Disclaimer: No, I don't own Sands, yada yada, everyone knows.

Chapter One: Subtle Annoyances

"I knew a man once, kept a fish as a pet in a pond he had in his backyard."

I wasn't really listening, but that never kept Steadman from telling me stories I couldn't give a good Goddamn about.

"Whenever this guy was bored, he'd go down to the pond, and he would catch and re-catch this fish for fun, ya see?"

I adjusted my sunglasses: the light coming through the window to my left being naggingly bright, and humored him It had been one of those mornings where I couldn't remember where I was when I woke up, despite being sober enough when I'd gone to sleep. I hated that, and it had been happening more frequently.

"So eventually, this fish can't catch anything anymore, you know why?"

"Because fish are fucking stupid," I said, leaning back in my side of the booth table. His stalling was getting on my nerves.

Steadman shook his head. "No," he told me. "Because its lips are so full of holes from the hook that anything it catches just swims right back out. It has to go for the bait, because it's the only thing it can catch."

I smirked with sarcastic amusement. "You're full of useless bullshit stories, you know that, Steadman?"

He just smiled and took a drink of his coffee, trying to look me in the eyes but just getting the blue reflection off the lenses. I leaned forward on the table.

"Do you know why old people retire to Florida?" I asked.

Steadman just shrugged. "It's warm."

"They're instinctually searching for the fountain of youth. See, you don't know everything," I said, shrugging my hands into the air.

He laughed, and I gave him an empty grin, waiting for him to stop.

"Now, if your story is supposed to be some sort of half-assed metaphor about our relationship, than you obviously don't know me that well. As it goes, you are not the only man I can go to for information, you're just the easiest to kill if anything goes wrong, and right now I think I'd rather execute you in the back alley and find another source than have to listen to another one of your asinine stories."

He was still smiling, but I could see that now there was some questioning behind it. I gave him a minute to think on this, then laughed deliberately. His worry faded. Everyone had always told be I should be an actor.

"But seriously," I said, my face once again straight. I held my hand like a loosely gripped pistol aimed in the general vicinity of his eyes. "We know you're full of shit, but I'm not. So, tell me what I want to know or: 'bang bang.'"

He sat up straight and I realized I'd finally gotten his mind back to business.

"Alright, alright. They went to some place called Del Rio, near San Antonio."

I cringed on the inside. I fucking hate Texas. Throwing away my imaginary weapon, I stood up and indicated to the approaching waitress that Steadman was paying. Subtly adjusting my shoulder holster, I stepped out into the late summer heat of a New Orleans morning.

What a terrible vacation.

My feet touched down in Texas in a new pair of black Great Western Boot Co. cowboy boots, size 12. I wore a shirt cut in the western style and my black jeans too clean and unfaded to be over a week old. I kept my sunglasses. Damnably sunny in Texas. It's become my policy to dress like a tourist when on business. They're generally ignored by everyone but beggars and greatly underestimated in the intelligence sector. It always helps to be underestimated. Stretching my back, I picked up the single check bag I had and strolled out of the airport like just another twit there to see the Alamo. Honestly, it hasn't been worth seeing since they patched up the cannon holes. People have no respect for history.

Enter stage right.

I took my sidearm from the carry on and tucked it into the back of my waistband while leaning against the wall outside in front of the pick-up lane and nobody even noticed.. My I.D. had gotten it on the plane without difficulty. Having a badge almost makes airports feel like they did before the 1980s, only you still can't smoke. Modern planes are hard to get used to. Being encased in metal miles above land or sea can be very surreal. Even at takeoff, when you see the lines of paint and posts in the fences shooting by at faster and faster succession it's hard to really believe what's happening. Open-air machines are far more convincing. Cars were more fun to get into, especially convertibles.

As soon as I got in the taxi I remembered one of the reasons why I hate Texas. The driver had the radio tuned to some local country station, and after I gave him the name of the motel I wanted to be taken to, I had to hum out Toby Keith with Johnny Cash. If there's anything more annoying than the popular shit they classify as country these days we've probably made it illegal. What I really wanted to do was push my gun up to his head and make him find a decent station, but there's no reason to attract attention already.

When I emerged from the taxi I stood only minutes from the River Walk and the Alamo. The smell of cooling asphalt filled my nose and actually brightened my mood a bit. The sun had begun its descend already, but sunsets are leisurely in the lower longitudes and I figured I had a good two hours before the light would give up the ghost for the night. The hotel was one of those yellow colored stucco deals with the roofs that look like broken pottery. After checking in, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed a number I hadn't used in years. It was about time I meet up with an old friend.