Dog Days in the Desert – A Q&A Story

I started writing this as an attempt at the ‘buddy’ genre and meant it to be a standalone story, but I had a lot of fun trying to drive the plot almost exclusively with dialogue, so I decided to make these guys part of an ongoing anthology.  Expect more from these ambiguous action brothers in the future.

Art by James Jean

Art by James Jean

The busy roar of the bus lanes and thoroughfares dominated the city asphalt as the tired Buick thundered its way between traffic and towards the airport.  Ace reached down from the wheel and flicked on the FM.  More noise.

“Dreadful city.”

He let his foot get heavier.

His father always provided him with one of the antique cars for business work.  This time is was the 1954 Buick Skylark, all-white, two-door, with a Nailhead V8.  Fancy piece of work for sure, but Ace would’ve preferred the Peugeot or Maserati–something that really gripped the road on turns instead of hanging on for dear life.

Ace looked at his watch.  11:32.am.  He was sixteen minutes late and his brother would spare no words in telling him.  His foot got a bit heavier.

Ace was relieved when he looked at the arrivals screen.  Flight 1103 out of Newark was running late, which made Ace on time.  His brother would still be pissed.

It wasn’t hard for Ace to spot him as he came in from the tarmac.  Deep brown two-piece suit with a solid, bright crimson tie.  He had a young, dashing face, with a chin that Michelangelo would respect.  Well, in all respects, he looked like Ace really, except for the hair.  His hair was white.  Not white like gray, white like white.  Ace walked up to shake his hand in welcome but his brother stepped right passed him and towards the luggage conveyor.  Ace shrugged, he knew this would happen.

“Decent flight?”

His brother didn’t answer him, he barely even acknowledged his presence.  He only pointed to the brown suitcase on the conveyor belt, the same brown he was wearing, before walking away.  Ace looked down at the luggage tag:

            Q. Rory. Fucking hands off.

Ace rolled his eyes, picked up the tacky brown suitcase and followed his brother outside.  “It’s the white Buick” he said.  His brother nodded and followed.

They were driving out into the Nevada desert for the better part of twenty minutes in silence before it was broken.

“Get drunk last night?”

Ace screwed  up his face and looked at his brother in disgust. “I don’t see you, hear from you OR hear about you in two in a half years and that’s the first thing you say to me?”

“Would you like a tissue, ma’am, or are you going to answer the question?”

Ace rippled with anger in the driver’s seat.

“Yes, Quinn. Yes I did.  I drank a bottle of Tanqueray and watched Rio Bravo.”

Quinn sniffed. “A bottle?”

“Yes, a bottle. What did you do?”

“Drank two.”

Ace couldn’t help himself and they laughed together.

“Damn good movie, though” said Quinn. “Too bad John Wayne was a filthy racist.”

“Well it’s Dean that makes the film, really.”

“So did Pop tell you what was in the package?”

“No,” Ace replied, changing the station, “But it must be pretty important if he’s flown you back to the country for it.”

“Just means he doesn’t trust you to go it alone.”

“Shut up.”

“Although I wish he did trust you.  I was enjoying retirement.”

“Pop does trust me.  And what retirement?  You’re twenty-nine years old.”

“Twenty-nine years young. Okay, stop the car.”

Ace halted the Buick just about a mile due East of a power-grid situated off the highway.

“So now what?” asked Ace.

“We wait. That’s what it says here.”

“I know what it says, Quinn.  We wait for what–Christmas?”

“Funny guy.  The package, you idiot.”

“But we don’t know what the package is.”

“And that is why we wait.”

It was just past one o’clock in the day, a hot day to be wearing suits.  Quinn had loosened his tie.

“You know that looks ridiculous,” said Ace.

“What does?”

“Your suit.  Brown and red.  Brown and red aren’t complimentary colours.  For a brown like that your tie should be an orange.”

“And look like I’m working at A&W? No.  And brown and red aren’t complimentary anyway, blue and orange are.  Besides, this looks better than your plain black and white.”

“Black and white is classic.”

“It’s boring” said Quinn. “Don’t you have another suit?”

Ace didn’t reply but just looked up at the sky outside his driver side window.  Not a cloud.  The Nevada desert was good for one thing at least–a perfect quiet.  Then again, it’s terrible for many more.

“Finally” grumbled Quinn, “Some company.”

Ace looked down to see a white courier van approaching them.  It was moving rather quickly and had a bald courier employee in the passenger seat.  No one was in the driver’s seat.

“Well now” said Ace. “That’s a fine trick.”

“Odd way to deliver a package” his brother replied.

The van approached closer and started slowing down until it rolled to a stop just shy of the Buick’s hood.  Quinn opened his door.

“Wait! It could be a trap.”

“Set up by our own father?” asked Quinn, sarcastically.

“Well there’s no one driving the thing.  And I’m pretty certain that man is dead,” said Ace, pointing to the obviously immobile bald man in the passenger seat.  Quinn walked towards the van.  J.J Zip & Sons – Same Day, Better Price.  It was one of those long, fifteen-passenger vans.

“Must’ve been a big package.”

The employee was dead, Ace was right about that.  But he was wrong about the trap, it was more of a foil.  Quinn looked at the gas pedal and dash.  It was rigged with some technical contraption.

“Remote control?” asked Ace.

“That, or someone’s real good at estimating gas-mileage.  And there’s this.”

It was a small note attached to the dead passenger.

            Sorry to make you sit in the sun so long.  I really have forgotten my manners.  Don’t    bother checking the trunk either, the package is gone.  Better luck next time.

Quinn walked back to the Buick and got in. “Come on”.

“Aren’t you going to check the trunk?”

“And risk getting blown up? Wow.  Pop really doesn’t trust you alone.”

Ace just glared as he got in the driver side.

“Turn around and bring us back to that gas station.  If we’re going to find this package, we’ll need gas to do it.  And answers.” The Buick rumbled back across the scaly desert floor and back onto the highway.  The gas station was the only one around for many miles, so Quinn thought it was a good place to start.

“Just come inside with me before you fill it up” said Quinn.

“What makes you think I’m filling it?”

But Quinn was already heading to the entrance.

The place was tiny.  It had enough room to fit five or six people standing and the cigarettes behind the counter.  There was a cute young girl on a bench outside the door to the place.

“Fill’er up?” she asked.

“Go ahead,” said Quinn.  Ace followed behind.

A frumpy, balding, farmer-looking man sat behind the counter at the cash.  Quinn tightened his tie.

“Hi there. My name is Mr. Rory and this is my associate Mr. Rory.  I’m going to ask you a couple of questions.”

The man sat up straight on his stool and squinted one eye. “You two twins?”

“We could be, but that doesn’t concern you.  What does concern you is this: whether or not there was a white courier van that came through here in the past couple hours.”

“Umm, no sir, Mr. Rory.  No cars at all. Just me and my daughter here today.” He scratched the bald spot where his widow’s peak used to be. “You guys cops?”

“You’re the only gas station around Las Vegas for miles and miles and there hasn’t been a vehicle here yet today?”

The young girl came in from outside and squeezed in next to Ace.

“They must be doing good at the Casino” the man laughed.  Quinn didn’t.

Ace turned around to look at the young girl. “May I use your washroom?”  The girl pointed to the back corner.  “Thanks.”

“Okay,” Quinn began, “I will ask you once again and then I will demand.”

Just as Quinn firmly put his hands on the counter, a rusty El Camino screeched up to the front door and three burly men crammed into the station.  The fattest one had a shotgun and the slightly-less-fat others had a pair of pistols.  Quinn smirked.

“Easy fellas, it’s tight as sardines in here already.”

“This is a stick up, kid. Everyone get on the fucking ground!”

The frumpy man and his daughter were quick to comply but Quinn stood where he was.

“You know, shotguns are intimidating but they are generally a careless weapon.”

The burly man cocked the pump.  “Tell that to your dead body.”

Quinn reached into his inside pocket slowly.  Holding it harmlessly by the barrel with his thumb and forefinger, like a detective would hold fragile evidence, he produced a slick black gun.  The other hefty men quickly cocked their pistols.

“You see, this is a fine weapon.  Smith & Wesson M459.  Powerful, sleek, light enough and damn quick if you know what you’re doing.  Fourteen in the clip and one in the chamber.  Fifteen good reasons to stay alive.”

“Not if you don’t shut the fuck up and drop it.”

Quinn slowly lowered the gun to the ground.

“Only made about eight hundred of these babies.  Most were handed to the FBI.  How I got one I’ll never know.”

Just as the gun touched the ground, three shots rang out.  The burly man and the limp bodies of his two partners dropped and bundled near the entrance, each with a bullet in the head.

“Did I forget to mention my brother got one too?”

Ace was standing in the bathroom doorway with his shirt half-tucked and belt undone.  “Sorry about the mess” he said, looking at the young girl on the ground. “And your toilet is broken, as well.”

Quinn got up and holstered his gun.

“Now, were those the guys that came by earlier?”

The frumpy man spilled the beans, still laying prone on the floor.

“No, no! I swear, I didn’t know those guys. Never seen them!  The courier van driver just had one other fella with him in the passenger seat and he never even got out of the van.  One guy just came in here and pointed a gun at my daughter’s head. ‘This van never stopped here and you never saw me’ he said!”

“So it was just the one guy” said Ace.

“Well, two with the passenger. But that’s all I saw, I swear!  There could’ve been more of ’em in the van.”

“And that’s all he said to you?” Quinn added.

“Yea.  And that if two guys in suits showed up that I oughta stall them, or he’d come back and kill us both.”

“Start the car!” yelled Quinn.  Ace bolted out the door.

“Quick, get up off the floor! Come on, old man. Hurry!”

“Wait!” the girl yelled “You still owe us for the gas!”

They ran outside at a mad dash and Ace leaped over the hood and started the ignition.  The Buick was already rolling by the time Quinn stuffed the father and daughter in before diving passenger side himself.  They were barely a hundred yards away when the gas station exploded.

“Sweet Christmas!” shouted the frumpy man. “My store!”

Quinn looked at his brother.

“This is why I hate coming back to America.”

. . .

“Ok, so now what!?”

The young girl’s timidness was all but gone and she screamed like a banshee from the parked Buick on the highway.

“You come into our store, kill three guys, blow the place up and expect to just leave us on the side of the road?”

“I said I was sorry about the mess” said Ace.

“And we didn’t blow up your store” added Quinn.  “And no I’m not going to leave you on the side of the road.  I could’ve left you in the store but I didn’t.  Now, before we get too carried away, tell us your names.”

“Janine” frowned the girl.

“Paul.”

“Okay then, Janine and Paul, it’s like this: there are people that have something that belongs to us and they will kill us to keep us from getting it.  And as you have just witnessed, they will also kill anyone who might be willing to help us.  So for now, as crazy as it sounds, I think the safest thing would be for you to stick with us.”

“Yes, that is crazy! No way. C’mon Dad.”

Janine climbed out the back of the Buick, almost tripping on the passenger seatbelt and began walking back the direction they came.  Quinn rolled his eyes.

“You’d rather take your chances with the murderous men-for-hire and your smouldering gas station?”

“Yes I would Mr.Rory.  Because in the past ten minutes that I’ve known you, I haven’t had much luck.”

“Look, girl” interrupted Ace, who was getting fed up sitting around, “you’ve got nothing hidden under that tank-top other than a set of tits.  We’ve got guns.”

Paul looked at his daughter with reluctance.  “I think they’re right.”

“Of course we’re right!” Quinn bellowed, as Janine strolled back to the vehicle and they once again were barreling down the highway.  “And I’ve already got a plan.  Either one of you fire a gun before?”

. . .

Less than an hour later, a J.J Zip & Sons courier van was speeding out into the Las Vegas desert.  There were two uniformed employees driving in the front, only they weren’t employees and one of them hadn’t even fired a gun before.

“Is this really going to work, Dad?”

“I doubt it.”

“Then why don’t we just take this thing and drive up to Uncle Eli’s in Lincoln?”

“Because Janine, if anything these boys say is true then we won’t make it ten miles before getting killed. Besides, like they said, they’ve got guns.”

The evening heat was inviting compared to that of the afternoon, but with the air conditioning on full it was barely enough to keep the sweat from pooling under the thick cotton J.J Zip & Sons uniforms.

“There’s the power grid, Dad.  I think they said turn here and go East.”

Before the van reached the grid, a green Land Rover zoomed in front and cut them off.  Paul twisted the wheel hard to the right and lurched the vehicle to a halt.  Three men got out of the Rover and approached the van, each one of them equipped with a firearm.

“I thought there was only one package, Hal?” one said.

“So did I, but anything extra is a bonus, right?”

He looked in at Paul and Janine.

“So what do you have for me back there this time?” the man asked, pointing his gun at Paul. “I hope it’s more exciting than the last shipment.”  He gestured to his two friends. “Open it up.”

The man who spoke kept his gun on Paul in the driver’s seat while his two comrades swept around back and opened the trunk doors.

“Peak-a-boo.”

Ace and Quinn shot out their kneecaps and the two men bent backward into the desert dust, howling in agony.  Janine took her cue.  As the ringleader turned his head in distraction she shot him twice in the face.  Blood spattered into the van and over the dash as he fell limp.  The brothers hopped out of the back while the two men writhed on the ground, crawling for the Rover.  One reached for the gun he dropped and Ace stomped on his knee.  The man screamed.  “You fuckers are gonna–”

Blam!

            Ace’s gun flashed as the blood trickled from between the man’s eyes.

“Now,” began Quinn, “your two friends are dead and you can see my brother doesn’t enjoy rude people.  So unless you want to wind up the same way, you better answer this next question politely: where is the package?”

The man tightened his lips, gripping with the pain in his knees.

“No?”

Ace drove his heel into the man’s bloody, mangled knee and the man let out a wincing quiver.

“Oh well.”  Quinn raised his gun, but the man yelled.

“It’s in the Rover! Fuck! The case is in the Rover!”

Ace grabbed the man by the collar and dragged him across the sand to the vehicle as Quinn went to the front of the van.  “Nice job.  Bit sticky, but you’re alive.”

“He pulled a fucking gun on us!” Janine shouted. “He could’ve killed us both!”

“Well he didn’t, so relax.”

“And where did you ever fire a gun before, anyway?” asked her father.

Blam!

The three looked quickly over at Ace and found him standing above the man he just killed, holding the briefcase.

“Yup, it’s Dad’s.”

Ace put the package on the hood of the courier van and tucked his gun away.

“Still know the combination?”

Quinn thought for a moment before reeling both sides to 1701.

“One thousand seven hundred and one?” asked Janine. “What’s that stand for?”

“No,” replied Quinn. “Seventeen and one.  Letters of the alphabet.”

Quinn cracked the case cautiously and opened it to reveal a single, folded sheet of paper inside, on it written Q & A.  Quinn took it out and read it aloud.

I guess two years didn’t make you rusty.  Welcome back, boys. Expect a call soon.

“No! No, no, no!” Quinn yelled, stomping his foot. “I was done with this damn gig!”

He crumpled up the paper and threw it, with no emphatic effect, into the desert dusk.

Janine and Paul looked at each other puzzled, while Ace laughed in disbelief.

“So now what?” she asked.

Ace pulled out his wallet and stuffed a few bills into her hand.

“That’s for the gas.”

-B.W. Gladney

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