Authors: Richard Stark
"Don't make a move," Grofield said. Hooded, holding the machine gun, he stepped out of the back of the truck on to the loading platform and took a quick step to the left. Beyond the three pale stunned faces, he saw Hughes hurry into the building and on down to stand by the left-hand door, where he put the clipboard down on the floor and pulled his hood and pistol out of his jacket.
It was the older assistant manager-type who recovered first. Slowly lifting his hands, he said, "We won't cause you any trouble. We don't have guns."
"I should think not," Grofield said. "Go on into the truck, you and you." Pointing the gun barrel at the two younger clerks.
They both hung back. The older clerk said, "Do what they tell you to do. You can't fight guns."
Barnes was standing in the truck doorway, holding the other machine gun. "That's sensible," he said, and his heavy voice seemed full of menace. "None of us wants to kill anybody. All we're here for is money. You people cooperate, you'll live happily ever after."
"We'll cooperate," the older clerk said. "Go on, Tommy. Red? Go on."
The younger ones still hesitated, not because they had it in mind to fight back, but because they were afraid. And why not? They were facing three men wearing black hoods over their faces, two carrying machine guns. And Tebelman, deeper in the truck, was standing there with clothesline in his hands.
Grofield said, "You're just getting a long smoke break, that's all. Nothing to worry about. Go on in."
Red moved first, and a second later Tommy followed. While Barnes watched over them, Tebelman would have them remove their aprons and then he'd tie their hands behind them, sit them down, tie their ankles, and blindfold them. There was no need to gag them; a man who can't see won't shout.
Meantime, Grofield said to the older clerk, "What's your name?"
"Harris." He was frightened, but trying to deal with the situation as though it were matter-of-fact, as though the best way to handle it was to be quiet and calm and methodically obedient. Which was true.
"I mean your first name," Grofield said. He'd learned this a few years ago, from somebody else in the business – when you have people to control during a job, find out their first names and then call them by name every chance you get. You acknowledge their individuality that way, you suggest that you accept their personal worth, and they become less afraid that you're going to hurt or kill them.
The clerk said, "Walter."
"What do they call you? Walt? Wally?"
"Just Walter." He sounded depressed by the fact.
Grofield said, "Okay, Walter. How many more employees are in the store?"
"Just seven of you tonight? How come?"
"We always have just seven," Walter said. "We're the regular night crew."
"Okay. What are the first names of the other four?"
"Hal and Pete and Andy and Trig."
"It's a nickname. He's Anthony Trigometrino."
"Okay. Where are they? All four out by the shelves?"
"No, Trig's in the stockroom. The others are out front."
"And where's the stockroom?"
Walter made a vague gesture in the general direction of Hughes. "Through that door… down there."
"Okay, Walter. You and I are going to walk down there, and you're going to stick your head through the doorway and ask Trig to come out here for a minute. Got that?"
Walter nodded. "I'll do it."
"You won't say anything dumb."
"No, sir," Walter said. His nervousness was increasing again.
Grofield didn't want anybody getting over-emotional. He didn't like to do that to people unnecessarily, in the first place, and in the second place a calm person tended to cause less trouble. He said, "Walter, I'm sorry if I make you nervous. There's nothing I can do about the gun and the mask. But you know all we care about is the cash in the safe, right?"
"And you know we'd rather not have the police looking for us for shooting somebody."
"I guess so," Walter said.
"Take my word for it, Walter. We'll make this whole thing as easy as we can for everybody. Now, let's go down to the door there."
"All right," Walter said. He seemed somewhat calmer.
They went down by the door. Hughes was masked now, and carrying a Smith & Wesson Centennial.38 with a grip safety; a bar on the back of the grip had to be depressed before the revolver could be fired.
Hughes stepped two quick paces back from his post beside the doorway and whispered. "There's somebody in the next room. I think it's just one."
"That's Trig," Grofield whispered. "Walter's going to call him out now. Go ahead, Walter. Tell him to come out here for a minute, and then step back and leave the doorway clear. Got it?"
"Yes," Walter said. He was matter-of-fact, and he'd dropped the "sir," which was good. It meant he wasn't afraid of being killed any more.
Grofield and Hughes stood beside the wall, Grofield in front because the machine gun was more persuasive to look at than a small revolver, and Walter went over and stood in the doorway. He called, "Trig?" A voice called something back, and Walter said, "Come on out here a minute, will you?"
Grofield could make out what the voice said this time:
what? I got all this stuff piled up here-"
Trig came through the doorway still grousing, and was a full two strides into the room before he noticed Grofield and Hughes and the guns. He'd started griping at Walter, saying, "How do you expect me to get my-" Then he stopped dead, mouth and feet, and stared at the gun.
Grofield said, "Keep walking, Trig. Don't do anything excitable."
Trig was heavyset, medium height, and very hairy. He looked to be in his late twenties, and wore black slacks and a white T-shirt. No apron. His arms were thick and hairy, and he had initials tattooed on the left upper arm: AT-VC. He had a heavy sullen face, with thick blue beard shadow. He was the kind who does excitable things and louses everybody up and gets himself killed.
The idea was to keep things moving. Grofield said, "Walter, walk on over to the corner over there, by the other door. Trig, walk on out to the truck. Go on out by Red and Tommy."
The idea behind moving Walter away was to leave Trig the only one not standing next to a wall. Completely alone in the middle of the concrete floor, Trig looked this way and that, his shoulder muscles bunching but his brain unable to decide where or how he should jump. And as he continued to look around, to see Hughes behind Grofield, to see Barnes with another machine gun at the entrance to the truck, to see Tommy and Red already trussed up and sitting on the truck floor, Trig's tensed shoulders slowly lowered, his half-clenched fists relaxed, and all he did after all was say, "You jerks won't get away with this."
"Then it would be even sillier for you to get killed over it," Grofield said. "Walk on out to the truck, Trig."
Trig went. He walked slowly, to show he wasn't being pushed around.
Grofield turned his attention back to Walter. "The three outside," he said. "Hal and Pete and Andy. Will they be coming to the stockroom?"
"To get more goods to bring out front, yes."
"Fine. Come along with me, Walter."
Hughes stayed back in the first room, by the door. Grofield and Walter went into the stockroom, a long high-ceilinged area piled high with boxes and cartons, some of the stacks reaching up eight or nine feet and forming aisles in between.
There were double swinging doors leading out to the store, with a small window at eye level in each. Grofield peered through one of these, saw the store brightly lit but none of the clerks visible, and turned back to look at the storeroom and set the scene.
"Walter," he said, after a minute, "you sit over there on those bags of dog food. Go ahead."
Walter went over, puzzled but obedient, and sat down. He was now about eight feet from the swinging doors, and clearly visible to anyone who'd come through there. He was a bit to the left of the doors, toward the other room, where Hughes was waiting.
Grofield nodded, satisfied, and went to stand against the wall to the right of the doors. "Now, Walter," he said, "as each of them comes in, I want you to say his name, and then say, "There's a problem. We have to do what these people say' Got it?"
Walter repeated what Grofield had said.
"Good," Grofield said. "But with the name in front of it. If it was Andy, for instance – you'd say, 'Andy, there's a problem. We have to do what these people say.' See what I mean?"
" 'Andy, there's a problem. We have to do what these people say.'"
It was just like blocking out a scene on stage, really, and using local amateur talent. No different, and no more difficult. "That's fine, Walter," Grofield said. Always praise your local amateur talent. "Now let's relax. You can smoke if you want."
"I don't smoke. I gave it up."
"Smart. I did, too. Why shorten our lives, right, Walter?"
Walter gave a pale smile.
They had to wait three minutes before any of the clerks came back, pushing their stock carts through the swinging doors, but then it went like clockwork. The one called Pete came through first. Walter gave him the line, Pete took in the hood and the machine gun, and Grofield sent him over to the farther door, where Hughes picked him up – like a bucket brigade, it was – and sent him on to the truck. There, Barnes kept an eye on him while Tebelman lashed him and stashed him with the rest.
Andy came through a minute after Pete, and followed the same assembly line. But then five minutes went by, and finally Grofield said, "Walter, I'm afraid you're going to have to call Hal in here. Just get up and push one of those doors open and call him to come in. Then go back and sit down, and we'll do it just like we did with the other two."
Walter obeyed, and a minute later Hal joined the bucket brigade.
"And now you, Walter," Grofield said. "I want to thank you for your cooperation."
"I didn't want any of the boys working for me to get hurt," Walter said. He was apparently trying out the line he would use tomorrow when he explained to his bosses why he didn't get himself killed keeping the store from being robbed.
"That was best," Grofield said. "Go on over there now."
Walter went through the assembly line, Grofield and then Hughes following him. Grofield left the machine gun leaning against the wall just inside the building, and while Barnes watched Tebelman tie and blindfold Walter, Grofield and Hughes took the ropes off that were holding the plywood against the end of the truck. They picked the plywood up and carried it down the length of the truck and out through the rear entrance, having to tilt it at a diagonal to get it through.
The door into the stockroom was an even tighter squeeze. They couldn't get it through at all at first. Grofield said, "This is the one part we didn't case ahead of time."
"How could we?" Hughes asked. He sounded irritable. "Hold on a second. Hold the plywood."
One edge rested on the floor. Grofield held the plywood vertical while Hughes took a screwdriver from his hip pocket and took the door off. That gave them the extra inch they needed, and they slid the plywood through, listening to it scrape at top and bottom.
Barnes and Tebelman joined them. They had closed the rear doors of the truck and shut the overhead door leading to the loading platform. Tebelman was carrying Grofield's machine gun and four aprons.
In the stockroom, they took off their hoods and jackets and donned the aprons. They were all wearing white shirts, and now they were supermarket clerks. Grofield this evening had sideburns and a bushy mustache, and had done a light makeup job on his nose and on the flesh under his eyes. He didn't want to be on stage some night, in his other profession, and have a member of the audience suddenly jump up and shout, "You were one of the robbers at the Food King Supermarket in Belleville, Illinois!" Aside from anything else, it would beat hell out of his timing. And characterization.
There was much less trouble getting the plywood through the double swinging doors. Grofield, walking backwards, said, "You got the hammer?"
Hughes, carrying the other end, said, "Steve has," and Tebelman said, "I've got it right here."
A large sheet of poster paper covered the face of the plywood, and it made small flapping noises now as Grofield and Hughes carried it down the side aisle toward the front of the store. Tebelman and Barnes had gone the other way, to the produce section, where they knew the store kept its ladder.
With a small and unobtrusive camera, Steve Tebelman had taken several pictures in this store in the last few days, a few of them of the advertising poster atop the safe, the one touting the store's own brand of canned fruits and vegetables. That poster had been recreated with perfect attention to detail on the paper stretched over the face of the piece of plywood.
Grofield and Hughes carried the plywood down to the front of the store, between the first cash register and the manager's office, through the little gate in the wrought iron fence keeping customers away from the safe, and at last leaned it against the wall of the manager's office facing the windows and the parking lot outside. There were three cars in the lot, belonging to the clerks working here tonight. Hughes, looking out the window past the signs advertising specials, said, "No change. Same as when I drove in."
Grofield looked at his watch. "We've got about five minutes before that sheriff's car is due again."
"Plenty of time," Hughes said, and Barnes and Tebelman showed up with the ladder. "Steve, give me the hammer."
Hughes took the hammer. Out of his shirt pocket he brought two wide-headed nails, and gave one to Grofield. Meantime, Barnes and Tebelman set up the ladder next to the window in front of the safe. Tebelman went away to the right and took one of the signs down from one of the other windows and brought it back with him. Barnes went up three steps on the ladder, and started to fuss with the signs. Tebelman put his back against the window and stood there between window and ladder, holding the sign outstretched between his hands. Tebelman, Barnes, the ladder, and the sign Tebelman was holding, all combined with the two signs already pasted to the window, made it impossible for anyone outside to see the safe.