Authors: Richard Stark
Two A.M. Pouring. Pitch-black.
Grofield drove at five miles an hour with parking lights on across the dirt road toward the trees. The windshield wipers, whipping back and forth at top speed, couldn't keep up with the rain.
If it was still raining like this tomorrow, Myers would have to hold off on his caper. There wouldn't be any fires in Monequois, no matter how many bombs Myers set. Grofield, wishing Myers good luck up to a point, had listened to the local news at eleven, where they had said the rain would stop during the night and tomorrow would be cloudy and cooler. Grofield hoped they were right.
He reached the edge of the woods, and stopped. Turning the car around, in the dark, on this narrow dirt road, was a tricky operation. He didn't want to wind up stuck in the mud halfway; it would make for an embarrassing moment in the morning, when the boys came out to pull their job.
Grofield got it turned around at last, pocketed the keys, and very reluctantly got out of the car. That afternoon he'd done some shopping in Monequois' cramped downtown, buying himself knee-length rubber boots, water-repellent hunting trousers, a water-repellent hunter's waistlength jacket with hood, and some other things that he would maybe need a little later. Now, standing beside the car in the pouring rain, he felt that he must look like the Abominable Snowman. Or, considering the tan color of everything he had on, maybe more like the abominable mudman.
The jacket had a pouch in the front. He put his hands in there now, feeling the little Smith & Wesson Terrier and the pencil flashlight. Keeping his right hand in the pouch, fingers closed around the revolver butt, he took his left hand out with the small flashlight, switched it on, and started slogging down the faintly seen dirt road.
There was less rain in under the trees, but there was still plenty. Grofield's face and left hand were soaking wet, and despite how much he had himself closed up there were still a couple of rain trickles working their way in around his neck and down inside all the protective clothing. Feeling more and more irritable, he slogged on.
He'd traveled half a mile on foot before he came to the house. It was surprisingly large, two stories, white clapboard, and gave no sign of being abandoned. Had Myers
Or was his place farther along? If this house were occupied now, and had nothing to do with Myers, the odds were very good the household would include a dog. Most isolated households do. Feeling very itchy about that potential dog, Grofield prowled slowly around the exterior of the house, trying to find some sign as to who, if anybody, lived there.
There was a barn behind the house, and in the barn a shiny red fire engine. Grofield shone the light on it, and smiled.
Grofield pressed his right hand down on the sleeping man's mouth and closed his left over his throat. The sleeper woke with an explosion of arms and legs under the covers, flinging blankets and sheets off the bed in all directions. But his shouts were turned to muffled gargles in his throat, and for all the thrashing the only sound was rustling and scrabbling – not enough to be heard through the closed door and down the hall and into any of the rooms where the others were sleeping.
There were six in the house, the same number as the gang Myers had tried to put together when Grofield first met him. They were all asleep, scattered among the four bedrooms on the second floor. Myers and this one had rooms to themselves; the other four doubled up. That was why this one had been picked; he was alone. The snoring that had covered Grofield's approach explained why.
Grofield stood on one foot, leaning all his weight on his hands, the one over the thrashing man's mouth and the one squeezing his throat. He knew this would take a fairly long while, that unconsciousness comes reluctantly when the air supply has been cut off, but the guy was helping the process by flinging himself around this way, using up the strength in his body.
Grofield had come in through the back door; Myers hadn't even bothered to lock it. Not that Grofield would have been stopped by a lock, but the carelessness of Myers was a never-ending revelation to Grofield. It was the man's strength as well as his weakness, it made him bold and successful at the same time that it made him dangerous to be around. And ultimately, with a little help from Grofield, dangerous to himself.
The mind wakes up more slowly than the body. By the time the guy in the bed thought to attack the hands that were holding him down and cutting off his air, he had very little time or strength or consciousness left. He scratched at Grofield's gloved hands, plucked at his sleeves, tried vainly to get at his face. His arms stuck straight up, fingers moving more and more slowly, until it looked as though he were doing an imitation of an underwater plant. And his legs had stopped moving.
Grofield had searched the downstairs first, thoroughly. He had catalogued the arms supply, he had inventoried the food in pantry and refrigerator, he had observed the half dozen suitcases and bags lined up along the wall in the dining room. So they were planning to leave from here, in that highly noticeable red fire engine, and then they were planning to drive
here and hide out for a few days. They had food enough for at least a week. With Myers running things, the state of New York would be feeding the bunch of them within twelve hours.
Any damn fool can plot a robbery, and can get away with
it. Walk in and out of the same bank every day for a month, casing it. Live where you want, drive where you want, do what you want. Any damn fool can walk into a bank or a brewery or wherever the money is – a supermarket, say – and manage to walk out again and leave the immediate scene of the crime. The part that takes the brains is not getting caught afterward. A sensible man, running this thing, would have his people in motels in Watertown and Massena, far enough away from Monequois so none of the locals will have seen them in front, to be remembered later. A sensible man would have his fire engine stashed miles from where he intends to hide out after the operation. A sensible man would keep as far away from his hideout as possible until
the job. A small town area like this one couldn't be hit the way Grofield and the others had hit the supermarket near St. Louis, with a large anonymous city handy to disappear into before the alarm could be raised, and a sensible man would take the local conditions into account.
Hell. A sensible man wouldn't try to knock over that brewery in the first place.
Grofield's arms were getting tired now, his fingers were growing tired from the job of forbidding this guy air. But at last, the man on the bed was running down, like a wind-up toy. His legs were stretched out like pale logs on the sheet, and his arms were collapsing downward in slow motion, the fingers sliding helplessly down Grofield's rigid arms. The madly blinking staring gulping eyes were glazing over now, the distended pupils were rolling upward. The airless heaving of the chest was growing more sporadic.
"Don't die, you silly bastard," Grofield whispered. "All I want you is unconscious."
The eyelids fluttered down. The arms fell to the sheet, flanking his still torso.
There was no sound anywhere in the house. Grofield stood unmoving a few seconds longer, listening, watching, waiting, and then very tentatively relaxed the grip of his two hands, lifted them slowly from the purpled face.
Including no intake of breath. Grofield frowned down at the unconscious man, and when breathing still didn't start he put the heel of his left hand on the guy's stomach, just over the waistband of his shorts, and leaned his weight on that hand. Lean, release; lean, release. The second time, a very scratchy sound followed it – a first breath.
Fine. So far, so good.
Grofield's eyes were used to the darkness by now, so he worked without his pencil flash while looking for the guy's clothing. He'd been sleeping in his shorts and T-shirt, and everything else was on a chair over near the door. All except the shoes, on the floor beside the bed.
Grofield took the shoes first, and removed the shoelaces. One he used to tie the guy's big toes together, and the other to tie his thumbs together behind his back. His necktie made an effective gag. The rest of his clothing, shoes, socks, shirts, pants, jacket, all went into the pillowcase Grofield stripped off the bed. A raincoat and a soft cap were in the closet, and Grofield took them, too, stuffing the cap into the pillowcase.
Next he spread a blanket on the floor, and carefully rolled the guy off the bed and down onto the blanket. He wrapped the raincoat around him as best he could, and then rolled him in the blanket. A hands and knees search around the walls of the room produced one extension cord, which Grofield tied around the middle of the long bundle he'd made. He tucked the end of the pillowcase up through his belt in the back and looped it there so the pillowcase hung down over his behind, then picked up the rolled blanket, balanced it precariously on his left shoulder, and slowly made his way out of the room.
Rain continued to pour, outside. It could be heard drumming on the roof, tapping on the windows, pouring through the gutters. The muffled, distant, soothing sounds of the rain covered the small sounds Grofield made as he carried his burden slowly down the stairs to the first floor and through the house and out the kitchen door.
It seemed darker outside the house than in, maybe because the pelting rain distorted everything you tried to look at. Grofield shifted the weight of the blanket on his shoulder and began slogging away from the house through the mud.
Halfway to the car, the figure in the blanket came to life and started to twist violently around, almost making Grofield lose his balance and fall down in the mud. He managed to stay on his feet, and when he was braced with his legs spread he took the Terrier out of his pouch, holding it by the barrel, and hit the spot on the blanket where he believed the head to be. The third time he hit it, the twisting around came to a stop. Grofield put the Terrier away again and slogged on toward the car.
Grofield untied the extension cord, grabbed an edge of the blanket, stood up, pulled the blanket upward, and the man inside rolled out like a college parody of Cleopatra being delivered to Caesar. The blanket was soggy, and so was the man; he lay shivering on the floor, his skin and underwear both drenched. He had a new bruise on his left cheek, probably denoting the spot Grofield had hit with the gun barrel. The necktie, once a gag, dangled limply around his neck.
He glared up at Grofield, trying to make his expression tough and unafraid, but his voice gave him away, sounding weak and frightened when he demanded, "What the hell's going on?… Who are you?… Where is this?"
"This is my hotel room," Grofield said calmly. "And you, temporarily, are my prisoner."
"I don't know what you're up to, Mac-"
"Save that speech," Grofield told him. "I know what it says. Excuse me a minute." He carried the sopping blanket away to the bathroom and hung it over the shower curtain rod.
When he came back, the guy was hunching himself across the floor toward the door. Grofield said, "You really want to go out there? Let me help." He walked past him, and opened the door. Despite the verandah-style roof over the sidewalk out front, rain swirled in with gusts of wind. The room lights glistened on the headlights and bumper of Grofield's Chevy, parked out front, but beyond it was nothing but swirling wet blackness.
The guy on the floor had stopped moving, and had hunched himself into a ball against the wind. Grofield looked down at him, shut the door, and said, "You don't really want to go out there."
"You're gonna give me pneumonia." His teeth were chattering, and he didn't have secure control of his voice.
"Not if I don't have to," Grofield said. "What's your name, by the way? I need something to call you."
"You can go to hell."
Grofield opened the door. Speaking over the sound of the storm, he said pleasantly, "I'm dressed warmer than you are. I can stand it a lot colder, and a lot wetter."
"That isn't your name. Tell me your name and I'll shut the door."
Grofield shut the door. "That's very good, Perry," he said. He went over to the chair where he'd dropped the pillowcase. Lifting that up now, he emptied the clothing out onto the chair – both shoes bounced away onto the floor – and went through the pants pockets till he found the wallet. He opened it, got out the driver's license, and read aloud, "Perry Morton." He turned and smiled, saying, "Very good. Truth is your best bet."
Morton was glowering at the wallet. "If you had that, why go through all that shit with the door?"
"To let you know your best move, Perry, it's to answer my questions, and to tell me the truth every time. Do you know what would have happened if I'd looked in here and it turned out your name
"You'd of opened the door," Morton grumbled.
"More than that. I would have pushed you outside for a minute or two, and left you there."
"Like hell. You won't let me go until you're done with me, whatever you want."
"I didn't say let you go. Perry, do you know how many other moving cars I passed on my way here from the house where I got you? None. There isn't one car out there, not one pedestrian out there. I didn't see one lit window except for a couple that were obviously night lights. It's almost three-thirty in the morning, Perry. People in a small town area like this go to bed at ten o'clock. And it's a Thursday night, a weeknight, besides. And there's a
going on. Where do you think you'd go if I pushed you out there, Perry, all tied up and in your underwear? Who do you think would help you?"
Morton looked sullen, but with a trace of slyness hiding behind it. "I guess you're right," he said.
Grofield said, "I know what you're thinking, Perry. You're thinking you'll lie to me until I
push you out there, and then you'll hop to one of the other occupied rooms, or maybe to the motel office, and you'll get help that way. But do you know what that means? That means whoever you wake up is going to call the cops. And what are you going to tell the cops?"
"Why not tell them you kidnapped me?"
"From where? What are you doing around here? Perry, I can convince the police you're lying, I never saw you before in my life. Believe me, I can. I can make them wonder who you are and where you came from and what's going on. I can arrange it so they hold on to both of us right on through till tomorrow afternoon. You don't want the local cops asking you questions tomorrow afternoon, do you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, well," Grofield said. "I hoped you wouldn't be such a slow learner." He walked over toward the door.
"Wait a second, wait a second! I didn't tell you any lies!"
Grofield stopped with his hand on the knob, and looked back. "What's going to happen tomorrow, Perry? What are you and the others supposed to do tomorrow?"
"They won't do it. When they wake up in the morning and I'm gone, they'll know something's screwed up."
"No, they won't, Perry. They'll simply think you turned yellow and ran away in the middle of the night. They're all hungry, Perry, they'll go ahead and do what they came here to do. Which is what, Perry?"
"You know everything," Morton said sullenly. "What do you ask questions for?"
"I'm lonely," Grofield said. "Also impatient." He opened the door.
"The brewery!" Morton yelled.
Grofield shut the door. "What about the brewery?"
"Jesus. We're going to knock it over. At two in the afternoon."
"For what? The beer?"
"The payroll. They've got a cash payroll."
"How many of you, Perry?"
"You cold? Listen, if you're good, and answer all questions promptly, I'll let you take a hot bath when we're done."
"I'm gonna get pneumonia," Morton said.
"Maybe not," Grofield said, carelessly. "What's the name of the guy who set it up, Perry?"
"Myers. Andrew Myers."
"And how are you going to do it?"
"We got a fire engine."
Grofield waited, but Morton had nothing else to say, so finally Grofield said, "Well, bully for you. So you've got a fire engine, so what?"
"Myers has it set for a fire to start there tomorrow. At the brewery. And we'll show up in the fire engine, that's how we'll get in."
"What about the regular fire engines?"
"We're blowing them up. Myers set that up, too, he's got a bomb in the police station. The firehouse and the police station are the same building, he's got a bomb in there to blow it up. So there won't be any other fire engine coming, and there won't be any cops chasing us when we leave."
"You're going to leave in the fire engine, too?"
"And go where? Back to the house where I picked you up?"
"Yeah. Not in the fire engine."
"Not in the fire engine."
"We got two cars stashed, right in town."
"Where in town?"
"There used to be a tank parts factory here, way back in World War Two. They're using the factory for something else now, but down behind it there's a warehouse and some railroad tracks they don't use any more. You know, tracks in from the regular tracks."
"A spur line," Grofield suggested.
"Yeah. They're all rusty, they're never used any more."
"And we got two cars down by there. In the warehouse. We drive the fire engine in, we plant the other bomb, we drive the two cars out and split up and take off and meet back at the hideout."
"What other bomb?"
"We're gonna blow up the fire engine. So there's no fingerprints or clues. And to make more confusion in the town – to help us make the getaway."
"Myers has a very explosive mind," Grofield said. "So then you're going to drive the two cars back to the hideout. And then what? Wait a few days till the excitement dies down?"
That was another of Myers' flaws, though Grofield saw no point in mentioning it. But the kind of wave Grofield saw Myers making was not the kind of wave that died down very quickly. For at least a couple of weeks, the locals would be up in arms – vigilante groups visiting abandoned buildings; boy scouts searching the surrounding countryside; police roadblocks everywhere. If they stayed put, they'd be found. If they moved, they'd be caught. After the kind of ruckus Myers planned to make, the only thing to do was take off as fast as possible and not stop until you were separated from the scene of the crime by at least an ocean or a continent. Preferably both.
But back to another step in the plan. Grofield said, "Tell me about these two cars. What make are they?"
"One's a Buick and the other one's a Rambler."
Morton frowned in confusion, but answered. "The Buick's kind of tan, and the Rambler's light blue."
"Yeah. I don't get the point."
"You don't have to," Grofield said. "What's the plan? Three men in each car?"
"Tell me about it."
"Well, Myers and two others in one-"
"What two others? Give me their names."
Morton looked troubled and truculent. "I don't think I ought to give you any more names. I don't know who you are or what you're up to."
"And you can tell the boys," Grofield said, "that you got your pneumonia for their sake. Assuming you ever see them again." He opened the door.
Grofield shut the door.
"I'll tell you," Morton said angrily. "But I'll tell you something else, too. If I ever get my hands on you, you're gonna wish you were a piano salesman instead."
"I'll remember that," Grofield told him. "But you remember something, too. When we see the way things work out tomorrow, you remember that I'm the only reason you aren't along with the rest of the boys. I'm saving you from a nice long prison sentence, and I may be saving your life. But don't thank me, just tell me who's going to be in what car."
"I wasn't going to thank-"
"You're wasting time, Perry. Tell me who's going to be in what car."
"Myers and a guy named Harry Brock and a guy named George Lanahan, they're going to be in one car, and-"
"The Buick. And me and-"
"All right, that's all. What about any other vehicles? You using anything else in this caper beside the fire engine and the Buick and the Rambler?"
He shook his head. "No, that's it."
Grofield frowned, and considered reaching for the doorknob again. Instead, he said, "These bombs Myers set up in the police station and the brewery, how'd he do it?"
"What do you mean, how'd he do it?"
"I mean, how'd he get into the police station? How'd he get into the brewery?"
"I don't know… I guess he just walked in."
"I don't know, I guess so."
"That brewery's supposed to be a tough place to get into."
"Well, he's got the bomb in there already," Morton said. "I know that for a fact."
"How do you know it for a fact?"
"Because Myers said it was there, and we're going ahead tomorrow. I mean,
going ahead tomorrow. Myers wouldn't do it if he didn't have the bomb set up, would he?"
"I guess not," Grofield said. "But what about the Rolls Royce?"
Could the bewilderment on Morton's face be assumed? Morton said, "What Rolls Royce?"
Grofield believed him, really, but he thought he ought to make sure. He sighed and said, "And you were doing so well," and opened the door.
"I don't know about any Rolls Royce! It's the truth, it's the truth!"
Grofield shut the door again. "I guess it is, at that," he said. He nodded, and went over to sit down in the second chair, the one without Morton's clothes scattered all over it. "Now," he said, "let me tell
something. Tomorrow, when that fire engine drives into that warehouse and you switch vehicles, the loot will go into the Buick with Myers."
"Well, naturally," Morton said. "Myers is the one running the show."
"Yes, he is. And the Rambler will drive out to that farmhouse, and stop there, and wait for the Buick, and it will never show up."
"It'll show up. What do you think we are – mugs? We chose to see who'd be in what car. I know Lanahan, he's an old friend of mine, he wouldn't cross me."
"That's right," Grofield said. "But Lanahan is going to get killed very shortly after he's out of sight of the Rambler. Because I'll tell you where that Buick is going, with Myers and Brock in it. It's going north, on a road I was on this afternoon, a back road that crosses the border without any border guard. It'll stop at a barn up there across the road from a burned-out farmhouse. Inside the barn is a black Rolls Royce. Myers and Brock – or maybe just Myers, maybe he's going to kill Brock too – will get out of the Buick, they'll take the Quebec plates off the-"
Morton started. "How'd you-"
"How'd I know the Buick had Quebec plates? I followed it into town today from that barn I'm telling you about, after Brock brought the Rolls out there. Was that you he picked up at the hotel?"
"No, two of the other guys. You been following us around all the time?"
"Just today." Grofield glanced at his watch. "Yesterday, I mean. Anyway, they'll put the Quebec plates on the Rolls, and probably at that point Myers will kill Brock. Unless he fancies Brock playing chauffeur for a day or two. They'll head north, they'll go to Montreal or Quebec, and if by any unusual chance they
stopped they'll have solid Canadian papers, and the loot will be stashed in the spare tire or under the rear seat or someplace like that."
"They're going to cross us," Morton said, finally beginning to believe it.
"That's right. And believe me, I think I've probably been in more of these operations than you, the cops will be all over that farmhouse hideout before sundown tomorrow."
"But they'll talk," Morton said. "None of us are real pros, except Myers and Brock. Those guys won't keep quiet, they'll tell everything they know about Myers. He doesn't dare cross them."