by Robb T. White
“Check it out, “ he said, cupping the photo. “How’d you like to look down and see that at the end of your dick?”
It was fuzzy like something lifted from a video camera. Mickey Hand wasn’t sure what he’d done to attract a groupie, especially a loser like Louis. Mickey couldn’t slip out the back door for a smoke without the guy following him, talking bullshit about chicks, tattoos, trouble he’d been in or trouble he’d avoided. Always the tough talk like “I missed going to the slammer by a cunt hair.”
Mickey doubted he’d seen one up close. The college kids ignored him, jabbered away about the latest video game while the women Louis thought he impressed kept to themselves at their own tables, wary and alert like prairie dogs. He’d dated plenty like them: tough, coarse, products of dysfunctional families or bad marriages.
Working third trick wasn’t a picnic, anyway. His parole officer seemed tickled pink when he reported he was unloading trucks packed to the gills with cheap, plastic shit from China.
“This could be a new start for you, Mickey. Take advantage of it.”
Sure, right, he wanted to say. Pull the leg with bells on it.
Louis stared bug-eyed, waiting for a reaction like a kid with a nasty drawing.
“She’s pretty, got mileage on her,” he said, noticing the faint marionette lines at the corners of her mouth. “By the way, Louis, I’ve seen porn before.”
“Do you believe she’s forty-three,” Louis said with his horse nicker of a laugh, as though he’d come up the right answer on Jeopardy.
“Is there an age limit in this town for a woman to stop playing the skin flute?”
“It ain’t her age what matters,” he replied, the smug pride rankling.
“Louis, let me get a lungful of this cancer smoker before break ends.”
“It’s the age of the guy the flute is attached to. He’s only sixteen!”
“The envy of his peers. How about if you let me finish this in peace?”
“She’s his school teacher.”
Mickey took a final drag, thought, I can hit him with an uppercut under the jaw, leave him out here near the dumpster, get back on my parole officer’s shit list—or I can see if he has something . . .
“OK, go for it,” Mickey said. “But if this starts sounding like a turd soup—”
“My friend works as a security guard at the warehouse where the school keeps supplies,” Louis began, breathless, excited to have struck a chord. “The district superintendent spent a boatload of Covid money from the government on new computers for the district. The kid getting his tool waxed in the photo? My nephew. I rigged up a pinhole camera in their motel room. You’re looking at the guy blackmailing that teacher as we speak, ahem.”
“Monkeymouths,” they called guys like him in the joint. Men who couldn’t back up the tough talk were said to “sell wolf tickets.”
“I’m still waiting for the part that has my name on it,” Mickey said; he flicked the butt into the gravel lot where it arced into a snowbank with a dying sizzle.
“Those computers are worth a hundred thou, easy, Tommy tells me. We waltz in there with a couple two-wheelers from here, load up a rental truck, and—Bingo! Sayonara to this crap job.”
Mickey grunted, checked his watch. “Breaks over. So’s your time.”
Louis grabbed Mickey’s triceps as the door cracked open: “The teacher gets us the work order to take the computers in broad daylight. Tommy disables the CCTV cameras. No questions asked!” Louis hissed in his ear.
Mickey hesitated, spoke grudgingly against his better instincts that had kept him from doing serious time in bad places for the last decade. “You earned yourself a cup of coffee after work. I better like what I hear.”
Back in his motel room, Mickey was too antsy to sleep. He’d catch three hours mid afternoon to early evening, the best he could manage with a graveyard shift job. Working all night played havoc with his system. He wanted to think about Louis’ plan before he slept on it.
Advantage one: no break-in, no alarms to trip.
Advantage two: the teacher’s forged requisition order put her on the spot, not him.
Advantage three: Tommy, the inside man, didn’t have to be jumped, cuffed up, and given a fake injury a good detective would see through in a New York minute. Let him describe two workers in coveralls as long as he’s got that fake work order to show. Suspicions aren’t proof. Prosecutors like to say they can indict a ham sandwich but convicting is another matter.
Advantage four: he had a fence he trusted to unload the entire shipment.
Advantage five: his two partners didn’t need to know how much he’d get paid.
Disadvantages one, two, and three: his partners in the heist.
That night, he avoided looking at Louis and his hound-dog expression as long as possible. Near the end of shift while Louis was punching out, he gave him the thumb’s-up. The jerk grinned from ear to ear.
The job was set for the following holiday, a day off. It went off without a hitch and took a half-hour to unload three-hundred-seventy-five boxes of laptops in packing crates into the truck.
Then it began coming apart at the seams for exactly the reasons Mickey feared. First, Tommy wouldn’t stop communicating with Louis.
“Did you tell him they might have his phone tapped?”
“Yeah, yeah, he knows,” Louis said, as though he’d made an idle comment about the weather. “He’s cool.” Then Mickey had to threaten Louis to keep him from quitting work.
“Don’t do thing out of the ordinary until I give you the signal, you hear me, asshole?”
Two days ago, the teacher wanted to quit before the semester ended. Rumors were flying around school about her “extra credit” hobby, and half the football team was hanging around her office making lewd innuendos. She was demanding Louis return the videos and photos. She sounded close to a nervous breakdown. Only the fact she had a husband and two young children kept her from bolting.
The last problem was the one Mickey feared the most. He made an unannounced visit to Louis’ house in the country, a dump his parents left him when they shuffled off the mortal coil in a car accident ten years earlier.
A PlayStation 4 console, a stack of the latest video games, a Bluetooth, and a new HD plasma TV with a screen half the size of one wall. None of it Louis could afford on his salary because he himself couldn’t.
Mickey used a leg sweep to take him down to his shitty brown rug. He bent an elbow back and applied pressure that caused Louis to scream.
“All right! All right, motherfucker! Stop! I’ll tell you!”
He confirmed it: Louis was selling off computers here and there.
“Didn’t I tell you things were too hot? Didn’t I say we had to wait—your friend at the warehouse, too, for his cut? It’s too soon, you fucking dummy.”
Mickey sat on the ratty sofa with his head in his hands. This happened in dumb ass crime movies, comedies, not in real life.
“Everything’s cool,” Louis said, rubbing his elbow. “Crack a beer, man. Loosen your sphincter a little, huh. We’re good, I told you. Nobody knows a—”
The word thing, if that’s what Louis intended to say, was lost in the boom of Mickey’s Glock reverberating around the tiny house. The slug slammed into the side of Louis’ head. He rocked forward and did a face plant on his coffee table, knocking copies of Gent and Score onto the floor. People shot in films fell backwards, as though a tiny bit of lead weighing a few grams could knock a human being over. You had to slice through the spinal cord or blow out an aorta.
After work, he’d visit the teacher with sudden qualms about sucking off one of her students. Before he left town, he’d see Tommy. Louis undoubtedly told him about “his guy at work,” even though they never exchanged a word while he loaded up the truck in coveralls and ski mask. His fence would insist on a bigger fee now, but so what? He had three people fewer to cut in. A different old con in Dannemora used to quote Stalin: “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.”
A new life somewhere else. Maybe somewhere warm this time. He’d had a bellyful of winter in the Midwest. That anarchist settlement near Taos. He could spend a few months there, no sweat. Why not? The stars were gorgeous at night, falling all the way to the horizon, and he didn’t have to see more people or speak more than ten words at a time if he wanted to. It sounded about right. Yeah, just right.
Nominated for a Derringer, Robb White has published several crime, noir, and horror stories as well as hardboiled novels. He has a pair of series private eyes. A collection of revenge stories, Betray Me Not, was selected as a Truly Best Indie Book of 2022. His latest work is a crime novel: Full-Tilt Boogie, featuring Jade Hui, Special Agent. Find him at Thomas Haftmann.com
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