Authors: Robert Ward
“Forget it, Ray,” Bob said. “I’m going in. I’ll stand guard.”
“The problem is, on a job like this, with real guards in the house already, you gotta take in a piece. You ever shoot a gun?”
“Many times,” Bob lied.
“You’re lying,” Ray said.
“I shot guns down the country when I was a kid,” Bob said. “With my grandfather. Pheasants and rabbits.”
“Yeah, but did they shoot back?” Ray said. “Okay, maybe I’ll make an exception. You can come in. You’ll be like an assistant guard. What about video cameras?”
“He’s got them,” Bob said.
“Then we wear masks, along with our gloves. We gotta knock out the guards, too. You down for that?”
Bob shook his head.
“There’s got to be another way,” he said. “I don’t want any violence.”
“Perish the thought,” Ray said. “But this is a heist, Doctor, and throughout criminal history, armed guards have been known to resist, sometimes in a violent manner.”
“Fuck history,” Bob said. “No violence.”
“Okay,” Ray said. “Maybe we stand outside on the street and say, ‘Hey guards, come out and play!’ “
“Ray,” Bob said. “You got any other ideas? Or do you just want to stand there and mock me, like your mother mocks you?”
Ray’s thick neck jerked back as if Bob had slapped him in the face.
“That’s playing dirty, Doctor,” he said. His tone wasn’t amused anymore.
“Sorry,” Bob said. “But let’s cool it with the attitude and just get the deal done.”
Ray scratched his head and walked around in a tight little circle.
“Okay,” he said, “I know a totally nonviolent way. Really, Dr. Bob, if Martin Luther King had been a thief, this is what he would have used.”
“What is it?” Bob said.
“Gas,” Ray said. “But it’s expensive. Might cost two or three grand.”
“What kind of gas?”
“Halothane and fentanyl cocktail,” Ray said. “Knocks them right out. We go in wearing gas masks.”
“How long are they out?”
“Six hours, at least,” Ray said. “No problem.”
Bob walked around the old iron bench. He remembered when he was a kid his dad chasing him around it. What would the old leftist Jimmy say if he could see this? His son, a common thief. Though he didn’t think he believed in God, Bob suddenly felt that Jimmy was right above him, perched in a cloud, looking down on him. And he wasn’t happy.
“You ever used this gas before, Ray?”
“Yeah, once,” Ray said. “In a little caper over in D.C. Worked great. I think gas is just the thing.”
“But how do we get it inside the house?”
“Let me worry about that,” Ray said. “But that brings up another problem.”
“You going to have to hire a gas man?” Bob said in a dejected tone.
“Not to administer the gas. I can do that. But you see, the stuff comes in a liquid form. We gotta find a guy who can change the liquid to gas.”
“Let me guess,” Bob said. “He doesn’t come cheap.”
“Afraid not,” Ray said. “Ten grand at least.”
“Jesus,” Bob said. “I shoulda held out for more money.”
“Renegotiate,” Ray said.
“I can’t,” Bob said. “This guy doesn’t play that way.”
“Well, what can I say?” Ray said. “Those are the facts. You need a good crew and they don’t come cheap. The safe and alarm guys I can get to take a back-end deal. The ten Gs for the gas you gotta put up front.”
Ten Gs? Could he even raise ten Gs?
“Okay,” he said. “Man, it’s a lot of dough, but I’ll get it.”
Ray nodded and assumed a mock-humble pose.
“Listen, Bobby,” he said. “I don’t usually administer gas. But I’m willing to subjugate my individual ego for the good of the team.”
kind of you,” Bob said.
“I know,” Ray said. “But that’s my nature. And a man shouldn’t fight his own good nature, wouldn’t you say so, Dr. Bobby?”
Ray punched him in the arm and laughed.
“And how much are we going to pay the crew?”
“Well, Cas, the safe guy, he’s the best in town, so he’s gonna want a percentage of the gross.”
“No fucking way,” Bob said.
“I might be able to get him to take a flat fee, but he usually wants points.”
“Jesus,” Bob said. “What about the alarm guy?”
“Tony? I can get him cheap,” Ray said. “Like maybe a yard and a half.”
“A hundred and fifty dollars?” Bob said. “Say, that’s more like it.”
Ray shook his head.
“Bobby, what planet are you living on? A hundred fifty thou.”
“You’re nuts,” Bob said, spluttering and turning around in a circle. “These guys are fucking highway robbers.”
“You got that right,” Ray said. “But you want the best, you gotta pay for ‘em. Which brings me to another small point. Since you are the employer and I the mere employee, you gotta pay the crew outta your end.”
Bob shut his eyes and saw his ideal retirement villa in Rome disappear and turn into a tin hut in Manila.
“All right,” Bob said. “That’s okay. But no points for either of these guys.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Let’s talk tomorrow,” Ray said. “Now I gotta go get Ma’s Nerds before she goes nuts.”
He reached out and shook Bob’s hand and his grip was like a vise.
“You’re gonna be a rich man soon, Bob. Where you gonna live?”
“I don’t know,” Bob said. “I can’t move anywhere, right away. And neither can you. It’ll cause too much heat.”
“True,” Ray said. “But after all the heat’s dissipated, where will Dr. Bobby and his new girlfriend set up Shangri-la?”
“I don’t know,” Bob said. “Maybe Mexico.”
“Really?” Ray said, laughing. “That’s good.”
“What’s so fucking funny?” Bob said.
“Makes sense,” Ray said. “You spend your whole life trying to help the poor, so when it comes time to move, you move to a poorer place than here.”
“The place I’m going to move to down there isn’t poor,” Bob said. “It’s a very cool city.”
“Oh, sure,” Ray said. “But it’s still Mexico. I been down there, and even the rich places are poor compared to the majesty of Baltimore. So is your plan to, like, use the money to, like, help the people or something? A middle-aged Robin Hood thing?”
Bob felt himself blush. Of course, he had been thinking that very thing. But hearing it from Ray’s mouth made it sound absurd. And after the crew was paid off, there would be precious little left, surely not a cent to give away.
“No,” Bob said, using a cynical tone. “I’m all through with that. The helping thing is over for me.”
“That’s too bad,” Ray said. “So what are you going to do then, Bobby, start eating caviar off a woman’s breasts every day? Walk around the campo wearing an ascot and carrying a walking stick?”
“Sounds good, minus the ascot,” Bob said.
“Interesting,” Ray said. “This will be a real interesting experiment. Maybe you’ll be like one of them rare leopards.”
“What kind is that?” Bob said. “The kind that can change their spots,” Ray said. “I don’t know for sure, either, Ray,” Bob said, “but I can’t wait to try.”
So far, Bob thought, as he stood up onstage at the Lodge waiting for the band to launch into “Working in a Coal Mine,” the hardest part of being a rookie villain wasn’t the criminal side of things at all, but the straight side. It was hard, really hard, to fake interest in, say, some meatloaf Jesse made from a special recipe that she’d gotten from her old aunt Gen in West Virginia when he was dying to hear from Ray about meeting the crew. It was hard to get into Lou Anne’s funny tale of how clumsy Dave had been when they’d recently tried to learn salsa dancing when Bob was worried about the gas they were going to buy and whether or not it would actually knock out the guards. It was tough even to play rock ‘n’ roll, concentrate on music and chords and all the people dancing in front of him on the barroom floor when he just wanted to be out of there. To be so close to being free, rich, a man of power made his everyday life all the more unbearable. And his anxiety showed in his sloppy musicianship. He was playing badly, missing his fills, screwing up his leads. Not that anyone noticed at the Lodge. Old Finnegan, Young Finnegan, Tommy Morello, Lizzie Littman, crazy Gabe DeStefano, the boat poet … they were all out there in their funky hats and blue jean jackets and biker leathers, and now a bunch of younger guys and girls, all of whom had started to come because of Dave’s reviews. And just a few weeks ago, Bob was digging it, really feeling great about it all … his town, his hood, his community. But now that he had the shot, the shot to make, Jesus, millions, now it had all started to seem old to him. Feelings he didn’t want to have … he’d always hated people who cast off their old friends when they got some dough. But maybe, he began to think now about his attitudes about such matters as instant wealth, maybe they’d been kind of unearned attitudes. Having had no money or any real chance for any, his attitudes had become set, and hardened at a certain (he now suspected) adolescent level.
Because being on the cusp of wealth, he had to admit that some things about his old gang were more than a little annoying. The way they reacted to any new person or idea with the same old street attitude. The way Old Finnegan thought people who weren’t from Highlandtown, or hadn’t driven a bike, were all fags. Bob had always filed Old Finnegan’s attitude under the heading “colorful,” but suddenly it didn’t seem so colorful anymore. And the way his younger brother always repeated everything he said … like if Old Finnegan said, “Asshole,” about some perfectly decent, educated guy, Young Finnegan would say, “Total asshole.” Bob had found that kind of funny, too, local color and all that, but now he had to admit that maybe he was sick of local color. Sick of the Lodge, sick of playing old rock songs, like they were the hallowed text of some great epic poem when all most of them were was just simple rhythms and dumb teenage lust lyrics written by a bunch of third-rate hacks.
How had he not seen all that before?
Because, Bob thought, he had never dared to think bigger before. Because without the opportunity, why allow yourself to think of finer things, wider horizons?
All it would do is break your heart.
But not anymore. No … now he could dream about … well, about anything, any place, and it didn’t have to be the impossible dream. No, he and Jesse could go there and he could drive any car he wanted … so suddenly cars became an interest … when he had always sworn that a car was a mode of transportation, nothing more. Because old Man o’ the People Bob couldn’t afford a new car …
And food. God, all his life he’d said how happy he was eating the local delicacy crab cakes and drinking National Bohemian beer at the Lodge, but now he had to admit that he was bloody sick of crab cakes, and couldn’t stand watery, tasteless Boh when he could have great beers … anytime he wanted.
He was sick of leftovers, he was tired of being practical, and had started to truly hate common sense.
He wanted glory, excess, self-indulgence. Wanted it so badly that he found himself snapping at everyone around him. It was like he couldn’t stop himself. He’d tell himself to chill out, that these were his old pals, for chrissakes, but dreams of luxury, of ease, of being catered to (instead of him catering to the hapless poor) poisoned every exchange. It had gotten so bad if someone came up to him and merely said, “Hi Bob,” he felt like taking their head off. “Hi Bob? What the fuck do you mean, ‘Hi Bob’? Do you know who I am? You fucking third-rate artist moron? I’m Bob fucking Wells and soon I’m going to be able to buy and sell you a thousand times over, asshole!”
Of course, Bob never said those things. But he felt them with a fury and self-righteousness that shocked him. All these years he had worked for peanuts, waiting for the world to wake up, and now he knew without a doubt that the world had passed him by, and goddamn it he wanted revenge. Revenge on them all … though he knew, of course, in his right mind that none of it was his old pals’ fault. The fault lay within himself, but knowing that didn’t seem to do any good.
He was filled with belated ambition and a monster resentment. And he figured the only thing that could really stop it for good was to get his dough and get the fuck out of Baltimore. Christ, he wished Ray would get things ready. He could barely stand another minute of his old life.
Jesse and Bob finished up “Coal Mine” and then Bob saw Dave and Lou Anne walking up the steps to the stage. For a second that confused him. What the hell did Dave want anyway? Fucking Dave was starting to get on his nerves, too, and Lou Anne with her perpetual Miss Upbeat smile. Christ, she was a little too much. Lately she had talked about becoming a nurse, and thanked Bob for being an “inspiration to her,” which Jesse and Dave had seconded, hugging him, and the whole thing had made him kind of sick to his stomach. He didn’t want to be a fucking inspiration anymore to anyone. “Inspiration” meant martyr, and he’d had a lifetime of that sad shit.
But here were Dave and Lou Anne, walking across the stage:
“Dave,” Bob said. “My man.”
“Bob,” Dave said. He put his arm around Bob’s shoulders and leaned into the mike.
“Hey, everybody. Is this a great band or what?”
The kids cheered and shouted and a couple of them fizzed beer on one another. Bob looked out at their bald heads and suddenly wanted to scream random obscenities at them, but instead smiled and held up his guitar.
“I just want to make a little announcement,” Dave said, pulling Bob close to him with one big arm and Lou Anne with the other.
“Miss Lou Anne Johnson and I have gone and done it. We sneaked down to city hall today and tied the knot. Dave McClane is now an old married man, and happy as hell about it, too.”
A huge cheer went up in the crowd. Dave held Bob close and Jesse came over and joined the little knot of hopefulness. In spite of all the poison in his system, Bob felt a wave of sympathy and happiness for his old pal.
“All right,” Jesse said, in the mike. “We love these guys!”
“Yes!” came the cheer back.
“I got my man!” Lou Anne said into the mike and the kids cheered again.
Dave hugged Bob tight, his sweaty cheek rubbing against Bob’s, and Bob suddenly felt that he couldn’t breathe. He wanted to push Dave away, off the stage if necessary. If he would only let him loose.