Authors: Richard Stark
Grofield put his shoulder against the door and pushed, and slowly it rolled back, and early April sunlight angled through to shine on the dusty wood floor of the stage. The door was wood, with X framing on both sides, and was eight feet high and eight feet wide. It was suspended from a track over the doorway by nine greasy little wheels, most of which squeaked as Grofield kept pushing, leaning his shoulder into the old wood and plodding steadily forward, opening the door against its sullen will.
It was three weeks now since he'd come back from Las Vegas, and the phone hadn't rung once with a job offer. He was really sorry Myers and the factory payroll had turned out to be no good; Mary was down in town now, working at the supermarket for eating money. They were supposed to open this damn theater for the summer season in two and a half months, and where the money was coming from Grofield had no idea.
It was a long eight feet, with the door resisting every inch of the way, but at last the eight-foot-square opening was completely cleared. Grofield kicked the wooden wedge under the end of the door to keep it from rolling closed again, and turned to look at his theater in sunlight.
It wasn't very much. The building had been a barn originally, for the first seventy years of its life or so, and at some point in the first decade after World War II someone had converted it into a summer theater, putting the stage in at this end, and raising the floor out there where the audience sat by putting in a series of platforms, so that the first four rows of seats were down on the original barn floor, the next four rows were on a platform two steps up from that, the next four rows two more steps up, and so on. There were twenty-four rows in all, ten seats across, with a center aisle. Two hundred forty seats. Three or four times, Grofield had actually seen them all full.
This was a hell of a part of the world for a summer theater, that was the problem. The only thing in Indiana big enough to find blindfolded is Indianapolis, and once you've found
there's nothing to do with it. And even if there were, Mead Grove was too far away from it to matter. There were no tourist areas nearby, no major cities, no university towns. The only potential customers were the residents of Mead Grove and the other half-dozen small towns in the area, and the farmers in between. Most of them weren't quite sure what a live theater was for, and doubted it was anything they wanted to know any more about. If it weren't for schoolteachers and doctors' wives, there wouldn't have been any audience at all.
The upshot was that the forgotten nut who'd converted the barn to a summer theater twenty years ago had promptly lost his shirt – and the barn. It had changed hands several times in the last two decades; had briefly been a barn again for a while; had been a movie theater even more briefly; had been a warehouse for a bicycle parts manufacturer, who had gone broke for reasons other than his ownership of this building; and had several times been a financially disastrous summer theater. And finally, three years ago, Alan Grofield had bought the building and twelve acres of land around it, including two small farmhouses, with most of the money he'd brought back from an island casino heist he'd worked with a guy named Parker. He'd bought the place outright, no mortgage, and told himself that from now on he'd have roots, he'd have a place where he belonged and where he could always come home to. He'd known in front that the summer theater would lose money, but it hadn't bothered him; summer theaters always lose money, particularly when run by actors, and most particularly when not placed along one of the coasts of the United States. But the theater wasn't supposed to be a living, it was supposed to be a way of life, and that was different. His
was working with men like Parker – and Dan Leach.
But not men like Myers.
And, in fact, nobody at all for a while now. He'd gotten into another job with Parker, an armored car thing, but it had gone badly and Grofield had come very close to a jail term. Since then, nothing much had happened. Two seasons of stock had drained away most of his savings, and now here he was less than three months from the third season and he just didn't have the money to put the thing together. Even if he stuck with revivals, meaning plays in the public domain that he didn't have to pay an author any performance fee on, there were still expenses; housing and feeding the cast for the summer, and even paying a couple of leads a small salary; publicity, meaning posters and newspaper ads; costumes and furniture rentals and props; and gas and electric and phone bills. The ticket sales weren't going to cover that. If worst came to worst he'd drop down into Kentucky or North Carolina for a week or two of writing paper, but he hated that kind of thing, and avoided it whenever he possibly could. Passing bum checks was no more illegal than knocking over armored cars, but there was a difference that he found important; a check passer is an actor, he uses an actor's talents and methods, but a heavy heister uses different talents entirely. It bothered Grofield to use his acting abilities that way, it seemed somehow degrading.
But now, looking at his theater in the bright light of the first warm sunny day of spring, Grofield made a bitter face and decided that if he didn't hear from anybody with work by the first of May, he'd have to do the check-writing bit for a few days or a week, in order to bankroll the coming season.
As it was, he was running as tight a ship as he could. Both farmhouses were rented out, and he and Mary were living in the theater, sleeping in a bedroom set laid out on a platform rolled into the wings, using the theater john, Mary cooking their meals on the double hotplate in the girls' dressing room down under the stage. By the middle of June, though, the tenants would have to be kicked out of the nearer farmhouse, the one just across the county road, so the cast would have a place to stay.
So he'd write paper, that's all. In a good week, working through two or three states, he could write fifteen or twenty thousand and have enough to last the summer. Sticking to revivals.
"Revivals," he said aloud. He was disgusted. He shook his head at the empty seats and turned away to go over to where the flats were stored against the rear wall on the side opposite where the door had been rolled back. The flats were in various sizes ranging from three feet wide and eight feet high to five feet wide and twelve feet high, and all were made of muslin attached to a simple frame of one-by-four pine boards. Water-base paint had been used to paint the scenery of last year's shows on the flats, and now they were stacked in no particular order, a jumble of fake walls and doors and windows in different colors and styles and periods.
Grofield began to carry the flats, one by one, over to the opening in the rear wall, and lowered them the six feet to the ground. When he'd moved about ten, he jumped to the ground, carried a flat around to the side of the building, leaned it against the wall, picked up the hose he'd already attached to the faucet out there, and began to hose the flat down.
What he was doing was removing the paint. Muslin is light, but paint is heavy. Any frail girl can carry an unpainted canvas flat, but with three or four coats of paint on it a strong man can barely lift the thing. Grofield, like most thrifty theater operators, removed last year's water-base paint every spring so he could use the old flats again. In addition to the hose, he also had a scrub brush and a ladder, so he could scrub the paint loose after the first hosing. The second hosing usually did the job, though sometimes he had to give a spot or two an extra treatment with the scrub brush and a third stream of water from the hose.
Grofield liked theater work, everything to do with the stage, even simple manual labor like this. He worked along in the bright sun, the soft spring air all around him, the water cold, the paint running down the flats in long streams, and after a while, despite his money troubles, he began to whistle.
The car that turned off the blacktop county road into the gravel parking lot beside the theater was a bronze Plymouth with Texas plates. Grofield stood on the ladder with the scrub brush in one hand and the hose in the other and looked at it.
He'd been working an hour now. Seven gray-white flats were lined up along the side wall of the barn, drying; he was working now on the eighth. The ground all around him ran with colors, reds and yellows and whites and blues and greens, all different shades, running together and making new colors, a bright kaleidoscope of color spread out on the ground in colored water, running and flowing every which way through the tough new spring blades of grass. Grofield, too, was varicolored, in his work pants and sneakers and T-shirt, wet and colorful. He stood leaning on the ladder, elbows resting on the top rung, scrub brush in his right hand, hose dribbling in his left, and watched the car angle across the parking lot toward him and finally come to a stop. He waited for the driver to get out and ask directions; what else would this be?
It was Dan Leach. He got out from behind the wheel and called, "Hello, Grofield, what are you doing?"
"Washing flats," Grofield said. "You got good news for me?"
"Could be," Dan said. "Come on down off the ladder, lemme show you something."
Grofield got down off the ladder. "What I want to know is, do you have a job for me. Better than that Myers thing, I mean. Did you ever find him?"
"I'll tell you all about it." Dan looked around. "How private are we here?"
"Nobody can hear us."
"What about seeing us?"
Grofield nodded at the farmhouse across the county road. "There's people home over there."
"You know any place private?"
Grofield looked at him. "What for?"
"I wanna show you something. Come on, let's take a ride."
Grofield looked at his wet hands, down at his wet clothes, back at the flats. "Is this something real, Dan? What's the big secret?"
"I don't want to open the trunk where anybody else can see us," Dan said. "You know me, Grofield, I don't make jokes."
"That's right," Grofield said. "My clothes are a mess, you know. You want me in the car, or should I go change?"
"It ain't my car," Dan said. "It's Myers'."
Grofield brightened. "You found him, eh?"
"Get in. That's what I've got to show you."
Grofield got in, on the passenger's side, and Dan got back behind the wheel. Dan said, "Give me directions."
"Pull out onto the road and turn left," Grofield said.
When Dan opened the trunk, Andrew Myers was lying in there, curled up in a ball. Grofield blinked at him, thinking he was dead, but then Myers moved, lifting his head and blinking in the light, looking blind and confused and scared. "What now?" he said. His voice croaked, as though he were very dry.
"Climb out of there," Dan said.
Myers moved his arms and legs feebly. "I can hardly move."
Dan reached in and jabbed him in the side with his thumb a couple of times, just above the belt. "Don't make me wait," he said.
"I'm moving. I'm moving."
Grofield stepped back, and watched Myers painfully lift himself up and start to climb out of the trunk. He said, "How long's he been in there?"
"Since Houston," Dan said. "No, I'm a liar. He was out for twenty minutes yesterday."
Myers was having a tough time, and now Grofield saw why. He was handcuffed, but in a strange way; his left wrist was handcuffed to his left ankle.
Grofield stepped forward to help him get over the lip of the trunk and out onto the ground, but Dan said, "Leave the bastard alone. He'll make it."
Grofield frowned. "Why make it so tough on him?"
"How's the back of your head?" Dan asked him.
Grofield shrugged. "All right. He hit me only once. I'm not that upset any more."
"I am," Dan said.
Grofield looked at him. "You didn't get your cash back?"
"He spent it before I got to him, the son of a bitch." Leach stepped forward suddenly and grabbed Myers by the hair and yanked. "Will you get out of there!" Myers fell out onto the ground.
They were on a dirt road about two miles from the theater, in the woods. Only a few tubes of sunlight angled down through the branches, and it was cooler in here. Grofield's clothes, still wet, were getting chilly and uncomfortable.
Myers rolled around on the dirt until he got his feet under him, and then slowly stood up, his right hand using the car for support. When he was standing, he was bent far down and to the left, the fingers of his left hand touching the ground. His wrist was rubbed raw by the handcuff. When he looked up at Grofield he had to open his mouth wide to be able to lift his head far enough up to meet Grofield's eyes. In that position, he looked feebleminded.
Dan said, "Myers has a story to tell you. Tell him, bastard."
Myers said, "Can I sit down?" He had to lower his head to talk. "I can't talk in this position."
"Sit, stand, I don't care," Dan said. "Just tell him the story."
Myers eased himself to the ground. Now he could get himself into a more ordinary position, his right leg flat out in front of him, left leg raised, left arm down at his side. He leaned his back against the rear bumper of the Plymouth, looked up at Grofield, and said, "I know where there's over a hundred grand, just waiting to be taken." His voice was improving a little with use, but his expression was still pained.
Grofield glanced at Dan, but Dan was looking down at Myers in grim satisfaction. Grofield gave his attention back to Myers.
Myers said, "Dankworth told me about it. He wanted me to go after it with him."
Grofield said, "Dankworth?"
Dan said, "The boy you let frisk you in Vegas."
Grofield frowned. "The one Myers killed?"
"It was him or me," Myers said. He sounded aggrieved, as though he'd been badly treated by someone he'd been kind to.
"Tell me about that," Grofield said.
Dan said, "Listen to the hundred grand."
"In a minute," Grofield told him. "First I want to hear about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral." To Myers he said, "You and Dankworth were such buddies that he told you about this hundred thousand, and he wanted you to come do the caper with him, but then he turned around and tried to kill you?"
"He lost confidence in me," Myers said, some of the grievance still showing in his voice. "After you people walked out."
"The others left, too?"
Dan said, "Right after us. All three of them."
Grofield said, "Whose idea was it to hijack Dan and me?"
"Mine," Myers said. "I was mad at you people, you were the first ones to go. Maybe if you didn't leave, the others-"
"If they were pros," Dan said, a little irritated, "they'd have left."
"Anyway," Grofield said. "You and whatsisname-"
"I didn't ask you. You and whatsisname came down after everybody left, and you saw Dan and me at the table, and you saw us winning."
"We couldn't get too close," Myers said. "We thought you were the one with the money."
"And you wanted to get even for us walking out on you."
"So then whatsisname-"
Dan stepped forward and kicked Myers on the right kneecap. "He didn't ask you!"
Myers didn't make a noise, but he winced and closed his free hand around his knee.
Grofield shook his head at Dan. "I don't like to see people being hurt," he said. To Myers he said, "Dankworth. After you got Dan's money and went back to the hotel room, he jumped you."
"And you had a fight, and you managed to win."
Grofield turned half away from Myers and said to Dan, "If he tells a dumb lie on that part, why should I believe his hundred thousand story?"
Aggrieved again, Myers said, "What do you mean, a dumb lie?"
Dan was frowning. He studied Myers, and then looked at Grofield. "You sound damn sure of yourself."
"I am. Number one – there wasn't any mess in either room, no struggle of any kind. There was some bloodstain on the rug in front of one of the chairs, and that was it. Number two – the only way you can kill a man the way Dankworth was killed is to sneak up behind him when he's sitting down, reach around him, pull his head up by the chin with one hand and slit his throat with your knife in the other hand. You don't give a man that kind of cut from in front of him, and you don't give him that kind of cut if you're in a brawl with him."
Myers said, "Why the hell would I want to kill him?"
Grofield turned back to him. "Because Dan knocked him out, and
lost confidence in
You needed him till you worked some sort of scam for ready money, but once you got Dan's thirteen thousand you were through with him. And you were mad at the world anyway, because all the rest of us walked out on you. And you wanted all of Dan's money for yourself."
Myers blinked, his mouth working as he tried to think of something to say. No words came out.
Dan, sounding dangerous, said, "You son of a bitch, is that the way it was?"
Grofield said, "Don't start kicking him, Dan. I just wanted to get that part straight before I heard about the hundred thousand." He looked at Myers. "I'll listen now."
Myers wanted to turn sullen, but was afraid to. He said, "This is for real. I don't have any reason to lie about this."
"Just tell it," Grofield suggested.
"All right." Myers wiped his mouth with the back of his free hand, and put the hand back on his hurt knee. He said, "Dankworth was in prison up till the beginning of this year."
"Doesn't surprise me," said Grofield.
"This was near Los Angeles," Myers said, "in a state penitentiary there. He got to know an old man there, named Entrekin, they were friends, I suppose. And it turned out this Entrekin and two other old men, all of them long-term prisoners, they had a tunnel to the outside. Dankworth got out through it, that's how he made his escape, this is all absolutely on the level. He's still listed in California as an escaped felon, you can look it up."
"I don't want to look it up," Grofield said. "I'll accept the fact that Dankworth was an escaped con, and that he got out through somebody else's tunnel. Proceed."
"All right," Myers said. "Now, the point about these three old men and their tunnel is that they don't want to get out of prison! Do you see? They're all old. They don't want to spend the last years of their lives hiding out from the police. They don't care about women any more. So the way it seems to them, they're better off if they stay behind bars."
Grofield glanced again at Dan, but Dan was watching Myers.
Myers said, "But they've all got families, all three of them, wives and children and grandchildren and everything, all on the outside. And they want to take care of their families, naturally, so what they do is, they go out at night and they do burglaries all around Los Angeles. Two or three nights a week they go out and they do these little burglaries, what Dankworth called stings. They do three or four stings a night, every night they go out, up and down the California coast around Los Angeles, and they never take anything except cash. And they have a little studio apartment somewhere near the Sunset Strip, where they keep the money. And they send money to their families that way."
Grofield smiled. "That's a very nice story," he said. "I really hope it's true, because it's so nice. They're taking care of their families."
"That's exactly right," Myers said.
Dan said, "The sweet thing is, you can't have a better alibi than them. They can't be pulling any of these jobs, they're in stir."
"It's a nice story," Grofield said. He was still smiling, the story had made him happy.
Myers said, "There's more to it than that. It seems they've been saving money up, not turning it all over to their families, because they want to leave them something really good when they die. To have an estate, you see."
"An estate," Grofield repeated. He was grinning broadly. "I like those three guys."
"Well," Myers said, "Entrekin told Dankworth they had over a hundred thousand dollars stashed in their apartment, and this was last year. It has to be even more by now."
"That troubles me," Grofield said. "Why would this smart old man tell Dankworth so much?"
"I guess he liked him," Myers said. "And of course, Dankworth was supposed to be there for a minimum of twelve more years, even if he got a parole at the earliest possible moment. He didn't want to tell Dankworth exactly where the tunnel was, and Dankworth had to force it out of him. So he could escape."
"Misplaced confidence," Grofield said. "It runs the world. The old man trusted Dankworth. Dankworth trusted you. And now we're supposed to trust you."
"No trust involved at all," Dan said. "Wait him out, and then I'll tell you my idea."
"I'm still listening," Grofield said.
Myers said, "The old man wouldn't tell Dankworth where the apartment was, not exactly. He mentioned once that it was near the Sunset Strip, but that was all. But the thing is, there's over a hundred thousand dollars hidden there – in cash! And Dankworth told me exactly where the tunnel comes out on the outside of the prison."
"That was a mistake, wasn't it?" Grofield said. "If he'd held that back, he'd be alive now."
Dan said, "That's neither here nor there. The point is, a guy could keep an eye on that tunnel until the three of them come out, and then follow them. They might go do their stings first, but sooner or later they'd wind up at the apartment. Then you'd wait until they left to go back to the pen, and you'd break in, find the cash, and take off."
Grofield made a face. "I hate taking their money," he said. "I like them too much."
"You don't have to take it," Dan said. "I'll take it. This is a one-man job."
Frowning at him, Grofield said, "Then what do you want me for?"
"My big question is," said Dan, "what do I do with this bastard? I can't carry him around with me until I do the job, he'd be in the way and screw things up. I've gotta stash him somewhere until the job's over, so just in case it's all bullshit I can come back and make him pay for it."
Grofield shook his head. "Not with me," he said. "If that's what you have in mind, I'm sorry."
Dan said, "How long could it be for? A week? And you've got plenty of room to stash him. In that theater of yours."
"No," Grofield said. "I don't bring my work home."
"I'll give ten percent of whatever I find," Dan said. "If he's telling the truth, it's better than ten grand for you."
Grofield felt the temptation, but shook his head again and said, "I'm sorry, Dan, but I just won't do it. I won't risk losing what I've got here. And besides that, I won't put my wife in a potentially dangerous situation, which is what this is."
Dan said, irritably, "What the hell am I gonna do with him?"
Grofield shrugged. "You got your money's worth out of him. Let him go. He won't louse up your play in Los Angeles."
"That's right," Myers said eagerly.
"See that? He isn't that anxious to see you again. Let him run home to Texas."
Dan grimaced, not liking it. "But what if he's lying? Sends me out on some half-ass stunt, watching an alley where a tunnel's supposed to come out – what if there isn't any tunnel, and he's making a damn fool of me?"
"You found him before, you could find him again."
"I don't wanna let him off that easy," Dan said angrily, and he looked for a second as though he was going to start kicking Myers again.
Grofield said, "Then kill him. Not around here, take him-"
"Hey!" Myers said, and stared at Grofield as though he'd been betrayed.
Dan said, "I don't wanna kill anybody, that's not where I'm at. I
"Well, it's one or the other," Grofield said. "Stashing him with me or anybody else is a bad idea. What if he gets loose while you're gone, kills me and Mary, and when you come back he's laying for you?"
"You'd watch him better than that."
"Would I? Forget it, Dan. Kill him or let him go. Believe him about these old men and their tunnel or don't believe him."
"I'll have to think about it," Dan said grumpily.
Grofield said, "Would you drive me back? I'm getting cold in these wet clothes."
"Sure." Dan nudged Myers with his foot. "Back in the trunk."
"Let me sit in the back seat," Myers said. There was a whine in his voice now. "I won't do anything, just let me sit in the back seat."
"The only reason I'm not hitting you right now," Dan told him, "is because my friend doesn't like to watch that kind of thing. But don't give me a lot of aggravation to remember later on, when he's gone, or I'll make you very unhappy. Now get back in the trunk."