"Where's the plane coming in from?"
"They make out like it's a direct connection from Colombia. But I think it's coming out of Florida. There're a lot of abandoned housing developments in the Everglades. So they use these paved roads out in the saw grass for airstrips. What the Miami crowd doesn't need or doesn't want, because maybe the prices are going down too fast, they lay it off on these guys."
I drove along a two-track dirt road through the pasture to the front of the hangar. Through the opening in the door I could see the canary-yellow wings of a crop-duster biplane and rows of industrial metal drums and bright silver liquid propane tanks. I cut the ignition. In the rearview mirror I saw the white limo stop behind me. No one got out.
"What is this place?" I said.
"The guy who owns it is a local peckerwood who runs a farm-supply business or something. Look, Dave, when we go in there, I talk and you just hand them the money."
"What about them back there?" I nodded toward the limo.
"They're paid to watch my back, not my business dealings. Come on, let's go."
We walked through the wet grass and drizzling rain and stepped inside the dryness of the hangar. It was immaculately clean; there was another biplane, a red one, at the far end, and a small green John Deere tractor next to it, but there was not a spot of oil or a tread mark from a tire on the concrete floor slab. By a windowed side office were a picnic table and benches that had probably been moved in from outside, because there were pieces of grass on the bottoms of the legs. A fat man in rumpled brown slacks and a T-shirt was turning and flattening hamburger patties on a hibachi with a spatula. The smoke drifted off in the draft created by an opening in the far door that gave onto the mowed landing strip. Three men sat at the table. Two of them had their backs to us, and the third man was telling them a story, gesturing with his hands, and he did not look at us. On one end of the table was a washtub filled with crushed ice and green bottles of Heineken.
We walked a few feet forward and then stopped. To my right, stacked in a row along the front sliding door, were more metal drums, each of them containing dry chemical fertilizers, and at the end of the drums was a fingernail-polish-red Coca-Cola machine, the old kind with a big, thick lead-colored handle. Tony's eyes were riveted on the picnic table.
I looked at him.
"It's the wrong guys," he whispered.
"The black guys aren't here. The black guys are always in on the score."
Then I heard the Cadillac's transmission in reverse, backing across the wet ground.
"It's a hit. It's a fucking hit. Get out of here," Tony said, and he shoved me with one arm toward the opening in the door just as Jimmie Lee Boggs stepped out from behind the Coca-Cola machine and threw a pump ventilated-rib shotgun to his shoulder and let off the round in the chamber.
It was a deer slug, a solid, round piece of lead as thick as the ball of your thumb, and it whanged off a metal barrel just in front of us and ricocheted into the tin wall of the hangar. Tony and I both dove between the barrels at the same time. I heard Boggs eject the spent shell onto the cement and ratchet another into the chamber. Tony was squatted down, breathing hard, his chrome-plated.45 held at an upward angle. I was standing, pressed back against the wall, and I got my.45 out of my fatigue jacket pocket, slid back the receiver, and eased a hollow-point round into the chamber. The men who had been drinking beer and cooking hamburgers at the picnic table had fallen to the floor or piled inside the office below the level of the windows.
Tony tried to look around the side of the barrel, and Boggs fired again, this time a round that was loaded with buckshot. It scoured off the side of the barrel behind us and ripped a pattern of five holes that I could cover with my fingers in the tin wall. Then somebody inside the office started firing with a pistol, probably a revolver, for he let off five rounds that danced all over the concrete; then he stopped to reload. When he did I aimed my.45 with both hands over Tony's head and fired at the office until my palms were numb from the recoil. My ears roared with a sound like the sea, and the breech locked open on the empty clip. The hollow-points blew holes as big as baseballs out of the toppled picnic table and sent triangular panes of glass crashing into the office's interior, but the lower half of the office wall was built of cinderblock, and the hollow-points splintered apart inside the concrete and did no harm to the men on the floor.
My hands were shaking as I pulled out the empty clip and shoved a full one into the.45 's magazine. Tony raked his springlike curls back with his fingers.
"We're seriously fucked," he whispered.
"We wait them out," I said.
"Are you kidding? If Jimmie Lee or one of those other guys gets outside, he can come around behind us and put it to us through the wall. It's a matter of time. I only got this clip. What have you got?"
"You're looking at it."
The skin of his face was dry and tight, his eyes as darkly bright as when he'd been loaded on black speed. He began breathing deeply in his chest, as though he were trying to oxygenate his blood. He looked at the big, round silver tanks of liquid propane that were lined against the adjacent wall.
"No," I said.
"You heard stories about it. But I lived through it, man. The captain called it right in on top of us."
"Don't do it, Tony."
"Bullshit. You got to go out there on the screaming edge. That's the only place to win. You don't know that, you don't know anything."
I wanted to put out my hand, push his gun down toward the floor, somehow in that last terrible moment exorcise the insanity that lived in his soul. Instead, I stared down at him numbly while he pivoted on one knee, aimed at a propane tank, and fired. The automatic leapt upward in his hand, and the round clanged off the top of the tank and hit an iron spar in the wall.
He rested one buttock on his heel, propped his wrist across his knee, lowered his sights, and pulled the trigger again.
This time the round hit the tank dead center and cored a hole in it as cleanly as a machinist's punch. The propane gushed out on the cement, its bright, instant reek like a slap across the face.
His.45 lay on the floor now, and his hands were trembling as he tore a match from a matchbook and folded the cover back from the striker. I could hear the men inside the office moving around on top of the broken glass.
"Tony-," I said. I was pressed back against the wall, between the barrels. The air was thick and wet with the smell of the propane.
"What?" he said.
"It's the only way, man. You know it."
I touched my religious medal and closed my eyes and opened them again. My heart was thundering against my rib cage.
"Do it," I said.
"Listen, you get out of this and I don't, you keep your fucking promise. You look after my son."
"All right, Tony."
Boggs stepped out wide from behind the Coca-Cola machine and fired a pattern of buckshot that thropped past my ear and blew the top off a metal barrel. It rolled in a circle on the cement. Tony struck the loose match in his hand, touched the other matches with the flame, and flipped the burning folder out into the pool of propane.
The pool burst into white and blue flames; then the fire crawled up the silvery jet of propane squirting from the tank. I heard a window crash on the far side of the Coca-Cola machine, and I heard the men inside the office fighting with one another to get out the office door; but now Tony and I were out from behind the barrels, unprotected, and running for the opening in the hangar door.
The ignition of the propane tanks, the fertilizers, the air itself, was like a bolt of lightning striking inside the building. Through the hangar door I saw the rain falling outside, the sodden fields, the wind ruffling the tree line, then Tony hit me hard on the back and knocked me through the door just as the whole building exploded.