Authors: Richard Stark
Grofield and Hughes picked up the piece of plywood and moved it over in front of the safe. Two metal bars had been fastened to the back of the plywood, at about waist height, one extending two inches out the left side, the other extending two inches out the right. There was a hole in each. While Grofield held the plywood in place, Hughes hammered a nail through the hole in the bar on the left and into the partition where it began at the edge of the safe. Then he handed the hammer to Grofield, who drove the other nail in on the other side.
Tebelman said, "Hurry up, my arms are getting tired."
Barnes, who was looking out the window between the signs, said, "There's nobody out there at all."
Grofield picked a corner of the poster paper with a fingernail, and then ripped a length of paper off the plywood. Hughes ripped some more off, and the two of them stripped all the paper away. Underneath, Tebelman had painted a lifelike imitation of the front of the safe. Standing directly in front of it, one could see it was a painting, but somebody in a car out in the parking lot wouldn't give it a second thought.
"Done," Hughes said.
"Fine," Tebelman said, and went away to put the sign back in the window he'd taken it from.
Barnes said, "I'll get my tools. You boys go to work." He folded up the ladder and took it away.
Hughes and Grofield went back around the manager's office to the corner where the potato chips were displayed. They took the racks off the wall and put them out of the way and then, with hammer and screwdriver, began to remove the partition separating them from the back of the safe.
They had it half stripped away by the time Barnes and Tebelman came back, Barnes carrying a crowbar in one hand and a toolkit in the other.
Tebelman said, "Pity you can't just go in through the back."
"The door's best," Barnes said. "Even with the pulling we got to do, it'll wind up a lot faster. You don't know how they build the sides of these boxes."
"I'll take your word for it," Tebelman said.
Grofield said, "Could I borrow your bar for a minute?"
Barnes handed it over, and Grofield hit a two-by-four horizontal support three times. The third time, it popped loose at the left end. "There."
Hughes grabbed the loose end of the two-by-four, pulled it outward away from the safe, and the final third of the partition sprang free. He and Tebelman dragged it down the side aisle out of the way. They were being careful not to leave any of their debris where it could be seen from out front.
Grofield had to use the crowbar again – a two-by-four was nailed to the floor within the partition. Grofield pried it up a bit at a time, and finally Barnes and Hughes together pulled it upward until it snapped at a point to the right of the section they were clearing.
And there was the back of the safe, black metal, hulking, looking as though it weighed a ton and would be neither breached nor moved.
Tebelman said, "That sheriff's car is gonna come around. We'd better show people stocking shelves."
"You people get to it," Barnes said. "I'll get this baby ready to move."
22 22 22 22 22 22 22.
Grofield thought, I must be crazy. What the hell am I stamping the prices on these things for?
But he couldn't help it. He couldn't knowingly do a bad job; stamp the wrong price on each can, put the canned goods on the wrong shelves, put them up with no prices stamped on them at all. He had found the spot where Hal had been working, and had simply continued where Hal had left off. Spaghetti sauce. Twenty-two cents. Therefore: 22 22 22 22 22 22 22.
Light flickered at the perimeter of his vision. He turned his head and saw headlights sweeping across the parking lot out in front of the store. He was in the middle of the middle aisle, standing there next to the stock cart, the price stamper in his hand, the purple inkpad open in the stock cart's tray. The shelves on both sides of him –
what did they call them? gondolas?
– they were higher than his head, but the aisle itself was rather wide and had a pale cream vinyl tile floor. He felt both exposed and hemmed in, that he could be seen but he couldn't see, and it was difficult not to turn his back on those headlights and the expanse of windows.
I am a stock clerk,
I must stay in character.
For a long while, he had tended to visualize dramatic situations around himself wherever he might be, as though he were in a movie – even though he would never actually consent to appear in a movie – complete with sound effects and soundtrack music and clichй storylines. He'd drifted out of that habit in the last couple of years, maybe since getting his own theater, but now he consciously did it again, bringing back the old habit for the sake of calming his nerves and helping himself stay in character.
A spy movie. The Russians are watching the embassy, of course, and are confident they'll track down the daring American spy before he manages to turn over the information. What they don't know is that the spy has had a liaison of a romantic nature – ski lodge, fireplace, snow heavy on the roof, a wolf howling in the distance – with the embassy cook, a charming girl who is now his willing slave. And every day she comes to this market for fresh flounder. Today, with the flounder, she will receive – the microfilm!
But the headlights are approaching across the deserted parking lot. Has the NKVD learned what he's up to? The American spy, secure in his disguise as a simple stock clerk, goes on pricing the cans of spaghetti sauce.
22 22 22 22 22 22 22.
Two feet up from the floor, the back of the safe had sprouted a hook. It was a large thick hook, on a round metal base pressed flat against the metal surface of the safe. Barnes was in the process of looping two fifteen-foot lengths of chain over the hook. There were padded handholds at each end of each chain.
Grofield said, "You're sure that glue's gonna stick? I'd feel like a damn fool if we all of us started pulling and the hook popped off and we all fell on our butts."
Barnes said, "You ever see the demonstration where they glue a hook to the roof of a car, and then a crane picks up the car by the hook? Well, it's this glue. It's an industrial glue, pressure sensitive type, and there is no way on earth you could take that hook off that safe. You could get cars pulling in opposite directions, and the back of the safe would buckle outward before that hook would come off."
"You know your business," Grofield said.
"That's just what I do."
Each of them took an end of chain, and they spread out backwards until the chains were taut. Barnes said, "We give pressure together, when I say heave."
Everybody got set, leaning backward, feet apart, both hands wrapped around the padded grip.
It didn't move. Grofield pulled, feeling the muscles stretch in his shoulders, and nothing happened. They all relaxed again, looking at one another.
Tebelman shouted, "It moved that time! I felt it!"
"About a quarter inch," Barnes said. He sounded disgusted. "Come on, let's get that goddam thing out of there. Heave!"
Each time, as more of the safe was on the smooth vinyl flooring and less remained on the rougher concrete flooring it had been standing on, it got a little easier, and they managed to pull it a little farther. When it was about halfway out they stopped for a three minute rest – working their shoulders and arms, walking around a little – and Grofield felt as stiff as though he'd been in a football game. Then they went back to it, and pulled the safe out the rest of the way, and for some reason when they were done pulling Grofield felt physically better than before, not worse.
The others seemed affected the same way. Maybe it was the sudden knowledge that the idea of the heist was going to work out. The painted safe-front was still in place, ready to fool anyone who would look in the window. The safe itself was back where it could be gotten at, out of sight of any window.
They had pulled it a good foot and a half away from the line of the partition, so Barnes would have enough room to work in. Now he picked up his toolkit, a long heavy metal box in dark green, and stepped through the space to stand in front of the safe and study it for a while. "Fred," he said, "you stick around to help out. You other two guys better go show yourselves; that sheriff's car is gonna come through again pretty soon."
"Right," Grofield said, and he and Tebelman headed away from the safe.
Tebelman said, "We might as well stick together. Two guys working the same aisle will look as natural as anything else."
"Sure," Grofield said. "Come on along."
Behind them, the first squeal of tortured metal sounded.
Hughes appeared at the end of the aisle and waved to them. "It's open. Come on."
"Think about it," Grofield said to Tebelman. "We could use a good set designer. Give you something to do summers."
"It might be nice at that," Tebelman said. He and Grofield moved away from the stock cart and walked down the aisle toward Hughes.
It was now close to one o'clock; the sheriff's car had gone by twice since Barnes had started on the safe. Both times, Grofield and Tebelman had been hard at work stocking shelves, moving to a different aisle after each passage of the patrol car, so they'd give the right impression.
Hughes didn't wait for them. He went over to one of the check-out counters, reached underneath, and came up with a couple of shopping bags, the kind with handles. "Looks like a good haul," he said, as Grofield and Tebelman came to the end of the aisle.
Tebelman said, "Good. I could use the money."
"Everybody could use the money," Hughes said.
Barnes was on his knees beside the safe, repacking his toolkit. He had stripped to the waist, and sweat gleamed on his meaty shoulders and chest. He was puffing a little bit, and when the other three arrived he looked up and said, "They really build those mothers."
Grofield took a look. Barnes was an accomplished stripper, and an accomplished stripper leaves a mess behind. The safe door opened from left to right, with the combination at waist height to the left and with the hinges inside on the right. Barnes had found a purchase on the lip of the door at the top left and had gradually forced the metal out and back, like peeling a sardine can. He had stripped open a triangular section of the door, most of the way across the top and down the side almost to the combination. There were three layers of door, each about half an inch thick, and he'd stripped the layers separately. When he'd finished opening the triangular hole, he'd reached in with hammer and chisel and chipped away the combination lock piece by piece, until the numbered face had fallen out onto the floor and the door had sagged quietly open.
Inside were shelves and trays, all metal. The trays contained mostly papers and some rolled coins. The wrapped bundles of money were on the shelves.
Hughes gave the shopping bags to Grofield and Tebelman and stepped in front of the safe. He handed out stacks of bills, and Grofield and Tebelman tucked them away in the shopping bags.
"Roughly sixty grand," Hughes said, at the end.
"That's good enough for me," Barnes said. "Carry my bar, will you, Hughes? Did I leave anything?"
They made sure nothing had been left behind. Barnes carried his toolkit; Hughes, the crowbar; and Grofield and Tebelman, the two shopping bags full of bills.
They left everything temporarily in the stock room while they unloaded Walter and the other clerks from the back of the truck. Working in pairs, they picked each of the clerks up and carried him out of the truck and into the first room in the building, leaving the seven of them sitting in a row along the rear wall. Then they carried the money and tools and guns into the back of the truck and Hughes closed them in and drove them away from there.
There was no talking this time. Grofield spent the time thinking about what he would do with fifteen thousand dollars. A summer of stock could eat ten thousand with no trouble, but the other five was for a vacation. He'd take Mary somewhere, maybe for three weeks. Not now, it was too close to the beginning of the season. In September or October, when the season was over. This time, he would definitely set five thousand aside for a vacation. By September they would both need one.
The truck traveled for twenty minutes, and then stopped. That was about the right length of time, there was nothing to be alarmed about, but Grofield nevertheless reached for the machine gun on the floor beside him in the darkness. He could hear the other two also reaching for guns.
But it was Hughes who opened the doors, and they were where they were supposed to be. Hughes, sounding happier than Grofield had heard him before, called, "How you doing in there?"
"Spent it already," Tebelman said. He sounded happy, too.
Past Hughes, Grofield could see the river, and the shapes of the two cars, Hughes' Javelin and Barnes' Pontiac. Tebelman would leave with Hughes, and Barnes would give Grofield a lift back to the hotel.
They were in the parking lot behind the remains of a burned-out diner just outside Granite City, north of Belleville but still on the Illinois side of the Mississippi. They would leave the truck there. The guns they would throw in the river. The money they would split up now.
Hughes said, "Just wait a minute for me. I'll get our satchels."
"We've got to wait for you," Grofield said. "You've got the light."
Hughes went away and stopped briefly at each of the cars, then came back with his arms full of various kinds of things to carry the money in. Grofield's was the black attachй case.
Grofield stood at the back of the truck and Hughes handed the bags up to him and then climbed up and pulled the doors shut after himself. There were a few seconds of darkness, and then Hughes had his flashlight out of his pocket and switched it on. "Let's get to it."
They all crowded close, and Tebelman counted the money by the light of the pencil flash. It came out to fifty-seven thousand three hundred dollars. They put four thousand to one side; that Hughes would take to repay the doctor who'd financed them. Fifty-three thousand three hundred left. Thirteen thousand three hundred twenty-five dollars each.
"That isn't bad," Grofield said. Nobody disagreed.