This is the seventh and final episode of a short story about Riley Mansfield, the hero of my first novel, The Audacity of Dope. This story is set in the present, nearly seven years after the events of the novel. The first six parts were, in order, “Seven Years If It’s a Day,” “Like Old Times,” “High in La-La Land,” “Far, Far Away,” “Melissa, Under Water,” and “A False Sense of Security.” I’ll go back and edit a bit, then, in a day or two, post the whole story in one take. Thanks for reading.
Riley prevailed upon his trusted chauffeur Boris, whom he’d known for well over two days now, to provide transportation for him and his dear friend Kristine Carlton. He told her they could drop her off at her home, and he’d take her back to the studios to pick up her car the next morning, when Riley would be headed back to LAX for the flight back to Kentucky.
“I’m sure we’ll work something out,” Kristine said.
Her smile was lovely, her complexion fair, and her hair was a brown so dark that it was barely distinguishable from black. The brown richness was in her eyes, but Riley valued her personality more than her beauty. She was a little ungainly, but everything about her was precocious. Her laugh was that of a little girl’s, and she never erred on the side of the tactful. She left nothing unsaid and examined all the options. Weed didn’t make her any more irreverent. Nothing could. It just made her horny.
Riley was more stoned than he generally liked to be. Smoke had engulfed his brain. It wasn’t figurative. It was exactly how he felt, though the fog was delicious. He just told Boris to drive, and drive is what he did. Neither Riley nor Kristine had any idea where. When the pace slowed, Kristine wanted to open the sun roof and stand up. Riley had enough sense to know that it would not be good for his knee, which he couldn’t feel but suspected was ailing. He told her to go ahead, and she misperceived it as a slight.
“You’re no fucking fun, Riley Mansfield,” Kristine said, plopping back down. “How do you feel about oral sex?”
“I wouldn’t want it done to me in a moving car,” he said. “That’s just my first thought on the subject.”
“I mean, you know, it’s not really sex, I mean, not in the reproductive sense,” Kristine said. “It’s more, you know, recreation. It’s like … I can’t think what it’s like right now. It’s better than anything I can think of to compare. It’s stickier than walking. And faster. It requires rhythm, like jumping rope.”
“Let’s jump rope.”
“Are you kidding? It’d kill your knee. I think I might be able to heal it. Spiritually, you know?”
“You’re a fascinating woman,” Riley said. “I can’t begin to understand you. There’s such a cultural divide. Where’d you grow up? Brooklyn? Queens?”
“Philadelphia,” she said. “It’s like being a Jewish princess from one of the Thirteen Colonies. It’s unrecognized by the Crown.”
“At least it’s royalty.”
“Easy for you to say, you racist hick!”
Riley laughed. “I’ve never met anyone remotely like you,” he said. “Married, we wouldn’t last ten minutes. Do you carry a gun?”
“Some say it is.”
“You should carry a gun, Riley. There’s still people out there who want you dead.”
“Nah, I’m not into it,” Riley said. “I just carry weed so at least I’ll die happy.”
Kristine tilted back her head and tossed her hair. “I love you, Heathcliff!”
“And I you, Princess Kristine!”
Riley pushed the audio button. “Find us a pretty place to look at the ocean,” he instructed Boris.
Ten o’clock at night. Riley and Kristine decided they want to go down to the beach, sit on a rock or something, and watch the waves crash. Boris could not understand the stoned Americans. He sent a text to Leeds McCormick.
Silly lovers decide they want to go to beach. No telling when bullshit end. Hey. What happen if they want to go back to girl’s place, not Rileys hotel room?
McCormick wrote back.
Do what you can to prevent that from happening. If you can’t, let me know. If you can, let me know you’re on the way.
On the beach, Riley and Kristine found a good-sized rock, embedded in the sand, that was fairly comfortable.
“Do you, like, smoke shit like this all the time?”
“Pretty good, huh,” Kristine said.
“Damn straight. How’d you get that thing lit in this wind?”
“It’s sort of mini-blow torch,” she said. “I got mad one time and burned down a restaurant with it.”
“Soup too cold?”
“Nah,” she said. “I fucking ordered medium rare. Bastards cooked it medium. ‘Fuck this place,’ I roared, splashing gasoline about, this way and that.”
“Have you ever been to the South?”
“South Jersey,” she said. “The last Jewish kids came south wound up buried in an earthen dam. That’s what I was taught.”
“It’s not quite that bad anymore,” Riley said. “That actually occurred before either of us was born. Now they only do that to Muslims.”
“And abortion doctors.”
“Kristine, shit. The humor burns. Damn.”
“Well,” she said, “I’m sorry. I just want you to fuck me. It’s, like, becoming my lifelong ambition.”
“I can’t,” Riley said. “I just can’t.”
“You’re weakening,” she retorted.
At one in the morning, Riley got out of the limo and gave Boris every bill above a five he had left. He was stoned enough that he wasn’t sure what had just happened and what hadn’t, other than Kristine Carlton was no longer about, and his knee seemed to be a bit more swollen than it had been. He’d forgotten to call Melissa and had the text messages to prove it. Fortunately, he had the sense to remember it was four o’clock in Hyden. Boris had to chase him down to remind him he had a guitar. Staggering through the courtyard, he bounced the hard case off his knee several times and thought, well, maybe it’ll have a numbing effect.
Mental note: Never agree to appear on For the Love of the Night again without bringing Melissa along.
He sat the guitar case down, fumbled with the plastic key, got the door opened, walked inside and sat the guitar on the coffee table. He opened the case, took the guitar out and leaned it against the couch next to him. He had his personal stash, which he had smuggled on the plane from Kentucky, in the case. He had half a joint in the baggy that he pulled out, so he fetched it and went out on the balcony. A full moon hung above the horizon.
I’m a sinful man, Jesus. Forgive me of my sins, of which are there many.
Riley sat there, basking in the chill, fixated on the moon, taking deep breaths to get, theoretically, more oxygen in his bloodstream to find, somewhere in there, a train of thought. He wanted to play guitar but just wasn’t up to going back in and getting it. He was sleepy and likely nodded off at least once. The oxygen was enough to fight his conscience to a draw, though. That was about it.
He had to get some sleep. Not here. In the bed, with all those extraneous pillows piled up, floating serenely beneath the covers. He got up and had to feel his way along the sliding door. He opened the door and stood in the opening, legs apart, forming a stable foundation, listing left against the stucco wall. Deep breathing. Innnnnn. Outttttt. Ah. Innnnnn. Outtttt. Okay. Easy does it. Around the coffee table. Over there is the bedroom. Proceed with caution.
He felt for the light switch and flipped it. He felt a jolt of sobriety. A man in a navy-blue sweatsuit was sitting on the bed. The man turned around. Riley didn’t recognize him. He suspected it wasn’t an admirer.
The man was government issue. Muscular, though middle-aged. He had hard eyes. He looked like an actor. Robert Stack.
“Hello, Riley. My name is Leeds McCormick.” Someone walked in behind him. “My associate is Kurt Hasselbeck.”
McCormick looked like Stack but sounded like Charlton Heston, and Riley thought, Well, for the first time in my life, I actually wish I was on the Planet of the Apes.
Danger felt oddly relative. The future looked dim. Riley hadn’t been caught with his pants down. The danger came later.
“Let’s go sit in the den and talk a while,” McCormick said.
“Don’t worry about me,” Riley said. “I can’t run nowhere. My knee’s as fucked as I am.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Hasselbeck said. He looked like Charles Bronson and sounded like Richard Widmark. Being consensually raped by Kristine Carlton didn’t seem so awful. Riley felt kind of proud he’d gotten it done. She was a woman to have once before a man died.
Riley sat down. McCormick turned on the TV.
“Something to drink?” he asked.
“It’s late,” Riley said. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Kurt and I were associates of Jed Langston. As you know, Jed is in the penitentiary. We both owe him a lot,” McCormick said. “We could be in prison, too. We were with Jed on a mission that was partly responsible for his incarceration. He protected us. He took the fall. He could have turned us in. He went to a considerable amount of trouble to get rid of any evidence that connected us to what happened.”
“What happened, Mr. McCormick?”
“It involved a man named Philippe Tiant.”
“A.K.A., Fatih Ghannam,” Riley said.
“Well, I just got one question.”
“And that is …”
“Just what exactly did I do wrong?”
“What do you mean?” McCormick asked.
“How did I fuck up? How did I do something that was wrong, or immoral, or even criminally stupid? I got on a fucking plane. A dude tried to blow it up. I stopped him. Then your friend Jed Langston, to whom I’ve spoken once, decided I was a threat to the republic.”
“Which, as it turned out, you were,” said Hasselbeck, joining the philosophical discussion.
“I wouldn’t have,” Riley said, “if you motherfuckers would’ve just left me alone. I had to be a man. Goddamn it, you, above anybody else, ought to respect that.”
“We do,” McCormick said. “You made us look bad. We got the message. Now sit back. Relax. No need to worry about that which you cannot control. We’re just going to show you a little video. Kurt, pop that CD in the machine over there.”
“I’m going to smoke a cigarette,” Riley said.
“Go ahead,” Hasselbeck said. “I doubt it’s going to be an issue in the morning with the hotel.”
The DVD began, introduced by a light blue background with a chintzy font in white that read, “Jed Langston, 14 February, 2015, 9:42 a.m.”
And there was Jed Langston’s flushed face, veins popping in the cheeks, wearing the garb of federal incarceration.
“Well, Mr. Mansfield, I hope you don’t mind it if I call you Riley because I feel like I know you, son, and I bet you feel like you know me, but you don’t, son. You don’t.
“I hated you, and I let it destroy me, but never let it be said that Jed Langston failed to learn from his mistakes. It humbled me, and when I got here to prison, I asked the Lord’s forgiveness for all that I had done, and it wasn’t the first time. But it was the first time I ever meant it. It was earthly hands that put me on your trail, and it was earthly temptation that led me to try to kill you. I felt like I was the only person onto you, and I thought I was God’s disciple whose duty it was to remove you from the earth.
“I was wrong, though, and I was willful, and I was myself a false prophet, and I didn’t realize it till I got sent here, an exile, living among unrepentant sinners, left alone with nothing but the Scripture to bring back my salvation. You know, I found I had been taught the Scripture, but I hadn’t ever learned it. I hadn’t ever known the Jesus that was right there in front of me, and Jesus wasn’t a warrior. He was a vehicle of love and forgiveness. He is still a vehicle of love and forgiveness.
“I don’t need to forgive you. You didn’t do anything to forgive. I hope that you will forgive me because I hope that, in your heart, too, there is Christian love. I will pray for you, Riley Mansfield, and I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry I had to go to all this trouble, but it was important to me that you know that I was wrong, and I was sinful, and I regret what I put you through. That’s all I got to say.”
Hasselbeck removed the DVD and place it in a briefcase. Riley’s hands trembled. He didn’t know what to say. Finally, he just muttered, “I reckon that was a heap of trouble y’all went to.”
“It was the least we could do,” McCormick said. “We knew Jed was a little crazy, but we were all caught up in fanaticism after 9/11, and it got to where it was, do what it takes, no matter what.”
McCormick got up.
“We bid you good night, Mr. Mansfield. Hope you stay out of trouble. Have a safe trip back to Kentucky, and I’d say we’ll see you later, but don’t neither of us want that to happen.”
I’ll put this all together and post it all in one take soon. I hope, if you haven’t read The Audacity of Dope, you might be encouraged by this small sequel to buy it, and/or most of my other books, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1#