When Opal’s parents were still together, one of the biggest fights they had was after Clayton

had spent the better part of the afternoon teaching Opal how to ride his dirt bike. He’d had a large street bike that Opal rode on when he dropped her at school some mornings, but this one was just small enough that she could reach the hand grips and the gears at the same time, but she was still much too small to hold it up. Clayton sat behind her and instructed Opal to squeeze in the clutch with her left hand and kick the gear down with her toe to first gear, then give it a little gas with her right hand. Once she was moving a bit, Clayton told her to squeeze in the clutch again and lift the gear up two clicks for second gear then slowly let out the clutch and give it some more gas. Opal was exhilarated by the speed and terrified that she’d make them crash, but she never did. The house they were renting was in a new development and their street dead ended in open desert. Because she was wearing only shorts and a t-shirt her legs and arms would end up covered in fine scratches from sharp tree branches and bushes. She wore no helmet, her long hair flying and her eyes tearing from the dry wind. By the end of a riding session she was covered in dust and scratches, her skin raw from sun and wind and her hair a tumble weed. Bea was convinced that Clayton would end up killing Opal and refused to let the riding sessions continue. So, Clayton and Opal had to cover their tracks. Opal learned from her father how to be sneaky. As far as Opal knew the bikes had been sold. Her father lived in an RV that he used to travel to his clients. He sold piñatas for a company in San Antonio and drove to Mexican supermarkets and party shops in his RV and showed store owners the samples and took orders. Most styles were in his sales photo album, but he had a big Santa and a snoopy piñatas to show detail and scale. With the RV he didn’t have to pay for hotels and since he traveled so much for his job, no one had to look after his place while he was gone. He had a Post Office box in Albuquerque and one in Phoenix. Before he and Bea separated, he had a new one set up just for his paychecks and bank statements from his new bank account he’d opened in his friend’s name. When Clayton decided to head back to Albuquerque on Thanksgiving, he had convinced himself it was because he wanted to check in with Dharma before the baby arrived. It made him feel better than saying he wanted to be as far away from the blast zone as possible when he dissolved his brief business partnership with Ben and then tried to go solo with Tamara and Ben’s contacts. He would have left town directly if it weren’t for his custom kangaroo hide boots, which he hoped to hell were with Ben, with his pistol inside. Not finding Opal and Bea home, Clayton walked back over to Tamara’s to endure ten more minutes of Rommel’s wrath. He could never get that dog to warm up to him like he’d seen Ben do. Ben just put his hand out and the barking would calm and then Rommel would lick and nuzzle him. Clayton just let the idiot dog bark. It wasn’t worth his time warming up to that stupid dog.

Clayton knocked on Tamara’s door, fierce rabid barking commenced and Tamara unlocked the chain and poked her head out. “Five minutes. Wait by my car. I’ll be there soon.” Clayton waited and she soon appeared looking like she had a date, in a clingy dark purple long sleeved wrap dress and very dangerous looking gold high heal sandals, crowned with the long red wig. Over her arm was a black long haired sheepskin coat. “So I guess you’re driving?” asked Clayton, a bit disappointed. “My car, I drive,” Tamara opened the back door with a screech and tossed in her coat and bag. Once behind the wheel she lit a cigarette and started warming up the engine. She punched some radio buttons then gave up and pushed in an 8 track. Jerry Riopell blasted out of the speakers that were rigged in the back. Clayton turned it down a bit and Tamara blew smoke in his direction as she looked over her shoulder to back out. The back windshield has horizontal Venetian blinds. “You are going to Ben’s to apologize and make amends. What you did was a shit move, Clayton.” Tamara wasn’t near done scolding him. “I told you, I blew it. I want to make sure he has my gear though. If he made it back here it probably means he wasn’t arrested which means that the cops didn’t need to keep his bag. Do you know if he flew on our original flight?” Clayton wanted to know as much as possible before any face time with Ben. “I picked him up from the airport. He didn’t even have his car keys when he landed. You have them. I don’t know what flight he was on or if it was the same flight you two booked. I can tell you he’s been to the VA for his back. He’s in pain. You still have his car keys?” “Yeah, in my bag.” Clayton opened the leather bag between his feet and fished in the side pocket for the set of keys. He found them and put them in his coat pocket. Two sets of spindly palms were lit from the base with red flood lights on either side of the entrance to Ben’s apartment complex. Tamara slowed down and parked at the curb. “I’m guessing this isn’t the end of our night together? You’ll need a ride somewhere when Ben throws you out.” “Ben’s not going to throw me out. I’ll fix this and then he’ll probably want to go get a beer. So, yeah, we’ll need a ride to get his car, and you can join us.” Clayton showed the wolfish smile again, which did nothing to warm Tamara’s heart. “Go. Fix it. Make nice.” Tamara cut the engine and turned up the stereo. Clayton walked slowly up the stairs dreading the confrontation and wanting it to be behind him. He paused at the door and threw his shoulders back, took a shallow breath

and held it then knocked. Tamara could see Ben’s door from the car and she held her breath too, waiting for the door to open. When it did, Clayton was thrown in silhouette His barrel chest and shoulders seemed too big to fit through the door frame. He hesitated and then stepped in and the door shut. Tamara needed them to make amends - she needed the money. Selling to touring road crew and security was an endless revenue stream. If she could increase her sales then she could quit the theatrics and relax a bit. She was feeling too old and ridiculous for this anymore. The new girls were ten years younger and her regulars were calling less frequently. The door banged open again and a bag flew out and over the banister landing on the winter grass next to the red flood lights. Clayton quickly followed clutching a smaller bag to his chest. Ben shoved him hard to move him out the door. “What the fuck’s wrong with you? Get the hell out of here!” Ben went back in and shut the door hard. Clayton stood for a moment one hand on the banister to steady himself and the other still clutching the boot bag to his chest. He made his way down the stairs and toward Tamara’s car. He stopped to pick up the carry on bag and then opened the passenger door and sat in stunned silence. He pulled the heavy door shut and looked at Tamara with an embarrassed smile. “He doesn’t want to get a beer.” “No?” Tamara waited for an explanation or directions. She was seeing her retirement plans evaporate. “So, good news is he found the holster in the carry on before he went through security. No harm no foul. He,” Clayton huffed a small laugh, “he put it in a toilet in the men’s room.” Clayton looked out the window and up at the swaying red palm. He tried to tap down the irritation he felt at the pistol being gone. “Okay, but I knew that, so go on.” Tamara turned the key to warm the engine. “Bad news is Ben feels I set him up and pretty much doesn’t want a thing to do with me. I honestly can’t say that I blame him. I don’t know him well enough to say whether he’ll calm down and forgive and forget or ..” Clayton held his palms up and shrugged. “I see. Well Ben’s a fair person but he is sensitive. He’s been damaged.” Tamara was waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Right. Well, I’m not willing to throw in the towel. I got my boots back,” he patted the leather boot bag lovingly, “I will carry on and if Ben wants back in then he can call me when he’s ready. He probably just needs a little time. All business has it’s peaks and valleys.”

Tamara let out a breath she had not realized she was holding. “So we’re still in business?” “Yes Ma’am. We most certainly are. Do we have time for a drink to celebrate before your, ah, date?” Clayton was completely over the altercation with Ben. He had cleanly cut him out and solidified his partnership with Tamara. She even seemed relieved. He knew to play to her sympathies for damaged Ben while also assuring her that her business was solid. “My date is meeting me at El Charro at ten. We could go there for a drink and have plenty of time.” Tamara was executing a nine point U turn with the huge car. She finally managed to get pointed back out to the street and headed East towards Scottsdale. “Do you still need to be dropped somewhere?” “Yes, but it can wait.” Clayton was completely relaxed.

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