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TREAD

Clayton Lindemuth

Hardgrave Enterprises

SAINT CHARLES, MISSOURI


Copyright © 2014 by Clayton Lindemuth.


Published by Hardgrave Enterprises and Clayton Lindemuth at Smashwords.


Distributed by Smashwords


Clayton Lindemuth asserts his moral rights as author of Tread.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at claylindemuth@gmail.com.


Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.


Book Layout ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.com


TREAD /Clayton Lindemuth -- Smashwords Edition


Table of Contents


Also By Clayton Lindemuth

A Free Copy of Solomon Bull

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Acknowledgements

From the Author

About the Author

Another Arizona Thriller… FREE

Solomon Bull Sample

Eleven Days to Race Day

Nine Days to Race Day



Also by Clayton Lindemuth


Solomon Bull

Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her

My Brother’s Destroyer

Cold Quiet Country



DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF SOLOMON BULL


For Julie, my wife, whose unending support and belief have made everything worthwhile in my life possible.


My country’s made me its enemy.


It’s formal, now.


―Nat Cinder


Chapter One

Flagstaff at sundown. I drink a quarter of my flask of Jack in two gulps. There’s a crew of secessionists in the cabin behind me, bitching about the same old. It’s endless, and that’s why it’s got to end.

I’m on the porch wondering when I should tell the boys to get lost. They got guns but won’t use them. They got the same reasons to be pissed as I do. A tax code seventeen thousand pages long, for shit’s sake. But they’d rather suck beer and fart than defend themselves against the almighty Machine. And what am I doing? Sitting here drinking whiskey and thinking about a dead woman’s feet.

One more gulp of Jack and I'm going in. The only one that has any stones is George Murray—the bastard’s lugging around a set of cannonballs. The IRS closed his bait shop and he's stockpiling black powder. He's raising a fuss and I want to hear it.

“We ought to firebomb ‘em,” Murray says. “Hit the IRS, courthouses, Fish and Game. Then they’ll know what we’re about.”

I stand at the door beside a floodlight swarming with moths. Murray and Charlie Yellow Horse, a white man with a sixteenth of Apache blood on his mother’s side, are nose to nose.

“Fucking moron,” Yellow Horse says.

“Talk! Talk! Let’s blow some shit up!”

It’s about damn time they show a little spirit. So far all the boys have done is snivel. They come from all over. One smokes Dominican cigars and the rest chew Copenhagen, but when it comes to bearing arms, they each take their panties off one leg at a time and when their asses are bare, they bend over.

Except Murray. Praise Jesus.

The fire lights surrounding trees in an orange glow. I get the feeling we’re not alone. Might be a chipmunk in the leaves, but this kind of group attracts attention. All we do is talk, but it’s the wrong kind of talk.

Tree branches break the outline of the moon and the breeze carries a storm. The sky flashes but no clap follows. Electric is in the air.

Murray talks and my head snaps back to the show.

“I’m sick of being a goddamn government mule,” he says. “Any of you ever have the IRS chain your shop shut? Pay this, pay that! I’m sick of it!”

“Why don’t you do something about it, shithead?”

“Well, well. The Indian who dyes his hair black is talking tough. Why don’t you reach down and see if those wampum nuts of yours are big enough to join me?”

“Behold the modern White Man,” Yellow Horse says, and jabs Murray’s shoulder with his closed fist. “Talk.”

Cowboy boots shuffle on the plank floor as fat men slide back in a hurry. Yellow Horse shoves Murray through the screen door. Murray stutter steps past me and falls off the porch. He’s a heavy man, but Yellow Horse has thrown him. He rolls and leaps to his feet.

Yellow Horse steps outside and they square off in front of the fire.

Someone cries, “Whooo-hooo!”

Yellow Horse is quiet now. He wishes he was a real Apache starving on lichens and grass, killing men with knives, flitting across the rocks like a ghost. Instead, he’s a grad student at ASU writing papers about the evils of assimilation, wearing a leather necklace with a silver arrow as the jewel.

Murray puffs his chest and throws his shoulders back, fists high, arms parallel, like an Irish pugilist. And I know Yellow Horse is praying to Red Cloud to make him a man, just one damn time.

Murray has the pounds, but Yellow Horse is sinewy and lithe, his stance like a coiled spring. His hair catches firelight and the illusion is strong. He circles Murray.

Yellow Horse lunges. They lock arms on shoulders and dance around the fire.

“Gittim Murray!” Merle cries.

In a minute they’re gasping tired and I imagine this fight will reach the back-slapping, good-buddy stage before anyone bleeds. Sure enough, Murray steps back and drops his arms.

“You don’t know when to stop running your dick-licker,” Yellow Horse says, and drives his fist into Murray’s jaw. “Maybe if I bust it, they’ll wire it shut.” He throws another and the sound is wet with blood.

Murray touches his mouth and his hand goes to his chest like a man patting a wallet he can’t feel.

Yellow Horse sends a flicker of a look to me. Our eyes lock.

Yeah, I saw it.

I watch the woods again; hair stands on my neck. You get a sixth sense as a Ranger; I have a seventh.

Yellow Horse charges and grabs Murray by his arms and jerks him forward. Murray falls and throws him with a practiced move—the kind you see on TV. They roll and Yellow Horse is back on top with his knees pinning Murray. Yellow Horse punches him below the right eye. Murray bucks, but can’t marshal the strength to throw him. Yellow Horse thumps him again.

Maybe there’s hope for this group.

I take a couple slugs of Jack. I’ll need a refill soon. I’ve felt like I’ve been in a river for the last fifteen years, sucked along to a destiny that includes this kind of action. Maybe these men have something to do with my end, after all.

Yellow Horse sits on Murray’s chest and gives him a sudden jerk like a dog snapping a rabbit’s back. Murray’s shirt rips open and a flat black rectangle is taped to his chest.

Yellow Horse tears it off and tosses it to me.

“Gee, Murray. This ain’t too good,” I say.

“It’s a voice recorder,” Yellow Horse says.

“You didn’t get this gizmo at Radio Shack, didja?” I say.

Murray coughs bloody spit and hocks it to the side. “Just trying to protect myself.”

“How’s that?”

“I was afraid y’all’d say I was instigating shit here.”

Yellow Horse pops Murray in the jaw. His knuckles glow red when he pulls back and wails one more time.

“You was the one talkin about blowin shit up. Wouldn’t that be entrapment? Murray?”

Yellow Horse looks at me and his eyes pass to the group behind me.

“You’re under arrest for conspiracy and sedition,” Murray says.

“Sedition? They didn’t even get the Rosenbergs for sedition,” Yellow Horse says. He grins; he’s holding a law enforcement officer’s life in his hands. He’s lost himself and in this moment has a chance to measure against an old standard.

The group has ten members. We haven’t named ourselves a militia or printed some redneck banner to fly on our Jeeps. We haven’t voted for leaders, though they all know I’m the one with the dough. None has ever taken action on behalf of the others, save springing for a kegger. And yet the central government—the Machine, as Yellow Horse calls it—finds us dangerous.

It’s the worst confirmation. My country’s made me its enemy.

It’s formal, now.

Yellow Horse watches my face as fire reflects little orange dots in his eyes. His jaw is frozen: a white man transforms himself into the savage he always wanted to be. He’s fluttering on the cusp of metamorphosis, and just when I think his courage will fail him and leave him with nothing but a good story, his hand falls to his side.



I jump. “No!”

With blurring speed Yellow Horse unsheathes a boot knife.

His arm whips forward and he slices Murray’s throat. Murray writhes and gargles blood; Yellow Horse flips the blade in his hand and drives it into Murray’s forehead. He stands and turns to the rest of us, trembling with courage.

“Jesus,” I say, though the Almighty had nothing to do with it. One of the boys behind me throws up on a lounge chair.

Murray is dead but shaking. I smell piss and blood and remember Gretchen, my wife, suspended above me in a flipped Ford Bronco.

The smell just about breaks me and I turn aside.

Yellow Horse watches me. I finish my flask and wipe my mouth with my sleeve.

“Well,” I say, “they’re on us. This group is done.”



By dusk the temperature had fallen from mid-afternoon highs of one hundred-twenty to a reasonable hundred-five. The crowd cheered Governor Virginia Rentier as she cut the yellow sash. It fluttered to the ground and she stepped to the surveyor’s mark, cognizant as kiln-baked clay pressed pebbles against her soles.

Mick Patterson, Chief of Staff, placed the handle of a round nosed shovel in her palm. The crowd stilled.

“Here?” She indicated a stake with a pink ribbon. A bronze man with day laborer shoulders and a black five o’clock shadow nodded.

Holding the shovel vertical, she dropped it. The earth rejected the point without a chip.

“Eh, Meez Governor—you wan mi hombre bust ee dirt?” A different man from the crowd spoke. He wore ragged flannel and his back was stooped. Even in the purple street-lamp glow, his face was crinkled like the scorched clay underfoot. Rentier followed his eyes, trod a few steps, and returned holding a pickaxe level at her hips.

The second man nodded at her. The first grinned.

She swung the pick overhead; her left hand slid along the shaft and she whipped her back and buttocks. Her heel broke. A small cloud of dust popped free as the metal shank plunged to the rounded swell of the handle. Vibration stung her hand.

Holding the man’s eyes, she lifted with her knees and pried loose a heavy chunk of baked clay.

The stooped man smiled wide and his compadres cheered.

Votes.

Rentier held their eyes, pair by pair, until she owned them. Finally her gaze settled on Dick Clyman. The Republican Minority Leader of the Arizona House stood with the others, his pale Anglo face distinct from the Hispanic throng, his mouth lopsided in a Dick Cheney grin.

This wasn’t his kind of event, and Rentier was suddenly aware that she stood lopsided.

Her fingers closed toward an old burn scar high on her right cheekbone. She swept the willful hand through her hair, waved, and kicked off both shoes. The group erupted. Photo bulbs flashed white under the streetlamp glow. She steeled herself to step across the sharp pebbles.

“I—”

A frenzy of cheers silenced her.

She passed the pick to Patterson, took the shovel and tossed aside a spade of loose dirt. Camera flashes sparkled like a Flagstaff snowstorm.

“I am honored,” she said, and waited for their whooping and clapping to subside. “I am honored to break ground for the Arizona Center for Undocumented Americans. Across the street, the Chavez Center stands as a proud reminder of the Hispanic community’s contributions to Arizona. Now the ACUA will join the fight to expand the civil rights of the Undocumented, hear their voice, and amplify their voice.”

More cheers.

“The Arizona legislature will soon pass the Vallejo Bill, and I will sign it. I will take your fight all the way to the White House. May God, Arizona, and the United States bless you!”

She stepped away. Patterson and a contingent of state police security men shepherded her toward the limousine.

“Governor!”

It was Clyman.

Chief of Staff Patterson stepped forward to deflect the minority leader. A state trooper opened the limousine door and Rentier slipped to the seat. She watched Patterson and Clyman between elbows and torsos that gathered at the vehicle until Patterson leaned close to the window, his blank eyes searching the darkened glass. She lowered it.

“Clyman wants a meeting tomorrow morning,” Patterson said. “It’s urgent.”

“I can’t. You know that. I’m with the Girl Scouts tomorrow morning.”

“Governor, you need to see him.”

Patterson’s Marine Corps bearing, like his flat top haircut and Hitler mustache, touched a nerve. His cropped grey hair often made her think of the day her father burned her—it was one of the reasons she kept Patterson around.

She touched her cheek. Plastic surgery, concealer, foundation, powder, and still her fingertips found the shiny-smooth cigarette scar.

“Mick, it just struck me you look like Adolph Hitler. Shave your moustache.”

“What?”

“Tell Clyman to get in. He can ride back to the tower with me.”

Patterson’s jaw clenched.

“What?” she said.

He turned away.

A moment later Clyman was beside her. His arms poked from his barrel chest like legs on a blood-gorged tick. He’d escaped a childhood in Jerome, Arizona with his closed mind intact—before gays, bikers, and painters made the mountain copper town chic. He was a lineman on the Sun Devil football team in the seventies, then matriculated to a Catholic law school in Pittsburgh. Now he was a fat Republican who panted after climbing into a car seat.

He was too close. He regarded her with wide-set eyes that lorded a secret.

She drew her knees together. “I hope this isn’t about Vallejo.”

His lips thinned and the right side curved upward. She’d seen that look years ago, when he defeated a minimum wage increase she’d asked a junior representative to submit on the House floor. The same leer graced the front page of the Phoenix Times when he lambasted her for visiting Mexican President Vicente Fox. Behind those pinprick eyes, his brain was as tight as a sparrow’s ass. Why did conservatives elect such ugly men?

Clyman shifted. “I have information that might help you avoid a public relations problem. Thought we might come to an understanding.”

She caught the driver’s glance in the rearview mirror. “Mitch, I’m sorry. Will you raise the divider?”

The window climbed and nestled to the roof.

“What are we talking about, Dick?”

“Veto Vallejo.”

“No way. That bill has a long history, and I’m going to be the governor that signs it.”

“It’ll kill the state.”

“Only a Republican would say more power in the hands of the people is bad. Or are they the wrong kind of people?”

“Why make it good for illegals to be here? Why make it easy?”

“We’ve disenfranchised these people while living off their sweat. They pay the same taxes you do. Some fight your party’s wars. You don’t have anything that can make me rethink this, Dick.”

“Who franchised them in the first place? They broke our laws coming here, and aren’t entitled to a damn thing, Virginia. They don’t have a stake.”

The limousine swept through a turn and she cast her hand to the seat. He looked at it too long.

“We’ve argued this to death in the papers. Talk radio. The House floor. Why stake a proslavery position? Twenty-two states in the past had no citizenship test to vote. The country did fine.”

“That so? I have a different story. My mother—seventy-five years old—comes home from the grocery store. Finds two spics busted in. They knock her around, tie her so tight her hands turn blue and rob her blind. When the police catch the perps, not only are they illegals—they’ve been caught and released twice before! Like goddam fish!”

“I didn’t know about your mother.”

“She had gangrene. Doctors had to amputate her hand to save her life.”

Rentier drank water. Stared forward, then at Clyman.

Clyman’s face changed. “We can be friends.”

She waited. The car turned to a highway onramp and accelerated.

“There’s photos floating around,” he said, “and I hear someone blackmailed you. You know, compromising photos. Queer stuff. If word gets to other Republicans—hell, Democrats—they’ll cry for impeachment. That’s the last thing I want. I think you and I can work together. Am I communicating with you?”

Rentier studied his face. Clyman smiled.

The Secretary of State—who became governor if Rentier became incapacitated—was a Republican. Clyman didn’t want her removed because he thought he could control her.

“And you can make this problem go away?”

“No; I don’t have the photos. I’m not even sure they exist. Let’s say if you and I were allies on Vallejo, you might assume my help in this matter.”

It was her fault, in a way. Heat flushed her face; her scar pulsed.

“Dick?”

“Yeah?”

“Put those pictures in your personal collection, right next to the Vaseline. It’s the best use you’re going to get out of them.”

The limo stopped at the glass doors to the entrance to the Executive Tower. She rapped the glass divider and it lowered. “Park in the garage and call a cab for the Minority Leader to get back to the Capitol.”



Yellow Horse drives a pick into the ground. We’ve been up all night and I’m running on fumes. We took Forest Road Forty-Four deep into the woods outside Flagstaff; I looked at his gas gauge to make sure we’d make it out. We came to a place so arbitrary and lonely it seemed fit for a clandestine burial.

The pick wedges between a rock and a root. “Son of a bitch,” Yellow Horse says. He pries it loose.

The body rests under a tarp on the ground, one leg splayed and visible in the moonlight.

I didn’t used to be like this. Before Gretchen died I managed a section at Honeywell. Had an MBA and a secretary named Cyndi.

I left for work at four a.m. and always kissed Gretchen’s forehead. That last morning she had her leg kicked out from under the blanket. I passed around the bed in the dark and her toes caught my suit pant. I rubbed her sole and along her outer arch. Her feet always hurt, maybe from the weight of being pregnant. Her foot was soft as her inner thigh. She died that night.

I kick Murray’s leg under the tarp.

“You could’ve let him go,” I say.

“And let the Machine grind me to dust? Inject my veins with poison?”

“They don’t do that for talk.”

“It was the wrong kind of talk.”

I drink from my flask. “Keep digging. It’ll be dawn soon.”



Murray’s blood has curdled in the bed of the truck; the clots glisten like cherry pie filling flung with a spatula and worked with an oil rag.

“No problem,” Yellow Horse says.

“They have chemicals that make blood show up.”

“Not after I take a torch to it.”

“You might try Clorox.”

He shakes his head and his eyes light up; they don’t fit the face of a man that just murdered another. “This is a 1972 F-150,” he says. “It gets burned.”

“I figure you have a couple of hours. I’m surprised they weren’t on us when you stuck him.”

“It was a recorder, not a transmitter,” he says.

Yellow Horse grabs Murray’s arms and I get his feet. His ass drags as we work him to the pit. The body’s getting stiff. We drop him in.

“You better pull that blade out,” I say.

“Why?”

I can’t think of a reason but it doesn’t seem right to send him off with a knife in his forehead, so I jump in the hole and yank at it. His jaw falls open and each pull pumps dead air through his lungs. It stinks. I climb out.

Yellow Horse shovels dirt on Murray. I suppose he thinks he’ll be able to tuck away the killing in a corner of his mind. Or maybe he thinks he’ll revel in it. But human beings aren’t built that way. He’ll be running from the law and himself the rest of his life.

We cover the grave with dirt and pine needles and soggy oak leaves, then get in the truck and head back to Flag. Last night’s storm fizzled at the damp wind stage. Wet air collects on the windshield.

I look at Yellow Horse and wonder if he’s plotting his next moves, maybe running to Mexico this afternoon.

I’m going to sleep. No one but Yellow Horse knows me as Nat Cinder. The secessionists think I’m Tom Davis. When I get out of this truck, I disappear.

“You can drop me off here.” I say. Yellow Horse pulls to the curb two blocks from the house where I left my bike—where I plan to spend the morning in the arms of a skinny blonde named Liz. She lives with Rosie, a big-boned woman liable to quote the Constitution the way some women quote psalms. I hear “we the people in order to form” and I get a chub like to club a seal. Liz and Rosie are rednecks, bar women prone to throaty laughter; they view tattoos as the same kind of vanity as big earrings and big hair. They embrace all three.

I stand beside the truck with the door open. The sun’s been up for hours but the air is brisk and damp.

“You’d best get out of town,” I say. “See what shakes out.”

“There were a lot of witnesses,” Yellow Horse says. “Eight, counting you.”

“And half of them fairly new to the group. We’re gonna have to start over. One person at a time. Work in cells.”

I expect him to turn away when I open the door, but his eyes are narrow. “You gonna be alright?”

“What do you mean, Charlie?”

“Last night. I don’t want to have to worry about you.”

“Wait a good while until you get in touch,” I say.

He pulls away and I walk toward the house. Under leafy maples, shade outweighs light and brief splashes of sun warm my skin. I need sleep and I think of Liz. It ain’t love but she beats Miss Palm and her sisters. I see her like I remember her, legs spread, and just as I can damn near smell her musk, tires squeal and two brown sedans swerve front and back of Yellow Horse’s truck. They skid to a stop. Four guys in suits jump out waving guns. They wear sunglasses in the shade and they converge on the driver’s side door.

Yellow Horse bolts from the passenger side and sprints across a lawn to the woods behind. The men fan out and chase. After a few seconds the trees hide them, but their shouts mark their paths.

There’s no one on the street either direction; no parked cars. I trot across a lawn and behind a house. A Rottweiler lunges but a chain jerks him short. I jump a half-rotted fence that almost collapses and cross a lawn to a parallel avenue. FBI men bellow in the distance. Yellow Horse used to be a distance runner and I have the feeling these patent-leather chumps will be sucking wind inside a mile.

Liz and Rosie live in a small house with sooty white siding and a rusted bike collection under the eaves. I approach from the back yard and push my Triumph from the porch. It’s a coldblooded machine and I choke it. While the engine steadies out, I rap the back door.

Liz stands in her underwear and a shrunken T-shirt with a mug of coffee. Her legs bear the sheen of a fresh shave and I take a third of a second to debate taking her back to the room.

“You better clear out,” I say. “FBI was layin’ for Yellow Horse. They’ll be checking houses if they don’t get him. They were outside, so they know this place.”

“You takin’ off without a goodbye kiss, Tom?” Liz says. Rosie watches from the kitchen window, her face illegible.

I give Liz a peck on the lips and she grabs my mess. She smells of cigarettes.

“Get out,” I tell her, and drink from the mug.

“How much time do we have?”

“Not much.”

“Well stick around. Can’t I ride with you?”

“No.”

She slams the door and the pane rattles.

I told her my name was Tom Davis when I met her at a bar a couple years ago. Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson Davis. I’d been scouting Flagstaff to get an understanding of grassroots thinking on secession. I had the time and the bucks, and figured other folks saw the same freedom meltdown. After Ruby Ridge and Waco, you don’t let government know who you are or what you’re doing. I set up a fake name and did a few credit card transactions to support it. I have two more identities in Phoenix.

One more gulp of coffee and I climb on the bike—a Triumph Rocket. It has a car-sized engine but no cup holder. I take a final drink and toss the mug to the lawn, then cut a mark across the grass and over the sidewalk.

At the junction with Maryland Street a black sedan pulls to the corner on my right. A suit watches me from inside. I drive straight and the car turns left. He stays in the open, an FBI harassment technique. It’s also what disinterested strangers do, but I know better.

I take Madison and then Santa Clara; the car falls back but remains in sight. He weaves. There’s no traffic so I figure he’s fiddling with the radio or a cell phone. Checking his email. One more turn and I’m on the road to Interstate 17. I’ve made a loop and I’m parallel to where Yellow Horse left his truck and sprinted into the woods. If it was me, I’d be sticking to the flat ground and making distance. He’s covered a mile and a half, if I’m right.

Soon the houses thin to one every hundred yards and the macadam weaves between a dirt bank on the left and a hollow on the right. Tall trees choke the undergrowth with permanent shade. It’s like driving through the dank air of a tunnel.

Yellow Horse runs like a raped ape to my right. The air whips his hair and I recall last night, when the illusion was strong. He’s in his element. If he lives only ten minutes, he’ll be glad these were his last. I’m not quite so exhilarated.

Three men follow at a distance; their white shirts flash through the trees. I bump my horn and Yellow Horse angles to the bike. The sedan behind me accelerates.

We meet fifty yards ahead. I skid on the pavement and Yellow Horse leaps aboard, rocking my balance. I pop the clutch and the bike rights itself. The engine screams like an dago tenor with a wine bottle rammed up his ass. I yell, “hang on!” too late and Yellow Horse claws at my side to keep from falling off the back. The bike explodes. The rear tire chirps; the front tire lifts. It’s as close to instant travel as man can come. I push it hard—the car is right on us and there’s a hand with a gun sticking out the window.

We bank right and left and when we’ve gone a mile I swerve on a left fork and press the bike again. The wind has fists and bugs feel like sling-shot rocks. Yellow Horse doesn’t have sunglasses and he buries his face to my back. I come to another turn and take it. We’ve lost our pursuers and I skid to a stop.

“If I was you I’d visit Mexico,” I say.

“If I was you I’d get rid of that yellow flag.”

I look at the back of the bike where I’ve mounted a small yellow pennant—the Gadsden flag—with a coiled rattlesnake and the words, DON’T TREAD ON ME.

Yellow Horse slaps my back and disappears into the woods.

I figure every federal dick in Flagstaff and Phoenix is scouring the land looking for a Triumph Rocket. They have cars, motorcycles, and thanks to Janet Reno, Abrams tanks. They probably have helicopters after us by now and I won’t be shocked if the NSA offers up a satellite.

The sum of the facts is I’m not taking Interstate Seventeen back to Phoenix. I wouldn’t make it to Mund’s Park.

I head down 89A through Oak Creek Canyon toward Sedona and mix with tourist traffic. The famous red rocks stand bright in the sky; emerald grass ripples as cars pass. The double lane winds along the creek. I’m behind a string of cars a mile long—people that saw the Grand Canyon yesterday and will visit the O.K. Corral tomorrow—when a helicopter flying NAP of the earth pounds overhead. I hunker down without thinking and when I look up I’m under heavy tree cover.

The bird continues along the road and by the time it banks right it looks more like a dragonfly than a chopper. I can’t see any markings. Mountain-sized boulders block the left, Oak Creek the right. Every turn dead-ends in fifty feet. I go straight but watch the sky.

One of the witnesses called the FBI. Like Yellow Horse said, Murray wore a recorder, not a transmitter. Unless it had some kind of GPS, which I wouldn’t put past the wily sonsabitches, there’s no other way they know Murray’s dead.

I could turn on Yellow Horse and save my ass, but what kind of choice is that? When I break things down to black and white, the grays are obvious for what they are.

Two miles before Sedona, on the right, a stone wall gaps at a driveway with a twelve-foot gate. The top of the worked iron rolls into an eagle crest, wings spread as if braking for prey; outstretched talons hanging ready to rend whoever passes unauthorized through the gates.

A hundred yards distant, at the top of a knoll, a log cabin with a wraparound deck peeks through the trees. It dates to 1891, built by one of the first settlers in Sedona. A later owner planted an orchard on the field to the right, and between us, Oak Creek gurgles over rocks.

The governor of Arizona, Virginia Rentier, escapes the desert here. She could be inside right now, cutting a deal with another political cutthroat or scoring a business transaction. A security element patrols the cabin whether she’s there or not.

I’ve mused about this ranch.

In Sedona, tourists fight for parking spaces and wander with cameras and plastic shopping bags, searching for meaning at souvenir shops, tarot readers, psychic healers, and food service joints. Want a genuine Navajo trinket? Here, from China with love. Mexican blankets and Baja jackets, five bucks each, also from China. Who knew China was so racially diverse?

Nobel Prize-winning economists tell us the global economy is a positive thing; it isn’t a zero sum game. But deep inside, I can’t help but think there’s something good about being able to make our own trinkets.

Tree cover thins after Sedona. I follow 89 to Cottonwood and cut across to Jerome. The old copper town tugs at my heart; climbing the switchbacks I pass eight biker bars. The air chills and my hands grow stiff. I stop at the rest area at the crest and take a leak, then replace the lost fluid with fresh Jack Daniel’s from my flask. Back in the midst of trees, I park the bike in the sun and think. I’d be smart to hole up. I’m confident they don’t have my name, but my bike marks a trail like fresh blood on snow.

I have a place near my trailer on the outskirts of Phoenix. Maybe I’ll make it.

Chapter Two

Washington Street ended with a round, thermometer-bulb turn a few yards from the double glass doors of the Executive Tower. Six square columns, three on the left, three on the right, spanned from the ground to the top, reinforcing the image of executive strength and balance. A phalanx of administrative buildings shot horizontally from the base and a dozen acres of parking lot and lawn made the tower a bastion of executive authority. In the morning sun the building seemed to strut with purpose.

On the ninth floor, the highest, Virginia Rentier stood at the window and turned as her assistant, Jennifer Sprague, crossed the hall. Rentier’s gaze landed on the athletic fold of her knee.

“I need my notes for the press brief—and will you get Patterson?”

Rentier looked out the window. Men and women scurried from their cars to the buildings that constituted the executive branch of Arizona government. It looked immense and noble, all these people working to manifest better lives for others—but their number was paltry in comparison to those they supported with their efforts.

Mick Patterson rapped the door and whirled around the corner.

“Why can’t we get a vote on Vallejo?” she said.

Patterson stood at the center of Rentier’s office. “I talked to the Speaker this morning. She’s one vote short and still talking incentives—”

“Fuck carrots. Tell her to use a stick. And sit down. We’ll be a minute. Ask her what pressure the Executive Branch can bring—if she doesn’t have enough of her own muscle.”

Patterson nodded. “You don’t mind stepping on toes?”

“How else will she move her feet?”

“I’m worried about the Senate.”

“I have friends in the Senate. It’s the House that’s a bunch of cannibals.” She paused, sat in the chair beside Patterson. “You know this bill is important to me. Not just to the state, and eventually the country, but to me.”

“Maybe we should leak something to the Times. ‘Governor works behind scenes…’”

“Who’s the brunette who did the exposé on gun violence? Give me a few minutes alone with her.”

Patterson stood.

“Sit.”

He slid into the chair. “About Clyman? That was unusual.”

Rentier looked across her desk and gazed at the horizon. The sun inched higher and grey morning haze resolved into smog.

Her past had twice intersected Clyman’s. She met him at Senator Brownward’s Arizona presidential campaign headquarters in 1988. Fresh out of law school, the bell curve of her sexual dynamism had just lifted from the plane. Clyman had a wife and a daughter, a reporter Virginia’s age. Clyman made a pass at her but his daughter stole her breath.

That didn’t work out at all…

His daughter’s death catalyzed him. Clyman quit his public defender’s job, switched to the Republican Party and slicked his way into a chief of staff position for Senator Willard. Within three years Clyman won election to the Arizona House, and spent two terms accumulating power as an aw-shucks bullshitter. When his party lost the majority, Clyman emerged as the strongest Republican standing.

Clyman had learned the game in Democrat trenches but had spent most of his political career with Republican devils, and that made him dangerous. He wouldn’t risk concrete knowledge of the photos. His chief of staff, Preston Delp, had to be the starting point.

“This problem doesn’t get solved without trust.” Rentier faced Patterson. “At the beginning of my term I had an affair. Someone took photos. I received an anonymous call, probably from a person working for TetraChemical, demanding I veto a pollution bill. I was three weeks in office and I didn’t have any machinery in place, so to speak.”

“You vetoed that bill.”

“I did.”

“Once you give a bear the honey, he’s going to come back for more.”

“There’s no honey here, and don’t presume to lecture. As I said, I didn’t have assets that could take care of the problem.”

“Yeah, but that was then. Clyman’s a puss.”

“You’d be surprised. He demands I veto the Vallejo bill. If we were allies, I could expect his help regarding the photos.”

“Did he say he had them?”

“He’s too coy for that. It has to be his Chief, Preston Delp.”

Patterson inhaled deep and released. “You know, there are only two ways of dealing with this. Stay bought… or…”

“I know. I’m interested in ‘or.’”

Patterson nodded. “I’ll talk to Buffa.” He lifted a folder from the floor. “May I place this on your desk?”

Rentier nodded.

Patterson landed the file and flipped the cover, exposing a photograph. “The inmate I mentioned.”

Rentier studied a photo of a man with RGT tattooed on his forehead. His teeth were half-rotted black and he’d pulled his hair tight against his scalp in a ponytail. His nose was narrow and hooked; cheekbones rode high above a whiskered basin that extended to his jawbone. His narrow, cunning eyes reached across twenty years to warn, don’t fuck with me.

She placed the photo on her desk and rifled through the folder.

“Rudy Ging Theen,” she read. “All three names—just wonderful. Out of a hundred and fourteen death row inmates, you pick a guy who actually sounds like an assassin.”

“That’s an old photo. Check the bottom of the file.”

A different man looked back at her: hair trimmed and combed, pulled forward to hide the tattoo. Clean-shaved face and an engaging smile. A crucifix dangled from a thin gold chain around his neck. Comic energy illuminated his eyes, like he and the cameraman had just shared a wholesome joke about apple pie or a sinner standing at the Pearly Gates.

“This is from the back cover of his last book for teen boys. This is what God did for him.” Patterson said.

“What’s the evidence against him? Details… quickly—I hear Girl Scouts gathering outside the door.”

“Charged in 1984. One man dead in a gas station holdup. Theen matched the description given by a pair of witnesses. The jury deliberated forty-five minutes.”

“Murder weapon?”

“Snub thirty-eight, found in his apartment.”

“Motive?”

“The prosecution said drug money, but there’s more to it than that.”

“That’s good enough. Any other crimes in his background?”

Patterson hesitated. “Possession of cocaine.”

“The cowboy-hat-and-blue-jeans-demographic won’t understand a pardon.”

“Of course they will. For the left, government rehabilitation was the first lucky break the poor bastard caught. For the right, the very hand of God saved him. He leads bible study in prison. He writes books for teens about living clean lives. He even had his teeth done. He can change hearts and minds.”

“I’m on the fence.”

“He’ll be handy in a pinch.”

“We have Buffa.”

“Buffa betrayed you. Theen won’t. Before he wrote boys’ books, he wrote a memoir. He took responsibility, but it wasn’t him that needed the drugs. It was his mother. A woman that burned him with cigarettes and put clothes pins on his testicles. Yet when she was dying of cancer and no prescription could ease the pain, he jacked a gas station to get her some pot. Things went sour—but his motive is telling.”

“She burned him? And he loved her?”

“He’s like a savant.”

Patterson waved the first photo of Theen. “Can this guy get a good paying job? Can this guy buy expensive painkillers? In the book, he said his mother gave him life and he decided before the crime that he would do whatever it took to save her.”

“Whatever it takes.”

“The prosecution painted him a drug-crazed addict and that went against him in sentencing. The truth would have gotten him a life sentence, but he never mentioned his mother. He could be loyal to you, either way.”

“What if the Attorney General’s office signed off on it?”

“Why would Lynwood insulate you?”

“Just ask her to do so. Tell her it’s of utmost importance and I know she’ll back me. And we’re going to need help with the Times. They run that picture, we’re in trouble. Dammit.”

“What?”

“I don’t have hiking boots."



Joey Buffa drummed his fingers on the dash, thumping dust into the air. The parking meter clicked down to five minutes. He reached for another quarter.

He sat in a black Jeep Grand Cherokee by Washington Street, outside Congress with the engine running. Even with the a/c, it was fuckin hot. Phoenix hot.

He got the call an hour ago to tail Preston Delp. His client believed Delp possessed information that could be detrimental to a very important somebody. Buffa assumed that somebody was the governor, and he had an idea the ‘information’ was carnal photos. More instructions would follow. For now, his job was to keep track of Delp.

Was Delp the same lard ass he was four years ago?

Johnny La Rue sat beside him. Like Buffa, Johnny came from Philly. La Rue fidgeted with his hands a lot and sometimes had a tick. He reminded Buffa of the kid on the movie the Matrix, the one called Mouse.

“So how did you get out from under the Boss?” La Rue said.

“That’s a story.” Buffa took a swig of Coke and remembered the Boss, Dante De Luca.

Buffa did freelance security work. His card read “Security Consultant.” His enterprise flourished with the patronage of a few key clients—one of them, the Arizona state government—although his meetings with the governor’s chief of operations were never recorded in any official itinerary, and he never received a check bearing the governor’s seal. He didn’t take checks.

It started with handyman jobs. Fresh from Philly, his voice had enough olive oil to make a neophyte lawbreaker feel safe about hiring him. He kept his rates low and the business rolled in. Some guy knock-up your baby girl? Need his leg broke? An easy five hundred. Photos of a hotel love affair? A grand, flat rate. A burial in the Sonora Desert? Fifteen grand, plus a risk premium. Simple. He ran a referral business and protected himself with a dead drop system for instructions and payments, like the CIA. Over the years, like any client-focused entrepreneur, he earned repeat customers.

He didn’t choose to work for the state; they chose him. Eventually he realized his unique appeal to members of government: sometimes politicians, for the good of the citizens they served, needed to augment their legitimate power.

“Simple. I told him I wasn’t fuckin workin for him any more.”

“Yeah, but there’s a story, right?”

“Yeah. There’s a story.” His eyes never left the window. “The Boss had a runner—a new kid named Rummans. The kid stole from him and you don’t steal from Dante De Luca. He told me to bust him up good, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“So I busted him up. Next thing I know, I’m in front of a judge. Gimme a smoke.”

La Rue lit one and offered it. Buffa grabbed the deck of Marlboros from his hand and took the lucky one La Rue had flipped in the middle. “Like I’m gonna take a smoke you dick-lipped. Gimme your lighter.

“All right. I’m in the courtroom and they wheel in this fifty-two inch, the prosecutor screwing around with leads and shit, then Rummans appears on the screen. He’s lying there in this full-body cast, and some guy’s off-camera asking questions. ‘What’s your name? Why you in the hospital? How did that happen?’ And then, of course, ‘what do you want to say to Joey Buffa?’

“’He can see me, right?’ Rummans says. He looks straight down the barrel of the camera. I stare back, because the judge watches me.

“’Joey Buffa,’ Rummans says. ‘Look at me. The doctor says I have eight broken bones. I don’t know you. I didn’t do nothing to you.’

“‘Joey,’ he says, ‘you ever gotta piss through a tube? Have some guy nurse wipe your ass?’”

“I try to look sympathetic but really I don’t give a fuck—yeah? You don’t hold out on Dante De Luca, and Rummans had to learn.

“’Are you hearing me, Joey Buffa?’ Rummans says. ‘I’m here for three months, but by the time you get out of jail, I’ll have had two and a half years at the gym, and the pistol range, and the library.’

“They always like to make threats. But the library threw me.

“‘I’m going to fuck you up,’ he says.

“’Mr. Rummans—I want you to watch your language,’ the judge says.

“’I’m going to hunt you down and when I find you, I’m going to—‘”

“’Mr. Rummans I’m warning you—’ the Judge says.

“cut you, prod you, kick you, castrate you—”

“I say, ‘Hey!’ and the bailiff finally unplugs the television.”

Buffa sat straight and nodded. A man in a suit had emerged from 1900 Washington. He looked like a heavy guy who had some success eating salads, but his face was flabby like a Saint Bernard. Preston Delp. “That’s our man.”

“So what happened? He was gunnin’ for you?”

“Just a minute.” Buffa watched Delp descend the steps. He looked back and forth until his eyes landed on the Jeep. His step froze in mid air and he scurried toward the parking garage.

“He’s getting away,” La Rue said.

“That garage only has one exit,” Buffa said. “Right there.”

“So Rummans was giving you hell…”

“The people in court don’t say anything for a minute, then they chuckle. It’s like when your eighty-year-old aunt farts and don’t know it. You laugh, but it ain’t like one of the boys did it.”

“You got hard time, right?” La Rue said.

“Three years. No parole. And the whole time I’m in the joint, I think, he had to say that about the library. I couldn’t remember the last time I was in a library. I lay in bed some nights wondering what kind of crazy shit he was learning. I couldn’t even make up stuff to be afraid of, because I didn’t know what to make up, and that really got me.

“Then I thought I was in a library too. I mean, all these fellas around me weren’t innocent—not all of them. I started asking how they got busted. I learned some moves. Most guys got caught because they made complicated plans. It’s a simple world.

“Made me wonder how the hell I got caught. One thing I learned, always expect the double-cross. Loyalty ain’t a two-way street. That’s why I keep things simple. Three years is a long time, and it didn’t go fast. But when I got out, I looked back at the twenty-foot walls with barbed wire, and at the rifle towers, and thought they did a hell of a job keeping Rummans out.

“Did you think he’d come for you?”

“Shit. I turned around; he was across the street, leaning against a phone pole. The day I got out! Had one heel hiked up like he was James Dean. He was a big son of a bitch, too. You can put on a lot of muscle pumping iron for three years. He waved at me and smiled real big.”

A white Toyota Camry pulled from the garage and drove past the Jeep.

“Just sit like you’re supposed to be here. Don’t look at him, dumb shit.”

Buffa eased out of the parking space and when the Toyota turned onto Third, Buffa gunned it through a u-turn. He sighted the Toyota a quarter mile ahead and followed.

“So he’s there on the street.” La Rue said. “What happened?”

“So I say to him there on the street, ‘You look as dumb as the last time I beat your ass.’

“’I’m gonna fuck you up, Buffa,’ he says, cheerful as hell. He stays there leaning on the pole. I keep walking.

“I decide to keep my eyes open, and make sure this guy doesn’t catch me by surprise. The fellas I worked with before prison hooked me up with a place to live, and the Boss spotted me some dough. He said I should get on with my life, put prison behind me. Forget anything ever happened.

“So I went back to doing, you know, what I did.” Buffa shrugged. “That’s it.”

“What did you do?” La Rue said.

“You know. The docks.”

“Right.”

Buffa took the left turn lane to Interstate 10, three cars behind the white Camry.

La Rue lit another smoke from the cherry of the old, and tossed the butt out the window. He offered the new smoke to Buffa.

“Then one day the cops took me to the station. Rummans was dead. They played that good cop bad cop shit for a while, and showed me a book.”

“What kinda book?”

“I dunno. It had a cartoon picture of a helicopter on it. I said I never saw it and they let me go.”

“He was dead?”

“Would ya shut the fuck up and let me tell the story?



When I pull into my driveway the temperature is a hundred and fifteen. My arms are burned and my hair has enough knots I think I’ll cut it off.

I make a pot of coffee and sit. I want to sleep but my mind floats in a zone. I sit at my computer and close my eyes; an endless dotted highway line flashes one yellow strip after another, zipping at me from the darkness like bolts of laser light.

I’ve been here before, this generic road: a flash of headlights from the right, a crumpled Ford Bronco. Gretchen’s side is smashed; the vehicle has rolled and my unconscious face is on pavement and broken glass; a smoking bread truck sits cattywampus in the intersection.

I’m seat-belted in and hear muffled excitement around me. I don’t know how long I’ve been out. My pregnant wife is suspended by a seatbelt and hangs limp above me. My face is moist and as the fog recedes I realize the blood on my cheek is hers.

I’m home. I snap my head to clear the vision.

Paramedics estimated they took twenty-five minutes to reach us. She was gone before I woke. Police never found the other driver, but they didn’t look too hard. They had a husband who smelled of booze blowing .028.

This scene is an eight hundred pound gorilla that rips down the door, storms inside, and stays as long as he damn well wants.

I slam my fist on the desk and particleboard falls to my feet; the mouse jumps and my computer monitor comes to life, reminding me of a druglike remedy.

Stocks like Google and Apple, move fast. They’re liquid as water and fun to trade. Their options more so. When I started, the bane of trading, bad news, handed me my ass. CEO Busted for Nailing his Teenage Daughter kind of news. The kind that makes a stock drop thirty percent in three minutes. Lose your ass like that and you find a better way: Index options. With the S&P 500, it would take a dozen CEO’s banging kids to drop the market. Not total protection, but as good as it gets.

I expose myself to risk that comes in bushel baskets. I don’t shave profits by hedging. I stand on a ledge with my dick hanging out while the market throws knives. If the market burps, I shit ten grand.

This is what it takes to forget Gretchen.

I open a trading platform and load four charts of the S&P 500. My pulse quickens. We’re down three points on the day, trading at the bottom of a range. The glowing green and red tick marks flash with blinding speed and near-random variability. I’m flat right now, all cash, looking for an easy read—a pattern that tells me what the index will do, and how to know I’m wrong.

On my one-minute chart, the last tick bounces from an up-sloping trend. My Fibonacci fan predicts support. The four-period moving average on my three-minute chart is a hair away from crossing over the nine-period simple. I queue an order for a hundred calls. I’ve got a hundred and thirty grand in one hand, and a pair of dice in the other.

My fingers work a calculator, converting a percentage move into prices. If the index hits my number, I’m in.

I wait.

The S&P moves and I trigger the send button. I’m in. Eight times out of ten, the move will last long enough to make a profit. Four times out of ten, I’ll make five grand or more.

The move fizzles and a news alert pops up: Fed Chairman Bernanke has opened his mouth. No matter what he says, the market sells. I exit the position at a four hundred and ninety dollar loss. I’m flat again, and wait to see if I get a move from the last top. I do. I buy a hundred puts and wait.

I’m whipsawed. Bernanke, apparently, believes inflation is at bay. The market reverses, and I’ve made a mistake I swore I’d never make again. I sell puts to close and do the math. I’m down three grand. Normally I’d decrease my position size and keep trading. The numbers always work out. But today the market holds nothing for me. I’m beat.

My eyes drift across my office. Books, a bright yellow Gadsden flag behind the ancient Zenith floor model television with original remote, a flintlock rifle on wall mounts. All of it reminds me of who I am.

Outside at my bike, I remove the plate that supports my Flagstaff identity and replace it with Nat Cinder’s license. I’m me again, for better or worse. I remove the registration and driver’s license that match the other plate from my wallet.

I straddle the bike and back it out. My arms are red with sun and the sudden heat makes them burn. In five minutes I’m on the Carefree Highway, and in ten, I turn south on Cave Creek.

The Desert Broom branch of the Phoenix library was built in 1998. The abominably modern architecture has won many awards. The façade is rusted metal and orange wrought iron poles hang like stalactites from the ceiling, stopping just overhead, looking like a prison gate about to slam to the ground as soon as you cross below.

Inside, I pull a familiar volume from the shelf, “Abraham Lincoln: The Death of Federalism.” I sneak a gurgle of Gentleman Jack and drop the flask into my cargo pocket, and find a reading chair by the window overlooking Cave Creek Road.

I’ve been here every day this week.

I’m at my edge.


Chapter Three

Buffa’s hands were cold but his back sweated against the leather seat. Buffa and La Rue followed Delp onto Interstate 17.

“North,” Buffa said. “He’s a long way from home.”

“Does he know he’s got a tail?”

“Maybe. Who gives a shit?”

They were silent.

“So how did Rummans die? You whacked him, right?”

“I told the detective the truth, mostly. When I got outta the joint, I went back to work at the docks, but I went back to the other work, too. Fresh out, a fella’s got to go easy, and the Boss understood. He said he’d start me off with a job at a warehouse.

“I asked what kind of job, and he shrugged. ‘Just bust up a meeting. Simple.’ I like simple, and De Luca knew it. Rummans showed up outside my place that night, sitting in a Pontiac. I was on my way to the warehouse. I saw him before he saw me, and I went right up to his car.

“’I got a problem with this,’ I said.

“’I got your problem right here.’ He grabbed his nuts.

“I leaned up to his window and made a grab for him. He flinched back. Next thing he hit the gas and took off up to the corner. ’I wanted to see you one more time,’ he said. ‘A tough guy.’ He squealed tires and was gone.

“Before I got in my car, I checked underneath. Maybe he’d learned how to build a bomb; I didn’t know.”

Delp exited the freeway on Deer Valley and drove east. Buffa turned and let the gap between them expand. “Delp knows we’re on him,” Buffa said. The road passed a small airport and after crossing Seventh Street, entered a wasteland bordered on the left by an aqueduct behind a chain-link fence, and on the right, shrubs and trash.

“Did he blow you up?”

“Do I look blowed up?

“Boss used to have us sort goods at an empty grocery warehouse. Cops raided it and he found another place. Driving there, I thought about all the things that didn’t add up. The library comment three years before; the warehouse job being so vague, how the Boss had said to use the west entrance.”

Delp turned to Cave Creek road, northbound lane. “Where the fuck is he going?” Buffa said.

“This, ah, this goes to Cave Creek,” La Rue said.

“You all right? You look jittery.”

“No. No. Fine. So what happened? You kill Rummans?”

“I parked at the north side of the building and walked east, and found Rummans’ Pontiac behind some dumpsters.

“Inside, a row of offices was on the south wall. The truck bays were on the west, and the entrance I was supposed to use was between them. The meeting was through that door and to the right. I jimmied a window on the east side and eased myself in, then made my way up between a couple storage racks. Light came from the truck bays and a flashlight lit the office. There was a blowup black and white mug of me in the office on an easel. I could see it from thirty feet. Maybe they were sitting down, out of view, but the place was dead quiet. A meeting would make some noise, at least. I stood still and listened.

“Ahead, in another aisle, I saw a man’s outline against a truck bay window. I waited and the movement didn’t happen again. I crept through the pallet spaces to the other side and lined him up with the light from the office window. I recognized Rummans’ shape and listened for other movement, other breathing. He was alone, watching the west entrance. Held a pistol in his hand.”

Delp’s turn signal flashed. The road was a split four lane, and he crossed traffic at a light. Buffa stopped behind him.

To the right a Fry’s grocery store served as the hub of a new shopping plaza. Buffa looked at the hot wavering air over the hood of his Cherokee. Must be a hundred ten.


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