Here’s a story for all you Valentines. Holidays are never as relaxing as the brochures make out are they? In This twisted tale a Texas lawman and his wife find trouble in the City of Angels. Know what a double deuce is? You will do soon. As with other recent stories released here this tale will appear in my new short story collection, Twisted Fates: Twelve Tales of Murder and Redemption. Look out for it, it is coming real soon.
Hank Cleburne and his wife Irene were on holiday. Now Hank had never much cared for holidays, but that was okay. To him work was everything, which was just fine and dandy, because he found that his life long career at the Fort Worth Police Department provided the perfect excuse to avoid pretty much any kind of vacation a body could imagine, especially the ones that extended out side the state of Texas. His wife Irene always complained, of course. But Hank never paid her demands much mind anyway. How she loved to page her way through those glossy holiday brochures, full of cruise ships and palm trees, all the while complaining in that reedy monotone of hers about how her friends always got to go places that she never did. Hank always looked sad faced and sympathetic—told her how pressure of work just wouldn’t allow a getaway, not for the moment at least.
Problem was, now he was retired, excuses were much harder to come by. And now, Irene had the vacation bug it seemed like there was almost nowhere she didn’t want to—east coast, west coast even Europe and the Caribbean for Christ’s-sakes. Hank didn’t approve. He liked his home comforts—Texas weather, Texas food and Texas people. He liked his big widescreen television and on occasion, if he took a mind to it, he liked to stroll over nice and easy to Eagle Mountain Lake with a cooler full of brewskis so he could enjoy a good cigar and the measured company of the select band of individuals he called friends.
Irene, meanwhile—why, she had her interests too. There wasn’t a day went by she wasn’t meeting up with that jangling circle of gossips from the Weatherford Women’s group. She said the meet-ups gave her an “outlet”. What kind of outlet she was talking about Hank didn’t much care to ask. As far as he could figure that coven of gasbags just sat around all day, drinking gin and working out new schemes to cost him money.
Prior to retirement, the annual Law enforcement convention in Las Vegas Nevada was about as far as Hank was prepared to go. Vegas, was always a happy compromise. He could park Irene in front of a slot machine for a week while he played the tables and drank whiskey with the fellahs. Hell, those big bucks Casino boys sure knew how to take care of paying customers—if you played the tables good and long, they threw in a room upgrade and the all you can eat buffet as part of the deal. Hank liked Vegas; it made him happier than hell.
Problem was, Irene wasn’t the kind of woman who was going to swallow down that kind of treatment forever. She had highfalutin’ ambitions goddamnit. She wanted to go all kinds of places—all over the world, and now he didn’t have any good reason to say no. Irene was real insistent about vacationeering. This trip to California was a prime example. Hank hated California. There wasn’t a single thing to like in the whole goddamned state. Every which way you turned, there were whining liberals flaunting their louche healthy-living lifestyles—all that rat-cage vegan food, and jogging by the beach, it was enough to turn a man sick just the thought of it. Worse, those shrieking diet-fad wackos just couldn’t keep their misery to themselves, they always had to be broadcasting their crybaby bullshit to anyone who would listen; like that kind of suffering actually meant something.
Yes, Hank hated California, but that wasn’t the end to it, hell no. Irene had insisted they spend a whole week in Los Angeles—the Sodom and Gomorrah of the whole state. Hank hated Los Angeles, as far as he was concerned it was the degenerate capital of the Western hemisphere, everywhere you looked the evidence was plain to see, whack-job losers of every description thronging the streets, like an army of goddamn locusts.
Of course, Irene, being her contrary self, had insisted they get a hotel by the ocean. To Hank, this made no sense at all. Everyone who had even a grain of common sense knew that ocean front hotels were the noisiest most expensive hotels you could ever hope to find. Such places were always choc-full of annoying families with their brat kids and nosey-parker seniors who weren’t happy until they knew ever bit of you private business.
Course, he tried to put a brave face on things for Irene’s sake, but every minute of the day there was something else that grated on his ordered sensibilities, like nails scrawking down a chalkboard. It seemed like just about every waiter, busboy and barman in the whole damn joint had been bulk ordered from some swish–city central casting agency. The staff weren’t outright rude but they were pretty damn close, the whole damn crew of them looking down their snoots the whole time, like they were pandering to their social inferiors. Hank wasn’t happy not by a long shot, he was bored too, dragging around after Irene, the whole day long on her feeble minded sightseeing excursions. She wanted to see where the film stars lived, so they had to get on some pokey little tourist bus and trawl around in the heat of the day; staring at bunch of ugly looking rich people’s houses, while some phony-baloney tourist guide rattled off a list of film stars and celebrities who lived in the neighbor hood. Hank was skeptical—he hadn’t heard of half the folks the guide was talking about, but it didn’t matter anything worth a damn anyway, because they didn’t see a single famous person the whole time they were out. Irene was thrilled however, shrieking and waving her hands and using her little camera to take about a hundred thousand photographs of every single thing she saw.
Then they had to go to Beverly Hills, a place called Rodeo Drive. The name sounded hopeful, but when they got there, Hank wanted to throw up—nothing but a whole street of the swishest designer boutiques you ever saw—and everything at oil-baron prices. Hank overheard some prancing sap call the street roe-day-oh. The very sound made him want to toss up his breakfast. Of course, Irene insisted they go into every shop in the street then afterwards, she dragged him into some swank bar for a cocktail. His spirits were lifted momentarily, until he saw the price list. Irene ordered the most expensive drink she could find, judging from the price Hank figured they would wheel out a crate of tequila with a straw. Instead, the damn thing looked like a fruit basket had landed in a half gallon of O-J. Irene clapped her hands with delight. She prattled endlessly. He swallowed down three Whiskey sours, and prayed to God it would be enough to last until dinner.
The cab-ride back to their hotel in Santa Monica cost almost as much as the cocktails. By that time however Hank was past caring. He was beyond starving by now and the only thing he could think about was Texas barbeque. But Irene insisted that they eat at the Hotel restaurant, because it was “refined”. Hank sighed, but he was too tired to argue by that stage, so he retired muttering to the hotel bar for a liquid appetizer. All the stools at the bar were taken, so he found himself quiet corner with an oversized lounge chair and eased himself into it. Hank sat eyeballing the locals. He didn’t like what he saw. The place was like a goddamn hen house, full of squawking yuppies and their noxious spawn. Hank gulped whiskey and waited for Irene. Impatient, he looked at his watch. The damn woman could spend an entire age primping and beautifying her self.
Hank sat in the bar alone, for what seemed like an age. He drank seven and sevens, one after the other, until the whiskey warmed away the terror of his day. All he could think about was Texas barbecue served with heaping piles of fluffy mash. A slow smile began to edge across his face. Hank was a large man, characterized by his appetite. Some might call him oversized, but he didn’t see it that way. Eating was one of the simple pleasures in life he enjoyed the most. He sat in his oversized lounge chair and slapped his stomach. He was going to eat big at dinner to night—anything he wanted, all the trimmings, and dessert too—what the hell, maybe he would even have two deserts—the pocket sized portions they dished out in this dump were barely big enough to get your appetite whetted.
By the time Irene made her grand entrance, in a flamboyant gown he didn’t much care for, Hank was more than ready for dinner. They ate on the terrace with the pacific sunset as a slow burning backdrop. On the seafront walk below, people strolled by at a leisured pace, taking in the sea air and enjoying the warmth of the evening. Irene was full of mindless stories she had gleaned from her friends back home—to hear her talk it sounded like she had rung every single one of them. No wonder she had taken so long to get ready for dinner. Hank wasn’t listening, not really. He perused the menu and made grunting noises in place of conversation. As predicted, the menu choices were high-priced and unappealing. When the waiter came, Hank asked him for the biggest steak they had, along with generous sides of French-fries and onion rings. The waiter squirmed. He made notes in his tiny book. Hank figured he looked about ready to pass out with the strain of a customer ordering up some regular food. Instead, the waiter took Irene’s order then sloped off, a bitter look of defeat stretched tight across his face.
The food when it came was passable but no more. Hank had to order up ketchup and a second order of fries. The ketchup when it came was served up in a tiny silver jug that had a miniature dolls house spoon poking out the top. Hank ladled the whole jug over his fries, then asked the waiter to bring him out another. Irene pulled a face and told him he had the manners of a beast. Hank tore apart the onion rings with his fingers and looked at the rabbit-food salad she was chasing around her plate. How in the world an adult human being could gain sustenance from that kind of food he had no idea.
When it came time for desert, Irene decided she wanted a cappuccino, while Hank ordered up apple pie and ice cream. He had to eat it fast, as even before it came Irene was twittering about taking a walk along the beach. Hank rolled his eyes. He was no fan of sand and surf—he was way too old for that kind of thing. He gobbled down his apple pie and looked for the waiter so he could order up another, but Irene said they had to leave, so as they could make their walk before dusk. Hank wanted to argue, but he knew that would lead to trouble; so he reluctantly signed off on the meal and dragged after his wife as she skipped down the terrace steps towards the ocean.
Hank couldn’t figure the appeal. He had seen the ocean plenty of times and as far as he was concerned one stretch of water looked pretty much like another, unless there was good fishing to be had. Irene however, was obsessed. She had her camera out already and was taking a hundred different pictures of the melting sunset. Hank sniffed dismissively. What was the point? Those damn photographs were redundant the moment they were taken—whoever had the time to wade through a whole album full of sunset pictures?
As the sun sank across the ocean, Hank stood looking glum, his hands thrust deep inside his pockets. He watched as Irene danced around at the ocean edge, alternately snapping pictures, then skipping away from the advancing waves, with a series of excited shrieks. He warned she would get wet, but she didn’t listen, rather she encouraged him to come join her, to take his shoes off and dip his feet in the frothing surf. Hank gave her a look like she was crazy and stayed right where he was. There wasn’t no-way in hell he was going to get his toes all wet and sandy.
By the time Irene had finished dancing about in the surf, she was breathless with happiness. She held up her camera and told Hank he should move in close, so as she could hold the camera up and get a selfie picture as a memory of their holiday together. Hank shrunk back, told her not to be so stupid, but Irene was insistent, she grasped him around the waist and held the camera up to the sky, before pressing the shutter release. The camera flashed brighter than the sun. The glare took away Hank’s vision, replacing it with a hot melting blur. He cursed, rubbed his eyes.
“Can I take a picture of you?” The words came through the dusky blur. Hank squinted hard and saw a thin figure standing right by them. The damn kid had come out of nowhere, or so it seemed. He was about ready to tell him to take a hike, when Irene handed the kid her camera. Hank gritted his teeth, the woman was so trusting, she just didn’t think. Hank was about to give her a piece of his mind, but she was already hugging up close to him as the kid stared down the viewfinder and told them to smile. Hank narrowed his eyes, preparing himself for another blinding flash—but it never came. Hank opened his eyes. The kid was backing away from them, still holding the camera up, but Hank could tell the little creep had no intention of taking the picture.
“Hey, where you think you are going, you little punk?”
The kid was backing up faster now, but as soon as Hank fired the question, he turned tail and ran up the beach just as fast as he could. Hank reached in the back of his pants and pulled out his Kahr double deuce from out of his back-belt holster. He held the tiny gun in a tactical stance and let lose a warning shot, but the kid just kept on running. Hank cursed. That damn flash had messed up his vision something awful and now this punk street-mugger had jumped in to take advantage. Hank knew if he let this one ride he would never hear the end of it, Irene would blab the story to everyone in East Texas and he would be the laughing stock of the law-enforcement community—did you hear about the time the Chief went to California and got robbed by a teenage punk—?
Hank felt the rage and shame rise within him. The damn kid had robbed his wife and taken him for a sucker! Hank gritted his teeth. There was no way in hell he could let that ride. He heard Irene shouting, but the words were meaningless, they just washed around him. His pulse pounding Hank started to run, more of a waddle at first but his speed and momentum quickly began to build. As he ran he kept firing his gun. But the kid was making ground on him, heading away at a full sprint. It was all too much. Hank felt the horror and indignity of the entire day rising up within him. He tried to run faster, but his legs turned to mush as the big dinner he had just eaten shifted and a heavy tight band squeezed in against his chest. He wanted to cry out then, but the heavy tight feeling in his chest squeezed the breath out of him. He staggered, toppled, fell to his knees. The double deuce slipped out of his fingers and fell to the sand. He clutched his chest; he felt the pressure building, felt his eyes bugging out like they were on stalks. He sensed Irene walking up alongside him, felt her looking down at him with disapproval.
“Despite knowing my feelings on the subject, you brought a gun with you on holiday?” She bent down, picked up the double deuce and turned it over in her fingers.
“My medication. I need my medication.”
“Yes,” said Irene, “you do don’t you?” She pointed the gun at him. “But if I help you now, every vacation we take in the future is going to be just exactly the same as this one, and all those ones that have gone before.”
Hank opened his mouth to respond, but he couldn’t quite manage it, instead he fell forwards into the sand.
Irene slipped the double deuce inside her handbag and regarded him carefully for several moments. Then the people came, a few at first, then more and more, until quite a crowd had gathered.
“What happened?” asked someone.
“A mugging, some punk with a gun fired at the old man and he had a heart attack,” came the excited reply.
“Is he dead?”
“Take a look at him—Certainly seems that way to me. What do you think?”