LOOSE ENDS - THOMAS FAUGHNAN
When Kev Reevis looked up from his drink and saw Val Dutton standing at his table he damn near wet his pants. THE Val Dutton; a living legend in the Anchorage underworld, a guy that had been pulling jobs since before he was old enough to drive, a Certified Bad Ass.
Dutton slid a chair out and motioned to it. “Mind if I sit down, kid?”
Kev shook his head numbly. In the dim light of the bar Dutton looked younger than he thought he would for a guy with his track record. His cheeks were freshly shaved and his hair neatly combed. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled halfway up his beefy forearms and a gold nugget watch was strapped to his right wrist. The kind of watch Kev was going to get when he made his first big score.
“I been hearing things about you, kid,” Dutton said after sipping on his rum and Coke.
Kev flushed with fear and his sphincter tightened up like the mainspring on an over-wound clock. As far as he knew he hadn’t done anything to piss Val Dutton off but Dutton’s bad side was not a good place to be. There were stories on the street about guys that had crossed him and were never seen or heard from again. Dutton saw the apprehension on Kev’s face.
“Good things, kid, I been hearing good things about you.” He laughed and gave Kev a playful smack on the back. Val Dutton, giving him a playful smack on the back like they were old pals. Kev wished there were more people in Red’s to see it. “Word around here is that you’re a pretty sharp guy.”
Kev was pleased and surprised to hear it. He had always been under the impression most of the guys that hung around Red’s thought he was something of a loser. Last summer he’d tried a smash-and-grab at the liquor store up on Karluk and the sneaky goddamn clerk locked the store behind him after he went in. When he grabbed the bottle of vodka and took off he hit the secured door at a dead sprint, breaking his wrist and knocking himself cold. First time back in the Red’s, drinking beer with his right hand because his left was in a cast, someone had shouted from the bar, ‘Hey, Reevis, it’s called a smash-and-grab not a smash-and-crash.’ Everyone got a good laugh at his expense.
“They say you got a partner you run with,” Dutton went on. “He a sharp guy, too?”
Of all the things Ricky had been called in his life sharp was not on the list. The truth was Kev hung around with Ricky for the same reason so-so looking girls hung around with homely ones in school; it made them look good by comparison. All the guys at Red’s called them Reevis and Butthead. But he didn’t want Val Dutton to think he’d hang with a zero so he said, “Yeah, Ricky’s a sharp guy.”
Dutton nodded as if he’d expected nothing less. He looked around the nearly deserted bar then leaned forward. “I’m putting together a job and I need a couple of sharp guys, think you two might want in?”
Kev Reevis couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Being asked in on a job by Val Dutton was like Rick Swenson asking you to run the Iditarod with him or Scotty Gomez inviting you to skate a couple of shifts. Kev tried to stay cool, act like it wasn’t that big a deal but his nerves got the best of him and when he took a drink of beer he dribbled it all down the front of his t-shirt. Dutton handed him a napkin without comment. “Yeah," Kev finally managed, “me and Ricky are always up for some action.”
“Good,” Dutton nodded. He slid a scrap of paper with an address across the table. “You and Ricky meet me here tomorrow at noon and I’ll lay it all out for you.”
When Kev picked Ricky up from his mother’s ramshackle trailer in east Anchorage the next morning and told him they were going to meet with Val Dutton the first thing Ricky did was ask what kind of trouble they were in. “No trouble,” Kev assured him. “He needs us for a job.”
“Why’s a guy like Val Dutton need us?” Ricky asked. He may have been dumb but he wasn’t stupid.
“It’s a big job and he needs some good back-up,” Kev explained. Ricky had always lacked vision. He couldn’t see that pulling a job with Val Dutton was going to make them, give them some street cred. He was their ticket to the big time.
Dutton let them into his suite at The View Hotel on the first knock. Kev had never seen anything so nice in his life. It was spacious and spotless, nothing like the cramped dump he lived in with his sister and her husband. This, he thought, was the way a man should live. Kev introduced Val and Ricky and while Val got beers for everyone he moved over and looked out the window. They were on the twelfth floor and from there Anchorage looked like the little Tonka Town Kev had gotten for Christmas one year. He liked being up here looking down, it beat the hell of being down there looking up.
Val called him over to the table in the breakfast nook where he had set up shop. “First let’s get one thing straight,” Val began. “Nothing that gets said in this room gets repeated. Not to your pals, not to your girlfriend, not to your mother. It’s nobody’s business but ours and loose lips sink ships, got it?”
Kev and Ricky had no idea what that meant but they nodded in agreement.
“Okay,” Val went on, “here’s the skinny. There’s this old guy, real Alaskan sourdough-type, has a working goldmine up in the interior, somewhere north of Ruby, I think. Works it all summer, closes her down in the fall and sends all his gold to Anchorage via Alaska Freight Flights. Here’s the thing, he’s one of those crazy old coots that don’t believe in banks so he has the buyers meet him at the terminal with a couple duffle bags full of cash, to the tune of about $300,000.”
Kev almost choked on his beer. $300,000 was more money than he could imagine, Dutton might as well have said they were going to rustle a herd of unicorns. He and Ricky’s big score up to this point was the $1500 they had gotten for a boosted car last year.
After pausing to let the number sink in, Val continued, “There’ll be a thirty minute gap between the time the money arrives and the time the plane gets in. One rent-a-cop, two clerks and a manager in the AFF terminal, we go in, you two disarm the guard and cover him and the clerks, I go back in the office with the manager and get the money out of the safe.”
“How you going to get the guy to open the safe?” Kev asked.
Val Dutton smiled a smile with no warmth or humor. “I can be very persuasive.”
Ricky scratched his close shorn hair then asked, “Why don’t we wait til the plane gets there and take the gold too?”
Dutton shook his head. “Too messy. Then you got two more armed guards, the pilot and the old coot, who they say packs a pair of ivory handled .45s, and you need a van for the gold. You’re looking at five more guys to do it right, there’s more chance of something going wrong and everyone ends up with a smaller split. Fuck the gold.”
Kev looked at Ricky like he had asked a stupid question, even though he had been thinking the same thing himself.
“You guys got decent pieces?” Dutton asked them.
Kev pulled out the beater Saturday night special he and Ricky owned between them. There was black electrician’s tape on the broken handgrip, the front sight was bent and the cylinder wobbled a little bit.
Dutton looked at it for a moment then said, “I’ll bring the guns. We meet tomorrow at two in the pits off Sand Lake Road.”
Kev ran toward the getaway car with blood spattered all down his left side. He had never seen anything go south so fast in his young life. Everything had been clicking along like clockwork, he had the two clerks covered, Ricky had the old white-haired guard and Val was in the back being persuasive with the manager. They were less than a minute from a clean getaway when the old guy sneezed and Ricky shot him in the head. Blew his fucking brains all over Kev and the two clerks. The two women began screaming and Ricky was shouting, ‘Oh, fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.’ Val stuck his head out of the back to see what the hell was going on and then there was an alarm shrieking from somewhere. Val looked back into the office then raised his gun and fired twice. He dashed into the office and came out with a large duffle bag on each shoulder. “Let’s go,” he shouted and began pushing Kev and Ricky toward the door.
They took a back road out of the airport. Ricky was blubbering like a baby. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he kept repeating between sobs. “I thought the guy was making a move on me.”
“He fucking sneezed, Ricky,” Kev said in disbelief. “He fucking sneezed and you capped the guy.”
“Knock it off,” Val said from the passenger seat. “What’s done is done. When we get back to the cars I’ll take the money with me, you two toss the ski masks, the pieces and the gloves in the trunk of your car. Don’t leave anything in this piece of shit. You wearing anything under that?” He pointed at Kev’s blood soaked shirt.
Kev nodded. “I’ve got a t-shirt.”
“Good. Lose the shirt, too. I’ll go out and up Raspberry Road, you guys go the other way, out to Dimond. I’ll call you later. Stay cool.”
Going out Sand Lake toward Dimond two APD cruisers screamed past Kev with their flashers flashing and their sirens wailing. Staying cool was the hardest thing he ever did.
Val called Kev just after six and told him to meet him at The View. Alone. They sat at the table with a couple beers and Val lit up a cigarette. “Your pal Ricky really hung our asses in a sling, kid.” he said.
“He didn’t mean it, Val,” Kev said. “He just kinda panicked.”
Val nodded. “But the guy’s still dead. Ricky’s a stand up guy but it wouldn’t take much, just one little slip and he’d be talking to the cops. They put his nuts in a vise and I think he’d fold up like cheap origami and then we’re all looking at Murder One.”
“What?” Kev asked. “I didn’t shoot anyone.”
“Don’t matter, kid. Happened in the commission of a felony, that makes us all eligible for a lifetime scholarship to Spring Creek, without parole. I don’t know about you but I’d feel better if he wasn’t walking around.”
Kev found it hard to swallow. “What are you saying, Val?”
“Ricky needs to go,” Val said. “You brought him in on the job.”
“Oh, man, Val,” Kev protested. “I can’t do Ricky. Me and him’s been running together since junior high.”
Val Dutton expelled a lungful of smoke straight up and it billowed and roiled in the light over the table. “What’s your favorite band, kid?” he asked.
The question took Kev by surprise. “I dunno. Maybe Satan’s Psychos, I guess.”
“Whatever,” Dutton said, clearly never having heard of the band. “Do you think they’ve been together since junior high?” He shook his head in the negative. “No way. Here’s how it works, in junior high and high school there’s thousands and thousands of garage bands. The guys that are good enough move up to the next level and the guys that aren’t get left behind. You get a little older and the bands are playing school dances, weddings, local halls, shit like that. Again, the guys that are good enough move up to the next level and the guys that aren’t get left behind. And it goes like that right up to the big time.” Dutton paused to let the analogy sink in. “I’ve been watching you, kid, and I think you’ve got the stuff to move up to the next level and the next level, all the way to the big time. But Ricky needs to get left behind; you see what I’m saying?”
Kev took a deep breath and nodded.
“You with me, kid?”
“Yeah, Val,” Kev answered, “I’m with you.”
“Here’s the plan then. You tell Ricky we’re going to bury the money until the heat blows over. Take him, the duffle bags stuffed with old paper and phone books, the pieces from the job, ski masks, gloves, everything, out to Kincaid Park. There’s a spot out on the bluffs above the dunes where nobody runs or bikes. You dig a hole up there, deep enough that the animals won’t get into it.” Val thought for second, “Make it twice as big as you need so it won’t look like a grave to Ricky. Throw everything in and think of some reason to get Ricky in the hole then you do it. Put two in him to make sure. Fill in the hole when it’s done and meet me at the airport.”
“The airport?” Kev asked.
Dutton nodded. “You and I are headed south for the winter, going to lay low until things calm down up here.”
“Costa Rica,” Val smiled. “Sunshine, beaches and more girls in bikinis than even a young stud like you can keep up with.”
“Damn,” whispered Kev. He had only been out of Anchorage once, when one of his mother’s boyfriends, the only decent guy she ever dated, took him and his sister to the fair out in Palmer. Now he was going to Costa Rica with Val Dutton for the winter. Unbelievable. “When?” Kev asked.
“We’re booked on an eleven o’clock flight, I’ve got a couple of loose ends to tie up. First,” he said, clapping a paternal hand on Kev’s shoulder, “let’s take care of business.”
When Ricky got in the car the first thing he did was ask, “Is Val pissed?” Kev shook his head. “Like he said, what’s done is done. But we’ve gotta get rid of everything that ties us to the robbery and stash the cash til this thing blows over.”
Kev had been wrestling all afternoon with the idea of killing his best friend. Fuck it, he had finally rationalized, Ricky did this to himself when he lost it and popped the guard. If he had kept his shit together we’d all be going to Costa Rica. He even managed to work up a little resentment toward his friend. If Ricky hadn’t screwed the pooch, they’d been down at Red’s right now throwing around some of their newfound dough, being big shots. As they entered the park, Ricky said, “I was talking to Donnie this afternoon, you know, about Val.”
Donnie was one of the regulars at Red’s and Kev thought about reminding Ricky what Val had said about loose lips but there didn’t seem like much point to it now. He was barely listening to Ricky as he watched for the cut-off Val had directed him to take.
“Anyway,” Ricky went on, “he says when Val come into Red’s the other day he was looking for the two biggest losers in Anchorage. Why do you think he said that?”
Kev was almost to the spot where Val said to leave the car and climb the hill. “Ah, I don’t know,” he said distractedly. “Probably jealous cause Val didn’t ask him in on the job.”
“Yeah,” Ricky nodded in agreement, “that’s probably it.”
“Here we are,” Kev said, pulling to a stop. “Grab the shovels out of the back and I’ll grab the rest of the shit.” When they topped the hill they could barely see the dunes below them or the recessed waters of the inlet in the dusk. Kev found the place Val had described and after twenty minutes of shoveling, Ricky asked, “This good enough?”
Kev shook his head. “We gotta go deeper. You don’t want a bear digging up the money and walking off with it, do you?”
They dug for another twenty minutes. Finally Kev said, “That oughta do it.” He went over to where the duffle-bags, masks, gloves and guns were piled. He picked up a bag in one hand and a Browning in the other. “Clear the back corner out a little more and we’ll be done.”
Ricky jumped down into the hole with the shovel and as soon as he turned his back Kev held his breath and shot him. Ricky grunted and slumped forward and Kev shot him again before exhaling. Then he jumped down to retrieve the shovel and when he turned around, Val was standing at the edge of the pit. Kev smiled up at him, “There’s your loose end, Val, all tied up.”
But Val Dutton wasn’t smiling and there was gun in his hand. “I said loose ends, kid, with an s.” In the millisecond between the pulling of the trigger and the first bullet punching into the center of his chest, it registered what Ricky had been saying.
He was looking for the two biggest losers in Anchorage. And he had found them.
BIO: Thomas Faughnan has been published on Beat To A Pulp and has several other stories pending. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska with the love of his life Sherri, a golden retriever and a cat.