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Less the Grace of a Swan...


10:05-10:20 a.m.

Webber drew his sidearm and knocked lightly on #222, the door to the kid’s room at the Diamond. As he suspected, there was no response from inside, but that didn’t necessarily mean the kid chained up in the barn was working alone. He let himself into the room with the kid’s key, and was immediately reminded how bright the Texas sunlight really was by comparison to a room with no lights on and curtains drawn. For a second or two, he couldn't see a damn thing beyond the closest edge of the bed. He took a deep breath and went in a little faster than usual, anyway. The open corridor facing the rear parking lot had been nearly empty, but he closed the door quickly anyway, crouching low on the other side of it just in case there was somebody else in here. Not that it would have mattered. Unless they were hiding in the bathroom, he would've been dead already.

For those few seconds, Webber could only rely on his ears, but first intuition suggested he might be safe. The room had that stillness.

He hit the light switch mounted by the doorway, then hustled to the bathroom door for confirmation. Empty. The contents of the main room were noted along the way: One suitcase, laying open on the fold-away bench beside a bureau with a mirror in it; one king-size bed either un-slept-in or made up by the housekeeper; a pair of used socks near the air conditioning unit, adjustable per the guest’s discretion. Charlie Bridgeworth obviously preferred it set on iceberg-cold.

The bathroom had also been cleaned. There was an electric shaver plugged into a charger on the bureau, towels on the floor--obviously, the maid hadn't been here.  Webber holstered his weapon and dropped to the floor to see what was under the bed. Nothing. Undeterred, he stood again and lifted the mattress. Holding it up in the air, looking down at what had been concealed beneath, Webber’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Innocently looking back up at him was a flat, square, brown paper bag, same proportions as the sleeve of a vinyl record, one of those which play at 45 RPM’s.

Once he looked inside the bag, Webber saw that it was, indeed, what it looked like … the solid-sheet sleeve of a vinyl record, apparently holding that very thing within. Webber slid it out and looked at the cover. There was no printing on the sleeve, no picture, no name. The record inside was another story. Webber parted the sleeve's open end and carefully peered inside, as though subtlety in this regard might protect him from the damaging effects of some tamper-proof mechanism on the inside blowing half his face off.

He wasn’t aware he was holding his breath until several seconds had passed, and nothing had happened.

Around the rim of the inset sticker was the title of a song called “Walk with Me,” which Webber didn’t recognize. No better did he fare with the “B” side track (something called “Atlantic Jack”), but a few of the clouds of confusion finally drifted away once he saw the performer's name was Pete London. The guy had been famous when he was alive, but even more so after he was dead; at least that was Webber's understanding of the guy’s career in a nutshell.

There was nothing in the sleeve besides the vinyl record. He slid the record back into place but didn’t replace the record beneath the mattress. He would take the suitcase with him, too, and sort through its contents back at the barn. Just to be thorough, he checked the room’s ventilation grill covers, in case something had been stashed there, but he found nothing except a fleet of dust bunnies. There was no time to check inside the pipes under the bathroom sink and he wasn’t sporting a pipe wrench even if he did have the time to check, unless …

He tried to turn the pipe with his hand and found it wouldn’t budge. Not surprising.

“Asshole,” he whispered to himself, standing in the middle of the room. This was a mistake. He was wrong, flat out. What was an information “mule” doing with a vinyl record album in a paper bag? Answer: the kid in the barn was not the mule.

Hastily, he gathered Charlie’s belongings and hurried to the peephole in the door. It seemed everything was clear. If not, whoever saw him exit the room wasn't likely to think there was anything weird about a guy walking out with a suitcase.

Webber donned his shades and opened the door, to find a cop waiting for him right around the corner, just outside of the range afforded by the peephole. Coming from the direction which would have made him invisible from the window, too, not that Webber had bothered to look, anyway.

He nodded amiably, even offering a slight smile. Calmly, he started to walk away in the opposite direction.

“’Scuse me, sir.”

Webber froze. His mind began to work on Plan B as he turned back slowly. “Yes?”

“Were you looking for me, earlier?”

Webber just looked at him.

“The proprietor told me you’re a lawman, looking for somebody? That right?”

Webber turned to face the cop fully. “Well, I found who I was looking for but I never talked to anybody, let alone told someone I was a policeman. Sorry.” He waited, fighting the urge to recommence walking away. Better to give the flat foot enough time to press the issue if he thought doing so was necessary. A certain amount of time.

Friendly enough, the cop asked him who he’d been looking for, and Webber prepared himself to draw if he had to. For now, he had to bluff for all he was worth, but no way was this cop going to interfere. “My son,” Webber replied. “He likes to break his mother’s heart and go hitch-hiking. I tell ya, I’m sick of chasing him down. I said this was the last time for the last time, but what can I say, his mama asks and I deliver.”

The cop—Mexican, Webber could tell now—nodded as if he understood the predicament Webber had laid out. Webber, now, turned to go.

“Just a second.”

Webber stopped, turning halfway. The kid’s suitcase was hanging from his left hand. The .38 was under his left armpit, quickly accessible with his right but still he waited, giving the cop every chance.

“How’d you find him?”

“My son?”

The cop didn’t nod this time, friendly or otherwise. He was just looking at Webber, waiting.

“I … saw him, leaving the motel. I guess he was heading up to the diner.” He kept moving, but slowly, as if amiably saying goodnight to friends prior to leaving a party. One time, he glanced forward, just to make sure he wasn’t going to trip over anything, and noticed the housekeeper (the same woman he’d watched cleaning rooms this morning) coming up the stairs he was headed toward. There was still a distance of fifty feet or so between Webber and the maid, but he glanced back one last time to see what the cop was doing. He did not like what he saw. The cop was reaching down toward his hip, and that was Webber’s cue to quit messing around.

Unfortunately, the housekeeper was an unavoidable witness to the act of Webber reaching into his jacket.

She yelled something in Spanish to the cop that Webber didn't catch, and then he saw the situation quickly escalate to a plateau he hadn’t visited in quite some time. This back road hick of a flat foot was about to draw on him. “Hold it there,” the cop yelled. In another half a second, the guy’s service revolver, probably never drawn once in his entire career, would be aimed at Webber’s back.

The cop yelled something in Spanish back to the housekeeper, again indecipherable, like they were trading some kind of verbal shorthand. Like a monkey-in-the-middle, Webber could only stand there, staring back at the Sheriff over his shoulder. The drop to the pavement wasn’t far. Fifteen feet? His hand came out of his jacket and braced on the railing, instead. Hoping he was still spry enough to pull this off, Webber jumped the railing before wasting another second.

To feel better later, Webber will tell himself the execution wasn’t bad; it was only the smallest miscalculation which resulted in the heel of his shoe catching the railing, thus throwing off his balance. Not just a little; a lot. He felt himself begin to twist in mid-air before he was even fully clear of the railing, and his thoughts fell to the belly flop on pavement the rest of his body was about to feel. That was before his left foot caught within the rails. The good news? He figured the pain of his ankle snapping like a twig would instantly cause him to pass out while hanging upside down above the parking lot, suspended by a leg so damaged running would now be out of the question even if he could get himself unstuck. He foresaw all of this during one terrible second while his foot, slipping between the rails on the side offering only open space in which to fall. As he felt his ankle slide down the twelve inch gap between the railing’s supports like a hot knife through smooth Parkay, there was nothing more to do than wait for the pain.

He did not expect the railing to fall with him, but because it did, the bones in his leg were spared from being cracked in half. Instead, he landed on the hood of a Ford Explorer parked outside of a room on the first floor. Ironically, it was the railing which shattered the windshield.

Auto-pilot, at that point, kicked in and Webber fought to jerk his leg free even before his double-vision could fully clear. Above him, the mirror-images of the cop simply glared down at him, squirming like a fish, from the opening in the rail.

Webber pulled his gun. At the same time, someone on the first floor, (voice of a male), yelled, “Hey! Get off my car!”

The cop yelled to Webber to “Put that away” just as the guy who owned the Explorer yelled, “Shit, don’t shoot,” and together, the stew of these exclamations was rendered onto Webber’s ears as nothing more than gibberish.

He wrenched his leg free finally from the railing, and rolled off the dented hood.

The kid’s suitcase had left his grasp during the impact of Webber’s fall, landing on the pavement near the passenger door of the Explorer. He scrambled to his feet and grabbed its handle, continuing on until he was all the way underneath the second floor walkway, out of shooting range of the cop. Webber took no time to consider that the man could have, but hadn't, shot him several times during his tussle with the uprooted railing. Ahead were the doors leading to the Starlight Lounge, and Webber assumed cutting through would take him out somewhere on the other side of the building. Once there, he could find a car, since he was leaving his rental behind.  

Later, when he was sitting in Quintana’s jail cell nursing the ugly bruise on his forehead, the reason for the abrupt conclusion to this escape attempt would best be described as dumb luck.

Had Webber's last run begun two seconds earlier, the guy coming out through the door at the same time Webber planned on going in would've been too far back from it to cause an obstruction. Instead, there was no time to avoid a collision that was hard enough to knock Webber backward off his feet. When he landed, his head hit hard enough on the pavement to cause an instant blackout.

According to the ID in the man's wallet, Quintana was finally introduced to his cop-impersonating jumper as Roy Arbogast from Galveston. A business card identified him as a financial advisor. There was, of course, no badge. Liberating his catch of the .38 in its holster, he turned over Mr. Arbogast and put the cuffs on him, then went to deal with the pissed off owner of the Explorer with a chunk of railing sticking out where the windshield had been.


Read Chapter 20, in which "the comedian" finds himself in an unfunny situation