Three Days in Jackass Flats

an excerpt

Prologue

The Legend of Jackass Flats



'Injun Joe' winced as the bright sunlight scorched his bloodshot eyes. Peering out from crusted eyelids, the old shaman belly-crawled to the edge of the spring just a few feet away from where he'd collapsed late the night before. Empty liquor bottles graced the sandy loam and tough prairie grass that had made his nocturnal resting place. His buckskin leggings were stiff from both spilled liquor and urine, his straggly hair jutted from his scalp more like the wiry tumbleweed, and his naked chest was crusty with vomit and dirt.

Stretching out a gnarled hand to the surface of the spring water, Joe's head felt as if he'd slept under a buffalo's ass and his tongue felt as if it'd grown fur and rolled in buffalo shit for good measure. The only saving grace was the shade the mesquite and sycamore trees cast over the watering hole. The artesian water tasted cold and sweet, its restorative powers helping with everything but the pounding headache that Joe had come to expect with the overindulgence of the white man's firewater. But, as long as they wanted to use the spring as a source of water for their iron horse, the price in trade was a case of liquor.

This case wasn't merely whiskey this time, however. No, the kind folks of the railroad had thrown in a couple of bottles of gin and some rum to appear hospitable. Joe didn't really care, he had a good supply of buffalo jerky, and occasionally some of the railroad folks would sit down with him at his campfire and drink with him. This time, oh this time. The pain managed to irritate Joe past his usual gruff nature. In fact, Joe figured he was going to have to start demanding more than the usual monthly delivery of hooch.

Three more handfuls of water, and Joe squinted through eyes swollen in his hungover state for his horse, his shirt, and bag of herbs, unguents and mystical items that made him a well-respected shaman. Using his elbow to prop his torso up, his blurry vision scanned the immediate area. Ah, okay. His tired paint pony was grazing on the tough grasses on the other side of the spring. His blankets, bag, and shirt were on the other side of the wooden crate, now laying on its side, empty and sorta catty-whampus after being smashed open to retrieve the previous contents. With one small exception. Laying on its side, the label smeared with soot and spilled liquor, was a slender green bottle. A silken tassel hung to one side of the wax-sealed cork. All that was left of the label's lettering was "I-N-T-H-E" and the curious line drawing of something half-butterfly, half-human.

Joe slowly got to his feet and gingerly shuffled to his belongings, stuffing all of them in the half-demolished crate and snatched the thin green bottle as an afterthought. When he returned to the shade at the side of the spring, he went through his bags for something to eat. Finding a couple of strips of deer jerky, he decided to bathe first, his own stench being enough to stampede animals.

The water was cold, but the sandy bottom of the spring felt good on his feet, and within a few minutes, Joe pulled himself out and decided to air dry his now clean carcass. He retrieved the salty jerky, and needing something to wash it down with, he took the slender green bottle with the funny tassel and proceeded to break the wax seal.

When he took the jerky out of his bag, Joe also allowed a small, delicately worked leather bag of carved fetish animals to tumble unnoticed onto his lap. Taking a small sip of the contents of the bottle, he felt the effects of the liquor almost immediately. Everything around him, including the tiny totem animals took on a sharper quality, as if their very spirits had been manifested on his legs. Joe knew what was happening, the wily white men had conspired to poison him, to take the water from the spring without care to the people who lived here first, but the Gods were giving him a way out. Joe gathered the tiny carved totem animals into his numbing hands and poured them into the spring. While water was a necessity to all who lived on the flats, stealing it without care for the others who needed it was a crime against the Ancestors and the Exalted Ones.

Joe began to chant his last incantation and prayer, knowing that soon whatever poisoned liquor he'd carelessly drank would kill him. The tremors that would soon be convulsions had already begun to make his fingers tremble as he outstretched his hands over the waters, his heart a drumbeat, summoning the Ancients:

Oh, Great Spirit, hear my prayer

Take to heart my words of care

Spirit animals of power

Come to me in this last hour

Let every animal come and drink these waters without harm,

Without fear, without alarm.

But should a white man kneel, his thirst to slake,

By the next Full Moon, his body shall take

The shape of the animal last to grace

These waters in this holy place.



One day, maybe the white man would learn not to short shrift a shaman, and certainly not to poison him with the agreed bargain of trade. In the meantime, a whole community of shifters would soon call these barren flats home and trouble of another sort would dance like Coyote's Shadow.



Chapter One

Don't Go Breaking a Bunny's Heart



Grimacing, Maddie glanced around. This was not a patch of dirt anyone in their right mind would give more than a passing glance. The scraggly juniper scrub covered in sand and ashen gravel mixed with clumps of prairie grass wasn't inspiring. Not even to cowboy poets. There wasn't a single romantic thing about the backdrop, save perhaps to prairie dogs and rattlesnakes. Especially when the prevailing aroma was desiccated skunk and burro shit. Ugh.

Therefore, she knew very well what they looked like standing silhouetted against the tawny, sand covered brush. Their two figures, half hidden in the culvert tucked alongside the forestry and parks road on the way to Joe Pool Lake, would appear to be a desperate and dirty hookup. Agent Madeline--Maddie to her friends--Stevens shuddered. Double ugh. Thankfully, she doubted anyone would see them way the hell out here. Which was damned good, because the idea of anyone thinking she'd let her lady parts anywhere near Tim Thornton's willy had her throwing up in her mouth a little.

She'd deliberately chosen this out of the way place for their, ah, unusual meeting, because she didn't want to be seen with him. Eh, not that either she or Tim were the type to draw second looks. Tim, by grace of climbing out of the unfortunate end of the gene pool, and herself by sheer force of will. Yeah, that's right. She worked damn hard to be no big surprise at first. Maddie knew any of her fellow agents at the DEA would describe her as ordinary. Female, slender, and unremarkable. Most of them couldn't pick her out of a line up if their mother's life depended on it. She cut the poor schmucks a little slack; most of them only had access to half the story.

Maddie snorted as she reached up to flick a strand of hair out of her face. Not even her mahogany hair with burnished streaks--only visible in direct sunlight-- caught attention with the drab styles she normally kept it in. Her smile flashed, a feral flicker of sharp white teeth, there and gone again. She snorted again as she acknowledged the truth. Only those with, well, the nose to sniff out subtle differences would have a prayer of being able to catch on to her true nature.

Eh, back to the matter at hand. The wily bastard knew enough to stop just out of arm's reach. Maddie couldn't be bothered by her informant's skittish behavior. Nope. Keeping her body language carefully neutral, Maddie concentrated on smoothing her face into a blank mask. Reining her emotions into a settled stillness and breathing at an unhurried rate helped keep her lean body loose limbed. She watched the wiry little rodent closely--er, technically Tim was a mammal, but the fucker honestly reminded her of every mob rat she'd ever had to arrest.

Maddie waited for him to make the first move. He'd tip his hand soon enough, one way or the other. Just the way his nose was twitching had her senses on high alert. Eyeing him dispassionately, she catalogued his features. Thornton, her stoolie with delusions of grandeur, had nominally larger than normal ears as well as notably long and skinny feet. Other than that, with his stringy brown hair, medium height and plain face Tim managed, effortlessly, to achieve the same level of anonymity she'd worked so damn hard to get. Some days that pissed her off so much she lost her objectivity.

Luckily, Thornton had a damning little tell to tip her off to any and all potential fuckwittery. He, poxy little fucker that he was, would sweat extra hard anytime he tried to lie, cheat, or otherwise screw her over. It wasn't an average guy's gym locker scent either. No. Tim reeked like a dusty hay bale going moldy when he was fabricating a whopper.

Maddie would bet her life on his usual stench around her stemming from a deep-seated fear of the predator lurking in her heart. Today though, the little bastard had showed up sweating buckets. With the mid-March temps as mild as could be, alarm bells began to whoop in her head. Maddie Stevens, DEA agent and all around badass, let out a measured breath, dug her heels into the loosely packed soil, and waited for the shit to hit the fan. In a moment, her erstwhile informant would start his report.

Yep.

Any second now.

Silence spun out between them, growing heavier with every tick-tick-tick from her analog watch. The weight of the moment felt--wrong--somehow. Heavy. Portentous, like the seconds before a lightning strike. Fine hairs at the base of Maddie's neck quivered. The cool air filled with a faint electric charge.

Awww, hellfire and damnation. There went that nose twitch again, and his eyes were starting to dilate like a tweaker at a weekend long party with free cocaine.

Maddie suspected Thornton, scrawny little cretin and general pain in her ass, wanted to play both sides against the middle. Hell no. Not in her investigation. If he washed out on her now, she'd personally go back into that bizarre little backwater town of his and kick Sheriff's Deputy Clyde Hopps in the ass so hard he'd be tasting her shoe leather for a year. Hopps was the one who'd set her up with this sleaze of an informant. Seriously though, she would string Deputy Hopps up by his fuzzy balls for matching her up with Thornton if this trail went cold like all the others.

"Look," Tim Thornton stuttered nervously, "I'm just a blackjack dealer. I need the job and the money, but you gotta trust me, Agent Stevens. Mrs. Celeste was upset when Mercedes 'fessed up about how she was dating Diego. He's supposed to be coming up here this week to formally 'court her' and get on the 'good side' of the Jimenez family."

Maddie shifted her weight farther back on her heels. She studied the man in front of her through narrowed eyes. "Sorta funny that our phone taps detected a conversation wherein the information slipped to Diego there might be an investigation going on. One concerning him. Real funny. Especially seeing as the slip happened right before he accelerated his courtship plans with Mercedes. Mighty odd don't you think, Timmy?"

Rolling forward until she balanced on the balls of her feet, Maddie snapped her next words out faster than a whip cracking. "Last week, you told me Diego wasn't planning on coming up until after Easter. Now he's showing up a full month early. Real close to First Moon, even. How did that happen, Timmy? Did you forget to tell me something?"

A rough rumbling noise followed her statement. Tim swallowed hard, throat clicking and Adam's apple bobbing wildly. His eyes grew huge in his face. Sweat began to pour off him, an awful, moldering hay stench becoming more pronounced by the second. Then, without barely a whisper of sound, Tim Thornton shifted to his true jackrabbit form and lit out like his feet were on fire and his fluffy little rabbit tail was catchin'. Nothing more than the suggestion of his slender ash-brown form remained visible. Hugging the scrub brush shadows, he darted between mounds of buffalo grass. He ran for all he was worth, bounding out of the culvert and hauling ass back toward town.

"Son of a bitch!" Maddie growled and followed suit.

She, however, did not shift into a fluffy bunny. Maddie was made of sterner stuff, and she slid, quick as summer lightning, into the shape of a gray-ticked tornado--aka a gray coyote bitch. Giving chase to her thrice damned, double-dealing informant, Maddie growled and gnashed her teeth. Deputy Hopps was definitely on the bite list. Shit, right now she was so pissed at him she had a mind to chew and swallow every inch of his bunny butt for hooking her up with this jackass of a jackrabbit informant. Despite Hopps' status as a former DEA agent, he was losing all possible respect in her estimation with every second of the chase.

Where the scrub gave way to asphalt, Tim leapt onto the highway. Maddie lengthened her stride. He dashed across traffic. She loosed another throaty grumble. If Tim Thornton was hoping to avoid being caught by the DEA agent on his ass, he had another thing coming. Even if he made it past town to the wild badlands east of Jackass Flats proper, Maddie would track his scrawny ass down or die trying. That was plain fact. True, she'd heard tell that his flea and tick riddled ancestors had dug extensive tunnels back when the first Thorntons put paw to dirt hereabouts. Save for the occasional rattlesnake and flash flood, those sorts of well-dug burrows were the safest place for his kind.

Unless they had a truly pissed off DEA agent on their ass. And especially when said agent happened to be a coyote shifter. Maddie narrowed her eyes, hollering out cuss words in her head loud enough to fry the ears of any innocent as she snarled and continued to give chase. If she managed to catch up to Thornton's mangy hide she was sorely tempted to put him out of her misery rather than bringing him in.

Damn procedure anyway. Ending him here and now would be so much more satisfying. But come to think of it, damn him getting off as easy as a quick death. Little bastard was due a creative, lingering finale.

Maddie poured on a little more speed, sides heaving and lungs burning. Even if Thornton made it wherever the hell his kin had their burrows, she was damned if any scrawny, mange ridden jackrabbit was going to give her the slip. The moment she saw him take to the asphalt, it was absolute confirmation in her head--he was the leak. Well, one weak link in the chain would not be allowed to crumble her investigation. She poured a smidge more speed into her burning leg muscles. Not enough. Damn it. She stretched her neck out. Almost. If she didn't nab the wily crook and take him into custody, he could to ruin everything. Not happening. Focus, damn it all, buckle down and focus, Maddie.

Neither of them saw the huge blue double-cab pickup truck pulling a trailer barreling down the highway until the wash of air from its tires blew hot and gritty on Maddie's tail. A morsel of her attention stayed with the vehicle. The rest remained locked on the troublesome bunny butt hopping at warp speed ahead of her. Dammit all, he was fast. Tim pushed himself forward, seemingly oblivious to the havoc created in his wake. Dollars to donuts the driver of that vehicle was neither prepared for, nor actively seeking a close encounter with a couple of wild creatures running up under his wheels like their feet were on fire. Not even if Maddie's fondest wish came true and Timmy's damned fluffy tail and long narrow paws literally caught on fire.

That would be a fine sight. Hell, she'd bring popcorn and beer for the whole population of Jackass Flats so no one missed a second of the show waiting in the refreshment line. She sucked in a heaving breath, one back paw skittering through a patch of loose gravel and then landing on nothing. The cool fingers of mortality wrapped around her spine as she recollected just how close they were to the uncharted depths of Joe Pool Lake.

Double dawg dammit.

Of course, if Maddie was a betting woman she'd say neither of them had given much thought to their proximity to the lake. One missed step would see them both in the cold, deep waters of the man-made reservoir. In her peripheral vision, Maddie caught a glimpse of the driver of the trailer. Screaming, mouth gaping wider than the holes Maddie needed to plug in this bitch of a case, he absolutely saw them dart across the road. Maddie knew, sure as she knew her own name, because if the man hadn't applied his brakes and slowed that oversized truck down, she and Timmy Thornton both would have become rather unattractive road kill.

Thank fuck the man drove like he knew his emergency stops. Dead didn't have a good side.

However, he couldn't possibly have been prepared to compensate for what looked to be nigh on eight thousand pounds of--holy shit, was that a 1972 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow? What in all the hells was he doing hauling a collector's car like that around on a piece of crap lightweight trailer behind him? Maddie knew that car. She should. She'd seen enough pictures of the crook--alleged crook--Diego drooling over this vehicle as he negotiated its purchase. Fleeting glimpses out the side of her eye showed the car being revealed in all its ivory and cream glory atop the shoddy trailer as the canvas protective cover went flying.

Hell-shit-piss-damn. What in tarnation was one of the little chess pieces from her surveillance of Diego Moreno doing down around these parts anyway? And more to the point, why was Beau Lapine moving into the territory on the same too early schedule as Diego?

The smell of burning rubber tickled her nose. Maddie sneezed. The unmistakable weeearrrrrrkeeeeee scream of metal fatigue cut through the air. Maddie snapped her head in that direction in time to see the cargo on the trailer shift as the last tie-down of the canvas snapped. She winced. That double-dawg-damned Rolls weighed too much to be flinging back and forth on the highway.

Aww, hell. The one place and time she could count on Diego being where she could lay eyes on him was the delivery of this vehicle. It would be a miracle if the Rolls lasted long enough to be deliverable. Fuck.

Looking forward again, upper lip curling back and teeth clenching, Maddie let every ounce of irritation she felt roll out of her in a low, deep vicious snarl.

"Aww shit. Do you see what you're causing here, Timmy?"

Naturally the little cretin didn't answer. He just poured on more speed. Narrowing her eyes, Maddie cut off her low gnarr. Better to save her breath for running and showing Timmy Thornton that two could play at the "bet you didn't know I fast I am" game. She dug that last bit deeper into her reserves, inching close enough to graze his fluffy tail with her teeth.

Timmy zagged to the left, and Maddie caught another glimpse of the accident off to the side. The Rolls had rolled forward, bearing down on the front axle. The trailer was jackknifed on the tarmac. A groaning thump sounded and all forward momentum came to a sudden stop. Maddie could hear the driver, a fella named Beau Lapine if she was remembering correctly, hollering in--for fuck's sake--in French. He'd better remember his English by the time she got to him, because Maddie didn't speak a lick of French past croissant and ooh-la-la unless she could suddenly recall her high school lessons.

Ugh. Then the rear of the truck started rising up and the canvas shroud came off. The Rolls began to slip off the trailer. Oh. Well, with the car beginning to teeter toward the lake, Maddie got why the man was caterwauling fit to beat the band. Only the Gods of Chaos could possibly be in a position to confirm if the few remaining tie-downs keeping the Rolls sort of on the trailer would hold under the increased pressure. Which sucked, because Maddie needed that car to be in good shape, and she hadn't gotten any love from those particular gods in quite a while. All righty then. Time to end this clusterfuck before it turned into a more of a farce.

Thornton scrambled back across the road. As he clambered down over the lip of the culvert where the chase had begun, he slowed a fraction. Maddie pounced on the opportunity. A hard thrust of her back legs against a midsized boulder the top, a ruthless leap downward, and Maddie had her prey in reach. She grabbed ahold of Thornton's jackrabbit body by the back of his neck. One moment she had her jaws clamped on his irritating, double-crossing rabbit ass, then inside of a heartbeat she shifted back to human form, and hauled him off the ground by the nape of his fluffy neck. With a single hard shake, she turned him to the side. Staring into his beady little eyes, she pulled a nondescript bag from the side cargo pocket of her uniform pants, and gave a toothy smile. Then she stuffed her erstwhile informant unceremoniously into the bag.

As she tied the sack shut, she uttered a couple of harsh words at a whisper, "Didn't see that coming, did ya' asshole? Keep your scrawny, fluffy-tailed ass still. For that all I'm an officer of the law, I'm a mighty aggravated one right now. Piss me off any more and I might rethink my plans for arresting you and decide to have me some well roasted rabbit for dinner instead."

Maddie strode back toward the highway, breaking into an easy jog as she started up the slope in front of her. The screeching tires and what she'd bet her last dollar was the snap of an axle overheard during the chase meant Mr. Lapine was going to need some sort of tow truck called.

Sure enough, right where she'd caught glimpses of him during her mad dash to grab Timmy stood a mountain of a furious Frenchman. Framed by the open door of his pickup truck, he cursed nonstop in broken English intermingled with the liquid sounds of angry French. Maddie could get behind a little cussing herself seeing as how his truck had jackknifed and attempted to kill her and Timmy during her pursuit of the shifty jackrabbit. And that didn't even get into the whole "where she could find Diego" bit.

Ears fixing to catch fire from the sheer intensity of the cussing, Maddie eyed up the fellow as she coughed out a mouthful of fur. Tim gave a high-pitched scream and kicked against the side of his bag. Maddie glanced down at it.

"Well, hell. Yes, I can smell the shifter on him, you sorry sack of rabbit. I ain't never seen a bunny the size of him though. Holy shit. And you ought to know he wrecked his damn rig saving your miserable ass from getting squashed flatter'n a pancake. You may want to shut the everlovin' hell up before I let him have you."

Maddie gave Thornton's bag a thump with the side of her free hand. She coughed a little as she bent her head to the side and discreetly spat the last bit of Thornton's nasty, flea infested fur from her mouth. Then she squared her shoulders and continued forward whilst keeping an eye on the truck driver. Beau's face, lit by the stark white of his own Xenon headlights, appeared to have aged years in the few moments she was chasing Thornton down. Hell, it sorta stood to reason the man would be shook to the floor. If she understood his ranting spate of French, and if she remembered the details of his portion of her case file correctly, he had the whole of his company's future tied up in tonight's cargo. One beautiful assed ivory Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. Shoot, when it'd slipped out from under the canvas drape and was threatening to snap the nylon tie-downs that held it in place, Maddie had almost pissed herself. And she wasn't even a huge fan of old cars.

She eyed up the trailer again. Dammit, things might get worse yet. The front axle of the trailer appeared to be snapped. The rear tires were plum flat. According to the file, the poor bastard had everything he owned sunk into his shitty little import business.

Maddie snorted and muttered under her breath. "If that crappy little business is his whole world, then why the hell is he using a lightweight toy hauler to transport cars costing more than most people's homes?"

Maybe he didn't have enough cash to startup properly? If that was the case, Goddess help him. More fools lost everything over that sort of pie-eyed optimism than you could shake a stick at. If he was counting on this sale to line his pockets enough to get a proper trailer he might have another thing coming. No wonder he looked devastated. In fact, now that she was closer, Maddie could swear--no, a big fella like that wouldn't just burst into tears right out on the highway, would he?

Aw, hell. Seems he would. "Hey there. Hey now, hold up a second. Sir, I said hang on there." Beau jumped when she called out to him, even though she made sure not to let on that she knew exactly who he was. He didn't take a swing or run away, so she must have gotten something right today. Thank fuck.

Maddie shrugged at his bewildered look and continued talking, "I have a hydraulic lift in my car, I think I can help. I'll call for some assistance, okay? Maybe get a tow truck out here? Get the cops to make an accident report for your insurance too."

Timmy continued to kick against the bag she held. Keeping it out to one side, she reached into one of her many pockets to retrieve her car keys. "I, ah, I'll be right back, sir. You hold on. Stay away from where that--really expensive looking--car can fall on you. I'll be right back with my pump, erm, jack. Whatever. The damned lifter thing."

She hurried back down the arroyo, this time continuing through to where she'd parked on the other side. Once she approached her vehicle and opened the rear door, she tossed the snag bag--the sack where she had Thornton stuffed--onto the back seat of the car. When she was satisfied the damn bunny wasn't going to roll himself off the seat and get injured, she slapped the door closed. Striding around the front of the vehicle, Maddie blew out a big breath. Ugh. This was her least favorite part of the job, all the wretched paperwork. Running the fingers of one hand through the short waves of her mahogany hair, she pulled open the driver's side door and jumped in. It took less than a minute to start the vehicle and drive her cruiser up onto the road. Time to get to work. She slipped her uniform shirt on, reattached the small Bluetooth transceiver normally pinned to her right shirt pocket, and thumbed it into active mode. Hopefully she'd have an easy time getting backup from the locals, because the task force from her department was all dialed up for the car drop. Two weeks from now. Effing Gods of Chaos were screwing with her for sure as anything. In fact, it was shaping up to look like one particular Goddess of Chaos was sticking it to her. Maddie's brow scrunched up and her lips pursed tight. She squinted up at the sky. "Eris Discordia, why are You showing me Your mercy right now?"

A thump from the back signaled that Thornton had heard her at least. No doubt the bony little double-crosser was saying a few of his own prayers right now. "Stuff it, Timmy. Not even Goddess Brigid can pull your butt out of this fire." At his sudden kicking thump, Maddie rolled her eyes and got on the horn to the local sheriff's department. She requested dispatch respond to her--using her assigned badge number and as much patience as she could muster. A familiar, perky voice answered. "CQ, Ellis County Sheriff's Office. Hey, I know that call sign. Is that you, Maddie? It's Karen. What's up, over?"

Maddie huffed out a breath, climbed out of the car and responded as she popped her trunk. Retrieving the necessary items to secure the scene, she began to set up the requisite red warning triangles on the highway. Unfolding them and placing them on the blacktop with one hand, Maddie dragged her hydraulic lift over to Beau with the other. As she worked, she left her mike open to facilitate communication with the dispatch clerk.

"Karen, we have a 10-51 just on the other side of the dam on state road 661 heading out of town. Get T-Byrd on it, will ya'? We're gonna need both of his wreckers on this one. Oh yeah, and tell Clyde to meet me out here, too. It's a 10-78. Over."

"Roger that, Maddie. You need Sheriff Jeepers on scene? He's across the street at Mama Cee's, but I can get him on it pretty quickly. Over."

"Negative, Dispatch. Just get T-Byrd and Clyde out here. I think we can get this covered, but I need them as soon as possible. Over."

A smooth baritone broke in on the channel, "Maddie, this is Clyde. I got T-Byrd on my tail and we're on the way. I estimate five minutes out. Over."

Before she could respond to the courtesy break-in, a voice roughened by tequila and cigar smoke bellowed from the speaker on her shoulder, "Heya, Sweet Cheeks! I wanna personally thank you for allowing me to break in my new lift truck."

Maddie puffed out her cheeks, bit down on her natural first impulse--to rip T-Byrd a new asshole--and instead replied as calmly as possible into her transceiver mike, "T-Byrd, you idiot, this channel is for official police business. And I am Officer Stevens to you, dammit, NOT Sweet Cheeks, or Honey, or Baby Doll. Get it? Got it? Good."

She thumbed off the transceiver with a touch more force than necessary. Ten seconds of radio silence passed after Maddie's resonating clicking off…but like all good things, the quiet eventually--if you called less than thirty seconds eventually--came to an end. T-Byrd's gravelly tenor broke into the airwaves once more. This time he came online singing a falsetto, twisted version of a song from the Pinocchio soundtrack; "I got no balls between my knees, she cut them off clear as you please." Then speaking in a higher pitch, he continued, "But Mr. T-Byrd, whatever would you do with balls if you had them?"

Maddie groaned. "T-Byrd, I swear, if you don't get off this radio I'm going to make that song come true as soon as you get within cutting distance. Over and out."

Then she hustled forward to assist Beau Lapine, exotic car importer and erstwhile driver of a ridiculously massive truck, as he attempted to secure his precious cargo. Maddie had a vested interest in the car Beau was selling Diego making it out of this clusterfuck in one piece. Helping Mr. Lapine keep the car intact was practically in her job description.