Authors: Richard Stark
Hughes started toward the Javelin, Grofield beside him.
Purgy shouted, "Hughes, goddam it, are you tryin' to make me mad?"
Grofield suddenly became doubly aware of all those dogs, milling around between there and the Javelin. Did they want to make Purgy mad? Did they want to dicker with a man who had all those dogs around? What if he told the dogs not to let you go until you met his price? Grofield put his hands in his pockets, not wanting his fingers to stray accidentally into any passing dog's mouth.
Purgy shouted, "Hughes, you just stop goddam it where you stand!"
Hughes stopped, and turned around, and looked at Purgy. "You've always been a tough bargainer, Purgy," he said, "but you've never told me an out-and-out lie before. Twelve hundred dollars. Why, man, my three-year-old daughter wouldn't believe that."
Grofield looked at him. Three-year-old daughter?
Purgy suddenly grinned. "Aw, Hughes, you're such a dumb bastard. I've lied to you plenty."
"Not such obvious lies, then," Hughes said. "Listen, so we don't get mad at each other, I'll go eight hundred."
"You'll go eleven hundred and no more arguing," Purgy said. "And don't talk to me about a thousand, because eleven hundred is my bottom number."
Hughes said, "For eleven hundred, you can paint the goddam owner's name off the doors."
"Eleven hundred like she stands."
walk away from here, Purgy," Hughes said. Grofield looked sideways at him, and Hughes' profile was grim and angry. There was no mistaking it; Hughes was mad, and ready to stomp away no matter how good the truck was.
Purgy didn't say anything for a minute, and Grofield, studying him, saw that Purgy too was on the edge of real anger. Grofield waited, knowing better than to enter into this thing, but hoping one or the other of them would eventually climb down off his ultimatum. It would be really stupid to have to wait around St. Louis an extra fifteen days because of no truck, with a perfectly good truck standing right there.
Finally, Purgy sighed. He shook his head, and shrugged his fat shoulders, and said, "I don't see any damn reason to get upset. What the hell, if I can't bend a little what am I in business for? I'll spray a little paint over those doors for you."
"Dark green," Hughes said.
"Well, it may not be a Grade A Perfect one hundred percent match," Purgy said, "but I'll give it the closest I got."
Hughes suddenly nodded; his face and body became more relaxed. "It's a deal," he said.
"That's fine," Purgy said, with a broad smile. "I'll go get the paint."
"We've got our own plates to put on," Hughes said.
"Well, go ahead."
Purgy waddled away toward the house, and Hughes said, "Come on." He and Grofield went over to get the plates out of the trunk of the Javelin. They were Missouri plates, for a commercial vehicle, and they weren't on anybody's wanted list. "These babies cost me a hundred and a quarter," Hughes said, taking them out. "And now I went a hundred over what I wanted to pay for the truck."
"I thought you were going to walk away," Grofield said. "I really did."
Hughes looked at him in surprise. "You did? What the hell would I do that for? The truck's worth fourteen."
"You looked mad."
"It took you in, huh? I don't think it took Purgy in."
"I do," Grofield said.
"Purgy's slier'n he looks," Hughes said. He gave Grofield one of the plates and a screwdriver. "You do the back, I'll do the front."
They walked together toward the truck. Hughes said, "I hope Barnes makes a good price on the guns. We'll go over the two grand if we're not careful."
They separated at the rear of the truck, where Grofield hunkered down to remove the Pennsylvania plate the truck was carrying. A couple of dogs came over to watch, but by now Grofield was getting used to them – silent, restless, observant, more like an audience in a theater than anything else.
He was just finishing removing the Pennsylvania plate when Purgy came back down from the house, shaking a can of spray enamel in one fist. The metal stirring ball rattled around inside it. Grofield put the clean Missouri plate on, picked up the Pennsylvania plate, and walked over to see what the spray job looked like.
It was a slightly lighter shade of green, but Purgy was doing a pretty good job of bleeding it out at the edges. It would be plain that a firm name had been removed, but it would look like a neat job, not something done in a sloppy hurry.
Hughes came over with the other plate and the other screwdriver and studied the door. Purgy, finished, stepped back and said, "How's that? Nice, huh?"
"I won't argue with you, Purgy," Hughes said, as though he thought the paint job was lousy.
But Purgy was in a good mood now, and didn't care what Hughes said. "You just didn't want to pay me so much," he said, grinning. "I know you, Hughes."
"What about the other door?"
"Keep your pants on, I'm gonna do it right now. And then you got to pay me."
"You keep your pants on, too."
Purgy went around to the other side of the truck, and Hughes said to Grofield, reluctantly, "I suppose I'd better drive the truck. Get to know it and all."
"Don't worry," Grofield said. "I'll treat your car like a bride."
"I don't think I'd like that," Hughes said.
"You know what I mean."
"Let me go first," Hughes said. "You just stay at my pace."
Hughes gave him the license plate and screwdriver. "We'll stop somewhere and eat. I know a couple places."
Hughes looked across at his car, and then at Grofield. He wanted to give Grofield an hour or two of instructions about how to handle the car; Grofield waited and watched him fight the urge and win. "See you later," Hughes said.
"See you later," Grofield said. He turned and walked toward the Javelin, his hands full of license plates and screwdrivers. Dogs were loping all around him. He found he was grinning at the car.
A match flared in the darkness – Ed Barnes, lighting a cigarette. In the yellow light, Grofield could see the three of them sitting on the floor of the empty truck, himself and Barnes and Steve Tebelman, and the big sheet of plywood leaning against the end wall, two lengths of clothesline stretching across it to keep it in place. "That's really a nice job," he said, looking at what was painted on the plywood.
"Thanks," Tebelman said. Barnes shook the match out, and they were in darkness again. There was a faint redness when Barnes drew on the cigarette, but not enough to show more than vague outlines.
"You're a talented guy," Grofield said. "You ought to be able to make a living out of that."
"Commercial art?" Tebelman's voice dripped with scorn.
"Oh," Grofield said.
Barnes said, "An artist." He said it with no particular intonation, as though simply describing a condition of life.
"I understand that," Grofield said. "I'm into something like that myself."
Grofield heard the interest in Tebelman's voice, and was tempted to go into a whole explanation about being an actor in a pre-technological sense – he had the feeling Tebelman's attitudes would be basically similar – but something about the presence of Barnes, his cigarette a red dot in the darkness, inhibited him. Barnes, he knew, was the more typical heister; a professional with only this one profession, who found all his satisfactions, financial and otherwise, within the one area. Tebelman was the only other person like himself Grofield had ever met in this business.
And Tebelman's question was hanging in the darkness, awaiting an answer. More conscious of Barnes' presence than he would have been in a lighted room where he could see the man, Grofield said, "I'm an actor. I own a summer theater."
"Isn't there money in that?"
"Hardly. Not with movies and television."
"Ah." There was a little silence, then, until Tebelman said, "You know, there's a school of thought that says the artist and the criminal are variants on the same basic personality type. Did you know that?"
Grofield was sorry now the conversation had gotten started at all. "No, I didn't," he said.
"That art and crime are both antisocial acts," Tebelman said. "There's a whole theory about it. The artist and the criminal both divorce themselves from society by their life patterns, they both tend to be loners, they both tend to have brief periods of intense activity and then long periods of rest. There's a lot more."
"Interesting," Grofield said. He wished Hughes would start them moving; he held his left hand up near his face, pushed the sleeve back, read the radium dial of his watch. Ten minutes to eleven. He knew Hughes was waiting for the county sheriff's car to come by. The truck they were sitting in was parked in a closed-for-the-night gas station a quarter mile from the Food King store. Once the sheriff's department car went by, they'd have a minimum of twenty minutes before that car would come around again to the Food King parking lot. So Hughes was waiting for it, and once it was safely out of the way they would start to move.
Tebelman was saying, "Of course, there've been a lot of artists who were criminals first, like Jean Genet. But you and I reverse that, don't we? You're an actor, and I'm a painter."
"That's right," Grofield said.
Barnes suddenly said, "I'm quite a reader, you know." The heavy voice, calm and uninflected, was a total surprise; it didn't seem to convey any emotion at all, nothing but the information contained in the words, the same as when he had earlier said that Tebelman was an artist.
Grofield stared at the red cigarette end. He had no idea how to take what Barnes had said. Maybe if he could see the man's face…
Tebelman had apparently decided to take it straight. "Is that right?" he said.
"I started in Joliet," Barnes said. "You have a lot of time on your hands in a place like that."
Under cover of darkness, Grofield permitted himself to grin.
Tebelman said, "A lot of artists got started in prison, just for that reason. Like O. Henry."
"I really took to it," Barnes said. "Now I read three, four books a week."
"Is that right?"
"Westerns," Barnes said. "Ernest Haycox, Luke Short. Some of these newer ones, too, Brian Garfield, Elmer Kelton. Some parts of the country it's tough to find them."
Tebelman said, "Did you read
The truck suddenly jerked into motion. "We're off," Grofield said. But Tebelman and Barnes were talking about Westerns.
In most supermarkets, the male clerks restock the shelves with merchandise after the close of business on Friday evening in preparation for the volume they expect to do on Saturday. In a large store, this restocking can take as much as six or seven hours, starting at a nine P.M. closing and continuing through most of the night. The Food King outside Belleville, Illinois, was no exception.
Deliveries to supermarkets after closing hour on Friday are unusual but not unheard of, and so the tractor-trailor that drove into the Food King parking lot at two minutes to eleven P.M. on Friday the eleventh of April seemed perfectly ordinary and legitimate. The cab of the truck was green, the body aluminum. There was no firm name on either.
The truck drove around to the rear of the store, and the driver backed it up to the loading platform. He switched off the motor, picked up a clipboard, got out of the cab, and walked down the length of the truck to the loading platform. He wore a zippered jacket, a peaked cap, and a yellow pencil stub behind one ear; these three things, and the clipboard, made his face invisible.
There were wooden steps at the side of the loading platform. The driver went up them and pushed the button next to the corrugated metal garage-type door. He waited two minutes, and was about to ring again when the door began to slide upward. It slid about five feet and stopped. A clerk in a white shirt and a knee-length white apron, a prematurely balding man of about thirty-five, very slender, ducked and came out to the platform. Over the door a pipe came out with a conical metal reflector at the end and a fairly dim light bulb in it; the only source of light other than the truck lights, which the driver had left on.
The clerk said, "What is it?"
"They didn't tell me about it." He was probably more than a clerk, he was probably the assistant manager. He sounded peeved that he hadn't been told about the delivery.
The driver shrugged and said, "Don't ask me, Mac. I just drive where they tell me to drive." He tapped the clipboard with a knuckle.
"Nobody ever gets anything straight around here. Hold on."
The clerk went back inside, ducking under the partly opened door, and a few seconds later the door rose the rest of the way. Inside was a high-ceilinged room with a cement floor, about the size of a one-car garage. Trash barrels lined the righthand wall. Conveyor-belt sections were stacked on the lefthand wall. There were two doors out of the room, one in the righthand corner of the far wall and one in the lefthand wall, down at the other end. The clerk was standing in the door to the left, calling, "Tommy! Red!" He called the names twice more, then turned and came back to the loading platform. "They'll be right here."
"I got all night," the driver said. He acted bored.
"Anything refrigerated on there?"
"No, not this truck."
Two more clerks came through the lefthand door and hurried out to the loading platform. Both were around twenty years old. The tall, thin one with red hair would probably be Red, which would make the middleweight with hornrim glasses and black hair Tommy.
Tommy said, "What've we got?"
"Nothing refrigerated," the assistant manager-type said. "We'll just unload it straight into the trash room here and leave it till we're done out front. Then we'll put it away in the stockroom." He turned to the driver, who was mostly behind them all, leaning against the side of the doorway. "Do you want to open it for us?"
"It isn't locked."
"I got it," Tommy said, and reached for the rear doors of the truck.