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“I’m not busting my ass to convince you here, Marion. I’m just telling you so that when you toss my office and apartment and don’t find anything, you won’t be too surprised.”

“Maybe I get some friends, we toss you.”

“Your prerogative,” I said. “But you and your friends better be real good.”

“Why? You think you’re real good, Kenzie?”

I nodded. “At this, yeah, I’m real good. And so’s Angie, maybe better. And that guy on the roof, he’s better than both of us.”

“And he’s not too fond of black people,” Angie said.

“So, you two real proud of yourselves? Got yourselves a three-man KKK to keep the black man from your door?”

I said, “Oh, please, Socia, this ain’t color. You’re a fucking criminal. You’re a douche bag who uses kids to do his dirty work. Black or white, that wouldn’t change. And if you try and stop me on this, chances are you’ll succeed and I’ll die. But you won’t stop him.” Socia looked up at the roof. “He’ll come at you and your whole gang and take you all out and probably half the ‘Bury with you. He has about as much conscience as you and even less of a sense of public relations.”

Socia laughed. “You trying to scare me?”

I shook my head. “You don’t scare, Marion. People like you never do. But you do die. And if I die, so do you. Simple fact.”

He sat back on the bench again. Crowds passed us in a steady stream and Bubba’s target scope never moved. Socia tilted his head forward again. “All right, Kenzie. We’ll give you this round. But, either way, don’t matter what, you’ll pay up for Curtis.”

I shrugged, a heavy weight behind my eyes.

“You got twenty-four hours to find what we’re both looking for. If I find it before you, or you find it and don’t get it right over to me, your life won’t be worth piss.”

“Neither will yours.”

He stood up. “Lotta people tried to kill me over the years, white boy. No one figured a way to do it right yet. Either way, that’s the workings of the world.”

He walked off into the crowd, the big scope on the roof following him every inch of the way.

TWENTY-ONE

Bubba met us at the parking garage on Bromfield Street where Angie had parked the Vobeast. He was standing out front as we came up the street, chewing a wad of gum the size of a chicken, blowing bubbles big enough to drive passersby to the curb. He said, “Hey,” as we approached, then started on a fresh bubble. A verbal treasure trove, our Bubba.

“Hey,” Angie said in a deep baritone that matched his own. She slid her arm around his waist and squeezed. “My God, Bubba, is that a Russian assault rifle under your coat or are you just happy to see me?”

Bubba blushed and his chubby face bloomed for a moment like a cherubic schoolboy. A schoolboy who would put nitro in the toilets, but just the same. He said, “Get her off me, Kenzie.”

Angie raised her head and chewed on his earlobe. “Bubba, you’re all the man I need.”

He giggled. This psychopathic behemoth with a bad attitude and he giggled and pushed her away gently. He looked sort of like the Cowardly Lion when he did it, and I waited for him to say, “Aww g’won.” Instead he said, “Cut it out, you tramp,” and then checked to see if she was offended.

She caught the look of mortification on his face and it was her turn to giggle, hand over her mouth.

That Bubba. Such a lovable sociopath.

We headed up the garage ramp and I said, “Bubba, you going to be able to stick around for a while, keep a watch on us mere mortals?”

“Course I am, man. I’m there. The whole ride.” He reached out and punched my arm playfully. All the feeling drained out of it and it would be a good ten minutes, maybe more, before it came back. Still, it was better than an angry Bubba punch. I’d taken one of those a few years ago the only time I was ever stupid enough to argue with him and after I came to, it took a week for my head to stop echoing.

We reached the car and climbed in. As we were leaving the garage, Bubba said, “So, we gonna blow these homeboys back to Africa or what?”

Angie said, “Now, Bubba...”

I knew better than to try and enlighten Bubba on racial matters. I said, “I don’t think it’ll be necessary.”

He said, “Shit,” and sat back.

Poor Bubba. All dressed up and no one to shoot.

***

We dropped Bubba off at the playground near his home. He walked up the cement steps and trudged past the jungle gym, kicked a beer bottle out of his way, his shoulders hunched up to his ears. He kicked another bottle and it spun off a picnic table and shattered against the fence. Some of the punks hanging out by the picnic table looked away. No one wanted to catch his eye by mistake. He didn’t notice them though. He just kept walking to the fence at the back of the playground, found the jagged hole there and pushed through it. He walked through some weeds and disappeared around the corner of the abandoned factory where he lives.

He has a bare mattress tossed down in the middle of the third floor, a couple of cartons of Jack Daniels, and a stereo that plays nothing but his collection of Aerosmith recordings. The second floor is where he keeps his arsenal and two pit bulls named Belker and Sergeant Esterhaus. A Rottweiler named Steve prowls the front yard. If all this and Bubba isn’t enough to deter trespassers or government officials, almost every other floorboard in the place is booby-trapped. Only Bubba knows the right ones to step on. Some walking suicide once tried to get to Bubba’s stash by forcing him to lead him there at gunpoint. Every other month or so, for about a year after that, pieces of the guy were popping up all over the city.

Angie said, “If Bubba could have been born in another time, like say the Bronze Age, he would have been all set.”

I looked at the lonely hole in the fence. “Least he would have had someone who shares his sensibilities.”

We drove back to the office, and inside, began kicking around Jenna’s possible hiding places.

“The room above the bar?”

I shook my head. “If she had, she’d have never left them behind when we came and got her. Place didn’t look very burglar proof to me.”

She nodded. “OK. Where else?”

“Not the safety-deposit box. Devin wouldn’t He about that. Simone’s?”

She shook her head. “You’re the first person she showed anything to, right?”

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