The bad guy

The tall, gaunt man with an austere, unshaven face marred by a nose broken in some dim barroom past stood impatiently beside a hellishly expensive high-definition Sony videocam. It stood ready, mounted on a robust carbon-fiber tripod planted near the edge of a steep-walled arroyo. Next to the man stood a camera operator, looking through the viewfinder toward a dark blue Chevy Blazer parked atop the opposite wall edge of the arroyo a hundred yards away. Its supercharged, 572-cubic-inch crate engine rumbled impatiently at idle, 750 horses waiting to stampede. This was no normal Blazer; its 24 forward gears made highway travel cumbersome. It had been trailered over a rough access road to this once-quiet place and now sat mounted on adjustable shocks with 17 inches of travel. The 46-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claw tires cost nearly three thousand dollars a set. The tires sat squat, inflated to only five pounds of air pressure. This Blazer could crawl over virtually any obstacle.

Dressed in black despite the growing heat of emerging spring, the thin man pulled a radio from his belt. Sunlight reflected from the large, oval, silver buckle stamped with the letters “XOX.” He nodded to the cameraman, then spoke into the radio. “Now.”
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The bad guy’s henchmen

Noah and Kara walked into Ray’s Tavern. Her arm rested easily in the crook of his elbow. “Table or booth?” he asked.

“Booth,” she said, walking to a corner under pictures and posters on the wall near the back pool room. She waited so he could choose where to sit. He appreciated that. Like Wyatt Earp did once too often, he sat with his back to the door. Kara, a semi-committed vegetarian in a cheeseburger bar, ordered a cheese omelet with bean sprouts. The waitress, a woman in her 40s with leathery skin and a slight stoop, stared at Kara blankly. No bean sprouts, Kara was told.

“Really?” she said.

“Kara,” whispered Noah, “this isn’t Seattle.”

“Whoa. I’ll say,” she muttered.

Noah asked for a cheeseburger. Kara complained her plain cheese omelet was too well done; Noah just ate without comment. Apple pie followed for both.

“Do you bitch about everything?” Noah asked.

“I only bitch when things aren’t right.”
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