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"Come back here, Palmer. I'll stop. In a second. And besides, I want to tell you a secret." I pause.

"It's a secret about my future," he says. Against my better judgment, I return.

"That is so stupid, burning holes like that, Dag."

"Chill, boy. This sort of thing's a misdemeanor. Statute 594, Cal­ifornia penal code. Slap on the wrist. And besides, no one's looking."

He brushes a small divot of ash away from a cigarette hole. "I want to own a hotel down in Baja California. And I think I'm closer than you think to actually doing so."


"That's what I want to do in my future. Own a hotel."

"Great. Now let's go."

"No," he lights up another cigarette, "not until I describe my hotel to you."

"Just hurry."

"I want to open a place down in San Felipe. It's on the east side j of the Baja needle. It's a tiny shrimping village surrounded by nothing but sand, abandoned uranium mines, and pelicans. I'd open up a small place for friends and eccentrics only, and for staff I'd only hire elderly Mexican women and stunningly beautiful surfer and hippie type boys j and girls who have had their brains swiss-cheesed from too much dope. There'd be a bar there, where everyone staples business cards and money to the walls and the ceiling, and the only light would be from ten watt bulbs hidden behind cactus skeletons on the ceiling. We'd spend nights washing zinc salves from each other's noses, drinking rum drinks, and telling stories. People who told good stories could stay for free. You wouldn't be allowed to use the bathroom unless you felt-penned a funny joke on the wall. And all of the rooms would be walled in knotty pine wood, and as a souvenir, everyone would receive just a little bar of soap."

I have to admit, Dag's hotel sounds enchanting, but I also want to leave. "That's great, Dag. I mean, your idea really is great, but let's split now, all right?"

"I suppose. I—" He looks down at where he has been burning a cigarette hole while I was turned away. "Uh oh—" "What happened?" "Oh, shit."

The cherry from the cigarette has fallen off, and onto a box of papers and mixed junk in the car. Dag hops off the car and we both stare transfixed as the red hot little poker tip burns through a few newspaper

pages, gives the impression of disappearing, then suddenly goes whoooof! as the box combusts as fast as a dog's bark, illuminating our horrified faces with its instant yellow mock cheer.

"Oh, God!"


I'm already gone. The two of us scram down the road, heart-in-throat, turning around only once we are two blocks away, then only briefly, to see a worst case scenario of the Aston Martin engulfed in fizzy raspberry lava flames in a toasty, kindling ecstasy, dripping onto the road.

"Shit, Bellinghausen, this is the stupidest effing stunt you've ever pulled," and we're off running again, me ahead of Dag, rny aerobic training paying off.

Dag rounds a corner behind me when I hear a muffled voice and a thump. I turn around and I see Dag bumping into the Skipper of all people, a Morongo Valley hobo type from up-valley who sometimes hangs out at Larry's (so named for the TV sitcom ship's captain hat he wears).

"Hi, Dag. Bar closed?"

"Hi, Skip. You bet. Hot date. Gotta dash," he says, already edging away and pointing his finger at the Skipper like a yuppie insincerely promising to do lunch.

Ten Texas blocks away we stop exhausted, winded, and making breathless, earth-scraping salaams. 'Wo one finds out about this little blip, Andrew. Got that? No one. Not even Claire."

"Do I look brain dead? God."

Puff, puff puff.

"What about the Skipper," I asked, "think he'll put two and two together?"

"Him? Naah. His brain turned to carburetor gunk years ago."

"You sure?"

"Yeah." Our breath returns.

"Quick. Name ten dead redheads," commands Dag.


"You have five seconds. One. Two. Three—"

I figure it out. "George Washington, Danny Kaye—" '

"He's not dead."

•'Is, too."

"Fair enough. Bonus points for you." The remaining walk home is less funny.

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