Here’s the second episode of this short story, which revisits Riley Mansfield, the main character in my novel The Audacity of Dope, seven years later. The first episode was called “Seven Years If It’s a Day.”
- LIKE OLD TIMES
To his satisfaction, Riley Mansfield’s position had descended in the public consciousness, but he still had his moments. During the year following the 2008 election, he had appeared many times on television, so much so that cameras had often been set up in his South Carolina home for live transmissions via satellite trucks in the yard. It didn’t happen very much anymore, particularly when he was holed up in Kentucky, writing songs. Hyden was much less accessible than Henry.
Riley had befriended some popular television personalities, and he continued to make occasional appearances on late-night talk shows. It was Wednesday, and Riley was off to Los Angeles through Chicago. He didn’t like flying, which was understandable since a plane he was on had almost exploded, but that was a bit of a shame because, in managing to save a turboprop Dash-8, its crew, and passengers including, most crucially, himself, he flew free on the airline in question and cut-rate on most of the others. He still counted for something in aviation, and it took lots of flights to pay for even a Dash-8.
Blue Grass Airport, four miles west of Lexington, was a two-hour drive, and an unusually smooth one at that. Hyden wasn’t near much other than the Daniel Boone Parkway, but that provided a four-lane path to Interstate 75 at London, which in turn took him right to Lexington. The purpose of the trip was a gig on two shows, Overnight with Johnny Passineau on Thursday and For the Love of Night, Hosted by Kristine Carlton, which was taped on Friday but didn’t actually air until the wee hours of Saturday. He made his way out and back, the networks put him up in a fancy hotel, and Riley planned to spend Saturday, exchanging songs and brainstorming, with a couple West Coast pals, and fly back to Lexington on Sunday. Melissa was staying home. She wasn’t interested in the talk shows and buddy sessions. She said she’d rather tend to things at the cabin. One goal was to prepare for leaving Kentucky. She’d had enough of the seclusion. Riley might find it invigorating, but Henry wasn’t so bad. Hyden had less than four hundred residents; Leslie County’s population was a little over 11,000. Henry was a town of about 8,000 in a county of roughly 55,000. Henry was their home. Hyden was the anti-home.
Melissa hadn’t told Riley it was time to go home. It wasn’t like that. Their marriage was one of mutual intuition. He’d get the message, and, before long, she’d have him thinking it was his idea. Meanwhile, Riley had to go to L.A. and act like he knew what he was talking about. He’d sit in a nice, comfortable chair and tell jokes about life in South Carolina and Kentucky, and then he’d close both shows by playing his guitar and singing. On Overnight, he’d have a splendid band to accompany him. On Love, he’d sit on a stool and accompany himself with a harmonica. A smattering of people in Hyden would accidentally happen to see him, and probably most of them would figure he just looked like someone they’d seen in town, and they wouldn’t be watching in the local bars because there weren’t any. Leslie was a dry county, though it was quite smoky. The Mansfields hadn’t come there for the booze.
Getting to Los Angeles wound up being a bit complicated for Riley, who discovered his travel plans were amiss when he tried to get his ticket at the airline’s kiosk, where he was electronically informed there was no record of any flights attached to his “current user profile.” He figured it was just a mixup. The line wasn’t long, and he’d have had to check his luggage there, anyway.
“Ma’am, I’m supposed to be going to Los Angeles through Chicago, and the kiosk doesn’t seem to have been privy to my plans,” Riley said to the woman behind the airline’s garish panel.
She asked for his frequent-flyer number. After bit of hunting and pecking, she said she had some bad news.
“Mr. Mansfield, your reservation was on Flight 262, which departed at 7:45 this morning, not 7:45 tonight.”
“Well, I’ll be a … no, I’m not going to tell you what I’ll be,” Riley said. “My records showed 7:45 p.m., my wife’s records said 7:45, there’s no way I would have booked a flight at 7:45 in the morning because I’ve just driven two hours to get here … and what probably happened … is that I’ve screwed up royally.”
The woman laughed. “I’m gratified to hear you at least have a sense of humor.”
“I gotta be on TV with Johnny Passineau tomorrow. I don’t know how to get there. You tell me the best option.”
None existed. Riley maintained his composure, admirably, picked up his guitar case, and rolled his suitcase down to the airline that allowed him to fly free. He hadn’t made a reservation there originally because getting to the West Coast was a bit more complicated. Specifically, Riley didn’t like giving ground, but that’s what he wound up doing, going northwest to Philadelphia and then west to Los Angeles. He called Passineau’s personal assistant and asked her to get the hotel to hold his room and have him picked up at LAX at, oh, midnight, West Coast time. Being chauffeured around in Los Angeles was better than anywhere else. Driving those freeways was an acquired skill, and those who didn’t do it regularly got rusty. Riley figured the last thing he’d ever want to do, late at night and sleepless, was driving the 405 sober, and driving it stoned was a double-edged sword.
The federal bureaucracy may not have approved of its deviants, cowboys, and nutcases, but it took care of its own. The Department of Homeland Security, stacked with crazed firebrands during the presidency of Sam Harmon, still had its share of religious ideologues, though the craziest of them all was tucked away in federal prison. Jed Langston had gone to prison for the murder of Philippe Tiant, the attempted murder of Riley Mansfield and the journalist Adam Rhine, and other actions that came to light in the aftermath of the tumultuous 2008. He had his friends, though, and they had friends in the federal prison system, and they were in positions to bend some rules and place Langston, who ought to have been considered high-risk, to a prison like Seagoville, which was in Texas, a state where Langston had lived, and which was low-security, not that Langston wanted to escape. He was resigned to his fate and maintained his faith in the Lord.
Two men owed Langston a lot. He hadn’t squealed on them. They had worked with him in the murder of Philippe Tiant, also known as Fattih Ghannam, who had been arrested for attempting to blow up the small commuter plane that also carried Riley Mansfield on a flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to South Carolina’s Greenville-Spartanburg. Mansfield had performed the terrible injustice of saving a plane full of lives, and Tiant had made the mistake of letting his conservative political leanings earn him a spot in the government as a sacrificial lamb. Tiant, who had been assured no bomb would explode, had been understandably alarmed once one, placed almost by happenstance in Mansfield’s guitar bag, did, in fact, explode after Mansfield hurled it, guitar and all, out the plane’s emergency exit into a peach orchard. Since Tiant had not been killed on the plane, Langston had been forced to kill him later for the impertinence of realizing that he’d been expendable.
The records had been cleaned. Jed Langston had kept his mouth shut. On that day in Miami, when Langston shot Tiant in the head, his accomplices had been Kurt Hasselbeck and Leeds McCormick. They were still with the agency. They owed Langston a considerable favor, one that separated his incarceration from their freedom. They kept tabs on Riley Mansfield. They didn’t always know when he was in South Carolina and when he was in Kentucky. What they did know was that he was in Los Angeles for at least two days. For a long time, Mansfield had been untouchable. Five and a half years had passed since Langston, President Harmon, National Security Adviser David Branham, Assistant Director of Homeland Security Banks McPherson, Republican Party advisers Sue Ellen Spenser and Garner Thomas, and a dozen others – had been found guilty of a wide range of charges. A few, most notably Spencer, were already out.
Just about the right amount of time had passed regarding Mansfield, and Hasselbeck and McCormick were on the case, not the government’s, but Jed Langston’s.
Riley found the man holding up the “Mansfield” sign easily as he descended on the escalator to the baggage claim. He’d had to gate-check the Taylor guitar he brought along. It wasn’t his favorite guitar. It was his favorite that he’d be willing to let the airlines get their hands on. He had his laptop in his backpack, his guitar in its case, and his weed hidden safely in his luggage. Airport security wasn’t interested in marijuana, at least not in small amounts. If they had been, it’s all they would have done.
The onerous delays in his travel left Riley a bit frazzled. He asked the chauffeur if he had any “smoke,” and the fellow said, no, but he thought there might be some blow somewhere back there. Riley said he wasn’t interested. Instead, he bummed a cigarette and smoked it on the way to the hotel.
Years on the road had left Riley with little appreciation for the virtues of the luxury hotel. It was just a place to sleep. That having been said, it was a nice diversion to be put up in a swanky joint on his trips to the late-night, talk-show circuit. He always thought of Melissa and how all these frivolous luxuries – showers with thermostats to set the water at a specific temperature, automatic fireplaces in both living room and bedroom, a complimentary bottle of wine (which Riley would take home to the wife rather than imbibing), et al. – meant more to her than to him. She’d gone with him several times before. This time she opted out. Perhaps she’d grown tired of it all. She’d have pitched a little tantrum over the travel mix-up, and since he thought she’d booked the flight, he hadn’t even told her about it when he called during the Philly layover. It would only have made her mad. She may have made a little mistake. The odds of error would have been greater had he handled it. He was in L.A., a little late, but no big deal. He reached his room, handed the bellhop a twenty – they were ubiquitous, and resistance was futile – and unpacked everything even though there was only one small, zip-lock bag, chosen to fit inside a bag of coffee, and he liked coffee, but not that much. No one could smoke in the rooms, but it was in the air once one sat on the balcony, even after one in the morning.
Especially, Riley suspected, after one in the morning.
From across the way, Agent Leeds McCormick watched Riley smoke weed through his night-vision binoculars. He and Kurt Hasselbeck had been waiting four hours. Hasselbeck had left to find some coffee and pastry. He’d be mildly disappointed when he got back to find Mansfield was just where they expected him to be, and they could get some sleep and save the pastry for the morning.
Have you already read The Audacity of Dope? Perhaps this ongoing tale of Riley Mansfield, seven years later, will whet your literary appetite. http://neverlandpublishing.com/taod.html