The enchanted isle, p.3
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       The Enchanted Isle, p.3
 

          
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  “...Well . ...Hiya.”

  “So you want a mink coat, is that it?”

  “Who wants to know?”

  Rick snarled it, though who gave him the right I don’t know, as I didn’t ask him to. And he jumped up, all ready to make himself objectionable. But the guy did not get upset. He said, “I do. I’m kind of curious about her. And you don’t mind, do you?” So with that he opened his coat, and out from under his arm was peeping the butt of a gun.

  “...No, I don’t mind. OK.”

  “OK, what?”

  “OK, sir.”

  “I thought that’s what you meant. Sit down.”

  Rick sat down again, and I told him, “These gentlemen want something, Rick, that has something to do with my coat, and I’ll thank you to cool it now and let them say what’s on their mind.”

  “OK, Mandy.”

  “We’re not using names today.”

  That was still the good-looking guy, who seemed to do most of the talking. He went on, “Call me Pal. My friend here, my sidekick, call him Bud. The young lady already has answered to Beautiful, and you can be Chuck. Are we all straightened out on that?”

  Rick and I both said we were, and he pumped at me some more. “OK, Beautiful, you haven’t answered me what I asked. You want a mink coat, is that it?”

  “You seem to know. How?”

  “It’s what you said, there in the beanery.”

  “Oh, you were in there too?”

  “In the booth, having breakfast, yeah.”

  “Well, who doesn’t want a mink coat?”

  “And you’d do what it takes to get it?”

  “I’d like to hear more before answering that.”

  Because it came to me, if I had to sleep with him, or perhaps with the both of them, I wasn’t so sure anymore that I’d do what it took, irregardless of what it was. But then he really surprised me. What I said was “What would it take to get it? What are you getting at?”

  “Like robbing a bank, Beautiful.”

  “...Are you being funny?”

  “Is that funny to you?”

  “Well, I guess not. Not really.”

  “It’s not funny to me either. OK, ’stead of all that beating and batting and banging around the bush, putting you in a pool, or whatever their idea was back in the greasy spoon, I got a proposition for you that’ll get you a mink coat today, a coat you can wear tonight, swing if that’s what you like in some club. And pretty as you are, you’ll be something to see. So what do you say? Will you do what it takes or not?”

  “I say maybe, but I have to know more about it.”

  “That answer pleases me.”

  He turned to his friend, Bud, who nodded and said, “We don’t want no silly Jane that’ll jump off the roof if you tell her to. If she wants to hear more, it proves she’s got some sense.”

  “Beautiful, what do you want to know?”

  “In the first place, on something like this it takes people who know what they’re doing, so why would you want me, who knows nothing about it at all? Or do you want both of us? Or what?”

  “...You done?”

  “Well, that’s what I want to know first.”

  “OK, we did have a mob, exactly the right-size mob, because the way we work it takes four. We don’t go in, shove a note under the window, and take what the girl hands out. We clean the joint out, and to do it that way takes four: one outside at the wheel of the getaway car; and three in the bank, two of us holding guns, the other holding the basket while the girl throws money in it. But the mob we did have we don’t have, not anymore we don’t. Because two boys who’ve been helping us out, two brothers who know their stuff, when we went to wake them this morning, one was stoned on horse, and the other wouldn’t leave him. So that puts us in the hole. But the job, if it’s going to be done, has to be pulled today. Today’s when the money is there, the extra payroll cash, and we dare not put it off, as maybe the word gets around, maybe the air smells funny, maybe something tells the cashier and he plays his hunch. From being in the hole we’d be in the soup, which we don’t really enjoy. Make a long story short, if today is the day, we need someone, and you fell into our lap—on account of you wanting that mink coat. Now, does that clear it up for you?”

  “Well...yeah. I guess so. A little.”

  “Chuck?”

  “...There’s just one thing: so she wants a mink coat and that’s why you picked us out. But why would you trust us on something like this? How do you know I won’t call the cops? Phone from the motel and tell them there’s a couple of guys outside fixing to rob a bank.”

  “OK, go ahead and call.”

  “...You mean now?”

  “Sure. By the way, what you going to tell them?”

  “Like I said, that you’re fixing to rob a bank.”

  “Which bank?”

  “Well, I don’t know, you haven’t said.”

  “If you don’t know which bank, you’ve got nothing to tell. It’s not against the law, fixing to rob a bank, if you don’t know which bank it is, so they can set up their stakeout. They can’t take me in for fixing. But they can take you in, and will.”

  “...Take me in? For what?”

  “Protective custody it’s called.”

  “Protective? From what?”

  “From having happen to you what generally happens to guys who rat.”

  “Now I’ve got it. OK...sir.”

  “I’m glad you have. Do you drive?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Beautiful?”

  “I do, of course. But there’s something I have to do—go to the motel and pay for my call.” I explained about it and said, “I want to wind it up, so it’s not on their books and not on their mind. It’s a little thing, but I don’t want it to dangle.”

  He stood staring at me, and I knew what was in his mind: that I wouldn’t have to phone the cops, just tell the woman to do it, and then come back real quick with a grin on my face and stall till the squad car came. At last he said, “OK, I’ll go with you.”

  “No!”

  That was Bud, coming to life like he was hit with a whip and proving at last that he was more than a stooge. He lit into Pal but rough: “You want to throw it away, the one edge they give us, spite of their both being punks? That nobody’s seen them with us, to idemnify? You go in with her, every goddam jerk in the motel can crucify you in court. It makes sense, what she says. I say let her go.”

  “OK, Beautiful. Go.”

  So I walked up to the motel, went in, and paid. When I came back, Bud said, “Let me look at you, kid.”

  “Right in the eye, Mr. Bud. You see something shifty?”

  “OK.”

  “I want that coat.”

  “I said OK.”

  Bud asked, “Are we set?”

  “There’s just one thing, sir.”

  That was Rick. Pal said, “OK, Chuck, what is it?”

  “This money, this dough we’re supposed to get, how’s it going to be split, Mr. Pal?”

  “...Why, four ways, of course.”

  “And when?”

  “Soon as we switch cars. On a thing like this we use two to throw off whatever’s on our tail. Once in the second car, we can stop and make the split—put Beautiful’s share, and yours, in your bag, our share in our bag, which we have in the first car. Then we set you two down, you flag a cab and go with Beautiful, help her pick out the coat. You still don’t know us, who we are, to tell any tales, and likewise we don’t know you. Fair enough?”

  “I guess so. OK, sir.”

  “Beautiful?”

  “I already said. I’m in.”

  “Let’s go.”

  5

  HE PICKED UP MY bag and led to the parking lot, the one in back of the coffee pot. He took keys from his pocket, unlocked a black sedan, then handed the key ring to Rick, telling him, “O.K., Chuck, let’s see how you handle a car.” But Bud cut in: “Not him, the girl. When we wind up that heist I want this car to be the
re.” So Pal took the ring from Rick and gave it to me, first picking out the key I would want, and told me, “Get in there, take it away.” So I did, slipping the key in the ignition and starting the motor, then lifting the door locks so he and Rick and Bud could get in on the other side. He got in beside me, Bud and Rick behind. Back of me, upended on the back seat, was a zipper bag like mine except bigger, while on the floor in front of it was a wastebasket, a metal thing chocolate brown in color, with slots in the sides. Pal put my bag on the seat between him and me, then snapped all the door locks down, except the one back of me was already snapped down. “OK, Beautiful, when you get off the lot, turn right, then run straight ahead till I tell you to turn. You’ll be taking a right.”

  “Right, straight ahead, then right?”

  “That’s it, take it away.”

  So I turned onto the street, which was called Wilkens Avenue, and right away Bud chirped up, “She’s OK, she drives like we want.”

  And Pal explained to me, “What he’s talking about, Beautiful, is that signal you gave. Strictly speaking, you didn’t have to, from a parking lot to a street, but you did anyway, from habit, which is what we want. Because on something like this it’s the little things that can trip you. You line all the big things up, and then you go through a light, or park next to a fire plug, or don’t stick that flipper out—and a cop flags you down. But you do stick it out, so OK. Keep it up, you’re doing fine.”

  We passed Colypte, and he said, “Take it easy, also slow down for a couple of blocks so you get the run of this street. This plant, it’s part of this job we’re pulling.”

  “We passed it last night on our walk.”

  “Then get straight how it ties in.”

  He said today, being the fifteenth of June, was payday at the plant, “and they pay off by check. But every one of those people, the people who work in the plant, take their check to the bank, that one beyond the light. ...”

  “We passed it on our walk too.”

  “And the bank cashes them. So what does it get for being so nice about it? It gets that some of those people, after they cash their checks, deposit some in their savings accounts. But to meet that heavy demand, the bank has extra cash, over a hundred grand, that’s sent out from downtown—it came out last night, we checked, so everything’s in order. ...OK, there’s your light. Now drive on past the bank. It’s a branch of the Chesapeake Banking and Trust Company.”

  “Yes, sir. We know.”

  I passed the bank, which was on the corner, going slow so we could see it. But at the next corner he said, “OK, take a right and circle the block so you come up to the light on the cross-street running past the bank. There’ll be something I want you to see.”

  So I did, coming up beside the bank and crossing with the light. And what was there, what he wanted me to see, was the phone booth I’d noticed the night before halfway up the block on the other side of the light. He said, “Do you see it, Beautiful; do you see it, Chuck?” And when we said we did, he went on, “That booth is there where it is for one and only one reason: to be used by the bunch from the bank. Every morning, eight-thirty, they gather around, the tellers, the branch manager, and the guard, who in this bank wears regular clothes, with his gun in an armpit holster. They gather around it, and you’ll note that from where it’s located it’s in view of the bank and the bank is in view of it. Then one of them goes in to sit there in front of the phone, so he has it in case of need. Then another of them goes down, unlocks the bank, and enters to check how things look inside. If everything’s OK, if no one is in there waiting, he pulls down the shades on the door. They stay up during the night so the cop on the beat can check. Shades up and lights on, so the cop can see inside. So then when the shades go down, the bunch go trooping down and get ready to open the bank, open it up for the day’s business. But if in thirty seconds those shades don’t come down, the guy in the booth calls, and the cops get there fast.”

  All enduring that I’d been driving along, so I was two or three blocks past the booth, but he didn’t tell me to turn till he made sure we had it straight, about the booth and how it figured in. Then he told me turn right, run back to Wilkens again, then circle around to come in past the bank the way I had the first time. He said, “Now, like before, take a right turn and stop. Right now, stop.” So I did, stopping on the cross-street beyond the bank and around the corner from it. When I’d pulled up the brake, he said, “An hour from now, while they’re all gathered around the booth, I’ll have you stop like this so I can get out and walk back to them, fumbling my money in my moist little fist like I want to make a call. Except what I really want is to listen to what they’re saying and notice how they act. They shouldn’t suspicion me—after all, they won’t see any car or have any idea where I came from, but if they do I want to know it. Then if everything’s OK, I watch them troop down to the bank, and we know it’s all clear. Or we know that it’s not. Either way is important.”

  “All right, I have it now.”

  “Drive on. Get on Wilkens again.”

  I drove five or six blocks on Wilkens, headed east, at lease as I think, that is, toward the center of town, and when he told me to turn, I did, to my left. After some blocks he told me to turn right, and I was on a through street, a sign saying Frederick Road. He said, “OK, now, run five or six blocks, until I tell you to stop, then take a right. But in the first block of the cross-street take it slow—there’s something else for you to look at.”

  I did just as he said, but all I could see was the end of an alley that ran in between the block, parallel to Frederick Road. But it turned out that was what he meant, and he told me, “Cast your eye up the alley; slow down as you pass and look up it. Tell me what you see.”

  “...Blue car is all. Blue sedan.”

  “That’s right. That’s what we’re looking for. Now stop and let me out, then half-circle the block to stop at the far end of the alley. I’ll meet you there, but if I don’t show, Bud’ll take over, and you’ll do whatever he says.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “I’m having a look at that car.”

  So he dropped off and I half-circled the block, but when I drove up to the alley’s end, he came out of it, and when I stopped he got in. He had me do it all over again, turn into the cross-street I’d turned into the first time, but this time made me turn into the alley and park back of the blue. He said, “It’s all clear in the other car, no stakeout waiting or anything, but I want you to have it down pat, how to park, how to do it quick, so we can switch cars fast, with no hang-ups.” So I did it all as he said, slipping in back of the blue, setting the brake, checking distances, and so on. He said, “Took us two weeks to find this spot, but it’s worth its cover in hundred-dollar bills. The beauty part is those buildings, the ones on each side of the alley. They none of them have back windows. With luck we’ll make our switch without being seen by anyone, and then we just vanish. No one sees us, no one catches our number, no one has anything on us.”

  Rick asked, “That car, is it hot?”

  “Chuck, both of us have cars, Bud and I, up north where we live, but on something like this you dare not use your own. Yes, the car’s hot. This car is hot. Both cars are hot.”

  “...Where do I come in?”

  “Don’t worry, I’m coming to you.”

  By now I was back on Frederick, so we were headed back where we had started from. Pal went on: “OK, Chuck, now let’s get you straightened out. Your job is a double job. You hold the basket, this one in front of the seat, while the girl pitches money in it. I’ll pick one of the girls, one of the woman tellers, and make her handle the money. And while you’re doing that you’ll watch her feet, that she don’t play us tricks. We face all kinds of dangers, but one of them is the floor, which has all kinds of stuff on it, triggers and buttons and pedals, that she can kick and that will bring in the cops. So that’s your double job, to hold the basket at her, while she pitches the money in, and watch her feet like a hawk, that she do
esn’t play us tricks. OK, then, so you both get the picture: soon as I see them go down from the phone booth to the bank, and count ’em and join up again in the car, we go have ourselves something to eat, sandwich or bun or whatever, and a cup of coffee to calm us down. Then, nine-thirty, we drive back to the bank and Beautiful parks out front. She stays there while we’re inside. Then Bud goes in and throws the gun down on them all—makes them put up their hands and line up in a row. Then we come in, you and I, Chuck, me with my drawn gun, you with the basket here, this one that you see on the floor. I make the tellers open their carts, or buggies, as they’re called. They’re rollaway carts, little cabinets on wheels, with steel drawers in them, that they keep right at their sides, in under the shelf back of their windows. Each teller has his own key, and each drawer opens separate. I call them up one by one and make them do it quick. Then one by one I send them out in the middle, where Bud takes charge of them—makes them lie on the floor, face down, with their hands stretched in front of their heads. When the carts are all open I call up the girl, the one that you’re to watch, and she goes down the line, opens the cart drawers, throws the money into your basket, and then when she’s done, goes out and lies down with the others. If, while we’re doing all that, customers happen to come, Bud takes care of them, making them lie down too. When the girl is done, we’re done, and boy, we get out of there fast. You first, Chuck, with the basket, me next, and Bud last, still covering that bunch on the floor. We hop in the car and Beautiful gives it the gas. Then in the car we transfer it, the dough you’ve got in the basket, to the bag here that you see, so we can handle it easy. Then Beautiful pulls in to the other car, we switch both bags to it, then out. And then we split in the car, say good-bye, and that’s that. Everything clear, now?”

 
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