Episode 2. The Disquieted
“Huske’s alive,” Cyrus said, the amber tip of his cigarette brightening as he inhaled.
Razer and Mace stared at him in disbelief. T-Bone was unstirred by the news.
“I thought you left Huske on some mountain to freeze to death,” Mace piped in, looking back at T-Bone, leaning against the wall of the cramped living room.
“We did. But he didn’t die.” Cyrus cursed under his breath. “I ran into him at a bar in Anchorage. I think he was waiting for T-Bone or me to show up.” He cursed again.
“How’d he know we’d be in Anchorage?” T-Bone asked, plopping into a dusty armchair in the corner of the room. He pulled a fork from under him and threw it across the room. It bounced into an open pizza box.
"No idea," snapped Cyrus. "Had to be luck. He's too stupid to figure anything out.”
“Can’t be that stupid, getting down that mountain after the way we left him," T-Bone said, irritated. He glanced at Cyrus. "I was hoping he was still alive. He’s tough as they come. You had no right to do that to him.”
Cyrus growled. “Shut up. I’m sick of talking about it.” His cigarette butt hung from the side of his mouth, bobbing as he spoke.
“Huske was good to you. Loyal to the bone.”
Cyrus snarled. “He had to go. He knew too much.”
T-Bone looked at Razer and Mace. “Better watch it, boys. Might be you next time.” He laughed.
A half-full glass of beer flew toward T-Bone, crashing on the floor, the beer spraying against the wall between them. T-Bone kept his eyes fixed on Cyrus’ face. Cyrus stared back.
“Did he see you?” T-Bone asked.
“I walked right up to him. Had a little chat.”
“How’d it go?”
Cyrus smirked. “How do you think it went? I’m here, ain’t I?”
“You figure he’ll come after us?”
"Yep. I figure he’ll try.” Cyrus sauntered over to the refrigerator and pulled out another beer. “I’m not worried about it.”
“Well, I am,” T-Bone retorted. “You should be too.”
Cyrus shook his fist at T-Bone. “I told you to shut up. I’m sick of talking about that gorilla.”
T-Bone’s body tensed with anger, but he didn't move. The last fight had been violent. On the mountain, within seconds of Huske’s unconsciousness, T-Bone lunged toward Cyrus and punched him in the jaw, sending Cyrus backward and down. Cyrus stumbled to his feet and barreled the weight of his body squarely into T-Bone's abdomen. T-Bone groaned from the force and fell with a loud thud, scrambled to his feet, and crouched in front of Cyrus, ready to attack. They flung themselves at each other, punching and pounding, entangled arms and legs, tumbling together to the ground. T-Bone freed himself of Cyrus’ grip, turned his body at an angle to Cyrus, and kicked him with full force in the stomach. Cyrus wailed in pain, crunched over with arms tightly wrapped around his chest. T-Bone stood over him, dizzy from blows to his head, blinking away a stream of blood from his forehead. Cyrus staggered to his feet, unbalanced and disoriented, and faced T-Bone. They stared at each other, grim and sinister. Then Cyrus grinned. He had a knife in his hand, his signature knife, always on him, always ready. He pointed it at -T-Bone.
Cyrus rubbed his jaw. “We have to get out of here now.”
T-Bone laughed. “You gonna kill me too now?” He stumbled over to Huske and checked his pulse. “He’s alive. I’m not leaving him here to die. Chopper’s got room for three.”
The muscles in Cyrus’ face contorted into a sneer. “You made a deal. We got to get off this mountain and load these packages on that truck by tomorrow morning, then drive to Anchorage and unload the cargo at that warehouse. That’s the plan. You know that.” His voice was even and calm.
“I’m not leaving Huske,” T-Bone said resolutely.
Cyrus drew his pistol and aimed it at T-Bone. “Yes, you are. He's good as dead already. He smiled through bloody, thin-slit lips and motioned with the pistol toward the helicopter. “Did you forget that I know how to fly? Get in, or I'll shoot you too and leave you here to die with him.”
T-Bone knew that Cyrus meant it. Didn’t matter that he was his son. He took a few steps toward the helicopter, then turned and walked within inches of Cyrus’ face.” I’ll keep my part of the deal,” T-Bone said, almost in a whisper. “I’ll get these packages onto the truck tomorrow and into that warehouse. Then I’m leaving for good this time. Get away from you and all this mess. I’m sick to my stomach at the sight of you.”
He got in the helicopter and started the engine. Cyrus clambered into the passenger seat. The main rotor blades whirled into motion, and the Engstrom F-28F lifted. T-Bone glanced back at Huske’s body lying in the snow, his arms and legs stretched out like a scarecrow.
The narrow, two-lane highway wound around dense forests of aspens, firs, and maples, a serpentine black ribbon of cracked asphalt, steep hills, and sharp turns. The ten-year-old Freightliner barreled along the road, slick from the afternoon rain. The two men in the truck hardly spoke over the blare of country songs on the radio. Cigarette stubs and crumpled wrappings spilled out the windows every few minutes.
They had covered over 1600 miles from Laredo, Texas but lost time after too many beers at a bar several towns back in southeast Idaho. They’d stumbled into the truck cab expecting to drive on but passed out for most of the afternoon. When the driver awakened, he had steering wheel marks on his forehead. His left arm, tattooed from fingertips to shoulder, tingled from leaning heavily against the door handle. Boise was another 100 miles. He drove for an hour before the passenger stirred.
“We gotta be there by 7:00.” The driver said. “We’ll make it but not by much. Shouldn’t have stopped at that place. Bad idea.”
"Yep," the other one said, turning his ball cap around on his head. “I got a headache.”
“Stop whining. Remember, if it's 7:01, we don't' get paid."
“Did you check the trailer when we was stopped?”
"Nope, though you was gunna.”
“I forgot. Next rest stop, we better look, make sure everything's good.”
The truck downshifted with a grunt and turned off the highway. The men climbed down from the cab carrying flashlights, walked to the back of the trailer, and unhinged the lock with a loud clang. They looked around anxiously on either side of the truck. They slid open the door and peered in. The beams of their flashlights fell on boxes piled along the entire length of the trailer. A narrow passageway separated the towers of boxes on each side of the truck. Late afternoon sunlight flooded the cabin interior. The driver hopped into the cabin and walked between the rows, flashing his light fretfully across the boxes. He jumped out, slammed the door shut, and locked it.
"Gives me the creeps," the driver muttered, "let's move." He lit a cigarette, took a long drag, and hopped back into the cab. The truck gained speed as it joined the stream of northbound traffic. The sun peeked above the horizon, flooding the western sky in rose and lavender hues.
“If we get stopped, those boxes don’t got nothin’ bad in ‘em, right? asked the passenger. “I mean, nothin get us in trouble for?"
“How do I know,” the driver answered, flipping his cigarette out his window.
"Hope it's just boxes of paper or something."
“None of our business. We just moving cargo.”
“So keep your mouth shut. We just take our money and leave, got it?”
The truck entered Boise and drove directly to the Mooseland Inn at 6:55 PM. Its gaudy, red billboard clashed with the muted greens and browns of the forest behind it. WELCOME TO THE MOOSELAND INN: WI-FI, AIR- CONDITIONING, TWO POOLS! FREE BREAKFAST FOR KIDS UNDER 5! The truck purred across to the far end of the lot and stopped.
“They ain’t here yet. Best to be early than late.”
Within seconds, a black pick-up rolled into the parking lot and parked near the entrance of the Inn. Cyrus was the first to get out from the back seat. He leaned against the truck's hood and lit a cigarette, throwing the match on the ground. He wore a cowboy hat and sunglasses. Seconds later, T-Bone, Razer, and Mace emerged from the car, ambled over to the truck, and gestured to the two men to get out.
“Everything all right? T-Bone inquired casually.
"Yes, sir," replied the driver. "No problems.” His voice was edged with anxiety.
"Yes, sir," answered the driver promptly, "we checked it a few hours ago.”
“Give me the keys.” The driver handed them to T-Bone and stepped back.
“Wait right here till we’ve checked things out. Then we’ll give you your money.”
The two men nodded nervously. Cyrus was still leaning on the truck, watching them with a bored expression. T-Bone unlocked the heavy steel back door of the trailer, looked inside for a few seconds, then slammed it shut. He nodded at Razer who swung into the driver's seat and drove the truck to the end of the parking lot onto a narrow dirt road. He walked back a few minutes later, and nodded at T-Bone and Cyrus.
T-Bone pulled an envelope out of his back pocket and handed it to the driver. “About a mile down the road is the bus station,” T-Bone said. “There’s a bus leaving for Boise at 9:30 tonight. Be on it. We’ll let you know when we need you again.” Without looking inside the envelope, the two men scurried toward the road.
Cyrus got into the pick-up and drove it down the dirt road where the Freightliner was parked. T-Bone, Razer, and Mace followed on foot. Cyrus opened the back of the pick-up, and the four men unloaded boxes from the pick-up into the Freightliner. “65 boxes. T-Bone, count them just to make sure.”
“I counted them as we loaded. 65, all there,” T-Bone replied.
“Razer,” demanded Cyrus, “get in there and count again.”
Minutes later, Razer emerged from the back of the truck. “Yep, 65 boxes.”
Cyrus locked the truck again and T-Bone drove the pick-up back to the parking lot of the Inn. They strode into the restaurant of the Mooseland Inn. Families gathered at dinner tables and couples crowded the bar. The smell of chlorine saturated the air, and children's voices ran roughshod over other sounds in the room. Dishes clanged and water glasses spilled on the floor. They sat at a table toward the back of the room, ordered beers, and studied the menus. Mace lifted his beer mug in a toast, and they clinked their glasses together. The handoff had gone well. No problems so far. Check the truck one more time, then relax for the night.
"Got something to tell you,” said Cyrus. He leaned back in his chair, reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out a packet of cigarettes.
T-Bone glared at him. “You can’t smoke in here. They’ll throw us out.”
Cyrus frowned and put the packet back in his pocket. He leaned into the table, his eyes narrowing. “Put down your menu, Mace,” he snapped, “and listen up.”
T-Bone grinned at Cyrus as he picked up his menu and held it in front of his face. Cyrus reached over and slammed the menu down on the table. “I should have left you dead on that mountain.”
T-Bone steadied his eyes on Cyrus and grinned again. “Spit it out, will ya? I’m hungry.”
"We'll eat first," Cyrus conceded. "I'll tell you later when I have a cigarette and a drink.”
Mace looked at Razer, then at Cyrus. Wide, bewildered eyes, confused. "Does that mean I can look at the menu now?"
They lit up as they walked out of the restaurant. They were alone, the night closing in despite the bright lights of the Inn shining behind them. Razer shivered, and T-Bone hummed a country song, low and deep from the bottom of his throat.
“We’re working with violent men. More dangerous, high up the chain in drug cartels,” Cyrus said casually, leaning against the hood of their car. Razer and Mace stood close on either side of Cyrus and bobbed their heads forward to look at each other with blank expressions. T-Bone stood directly in front of Cyrus, unmoved by the statement, looking him straight in the eyes. Cyrus, head down as he spoke, glanced at T-Bone, then looked away. Silence. “I figured we were ready for this deal and, so far, so good. But no room for mistakes. We’ll end up dead.”
Mace, the youngest and strongest of the four men, coughed, stumbled forward and started pacing in front of the car. Rapid, shallow breaths, folding and unfolding his arms in frantic motion. “We gonna die because of this?” he shouted. “We gonna die?” His hands clamped over the sides of his head. Deep sighs between short breaths.
Cyrus and Razer started toward Mace, but Cyrus got there first and whacked Mace on the side of the head with his fist. Mace yelped. Razer pushed Cyrus away and stood next to his brother. “It’s OK, Mace, calm down. Nothin’ bad will happen.” Razer looked at Cyrus. “Right, Pa?”
“Why you asking him,” interrupted T-Bone, “he doesn’t know.” Disgust seeped into his tone and he sneered at Cyrus. “He just sees big money and doesn’t care about the risk. Doesn’t care about any of us.”
“Shut up, T-Bone,” Cyrus shouted. He looked at Mace and Razer. “There’s nothing to worry about. These are businessmen. They don't just go around killing people." He lit a cigarette, inhaled slowly, exhaled a thin stream of smoke, and watched it dissipate into the night air. “We’re operating in a whole new league now. No room for mistakes. That’s all I’m saying.”
T-Bone snickered. “You’re lying, old man. You’re worried we’ll botch this thing and all end up dead.”
Cyrus shook his head. “You’re wrong. Everything is set. Tomorrow we head to Seattle. It's about 500 miles, so an easy drive. We meet our contacts, transfer the boxes from the truck to their warehouse at the Port of Seattle, collect our money, and walk away as rich men." He scrutinized T-Bone's face. "Got it?" Then he looked at Razer and Mace. "Got it?” He flicked his cigarette butt and ground it out with his shoe. “Now,” he said, “I’m going to bed.”
What time do we meet them at the Port? T-Bone liked details.
"5:00 PM. No later. In front of Warehouse 17. Two men will meet us. That's all I know."
Pastel colors of dawn filtered through the dusty curtains of the Inn as Cyrus, blurry-eyed and stiff from sleep, poured a cup of coffee from the coffee maker. It was caked with old grounds, and the carafe had a smoky brown color and strips of black coffee-syrup adhered to its sides. No matter, he thought. This was the perfect place for the handoff, a cheap, out-of-the-way family motel. Everything was going smoothly. They had plenty of time to get to Seattle and meet their contacts. Transfer the boxes into the warehouse and collect $2 million. He had told his sons that it was they’d get $1 million to be split among the four of them. A handy $250,000 each, plus the additional $1 million just for himself. They didn’t need to know everything about the arrangement. His only worry was T-Bone. Still riled up about Huske, picking fights. Only one smart enough to guess that he was cheating them. He sat on the edge of the bed, sipping his coffee, thinking about T-Bone. He'll finish the job, he reasoned. T-Bone was reliable and kept his promises. Besides, he wants the money. He'll calm down. He always does.
Cyrus showered and stared at his naked body in the cracked mirror over the bathroom sink. Getting flabby, he noticed, face showing my age. Slicked back strands of gray hair. Thinner beard. It depressed him to look at himself. Age had softened the rugged features of his face --- the strong chin sagging, his puffy eyes dull and dry. Play-dough skin. Sinewed, swollen veins overtaking his nose like a weed. Drinking and smoking extracting their due. He sighs and puffs his cigarette.
Suddenly, his body jolts back from the sink. In the mirror’s reflection stands Heron, dressed in her ruby-red dress, her hair undone and wild, her eyes in quiet regard of all of him. The dress she wore the first time he set eyes on her. Cyrus rubs his eyes and blinks. She is still there ---motionless, hushed, looking at him. Her lips, red as the ruby of her dress, are slightly parted, in want of a smile. He turns to embrace her. A stab of pain seizes his chest, and he falls, his head slamming down on the chipped, mustard-yellow linoleum.
Knocks on the door, a voice. “Pa, you OK in there?” Rapid-fire knocks. “Pa?” On the outskirts of his hearing, Cyrus deciphers Razer’s voice. He lifts his head and peers at the puddle of blood. Two fingers touch the gash on his forehead. Mumbled jibberish instead of words. His head drops back into the pool of blood. Quiet again, I'll see Heron. Intoxicating beauty. And she was mine. She still is, she always will be mine. I made sure of that.
A stranger is holding the back of his head. “Lay still,” the man says, “I’m bandaging your head.” Cyrus closes his eyes.
T-Bone is at the wheel, his elbow against the open window. Razer is singing to a Willy Nelson tune on the radio. Mace is in the back of the cab with Cyrus. "I'm hungry. When are we stopping?" He guzzles his stale Coke with a thick grizzly arm.
Cyrus is stretched across the other side of the cab, flat on his back. Along his spine, he feels the cadence of the truck’s tires on the paved freeway. He lifts his head and sees Mace picking his nose. Cyrus sighs and lowers his head again. How did a son of mine get that stupid, he wonders? His head hurts, and even his bones are tired. He falls asleep.
“Is this the warehouse where stuff is going?” T-Bone asks the herculean thug. Three men stood behind him with their hands clasped in front of them.
“Yeah. But first, show me what’s inside the truck.”
T-Bone nodded, and they walked to the truck together. The man ambled over to the front of the truck and suddenly drew back with surprise. “Who’s that?” he exclaimed.
T-Bone laughed. "Relax. It's my father, Cyrus.”
“So that’s the famous Cyrus, huh? Why’s he sleeping?
“He’s just resting.”
“Well, wake him up. I need to talk to him, not you.”
T-Bone shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He leaned into the cab and shook Cyrus’ foot. “Wake up, Cyrus.”
Cyrus slowly sat and slid toward the door. He climbed out and looked at the man.
“What’s your name?” Cyrus asked. He’s as big as Huske, he thought.
“Doesn’t matter. Coder sent me. That’s all you need to know.” The man surveyed Cyrus’ face. “What happened to your head?”
Cyrus touched the bandage wrapped around the top of his head. “I fell.”
The man walked along the side of the truck, Cyrus trailing behind him and T-Bone a few steps back, taking in their conversation. “How many kilos total?” the man asked as he stood in front of the truck's latched door.
“7350 kilos. The Laredo run brought 5400 kilos, and we added 1950 more. There's one kilo in each bag, 30 bags per box, 180 boxes from Laredo, and 65 boxes from us." Cyrus paused, then added, "7350 kilos. That was our deal."
“Yep." The man gestured to the other men, and they opened the door of the Freightliner and started counting and inspecting the boxes. At random, they tore open a box and counted the bags. It was nearly an hour before they stepped down from the back of the truck and fastened the lock.
The man approached Cyrus. “Looks like everything’s in order,” he said, “and I figure you ain’t dumb enough to cheat Coder.”
“It’s all there,” Cyrus said abruptly. He checked his watch impatiently. "Let's empty the truck. Is this the warehouse? He pointed to a building with #17 over the door.
The man nodded and signaled the other two to start unloading the truck. T-Bone, Razer, and Mace joined them. The man handed Cyrus a large manila envelope. “You already got the first $500K; here’s $500K more. Two more installments of $500K, the first in a week, the second one week later.”
Cyrus nodded. Pick-ups are at the Anchorage Lodge lobby? 4:00 PM both times?
Cyrus tipped his thick-rimmed cowboy hat, smiled, and walked toward his sons. T-Bone was leaning against the truck, watching Cyrus. Razer and Mace were shadow-boxing. Cyrus pressed the folder of money between his palms. Wish I could keep it all, he thought.
They climbed into the truck. T-Bone driving again, Cyrus in front with him. Razer and Mace were in the back.
‘Looks like you got our money,” chirped Mace, elated.
“This here’s the second $500K. You already got your first half when we started. This here's your second $125K. Pays you all off in full." Let's get back to our hotel room, get some drinks, and we'll divvy out the money. Celebrate a little, then back to Anchorage in the morning.
"We're rich!" yelled Razer from the back. He and Mace started clapping, high-fiving and shoving each other. T-Bone said nothing, his eyes steady on the road.
Dinner at one of Seattle’s finest, then wandering from bar to bar until nearly 1:00 AM. Morning's light felt like a hatchet to the center of Cyrus' head. He stumbled out of bed, pushing off the tangled and sweaty bed sheets, and headed to the lobby to meet the others. 8:00 AM sharp. Cyrus was strict about timeliness. He exited the elevator and spotted Razer and Mace at the buffet table, drinking coffee and loading their plates. They glanced furtively at Cyrus as he approached.
“Your brother’s late,” remarked Cyrus, checking his watch. It was 8:02 AM. Razer, go call T-Bone’s room. Flight’s in two hours.”
The two brothers looked at each other. Mace coughed and shuffled his feet, a sure sign that something was wrong. Razer faced his father. "He's gone, Pa. Desk said he checked out about 4:00 AM."