Authors: Richard Stark
Grofield pulled the car off the road and stopped behind the tractor-trailer rig. When he got out and walked around the truck to the bank of roadside phone booths, he noticed the legend on the truck cab's door: UNIVERSAL FUR STORAGE
210-16 Pine Street Phone
378-9825. Why was that so familiar? Then he remembered the truck in the St. Louis job, the one Hughes had bought from Purgy. It was the same company!
The same truck? No, this one was newer, the cab was newer. Grofield shook his head and went on to the booths.
The driver of the truck was in the first of the four booths, yelling his head off. Grofield couldn't make out the words through the closed glass doors, but whatever the trucker was mad about he was really mad. He had his cap clutched in his hand and kept waving it over his head as he shouted, his movements restricted by the closed-in glass walls of the booth.
Grofield went on down to the last booth at the other end, and stepped inside, leaving the door open while dialing. This was his seventh and last call, and he was making each of them from a different phone booth.
He dialed 207, the area code for Maine, and then the number. An operator came on and asked for a dollar seventy for the first three minutes. Grofield's right jacket pocket was sagging with change; he produced coin after coin to bong into the slots until he'd reached a dollar seventy. "There."
"Thank you, sir."
Then there was nothing for a long while, and then clicking, and then nothing, and then a loud click, and then ringing, and finally a woman's voice saying, "New Electric Diner."
"Handy McKay, please."
"Hold on a minute."
When McKay came on, Grofield said, "This is Alan Grofield. I met you with Parker a couple times, and you've passed messages on to him."
"I remember you," McKay said. "You want another message sent?"
"No. This time I'm looking for somebody else. He's in the same business I'm in, but we don't have any friends in common. I was hoping somebody I know would know how I could get in touch with him."
"I'm kind of out of touch with everybody these days," McKay said. "Except Parker. What's your man's name?"
"Myers. Andrew Myers. I'm told he did some work around the Texas area."
"I don't know him. Sorry."
"He's been traveling the last week or so with a guy named Harry Brock. Big strong guy, not very smart."
"Don't know him either. I could ask a couple of questions for you."
"I'd appreciate it."
"Where can you be reached?"
"Henrietta Motel, Wichita Falls, Texas. Area code 817, phone num-"
"Hold on, not so fast."
Grofield repeated everything, more slowly, and then said, "I'm only going to be there till noon tomorrow."
"I'll pass the word," Handy McKay promised.
Grofield hung up and waited in the booth a few seconds, thinking about calling Mary. But he had nothing to say to her yet, and she knew not to expect him to keep in touch every day like a machine parts salesman on the road, so he left the booth and walked on around the truck and back to his Chevy. The trucker was still in the other booth, but was no longer yelling. His hand clutching the cap was at his side and he was being elaborately sarcastic now, smiling with his lips drawn back while he talked, as though in a second he'd bite the phone in half. It would be funny, Grofield thought, while the guy was on the phone, to take his truck away and drive it up to Arkansas and sell it to Purgy. Grinning, he got into the Chevy and drove away from there.
Grofield sat naked on the motel room bed, reading a biography of David Garrick that he'd lifted from the local library. It was after midnight, no calls had come in, and he was at the part where Dr. Samuel Johnson was describing an actor as "a fellow who claps a lump on his back, and a lump on his leg, and cries,
'I am Richard the Third',"
when the phone rang.
He hated to put the book down until he found out if Johnson had at least been put in his place, but there was no choice. Marking his place with a hotel matchbook, Grofield put the book aside, reached over to the phone, and said, "Hello?"
The voice was male, small, nasal, and guarded. "Is this somebody named Alan Grofield?"
"That's exactly the somebody this is," Grofield said.
"I am," Grofield translated.
"You're looking for my friend Harry Brock."
"In a way," Grofield said.
"You sore at him?"
Grofield said, "I'm sore at a guy named Andrew Myers. I think Harry Brock could tell me where he is."
"Sure he could," the voice said. "He's with him right now. I just met that Myers a couple days ago. He's a madman."
"That he is. Where'd you meet him?"
"But they're gone from there now," the voice said. Grofield had a tendency to visualize people from their voices; in his mind, this one looked like a talking rat.
Grofield said, "Where'd they go, do you know?"
"Sure I know. But I'm not sure I want to go into it on the phone."
"Where are you calling from?"
"Then I don't think I could drop over for you to tell me in person," Grofield said.
"I don't personally have anything against Myers," the voice said. "Other than the fact that he's crazy, which is everybody's privilege, the way I see it. I wouldn't want to queer his operation."
"He's got a thing going, has he?"
"He wanted me in. It was a little too wild for me."
"Where was this?"
"Like I say, I don't want to queer things. There's him; there's the people he's got in with him."
"I'll wait till he's finished," Grofield said. "That's a promise." He was thinking, if Myers has something set up, it would be better to wait till after he pulled it anyway, and hit him when he was flush. Revenge was going to be sweet, of course, but beside that he was going to want his money back. He had a theater to open.
The rat-voice hesitated, saying, "Well, I don't know.
"I don't know who passed the word on to you," Grofield said, "about me looking for Brock and Myers. But they must have said something about me."
"Yeah, they did."
"Whether I could be counted on or not."
"Yeah, they mentioned something about that."
"So I've told you it's not Brock I'm sore at, and I won't do anything until after they're finished doing what they're doing." The circumlocutions were a pain in the ass sometimes, but with bugging rivaling solitaire as the nation's favorite indoor one-man sport it was necessary never to be very precise about what you wanted to say.
The rat-voice said, doubtfully, "Yeah, I suppose if I call you up, I might as well go all the way."
"That makes sense," Grofield agreed.
"There's this little town in upstate New York-"
"My God!" Grofield said. "The brewery?"
"You know about it?"
"That's how I met him, too. Weeks and weeks ago. Is he still peddling that idea?"
"I didn't think that much of it," the rat-voice said seriously. "I'll tell you the truth about myself, I'm maybe not as experienced as you are. I don't want to go into my qualifications over the phone, you know, but in comparison with some of you people I'm like small potatoes. So I don't figure my attitude and my opinion count for very much. But I thought it was a little-"
Grofield let the silence go on for a reasonably long while, and then suggested, "Reckless."
"Yeah," said the rat-voice, relieved. "That's a good word. Reckless. That's why I figured I'd rather stay out of it."
"But some of the others stayed in?"
"Are they, uh, small potatoes, too?"
"Sure. All except Harry. And Myers."
"And they've left Vegas by now, to go up there."
"When do they plan to do it, do you know?"
"Pretty soon. I don't know exactly for sure."
"Well, thanks," Grofield said. "And you may not be very experienced, but you've got good instincts. That thing of his is a great one to stay away from."
"I figured that way. You know the name of the town?"
"I know it," Grofield said. "Thanks again."
Grofield hung up, and sat for a second smiling at the phone. "I know it," he said. He'd forgotten all about the David Garrick biography. "Monequois, New York," he said, and got up from the bed, and started to dress.
It was raining in Monequois. Grofield sat hunched behind the wheel of his Chevy Nova and thought about warmth and sunlight. And Mary. And the theater. And money. And Myers. And that goddam brewery across the street.
With the windows rolled up, they steamed up. With them down, cold wet wind came in. Grofield compromised – opened the vent across the way on the passenger side. The seat was getting wet over there, the windows on that side of the car were clear of steam – but not of raindrops and running water – and the windshield and side windows over by Grofield were steamed up.
So was Grofield. This was Thursday, and he remembered from Myers' briefing back in Las Vegas weeks ago that Friday was payday around here. Which meant Myers was more than likely going to hit tomorrow, or have to put it off till next week. If he was really here.
And if he was really here, where the hell was he? You can look at photographs and maps and charts, that whole suitcase full of counterspy stuff he liked to tote around with him, only up to a certain point, and after that certain point what you had to do was go around and actually stand in front of the place you were going to rob and
at it. Sooner or later, you would have to look at it.
So where were they? Grofield used his sleeve to remove steam from the side window for the twentieth time, and looked across the cobblestone street at the high brick wall surrounding the brewery building. There was a gate across there, and two armed private guards in gray uniforms were on that gate, and they had the kind of conscientiousness that can only come from having a paranoid employer. They checked the identification of every vehicle driver and every pedestrian to go in or out of that gate over there – every one. In the rain. Including the drivers of their own goddam delivery trucks. In the rain.
It was a part of Myers' scheme that the gang would get through that gate in a fire engine, responding to an incendiary blast that Myers would have previously set somewhere inside the building. Myers was going on the assumption that the gate guards wouldn't check IDs on firemen responding to a fire, but now that he'd seen those gate guards in action Grofield wasn't so sure he was right. And even if he was, how about that previously set blaze? An incendiary bomb with a time mechanism was a simple thing to prepare and would be a simple thing to hide somewhere in the building the day before, but just how did Myers expect to get in there to hide it? He couldn't pull the fire engine stunt twice, that just wouldn't work. So he'd have to do something else. Besides which, he or some members of the gang he'd put together were going to have to come down here and
at this building, they just had to. So where were they?
In the rain, he almost missed them. If Harry Brock with a chauffeur's cap on hadn't stuck his head out of the driver's window of the Rolls Royce to say something to the gate guards Grofield wouldn't have seen him at all. A chauffeur-driven Rolls had rolled up the cobblestone street and turned at the gate. Grofield had noticed the chauffeur behind the wheel and the dim figure in the back and had taken it for granted he was looking at the paranoid who owned all this. But then, when the Rolls stopped rolling and Harry Brock stuck his head out in the rain with his chauffeur's cap on to say something to the guard, Grofield became suddenly alert.
So that was Myers in the back seat, was it? The bastard was bold, that was one thing you had to give him. Myers wasn't the type to grab a lunchbucket and try to slouch in past the guard like a workman; no, his style was to show up in a Rolls Royce.
Whatever the story Myers had to go with the Rolls, it was good enough to get him through. Grofield watched the guard and Harry Brock talk, watched the guard go into his office for a minute, and watched him come back out into the rain and wave Harry Brock through. And the Rolls disappeared inside.
Grofield, sitting there, waiting for Myers to come back out, thought of an old story he'd heard one time. There was a large factory that made a lot of different products, and every day this one worker would go out the main gate pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt. The gate guard was sure the worker was stealing something, and he kept searching the dirt, but he never found anything. After twenty years, the guard stopped the worker one day and said, "I'm retiring tomorrow, this is my last day. I can't leave this job without knowing what you're up to. I won't turn you in, but you've got to tell me. What are you stealing?" The worker said, "Wheelbarrows."
Myers and Brock were inside for nearly an hour, and there was no trouble when they left. Grofield started the Chevy and followed. Because of the rain he had to stay fairly close, but he didn't expect that to cause any problems. He was sure Myers felt safe and pleased with himself. He'd cut the route Dan Leach had taken, and he must feel he had time to run this operation and get a stake. It had been a narrow thing, Grofield getting there in time. It had needed Myers to keep pushing this plan even after an overwhelming number of professionals had told him it was no good. It had needed Myers to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find a string to work the job with him, and even then to come up with somebody smart enough to walk out. And it had needed that somebody to know somebody who knew Grofield, and who was willing to talk to him because of the friendship in the middle.
The Rolls took a turn a block from the brewery and headed toward the middle of town. Monequois was an old town with an Indian name, just a few miles from the Canadian border. It was built over and around several small but steep hills, and even the main downtown street was at a steep slant. There were no streets wider than two lanes, plus parking lanes, and the result was a perpetual daytime jam-up in the downtown area. The buildings along the main street were brick or stone, old and grimy and ugly, and the houses out around them were mostly clapboard, poor but neat. Monequois was a backwater, on no through routes, and strangers would tend to be noticed, which was the flaw in Myers' routine with the Rolls. It was a bad idea to cause attention to yourself in an area where you were going to pull a job. Grofield, the night before, had stolen a couple of New York State license plates to put on the Chevy instead of the legal Indiana plates it normally carried. The New York plates had differing numbers on them – Grofield having taken them from two different cars – but they both began
and had a sequence of four more numbers after that; the likelihood that any one would notice the discrepancy was very small. And the advantage was that neither of those plates was likely to be reported as stolen. When both plates are taken from a car, the owner knows damn well he's been robbed, but when one plate is gone he'll tend to believe it fell off. He'll report the loss to the Motor Vehicle Department, but won't report a theft to the police.
The Rolls now headed directly into Clinton Street, the town's main shopping street, where traffic was stop-and-go and it could take five minutes or more to travel one block. Grofield, three cars back, composed his soul in patience and hummed melodies to the rhythm of the windshield wiper.
The Colonial Hotel was on the main street, and that was where the Rolls stopped. Myers got out, wearing a black raincoat and a black hat, and hurried across the rainy sidewalk and into the hotel. The Rolls moved on.
Was Myers actually staying at the local hotel? It was incredible the number of things the man was doing wrong. Grofield remembered Myers claiming he'd cleared the job with the local mob up here – another weird idea – and wondered if Myers thought that made him immune from the normal laws of police activity.
He would have preferred to stay with Myers now, to stake out the hotel and see what Myers did next, but there was nothing in this crowded rainy street to do with the car. Having no choice in the matter, he went on following the Rolls.
It took another quarter of an hour to get clear of downtown – it was like pulling yourself loose from an octopus – and then the Rolls turned off onto a narrow unnumbered blacktop road that took them quickly out of town and away from all other traffic. Grofield hung farther and farther back, hoping the rain would keep Brock from seeing too clearly in his rear view mirror. He knew that Brock was more stupid than Myers, but he suspected Brock was the more professional of the two. It would be Brock who would think to check the possibility that he was being followed.
Grofield wasn't sure, but he had the feeling they were now traveling north. If so, they were on their way to Canada, which was only about three miles north of town.
They traveled seven miles, taking another right turn after four, onto an even smaller and narrower road. They were traveling mostly past woods now, with an occasional rectangle of cleared farmland and an even more occasional building. There were no advertising posters, no road markers. It was impossible to tell which country they were in.
Grofield and the Rolls were the only cars in sight, and Grofield was hanging back so far now that most of the time he couldn't see the Rolls at all. He would crest a rise, come out the other end of a curve, and catch a glimpse of the Rolls up ahead. The occasional glimpse was all he wanted right now.
But the result was, he very nearly missed the turn. He came around a curve, and ahead there was a farm flanking the road. The house, on the left, had burned down some time ago, the charred sticks poking up in the rain, abandoned and desolate. The barn, on the right, had a sagging roof and some missing siding, but was mostly still in one piece. A dirt track led from the road through a gap in a crumbling fence across to the doorless wide entryway into the barn, and it was only the tail lights glowing because Brock had his foot on the brake that attracted Grofield's attention. He caught a glimpse of the two red dots inside the darkness of the barn, and quickly accelerated to be absolutely sure that was Brock in there. He took a rise, saw half a mile of road twisting and turning through a valley ahead, and it was empty of traffic.
Fine. Out of sight of the barn, Grofield turned the Chevy around and headed back. Up on the rise, he saw the barn now on his left, with the beige trunk of an automobile now jutting out the entrance. But the Rolls was black.
Grofield slowed as he went past the barn, peering at it through the rain. The driver's door of the beige car was standing open, with no one behind the wheel. Which meant Brock was in there jockeying the Rolls around, having moved the other car out of his way.
There was no question in Grofield's mind but that Brock would be heading back toward Monequois now. He drove along slowly, watching the rearview mirror, and all at once the beige car splashed into view. Grofield eased off the accelerator, slowing even more, and the beige car shot by him, arcing a sheet of water across the windshield.
It was a Buick. It had Quebec plates. Brock was at the wheel, alone in the car.
Grofield let him go on out of sight, and didn't catch up again until after the turn back onto the road that led to town. There was an occasional car or milk truck on this road; Grofield had to pass three vehicles before seeing the Buick up ahead once again.
And damned if they didn't go downtown again; Myers must have all the time in the world.
Myers wasn't alone. When they got opposite the hotel, Myers came out with two other men, and the three trotted across the street and got into the Buick. Grofield, four cars back, was pretty sure he knew neither of the other two.
The Buick kept on retracing the route of the Rolls, on out of downtown and past the brewery once more. It slowed down so much while going by the brewery that a Mustang behind it honked angrily; Grofield supposed the other two were being shown the place in person for the first time.
They went out of town to the south now, Grofield again hanging back farther and farther as the traffic dwindled, and after three miles the Buick made a right turn onto a dirt road that meandered away toward some woods. Grofield, coming slowly along the blacktop road, saw the Buick bouncing along the dirt ruts, and knew he couldn't possibly follow them in there without being noticed. Not in the daytime.
He drove on, and as he passed the turnoff the Buick attained the trees and disappeared.