CRIME SPREE - THOMAS LARSEN
We were too smart to get caught. That’s what we told ourselves. We knew morons who were making out and nitwits who could buy and sell us. Oh sure, once in a while one of them would serve a stretch, but not for so long you’d even notice. Crime paid pretty well from what we could see.
And working a hustle was so easy in those days. No computers, no high tech security, not much to separate you from their money. Take checking accounts, for instance. The most sophisticated system they had back then was a thing called Telecheck. The store would call a number, the number would call the bank and the bank would confirm that you had the funds. Of course if it was the weekend no checks would clear so your balance came up the same every time. As long as you didn’t cross that line on any one purchase the check would be OK’d. Write a dozen checks for the full amount or less and every one would sail right through.
Candy from a baby, am I right?
Andree wasn’t keen on the idea at first. We’d kept our noses clean over the years and lived a pretty conventional life. Oh, I’d sell a little weed sometimes but mostly I just smoked it. Andree had a scrip or two but we were lightweights compared to most. Couple of working stiffs, paying taxes and getting the shaft.
“I think we should go for it,” I nagged her.
Andree gave me her ‘get serious’ look. “Let me ask you something. Do you think Allan Bateman would consider something like this?”
Allan was my one friend from the neighborhood who turned out OK. More than OK, really, when you threw in the house in Seaside and the Aprils in Paris. Andree played the Allan card whenever I was talking nonsense. Usually it worked, but I’d seen my guy recently and he was driving a car that cost more than my condo!
“Al has the knack,” I explained for the hundredth time. “He can spin straw into gold, so what? Does that mean the rest of us have to eke out a living?”
“It’s not that. He would look at the downside. The downside of a felony is jail. End of pipedream.”
Pipedream. That was her dad’s word. He used it to describe anything I came up with in the way of a future for his daughter. Mercifully, he’s dead now but the word lives on.
“The chances of getting caught are slim and none.”
That was my dad talking, usually in regards to my prospects in life. The old boys were much the same on that score.
“OK, mastermind,” Andree folded her arms over her chest, “tell me again how you’d do this."
“OK, first I get some fake ID”.
“Then I open a checking account.”
“How is that racketeering? It’s a just a checking account!”
“It’s a racket! What do you think, they’ll go easy on you just because you have an apostrophe in your name?”
O’Keefe, that’s me. In her heart Andree loves that apostrophe, the little oomph it gives her first name? She had a point, though. It’s been a century or two since the micks ran the bunco squad, if there still was a bunco squad.
“Listen to you!” I tried to sound miffed. “If I go to the precinct house and make a full confession maybe, just maybe I take a fall. We’re talking sleight of hand here, not smash and grab!”
“Don’t snow me, Vic. You can always talk the game but we both know better.”
“What about your brother? He beat the finance company and he couldn’t read a bus schedule.”
“You can’t count on people being stupid.”
“Yes, you can.”
I knew she would come around. Andree had her eye on a tiger maple chest for the living room and if I could convince her it could be hers, the means would be easier to swallow. It wouldn’t be HER ass, after all, worst-case scenario she’d be rid of me for a while, though I didn’t want to stress that point. The condo and the car were already in her name and no one could take the apostrophe from her.
I’m not her first husband, it goes without saying.
First thing, fake ID. Back then they had a state issued card that looked just like a driver’s license if you ignored the words ‘This Is Not A License To Drive’ lettered in yellow across the top. Didn’t matter. ID was ID. Hey, people who don’t drive have to cash checks too. Getting the card was as easy as covering the names and dates on my birth certificate, making a copy and filling in the spaces with different names and dates. I picked Wilson, keeping my first name to avoid slip-ups.
Setting Wilson up with an address was a little stickier. No post office would accept my bogus birth certificate, but for a nominal fee the Edgewood Arms was glad to oblige, lodgings by the month, week or hour, according to the Yellow Pages. It took a few calls and a trip across town, but a flophouse mail drop seemed so right. I filled in the address on the application, had my picture taken and in a matter of weeks I had my nom de guerre.
Andree was not impressed.
“Who’s Victor Wilson?” She waved the ID card in my face. “And where’s 11A, Edgewood Arms?”
“That’s suite 11A.”
“You know you’re really getting on my nerves with this. Why can’t I have a normal husband with the normal screws loose?”
“I’m taking money from a bank! It’s practically a victimless crime!”
“Oh sure, in the unlikely event you get away with it.”
“You’re so negative,” I tossed her one of her own lines. “I’d think you’d want to support me on this.”
“Aiding and abetting.”
“Admit it. You never thought I’d get this far. Baby, I got the freaking ID!”
“Big deal. What about a work history? What about a social security card?” She reeled off a half dozen more. “Banks care about that stuff, you know.”
“You’re wrong, Andree. Banks don’t care about that stuff. Give them a deposit and they’ll open an account. Jake the bookie has overdraft protection, for Christ sake. That’s like giving a diabetic the key to the cookie jar.”
A sloppy analogy, but then she wasn’t listening anyway.
“What do you use for a deposit, huh? And how do you get it back once the shit hits the fan?” Her old man again. Shit hitting fans was a theme with him.
“Let me worry about that, will you? This will be a piece of cake.” My dad, on his pipedreams.
Amazingly, it went just like I said it would. I picked a bank in the burbs for the obvious reasons. Nobody asked any questions and no one had the slightest doubt I was who I said I was. I opened the account with a six hundred dollar advance from Andree’s Visa card and just like that, we were in business.
But before diving in, I wanted to check in with Herbie for some professional insight. Herbie, my dope connection is a practicing fence and recovering crackhead. We did two years in juvee together and I trust him as much as I trust anyone. A good man, Herbie, had a rap sheet that read like a telephone book, but that’s the angle I was looking for. If there was a way to fuck up, Herbie would know about it. Took me a few days but I finally tracked him down at the rec center.
“Too white collar for me, pissant.” He nailed a rainbow jumper from half court. “Your basic entrepreneur sees a nigger flash a check and all the red flags go up.”
“What about a disguise?” I faked left and hooked right. Herbie slammed it back in my face.
“What for, brother?” He laughed that lazy laugh. “You already impersonating a real human being.”
“But what if somebody recognizes me?” I rubbed the welt on my forehead. “I’m thinking disguise. Maybe a fake beard or something.”
“You always were a little freaky, pissant.”
With Herbie everything comes with a measure of abuse. We’d known each other for a lot of years, but I don’t think he’s ever called me by name.
I faked left and drove right. Herbie was waiting for me.
“OK, forget the disguise.” I ran the ball down and checked it for bloodstains. “How about unloading the stuff? You can take care of it?”
Herbie blew by me for a windmill slam. “Think about it, pissant. At ten cents on the dollar you’d be better off just getting what you need.”
“But that sorta takes the edge off of knowing a fence, doesn’t it?”
“Hey, man, my brother’s a plumber. That don’t mean he’s been in my toilet.”
So much for criminal expertise.
I did my homework. To make sure the Telecheck system worked like I said it did I put a few things on my own account. I hit the malls on a Saturday. None of my purchases exceeded my tiny balance, but together they nearly tripled it. Not a problem. The salesmen made the calls and got the OKs. Then I tried some items that were over my limit and sure enough, Telecheck nixed the deal. Twice in a row I’d called it right. Reason enough to give it up, Andree would say. It was time to get her going on this.
“I was over at the Antique Barn. They still have that chest you liked.”
“Don’t snow me, Victor.” She held a hand up. “You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do so skip the song and dance.”Victor. Not good. It worried me to think she could see right through me, but then ten years together give you a sense of things. Lucky for me that stuff works both ways.
“...and bath towels. Plush ones like they have in the hotels.” Andree underlined the plush. We were in McGlinchey’s and the vodka tonics were working their magic. “Oh, and new pots, the old ones are disgusting.”
It took some work but the chest was the clincher. Sometimes all you have to do is sew the seed.
“What about that rug in the hallway?" I pushed some more buttons.
“And new curtains! I saw some in Wannamakers that would be perfect for the kitchen.”
What the hell, Herbie was probably right. Get what you need while you have the chance. Besides, there were plenty of checks to go around.
“What kind of TV can you get for six bills?” I wondered.
“A Trinitron. With one remote that works everything.”
“You checked?” I tried to sound surprised.
“Hey, if you’re gonna throw it all away you might as well have something to show for it.”
One thing still bothered me. In the unlikely event we had to make a run for it, I didn’t want it to be in our own car. Most of the rental agencies wanted a credit card, but another go at the Yellow Pages turned up Charlie’s Rent a Wreck. Low budget, high mileage, no questions asked.
“This here one’s only twelve years old. One previous owner.” Charlie circled the Country Squire.
Andree leaned inside. “It’s got 700,000 miles on it. Jesus, the poor guy musta lived behind the wheel.”
“Fuller brush man. Thirty years on the road and not so much as a speeding ticket,” Charlie laid it on.
“What about the van?” I pointed to a dented Econoline with a primered front end.
“I’m kinda partial to the wagon, here.” Charlie picked at some rust on the quarter panel. “Don’t build ’em like this anymore."
“Thing is, we’re moving so we need something roomy,” I told him.
“You don’t want that van then, Damn things fulla tars.”
“He means tires,” Andree did the translation.
“Nothing good.” Charlie shrugged. “Old retreads and such. I tried to get rid of ’em but you can’t dump tars no more, since that far under the freeway.”
“I know what he means.”
“Besides, you can fit just as much or more in this old Squar.”
The wagon was a boat all right. We’d have to hold off on a couple of things but the bulk of the list was within cargo range.
“How much for the weekend?”
Charlie grinned. “You two are in luck. We just started a weekend special. Thirty samolies, plus a deposit.”
“That’s dol -”
“You take a check?”
“Personal check?” I could hear the old boy’s wheels turning. “Let me make a call on that and we’ll see what we can do. Oh. I’ll need your driver’s license.”
I filled out a check and handed him the ID. Charlie checked the card.
“Says here this ain’t no driver’s license.” He flipped it over like that might clear things up.
“Shit! I must have left it in my other wallet.” I actually slapped at my pockets. “That card’s valid, though. They’ll OK the check.”
“You’re not trying to pull a fast one on me, are you?” Charlie’s smile was a dental nightmare. “See, ’cause it makes me nervous, young couple like you rentin’ a heap like this. What you want the car for anyway?”
“Like I said, we’re moving.”
“That’s OK, I don’t want to know.” He waved me off and turned for the office. “Long as the check’s good we can finagle the rest.”
“You’re a good man, Charlie. I’ll make it up to you.”
The old man hacked up a laugh. “I’m thinking a man with two wallets will promise you anything.”
I was getting a real good feeling about this.
We took the bus to Rent a Wreck the following Friday. The Country Squire looked bigger than I remembered and we nearly clipped a Doberman pulling out of the lot.
“You look like an idiot. You know that, don’t you?” Andree called over from the passenger seat.
“What? I think it changes my look completely.” I double-checked the moustache in the mirror.
“It’s not even touching your face at the ends. It’s like you stapled it to your lip.”
“You notice because you know it’s not real. No one else will even see it.”
“But it won’t match the picture on the ID card.”
“So, maybe I just grew it.”
“I’m just saying, you walk into a store with a shrubbery on you lip and people tend to notice.”
“Just humor me, OK?”
The gas gauge read half a tank but to play it safe I pulled in the station for a fill up. The kid at the pumps wasn’t going for it.
“’At’s a fake moustache, ain’t it?”
“Just fill the tank, will ya?”
“You gotta unlock the flap.”
I felt around the floor, pushing buttons and pulling levers. The seat whirred and the back came forward, folding me into the steering wheel. The switches on the door worked a window apiece and the handle under the dash popped the front hood. The kid just looked at me, holding the nozzle like he might have to use it. The markings on the dashboard controls had worn away so I pushed, pulled and switched them all. Wipers, washers, flashers, all worked like a charm.
“’At’s a rug, too, ain’t it?” the kid snickered.
“Know what?” I peeled off the moustache and tossed it out the window. “Forget the gas.”
The mall was a new one in the Northeast. I had a little trouble finding it, which is like having trouble finding the Atlantic in Atlantic City. OK, Andree’s line, but close to the truth. The parking lot stretched farther than the eye could see. I cruised around for a spot close in, but the only ones open wouldn’t fit half the Squire.
“There’s somebody leaving.” Andree nodded to a fat guy shuffling across the blacktop. I fell in behind him, moving at a crawl. “So we get the bikes already assembled, got it?” I inched up half a car length.
“But they’ll take up so much room.”
“I’m no mechanic, baby.”
“My dad could take my bike apart and put it together with one hand tied behind his back.”
“That’s funny. My take was your dad couldn’t find his ass with BOTH hands tied behind his back.”
“What’s this thing you have about my father’s ass?”
The fat guy cut between two cars and over a row. I gunned the Squire around and up the other side.
“Where the hell did he go?”
“There’s somebody else.” Andree pointed to an old black woman loading bags in her trunk. Maybe three rows away, but a half-mile in cutbacks.
“Hurry!” Andree jabbed me in the knee.
“In a mall? You know how many kids live here?”
By some miracle she was still at it when we drove up minutes later. From where we sat you could see rolls of flesh bunched above her old lady stockings. When the last bag was in just right she pulled something out and placed it in a second bag. Then she took two things out of the second bag and put one each in bags one and three. That was no better so she switched two of the bags around. I gave the horn a poke. Bip!
“Don’t you honk that horn at me,” she said without turning. “You be a old fucking man before I move this car, you pasty face motherfucker.”
“Maybe we can find something else.” Andree pointed to empty stretch near the curvature of the Earth. I put the Squire in gear.
The place smelled of paint and industrial carpeting. A third of the stores weren’t open yet and the ones that were had a slapdash feel to them. Still, the place was packed. They had a guy on stilts passing fliers in the atrium and a manic clown to make the kids cry. An hour since the doors opened and somebody had already puked on the escalator.
“This can’t be real.” I took a long look around. “They’re piping in Herb Alpert.”
“What’s the difference?”
“In the mall? That’s like a Doors soundtrack to a Vietnam movie. Something bad has to happen.”
“Look, there’s Macy’s.” Andree pulled ahead. Something about the way she moved told me I was losing control.
“Oh, this would go perfect with my new shoes.” she checked a price tag in the mid-three figures. “And it’s on sale!”
“I didn’t see slinky black dress on the list.”
“Thirty percent off! Cough it up, mastermind.”
The girl at the register studied the photo on my ID.
“Well, that’s a coincidence.” Her eyes darted from the picture to me. “You’re wearing the same shirt.”
Hardly coincidence, dearie, more a last minute concession to the stupid moustache. If the faces didn’t match at least I would be wearing Wilson’s clothes.
“Huh. Whaddya know?” I gave it a glance.
“Let me just verify this and you’re good to go.” She held up my check like exhibit A.
“Oh man, I have to pee." Andree clutched at my arm as the sales girl made the call. It took a bit longer than it should have, but she soon returned with a chipper smile.
“Will there be anything else for you today?” She pushed my card across the counter.
“No, I don’t think--”
“How much is this paisley scarf?” Andree fingered one of a dozen.
“We’ll take it. And these two...three.”
“Oh my God, you were right!” She practically danced down the concourse. “It’s like a dream come true!”
“Cool it, will you? This place is probably crawling with security. Here, let’s try this one.” I steered her into an electronics outlet. A thousand components flashed triple zeroes as three saleschildren converged.
“How can I help you?” A little porker cut them off at mid-counter.
“We need a new stereo.” I nodded to a shelf full. “Something with all the bells and whistles.”
“We have a full line of tuners and receivers.” He led us along, gesturing as if it scarcely mattered. “Your brand names, your imports. Did you have a particular unit in mind?”
“Your $600 unit.” I checked the names for something recognizable.
“With one remote that works everything,” Andree added.
“All our tuners have full capability. How about a Hitachi?” He pointed to a finger smudged floor model. “This baby will do everything but feed the cat.”
“Sold,” I whipped out my checkbook.
“Excellent!” he signaled to a stock boy thrice his age. “I just purchased one myself. The multi functional menu display is a real nice feature. Now then, can I interest you in something else? A set of new speakers?”
“Just the receiver.”
“Tape deck? VCR?”
“Just the receiver.”
“...Do you have Trinitrons?” Andree had to ask.
“Ah, we do indeed.” Salesboy herded us over to a wall of TVs, all shapes and sizes, Oprah times fifty at least.
“This is our most popular video item.” Salesboy draped an arm over a mid-size Oprah. “In fact, we may be temporarily out of them. At the opening, they were flying off the shelf.”
“Does it come in any other color?” Andree cocked her head.Salesboy smiled sadly. “I’m afraid basic black is the industry standard.”
“How about white?”
He looked to me, but the kid was on his own here.
“I could check.” He headed off in a low waddle. I waited until he was out of earshot before making my case.
“What are you doing, Andree? The TV alone is over the limit.”
“You should have used a bigger deposit.”
I held my tongue. Her credit card statement wouldn’t come for a week yet.
“Besides, we don’t have to buy here.” She reached over and switched stations. “It’ll give us a basis for comparison.”
The out of synch Trinitron showed golfer Fred Normans poised to make a putt. The crowd bunched off the green. Normans still as a statue, only his hat moving as he checked the flag, then the ball, then the flag...
“What’s wrong?” Andree leaned in closer.
“I think he’s stuck.”
Sure enough, Normans couldn’t pull the trigger. A full minute passed. Clouds drifted over the green and a paper wrapper skittered left to right. The camera seemed to tremble under the strain.
I grabbed Andree’s arm. “Here comes Spanky.”
“Wait. I want to see what happens.”
What happened was nothing. The camera continued to roll but the fucking guy was paralyzed. It was agony, I tell you. We watched until our boy arrived then the three of us watched together. A pair of seagull sauntered into the picture and the wrapper blew back the way it came. When they finally broke for commercials, the air seemed to go out of the showroom.
“Sir?” Spanky’s forehead was speckled in sweat. “I hate to tell you this but both items are out of stock at the moment.”
“OK, give me whatever you got.”
“I’m afraid we’re pretty much out of everything. There was a problem with delivery. New store and all.”
I folded my arms to keep from throttling him. “You knew this going in, didn’t you, Fatso?”
He blushed brightly but held his ground.
“Sir, we’ve got everything on back order. The truck should be here on Wednesday. Free delivery, it goes without saying.”
“Wednesday!” I checked my watch. We’d wasted an hour.
The flat tire took another twenty minutes. By the time we were on the road again, my shirt was sweat soaked and my fingers were black.
“I mean, the kid was what? Fifteen?” Andree kept at me about the sales guy. “You know, you can be a real bully at times.”
“Come on, the kid played me like a violin.”
“You didn’t have to make him cry!”
“Look, we gotta concentrate. There’s a time element involved here.”
“Funny how you never pick on the big guys.”
I looked around. “Say, where’s the dress?”
The blood drained from Andree’s face. “Stop the car, we have to go back.”
“I left it in the stereo store. FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!” She pounded the dash until the glove box flipped open.
“There’s no going back, baby.” I glared at her. “They see us coming, they call the cops.”
“No, I’ll go in. I can reason with them.”
“Forget it. We keep going.” I eased up as taillights flickered ahead. Off to the side red lights were flashing.
“What now?” Andree groaned.
“Aww, look at this! I can see the fucking mall from here.”
The jam up spread across three lanes. I toed the brake and the Squire squealed like a Septa bus.
It was nearly four by the time they cleared the wreckage. We squeezed through, drove a mile then cued up at the line for the Plymouth Mall exit. Forty minutes later we were in. I parked as close as I could, a short cab ride at most.
By now we were barely on speaking terms. I don’t know what it is in men that make them blame their wives for everything, but whatever it is, I’ve got it. Royal bastard, that’s me. Andree’s girlfriends all say she’s lucky to have me, but what they know about luck you could fit in a thimble. Without Andree, I’d be just like they are, lonely, bitter, much divorced. At my worst, their exes couldn’t touch me.
“...the way it fits together, ‘jackknifed tractor trailer’, like a snazzy new truck line,” I muttered, as if to myself. “And how come WHEN they jackknife they’re just long enough to block the whole interstate? Coincidence? I think not.”
“Please, God, make him stop.” Andree rolled her eyes to the heavens.
“Oh, that’s rich. Tell you something. I wish there was a God. You know what? I’d break his fucking nose.”
“Just for five minutes, Jesus. That’s all I ask.”
“It just kills me. You know what this is like? It’s like a blind man with 48 hours to see but nobody knows how to turn on the fucking lights! It’s like--”
“Strike him dead if you must, Lord, but please...”
The bikes were a breeze. Keith, the salesman, knew more about cycling than selling so we gave him all the rope he needed. You could hear the excitement in his voice when we got to the racers and a catch in his throat as he called up his glory days, the prep school trophies, tracing the route of the Tour de France. We settled on a pair of Pirellis, factory assembled. Keith was so thrilled I thought he’d pay for them himself.
We stashed the bikes in the Squire and hustled back for more. Stuff for the bathroom, stuff for the bedroom, stuff we needed like a hole in the head. A popcorn popper, a pasta maker, a mini refrigerator, one of those wave machines. Future shower and wedding gifts all. I don’t know, when it’s all free, your needs seem many. Andree concentrated on essentials, new lamps, gardening tool, six cases of assorted wines. Her shopping skills were sharper than mine but I did my bit, carting off her booty with a good-natured grunt. My style was more all over the place. A box of ratchets I’d never open, new skis to hang in the basement, golf clubs and fishing gear, should I ever take them up. There’s a rhythm to marathon shopping and we soon found ourselves falling into it. A casual entrance, a bit of indecision, an afterthought or two and boom! We were gone.
It took a good bit of rearranging, but in four trips the Squire was loaded.
“What about that?” Andree pointed to the mini-fridge behind me.
“aaaAAH, Jesus Christ! Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
She gave me that crushed scrotum look, with the hand on the hips and the foot going. “I don’t know. Maybe I thought if I waited long enough you’d have a stroke.”
“That’s not funny.”
“Sorry,” The eyes narrowed. “Ummmm, maybe I couldn’t think of the words." She conked herself on the head. “I don’t know. I got gaps.”
I gave her the hand wag thing. “I know. How about the old standby ‘I did, but you don’t remember’. Or even better, I’m glad it doesn’t fit. I really hated it.”
“Come on. Let’s go.”
“We can’t just leave the damn thing here.”
“It won’t fit. Forget about it.”
“Good. I really hated it.”
That first day really took it out of us. By the time we got home and unloaded, we could barely lift our vodka tonics. Six trips each up three flights then down a long hallway will do that to you. We didn’t have the strength to put things away so it just piled up in the middle of the room. New stuff, ain’t it pretty?
“It makes me nuts, that dress,” Andree said, not for the first time.
“Baby, all this loot and you’re worried about a dress? Tomorrow we’ll get twenty dresses.”
“It just grates on me. I loved that dress. Everything I really love I lose.”
“Come on.” I gestured to the pile. “How can you lose a Cuisinart?”
“To just walk off and leave it with that imbecile!”
“Ah hell, Skippy wasn’t that bad.”
“I thought it was Sparky.”“Whatever it was he’ll hate it at sixty.”
“And my scarves! I already had an outfit picked out for each one.”
“Look, we were lucky to get anything. That wreck could have hung us up for days.”
“Yeah, the nerve! Screwing us up like that.”“It’s really sick, but being stuck for so long? I kept hoping they were all dead, you know?”
“Jesus, you don’t mean that!” Again the eyes to heaven. “He didn’t mean it. He’s just...drunk! That’s it, he’s drunk.”
“Burnt to a fucking cinder, know what I’m saying?”
“Liquor talking, Lord. Nothing to worry about.”
We studied the pile again over breakfast. The stuff didn’t look ours yet. We didn’t know the quirks and design flaws, hadn’t yet discovered the defects or missing pieces. In time we’d use it up and throw it away, but for now it was all new and all ours.
“If I had a camera I’d take a picture of it.” I framed the pile with my fingers.
“Camera.” Andree aimed her finger at me. “Put it on the list.”
“Camcorder. Oh, and a cordless drill.”
“I don’t know. Drilling situations.”
“I’m getting a whole new wardrobe. I can’t believe I get to say that in my lifetime.”
I cleared the dishes and poured two shots to soothe the nerves.
“Mazeltov!” We hailed each other and sallied forth.
Day two was a romp. Once we’d shit-canned indecision there was no stopping us. Andree snookered every shoe store in sight while I saw more dressing rooms than a backstage groupie. It was work, I can tell you. Try taking your shoes and pants off a few dozen times and you’ll have some idea. At the same time it was exhilarating. We were cranked up and focused in. We were serious consumers on an all-consuming quest. Conditions couldn’t have been better. Stores were all stocked with the latest styles and sales staffs were quick and courteous. Like shooting cats in a barrel, as my dad would say.
Our last stop was the Antique Barn just before the bridge to Jersey. We filled the tiger maple chest with shoes and wedged it between the trash compactor and the gas grill.
“You folks sure been busy.” Antique Guy looked over our loot.
“We Wilsons come from hardy shopping stock,” Andree assured him.
“Used to have me one of these.” He ran a hand over the Squire’s front fender. “Fine vehicle, as I recall. Don’t see too many on the road these days.”
“Here, hold your arms out.” Andree draped him with coats and cleared a space for the new brass lamp.
“Always carting the kids off to one thing or another.” He steadied the load with his chin. “It was very functional automobile.”
“A regular shopping machine.” Andree actually jabbed him in the ribs. Loaded back up, we bid Barn Guy farewell and headed off into the sunset, the old wagon packed to the gunwales.
“$10,237.66,” Andree totaled the receipts. “You really did it this time, buster.”
“Get rid of those, will ya?”
“Whatever you say, Wilson. First trashcan you see.”
“I gotta tell you, the whole time I really felt like I WAS someone else.”
“That’s funny. I have a sudden craving for someone else.” She gave me a wink. “Take me home, lover boy.”
“Piece of cake. What’d I tell you?”
“I can’t believe it’s over.”
“I’d like to cash this.”
“Certainly, sir. Let’s see, six hundred dollars.” The teller ran my check and reached for the cash drawer. I could feel my stomach turning flips.
“Could you excuse me one minute? I’m out of twenties.” She slipped from her stool and headed off to wherever they keep them. When she returned she had a slight, bald headed man with her.
“Mr. Wilson? I wonder if I could have a moment?” He nodded to a nearby desk so I followed him over.
“Is there a problem?” I asked.
“Mr. Wilson. It’s been brought to my attention that we had a flurry of activity in your checking account over the weekend.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes, it appears there were an inordinate number of checks written on that account.” He winced. “Forty-seven, to be exact.”
“No, I’m afraid I’m not kidding.”
I edged forward in my chair. “That’s a lot of checks.”
“It’s not the number that troubles us. It’s the amounts. The sum total is more than your balance, you see.”
“How much more?”
“A great deal more." He nodded in an almost friendly fashion. “We tried to call you but it seems your phone number is not in service. Naturally we suspected that someone had stolen your checkbook, but... I see you have it with you.”
I glanced down at the damn thing clutched in my hand. “So I do.”
“Naturally, we’re concerned.” His eyes flicked toward the door. “Of course I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.”
“Of course.” I rose from my chair and tossed the checkbook on his desk. He opened it to the three remaining.
“This is a very serious matter, Mr. Wilson. What do you intend to do about it?”
Through the window behind him, I could see a squad car stuck in traffic.
“Well, Mr. Wilson?” Baldy pushed it.
“These overdrafts. What are you going to do?”
What I always do. Fake left and hit the door running.
BIO: Tom Larsen has been a fiction writer for fifteen years, his work has appearing in Newsday, New Millennium Writing, Puerto del Sol and Antietam Review. His short story “Lids” was included in Best American Mystery Stories – 2004. His novel FLAWED was released in October. He’s been published here before.
Farewell to the Whistler
2 hours ago