For August T. Lee Harris

I pulled my Mustang up in front of the Barnstorm Inn and switched off the engine. For a place of legend, the outside wasn’t very impressive. The clapboard siding of the bar/restaurant, weathered silver gray from years of desert sun, contrasted starkly with the creamy adobe and red terracotta roof of the dude ranch’s hotel a short distance beyond. Neither structure had any landscaping to speak of — other than that provided by native yucca, creosote bushes and the occasional Joshua tree. And hitching rails. There were hitching rails all along the front. I found it amusing that the parking space I’d chosen for my automotive Mustang featured something originally intended for its flesh and blood brethren. It was just before noon and there was already a good crowd. The inn’s restaurant did a helluva lunch business. It had a great reputation and people drove for miles to eat there. Still, most of the clientele came from the nearby Air Force base, attracted by both the history of the place as well as the culinary talents of the new Latina chef. The engine ticked and pinged a little under the hood as I checked myself in the rearview mirror. I looked fine and the road leading up to the place was empty. If anyone had been tailing me, I’d have seen them by now.
Inside, the walls were covered with framed photos of the famous and the not-so famous fliers who had frequented the place over the years. I had it on good authority that my uncle Danny was in a few of these, but resisted the urge to browse for familiar faces. Instead, I made my way to a table near the back with a good view of the front door. I’d barely sat down when a server in a ’40s outfit, made to evoke the heyday era of the place, appeared to take my order. It was testament to the fact the kitchen was gearing up for a rush that my Cobb salad arrived a few minutes later. The thing was huge. A work of edible art arranged on a saffron yellow plate the size of Toledo. Ooookay. I needed to settle in, anyway, and grazing over a salad this size was a damned good excuse.
When it was time for me to leave, I’d slowed to the point of searching out savory bits of bacon and bleu cheese from the wreckage of the salad, anyway. The waitress had already brought the check, so I grabbed my purse and headed for the front cash register. Engrossed in going over my bill, I collided with a tall, middle-aged Air Force officer as he escorted a frosty mug of beer to a table not far from mine, where a group of businessmen waited.
“Oh! I’m so sorry! Oh, geez. I sloshed beer on your uniform.” I blotted at the foamy spatters with a tissue from my purse.
He grinned down at me. “Don’t worry about it. It’s just a little bit, no harm done.”
“I’m glad. One of these days I’ll learn to pay attention where I’m walking.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “You can run into me any time you like.”
I laughed. “Well, if you’re sure it’s okay. . . .” I mutely held up my bill, gave him a sheepish finger-wave and hurried toward the register.
So, that was him, I thought as I fired the Mustang’s ignition and pulled back onto the dusty highway. He didn’t look like a monster — but I was coming to learn, those are the worst kind. Evidence was mounting that he’d been selling information to the highest bidder for years. In fact, it was intel leaked from this joker that screwed my uncle’s last mission in the Middle East for Military Intelligence. I never saw Danny again. The family relationship almost got me bumped from this action, but my handler knew how important it was to me and pushed to let me do it. After all, it was simply a brush pass — and a flawless one at that. Now it was up to the techno-wizards to eavesdrop with the little receiver I’d slipped into the creep’s pocket to drive the nail the rest of the way into the coffin lid.
I wondered if Cobb salads were a legitimate expense item. Guess I’d find out.

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About Jim Hilton

Just having a good time writing about our little adventures.
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