Cherry Smack

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Ammit and the Law of Maat

Jimmy met Kayla at the Airport. She was several months pregnant, hypersensitive and aching for attention. She made discrete plans scouting a private spot before arrival, took his hand, hushed him quiet and led him to the top of the fire escape. She turned round and steadied herself placing her hands on the railings, her long legs astride. His hands reached under her blouse trailing up from her hips to her laced demi; teasing her supple flesh into tight knots. Her grip tightened, she braced his hip and clenched, quivering, weak from convulsion. He steadied herself and Jimmy led her back to the bustle and hum of the main concourse.

Jimmy was itching to get back into the studio and hear the album. They stopped off at Ladyland on the way back to hear the latest mix and were taken through to Micky Finch the studio manager. Micky stood there, unusually tense.

“I’m sorry you got to find out this way. We tried calling Cornell but he’s not answering.” He sat down. “You’re locked out,”

Jimmy glazed over processing the implications.

“Neptune owe $100k; I’m under orders. You’re locked out till the debt is cleared.”

He knew what it meant, he’d been there before. Kayla had her suspicions. She confessed that it had been unravelling in his absence. First came the excuses, then the cold shoulder followed by unanswered calls from all quarters including Kael. He was filled with dread, praying for a miracle to stave of the inevitable. He returned home deflated, sat on the balcony sifting through every detail scratching round for answers.

Kayla sat resigned to her predisposition. “I went round to Cornell but he disappeared. Neptune Records, Kael, it’s like they didn’t exist.”

He was frantic, in denial; drifting from pillar to post not wanting to accept the truth unless he saw it first-hand.

They drove to Cornell’s apartment hoping to catch him on the off chance but were instead met with flashing beacons. The apartments were cordoned off with yellow crime tape. The NYPD were out in force. An OB truck was parked up broadcasting live for the evening news. Jimmy and Kayla made their way to the reporter.

“What’s going on?”

“There’s been a shooting. Police say it’s gang related but no drugs were found on the premises. That’s all they’re telling us.”

“Which premises?”

She pointed to a flat in the corner. The Police were swarming all over it. An ambulance was on the corner with it’s doors open. The medics wheeled out a body bag.

Kayla and Jimmy broke the tape and ran across.

The Police hauled them back. “Do you live here?”

“No our Manager does.”

They unzipped the body bag as it wheeled by. Kayla broke down sobbing, Jimmy froze, “Oh no, no, no.”

“Do you know the deceased?”

“His name’s Cornell.”

In an instant his life came crashing down. He looked at him one last time, peaceful, asleep. It put paid to any degree of optimism.

They drove back to the flat in silence, not taking it in. It didn’t seem real. He was mystified then grew suspicious formulating theories. Jimmy began to process the little information he had, trying to piece it together.

“I knew they had connections back in the day but I thought that all changed when Kael took over,” Said Kayla.

“Are you sure you’re telling me everything?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Thoughts of Rawl’s conversation at the Guggenheim over Leon’s possible involvement splintered.

“What did you know about the drug money?”

“If you got something to say; say it.”

“Rawl said Leon paid Neptune to get you a deal. Is that true?”

“You gonna listen to Rawl? Look I don’t know what he told you but if you think it was a hand out you’re wrong.”

“How do you know Rawl isn’t right?”

“Cornell is dead. Is that all you can think about. What is all this, a hoax?”

“Sorry babes I’m stressed, forgive me.”

In the pit of his gut he knew she was telling the truth, paranoia was getting the better of him. Kayla was his rock. The notion was a foolish sign of desperation.

“I wouldn’t normally do this but you need some rest babes.”

She reached into the glove box and pulled out a blunt. “I was going to let you have it earlier, anyway.” He took a drag. “Feel better now?”

“Yeah cool.”

He drifted off, his mind running free. Everything slowed down. He saw people on the sidewalk; their lips moving without words. Kayla pulled back the roof and watched a bird soaring into the clouds.

“What do you see?”

“Mosaic, it’s a blur.”

“Look closer.”

His memory sifted through the grey matter and zeroed in. “Rufus. He talked about some big deal when we were shooting up but I never thought anything of it. I saw them talking. He must have used the money to buy into the deal.”

“Yeah, but why is Cornell dead?”

“I don’t know. Rufus was pissed after he was pushed out.”

“Rufus is bad news but he’s no killer.”

“Then the deal must have gone bad. Pull over.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to talk to him, he lives that way.”

“Are you nuts? You just said he was behind it.”

“We are fucked without those tapes, we got nothing.”

“You’re not thinking straight. You start sniffing around and you’ll be dead too.

Have you learnt nothing, these are not the sort of people you mess with.”

“So we just roll over?”

“What do you think is going to happen? You think he’s gonna sub the $100k for old time’s sake? You think he’s got our money, a street hustler on smack? Get real, it’s over. I know it’s tough to accept but you have to let it go, you got a family to think of now.”

Jimmy’s little demons tormented. “Is that it, let it go we’re a family now. You got it all worked out haven’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s like you planned it, you’re happy it failed so we can settle down, get a job. Well you don’t need me for that.”

“Is that what you think?”

Jimmy took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “No I don’t. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to think.”

“Why did you marry me Jimmy, was it for us or the band?”

“Us of course.”

“You sure about that?”

Everyone at Neptune skipped town, Cornell was gone. The only strand of hope was locked away in a vault at Ladyland. Jimmy managed to get them to write down the debt to $60k. Pra was still in the UK so checked in for an update.

“How you fixed?”

“No change, Kayla’s busting my balls. It’s looking grim. What about you?”

“I’m living at Mum’s eating nuts and tofu. I was hoping to fly back to see Shelly. We we’re making plans.”

“I’m sorry man. I wish I had better news.”

“Have you tried Mark?”

Pra did what all good friends do, say what you want to hear and offer someone to blame it on should things go bad.

He broached the idea with Kayla, she snapped. “Go to England, what to see Kelly?”

“I used to have a good job. I can work.”

“You gonna make $60k? - ” He sat there silent. “...- then why go?”

The idea was to go back to London to make a quick score. The suggestion forced an ultimatum. She insisted he get his green card to prove his commitment to stay. Jimmy agreed but only to divert attention and keep her off his back. In truth a seed had taken root. He called Mark to explore the option.

Connecticut runs dried up. They switched to postal couriers; UPS, Fedex. Mark suggested an alternative. He asked around and came back a few days later.

”I spoke to Marcel he knows a guy that can help but for the sort of money you want you need a plus one. Ideally someone who doesn’t look suspicious.”

“I don’t know anyone do you?”

“Kayla mate, they want you to take Kayla; a doting husband with his pregnant wife is low risk.”

“Hold on, I said just make enquires?”

“You’re not shopping around for builder’s quotes. These guys are serious.

They checked you out, it’s procedure.

“There’s got to be another way?”

“Sorry mate they were very clear it’s Kayla or no deal.”

“What do you know about them?”

“They’re good, the best, not one bust.”

“What would you do?”

“Don’t put it on me, I don’t know. All I can say is, if your mind is made up, they’re your best bet. Anyway you got till Friday to decide or the deals off.”

Jimmy made his way to the US Embassy for his immigrant visa. He grabbed a ticket and was summoned to a kiosk. The interviewer shot intimidating glances from behind pitched spectacles. She geared up for attack and for the next thirty minutes tried to throw him off his game but he flippantly hit back with determined ease nailing every fact, producing certification and deed on demand. She huffed stamped his Green Card and he rang Kayla, reporting back, playing the good husband.

“That’s great Jimmy, I got some good news too.”

“What’s that?”

“My Uncle owns a furniture business and he’s looking for a delivery man. I said you might be interested? You got your card now so you can work legit,”

“A delivery man? Are you kidding me?”

“It’s just to pay the rent till something better comes along.”

“Why do you keep pushing me. I got the card. Can you just let it be. I’ll pay the

rent don’t worry.”

The days passed slow, Jimmy agonised over the options; live like a rat or return alone to London, neither prospect appealed. He buried himself in the mundane catching up on mail Kayla had left unopened. When he sensed the argument brewing he dashed out for some peace.

It was the Jheri curled candy smoking ’80s. John Lennon was shot dead. The Berlin wall fell and HIV gave rise to AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Jimmy was not particularly religious but knelt in St Patricks Cathedral on the corner of 5th and 51st; totally obliterated, numb. In his pocket was a crumpled note from the hospital where he flat-lined, urging him to come in for further test. The tests were routine but the results were anything but. He did not know for how long or from where he had contracted the disease but the fact remained he was HIV positive.

He tumbled hopelessly delusional, firmly in denial, reluctant to accept the indelible truth. Only he knew, only he carried the burden and that’s the way it would stay. He was ever more determined to live his life by his rules. He had to see things through, play the system one more time to silence the doubters once and for all. He went for a walk to clear his mind and stopped outside a liquor store running the options through his head. If the inevitable happened he had to leave a legacy, security for his family, something enduring to hold on to. Time ran short. He sat on the stoop in the rain, slowly coming to terms with Mark’s proposal, polished off a quart of Spey Malt and made the call.

“Make it happen, I’m in.”

“Ok, with Kayla?”

“With Kayla.”

The stage was set. Mark put him in touch with a Dutch man called Lars. He would get $40k for the run, enough to get things moving at Ladyland. Jimmy was nervous. Jimmy felt guilty. Jimmy was making a coke run to Thailand.

He met with Lars at O’Relly’s, an Irish bar opposite Penn Station. He was in his thirties, a tall man with lanky blond hair. He wore a white linen suit, Panama hat and black Ray-Bans. Lars sat in the corner supping Guinness from a pre-chilled glass. Jimmy ordered the same and sat opposite. Lars placed an envelope on the table.

“As agreed, two economy tickets to Bangkok and $1000 expenses. Does your wife know?”

“No, she suspects nothing.”

“So she thinks it’s a holiday?”

“Something like that.”

“That’s the way to look at it, a free vacation.” He smiled. “She won’t look nervous as she doesn’t know but I’m wondering about you Jimmy, will you look nervous?”

“No I am looking forward to our Honeymoon.”

“Very good. I left the cases in a security locker at the airport. The goods are sewn into the sides, lined with carbon paper. They’re completely undetectable by sniffers. The key to the locker is in with the tickets.”

Lar’s confidence and professional manner put Jimmy at ease. “Everything is in place. You will be staying at the Sheridan on your first night where you will meet a guy called Toad. He will test and weigh the merchandise and pay you. You will shake hands. He will leave and you can kick back and enjoy the rest of your vacation.”

“Did you say the guy’s name is Toad?” Said Jimmy trying to break his stride and expose his true nature.

“I know, right. It’s his real name, English-Thai I think. Don’t worry I’ve been doing this for years. Forty two shipments last year alone, 100% success, not one search and they were single; a married couple absolutely no problem.”

Lars shook his hand and left, picking up the tab on his way out.

Things moved quickly, the flight was only days away. Jimmy broke the news. He told her everything had been arranged and only to pack a carry-on. She was ecstatic but later grew suspicious.

“Babes, I don’t want to sound ungrateful but you sure this is a gift?”

“I told you, Mum wants us to have a proper Honeymoon.”

Jimmy didn’t have it in him to act outraged at her doubts. She could read minds, so left it well alone. Kayla buried her pessimism in favour of the fairy tale trip she’d always dreamt of.

The days passed agonisingly slow, Jimmy’s mind was pushed to breaking point pretending he was excited all the while concealing the truth. He felt extremely guilty but was determined to go through with it. He took solace from Lar’s track record but the cynic in him doubted every word and soon grew anxious again.

He tried to convince himself he was on holiday when the day finally came but all he could think about was doing time at Bangkok Hilton, the infamous prison. As he boarded the plane he smiled at Kayla and squeezed her hand tight.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah I hate flying.”

She squeezed his hand. “Don’t worry babes, I’ll look after you.”

He unbuttoned his collar and set about watching a movie downing just enough miniatures to numb his head but remain lucid. Three movies and several bottles later they arrived in Thailand, alighted the plane and careered across the blazing tarmac. With each step Jimmy grew more fearful, the clock ticking, each stroke sounding a death knell. His heart was thumping so hard it made his ears ache.

“You feeling okay babes?”

“I’m a little hot actually, too much wine. I just gonna pop to the boy’s room,”

Jimmy hurled into the basin. He splashed himself with water and dashed back out. As they collected the luggage his throat ran dry. He felt everyone knew and were staring. He held Kayla’s hand tightly, looking at the ground trying desperately to keep it together. They stood in line until they were called to check pass Customs. Jimmy stood frozen;

“What is the purpose of your visit?”

“Sorry?”

“What is the purpose of your visit?”

Kayla stepped in “Vacation.”
“Did you pack your cases yourself?”

“Yes” said Kayla.

They walked clear and heaved their cases onto the conveyor belt as instructed. Just as he was about to walk through, the X-ray inspector looked over at another more senior officer, took her pen and tapped on the computer screen, seemingly pointing something out. She looked at them with a stone cold expression.

“Please step aside.”

Jimmy stood paralysed with fear. Kayla was fine, oblivious to it all, suspecting nothing. The inspector radioed for assistance and three officers approached; a sour-faced scrawny Thai in a grey suit and the other two with military uniforms holding rifles.

“Is this your bag?” asked the official.

“Yes it is.”

“Did you pack it yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Ok come with me.”

They were grabbed from behind and frog marched to separate rooms under duress. Kayla looked back, the anguish on her face lingered horribly as Jimmy was thrust into a cold grey room.

On the wall was thirty to forty Polaroid pictures of various men and women with drugs laid out before them; a confessional wall of shame.

“What is this?” asked Jimmy.

“You see these pictures. They, like you - -” He gestured with his finger slitting his throat. “- - they all die now.”

“No, not me. I’m not one of them.”

“Maybe we should ask your wife?” he smirked.

He poked around in the case then took out a long Swiss army knife and slit the lining, looking up, grinning with expectant gaze. It was empty. He cut the other side. Again it was empty. He grew frustrated, red-faced, veins popped in his temple.

“Where is it?”

“Where’s what?”

He began shredding the lining into pieces, then grabbed the other case and proceeded to cut that too. Jimmy looked at the wall trying to avoiding eye contact.

“Where is it?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

He looked up seething, left the room and returned moments later.

“Okay you’re free to go.” He snapped.

Jimmy stepped outside into the corridor supressing screams of joy as Kayla ran into his arms.

“Are you ok?” asked Jimmy.

“Yes are you?”

“Yeah fine, did they search you?”

“No, they didn’t touch me.”

Kayla knew something was up and Jimmy knew he would have to come clean. They walked clear and caught a flight to Vietnam, Saigon.

Jimmy only took the gamble because he knew it would work. Before the trip, just after he met Lars in New York, Mark called.

You know I like to be thorough? So just to be sure I’ve been asking around about Lars. I’ve just come off the blower with Ram, a very unhappy ex-associate of Lars from Australia. He just finished a stint at Bangkok Hilton, banged up for eight years. Our friend Lars is a bit of an operator. You’re being set up mate.”

What !”

There is an insider at customs, who already has your details. He will confiscate the coke, dummy the paperwork to read less, skim the balance and sell it on.”

Fuck, well that’s blown it, I got to pull out.”
“It’s too late, you’re in too deep. They know where you live, they know everything.”

What am I gonna do?”

Don’t worry, I got a plan.”

Mark suggested he meet an associate of his at JFK and transfer the coke into a holdall. “It’s fool proof, how can they arrest you if you aren’t carrying?”

What about Toad? If I turn up without the goods.”

You’re not thinking straight. Work it out Jimmy there is no Toad, there

never was. You are supposed to go straight to the slammer. Have you got the reservation for the Hotel?”

Nah, he said just to give my name.”

Yeah, he would because there are no reservations.”

I don’t believe it. I’m gonna slaughter that fuck.”

No you’re not. You’re gonna play it cool. Listen up, I need you to focus we haven’t got long. They will be watching you from the moment you take the cases. If you screw up they will know.”

What about Mr Customs?”

Just tough it out. He will have no choice but to release you, then take the next flight out and I will meet you in…”

Saigon, Vietnam. “

Ok Saigon, I’ll meet you there.”

Mark used his connection to sell the merchandise. Mr Customs had to swallow it or risk being exposed.

They alighted Tan Son Nhat Airport and caught a taxi to Banh Thanh, a district located in the heart of the old capital. They finally made it. This was Saigon, this was Kayla’s Vietnam. Jimmy felt safe.

The streets were French in aspect, a throwback to the one hundred year imperial rule. Shops selling patisserie and French baguettes mingled with Vietnamese street carts peddling atomic-hot bowls of Pho. The air blazed hot, fusing 2-stroke with fish sauce marinating in huge plastic vats. Bikes rode six to the dozen side by side, all jostling for space; shifting passengers, pigs, cages stuffed with ducks and geese. Sky walking builders skipped along girders on construction sites, seemingly defying gravity but this was Vietnam where the impossible was made to look easy.

They checked into a B&B Jimmy confessed all to Kayla and braced for the blowback. He took a calculated risk thinking Saigon might help appease her. He was wrong. She felt completely let down. She trusted him, thought he was different. The betrayal was more than she could bear.

Jimmy went down to reception and contacted Mark as planned. Mark switched focus eager to wrap up any loose end.

“I got some bad news, it Lars. He’s not letting it go.”

“Did you say we’ll shop ’em.”

“He don’t care. I tell ya he’s a madman, he wants his coke back or you and me are dead.”

“You don’t think he tailed us from Bangkok do you?”

“Don’t panic, just be cool and I’ll meet you day after tomorrow like we planned.”

When Jimmy returned to their room Kayla was packed. She headed out the door clutching her case.

“I can’t be with you any longer.”

He begged her to stay but she had made her mind up and left to stay with Toan ala Bam Bikes in the Country. As far as she was concerned it was over. Jimmy was out of sorts, he did not expect her to run off. He took the risk because he believed he could pick up the pieces. Jimmy let her go, hoping she would soften before he tracked her down.

He left that afternoon, checking behind, making sure he was not followed; caught a bus north to Vihn Long, a small village in the countryside. When he was close he switched to a bike taxi and walked the final mile.

Toan stood at the top of the dirt road on a Bam Bike.

“I’m sorry Jimmy, she doesn’t want to see you. I don’t know what’s going on but she is very upset.”

“I know, it’s my fault. Can I see her just for a moment, please?”

Toan looked on in dismay and shook his head.

“You made mistakes Toan, you told me but you put it right. Give me a chance to turn it round, please I’m begging.”

He looked into Jimmy’s eyes and saw himself staring back; a lost man who needed a second chance. He nodded. “Okay, she’s in the back.”

He saw Kayla tending the graves of her great grandparents; burning incense, placing offerings of food and paper effigies.

“Kayla.”

She ignored him. He knelt beside her, took an incense stick lit it from a candle and blew it out to smoulder; placing it in the earth with heads bowed and hands placed together in prayer.

“What you doing here?”

“I could have lied and pleaded ignorance but I didn’t. Your dream became mine, I couldn’t let go.”

She remained silent, unmoved. Rather than break news about his condition, he remained stoic, tight lipped, got up and walked away. “I’m sorry I lied to you. If you change your mind I’ll be waiting in Saigon.”

She took out miniature paper effigies of a suit and dress from a box. “We burn these to send them to the spirits.”

He turned back and knelt beside her. “Why?”

“We believe what you need in the afterlife, you need here; clothes, food, water all the things we need to survive.”

She lit them and placed them on the altar to burn. “I am very angry, do you know why?” He looked down toward the ground filled with remorse. “Let me show you.”

She said a prayer, took the food and headed back to the house. Jimmy took up residence in the hammock and peered through the fish jumping in the farm opposite. He spied kids playing hide and seek, counting to ten, dancing round the tombstones. A bluster of wind rustled the trees he felt the spirits stir; smiling down on them as they laughed and giggled.

It was Tet, the Vietnamese New year. They went round with Toan to meet the neighbours and celebrate. They entered a gated house with an orchid garden, pretty in purple bloom. A frail gent came to the door.

“Please to meet you, are you American?”

“No, I’m British. How do you know English?” asked Jimmy.

“I use to be an interpreter for the American army during the war.”

His emotions were still raw like it had happened yesterday. He stood still, flashing back to the past as if awaiting orders then snapped out of it, smiled and returned back to his bedroom.

“Is he alright?” Whispered Jimmy.

“Yeah he’s fine,” said Toan.

“I feel sorry for him he looks lonely. Where’s his wife?”

“She was rounded up by the Viet Cong as a spy and shot.”

Jimmy felt small. He squeezed Kayla’s hand as he thought of what he had put her through. She smiled, placed his hand on her belly just as the baby kicked. He was slowly walking the path back to sanity, wanting to believe without kidding himself.

As the sun set they took a stroll along a nearby flower market, a dazzling array of vibrant reds, pinks stretched for miles. Men and women alike bargained for flowers, scented rose buds and citrusy apricots.

“Do you know why I’m angry?”

He quoted Plenty Love the first song they wrote together.

What would you give if you had nothing?”

She smiled happy and felt he understood. Life was not about what he could provide but what he had left to give.

Jimmy still had to meet with Mark. He hated himself but had to stick to the plan and finish up. He insisted he go alone but she persuaded him to let her tag along. They went back to Saigon that evening.

The main street leading to Bitexco Tower was crammed with pedestrians hustling for space. They bumped pass beautifully constructed flowerbeds and magnificent sculptures specially erected for New Year. Hundreds of Red National flags speckled the landscape. Makeshift stalls surrounded shops peddling toys and commemorative ware. They stopped at a lady making Plasticine models skilfully crafted onto wooden poles. Jimmy chose a Pink Rose and presented it on bended knee.

“You are lucky you’re with me Jimmy you know that?” she smiled.

Kids danced on the sidewalk blowing bubbles and playing catch till dusk. She rubbed her belly at looked at each other as if glimpsing the future. As night descended an array of multi-coloured illuminations covered every inch of space. Huge crowds gathered invading the streets, filing pass fruit laden alters and gifting lucky money to kids extending red balloon lanterns. They visited a Pagoda dense with scented incense from preceding practiced ritual. The sweet hum from the main hall enveloped. They followed the chants and drew close to reveal spectacle; an enormous gathering of Monks draped in bright yellow robes chanting incandescent verse, inducing rhythmic narcosis. It had been a weeks since Jimmy slept through the night. That morning he woke uninterrupted to the morning Sun. The phone rang from reception.

“Mr. Bramble there’s a Mr. Stevens in reception for you.”

“Send him up. It’s Mark, he’s here.”

Jimmy opened the door and Mark was shoved in, his hands raised at gun point. Lars followed behind. Jimmy could do nothing but look on, his hands tied worried for Kayla.

“Hello Jimmy and you must be Kayla. Isn’t this nice?”

He stood there, feeling smug feeling he had won. “You have caused me a lot of inconvenience and for that you’re gonna pay. First, I want my gear back and I’m taking your wife as insurance.”

“Lars, be reasonable. Kayla’s got nothing to do with it. It’s us you want,” said Mark.

“Don’t worry I’ll get round to you after. Now listen up. I’m taking Kayla and as soon as you return my property you can have her back, that’s the deal.”

Lars beckoned to Kayla. “Come on let’s go.”

Jimmy grabbed a vase from the dresser behind and threw it. Lars hit it away and let off a shot. Kayla screamed and Jimmy fell to the ground, wounded in the leg.

“You think I’m playing games,” He pointed the gun straight at Jimmy’s head.

“You feel like a hero?” Jimmy looked down. “Yeah, that’s a good boy, stay put.”

Kayla stood petrified staring at Lars. “Okay let’s go sweetie.” She stepped across.

“Lars, please don’t do this,” said Mark.

“Too late I’m doing it.”

He opened the door and backed out with the silencer nuzzled in Kayla’s back. As he edged back his eyes were fixed forward, unaware of two men lying in wait behind him.

“Don’t move. Let go of the girl and drop the gun.” It was Ram, Mark’s Australian friend from Bangkok Hilton, pressing cold steel against his throat.

“Why should I?” said Lars.

“Cause I’m the reasonable one, that’s why we’re talking, but Dang - -” Dang pushed the door open wide and walked in “- - he wants you dead and will go through her to do it.”

Lars let go, dropped the gun to the floor and kicked it to Dang.

Mark got up. “I think you already know Ram. This is Dang, Ram’s brother. You’re a popular guy Lars.”

“Cut the shit, what do you want?”

“I don’t want anything, I’m just making introductions. I’ll let them take it from here.”

Mark got up. “Now listen to me you piece of shit,” He punched him in the gut, winding him. “You think I’m stupid. I was onto you from the get-go. That’s why I got your gear and you got a knife resting on your juggler.”
They took him onto the balcony. Lars squealed “Hold on, hold on, now don’t be stupid, let’s talk.”

Ram and Dang gaffer taped his mouth and hands and took him out the back way.

“What they gonna do?” Asked Kayla.

“He’s done. I don’t think we’ll be hearing from him again.”

“You mean..?”

“I mean you’re safe.” He opened up his bag revealing a stack of notes. “$60k Jimmy, and when you get back I’ll get you the rest.”

Kayla interjected “I think we better go to the Hospital.”

Jimmy lifted his shorts, “No need, it’s just a graze.”

Kayla grabbed the side board “It’s not for you.”

They raced to the FV, a private French hospital. The doorman greeted them upon arrival took their bags and fetched a wheel chair.

The contractions came and went; light cycles at first building slowly to debilitating intensity. The midwife seemed pre occupied like Lieutenant Uhura scanning, checking computer screens; distracted by ECG monitors. The whole process was an elaborate illusion designed to make them think they had some degree of control but Mother Nature was running the show and they were just along for the ride. Kayla panted, her heart pounded. He offered words of encouragement, tenderly held her hand and the little elf arrived cute and helpless.

They were flooded with joy, overcome with tears as he rested on exhausted shoulders. It was a relief, all the anguish dissolved in an unhitched instant. As before nothing felt quite the same. The band, Bangkok, Lars all paled into insignificance as they marvelled at God’s magnificence; a spark from the unknown spawning matter and meaning.”

Mark came in with a bouquet. “Well done Kayla, can I hold him?”

Jimmy passed him across. He gazed intently at them.

“People look for the answer, search history for the truth when all the while it’s staring you in the face. You’re lucky, he’s beautiful.”

“His name is Thien Long. It means King.”

“Looks just like you. Honestly, no matter what happens look after him, stick with it, it’s the greatest.”

He passed him to back Kayla “You guys have been through a lot, I will leave you be. Jimmy can I have a quick word.”

Mark led him into the corridor. “Let’s wet the baby’s head.”

He pulled his hip flask, waved two half inch Coronas and led him to the balcony overlooking District 1.

They drank to the baby’s health, nursed the rope, watching the street chaos unfold below. Mopeds swarmed, hordes of people rushing to market on mass weaving along the old French roadways, and canals.

“Look Jimmy. All those people each with their own stories, their own crazy past. Remarkable isn’t it. So much to see and feel. Sometimes you got to pull back to take it in. It’s been quite a day.”

“One hell of a ride.”

“Listen I hate to bring you down but there’s something you should know. I was waiting for the right moment, tall order given the day but well..”

“What’s up, you’re making me nervous?”

“I spoke to Pra before I came out, about business and..”

“What’s up? “

“I hate to do this man.”

Mark exhaled charging the air with penetrating silence. “Kelly’s up the duff.” Jimmy turned pale, startled, the blood drained leaving him cold. “Did you hear me? Kelly’s pregnant.”

The wheel span, needle static slowly ticking to a stop.

“I heard you.” He knew what it meant, he’d been there before.

“I’m sorry.”

Jimmy nodded. “I know,”

“You gonna tell Kayla?”

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