Thirty-five minutes later Aguilera and Morrow drove through Denning, down Route 10, planning to bypass Las Cruces and head on to Rayless. It was still hot; not like it had been. They discussed taking Romano in for interrogation and moved to issues of inequality.

Unseen, unheard, a drone watched the prowl car.

‘I read someplace,’ Morrow was saying, ‘one per cent of the population owns – this is US of A – one per cent owns a quarter of the country. One per cent owns like twenty per cent.’

‘Twenty-five,’ Aguilera said.

‘Smartass,’ Morrow said. ‘Twenty-five. What do you think?’

Aguilera took off his shades, polished them on his shirt and replaced them.

     ‘What I think,’ he said, ‘is, what’d you do about it? I mean, if you can’t do shit, which it’s my guess, why bother your brain?’

‘I hear you.’ Morrow overtook a logging truck. ‘But do the math. Next week I marry Jolene, I’m paying for her, because she stops working. Then it’s alimony, so I’m shelling out for Jeanie-Sue and Janey. You know? One paycheck, three women.’

‘I just noticed,’ Aguilera said, ‘how all your wives start with J. What is it – you buy two, they throw in one for free?’

‘I wish,’ Morrow said. ‘None of them comes free. Not so you’d notice.’

‘You want to be careful, badmouthing rich folk,’ Aguilera said, after a time. ‘Sounds kind of communistic.’

‘I’m talking to you,’ Morrow said. ‘I assume you’re not wearing a wire.’

‘Pat me down,’ said Aguilar. ‘I’ll be your friend for ever.’

Morrow pointed left. ‘Coffee break.’ He pulled the car into a low-built Cup O Joe which stood isolated, back from the highway. Near-empty parking lot in front. A hand-lettered sign to the left of the door advertised BEER. BAIT. AMMO, ALL MAKES. NIGHT-CRAWLERS. 

    ‘Not doing great business,’ Aguilera said. ‘Doesn’t look like.’

But he followed Morrow into the building which was constructed of fake logs, like a cabin someplace colder than this. They came outside with their coffee. It was a decent brew, but the place smelled of something they didn’t wish to inhale.

Morrow was halfway through his drink when an SUV pulled into the lot. He took off his shades, squinted.

‘You see that?’ he said. ‘No fucking driver.’

‘Come to Reno sometime.’ Aguilera was watching. ‘You see a lot of them, got no driver. Geeks, I guess, Google, testing them. It’s what they do. Still, kind of weird, when you catch’m going past.’

‘What happens if they commit a violation? Who’d you ticket?’

Aguilera shrugged. ‘I have no idea. I never seen one violate.’ He was quiet then, watching the SUV. ‘Maybe no one in front – someone in back.’

From the rear doors of the SUV two humanoid robots climbed awkwardly out.

‘Hey,’ said Morrow, ‘you see that? That’s who you ticket.’

Aguilera had his gun unholstered. ‘I suggest we get the hell out of here. Those things aren’t coming to chat.’

‘You go first,’ said Morrow. ‘See where our wheels are? Means walking right past the metal guys.’

Aguilera raised his gun. ‘Whatever the fuck they’re selling, I’m not buying.’

He moved backward. The robots’ movement was awkward, but surprisingly rapid – like an army vet learning to walk after a hip operation. The taller machine paused, adjusting its metal knee joint. The other kept coming. Aguilera steadied his right hand with his left, aiming at the robot’s head.

‘Jesus, Julio,’ Morrow said, ‘don’t annoy it. Don’t fucking think about it.’

Aguilera fired, an accurate shot to the head of the shorter android. Its sensors swivelled toward to the pistol’s muzzle-flash. It fired a single volley, momentarily lifting both agents from their feet, laying them to the ground. The taller robot limped back to the SUV. Its companion paused, photographing the cadavers. Then it turned, and followed.

Though the bodies were gone by then, investigators later estimated that whatever replied to Agent Aguilera had fired a single rapid round. Two hundred some shells.

The couple who owned the coffee palace told a federal agent they’d seen nothing. When shots were fired, they said, their policy was to cook nourishing soup in the back kitchen. They would come outside when any lethal dispute had, one way or another, been settled.