Authors: Richard Stark
Grofield put a nickel in the slot machine, pulled the lever, and watched a lemon, a lemon, and a lemon come up. The machine coughed fourteen nickels into the chrome tray. Grofield frowned at them; what the hell do you do with fourteen nickels? Besides bag your suit.
A happy stout woman of fifty in Easter Sunday clothes – pale blue – and carrying a black raincoat, a lavender umbrella, a red and white shopping bag, a blue airline bag, and a large black imitation alligator purse paused to say, "You're very lucky, young man. You're going to really sock it to 'em here."
Grofield never watched television, and therefore didn't know the woman was quoting a popular line of the day. He took the statement at face value, as a result, and just looked at her for a second, astounded that a woman who looked like that would say such a weird thing.
A thin farmerish man with a chicken neck was with the woman. "Come on, Edna," he said, irritably. "We gotta get the bags." He was carrying a camera case, a shopping bag, and an airline bag.
The woman said to him, "Didn't you see what this young man did? Now, that's what I call luck. Steps off the plane, plays the slot machine once, and look what he wins. That's what I do call luck."
"Bad luck," Grofield said, and pointed. "Lemons. You know what they say about lemons."
"Nooo," said the woman, and looked roguish. "But I know what they say about Chinese girls!" She was really on vacation.
The man said, "Come
Grofield shook his head, looking at the lemons. "I hate to use the luck up all at once. It's a bad sign."
The woman, while still looking happy, also now looked a little puzzled. "But you won!" she said. The other passengers were streaming by, down the gauntlet of slot machines from the plane to the baggage area and the taxis. None of them stopped at the machines, though a lot of them smiled and looked excited and pointed the machines out to one another.
Grofield shook his head at the lemons once more, and turned to say to the woman, "I don't gamble. Every time I come to this town, I put a nickel in one of these machines on the way in, and another nickel in on the way out. I think of it as dues. They never tried to give me back my dues before, and I consider it a bad sign."
In her home town, she would have given the same reading to the sentence, "You don't go to
She was one hundred percent on vacation.
"Not if I can help it," Grofield said.
"Then what do you come to Las Vegas for?"
Grofield grinned and winked. "That's a secret," he said. "Bye, now." He turned and started away.
The woman called, "You left your money!"
He looked back, and she was pointing at the fourteen nickels in the trough. "That's not
money," he said. "It belongs to the machine."
Grofield considered telling her it was seventy cents. He shook his head, and said, "Then I give it to you. Welcome to our city." He waved, and walked on.
At the far end, where the corridor curved to the right, he glanced back and saw the couple standing back there in front of the machine. Their goods were stacked in a semicircle around them like an impromptu fortress. The woman's right hand was pushing the nickels in and pulling the lever down. Grofield walked on.
He had to wait ten minutes for his suitcase. When he got it, he turned away toward the taxis and saw the chicken-necked man getting change at an airline counter. Feeling a little guilty, Grofield went out and joined the passengers waiting for cabs.
The wrestler in the turtleneck shirt patted Grofield all over, while Grofield stood with legs slightly apart and arms extended straight out at his sides, like an illustration in an exercise book. The wrestler had bad breath. Grofield didn't suggest anything to him, and after a minute the frisk was done and the wrestler said, "Okay, you're clean."
"Naturally," Grofield said. "I came here to talk."
The wrestler made no response. He'd been hired as a doorman, and that was it. "They're in the other room," he said.
Grofield went on into the other room, feeling pessimistic. First the three lemons at the airport, and now this. Myers, the organizer of this thing and a man Grofield didn't know, had set himself up in a two-room suite in the tower section of one of the Strip hotels. Why would a man spend so much money on a meeting place? Why meet in Las Vegas in the first place? It hinted of a blowhard somewhere in the tapestry.
Grofield hoped not. He wasn't going to permit his need to interfere with his common sense and his professional judgment, but the fact was, his need was great. Mary was back home in Indiana, sleeping on the stage. This trip was taking most of Grofield's available capital, after a season of summer stock that any conglomerate would have been happy to have for their tax loss. If Myers turned out not to have anything, there were going to be some lean winter days until something
A member of an increasingly disappearing breed of professionals, Alan Grofield was an actor who limited himself to live performances before live audiences. Movies and television were for mannequins, not actors. An actor who stepped before a camera was in the process of rotting his own talent. Instead of learning to build a performance through three acts – or five, if the season is classical – he learns facile reactions in snippets of make believe.
No purist can hope to do well financially, whatever his field, and Grofield was no exception. Not only did he limit his acting to the live theater, where the demand for actors declines still further every year, but he insisted on running his own theaters, usually summer stock, frequently in out-of-the-way places and invariably at a loss. To support himself, therefore, he from time to time turned to his second profession, as he was doing now.
He stepped into the second room, closing the door after him, and looked around at the three men already in the room. He knew none of them. "I'm Grofield," he said.
The florid-faced man in the ascot and madras jacket came over from the window, hand outstretched, saying, "I'm Myers." He had an Eastern-boarding-school accent, the sort that sounds affected but isn't. "So glad you could come."
Grofield, not entirely believing the situation, shook the hand of the man who was supposed to be masterminding the robbery. Everything was wrong so far, the lemons had not lied.
Myers? He couldn't be a professional. He now took Grofield around and introduced him to the other two. "This is Cathcart, he'll be driving one of the cars. George Cathcart, Alan Grofield."
In Cathcart's eyes, Grofield detected a guarded echo of his own bewilderment, and by an infinitesimal measure he relaxed. At least there were
professionals here. He took Cathcart's hand in honest pleasure, and they nodded at one another.
Cathcart was a stocky man, short, with the broad low tugboat build that most good getaway drivers seem to have. He had obviously tried to dress himself to match his surroundings, but that brown suit wouldn't have belonged in this hotel even when it was new. And wherever it was Cathcart usually lived, did men really wear black shoes and white socks with brown suits? Possibly Newark, New Jersey.
Myers was pushing on, like a garden party hostess. "And this is Matt Hanto, our explosives man."
Explosives men tend to be built like a stick of dynamite, long and lean, and Matt Hanto was no exception. He would probably have been a state finalist in a national Gary Cooper Lookalike Contest. He peered at Grofield as though squinting at him across miles of sun-blasted desert, and solemnly shook hands.
"Only two to go," Myers said. "While we're waiting, would you care for anything?" He gestured like a sales manager at a table loaded with an assortment of bottles and glasses and two of the hotel's plastic ice buckets.
"No, thanks," Grofield said. "Not on duty." And the connecting door to the wrestler's room opened and Dan Leach came in. Grofield looked at him, pleased to see a face he knew, and at the same time wishing there were some way to take Dan aside and ask for a briefing on all this. He was here by Dan's invitation, after all, and on the phone Dan hadn't said anything about this being other than a normal gig. Of course, nobody ever said much on the phone in any event, but still.
Dan was tall like Matt Hanto and broad like George Cathcart and utterly without a sense of humor. He came in now, leaving the intervening door open, and said to Myers, "Your friend is taking a nap."
Myers looked blank. "I beg your pardon?"
Dan jabbed a thumb over his shoulder and walked away from the open door. While Myers hurried over in bewilderment to look through the doorway, Dan walked up to Grofield and said, "How've you been?"
"Fine." They didn't bother to shake hands, they already knew each other.
Dan said, "You put up with that?"
"With what? The frisk?" Grofield shrugged. "I figured, what the hell."
"You're more easygoing than I am." Dan said, and Myers popped back into the room to say, loudly, "You knocked him out!"
Dan turned and looked at him. "I came here to listen to a project," he said. "Not to get shaken down."
"Dan, I've got to protect myself. I know you, but I don't know these other boys."
"If that's the best help you can find," Dan said, "you might as well surrender. What's that, booze?" He walked over to the bar-table.
Myers stood there, near the doorway, watching Dan go and trying to figure out what to say or do next. Grofield, watching him, was more than ever sure the lemons had told him the truth. He should never have left the airport. Fourteen nickels – he could have killed the time until another plane was ready to leave, going anywhere.
Before Myers could come up with a response, a sixth man walked in, saying, "There's a gent bleeding from the nose in the other room. I'm Frith, Bob Frith. The gent seems to be alive."
Myers was playing out of his class, but he had fairly good recuperative powers. He grabbed the interruption and ran with it. "That's another problem, Bob," he said, "and nothing for us to worry about. Come on in, I'm Andrew Myers." Taking Frith's hand in one of his hands, he used the other to swing the connecting door shut. "Now we're all here," Myers said, pulling Frith farther into the room, away from the door and the implications of what lay beyond it. "Now, we'll just introduce ourselves, and we can get started."
There was very little introducing left to be done. While Myers did it, Dan came back across the room to stand beside Grofield again, this time with a glass in his hand. Dan seemed casual and easygoing, but in fact he was rigid and unshakable. His total self-confidence came across as blandness, and frequently led people to underestimate him.
Now, while Myers was introducing people to each other on the far side of the room, Grofield said, "What is all this, Dan?"
Dan shrugged. "A maybe. We can talk about it later."
Myers was obviously self-conscious, and Grofield and Dan talking together was making him nervous. Now he finished with his introductions and came to the middle of the room and said, "Everybody take a seat, or stand if you want, uh, whatever you want to do." He grinned painfully and said, "The smoking lamp is lit." He'd apparently hoped that was going to be a joke; when nobody laughed he started blinking a lot, and became briskly businesslike. "I have the presentation here," he said, and quickly pulled a suitcase out from under the bed.
Grofield looked at Dan, but Dan was facing front, watching Myers with no particular expression on his face. Grofield decided the only thing to do was wait it out, so he also faced front, and watched Myers put the suitcase on the bed, unlock it, put his key ring back in his pants pocket, and open the suitcase.
Myers said, "Now, you boys may not believe this, but what we're talking about here is a payroll job." He turned away from the suitcase to flash a bright smile around at everybody. "I know what you're thinking," he said.
Grofield almost said something, but restrained himself.
Myers said, "You're thinking there are no payroll jobs anymore. You're thinking there isn't a payroll in the country of any size that isn't done by check these days. But there is at least one, and I know where it is and how to get at it."
The suitcase Myers had opened was of the rigid type, and the top was now standing straight up. Myers reached into the suitcase and picked up a piece of stiff cardboard almost as long and wide as the suitcase itself, and propped it against the top. It was a blow-up color photograph of a factory building on a sunny day. The building was old, made of brick, and surrounded by fairly dirty snow.
"Here it is," Myers said. "Northway Brewery, Monequois, New York. Right near the Canadian border. They used to do their payroll by check, but the union was against it. They have a lot of Canadians working there, a lot of backwoodsmen and so on, and they want their money in cash. They pay weekly, and the average payroll is in the area of a hundred twenty thousand dollars."
Grofield automatically did the math. Six men. Twenty thousand each. Not very much, but enough to get him into the next season if he were careful with it. He began to hope the lemons would turn out to be wrong, after all.
Myers was reaching for another piece of cardboard, this one turning out to contain a map. "As you can see, Monequois is less than five miles from the border. That makes a nice escape route for us. We have our choice of these three highways – here, here, and here – all going north. There are secondary roads that bypass the customs stations at the border." Another piece of cardboard; another photograph. "Now, this is the main gate. The money is delivered on Friday mornings at ten or ten-thirty."
Myers went on describing where the money came from, how it was guarded, how it was paid out, and the more he talked the tougher the job sounded. The money, which came every week from Buffalo via Watertown, was heavily guarded every step of the way, including police helicopter reconnaissance on the armored car that drove it from Watertown to the factory. The factory itself was at least half fort, with a high brick wall around the perimeter of the grounds, topped by barbed wire, and with only two entrances, both well guarded. Grofield glanced at Dan two or three times during Myers' recital, but Dan's expression of patient attention never changed.
Finally Myers got to the operation itself. "I've cleared it with the Outfit," he said. "They want ten percent, which seems perfectly all right to me."
Matt Hanto, the explosives man, said, "Who the hell are you talkin' about?"
Myers looked surprised. "The Outfit," he said. "You know, the Syndicate."
"You mean the Mafia?"
"Well, I don't know if it's Mafia up in that neck of the woods, but they're all interconnected with each other around the country, aren't they?"
George Cathcart, driver, said, "You want us to give ten percent off the top to the local mob?"
"Well, naturally," Myers said.
"For protection," Myers said, as though he was telling them something everybody knew. "For permission to work in their territory."
Bob Frith, the other driver, said, "You're out of your mind, Mr. Myers. I never asked nobody permission in my life."
Myers looked astonished. "You want to go into that town without clearing things with the local people?"
He was going to get a lot of answers to that, but Dan Leach short-circuited them all, saying, "Let's forget about that, for a minute. I'm more interested how you figure we're going to
this payroll. We'll split it up later."
Myers was just as glad for the change of subject. "Fine," he said. "Good idea. Now, it'll take two vehicles, a fire engine and a regular car. The fire engine to do the job, and the car to make the getaway. Now, here's the Municipal Services Building of the town of Monequois-" And damned if he didn't have yet another blow-up photograph to show them. That was about ten photos and maps and graphs so far; Grofield was beginning to feel like a man who'd stumbled by mistake into a lecture on auto safety.
But Myers wasn't interested in auto safety, or any other kind of safety either. His plan, once he started outlining it, was a dilly. The police and fire departments of the town of Monequois were together in the same building; Myers' first step would be to blow up that building. Simultaneously, there would be an incendiary explosion – that is, an explosion followed hopefully by a fire – at the Northway Brewery. Naturally, no gate guard would think of stopping a fire engine from coming through the brewery's main gate with a fire going on. Frith would drive the fire engine, and Grofield and Dan Leach would ride it in firemen's uniforms. They would stop outside the paymaster's office, and Grofield and Leach would spray the office with machine gun bullets, killing the guards inside. Then they would-
"No," said Grofield.
Myers stopped in mid-sentence, his hand dipping down for yet another photo or map or graph. He blinked. "What?"
"I said no. Don't tell me any more of it, I'm out."
Myers frowned; he couldn't understand it. "What's the matter, Grofield?"
"Killing," Grofield said.
"They've got half a dozen armed guards in there," Myers said. "There's absolutely no other way to get past them."
"I believe you. That's why I'm out."
Myers looked sardonic. "You really that kind, Grofield? Sight of blood bother you?"
"No, it's more the sight of cops. The law looks a lot harder for a killer than it does for a thief. Sorry, Myers, but you can count me out."
Grofield turned toward the door. Behind him, he heard Dan Leach say, "Thanks for the drink."