Hip Cities and Lost Souls
The quiet pervaded the apartment interior like heavy satin drawn over it, smothering everything except for the smell-- the scent of dope remained thick in the dark air: pot smoke, melted pills from the bathroom, even the more elusive chemical bite of LSD. The party had moved on, leaving in its wake a devastation all too evident when Lance flicked on the light: spilled and broken bottles of beer, burn marks on the rug, sprawled grey piles of spilled ash and food and drink and God-knew-what-else.
In one corner, among the large gold pillows lay Dan's prone form, limbs sprawled out in four directions, his snoring nearly as loud as the music had been.
"Look at him," Mike said with a laugh. "There's the man who hoped to catch an elusive Bobo. The poor fool probably screwed all night."
Lance licked his dry lips, staring at the apartment, almost as shocked by it as he had been by the chase through Hollywood, wondering why the industrious clean-machine in Sarah hadn't compelled her to start straightening up. He reached down to shake Dan but Mike stopped him.
"Let him sleep," he said. "Who knows when any of us will get the chance again."
Mike motioned Marie towards a second clumping of pillows and settled down beside her, obviously intent upon joining in Dan's oblivion. Marie looked docile again, and tired, and swiftly fell to sleep.
Lance sighed and pushed through the beaded curtain into the hall, half expecting to find overdosed bodies sprawled on the bathroom floor. He found only the remnants of their journey, broken needles, burned spoons, and a few empty bags of dope in the sink. Dan's room contained excess clothing left behind from the orgy-- but no people. The master-bedroom door yawned at him, revealing that room empty, too, and he stopped, startled, blind to the torn clothing and scattered bed sheets. Sarah should have been here and wasn't. And the slatted, partially opened windows stared back like a doped set of eyes.
He rushed back to the main room and kicked at Dan's feet till the man grumbled awake.
"Where is she?" Lance roared.
Dan snorted and coughed, his crinkled eye lids raising slowly as if from the dead. He stared for a moment, the pot haze pealing away into slow recognition. "Huh?"
"Sarah!" Lance said, in loud impatience. "Where did she go?"
Dan blinked-- a little more consciousness appearing in his eyes, though he looked puzzled. "She not in your room?"
"No, she isn't!" Lance snapped, aware of Mike and Marie stirring to his right, growing impatient with him.
"Then I guess she took off with the others."
Again came the shrugged. "Dale's place, I suppose. At least that's what some of them mumbled."
"And you let her go?"
This time Dan's gaze grew hard, his mouth twisting up into a snarl beneath the thick strands of moustache. "Look, man," he said. "I'm not your old lady's keeper. If you were so worried about it, why did you take off?"
Lance's open mouth clamped shut. He hadn't an answer to that. Maybe Marie had been right earlier about him not being able to face Sarah's games any more, using Marie as shield and excuse. Dan waited for a moment, then closed his eyes again.
"Get some sleep, Lance," he said.
"Yeah, sure," Lance mumbled and staggered towards the bedroom again, stopping himself in the hall beyond the beaded curtain. He settled in Dan's room, where the scent of human sweat remained as reminder to the earlier events. He found himself a corner and settled into it, tired, but afraid of sleep. He didn't need the details as to why she'd gone. He could call up the scene out of the patchwork of his own fights with her, hearing her protest at Dan's ending the party as clearly as he could hear the rising city outside the apartment, her expression enraged when discovering Dan had acted on Lance's orders.
She would have raged over the ruin of her small pleasures, agreeing with Dale's accusations of fascism, the big man inviting the part over to his house where "Nazi's like Lance" couldn't interfere with their games.
And Sarah would have gone.
Eagerly. Vengefully. Singing the woeful tune of the abused old lady.
Lance just doesn't understand me. He thinks I'm still a child.
Where did Dale live? Lance had heard it mentioned a few times in passing, but had paid little attention. Somewhere East of Hollywood.
That sounded right. No doubt L.A.'s dilapidated public transportation had buses there. But Lance didn't picture himself dragging a kicking and screaming Sarah back here by that means. Even if he found Dale's place, what guarantee did he have anyone would let him in.
Lance the Fascist. Lance the Bring down.
Suddenly, he felt empty and exhausted-- and the condition of the place mattered as little to him as L.A. itself. All he wanted was sleep, and slowly, he forced his eyes closed letting himself seep down into the darkness.
Heavy pounding shook Lance awake, far from the mild tapping earlier at Free Press Bob's. He opened his eyes. Afternoon light illuminated the room, giving the stucco ceiling and ivory walls an orange tint.
A duck-walking Mike appeared in the door, motioning Lance into the front room.
"No," he hissed. "Don't stand up. They can see you."
"Who can see me?" Lance asked, as confused as Dan had been earlier, not quite able to sort reality out from the dreams. Dreams of high mountains and younger Sarah and a guiltless self.
"Don't know," Mike hissed. "Maybe the police."
Dan crawled passed Lance and Mike in the hall. "I'll peek out and see. Just get someone to the door."
Of course, it had to be the police, the next logical step in this spell of ill-luck. Sarah gone. The money gone. Now jail for them all.
"Get to the door," Mike said, holding open the beaded curtain as to not make a sound. "But don't answer them until Dan gives the okay."
Lance nodded-- the door handle warm from convention with the sun, the image of a bloated face floating in the peep hole-- not a cop's face from what he could tell. Too much hair.
"It's not the fuzz," Dan said, rolling into room again, breathless, his reddened face suggesting a held-back cough. "Just some hippie I've never seen before."
"Take this," Mike said removing a pistol from his belt. "Cover him from the window. I'll slip out onto the balcony. Let Lance answer the door." He produced a second pistol for himself, then slipped passed the covered balcony door. Dan hesitated for a moment, then eased noiselessly back into the hall beyond the beaded curtain. Marie stared up at Lance from the floor, more like a small child than ever, though her eyes shimmered with the texture of glass.
"Well?" she asked. "You going to answer the door or what?"
He turned the handle slowly and brought the door back sharply against its chain, pushing his face into the opening. "What do you want?" he asked coldly.
The poor fool staggered back, blinking madly in the bright light, obviously stoned, obviously unused to daylight or unpleasant welcomes.
"Look, man," the hippie said. "I'm just here to deliver a message."
"Free Press Bob, man. If you don't want none of it, that's all right with me. I don't want to be here either. Can you dig?"
Lance's shoulder's sagged and he laughed. "A little late, aren't you?"
"You were supposed to be here last night with the message for Mike."
The hippie's thick brown brows crinkled down over his squinting eyes. "Last night, man? I don't know nothing about last night or any cat named Mike. I just got the message this morning and its for a dude named Dan. This is his pad?"
Lance managed a nod.
"Good, man," the hippie said, pushing an envelop through the opening. "I've been real paranoid carrying this thing with all the cops running around this morning. Be cool."
And with that the hippie left, feet pounding down the stairs to the driveway. Lance closed the door. Mike and Dan crashed into the room.
"Let me see that!" Dan said and snatched the letter out of Lance's hand, tearing it open, sending shreds of paper to the cluttered floor. He read it and laughed. "Got him! The son of a bitch wants to meet and make a deal."
"Then the ploy worked," Mike said.
"To a point. It's bound to be a setup."
"You want me to go with you?"
"You can't. You have to be in Venice."
They stopped speaking and only Marie stared at Lance, but he felt their attention on him, waiting for him to say something.
"All right, I'll come with you," Lance snarled. "But I don't want to wind up in the middle of a shootout."
"You worry too much," Dan said, patting Lance gently on the shoulder. "No one's going to get violent unless Bobo gets stupid."
"Where does he want to meet?" Mike asked.
Dan consulted the note. "East end of the Boulevard-- near Vermont."
"And near where Billy did in the cops. Be careful, man."
"I know," Dan mumbled. "I know."
Mike closed the apartment door quietly behind. The long angle of sunset light blinded him for a moment at the railing as he circled down the stairs to the driveway and then to the street. People sat on their lawns, pathetic little middle class kings and queens, surveying their quarter acre empires with suspicion. They eyed him as he passed, more suspicious for his wishing them a good day.
At the corner of Fountain and McCadden, a police car sat at the curb, the faces of its occupants hidden by tinted glass. But Mike could feel their gazes following him along the street and half expected the doors to burst open as he passed.
Nothing occurred-- though turning the corner he saw two more sets of cherry tops parked on either side, like gate markers to some invisible kingdom, waiting and watching for invaders. But the cops in neither car looked up.
A moment later, a white four-door Ford pulled up, Demetre's scarred face behind the wheel. The cop pushed the passenger door open. "Get in."
"Here? Out in the open like this?"
"Michael!" Demetre growled, voice strained and weary. "Get in the Goddamn car. I don't have time for your song and dance."
Mike slid into the car, the seat-fabric warm from a day in sunlight. He slammed the door. Demetre made a u-turn, lifting his hand to the uniformed cars as he went by. Mike noted these pulling back into traffic behind them, then turning off as Demetre kept straight.
"Did you get the information?" Mike asked.
"It's in the briefcase," Demetre said, indicating the open leather case on the floor.
Mike reached down.
"Wait till we get out of town," the cop said.
Mike nodded and sat back.
The cop kept the speed exactly at 25 the whole way to Highland. He turned right towards the Boulevard. The sidewalks grew thick with people. The vanishing sun brought out the wacos: jesus freaks and bikers trading insults across traffic like hillbillies feuding. Waves of tourists fluttered from one side the boulevard to the other, creating a jam of buses and cars in front of Grauman's Chinese theater. Demetre cursed and leaned on the horn till he weaved through the worst of it. Another block farther on, the white car rose up into the winding hills of Laurel Canyon.
Beyond the curses, Demetre said nothing, steering the vehicle like a robot, His gaze leaped from mirror to mirror, studying behind them as much as the road. It took a few miles for him to relax, and another few for him to turn down a steep embankment-- the dirt road one of many of the odd-angled driveways marring these hills. The sand and stone rose on either side like closing fingers, dark shadows covering their trail of twilight crept over the valley. If anyone had followed them from Hollywood, they'd done so without headlights.
Demetre pulled the car up in front of what had once been a fine estate. The sagging black wood indicated a long cold fire. Mud slides and time had turned the rest of rubble, burying most of the ranch-style house. A pealing "for Sale" sign had been poked into the soft soil of the right embankment.
Demetre killed the headlights and engine and snapped on the inside dome. His black face sweated, and his eyes drooped enough to say he'd not slept in some time. But Mike read doubt in those eyes.
"So you want to know all about Buckingham, eh?" the cop said.
"All right, Michael. I'll teach you a lesson about life on the frontier. One you won't forget either. Hand me the brief case."
Mike complied. Demetre removed a thick bundle of varying colored file folders. Loose newsprint dangled from several like tails.
"You know when all this started, I thought you were Buckingham," Demetre said.
"He has your touch."
"Look, Demetre," Mike said. "I've done a hell of a lot of things since my trial in Arizona. But I'm not mass murderer."
"Then you know something," Demetre said, brows rising.
"Mostly rumor-- and what Gil told me in Phoenix."
"Ah, Gil," the cop said with a sigh. "Another misguided fool."
"What made you think I was Buckingham?" Mike asked, annoyed at the suggestion. "I thought you knew me better than that."
"The killing confused me. I'll admit that. But everything else was the same. The way you move and think, like an echo of you. Or maybe a mockery. I'm still not sure of it."
"But now you don't believe it?" Mike asked, wondering just how far he could run before the cop shot him or wrestled him to the ground. A long time ago, he had tried to out run the cop and hadn't gotten far. But both had been younger then.
"You wouldn't be here-- like this-- if I did," the cop said. "But it's more complicated than that. You're looking for something that might just spell your doom."
Again, Demetre sighed and flipped open the folders. One after another he showed them to Mike, photographs and fact sheets of people along what the cops had come to call The Buckingham trail.
"Some of these people you know," Demetre said. "Some of them are just the up and coming. But all of them knew of you."
"Is that so surprising? You're not a typical figure in the underworld, Michael. You're above it in the eyes of many, cleaner than the common drug dealer, more ethical than the Weather Underground."
"You and I know better. But we live in a time when others crave heros. First it was that bastard, Kennedy. Then the Beatles. Now its suck now to people as despicable as Charlie Manson."
"And I'm despicable, too?"
"In some ways," Demetre admitted. "In other ways you're as noble as these deluded fools think you are."
"That's high praise coming from you," Mike said with a laugh.
Demetre, however, looked over, and in the dim light his face was drawn, the scar standing out on his face like a protruding bone.
"It wasn't meant to be praise, Michael," he said softly. "Because heros like you, Kennedy, King and others attract peculiar admirers, the kind which wants to kill you."
Mike laughed. "You know, Demetre, you've always been the rather serious sort, but now you're outright morose. I'm no Martin Luther King."
"To a lot of people, you're an individual avenger, fighting against the unfair system and winning."
"Winning?" Mike barked. "That's what they call this? It feels more like being hounded to me, and I'm sick of it. The only thing I want now is to be left alone."
"I know," Demetre said. "It's the reason I'm here. I've known that much since I saw you in the courtroom long ago. I know what makes you tick, and I would have helped you sooner, but you had to get all the hate out of you first."
"And now it's all out of me?" Mike asked, his voice crisp and angry. He didn't want to have to think about the court room or what had been resolved there, or the child now calling another man daddy.
"The hate, yes. The anger will never leave you. Nor should it. A court room or a badge doesn't mean the things or people behind them are always right. Often they are not. In your case they were terribly wrong. But this whole thing with Buckingham is far worse. It is something that'll either kill you and turn you truly evil."
"Like I have a choice."
"You do. Despite your reputation, you're not as hunted as you believe..."
"Tell that to the fifteen hundred cop cars that have my photograph flapping in their faces!" Mike exploded.
"An old photograph, Michael. One that doesn't even look like you anymore. Besides, you can't expect to play Black Bart and not have wanted posters. But you aggravate matters every time you pull a new stunt. The foolishness with the pot farm in Nebraska, for instance. It not only added to your reputation and admiring fans, but also reminded the authorities of your presence in their world. All you really have to do is lay low for a while, get a serious job. And have this galloping reputation of your fade into the dust with all the other cowboy legends."
"Right!" Mike said. "So that in ten years some smart-assed FBI man looking to make a name for himself will come knocking at my door. Or some petty private eye. Or some part time quack."
"All of them would forget you if you hid well enough."
"Hide from the best dicks in the country?"
"You're good enough."
"Tell that to the Tinkertons!" Mike said. "They're in town, I hear."
Demetre's expression grew grim again. "I know. But that was not your doing. I talked with their captain. Someone told them where you were. Or rather where your girlfriend is."
"What? They know where Marie is?" Mike howled, clawing at the car handle to get out.
"Calm yourself. I'll drive you back to town when we're done. They haven't gotten to her yet. Last I heard they missed catching her on the Boulevard after she slipped through some gay bar."
Mike sagged. "Oh that," he said with a sigh. Old news. Lance had rescued her. "I thought you meant something new."
Demetre shook his head. "You're really caught on her that bad, eh?"
"I'm addicted," Mike mumbled.
"Which makes you all the more a fool! What else did you expect with kidnapping her?"
"I didn't kidnap her, she insisted on coming."
"At fourteen it amounts to the same thing. And the Tinkertons, by God. They're worse than Hoover's bunch and twice as dogged. They are something to worry about. They may never let go of your scent."
"It won't matter much if I get a hold of Buckingham," Mike said.
"For God's sake, aren't you listening to me? This character Buckingham is killing people, hunting down self-styled drug lords in every town east of the Mississippi. Empires have fallen, Michael. Havoc exist in his trail."
"I know," Mike moaned. "But I don't have a choice."
Demetre grabbed Mike's collar and yanked him up nose to nose, the smell of mint curling up between them like gas. "Listen to me, damn it. Buckingham doesn't just want to be kingpin of the west coast. He wants his competition crushed. But above all, Michael, more than any of that, he wants you dead."
Mike stumbled through the crowd, disbelieving Demetre's entire tale. The circus atmosphere made it easier to disbelieve. Nothing in Hollywood was real. Not even the underlying electric fear which seemed to grip the faces around him, paranoid exchanged glances between hippies, bikers and drug people as Jesus Freaks and tourists went on blindly between.
Cops, their eyes said. Everywhere fucking cops.
Mike saw them, too, stuffed into cars on the corners, huddled into deep-set doorways. Waiting and watching, and occasionally, yanking some poor fool off his feet, to the hassle and indignity of search and bust.
It all seemed arbitrary. As if ill-luck chose its victims. And those lucky enough to miss its lottery, hurried on, afraid of the next selection a block or two later. Too many were going down. Already the ranks had thinned.
And in Mike the echoes of Demetre's illogical talk. Of heros and villains. Of a demented fan waiting in yet deeper shadows for a chance to kill Jesse James.
Or was Mike now Black Bart?
Old legends seemed to run together in his head. Even the ones his grandfather spoke over his cradle, of the evil god Coyote who played games with people's fate.
Was Buckingham Coyote? Was all this one of his insane dances?
But how could Demetre have gotten so deluded? Or was it a head trip, something to shake Mike off Buckingham's trail? Buckingham was a legend, too, and the combined power of two such legends might well scare the law establishment into some elaborate fibs.
But it hadn't seemed like a lie. And the whole time, Demetre's gaze had probed Mike, and his guesses had come close about the shooting up in Griffith's park.
Were you there? Who killed the cops, Michael? Why?
Those cops seemed primary to Demetre. He was part of their club and couldn't let it go with no. In other circumstances, the man might even have tried busting Mike for it. God knew he could make a charge stick. But Mike was Mike, and the Tucson court room floated in the back of the black cop's head like a ghost. Another bad rap wouldn't ease his conscience.
Mike tried to plead ignorance, saying he wasn't anywhere near Griffith's park. The cop accused him of lying.
Your footprints were all over, the cop said. Up on the soft ground above the road.
My prints? How can you tell?
But the man had known. The man had taken prints from other places, had traced Mike back the whole route to the Nebraska farm.
No secrets between us, Michael.
But the man's motivations puzzled Mike. Why hold back the fury of the LAPD for the likes of him. Take him in. Grill him. At some point in the conversation, whether in the hills or down at the station, Mike would have given up Billy's name. An easy out. But one which would lead yet to other scenarios.
Someone had shot a cop from the hill. Mike? Maybe Chris.
And for some reason Mike wanted to keep Chris' name out of this, as if he owed her that much despite his rage.
I don't know anything, Demetre! he'd yelled.
The cop let it go, saying Mike was in over his head. Buckingham a fan? Was the cop fucking crazy?
No. Demetre wanted Buckingham. And Demetre was willing to deal with Satan to get him. For the first time even, Mike felt the odd sensation of being a tool. Demetre and others needed Mike to get Buckingham, and the system was willing to over look his participation in a cop killing to do so.
Was Buckingham up on that hill with you?
"I told you, I haven't met him yet," Mike said. "Tonight, midnight."
"None of your business."
"I told you no. I meant no. This is between me and him."
Even if it kills you?
"You're the only one saying he wants me dead, man. And if that's what this Buckingham wanted, he could have done it a long time ago."
Why do you say that?
"Because it's true. He's a ghost. Even you said he's been floating around us without our knowing."
It was this which had stopped the conversation. Demetre didn't have all the answers, any more than Mike did. But the whole notion of a mad-fan struck Mike as pure fantasy. Demetre slipping over the edge into the abyss where all old cops go.
But Mike hated being used. The system. The Machine. Whatever the hippies called society these days. He wasn't part of it, and wouldn't lead it to anyone.
Not even Buckingham.
So as he danced through the crowd, he looked back. Was anyone following now? How did he go about losing them? He had to be careful...
A hand grabbed Mike and yanked him into the deep set doorway of a vacant store. Billy Night Rider's face poking into his. Sweating and panicked. The eyes bulging under the mussed blond hair. Dark, paranoid eyes.
"What the hell you doing walking around the street like that?" Billy barked. "Haven't you heard what's going on?"
"Cool off, Billy," Mike said, detaching the man's clawing fingers from his arm. "I'm not hip to the news. If you want to tell me, that's fine. But leave off the flesh, okay?"
"With the cops, man. You know..."
"Oh that," Mike said, turning away from Billy to view the street. He studied the passing faces. Had one looked in?
"What do you mean oh that? This is serious, man. The cops are everywhere."
"You worry too much," Mike said. "No one saw anything up there."
"That's what you say," the biker growled. His wide shoulders shuddered under his cut off denim jacket, as if cold. "But we don't know nothing for sure. Someone in one of those houses might have looked out."
"I know for sure," Mike snapped. He didn't want to have to explain about Demetre, and the grilling.
Yet something in his voice seemed to settle the Biker, the grim face twisting slightly to study Mike, more chimpanzee than human with the same puzzled expression.
"If you know so much, then maybe you can tell me something about Bobo," Billy asked.
"Bobo?" Mike snorted. "Are you still on that kick. If you're scared, get out of town. Forget trying to be the biggest bad dude in L.A."
"That ain't it any more," Billy said. "Things are different now. Rougher. People are getting yanked off the street."
"Because of that narc article in Freep?"
"And the killing. Sooner or later the pigs are going to get lucky and pick me up or you, or one of the others-- and they'll squeeze the truth out. And we'll all fry."
"And what's this got to do with Bobo, besides your suspicion he arranged for the article?"
"He's helping them, man."
"Him? Help the fuzz? You're crazy. The cops get hold of him, they'll keep him."
"Maybe they got him already. Maybe he's dealing to save his own hide."
True or not, the idea struck Mike in the wrong place and at the wrong time. He didn't need to hear such things to get his own head started. Paranoia was contagious. Paranoia spread like wild fire. And there was a flame already setting alight inside him.
"Bullshit! You and Dan ought to join up. You both seem to have the same skewed ideas. Except Dan thinks he's using the cops."
"Maybe he is."
"The cops don't get used like that. Not down in the ditches. They're not that stupid. Nor does Bobo want to make that many enemies out here on the street."
"He'd do it if he thought there'd be no one left to bother him," Billy said. "If he could eliminate everybody that was anybody he'd have his own little empire and then no one could get at him."
He wants the whole thing for himself, Michael, Demetre had said. He wants the biggest drug empire this side of the country.
Bobo as Buckingham? That was bullshit, too.
And yet, slow coldness came over Mike. The pattern alarmed him. What if it wasn't just L.A. Bobo had interests in. Gil in Phoenix had made noises about Bobo's being there. And Rumors of Bobo had circulated along the line from Denver. What if Bobo was Buckingham?
The photos of the murdered drug dealers flipped through Mike's head one after the other, like one of those old time card movies, each face blending with the next till they all looked like his own.
The elimination of competition made more sense than Demetre's fairy tale. Billy's fright proved the effect of Bobo's campaign on those not busted or killed. Many of the second string players down here worked cheap and for anybody. Their loyalty was to power and to the man they feared most.
The meeting with Bobo hinted of danger for Dan and Lance, and might be a bit more deadly than either expected.
"As a matter of fact, Billy. I do know where Bobo is-- or at least where he's supposed to be in a few hours."
Billy's jaw shifted, his narrow eyes squinting at Mike with something akin to murder in them. "Oh yeah? You tell me about it and I'll take care of the problem."
Mike smiled. "I'm sure you will, Billy," he said, remembering the cops on the hill. "Over at the East end of the Boulevard. Bobo's supposed to meet Dan there at ten."
Billy grinned, his slash of a mouth revealing a half dozen knobby and yellow teeth. "That's all I needed to know, Pal," he said, patting Mike shoulder. Then, he slipped out of the door and into the flow of the crowd, looking as he had on the hill-- like a killer on the scent of a prey.
"You what?" Dan exploded, his mouth and eyes bulging with rage. "What the hell did you do that for?"
"To save your life, fool," Mike said calmly, leaning against the wall near the door-- the vibration of someone's music working up it from down below. Slow dance music from a few decades earlier. Sad music dancing in the back of his head in the place of a chant.
No Coyote in him. No messages from the dead.
Only pictures of those dead men staring up from Demetre's briefcase. Dan's could be one of them.
"But I want Bobo in one piece," Dan moaned and paced the room, the light from the kitchen casting the room into a deep and stark shadow. "At least until he can tell me where my goddamn money is."
"What do you need the money for? You have a whole shipment. You can sell that and make back most of the money..."
"It's the principle of the thing," Dan grumbled. "That son of a bitch has to pay for screwing me."
"And killing him's not enough?"
"Not if Billy does it, no."
Mike sighed, patting his pocket for a piece of chocolate, finding a bit wrapped in crinkled foil. Old chocolate. From the road. It tasted stale, but he sucked on it and eyed Lance, who sat near the beaded curtain with back against the wall and head down into his arms.
"Talk to him, Lance," Mike said. "Tell him what a fool he's being."
Lance looked up. Red-eyed. A little stoned. Not acid. Speed maybe from the way his hands shook. He shrugged. "We're all fools coming back here," he said.
Mike snorted and glared, then grabbed Dan. "Listen idiot. I saw the photographs. I know what this man can do if he's really Buckingham. It's not pretty."
Dan squinted at him from under the floppy hat, his eyes red as well. "What do you get out of this?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean if Bobo is Buckingham, it seems you're screwing yourself by sending Billy in."
Mike turned towards the balcony door and pushed back its covering. Outside, the floor lights illuminated the unscathed side of the van, the almost red, white and blue colors emphasized like a dayglow poster.
"I'm just finding out the truth," Mike said. "We have to know if Bobo and Buckingham are the same. And the only way we'll find out is if we catch one."
"Which is what I'm trying to do!" Dan howled.
"But Billy's better at it. And expendable. If this whole thing is a trap, I'd rather him set it off. I need you."
"Geeze thanks," Dan barked. "So what are we supposed to do, sit here and wait for it all to happen."
"Of course not. You'll keep the rendezvous as planned. But you'll stay on the side lines and watch the thing unfold. You might get something out of it."
"Yeah," Dan mumbled. "But not what I want. All right. Come on, Lance. We have a show to watch."
"Hey, Dan," Mike said, grabbing the man's arm. "Take this." He shoved the pistol from earlier into his hands. "You may need it and I have another."
Dan nodded and shoved the gun into his belt.