Frankly, eidetic memory or no, North Dakota passed in a blur until we blew on by Beach at the western end of the state. No time to call on the Rodeo Iron franchisee there, nor anywhere else for that matter. Long lived or not, Jack Hill was losing his battle. His conscious moments were fewer, his body temperature was slowly but inexorably rising, and there was obvious swelling in his abdomen. Internal bleeding at the very least; we could only hope it was a slow enough leak and the truck’s western progress was fast enough. We were averaging 103 miles per hour except when the radar detectors screamed at us, but they were screaming way too often.
Overhead drones would have nailed us for sure, but the last session in both Montana and North Dakota’s state legislatures had seen identical laws passed that blocked their usage. Once all of the court challenges were finished, we’d likely see Big Brother Bear overhead, but that would be a while yet.
“Any change?” I asked the question without turning my head; at the speeds we were running, the driver keeps his eyes on the road, period.
“He’s still slipping, but he’s still here,” Sissy reported, twisting back around to settle into the shotgun seat. Both kids were sound asleep, their youth finally slowing. “That is, his skin is way too hot to be dead and there’s still a pulse in his neck. And his breath still stinks.”
There was no need to reply to that. At this point, everybody’s breath smelled like a landfill specializing in dead skunks. I slipped a roll of mints from my pocket, popped one in my mouth, and offered the roll to my warrior woman. She took it out of my hand without comment. Probably the last I’d see of that roll.
We smoked past Glendive doing 114 mph, by the grace of whatever higher power one wished to invoke and state of the art stealth electronics, powering west, collapsing the miles one after another. Past Terry, then Miles City. The flip phone in my shirt pocket rang, and Sissy fished it out. She’d have to do the talking; there was no way I was slowing the big Ford down now. Focused on the blacktop and the anti-cop warning displays as I had to be, I caught almost nothing of the conversation, but it took a while.
She returned the phone to my pocket and brought me up to date. “That was Larry.”
“And you need to start slowing down! He wants us to turn off at Forsyth!”
Whoa. Off the gas pedal and onto the brakes; coming down from 121 mph to 35 for the exit…we barely had enough room without throwing anybody forward. “Talk to me,” I said, once I knew I had the timing right.
“While we were gone, he got a call. His conversion van is finished; he parked his SUV and grabbed the Batmobile on the way to meet us.”
Good news, that. Larry’s new baby wasn’t a conversion van in the classical sense; it was a used ambulance he’d had reworked to look like a casual tourist rig from the outside. On the inside, it was one step away from being a mobile hospital, equipped with more goodies by far than the average city or fire department ambulance.
It was broad daylight, but the doctor’s directions brought us to a deserted parking lot behind an abandoned commercial building. I parked the truck crosswise of the ambulance’s back doors and Lawrence Menning, M.D., took over. He didn’t even blink when we introduced the kids while loading Jack into the vehicle.
The old man moaned a little, though, so the Wizard was still with us. Menning left the doors open and spoke briskly as he went to work, cutting Hill’s bloodstained shirt away and removing our crude bandages. I didn’t even see him take the man’s temperature, but he said, “Hundred and three point six. Not great, but it could have been worse. You got him here in time; I won’t lose him now. Tree, you need to get on into Billings and rest up a bit before tomorrow’s bull sale, am I right?”
“Uh–” I hadn’t been thinking about that. “Yeah. Guess I could use a few hours of downtime.”
“And a shower.” He wrinkled his nose, almighty sensitive for a combat surgeon. “Definitely take a shower. A long one. So, how be I take Sissy with me. Chilly and Jewel, too, if that works for you. I can use their help, and a couple of young white kids hanging around with big black you might raise a few questions.”
I nodded, though Larry wasn’t looking at me. “Yeah, guess it would. At the least, they’d be remembered. So, thanks and all that.”
“So, what, you going to work on Jack while Sissy drives, head back to the high country, or what?”
“Or what.” Menning had done something that bloodied up one pair of surgical gloves; he stripped them off, dropped them into a waste bucket, and donned a fresh pair. “I’ve got a renegade surgeon friend in Billings. We don’t dare run Jack through the hospital, but Joe has a private medical practice with an office he keeps as well equipped as my own. Does minor surgeries there, but he can handle more. I’ve called him; he’ll be waiting when we get there. We’re going to have to operate.”
“He can be trusted to keep his mouth shut?”
“Treemin,” Larry said, his voice a shade testy, “I know you’re dog tired and brain frazzled, so I’m going to forget you even asked that.”
“Yeah. Sorry. Sis, you and the kids good to go with that plan?”
Another dumb question. They already had their travel bags transferred to the Batmobile. I gave hugs to all three of them, though I had to squat down some to make that happen with the kids, and I sort of wished I could forget having seen young Jewel naked. The girl didn’t have the same reservations, though; she threw her arms around my neck and whispered, “We’ll help the doctor take good care of Mr. Hill.”
Mr. Hill. Huh.
The remainder of the day turned into one of those good news, bad news things. Good news: We were close enough to home turf now that we could use our regular cell phones and stay in touch. Bad news: I really did stink, and the relief at turning Jack’s care over to one of the most capable surgeons in the world let me finally feel how tired I really was. Good news: The truck and I made it on into Billings, traveling at a sedate 75 mph, without me falling asleep at the wheel. Bad news: The truck wasn’t going any farther. We’d basically blown up the engine on the emergency run west. I could tell because of the rod that went through the side of the big V-8’s crankcase, just half a mile short of my exit.
The wrecker gave me a lift and hauled the truck to the motel’s parking lot. Thankfully, the desk clerk on duty knew me and barely raised an eyebrow when I told him about the busted vehicle parked at the far end of the lot, dripping oil onto the concrete surface. “I’ll pay for the damages,” I said, and he promised to notify his manager. Rodeo Iron gave the motel a fair bit of business from time to time, so they weren’t likely to raise too much fuss until I could get the truck back to Ovando.
I certainly couldn’t leave it with any commercial repair shop. Not with all the hidden modifications and weapons in there, I couldn’t.
Tired, oh damn I was tired, but I had to call Judi before crashing. I did sprawl on the bed, though, before hitting her speed dial number. When she answered the phone, I made the call as short as possible. “Hi, babe.”
“Hey, cowboy.” I could hear the relief in her voice. “Larry showed up okay?”
“Ayup. Jack was glad to see him. Sissy’s hanging with them for a while; she set me free to enjoy the bull sale on my own. Except, um, the truck broke down. I’ll need to call for a rental car in the morning. Too tired tonight; I’m just going to rack out.” I’d shower in the morning, leaving the sheets for the maid to worry about. “Have Seed and Beets and the Sarge been busy up there?”
“Nah. Been mighty quiet since we talked last. In fact, they’re driving me nuts, looking for something to do.”
Good. B.J. hadn’t been back, then. “Well, I’ve got something for one of them to do. Could you ask Seed to fire up the car hauler and drive it on down here tomorrow? In fact, have him haul the Pontiac down, too. He’ll need to pick up the Ford and bring it back to the house.”
“Sure.” There was something in her voice, but I was too tired to think about it. “You get some rest, Treemin. And hey, Soren’s right here; he’s telling me he can be there early enough that you’ll have the Grand Prix to drive during the day, so you won’t need to worry about a rental car.”
“Thanks, babe. Are the girls there?”
“No, hon, they’re over at Jack’s place, helping Wayne whip up some kind of surprise dessert. But I’ll sure enough hug them for you.”
I didn’t even remember closing the flip phone.
The alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. sharp, but I hadn’t set it and it wasn’t the clock or the front desk calling, either. In fact, though it took my groggy brain a few seconds to process the incoming sound, it was a persistent knocking at my motel room door.
Groggy I might be, but my reflexes were too deeply conditioned to worry about that. I rolled off the far side of the bed onto the floor, barely registering the fact that I was still fully dressed, boots and all, and had slept on top of the covers. The Taurus Curve .380 was in my right hand, the Walther .22 in my left. Where were the long guns?
Oh. Right. Still in the busted down truck, some of them; the others, Sissy and the kids had taken when they shifted to Doc’s stealth ambulance.
Unwilling to do the cliché thing, I managed not to yell out, asking, “Who is it?” Instead, waking up bit by bleary bit and deciding door knockers were probably not–probably not–leftover bounty hunters who hadn’t heard the word from Chester Brocklin (aka Theodore Kraznick, Second Edition) that the price on my head was now null and void, I padded over to the door and, hoping I wasn’t going to get a bullet through the eye, peered through the peephole.
Well, I’ll be damned. Tucking the Taurus back into my pants pocket and the Walther into its small-of-the-back holster, I undid the deadbolt, swung the door open wide, and was immediately assaulted by my daughters. My wife stood there smirking as six year old Aspen, ever the blunt one of our bunch, declared, “Daddy, you stink!”
“No doubt, honey.” I squeezed her up tight anyway, grinning as she struggled to get away from my horrible aroma, then let her go as I backed into the room. Judi and the girls hadn’t come alone; the former assassins Soren “Seed” Kirk (inventor of the Super Screw) and Gilligan “Beets” Robertson brought up the rear as everybody trooped in from the hallway.
I had to ask, though. “Good to see all of you, but what about the home front?”
Seed took that one. “Wayne and Carolyn are sitting tight in Jack’s place, but Diamond Paws showed up. Our friendly underground alien is pulling sentry duty there; it’s unlikely anything or anybody can sneak up on him. Beyond that, your wife declared a company holiday, had Jordan lock the main gate and post a sign advertising today’s bull sale. The old Heartbite bunch could have gotten around that, but anybody else, not so much. And a few of the security staff are on overtime in the citadel, monitoring the drones. We should be okay.”
I felt a great weight lift from my chest, a pressure I’d not even realized was there until it was gone. “So, Jordan?”
Judi jumped in. “Sergeant Phreebs left his son in charge of the citadel, but he’s here. He’ll be up in a bit; he’s just helping Rawlins and Corker load your busted truck on the hauler. Rawlins is driving the wrecker, Corker riding shotgun.” That meant literally, in our case. Good enough; those men knew to take good care of the Ford, securing it once they got back to Rodeo Iron headquarters. “Jordan is staying here. He volunteered, though I’m not sure whether he’s more concerned about watching our backs or just craving to see some of those bulls shoot a few cowboys halfway across the arena. Which reminds me,” she grinned ear to ear and started pushing me toward the bathroom, “we’re on a schedule here. Swanson is going to want you there when he kicks off the auction at 8:00 a.m. sharp, and Aspen’s right. You really do stink.”
You might think a five foot three, hundred and fifteen pound woman wouldn’t have much luck powering a six-three, 200 pound man in the direction she wanted him to go, but if you do think that, you’ve never been married. Before I knew it, I was shaved and in the shower, concentrating on stink removal and paying attention to Judi’s ongoing report at the same time.
“I’ve talked to Sissy on the phone,” she said. “Sounds like we’ve got new kids in the family, though of course she didn’t go into details. And I talked to Larry Menning, too. Jack came through his surgery okay, though Doc told me he might not have made it if they’d opened him up even an hour later. Turned out the round he caught in Michigan did go through, and it did miss the stomach lining, but there was another piece of lead in there. A really, really old bullet, Doc said. When I told him that was probably from a shootout Jack was in a few years after the Civil War, he just laughed. It’s obvious he still doesn’t believe Jack is, you know, that old.”
“No surprise there,” I commented, pausing to adjust the water faucet to make things a little hotter. I was waking up pretty good now. “Larry’s been able to accept a lot, but he really goes back and forth on the extreme longevity thing. One day he gets it, the next he goes into denial. Back and forth.”
“Yeah. I know. Anyway, he said he thinks the new bullet bumped the old bullet on the way by, and that the old bullet did spin around a bit, and it did pierce the stomach. Well, scratched it some, anyway. Something like that. You’ll have to ask him. But while the internal bleeding wasn’t really that bad, there was a super slow leak of stomach stuff contaminating the abdominal cavity.”
“But he got it cleaned up okay?” One more minute on the conditioner, rinse, and I’d be done.
“That’s what he says. And he feels Jack is strong enough to transport back to Ovando. Sissy and our new kids are staying with him.”
“How does Jack feel about it?” The heck with the minute; I turned off the water, opened the shower stall door, and grabbed a towel. “Is he conscious? Can he talk?”
“He can talk. I didn’t talk to him, but Sissy did. Said he’s looking forward to getting back to Carolyn’s tender loving care and Wayne’s cooking.”
I had to chuckle at that. Wayne Bruce was Hill’s slave lover every bit as much as Carolyn West was, and it was certainly true that the gay man could out-cook anybody else in the entire Rodeo Iron headquarters complex. Carolyn was still his main squeeze, though. “I can imagine. I’m wearing that?” Judi had stacked my clean clothes for the day on the counter beside the sink, including an electric blue leather vest with flashy gold printing on it, front and back. RODEO IRON was well advertised when I wore that thing, but I never had honestly liked it. It just felt a bit too…exuberant.
“Damn betcha you are.” She twinkled at me. “Now, cowboy, let’s blow this joint and head over to the Metra. The rest of us already ate, so I’m driving the Pontiac while you chow down on the way. Your breakfast is in the car.”
Bossy little female, but they do get that way sometimes.
She was right about us needing to hurry, though. We were barely through the admissions gate and parked behind the chutes before Terry Swanson caught up to us. “Treemin,” the beanpole auctioneer bellowed in his trademark baritone voice, “what a blessing to see you!”
That was a puzzlement. “Why wouldn’t I be here, Terry? I wouldn’t let a hundred of the best bucking bulls on the planet go without watching them do their thing, would I?”
“No? B.J. called me, what, um, two days ago, I believe it was.” He knew it was two days ago; if the bid caller’s memory wasn’t as eidetic as mine, it was close. “Said you’d had a family emergency and wouldn’t be able to make it today.”
“Hm.” I thought as fast as I ever had, responding without any obvious hesitation. “Sounds like we got our wires crossed. Cell phones and emails and all that. High tech sucks.” If my uncle hadn’t already gone completely around the bend, he was heading for it, but I wasn’t about to bring that up in this company. The anti high tech remark was calculated, too; Swanson Country Auctions lived on their electronic devices. That had given the upstart Terry Swanson, not even thirty yet and just six years in the business, the flying wedge that had grabbed a huge chunk of the high dollar ranch and rodeo auctions throughout Montana, Idaho, and a fair chunk of Utah.
His competitors hated the flashy former bull rider in the gold lamé hat and silver trimmed black Resistol hat. They hated him with a purple passion, which was just fine by me. The guy got the job done.
And he was a showman. “Come on, Tree,” he said, six foot four and no more than 180 pounds of sheer enthusiasm. “You too, Judi. And the girls, of course.” Not quite an eidetic memory, then; if a salesman of his stature had remembered Willow and Aspen by name, he would never have referred to them as simply the girls.
Just in case, hoping against hope despite B.J.’s weird call, Terry had made sure mounts were ready for all of us. We made quite a sight in our flashy blue and gold Rodeo Iron vests, leading the charge in the rodeo style Grand Entry to a rousing tune I was quite sure I’d never heard before. My horse was as big and black as I was, a tall Fresian gelding. I carried the nation’s colors, Old Glory streaming as we all galloped into the huge arena, Judi riding at my left side with the state flag of Montana, mounted on a pure white half-Arabian mare. Behind me, eight year old Willow stormed right along on a full sized sorrel, holding a yellow flag with the Trace Ranch brand silk screened in purple–and not to be left out, six year old Aspen galloped just as strongly to her left, astride a brown and white pinto and also holding a flag she shouldn’t have been strong enough to handle, the Rodeo Iron logo in gold on a blue field.
Damn, we were something!
That is, we were something when you added in the hundred-plus riders behind us, cowboys and cowgirls and stock contractors from throughout the mountain states. Merely fitting us all into the arena was a feat in itself, made possible only by the combination of the remodeled Metra’s size and Swanson’s flowing Grand Entry choreography. Okay, so it didn’t hurt that he’d known he could show me a computerized sketch of the pattern he wanted me to follow and then count on my memory allowing me to execute the maneuver perfectly with no rehearsal, but in fact, this bit of marketing brilliance had been Terry Swanson’s idea all the way: Require every cowboy entered in today’s bull riding to fork a steed in the Grand Entry, plenty of extra mounts being rounded up from a variety of sources, with any rider who brought his own saddle animal getting a vote of appreciation. Even the stock contractors who’d be bidding on the bulls were required to supply a couple of riders for the event, which maybe irritated them some, but they did it.
Damn, we were something!
The auctioneer’s ideas regarding showmanship were hardly original, but the man definitely knew how to put together a package from tried and true concepts and field a production that made the Trace Ranch Closeout Bull Sale a celebration. The PRCA had refused to sanction the event, but that hadn’t bothered him (or me) one little bit. We’d simply put up a hundred thousand dollar purse, charged every cowboy entering a hundred dollar entry fee, told everybody we’d be paying out on the top ten rides because of the high number of bulls in the contest, and only the first 100 non-PRCA cowboys to call in would be able to enter–although later callers would be put on a backup list in case of no-shows.
Within 48 hours of posting the announcement via email blast, Swanson had filled the roster with 100 riders and forty-three backup cowboys eager to straddle a top ox if somebody would just drop out.
Only two riders had, one for an unknown reason and the other because his wife had gone into labor six hours before the show.
“It didn’t hurt,” Terry told me as we took our places in the announcer’s box, the very best place to watch the action, “that I was able to round up a few sponsors.”
“Few, meaning?” Judi inquired, more than curious.
“Dozen or so. We’ve got gold plated buckles for every contestant who places, solid gold for the champion. Just like the PRCA World Champions. And another half million in prize money. Not to bore you with the formula, but today’s first place winner will be taking home a bit more than a hundred and fifty grand in cold hard cash.”
We were still gaping when the first bull left the chute. Number 306, also known as Pill Popper, a brockle faced brindle with Hereford and Brahma and only Jennifer’s meticulously kept records knew what else in his bloodline. Who was on him, I had no idea, but he wasn’t on him for long, and Swanson was aggressively calling for bids from the buying audience before the bovine reached the catch pen. He had ring men everywhere, at least half a dozen of them, all wearing silver shirts as bright as his own gold colored one. They were just as good at snagging bids and joshing the stock contractors into bidding more than they meant to bid, too; Popper was sold for $23,000–no odd numbers, just round thousands–before I could blink.
And so the day went, a perfect almost-autumn day at that. Judi would later inform me that on average, with the top drawer stock handlers and judges and clowns Swanson had retained, a bull exited the chute, bucked off his rider in most cases, and was sold every three minutes, give or take. How the men working the pens kept the identity of the bulls straight as they ran through the process, I had no idea, but they did one hell of a fine job. Ranch raised or not, I wouldn’t have cared to tackle it.
Idaho’s Brady Cogswell won the bull riding on one of Jennifer’s favorites, Moonshot. The big Charolais had power, speed, and enough intelligence to turn away from a rider whose weight shifted from the middle. In fact, Moonshot had been to the National Finals twice and considered for the Bucking Bull of the Year title both times. Though no Bodacious (who was?), he was definitely a good one, young enough to sire a bunch of little Moonshots and maybe even have another shot at the title before he retired.
One of only five riders to last the full eight seconds, Cogswell earned every penny of his 94 score, his $150,000 in winnings, and his gold buckle. Oklahoma’s up-and-coming stock contractor, Tandem Rodeo, bought the beast for a whopping $350,000.
Right after that ride, we had a moment’s reprieve between bulls, giving me a chance to ask Judi, “Who the heck is Brady Cogswell? And why isn’t he working the pro circuit?”
“He did, for a while,” she explained. “Story goes, he got into it with the PRCA. Cowboy politics. Told ’em to stuff their Association where the sun don’t shine and stuck closer to home after that. He’s got a ranch, 300 head or so, I believe.”
During the intermission, we crammed down hot dogs with sauerkraut and chips, washed down with Coke and/or Dr. Pepper, but aside from that and a couple of quick trips to the restrooms, we never left the announcer’s stand. These bulls had been the cream of the crop, the heart and soul of the rodeo ranch operation run by Sam and Jennifer Trace prior to Sam’s murder. With Jennifer gone, too, this would be the first, last, and only time we’d get to see the fruits of their labor, decades of careful breeding, not down the drain but scattered throughout the rodeo world.
Several times, auctioneer Swanson reminded us of that, pointing out to the crowd that this was the real Sam and Jennifer Trace Memorial. Every time he did, I had to fight back tears. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.
Seed, Beets, and Jordan Phreeb were ever close by. I thought the former Marine sergeant probably watched the bulls more than he did our backs, but I was fine with that. The man worked his butt off on our behalf, 24/7, 365. He deserved a break. Besides, neither Kirk nor Robertson cared one whit about rodeo; both former assassins kept their eyes roving, watching for possible threats we might have missed. Nobody was going to get past those guys without being spotted.
Sunset. We eased our mini-convoy out of Billings, headed west, right into the blinding rays, unwilling to wait any longer. The bull sale was over. I’d been besieged by well wishers, some of whom simply wanted to express condolences at Jennifer Trace’s untimely demise, most of whom empathized with me having to let go of an incredible bunch of bucking stock like that. With me tied up, it had fallen to Judi to go over the final numbers with Terry Swanson and his clerks so that we were all on the same page.
Bottom line, the hundred bulls had averaged a price of $43,000 and change. A gross take, then, of four million, three hundred thousand dollars. According to our contract, Terry Swanson could have taken a quarter of the total, but he’d voluntarily put a million dollar cap on his own earnings. I’d never heard of another auctioneer doing anything like that, but Swanson Country Auctions produced a fair number of million dollar days in a given year. Whatever he was doing, it was working.
So, we were looking at a $3,300,000 payday. Before taxes, of course.
And we needed the cash infusion. Even during the high-tension years of the Heartbite War, Rodeo Iron had somehow continued to expand.
No. Not somehow. We’d expanded because of B.J. Hennessey’s sales brilliance. We were known throughout the mountain states, with one or more franchises in eight of the eleven, excluding only California (terrible business climate, lousy liberal politics), New Mexico (just hadn’t happened yet), and Oregon (long story, don’t ask). Our gross sales were running in the millions and showed no sign of slowing down any time soon.
But the War had drained us something fierce. Stealth vehicles, state of the art drone systems, staff to manage the citadel security center, fencing, weaponry, none of this came cheap.
Thanks to the brilliance of Terry Swanson, auctioneer showman extraordinaire, we’d be okay for a while now. Financially, at least.
Family-wise…that was another matter. Judi’s cell phone rang. She spoke little, listened a lot, signed off and brought me up to date. “That was Jordan. His son just called him from the citadel. The drones caught B.J. on camera, coming back home. He let himself in through the gate, left the gate swinging wide open, and drove on up to his own place. The boy asked Jordan if he should go close the gate, but the sergeant wanted to check with you first.”
It didn’t take any time to answer that. “No. Call Jordan back, tell him to have his son stay locked down where he is, just keep monitoring everything. Nobody else seems to be around, and we’ll be there before daylight.”
Uncle, I thought, what’s up with you? Certainly, something was way out of whack. It occurred to me that before I met privately with the big man, I’d best upgrade my small-of-the-back weapon to something heavier than a .22. I didn’t want to have to shoot my own kin, the man who’d taken me in during my rebellious teen years, given me my real start in life, mentored me from A to Z. Heck, he’d even been the real force behind Rodeo Iron for years, at least when it came to expansion and outselling the competition, year in, year out.
No, I didn’t want to shoot him, but if he snapped, I knew I’d do it. According to Judi, some of his recent remarks could only be interpreted as threats. Nobody, not even the uncle who’d fought at my side more times than I could count, could be allowed to threaten my family–and I certainly couldn’t whip the giant in a fair fight.
It would take some doing, though, if I ended up having to call my mother to tell her I’d had to cap her kid brother and apply the shoot, shovel, and shut up principle. Hi, Mom. Your bro went nuts so I filled him full of lead. Hope to see you for Thanksgiving. Have a nice day!
I thought about that all the way to Livingston before calling the woman who’d given me birth. That is, Judi was driving, the kids were sound asleep in the back seat, and I was reaching for my flip phone when it rang, making me jump just about out of my skin. “Treemin?” Her voice sounded calm, too calm.
“Yo, Mom. I was just about to call you. Only hesitated because it’s the middle of the night.”
“Yeah. Me too. About that, are you going to be home in the morning?”
“Um…” Something was up. “Yeah. Why?”
“I’m spending the night at a motel in Missoula. B.J.’s been calling me, sounding….” Her voice trailed off.
I’d swear the sigh I heard was one of relief. “So it’s not just me?”
“Not hardly, Mom. Details later, but…you’re coming up to our place?”
“Definitely. If you’re going to be there, yes. Oh, and Charlie is along for the ride.”
Whoa. “Charlie’s a good guy,” I agreed. “He can reason with the big man if nobody else can.”
The rest was small talk. When I closed the phone, Judi asked, “Who’s Charlie?”
“Mom’s way of saying she’s not sure she might not have to shoot her brother. She used to be a cop, and for whatever reason, she got into the habit of naming her guns. The carry pieces, anyway.”
“So…Charlie is a gun?” That didn’t sound odd to my wife; ever since surviving the attack by her ex, armed with nothing but a plate of breakfast against his .41 Magnum, she’s had a close personal relationship with her own firearms.
“Not just a gun, honey.” I stretched, cracking my knuckles. “Charlie is the gun. Charlie is a .44 Magnum Super Redhawk revolver, stainless steel with a six inch barrel. Dirty Harry type of gun.”
“I’m pretty sure you know already,” I told her, “but yeah. It means Louella Jackson is not one hundred percent sure she won’t have to gun down her own sibling. Charlie is a bull elephant stopper, but he’s heavy as sin and big enough to drag down her shoulder bag pretty hard. She doesn’t pack Charlie unless she figures she may really need him.”
Neither of us had much to say for the rest of the drive home.