She stepped out of the piece of crap Neon that she had gotten as a loaner for the van just as Rufus stopped rocking and stood up. He still had a solid build. The African tank, that was one of the nicknames that her dad had given his best friend and the closest thing to a brother that he had ever had. His chest still looked like the front of a Mack truck. Thunder rolls baby, Thunder rolls, for the briefest of moments everything else was gone and she was just a little girl going to visit her only uncle.
“Baby girl!” Rufus shouted from the porch. “Is that my little girl? Damn baby, you ain’t changed a bit.”
“Hey Thunder, how have you been?” She looked him up and down. “You’ve changed quite a bit. You look like a black Grizzly Adams. What happen to your slick suits and sweet leather?” Seeing Rufus was the only thing in her life she had to be happy about.
“Aw, you know baby. I gotta’ try and fit in with all the rednecks and white trash around here. They all look like Grizzly Adams. They seem to like me better if I keep myself lookin’ like a poor, old slave. Then they leave me alone.” He laughed and crouched over, holding his back like he’d been working the field all day.
The puffiness around her nose and cheeks, along with the redness in her eyes betrayed her attempt at appearing strong. He hugged her as she slumped against him. “You’ve been cryin’ baby girl. What happen? There have only been two times that I’ve seen you cry. When that piece a shit, wop motherfucker broke your heart and when sweet Miss Alyssa was born. What’s goin’ on baby?”
She inhaled deeply as her eyes welled up. “Mark’s dead and that fucker…” she could barely choke the words out. Her body shook some as she gave up her fight against the tears. Rufus held her tight and stroked her hair as she continued, “Vinny Heart, or Vincent Valentino or whatever that snake, bastard, wannabe thug calls himself, has my kids.”
Rufus shook his head. “Well you really are the mom now aren’t ya’? Now you know I love ya’ baby girl, but that cryin’ shit ain’t gonna’ help ya’ get them kids back. And I know that Mark cat was a good guy.” Shelia looked up through her tears, slightly confused. Rufus had never met Mark. He chuckled, “Bet yo’ ass I checked up on him. Only way I coulda’ known him any better is if I shoved my arm up his ass. Anyway, ya’ can’t bring him back either.”
Rufus sat Shelia down in the rocker and rubbed her shoulders. Then he continued, “Now let’s figure out what we know. This Vincent punk ass Valentino ain’t no pro. We know that. If he was, he wouldn’t want any other corpses hittin’ the ground but yours. No.” He shook the idea off as if to add validity. “Somebody else be callin’ the shots, and that somebody’s gonna’ be pissed when the cops start sniffin’ around. I ain’t figured out who that somebody is yet, but I’m on it. As for our friend, we caught ourselves a break despite his stupidity. The cops will be lookin’ for him at an apartment on the east side of Milwaukee. They ain’t gonna’ find him there though. He and his ex-girlfriend broke up when she moved to Europe with her family. Her dad caught a transfer. Anyway, that’s not important. What’s important is that Valentino’s parents spend their winters in Miami so he’s left his east side apartment to house sit in New Berlin. I got the address.”
Shelia laughed despite the tears rolling down her cheeks, “Where the hell do you get all this info Thunder? You know absolutely everything about everybody.” She paused a few seconds and then in slightly more than a whisper continued, “What would I do without you?”
“I gotta’ stay connected baby. You know I got my ways. Besides, I gotta’ stay one step ahead. There’s plenty a sucka’s wanna’ see us both dead. Your head’s been all messed up. Shit a crack head lookin’ to score a rock coulda’ took you out the way you been warmin’ up to that domestic life. You got soft. Somebody had to be lookin’ out for ya’.” He opened the screen to go in the house but paused halfway through the door. “As for what you’d do without me, you wouldn’t laugh as much and you wouldn’t have any idea where your kids are right now.”
The screen door slammed shut, tight spring. “Rufus?” Shelia began, her tone somewhat distant. “If you’re so connected, why didn’t you know these amateurs were going to try and take me out?”
“That’s what’s got me scared baby. Whoever’s callin’ the shots on this thing is like a fuckin’ ghost. They gotta’ be big time. I got nothin’ on ‘em.” He said through the screen. He paused for a moment and then added, “But I’m lookin’. I’m lookin’.”
Shelia stared out across the field of tall grass that posed as a front lawn. It was so long it looked like wheat. She remembered it clean and green. It was still green, but now it looked like a mange of wild hair rustling about in the wind. She lost herself in its movement. It danced a sway for her. After awhile she connected with its rhythm. It was a lazy waltz, no place to go but right where it was. She let the tears take her one last time as she thought about her children. They were probably stuck in the trunk of that Caddy. Then she thought about Mark. What did he do? They were after her. He just got in the way. The tears came stronger, almost an all out sob. She didn’t care for the crying any more than Rufus did, but she had to get it all out. She’d leave it all with the field. It could dance with her regrets. She had work to do.
By the time Rufus made it back out to the porch, Shelia was gone. She was as dead as Stiletto had been thirteen years ago. She got up from the rocking chair and her eyes met Rufus’s. A knowing smirk crawled onto the left side of his face. The girl was back.
“Her majesty, Stiletto Rose has returned.” He said in the slickest fly guy voice he could muster. “Don’t let her beauty fool you, this flower’s pure poison. All best bow in her presence.”
“Quit fuckin’ around Thunder,” her tone was matter of fact and her face almost stoic. “We’ve got work to do.
“That we do baby girl. That we do.”
Rufus’s arms were full of pictures and printouts, all the info anybody could want on their good friend Vincent Valentino and his thugs. There wasn’t anything terribly exciting. Vinny had a couple run ins with the law. Drunk and disorderly was probably the most exciting. There were a couple of minor assault and battery charges, busted collecting for somebody a little higher on the food chain probably. It all looked like somebody trying to break into the biz. Like many thugs in the small town dressed like a big city, he just couldn’t play on the same level as the real heavy hitters.
The rest of Vinny’s crew was nothing to speak of. Jimmy and Danny Pappalardo were twins. When they were younger they had a reputation of being a couple of brawlers. Neither one had ever done anything major though. Rufus’s best guess was that following Vinny Heart around was the closest they’d ever get to being players, and that was miles away from it.
Lenny Weston had one shining spot on his record, attempted murder. When he was eight years old he tried to kill his parents in their sleep. He stabbed them both repeatedly with a scissors. That was damn creepy as far as Rufus was concerned. Lenny spent some time in the county kook house and was eventually deemed cured. That idea seemed ridiculous. How does a crazy stop being crazy? That just doesn’t make any sense. Either way, he was a wild card.
“Well that’s all I know baby,” Rufus sighed as he finished his report.
“Oh that’s all,” the slightest chuckle. “I feel like I grew up with these morons. Vinny said that they’d be calling me again, but I’m not waiting for them. I gotta’ get moving.”
“Yeah,” Rufus nodded. “Let’s get you hooked up.”
He led her back to the barn, home base, the place where all the goodies were. Underneath the barn was a command center that would have the military green with envy. Well, greener than they already were. That was how Rufus stayed connected. It also held the armory, Stiletto’s playroom. Rufus had weapons to suit any taste. He had everything from ancient gems – worth more for their historical significance than a nuclear warhead – to state of the art bombs that any military would be thrilled to get their hands on. Stiletto had her pick. These were the tools of her trade. It was time to go to work.