Richie drove the decrepit VW microbus down the ugliest stretch of East 119 Street. The windows were all open because the VW didn’t have a working air-conditioner, and because Richie wanted to let out the smell of the pot his five passengers were inhaling.”S’wats the plan?” Duke said with the hoarse wheeze of someone who was trying to retain smoke and communicate at the same time. The microbus hit a pothole, and Duke erupted in a fit of coughing.
Keep telling myself that this is an easy job.
Richie didn’t much like Duke, or Duke’s friends, but Duke was all he had at the moment. At least, Duke was the only person he knew who was crazy enough to shaft Rico. And, all profit aside, the job Richie had in mind was to shaft Rico.
“I get us in the lot, and you boost the cars.” Richie looked over his shoulder at the stoned menagerie behind him. “You got that?”
Four tattooed white guys nodded at him, one saluting him with a pry-bar. Richie turned around and shook his head. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” he muttered.
The microbus hit another pothole and Duke waved a joint in his direction. “Here, have a toke, calm you down.”
Richie shook his head. “Nah, you’re calm enough for both of us.”
I ain’t setting you guys up. If you all get busted it’s because you left that brain cell you’re sharing back at the trailer park.
In fact, Richie sort of liked the idea of these white trash homeboys successfully making off with the lot. Getting reamed by these Parma potheads would do wonders for Rico’s image. Richie pictured the fat asshole stepping off his yacht, after the fireworks, and finding out that his most profitable chop-shop had just been looted.
It’d serve the bastard right for fucking with him.
Richie pulled the microbus to a stop a block away from the lot, which was an innocuous-looking shed and a fenced-in yard generically named “Diamond Auto Repair.” There were a half-dozen cars in the lot, as well as one nasty Doberman. There were lights on in a small office in the shed. Dirty yellow light leaked through the windows. A yellowed piece of cardboard hung over the front gate, “Closed.”
That sign rarely, if ever, came down. Rico’s little operation here was an open secret, even the local cops knew it, and tolerated it. Rico was a big smelly fish in the stagnant pond of Cleveland politics. You’d have a better chance of getting Mayor Kucinich to admit that the city council had done something right than you’d have of a Cleveland cop busting one of Rico’s operations.
Which was why Richie’s plan was going to leave such a stunned expression on Rico’s fishy little face.
Richie let the microbus roll to a stop. When the microbus’s parking-brake finally stuck, Duke pushed open the passenger door. Richie grabbed his arm, restraining him. “We wait till dusk, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
It’s a good thing you’re not the point of all this, Duke.
It was probably a good thing that the cars down there were already hot-wired. Not that Richie cared about the cars, particularly. Duke and his friends were here just to add confusion to everything. Richie’s intent was to cause a mess that Rico, the Feds, and the Colombians who owned this microbus would spend forever trying to figure out— as well as causing Rico a minor financial apocalypse and blowing anyone’s faith in him being able to hold his little organization together.
If this little enterprise gave one of Rico’s lieutenants the balls to cap his boss, Richie’d be all for it.
While his stoned squad of mercenary car thieves waited for dusk, Richie climbed into the back of the microbus and liberated a battered suitcase and a bolt-cutter from under one of the rear seats. He pulled it up next to the driver’s seat.
“Ok, when I open the gate, you drive in,” he said to Duke.
“Jawohl, mon kommandant,” Duke saluted him and bust into a giggling fit.
“No prints in the bus,” Richie said.
Duke held up his hands. He wore filthy work gloves, a joint smoldering between the fingers, trailing smoke that was as much glove as pot.
What the fuck,Richie thought, this is supposedto leave everyone guessing.
Richie stepped out of the microbus, allowing Duke to slip into the driver’s seat. The sky had turned purple beyond Diamond Auto Repair.
A firecracker went off somewhere, and the Doberman beyond the chain-link began barking frantically.
“Good doggie,” Richie whispered. This pooch had a small reputation. Rico had let the dog chew out the crotch of a hood that he’d been particularly disappointed in. Rico made a point of spreading the story around, letting everyone know what a hard-ass he was.
Richie smirked at the bargain-basement Cerberus, guarding the chain-link gate to his little Plutonian realm. Fuck you, dog,Richie thought. I’m armed with a bit more than pomegranate seeds.
He zipped down the front of his jacket. It was a relief, given the heat. But Richie was dressed for the job, not the weather.
As part of his plan to spread as much confusion as possible, Richie was dressed like a biker— black jeans, motorcycle boots, and Harley-Davidson jacket complete with chains. To top off the ensemble, he walked around to the passenger door and retrieved a black cycle helmet from the footwell. With the helmet’s visor down the only patches of skin left visible on his body were on the backs of his hands, through the holes in his driving gloves.
Shortly thereafter, the real fireworks began. The Doberman began barking madly. Richie gave Cerberus some time, time to allow the fireworks display to grow in volume, time to assure him that the one person here wasn’t checking on the dog.
As the fireworks began redoubling toward their finale, Richie began to walk toward the fence, carrying the bolt-cutter and the suitcase.
Cerberus went wild with the barking, at him now, not the fireworks. “Good doggie,” Richie repeated as he walked to the gate. He didn’t smile as he said it. He disliked dogs, and attack dogs most of all.
Cerberus paced him on the other side of the fence. Richie reached the gate with “Closed” on it, and examined the padlock and chain holding the gate shut.
One snip from the bolt-cutters and the chain rattled to the ground, almost inaudible for the barking dog and for the fireworks. The dog went nuts, jumping at the chain.
Richie carefully laid down the cutters and reached into his jacket. He withdrew a thirty-eight Colt revolver that, according to the man who sold it, had been involved in the death of at least one local drug-dealer.
Richie wanted something for the ballistics department to think about.
He timed the shot with one of the blinding-white chest-throbbing fireworks. The skyborne explosion swallowed the report of the .38 as Richie put a slug trough the dog’s right eye. One whimper and Cerberus collapsed. It tried to get up once, its legs skittering on asphalt, and was still.
“Could get to like fireworks,” Richie said to the dog as he pushed the gate open with his foot. There wasn’t sign of any commotion up at the office. As he walked into the lot, a pair of headlights washed over him, throwing his shadow up against the garage. A sound of a protesting transmission told him it was Duke in the microbus. He heard the squeal of brakes, and a rolling stop behind him.
That was all Duke’s show now. Richie had another job to do.
He walked into the garage, and into a lighted office that was walled off from the rest of the space. Inside, a balding man was hunched over a computer terminal.
Richie leveled the gun at the man and said, “Open the safe.”
The man sat bolt upright. “What?”
“Open the safe,” Richie said.
“Look, I don’t think you know who you’re messing with—”
Richie put a shot through the monitor. The picture tube exploded. The guy jumped back far enough in his seat to tip backwards, spilling him on the floor. “You work for Rico, your name is Eddie, you live on East 115th street, and you are going to open the safe.”
“I don’t have the combination.”
“You’re the fucking accountant. I want you to picture angry Colombians with straight razors.” It didn’t mean anything, but it sounded cool, and it would confuse the hell out of Rico if the story ever made it back to him.
Eddie scrambled backwards, toward the safe, scooting on his ass. “Yeah, open the safe, sure. . .” He began fiddling with the lock without turning away from Richie.
A bad transformer smell from the shattered monitor was leaking under Richie’s helmet. “It might help if you look at it,” he told Eddie.
Eddie seemed torn for a few seconds, unable to pull his gaze away from the gun in Richie’s hand. Richie motioned with the gun and the guy reacted as if he’d been slapped in the face with it. His fingers slipped all over the dial, but Richie didn’t press the guy any further. More pressure, and it might take Eddie even longer to open the safe.
“Please, don’t hurt me, there isn’t a lot of money in here. It’s slow, holidays and all—”
“Let me worry about that.”
The safe was a large, nearly immobile affair, a perfect cube of pebbled gray metal. Richie suspected it was more fireproof than burglar proof. Rico was not someone to be casually held up. Even so, it looked like forcing the safe could take about half an hour, even with all the tools available in the garage. Richie approved.
The door swung open. Eddie bent forward and Richie cleared his throat. Eddie scrambled back as if something in the safe might bite him.
“Good boy,” Richie said.
Predictably, on top of everything in the safe was a gun. It looked to be a nine millimeter Beretta. Also inside the various drawers were ledgers, papers and a shitload of other stuff that any honest DA would give his left nut for. There was also a stack of cash, predominantly tens and twenties.
“See, I told you. We don’t have much money here—”
“Shut the fuck up, Eddie.” Eddie nodded and retreated to a corner next to the wall, the length of the desk away from the safe.
Richie put his suitcase on the desk and opened it. “This isn’t about money, Eddie.” Richie removed the gun and the cash from the safe, and stacked them next to the suitcase. Eddie just stared from his seat on the floor.
“This is about a whole lot of Colombians who packed a VW microbus full of about five kilos of— well—” Richie hefted a brick of coke the size of a shoebox out of the suitcase. “This stuff.”
Richie tossed the brick into the safe. Eddie looked confused.
Richie loaded the safe with four more bricks. They barely fit. “Now they lost that VW, and they’re very unhappy about it. And you know, the Feds are also kinda unhappy. You see they were looking forward to this real big bust. They’ve been setting it up for months. And they lost the VW too.”
Richie closed the safe on the cocaine, and made sure the lock caught. “Shield your eyes, Eddie.”
Richie blew off the dial with a couple of well placed shots. Parts of the lock made a satisfying ping sound as they ricocheted off of the concrete floor of the office.
Richie checked the shots remaining in his gun, and picked up the nine millimeter.
“What are you doing?” Eddie said.
“Why I’m delivering Rico’s coke, what else?” Richie put .38 caliber holes through the office door, the window, and through the corrugated steel wall. The gunshots merged with the finale of the fireworks show a couple of blocks away. He kept firing until the .38 was empty.
For a brief moment Richie though of the crowds ohing and ahhing at the much bigger Edgewater show, across town. He pushed the thought away.
He leveled the Beretta at Eddie and tossed the .38 out into the garage. The ballistics department would have fun with it.
“I’d suggest a change in career.” Richie started piling the cash in the suitcase. It wasn’t near the value of the coke he’d just dumped. “No one’s getting that safe open until the Feds arrive, the bullet holes give them probable cause, and I’m sure the papers in that safe will interest them as much as the cocaine.”
“Rico’s a local bird. I doubt he pulls a hell of a lot of weight with the DEA. Especially when they’ve been rabid to pull someone in for all that coke— Hell, the DEA boughtit. They want a return on their investment.” Richie closed the suitcase. “But, if you’re real lucky, the Columbians’ll get here first.”
Richie picked up the suitcase, pocketed the nine millimeter, and left.
Behind him, he heard Eddie yell, “Rico’ll kill me.”
“He’ll have other problems,” Richie said as he walked out of the garage.
The only vehicle left in the lot was the microbus. The local church had finished their fireworks display, and all Richie had left to do was to walk away. Richie reached the gate, and was about to remove his helmet, when the sky exploded.
The light was a pure blinding white, even though the tint of the visor on his helmet. It was almost a physical force pushing him. A deafening rumble followed the light a half-second later. The sound tried to shake his ribcage apart, tired to drive him down to his knees. He dropped the suitcase. The world went dark and filled with the sound of ripping canvas.
The shock of the explosion stunned him. It wasn’t until he felt the water streaming down the back of his neck that Richie realized it was raining. Raining hard enough that even when his eyesight returned to normal, the world was invisible behind the rippling across his visor.
“Quickest goddamn storm I ever seen.” Richie shook his head as a multiple chains of lightning exploded across the sky above him. “Fucking lightning was too damn close.”
Rain or not, he had to split before the Feds or the Colombians showed. He looked around for his suitcase, but it was impossible to see out the helmet. He took it off—
The suitcase was gone.
“What, it couldn’t have washed away. . .”
As he raised his eyes, more was missing than the suitcase. The microbus was missing. The parking lot around the garage was a lake, and there was a pile of broken asphalt and old tires where there’d been four stolen cars parked, barely twenty minutes ago. Richie could see weeds choking the mound, even though the rain.
The chain link fence was rusted and wrapped in vines.
Most bizarre of all, the garage was not only abandoned, but different. The outline was similar, but it was boarded up, and had the doors in the wrong places. And instead of “Diamond Auto Repair,” the dilapidated sign read “Esso.”
“What the fuck’s going on here?”