The wet heat conjured memories of a mission to Indonesia, where a certain radical Muslim cleric affiliated with the Malay Archipelago chapter of a certain international terrorist network had proudly claimed credit for helping design especially lethal antipersonnel land mines used against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rat poison sprinkled among the steel ball bearings dispersed when the mine exploded. Acting as an anticoagulant, the poison prevented blood from clotting, thus reducing a wounded warrior’s chances of survival.
The cleric needed to be put out of action.
Following a typhoon and posing as relief workers, five Alpha go-to guys, including me, were dispatched to Jakarta by way of Tokyo and Singapore. The cleric wasn’t hard to find. He broadcast a jihadist religious radio show from his mosque twice daily, seven days a week because Allah doesn’t believe that Muslims need a day of rest. We waited until he was off air, entered the mosque, ventilated his bodyguard, then him. His last words were, “I am going to paradise,” to which one of my colleagues responded, “Happy trails,” then put a .40-caliber slug in the bastard’s forehead.
I must’ve nodded off because the next thing I knew, Savannah was in the tub with me.
“Mr. Bubble?” she said, nodding toward the bottle. “Really, Logan? You?”
“It leaves my skin feeling silky smooth.”
She smiled, soaped up the washcloth and began gently scrubbing my chest.
“You’re totally naked,” I said.
“Thanks for noticing.”
I smiled. All those nights I lay awake after our divorce, wishing I could see her one more time, just this way. And now, here we were.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said.
“Always a dangerous proposition.”
“We should just leave past issues in the past. I won’t ask you again what you did, your real job.”
I watched a bead of water course the length of her throat and down, seductively, between her breasts.
“You mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“That would be two personal questions tonight, Logan.” She leaned closer to me, her hands cupped with warm water, and slowly rinsed the lather from my neck. “I’m not sure we really know each other that well.”
“Ever gotten busy in a purple tub?”
She pretended to think about it for a while. “Can’t say that I have. You?”
Her lips curled mischievously. “Well, you know what they say? There’s a first time for everything.” Then she leaned in closer and softly kissed my closed eyes.
Beneath the suds, something brushed against my leg and glided northward, to more sensitive anatomical turf.
I knew it wasn’t the soap.
Sleep should’ve come easily that night. Savannah was snuggled close, her back to my chest, dreaming contentedly in my arms. The rest of our lives lay ahead of us like a golden fairy tale. But I was awake, consumed by introspection and a rare dose of pure self-realization. If the two of us were to make marriage stick this time, I needed to change, shed myself, I realized, of those vestiges that defined who I’d been and what I’d done all those years in the service of my country. As slowly and quietly as I could, I got out of bed, reached between the mattress and box spring, and unlimbered my two-inch, 357 Colt Python revolver.
“Where’re you going?” Savannah asked groggily.
“Gotta run a quick errand. Go back to sleep.”
“Promise you’ll come back?”
I bent down and kissed her shoulders. “Promise you’ll be here if I do?”
Kiddiot was curled like a ball on the floor near the bed, his face buried in his tail. He didn’t stir as I dressed and left. My watch showed 0335 hours.
Save for a street-sweeping truck washing down the vomit and spilled beer outside the bars and dance clubs on lower California Street that had closed more than an hour earlier, downtown Rancho Bonita was quiet. Not another car in sight, all the way to the beach.
I parked my truck along Magellan Boulevard, got out, and walked across the sand. The tide was out. The moon was gone. The gun was tucked in the small of my back. It had been my primary backup weapon when I served with Alpha — the theory being that a revolver is less prone to misfire than a more mechanically complex semiauto and, thus, more reliable in a pinch. More than once, the little snub nose had saved my life. But that life was behind me now.
I threw it as far into the ocean as I could. Then I drove home.
Heavy and hirsute, Larry Kropf trudged out of his hangar at the Rancho Bonita Airport and onto the flight line, grimacing on two bad knees and wiping his greasy hands on a greasy rag.
“Where’re you headed, Logan?”
“Lake Tahoe,” I said, loading the last of the luggage into the back of the Ruptured Duck. “We’re getting remarried.”
Larry peered at Savannah over the bulletproof-thick lenses of his Buddy Holly glasses, then at me, as if I’d just notified him that we were planning a bank robbery. He was wearing a frayed white T-shirt and bib overalls for a change instead of his usual blue work pants. Pulled down low across his brow was a beat-to-hell, red and white baseball cap that read, “You can’t scare me. I have a teenage daughter.”
“Remarried?” Larry asked. “Nobody in their right mind marries the same woman twice, Logan. Why repeat the same mistake?”
“Uh, hello.” Savannah folded her arms indignantly. “I’m right here, Larry.”
“Savannah, you remember my mechanic, Larry?”
“Not just your mechanic,” Larry said. “The guy you rent hangar space from for your wildly successful international flight school.”
“Larry’s being somewhat sarcastic,” I said.
“I would’ve never guessed,” Savannah said facetiously.
He might’ve fancied himself a badass, but Larry was, in truth, a big softie who’d give you the proverbial size XXXL shirt off his furry back if you needed it. He knew that my “wildly successful” flight school was on the brink of insolvency, and that I owed him about $30,000 in repairs to the Ruptured Duck, as well as back rent. He also knew that I had no way to repay him in full given my financial straits, which was why he’d stopped hounding me. Every so often, though, he couldn’t help but get a dig in. Call it catharsis. I couldn’t say I blamed him.
“Well,” Larry said, “I hope you at least got enough cash to pay for the marriage license.”
I locked the Duck’s cargo door and resisted the urge to check my wallet.
“How much does he owe you?” Savannah said.
“Twenty-nine large and change.” Larry took off his glasses and wiped them on his T-shirt. “But who’s counting anymore, right?”
“How ’bout thirty grand and we call it even?” Savannah asked, digging through her Louis Vuitton shoulder bag. “What would you say to that?”
Larry looked at her like he wasn’t sure she was serious. “I’d say, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ ” he said.
My ex-wife got out a pen and her checkbook.
A real man is supposed to make his own way in the world, relying on no one but himself. A real man’s code of honor prohibits him from taking anything except that which he deserves. He doesn’t stand idly by, watching his wealthy former spouse casually cover his five-figure IOU like she was buying a few boxes of Girl Scout cookies. But all I could muster was a meek, “You really don’t have to do that, Savannah.”
“You’re right. I don’t have to, Logan. I want to. We’re a team now. And, besides, Larry needs the money, right?”