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Last man standing

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  • #31
    Chapter 31

    He had to circle the little brick office building to get at the front door, which faced the big parking lot. He was putting on rubber gloves as he went. The front door was locked but the key in his hand opened it immediately, and the first room was a lobby of sorts with a desk for a receptionist. There was a telephone set on the desk and a computer and an appointment calendar, and the room included a couple of straight chairs, presumably for visiting sales agents. They would not wait in comfort.

    Jack went directly up the stairs to the second floor. Piper’s recollection of the floor plan had been formed when the building was under construction, but it appeared to be right on the money. The room he wanted was locked, but the same key that fit the front door fit this one also. It was not an office, but rather a utility space with shelves of office supplies and a closet with the janitor’s stuff. There was a window with a view of only the inside wall of the metal building.

    He had to move forty packs of copier paper to reach the spot Piper had described, and then he was facing a textured surface painted light green. The bigger crow bar stuck out of the backpack in easy reach and he pulled it out, but then found himself unwilling to strike the wall. He pulled up a well-used office chair with a broken wheel and sat down in it, suddenly realizing he had held his breath for a long period. He wondered if the fat man had cigarettes in his shirt pocket and wished he had checked. A couple of smokes would certainly be in order at this moment. He was stalling, much as he had stalled in Baton Rouge as he planned his journey.

    He stood and hefted the tool in his hand and went forward and tapped the spot on the wall with it, but there was no helpful information in the sound it made, so he gripped the bar and thrusted with it and it penetrated the sheet rock. He reversed the bar and stuck the crook into the hole and wrenched upward, tearing the paper skin and making a sizeable hole. There was nothing to see and it made him catch his breath, but the hole was big enough for his hand and he reached in and felt only the studs. He wrenched again with the crow bar and the hole was much bigger. The metal shelf that the copier paper had occupied made his movement awkward, and he leaned forward at the waist and twisted and ducked his head and went into the wall up to his shoulder. The duffel bag was right where Piper said it was – he could feel the rough canvas fabric that moved under his touch. For a moment he felt weak.

    Ross pulled his arm out and backed away from the wall and looked around him and stalled again. He left the storage room and walked to the end of the hall, where there was a drink machine. For a paper dollar it sold him a cold root beer in a can. Next to the machine was another window and this one looked out at the expanse of the big building. It showed him that his prisoner was still in place, sitting on the floor and leaning against the work bench. Everything was quiet, as if he might have the whole night to complete his work. Stupid thought – and he was suddenly in a hurry and hustled back to the room. To break out any more of the wall he would have to move the shelf he had leaned on, but he had screw drivers in the pack and the shelf was out in five minutes and he attacked the wall until the hole was more than two feet high. The duffel bag was heavy and for a moment he was afraid he would have to dismantle more of the shelves, but he strong-armed it and it came out, raising a cloud of dust and breaking more sheet rock. The bag sagged as it came out and the burden in it slid downward, no longer restrained between six-inch studs and behind the dry wall.

    Time was now important, and should the fat man get to see the duffel bag? The answer was no, not if he didn’t have to. Jack put away his tools carefully, and the root beer can went in the backpack too. He would make some kind of trophy of it when he got home. He picked up the bag without opening it and left the room, locking it as he went. Down the stairs and out the front door of the office building. He went to the door that faced the parking lot and looked out the glass panel. The road was dark as far as he could make out – in both directions. He contemplated making his getaway that way, but he wanted to speak to his prisoner, so he chocked the door open and stepped out with the duffel, crossing the driveway and hiding it in the tall grass. He went back inside and headed for the rear of the building.

    The fat man saw him coming and called plaintively, “Man, you been gone a long damn time in there, and my ass is cold. You said only a few minutes.”

    “Well, I’m here now and I’m leaving, but I want to talk to you before I go.” Ross took off the rubber gloves and leaned down to wipe the handcuffs with a shop rag, in case there were fingerprints and in case anybody looked for them.

    “What did you do in there, anyway?”

    “That’s what I wanted to tell you. I had to break out some sheet rock, but only one piece. You’ll want to get that fixed. How you handle this whole thing is your business, but if you call the police, you tell ‘em it was a guy with an afro and a bunch of gold teeth. They’ll know what you mean. Be sure not to give the cops a description of me. My advice is not to call ‘em at all, but that’s up to you. You can call your insurance if you want, but the repair will be less than the deductible. I say we should both blow it off. It never happened.”

    “Why the hell should I protect you after all you put me through and then doing that damage to the building?”

    “Well, chief, if I should get in any trouble for this little breaking and entering it will probably piss me pretty good, and I will feel obliged to make some phone calls, just to get even like. First I would call your wife and then I would call Titsy’s husband. After that I would phone up RitaGay’s husband and then the lady in the Toyota. Before long – you see what I’m saying? So, have we got a deal or not? I need to know, because I’m already pissed a little. I didn’t find what I was looking for in there.”

    “Just let me go, man, and get the hell out. I won’t tell on you, and I will have to decide what to do about fixing what you broke. By now my wife will be getting pretty upset, and that’s not so good. You taking my phone and my keys and my pistol?”

    “I’ll slide your stuff under the Buick. Now I have to call for my ride and it will take maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Until she gets here I am going to be walking back and forth in the back lot with a gun in each hand, so you better give me at least a half hour before you open that back door. I’m going to leave the key to the cuffs where you can get it, and you will be home before you know it.” Jack got a ball of twine from the backpack and cut off a piece about ten feet long. He tied one end to the key and offered the other end to the fat man. “Open your mouth, chief. When you gobble up enough string you will come to the key.”

    Ross took the cell phone and the automatic pistol, handling them carefully, and left the prisoner wide-eyed and gaining about an inch of string with every reaching motion of his fat lips. He went out the back door and pushed the keys under the Buick along with the gun and phone. He trotted around the corner and up the driveway and recovered the duffel bag from its hiding place in the weeds. He still had not opened it. Fifteen minutes later he had everything stowed in the trunk of the Nissan and was headed for the Pennsylvania border. Piper’s debt was certainly settled, and he wondered if the effort had gotten the little man into heaven.
    If it ain't funny, it ain't much.


    • #32
      Chapter 32

      Jack didn’t want to return to his motel room. He wanted to be in his truck, getting some serious miles away from Wheeling, West Virginia, but there was no place to go except the motel. It was going on ten o’clock on a Tuesday evening, and he couldn’t very well show up at the car lot and knock on the door and besides, he needed a place where he could sit down and open the duffel bag. He was suddenly hungry, and he hit the drive thru window at McDonald’s and couldn’t recall whether the hamburger there would be a quarter pounder with cheese or a Big Mac, also with cheese. As he sat waiting for his food, the drivers of all the cars that pulled into the parking lot seemed to be watching him from the corners of their eyes.

      The parking area at the motel was uncomfortably dark and he gripped the gun in his hand as he exited the Nissan. He stood for fifteen seconds like a secret agent, peering into the gloom around him, then opening the trunk and getting the bag and trying not to run as he lugged it into his room. He latched the door and engaged the mechanical catch and only then did he turn on the light. The bed was still unmade and he lay down and immediately got up again and killed the light and opened the door and went back to the car for his food. Opening the plastic bag, he set the sandwich and the milkshake on the little desk. There was a jumbo straw and a great many paper napkins and the sandwich was still warm. He washed his hands in the little bathroom. Everything was little.

      The duffel bag was covered with dust from the broken sheetrock, and he noted it had made an obvious white mark on the brown carpet, so he took it to the bathtub and brushed it down with a towel and flushed the dust down the drain. Then, on his knees, he massaged the spot on the carpet and was disappointed that he had dulled it only a bit. No doubt when the maid came in tomorrow and saw it she would have the FBI on his trail before he got out of sight with his sack of money. Sitting heavily on the floor by the bag he felt like the bumbling idiot he was becoming. He wished for a cigarette – or a pack of cigarettes. He could stall a long time if he had a few cigarettes. He noted with satisfaction that his hands were steady as he opened the duffle bag.

      There were two yellow canvas bags in the big bag and both were labelled carefully with a felt pen. One was considerably lighter than the other and was marked Piper. It contained two hundred thirty-five thousand dollars, all in five-thousand-dollar packs of hundred-dollar bills with paper bank bands. It did not take long to count the forty-seven packs and Ross wondered about the amount. Half a million was to be the total for both kidnappers, according to Miriam Moscowitz’ report from her brief evening with John Villarubbia. Had John shorted Piper? The yellow bag had a zip closure.

      The other yellow bag, marked Lindsey, was bulkier. All the money was in banded packs of fifty, but it was not all hundreds. There were fifties and even some twenties. He would count it later and if there was not two hundred sixty-five there would be no one to hear his complaint. Villarubbia, on the run and unwilling to go to New York City to settle up with his partners, had been in full flight toward the south and had made a terrible plan for stashing this money but even so, he had wisely prepared separate bags. In this way he had spared the two men the awkward ordeal of sitting down together and splitting the cash. Piper had said that they had already fought as they waited for instruction.

      The sandwich got cold and the milkshake got warm and Jack was exhausted. He turned on the TV and muted the sound and fell asleep in his clothes, making white smudges on the blue sheets. When he woke it was full daylight and he was still hungry. He showered and changed his clothes and loaded the car. He stowed both yellow bags in the trunk and tossed the big duffel bag into the dumpster, where it made white smudges on the motel garbage. He knew the Mountaineer sweatshirt would give him away in Baton Rouge, but he liked it and decided he would just keep it under cover until later. Even rich as he was, he had paid good money for it. Driving south in Pennsylvania he stopped for breakfast at Norm’s Diner in Waynesburg, where he had eaten lunch only a couple of days before. He passed up a chance to buy another Go Jackets tee shirt from another coed – or maybe it was the same one.

      The car lot he wanted was only a short distance farther, and he drove in and headed straight to the shade tree where his truck stood waiting. He didn’t see the young man, but the woman who had rented him the Nissan was exiting the office at the back of the lot. By the time she reached him he had transferred everything to his own vehicle, and he waited for her.

      “Damn, man, I wanted that pickup truck,” she called. “I was hoping you wouldn’t come back for it and when I watched you driving off that day, I was thinking maybe I should have went to Pittsburgh with you to look after you.”

      Jack looked her up and down and told her a lie. “If you had went with me, baby, we might not ever ‘a come back. You should have said something.”

      “Aw, I was just f ---in’ with you. I couldn’t go and leave my boy. Did you like that Nissan?”

      “Good little vehicle and I might rent it again next time.” Ross had the motor running in the truck and the window down. “But I guess I’m a truck driver to the bone, and now I’m off down the highway. You take care.”

      “I been partial to truck drivers for a long time,” said the woman. She was still talking when he closed the window and headed for the street.

      He drove south and west, at first on I-79, but he left it within the hour and returned to state roads that went where they went. It was beautiful country with fall colors on the trees and seventy-degree daytime temps. He loafed along, not quite comfortable with his cargo and not quite certain that it was finally his – and was he really entitled to it?

      Well, who if not him? Simon Leppert and his sons in Binghamton had given it up grudgingly to get the fat and useless Sonny Boy back home. John Villarubbia took a hefty third of it and stashed the rest for Piper and Lindsey under Lindsey’s threat to burn out John’s family if John stiffed him. Then, in Bossier City, a bargain-basement hooker named Miriam had stumbled in. Miriam took John’s money and his story and then his life in a motel across from Barksdale Air Force Base. Following a trail back to New York City she had found Lindsey and had taken his information and his life, too. From there she had pursued Piper to St. Louis, where his name had become Graham.

      For many years she had cultivated him like a sunflower, living on the edge of the prize, too greedy to take him as a partner. She waited too long and had to settle for Jack Ross, and then died at the eleventh hour at the hands of Gus Mendoza in the weeds of an aborted St. Louis subdivision. Jack, in turn, killed Sonny and then Gus and now he had the money behind the seat in his pickup truck. That must prove something. Indeed it did, but it only proved he had it, not that he was entitled to it. It was the Lepperts' money after all, and he should contact them as soon as he got back to Baton Rouge. He would call them. Sure he would - in a big dog's ass.

      In a deadly demolition derby he was the last man standing and it was pretty good. Hell, it was great.

      The end
      Last edited by vapros; 11-18-2018, 01:18 PM.
      If it ain't funny, it ain't much.