"If there's one thing I hate," I said to the beautiful woman on the airplane, "it's meeting a beautiful woman on an airplane."
"How terrible for you," she said, briefly looking up from her FAA-mandated copy of John Grisham's latest novel. The sleeves of her blouse were thin green stems. Her hands, holding the book, were fragile, off-white flowers bathed in the memory of moonlight. I glanced out the window of the plane but there was no moon. There was nothing out there at all. Not even an extremely tall Burma Shave sign. She was reading the book again.
"It was over twenty years ago," I said, "but every time I meet a gorgeous broad on a plane it reminds me of Veronica."
"Is this where I'm supposed to ask 'Who's Veronica?'" she said rather irritably, without looking up from the book. I was working religiously on my Bloody Mary, the third since we'd left Dallas. When I got to New York I planned to hit the ground running.
"Veronica Casillas," I said, staring straight ahead at the painful past through the stained glass window of a broken heart. "She was a stewardess for Braniff Airlines."
"A what for what?" she said.
"A stewardess for Braniff Airlines," I said, as she closed her book and then closed her eyes. The FAA-mandated baby in the row directly behind us began crying. I could see Veronica, lithe, lovely, impossibly young, walking through an airport in a dream.
"Should've married her," I said. "But I let cocaine and ambition and geography get in the way. Because I knew I was going to be a star. I guess I never really took the time to make a wish on one. By the time my country music career started to head south I wasn't equipped to do much but drink Bloody Marys and meet beautiful women on airplanes. Are you Hispanic?"
"My father's side is Colombian."
"Can I have his phone number?"
"Try 1-800-HELL," she said. "He's dead."
I'd been down at the family ranch just outside of Kerrville, Texas, for a few weeks, ostensibly on sabbatical from a hectic spate of amateur crime-solving in New York. The most recent case in which I'd become embroiled, dubbed Spanking Watson by one rather disgruntled Steve Rambam, had been particularly unpleasant. It had started with my efforts to seek revenge against Winnie Katz, the lesbian dance instructor in the loft above my own at 199B Vandam Street. Toward this admittedly less than Christian goal, I'd managed to convince my friends, the Village Irregulars, that a dangerous investigation was taking place and that it was their duty to infiltrate Winnie's fiercely private Isle of Lesbos. The result of this unfortunate exercise was the unleashing of a campaign of real-life crime and terror aimed at the lesbians, the Irregulars, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, myself. The outcome was that a number of individuals from a number of sexual persuasions were currently no longer speaking to the Kinkster.
The young woman sitting next to me appeared also no longer to be speaking to the Kinkster. I didn't know her name, anything about the maternal side of her family, or why she was going to New York. Possibly we already had exhausted everything we had in common. Possibly she was tired of hearing about the lost love and loneliness of a country singer-turned-private investigator. Possibly she hated meeting fascinating middle-aged men on airplanes.
"You never know when you might need a private dick," I said, trying a different approach. "Here's my card."
"That can't really be your name," she protested, holding the card at a guarded distance as if it were a mucus sample.
"It's not my full name," I said in friendly, semiconspiratorial tones. "My full name is Richard Kinky "Big Dick" Friedman."
"I'll just call you Dick," she said dismissively, her eyes straying back to the John Grisham novel.
Copyright © 2000 by Kinky Friedman. Published by the permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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