LIFE AND DEATH IN A THROWAWAY WORLD - ROBERT CRISMAN
To reach old age in some kind of comfort, you have to plan to the inch.
Two days after the heist, Billy and Teddy made it out to the Old Man’s office.
The job had gone just as planned, same as the other four: quick in-and-out and no one got funny and no one got hurt. Had that not been the case, Billy and Teddy would not have come into the light.
They’d made it away with $212,000. The net from all five came to one million, six thousand dollars and change, all tax-free. A third came to the Old Man, who’d maestro’d the heists. The other guys split the remainder.
Not bad at all.
The Old Man called the meet as soon as he knew it was safe. A cop kept him abreast of what the police had come up with so far in their efforts to track down the heisters. Triple-X snaps of the cop and a 12-year-old girl that the Old Man kept in a safe-deposit box ensured that the info was up-to-the-minute and right on the mark.
The cops had come up with nothing.
John Mac, the Old Man’s right hand sat in on the meeting. Mac, around 45, six feet and a hard-muscled 225, had a hatchet that served as a face. He’d started off like these young guys, carrying the mail on jobs the Old Man mapped out. He’d been the Old Man’s eyes and strong arm on those jobs for 15 fast years, ensuring the troops and the money came home.
How good was Mac at his job? The troops all came home, the money did, too, and no one had ever been killed. A miracle, that; guns and nerves in these operations are a volatile mix. Mac on the job was smooth as a baby’s behind.
Guys like that come along once every one million years. And when they get old—and 40 is old in that line of work—well, what do you do?
The Old Man had helped Mac start a business, construction supplies, and kept him as a consultant on most other things. Meanwhile, he’d groomed Billy and Teddy to take over as arms and eyes in the trenches. They complemented each other; Billy was fire and Teddy was ice. Together they worked like a heat-seeking missile with brains, just as Mac had by himself.
Billy and Teddy regaled the Old Man with the in-and-out details of this one, just as they had the other four times.
Billy, blond, ruddy, 6’2”, 210 or so, took the lead in the telling. He acted the parts and drew laughs. He’d dance, bounce around, use flamboyant hand gestures and practiced inflections, stretching the story to cartoon dimensions. Teddy, 6’4” and lean, with a handsome, sharp-featured face and razored brown hair, grinning, bright lights in his eyes, provided Billy occasional steerage to keep things on track.
The Old Man laughed right along with them, in much the same way that a proud, loving father would laugh. He must have been close to 70 that year, a still-powerful man, his baldness accenting his power, his face, head, and neck, squared masses of muscle. His faded blue eyes in deep sockets were flecked with bright lights and looked ready to jump out and grab whatever it was that was lying around. Either that or smack someone down.
The light in his eyes as Billy danced out his tale, however—an almost anomalous softness peeking through crags.
Billy beloved son, loved the Old Man. As did they all.
“So, man,” Billy said, “we get to the pad and go in, 6:15, the cock ain’t yet crowed, or maybe he did, I wasn’t payin’ attention. So we’re in their whattya-call—” He looked at Teddy for help.
“Parlor or something. Had a piano.”
“Yeah,” Billy said. “So we’re standin’ around like the bandits we are, the old man comes down an’ sees us, stops dead, five masked motherfuckers with guns, an’ looks up the stairs, his old lady’s doin’ her makeup or somethin’, and he don’ know whether to shit, or go blind. So Benny makes up his mind, tells him, come down, join the party. Guy looks like he wants to shoot back upstairs an’ grab up the wife an’ the kids an’ jump out the windows an’ head for the hills or some fuckin’ thing an’—”
“C’mon, Billy, man,” Teddy laughed as he looked at his watch, “the bank’s gonna open an’ we gotta get on the road.”
Billy laughed and went on with the tale. The house they’d invaded, bank manager’s house like the others. Billy, Teddy, and Freddy would take the manager to work two hours early. Jack and Eddie would stay with his family to make sure that the manager followed instructions.
At eight, they’d go to the bank, drive around back, park the car, and go in. Freddy’d stay with the car. The other employees were already there. The manager’d give them the news and say, “Please, for my family’s sake, do what they tell you.”
The vault opens at 8:30. Billy takes the manager in and they fill up three sacks and go out. They bring the manager out to the car, blindfold his ass, and drive off, after telling the others don’t call the cops or he’ll die.
They drive hither and yon, turning this was and that, for miles and miles and miles. The car is a bit of a beater, swiped early that morning. At last they come to a stop. Teddy takes the dude out of the car and walks him into a field. He tells him keep right on going and do not look back until he’s counted to 1,001. And don’t touch the blindfold, my man. Your wife and your kids’ll live longer that way.
Teddy gets back in the car, the guy’s stumbling his way through the field, and they’re gone with the wind. They go back to the house, get their guys, tell the old lady don’t call the cops or her husband is dead. He’ll be back maybe by lunchtime.
They leave and drive to their car, wipe and leave the car that they stole, and go home with smiles on their faces.
The Old Man broke out the cognac.
When the drinking was done, he told Billy and Teddy to go back to their pad and stay there, quiet like mice, till some of the noise that the robbery’d kicked off died down just a bit. Like always, right? And get the word to the other three guys. The Old Man would call by next week and they’d all get together and divvy.
Five jobs, one mil and change! We all got well! A whirlwind year, we all got home safe! A few more like this and we’ll get down the road toward new lives.
After Billy and Teddy had split, the Old Man asked Mac, “Well, whaddya think?”
Mac shrugged, smiled, and said, “What’s to think, Jimmy? We’re home fucking free. They went through these jobs like grease through a goose. These guys oughtta just give us the money, save their wives freakouts as six in the morning.”
“Uh-huh.” The Old Man smiled and leaned back in his chair, hands behind head. “Man, that Billy. Somethin’, huh? Kid’s got boulders like you and me had.”
“Yeah, well. Teddy, too. Ice Man, you know? Kept Billy from going off like a rocket sometimes the whole fucking way. That’s big stones all by itself right there.”
“Yeah, true.” The Old Man looked off and away. “I’m gonna hate to ever bust this thing up.”
“Nah, Jimmy,” Mac said, “when the time comes, it’s time. Like we always said, the main thing is knowing when to get out. We get enough, have some fun, then go lie on some beach in the sun and ogle the girlies with smiles on our faces forever.”
The Old Man laughed. “Or somethin’ like that.”
Mac laughed. “Yeah, something like that.”
The Old Man spent the next week on the phone. He had real estate holdings, an import-export concern, and some miscellaneous interests he had to stay right on top of. No rest for the wicked.
Wednesday afternoon that next week the robbery’d been off the Six O’clock News for five days. Time to bring the kids out of their caves. He went down to the corner to call.
He came back ten or so minutes later, jaws knotted, lips tight, eyes burning.
“What, Jimmy?” Mac said.
“You heard me! No answer!”
“What the fuck—?”
“I don’t know what the fuck!” The Old Man had climbed straight to rage. He looked around the office as if he wanted to bust the place up.
He looked at Mac. His eyes were just a tad wild. Then he took a deep breath and plunked down in his chair. “This can’t...” He shook his head. “We gotta go out there.”
“Man, we gotta. Who knows what’s goin’ on, what could be comin’ up on our ass? This ain’t right. I told ’em—”
“Yeah, Jimmy. Something’s happened. Maybe you oughta call Stanton. He can get back with what’s up and—”
Stanton, the cop who liked 12-year-old girls.
“That baby-rape cocksucker...” The Old Man’s jaws danced. He took a deep breath. “Yeah. I’ll call him now.”
He called Stanton and gave the address and told him, see what the fuck’s what, and get back ASAP.
Two hours later, Stanton called with bad news: Teddy, dead in the place, his head blown half off. Worse news: Billy, naked, throat slashed to the spine at the Ares Motel on the outskirts of town. It appeared he’d been raped.
The Old Man sat pole-axed. The phone almost slipped out of his hand. His face turned a dangerous red as he looked off at nothing.
Billy! The Old Man felt bombs going off in his belly.
Mac said, “Jimmy!”
The Old Man told him the news. He would not tell him that Billy might have been raped.
Mac stared in shock nonetheless.
The question of course: Who the fuck did this? Who knew?
There were other heist crews in the world. They hit the same watering holes, and even sometimes, this guy or that guy broke bread. Often they’d guess whose name was affixed to which job. And nothing was written that heisters couldn’t heist heisters. Still, no crew had ever come at his guys. The Old Man would know. And God save the jamokes who had fucked him.
So then who? Cops? Stanton? Heisters with badges had sure been part of the landscape—but not since the scandals and uproar back three years ago. That film of the fur job with cops riding shotgun had blown the department apart. The Grand Jury had spewed out indictments like shit from a cannon.
Not cops, for sure. And no other crew. So, again, who?
It had to be Eddie or Freddy or Jack.
All three? Two maybe? Or just one of the fuckers? Hard to see any of them bringing this off, or even wanting to try, but—it was them or bohos from some other planet.
Mac had a suggestion: separate the cocksuckers. Put them in three different houses all by their lonesomes. See what rolls out.
The Old Man had thought the same thing himself. He went down to the corner to call.
He told them that Billy and Teddy were dead and that something was up and that they had to duck. He sent them to old, beat apartments tucked off and away in dusty old shadows at town’s ragged edge.
The next three days were a blur. The Old Man stayed camped in his office, making plans for getaway day. Mac had to wrap his own business. They’d stay close by phone.
That third day, Stanton the cop who liked 12-year-old girls had more news: Freddy Mueller, age 28, and Jack Pafko, 30, gunned down and gone.
The Old Man called Mac from the corner. “Eddie it is. Cocksucker thinks we don’t know nothin’. Go out and fix his ass, Mac.”
That night Mac came to the office. “Prick tried to blow me away. I come in like grease through the keyhole, he’s out in the kitchen, he turns and sees me, his eyes go all wild, he snatches this gun he’s got in his belt, and ka-boom, I put his ass down.”
“Stupid fuck,” the Old Man said. “He knew you were comin’, of course.”
“Yeah, he’d’ve had to have figured that. But not how and not when.”
“Yeah. His gun. What was it?”
“Yup. That’s what Stanton said, iced the rest of those kids...except for Billy.” The Old Man darkened. “That little bastard. He must’ve been plannin’ this forever an’ a fuckin’ day, the fuck. Goddamn him! What made him think—an’ then, he’s gotta come through you an’ me? Cocksucker was out of his mind!”
“An’ how in the fuck did he think he was gonna get to the money will you tell me that? I—”
“Jimmy, you took him out there that time. You stashed it and—”
“Yeah, but he didn’t know—”
“He put two and two together, man. The kid wasn’t stupid.”
“Yeah, but...” The Old Man broke off and looked off and away. “Fuck.”
“Yeah, well, Jimmy. Who’d’ve guessed in nine million years?”
“Not me, looks like. An’ I should’ve.” The Old Man looked like a stone about to shed tears. He shook his head slowly. Mac stared impassively at him.
“I guess the thing now is,” Mac said, “what now?”
The Old Man took a deep breath. “Well, I guess, Mac, it’s you an’ it’s me.”
“Looks like,” Mac said. He deadpanned the Old Man and went out.
The Old Man deadpanned Mac’s back.
Deadpan and deadpan. Two masks. Stone masks. The world had exploded. Now all was shadow.
Anyone might be lying in that shadow, with long teeth to tear out your throat.
Oh, yes. Paranoia. The old man laughed, a silent laugh without humor.
He went out to the storage and picked up the money that night. He drove to the airport and met Mac there in the parking garage.
Mac sat in his Olds behind dark-tinted windows. The Old Man parked a couple stalls down and walked to the Olds. His footsteps echoed. No one else on this level at all.
The Old Man climbed in the car—and pulled out his gun and shot Mac three times, one smooth fucking motion. Twice in the chest. The head shot made sure. Mac slumped, eyes wide at nothing, all out of time. The gun he’d held slipped from his fingers and fell on the floor. Cordite and shit, death’s own smells, filled the car.
The Old Man pulled Mac away from the door toward the floor. He got out of the car and walked to the drivers-side door. His footsteps echoed louder than gunshots.
He opened the door and shoved Mac to the floor. He closed the door and locked up. Mac would keep maybe a month, as long as the ticket allowed; the dark-tinted windows would keep the lookey-loos out of his business.
The Old Man drove his car down two levels and parked. He picked up his briefcase and walked to the terminal from there.
He copped a flight to Houston that took off at two in the morning. A million-point-seven stuffed in the briefcase. He’d have his pet bank send every last dime to his offshore account in the Caymans.
Once in the air he lay back in his seat, closed his eyes, watched the movie.
The movie got stuck on the image of Billy. The Old Man had loved him. That last night he’d called, they’d gone to the Ares Motel off the strip and made love as they’d done there for months. Teddy knew what was up, but he’d hold his mud.
Stanton had said it looked like Billy’d been raped. The Old Man’s guts twisted. He would have cried if he could have. He’d loved that kid!
They’d made love and he’d cut Billy’s throat. He’d willed his mind blank as he did it. He left Billy there in the bed and drove to the house and blew Teddy away.
Two down, more to go.
The other three were a snap. Mac, though, uh uh. The Old Man knew that he’d patch it together once he got over his shock. No one else could have gotten up close to those guys. No one in life, except the Old Man. It didn’t take a detective to scope that one out.
But the shock of the thing, the fact that Mac loved him, just like the others—Mac would have to snap back from trauma before he took action. The Old Man had known this, and known also: whoever hesitates in this world is lost.
You have to plan, know your people, then move. Mac’s deadpan had tipped him. Mac should have killed him then deadpanned his ass.
Yup, know your people. The thing had gone ace-deuce-tray-bingo, as if God had planned it. And now, the Old Man was home free.
First, he’d offed Billy and Teddy. No use having too many smart dogs waiting to see what comes next. Mac was smart dog enough.
He’d’ve rocked Mac off first, but not at the office and, in the time that headed toward blowup, Mac was out taking care of his own, out of reach. And then, after Billy and Teddy, they’d had to call to keep contract. Can’t shoot through a plane.
He could have arranged to call Mac out to some spot on some pretext but—
Maybe he’d wanted to see what would fall out if it was just him and Mac in the trench. See if he still had his stuff a month short of seven times ten.
Crazy? Ah, well.
So anyway, Billy and Teddy. Then Freddy and Jack. He’d called those two and then gone to their cribs and put them both out of the picture.
He hadn’t worried that someone would see him. The places he’d put these guys in were all out of the way, out by the woods and the junkyards and stuff. He’d come late at night. A quick in and out and goodbye.
He’d come back and called Mac. It’s Eddie, man, fix that cocksucker.
He’d told Eddie first, It’s Mac, he’s out there, you watch your ass! He gave Eddie the gun that he’d used on the others.
Eddie, a boy made for framing. The Old Man had taken him out to the storage that time, and that fact alone had helped make Mac fuzzy, at least for the second the Old Man had needed.
Then, Mac vs. Eddie. A foregone conclusion.
And then the final event, and now Mac was at rest on the floor of his car.
On the flight down to Houston, the Old Man stayed scrunched in his seat, face tight with the pain that ghosts bring.
Billy... He had to fight for each little breath on that flight down to Houston.
He would have hoped to have Billy with him. Billy, however, would never have sold out his partners.
But he, the Old Man, had no choice. His business reverses, the real estate, the import and export—right down the shitter. Debts piling up, bankruptcy looming... He’d needed every last dime from those heists.
Every last dime.
And, love? Well, love passes. Only old men know that.
He’d seen lovers put lovers in graveyards.
At some point, Billy’d have told him, “Old man, goodbye,” and left him out there in the cold.
Nobody loves an old man in the cold...
The Old Man lay back in his seat. He smiled the ghost of a smile. His eyes kept on burning.
Something else a man better learn by the time he gets old:
There’s no one but you to keep yourself warm in this world. And for that, you map out the landscape, then bring what you need to keep the chill off you.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.