, your greener than me.”
He tried to say something, but his air escaped him.
“Look, lemme give you some advice if your gonna make it in this crazy carnie world. Number one: we can sniff out a fake a mile a way. You think your the first law man we’ve come across? You try and be something you can’t back up, we’ll call you on it. We’re a close knit group and rumors spread fast. You wanna save your skin you gotta have a better lie.”
Owen, thanking God for the humility he did have, was grateful. “Thanks kid. I’m…I’m kinda goin’ into this whole thing a little blind.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll be in good company. Nobody in these parts knows what the hell there doin’ in life. You’ll fit right in as far as that goes.”
They both shared a nervous chuckle.
“Now, where are you really from?” She asked, gentler this time.
“Um…Cambridge Mass.” He said, finally letting his thin Boston accent through.
“Did you grow up poor?”
“Well, no. I was kind of well off. My dad owned a car dealership and my mom ran the local Post Office.” He admitted.
“Mmmm…not sure that will fly to well.”
“Well what should I say then? I can’t be southern and I can’t be from Cambridge…” Owen gave back, his ire quickly returning.
“Look, if your gonna try and fit in here, don’t. Your best bet is to be some version of who you really are. Don’t tell em anything about your real self. Just make up lies you can back up, is all. If your from Boston area, be from Boston. Your not an avid outdoorsman, believe you me, they will sniff that out in 2 seconds.”
“Well, is there like some run down part of Boston that you know well?”
Owen smiled. “Southy projects. Southeast side Boston. When, uh…when I was a cop I patrolled there a lot.”
“Well there you go, Owen Scarborough…wait, you gonna use your real name?”
“Well what is it then?”
Wanting to play around a bit, Owen said with a straight face “Walter White.” Then turned to look at her with a tongue in cheek grin. She sat there silent.
“I don’t get it.”
“Walter White. You know? From ‘Breaking Bad’?” He said, hoping to add some levity to the atmosphere.
“Never watched it. Is that really gonna be your name?” Irene said, unfazed.
Feeling the humor killed. “No, it was…it was a joke.”
“A bad one at that. Gotta brush up on that humor. We’re nastier in the gypsy world.” Irene said, winking at him.
“Later. What’s your name gonna be?” She turned a bit in her seat, crossed her arms and peered at him. It was the kind of stare he would give suspects in interrogation…or the kind of stare he would get from suspicious suspects trying to find out if he was a rat.
“That’s good. So your Jeremy Scaller from the ‘southy projects’. What did you do there?”
Owen drew a blank.
“Come on now, you can’t hesitate.”
For some reason, Owen thought of Billy Barstough.
“Well, I was a runner. I use to race kids through the streets. I kinda hustled at it. I’d let them win 3 or 4 then bet all or nothing and smoke em. Get all they’re cash.”
“Is that good?”
“Yeah that’s actually not bad at all. What stopped you?”
“Well one day I beat the wrong kid. Then the wrong kid came back and beat me. With a baseball bat. With some friends. Broke my legs.” Owen gave a nostalgic chuckle.
“Ah, that sucks.”
“Yeah, so I kinda got into drugs and shit after that. I could still run pretty fast-faster than the cops. So Brent Jimenez hired me to be a mule for him. I started out doing runs to other local neighborhoods, then went on to places like Cambridge, where the real money was.” The sadness in his voice was there, perfectly balanced. Only it wasn’t his life story. It was Billy’s. The kid he couldn’t save.
“And now your a carnie. Why?”
“Well after a run one day, I got stopped for speeding. The cop smelled the drugs, found my pipe and arrested me. Did some time for it.”
“Damn that coulda been worse.”
“Yeah. At the time they were throwing the book at drug smugglers. If I had been caught with the load or the money…” Luckily, the few undercover hours he had had taught him to replace certain words at certain strategic places. Saying ‘if he had been caught’ could mean a busted operation.
“What happened to the money?”
“I buried it. Came back later, after I got out, and it was gone.”
“That sucks, dude. You were saying?” Irene raised her eyebrows, a show of real empathy.
“Well I coulda got like 20 years, 30 years.”
“But instead, that time, I only got 3.”
“Not bad. I’d buy it.”
“Thank you, Irene. I feel a little better now.” It was only a half lie. He remembered little Billy…then big Billy…then dead Billy.
She smiled at him. There was a sweetness to her smile.
“Now how about that family?”
“Um,” Owen contemplated what all to tell her. “Well I’m a transfer from the field office in Baltimore. My, uh, my wife lives there with our son, Noah.”
Owen laughed. “No, uh…” He broke out heartily soft chuckle at that. Regaining his composure, he replied “Sorry I’m a little out of it. No, I’m, uh, I’m a big Red Sox fan. I wanted to name him Nomar.”
“Get the fuck out!” Irene leapt in her seat.
“Not even kidding. That man’s my idol. Obviously, my wife was not high on that. So we went with Noah, which is close enough I guess.” Owen smiled, thinking about his little boy.
‘Well it’s a strong name. Unique. Happy little family?” Irene pondered the name.
Owen’s smile suddenly faded. “Not really. My work…leaves me away from home a lot. It took it’s toll. Anna…well she left me. We’re seperated.”
“Oh I’m sorry to hear that.” Irene responded genuinely.
“No, it’s okay. We wanna work things out. I mean we love each other fiercely. But she just couldn’t come to grips with my responsibility. Because of my job.”
“She probably just misses you, Owen.”
“Yeah, that’s what she said.”
“So…ya’ll still talk?”
“Yeah, when we get the chance. I, uh, I think she’s waiting for me to finish this assignment. See, if I knock this one outta the park, there’s a position in Albuquerque that won’t have me doing any field work. I’ll be a shoe in.” The excitement in his voice was evident.
“Why? You…don’t make enough now?”
“No, I make a good living it’s just…”
“Well, it’s my career. I’ve gotta make my mark, right?”
Irene looked at Owen, a wisdom in her eyes.
“Look, Owen, I don’t presume to tell you how to live your life. But your career is Dad. Just…make sure your there.”
Her voice trembled on the last part. She sank into the seat and started drifting.
“Hey look, there’s a… there’s a coat in the back seat there. You wanna cover up, that might help.”
Irene reached for the back. “Thanks, Owen. You’re very kind.”
They drove on in silence as Irene drifted off to sleep. She dreamt of the river, the sunlight and the holy nudity she had experienced. She dreamt of palm trees, bustling city streets and a normal 9-5 grind. She dreamt of a family she didn’t yet have.
Owen, for his part, rehearsed tomorrows meeting in his head. But he couldn’t brush away the thoughts of his son. He wondered what he was doing right now. 4 year old’s should have their dad nearby. He thought of Anna. He thought of her soft skin against his in the satin sheets of their honeymoon. He heard her laugh. He heard her cry. He shook his head, refocused, and increased his speed.
San Lorenzo was pretty much an average southwestern town. It had its quaint parts, where little old ladies tended there gardens and men enjoyed fishing. But it also had its bad parts, the trailer parks, the run down houses and apartments. In between the two was Old Downtown, which laid various claims to fame; housing for officers during the Indian Wars, a memorial post where General McCarthur had taken a picnic and being the first district in the state to integrate its voting. But this was all just local attempts at tourism. In reality the town was driven by the textile factory, various farms…and meth.
Owen and Irene arrived early in the morning on main street. Actually Broad street. The actual main street was nothing more than a tributary, bygone from when strawberry phosphates ruled the social network. Most of the businesses had relocated to Broad street as it was, like its name implied, broader and it had better business access. The only mainstay left on main street was a truck stop that apparently served the best biscuits and gravy. That was where Owen was to meet Joe.
But first to take care of Irene.
“Okay, where do you wanna go?” He asked as she woke up.
“Don’t know. Ain’t really gotta plan.” She said, stretching out her thin body.
“Look if your gonna make it in Cali, you gotta brush up on your grammar skills.” Owen harped.
“Look, I’ll be fine, just drop me off anywhere.” She smiled back at him, appreciating his kind nature.
“What’s your plan?”
“Let me buy you a bus ticket.” Owen said.
“Honestly, I do appreciate the gesture, but I think I’d rather hitch. Ridin’ on a bus don’t seem like fun.”
“It’ll be quicker.”
“Oh yeah cause I gotta real important deadline.” Irene responded. This, strangely, set the mood at ease. “Look Owen, your a good fella, but right now I feel like bein’ a little bit of a waif.”
Owen thought for a moment. “Fair enough. At least lemme give you some money for the road.”
“Well I guess if you have to.” She joked.
“I don’t have much, but a hundred outta do somethin’.”
“That’s plenty, Owen. Thank you.”
They drove through town, Owen looking for a place to drop her. Somehow, by the grace of God, he had arrived well ahead of schedule. No matter his track record, Owen’s punctuality was never an issue. After perusing the town for a bit, he pulled into a McDonald’s.
“At least you can grab some breakfast before you hit the road.”
“Don’t mention it.” Owen brushed it off.
“No really, Owen: thank you. When I get to Cali, or even before, if I ever lose my faith in humanity, I’ll think of you.” She said, looking into his eyes with her own piercing blues.
This struck Owen.
“Irene, look, your a good girl. Don’t forget that. I mean I know we only known each other for like 3 hours, but…you have a sweetness to you.” Owen was speaking from his sex slave ring experience. “But guard that sweetness. There are people out there who wanna take it from you. Your demenour, your spirit. Don’t give to just anybody.”
They sat there looking at each other awkwardly for a moment.
“Look, Irene, I’d love to stay and be all worldly some more…”
“…no, no, no, I know you gotta go.” The transaction was awkward. Owen opened his billfold and pulled out five twenties.
“Now don’t spend it all in one place.” He jested.
Irene was too choked up to respond. She felt safe with Owen. Leaving him was hard. But it was something she had to do. She managed a sweet smile, then hopped out of the Explorer and walked directly into the McDonald’s. Owen, for his part, watched to make sure she got inside. After she was secure inside, he pulled away and headed for the truck stop diner.
Now, Owen was never late. He made it his business to be very early, as it gave him adequate time to prepare. So the fact that he arrived 45 minutes early to the diner and was still greeted by Joe brought the queasiness back to his stomach. But being with Irene had calmed him a lot, and least now he had the presence of mind to walk to the hostess first and order a glass of Orange juice and some milk.
He looked at Joe, trying his best not to look as intimidated as he felt. He knew that Joe knew that he was intimidated. But by not showing it Owen hoped to give Joe quite a bit of faith in choosing Owen for an undercover position. If he could maintain his poise with the head of operations in the sector, then he could handle anything. As he slowly walked to Joe, he reached into the dossier he had and attempted to pull out his initial findings report. But he blew his cover. His hand slipped, and the dossier went crashing to the ground. Owen closed his eyes, took a deep breath and resigned himself to his fate; this was going to suck pretty bad.
The first minutes of the meeting were tediously murderous. Joe thumbed through Owen’s dossier, one eyebrow stapled in a look of indignation. The important stuff he took a little longer on, the well written stuff of no interest what so ever. Owen was more than a little insulted when he took the rap sheet Owen had made for himself and placed it aside without even reading. He had spent 3 days carefully researching the most common yet least damning felonies and misdemeanors and plugging it into a recipe that wouldn’t raise too much suspicion. Several juvi stints for narcotics and grand theft, felony possession of a weapon, felony drug, misdemeanor possession, misdemeanor assault and a dismissed rape charge. He debated on including any juvi time, but decided on two spans because it would make him out rougher than he truly was. Weapon and assault charges gave him, according to a reliable source name Billy Lee Evans, a cushion to which he would not have to defend himself more than usual. Drugs were SOP. Everybody did em. Everybody got caught. It just seemed natural. Mixed in with that probation violation of possession, it gave him enough dirt so that nobody would take a closer look. He made sure all of the charges were out of state. This avoided any “You ever serve time with my cousin” awkwardness. The brilliant stroke was the dismissed rape charges. If you dive further into that file, you’ll find out that he had been under investigation for solicitation and statutory, but that the only sex crime they could get to stick was a rape that he wiggled out of. It was a truly brilliant piece of work, a criminal history just bad enough to make him legit, but bad enough to make him high profile.
“Okay. I’ll take this into the system. Tomorrow morning, you live this life.” Joe said with no emotion. He began folding up the dossier and gave a reach for his coffee that said “sorry but I have to run.”
“Uh, sir.” Owen blurted.
“What.” Joe sounded more annoyed than anything.
“You have any tattoos?” Joe curtly responded, almost avoiding the question.
“Yes sir, I have 4.”
“You’d do well to get some more.”
“But, well…who should I go after first?” Owen prodded. Joe was now out of his seat, parrallel with Owen, who was still seated.
“Use your nose. Whatever stinks worst needs to be cleaned out.”
“Well sir…” Owen began to snort.
“Look, guy, I have 4 other cases I have to tend to today. You want a big movie speech? Huh? You want me to give you some worldly advice that you’ll remember when the time is right?” Joe’s voice was flat, but meaningful. A master of the dramatic pause, he took a breath. “Just do you job, Special Agent.” With that, it was over. Joe walked curtly out.
Owen had just got his meal, and had every intention to eat it. He had a lot to do today, but protein was on his mind. He scarfed down the biscuits and gravy. They were about as good as any. But that’s saying something. He ordered a second helping, seeing as it was an all you can eat plate. He finished those as well. For some reason the toast wasn’t appealing to him. Finally his stomach was full. Still heaving, but at least he knew now it was nerves. He left a ten and a five on the table, figuring it ought to cover his meal.
“Hold on pal.” Said the old waitress, stepping in front of his attempted departure. “You gotta pay in full before you can leave.”
Owen realized that his act started now.
“Man what the hell you mean, I left $15.”
“The total is $34.65.” She demanded.
“For biscuits and gravy?” He shot back.
“All you can eat biscuits and gravy, orange juice, milk plus your friends meal.” She smiled back.
“You tellin’ me that fuck didn’t pay?”
“What the hell did he order. The menu says mine was only like six bucks, plus drinks that ain’t no more than like $10. What the hell cost $24.65?” He shot back.
“Steak and eggs dinner, five cups of coffee and a side order of pancakes.”
Owen stared blankly. That fucking prick. No wonder he was able to get ahead so well- he screwed everyone else over. And besides, Joe was a fairly large man, but to down that much?
“That fuckin’ fuck.” Joe stated. It was angrily, more with a resolve of “fuck it what can I do.” But the Jeremy Scaller Owen Scarborough he needed to be wouldn’t just cordially pay. “I ain’t fuckin’ payin for his.”
“Someone’s got to, and you were at the table.” The waitress responded with sass.
“Well it’s gonna have to come outta your paycheck cause your the one who let him dine and dash.” Owen started using he hands to gesture more than he normally would.
“Company policy states…”
“Ah, fuck your company policy.”
“…that if one member of a party leaves, the other members are responsible for his bill.”
Up until now, the waitress had the upper hand. But Owen didn’t need to act out this part too much. He was tired, sick, up until recently hungry, sad, angry and about to go on a life-threatening assignment. He stepped up to the waitress, and looked her dead in the eye.
“Do I look like I give a fuck about company policy?” He snarled.
The waitress flinched. Owen smiled, feeling a power he hadn’t felt for a while.
“I’m walkin outta here. You guys are gonna eat it on the fuckin steak and eggs, and your lucky I’m payin you for mine. Come after and you realize what it’s like to lose your whole family.” The last part he flinged at them, walking through the door.
Irene ate lightly as usual. A biscuit sandwich and some orange juice got her what she needed. It was cold that morning, starkly reminding her of the impermanence of her serenity the day before. She was tired from the road and lack of sleep, but she needed to be out of town. Owen had mentioned that the fair would be in town tomorrow and that meant her mother was there today. And everyone else she knew.
She spent 4 god forsaken hours coming up to old men, young men, bull dykes and nice old ladies looking for a ride west. None were headed that way. They were all going back the way she had already came- east.
Finally her addiction got the better of her. She headed to the Snappy Mart, grabbed a tea and walked to the counter.
“Hey girl.” Said the fat smelly Mexican behind the counter.
“Lemme get a pack of Malboro’s too.” She said ignoring him.
“Damn girl, whatch you doin all by yourself?” He said, trying his best to act like a player but truly coming across as nothing more than a chump.
“Buyin smokes. You know tobacco, cigarettes.” She looked around, really paying him no mind.
“Alright, I’ll give em to ya. I’ll give to you for free.” He smiled.
She gazed at him. “I don’t have time for this. What do you want?”
“Well, bitch, your gonna be smokin them poles, why don’t you smoke my pole?” He smiled a dirty, crooked smile.
Irene braced herself on the counter, already used to the situation and dreading it. But then she remembered Owen’s words and her own promise.
“No thanks I’ll pay the regular price for them.” Here words came out like a grenade in a pool of water- a contained explosion.
“Come on girl, just a quick sucky-sucky. You know- me love you long time.” He snickered.
“No chance fuckstain, just give me the smokes.” The containment was leaking.
“Well, um, in that case you know, today we have to charge double.” The fat smelly Mexican said as he ran his hand across his goatee.
Irene considered what to do. She was niccin’ bad, tired and frustrated. She jumped across the counter and leaped at this joto. “Just give me the goddam smokes!” She screamed.
A few moments later she was out the door.“Better not come back here bitch I’ll fuck that sweet ass up, ho!” The fat ugly Mexican yelled as Irene walked away, lighting her smoke. Irene ignored him. She was high. She had stood up for herself. She didn’t even pay. Just grabbed a pack and left. Of course he might call the cops, but probably not. It wouldn’t even matter. Even if she had to walk, Irene would be out of this town within the hour. Irene took her time walking down Broad street towards the truck stop.
She had been in San Lorenzo several times. It was just another town to her. Everybody looked the same, everybody acted the same. Everybody thought they were a special case and all of their special cases were exactly alike and there was nothing special about any of their special cases. Just poor trailer trash, hoodrats and meth scholars inflating their own self-importance.