Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 111 - Eric Beetner


Career criminals are, for the most part, vengeful sons of bitches. I learned that early on. Here’s one thing I learned just recently: from my last job I drove fast enough, clean enough but I didn’t drive far enough.

My name is Marc. Down here it is anyway. I’d been down just outside of Miami for about three months before I started really looking hard for work. It always starts off slow. They don’t know me, I don’t know them and we’re both looking to do something illegal so you can’t really take out an ad in the classifieds. Or can you?

I shouldn’t be telling you this but people have been putting together robbery crews for years through the classifieds. There’s a language to it. I knew one guy who would place fake obituaries. If the last name Knalb ever came up, the obit would be stacked with clues. (Knalb is blank backwards. Don’t feel bad, the obit guys never noticed, either.)

I’m sure a lot of young guns have moved to Craigslist by now but guys in the know will still scan the newspapers looking for a lead. When all the papers go under (from the looks of it in about a month or so), I’ll be back to slumming it in bars and asking leading questions to the bartender with a Ben Franklin “accidentally” falling on the bar but for now I only needed to pay a buck fifty for a Miami Herald.

I drove for one smash-and-grab which paid me a whopping six hundred bucks, my ten percent on a pillow case full of shopping mall diamonds that any real jeweler wouldn’t cross the street to pick up off the ground. Other than that, it was pretty dry. I think I was too far down into an area that was so controlled by the Cubans that the idea of hiring a gringo like me didn’t appeal so they kept the work to themselves. The real money is further up the coast anyhow. I branched out and started looking one county north to try another big city where there was more action.

I worked a dock job in Lauderdale that didn’t pan out at all. Two guys who worked on a yacht and had a plan to rip off the millionaire who owned it but didn’t have any idea how to sell the weird shit they took. Sure, that equipment is expensive if you know what to look for but the black market is not really the place to shop a doppler radar or shit like that. I never saw a dime from it. They were idiots not to do the driving themselves anyway. I kept saying to just take the whole damn boat. Sail it down to Brazil and sell a million dollar boat for fifty-thousand and you’re still fifty K richer.

I tried the gulf coast in Naples. Old retired money. Even the cops had to be over fifty.

I spotted an ad that seemed to me like a good score. ‘Driver needed to haul expensive merchandise. Very fragile. Must have own wheels. Non-union. Truckers need not apply.’

So, okay, expensive merchandise, we all get that. Very fragile meant it was a public place with lots of innocents and lots of witnesses. Non-union meant it wasn’t mob-affiliated, just a solo job. Truckers need not apply just means no lazy fat bastards not willing to work for it.

I called the number. I sat down for an interview and told tales of some other jobs. I left off the five times now that I drove away with the stash and left town. This last one was the biggest and I still had plenty left but my ass cheeks were getting sore sitting around all day. I don’t much care for the sun, either. Why I came to Florida is a mystery to me. I figured to make this stay a short one, even if the girls were across-the-board sluts. It’s never been so easy to get laid in my life. Still not worth the skin cancer.

The planner called himself E-Z and he liberally quoted lines from Scarface every chance he got so I knew he was a punk and that I shouldn’t trust him. Thing is, I don’t trust anyone I ever work for so it made no difference really.

Without me telling you, you assumed that E-Z was black. Don’t feel bad, you’re right. It was just E-Z, another black guy named L’il Wonder and me. For the meet, I had ripped off an M-Class BMW with expensive rims. That impressed. For the job, I had my eye on a Crown Vic I had seen in the neighborhood where I was renting. These two amateurs would most likely be pissed when I pulled up in what looked like an off-duty cop car but what did I care?

It was a bank job. Sit and wait with the engine running and then get out of town. Honestly, my talents were being wasted.

I knew the scene inside. They go in with guns drawn and shouting like mad, wearing ski masks or Halloween masks but something that still shows enough skin so people can tell they’re black. Hey, if people are going to bring their own fear to the party, why not let them? (Old, retired widows from Ohio still clutch their purse when one of “the negroes” walk past.) They would talk a lot of gangster talk to frighten the old folks. Sure as shit, E-Z would give it a, “Say hello to my little friend,” at some point. Lots of hard talk and bluster for a staff that wasn’t going to resist at all. Money’s insured. Inside a bank, it’s just paper with no real value. The trick is to get it out of the bank.

These days even the trick doesn’t take a magician. Since the advent of the ATM, crowds inside banks are so small and full of old people who can’t figure out the buttons that it makes taking a bank as easy as holding up a toddler’s birthday party.

So I sit in the car, go over my escape route in my head and wait for them to finish the floor show. They estimated four hundred grand. I figure sixty, tops. My share - six thousand. Whatever. At least it gets me out of the house.

The day of the job, sure enough, I get a big “What the fuck?” when I pull up in the Crown Vic. Navy blue, too, the kind these guys see in their nightmares.

E-Z sits next to me and is talking a mile a minute while L’il Wonder waits in silence in the back. They never use my name. I guess it’s not cool enough.

Traffic is light so we land right on time in front. I find a spot in clear view of the door so I’m feeling good about my six grand.

“Let do this!” shouts E-Z as he pulls a red bandana over his mouth Jesse James style. L’il Wonder has slid on leather gloves and he slaps them together twice and lets out a single “Whooo!”, like he’s about to go join the huddle for the opening kickoff.

They get out, slam doors, tuck guns into their belts. E-Z calls back to me, “Five minutes, Rick, man. Then we get money get paid, get money get paid.”

Shit. Rick was my name on the last job.

They both hustled off and my foot almost stomped down the pedal to get gone but my brain hitched a second to replay what I thought I heard. It was enough time for the Camaro to slam into my rear end.

I didn’t hurt my neck in the crash but almost gave myself whiplash scanning the rearview and sideview mirrors to see who the hell was behind me, as if I didn’t know.

Johnny, the planner from the last job. The one I ripped off to the tune of almost $375,000. The one we called Rotten Johnny, like the guy from the Sex Pistols only...well, you get the idea. He had two friends with him. Friends of his, not mine.

E-Z and L’il Wonder had walked right on past the bank. They would collect their finder’s fee later but at least they weren’t going to stick around for the revenge. I guess Johnny wasn’t paying enough.

The door handle rattled but it was locked. I was boxed in by the Camaro behind me and the impact had pushed me up against a Lincoln with curb feelers in front of me. I was a little dazed so my reflexes weren’t at 100 percent, so when Johnny yelled at me to open up, I didn’t respond. I’m not sure if he thought that would actually work or what. Oh, open the door so you can shoot me easier? Why, okay, kind sir. Dickhead.

Johnny used the butt of his gun to smash the window.

He reached in and popped the lock and grabbed my shirt to haul me out but I was belted in so I moved about a foot and then was sucked back into the seat. He aimed the 9mm right at my nostrils.

“Get out.”

Idiot. He should have shot me. Just do it and leave. Revenge clouds the brain but, like I said before, they are a vengeful type of guy. Plus, he probably wanted his money back. There was that.

I undid the belt and slowly slid out and stood up moving the deliberate way you do when you have a gun on you. Once out in the open, he tucked away the 9mm to a more conspicuous position now aimed more or less at my balls. A few people slowed to gawk at the accident but these days people don’t want to get involved so no cars stopped, no one called the cops on their cell. Traffic zipped by us like we were just two poor jerks exchanging insurance info on the way to a higher deductible.

“Thought you could outrun me, didn’t you, Rick?” No point in answering him. “Well, I guess you were wrong.”

“Yep,” I obliged. I certainly couldn’t argue with the man.

“Where’s the money?”

“Back at my place.”

“Well then, let’s go.”

“You kind of got me boxed in here.”

Johnny looked forward to the Lincoln and back at the Camaro to confirm. He nodded to the two buddies and one of them got behind the wheel of the Camaro to back it up. Had it not even occurred to him to just take me with them in his car? This was going to be too easy.

The Camaro detached itself from the Crown Vic’s back bumper with a screech and maybe that metal on metal noise jogged his better sense.

“Wait, you’re coming with us,” Johnny said, like the thought just came to him.

Maybe he wasn’t as stupid as I thought.

“My keys are inside. My apartment key is on the key ring.” A lie.

“I’ll get it.”

I held my hands up around my shoulders, showing respect for the gun but not drawing attention to us. With one buddy in the car, the one behind me had moved in between the Camaro and Crown Vic to avoid the traffic rushing past. Douchebag was still in his motorcycle leathers. Why would you wear that shit when you’re not on a bike? Probably thought it made him look badass. He was wrong.

Johnny transferred the gun to his left hand and reached inside with his right to pull the keys from the still-running ignition. He kept an eye on me the whole time.

The engine in the Crown Vic died as he rotated the key. He began to straighten up as he brought his body back out of the car. When his arm was almost out, I made my move. I lifted my leg and kicked forward like a place kicker. The door rocketed shut and caught his hand between the post and the window frame. Inside the body of the door, the latch caught and he was trapped.

The pain was definitely enough of a distraction that grabbing his gun hand, not his dominant hand anyway, was easy. Using his arm, I swung it around and aimed back at the Camaro. I didn’t have to do any work. Johnny squeezed off four quick rounds that smashed through the front windshield. The driver ducked and avoided the shots.

I started plucking at his fingers trying to release his grip on the gun the same way I did with my brother when he stole one of my Matchbox cars and curled it into his fist. Johnny’s screams and the gunshots were finally attracting attention. The second buddy had hit the deck in between the cars but now that the shots had stopped, he was up and moving towards me.

I had to abandon the gun and deal with him. Those old seventh grade Judo classes came in handy for once. I let go of Johnny’s arm and braced myself for impact with the buddy rushing at me. I reached out and got ahold of one of his hands and used it to pull his arm forward as I pivoted my body and took his own momentum, added to mine, and launched him into the street.

A huge F-250 was going past at least 35 miles an hour. It was a 35 zone anyhow. The way the buddy’s torso bounced off the grille of that truck, maybe he was doing closer to 45.

The pickup squealed tires, twisted the wheel and all attention went away from us and onto the body still arcing in the air and the truck driver rapidly losing control of his ride. A voice from the sidewalk blurted an involuntary “Holy shit!”

In the confusion, I vaulted myself, Starsky and Hutch style, over the trunk of the Crown Vic. Johnny fired off two more shots. I knew his aim would be shit in his left hand.

I let him see me as I crouch-walked to the passenger door. He squeezed out three more rounds and the windows popped and rained glass over me. They also let me reach in and unlock the passenger side door.

I ducked two more shots and then heard clicks. He was out. I was in.

His hand that was trapped in the door had dropped the keys and I swiped them up off the seat and revved the engine to life. Like a cop about to chase after a perp I dropped the gear lever into D and took off.

Johnny’s body was quickly taken away faster than his feet could keep up. I made a wide arcing left hand U-turn laying down rubber as I went, dragging Johnny along for the ride. The tips of his fingers were already turning purple just inches from my face where they wriggled, pinched into the door.

About three quarters of the way through my circle, his fingers gave way and detached, letting his body fall. When he came loose, he slid along the side of the car where he dropped to the pavement and was immediately sucked under the rear tire. I couldn’t see it but I sure did feel the back end of the car buck upwards like an angry bull. The purple tips stayed with me jammed in the door but the wriggling stopped.

I came around and completed a full circle so I was head-on with the Camaro.

I saw the driver start to duck again but I slammed on my brakes, stopping short of plowing into his door. The Crown Vic rumbled an angry 8-cylinder sound only inches from scratching his paint. He peeked up, unsure of what my next move was going to be. I knew he got the point and that this was Rotten Johnny’s beef with me, not his.

I raised a finger and wagged it at him like a strict school marm. I even gave him a “tsk tsk tsk” but he couldn’t hear it.

The street was chaos. A crowd had gathered but was clinging to doorways and behind a bus shelter, wanting to see what was going on but understanding that it wasn’t over yet. I heard the first siren in the distance.

I floored it in reverse, did a perfect J turn and was off. I passed by where the driver of the pickup had gotten out and was weeping over the splayed corpse of the man he hit. Built Ford tough, I guess. I’ll say. It nearly split him in half.

I traced my well-practiced escape route. No one ever followed. I dumped the car and got away clean. How? I’m damn good at what I do. That’s how.

So now I head north. New town, new name. Still have over $350,000. I’ll miss the women but not the sun.

Time to get gone.

BIO: More about Eric's writing can be found at His crime novel 'One Too Many Blows To The Head', co-written with JB Kohl, is scheduled to come out later in 2009 unless something goes horribly wrong. Something always goes horribly wrong. In the meantime, check out Worth It over at Powder Burn Flash.


Cormac Brown said...

I love an opening paragraph that sets the tone, just right. Good running commentary and this is easily your best story yet. Great job.

BTW, the word verification is "wristhym."

Paul D Brazill said...

Brilliant. Part3?

Anonymous said...

Eric is proving himself to be a strong new voice in Noir. His clean no-nonsense style is perfect for crime fiction.

Buckle-up baby! It's always a ride when Beetner is behind the wheel.

Eric "the mailman" Hebert
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Jake Hinkson said...

Good stuff. Keep bringin' it, Beetner.