The Heist by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips (Part 2)
“Zach Culhane.” “He solid?”
The Financier’s chair was at an angle to the table and he crossed one leg over the other. “If by that do you mean is he a cocaine fiend or prone to maudlin drinking and spilling his guts to strippers, the answer is no. At least he wasn’t when I dealt with him in the past.”
“What do you know about her?”
Expressionless, he said, “The former Miss Range Rider Beer. She’s the third wife, about twenty-two years Harrington’s junior. Her name is Gracella Murieta-Harrington, originally from Corpus Christi.”
“And she’s willing to go along with the takedown for that amount?”
“Apparently. From what Culhane told me, they both came upon this idea during some pillow talk about a month ago. Her husband is bored with her and she with him, but she pretends otherwise, at least externally. She knows about Culhane’s past and he’s the one who reached out to me through an old crime partner from back when. He used to boost cars for an outfit I bankrolled once.”
“What I mean is,” O’Conner said, “if this thing goes down, he and the wife won’t be able to sit tight until the heat dies down. I’ll bet the number of people who know about this slush fund and where it’s kept could be counted on one hand. Maybe the wife isn’t supposed to know, but how long will the husband believe that? She and the this guy could be sitting right in the crosshairs.”
“I hear what you’re saying,” the Financier said. “Harrington will suspect this is an inside job and may put the screws to his wife as the logical suspect. Which would lead him to the kid
and maybe to my involvement.”
“Does the go-between, the one Culhane reached out to, does he know how to find you?”
“Where I lay my head?” “Um-hmm.”
O’Conner assessed this. It wasn’t his concern if the Financier was found out. Everyone took a risk in this kind of thing. It was more about making sure he remained as untraceable as was possible. The wife and boyfriend were both sources of vital information and the weakest links. There was going to be no foolproof way for them to effectively mask their own involvement should one or both of them fall under suspicion, get pressured, and crack. What that would mean was that the crew would have to move quickly and effectively. In, out, and be in the wind before anyone could get a bead on them. Judging from what the Financier said, O’Conner was sure the League had a certain reputation in the Fort Worth area, so there was that. Maybe there was a way to throw suspicion elsewhere, minimize their exposure.
“Is there any way I can scope out the layout of the ranch beforehand?” O’Conner asked. “Maybe the wife wants to get some redecorating done.”
The Financier huffed. “This might be very un-PC of me, but you do realize you might be a little implausible as an interior decorator.”
“Be that as it may.”
“I think that might be too chancy.” He paused for a moment. “But the wife should be able to get some shots done on her cell. She can send them to the address of a techie cutout I know who can retrieve them and I can then get them to you.”
“Is there a timeframe?” O’Conner said. “Three weeks.”
“What happens then?”
“There’s a shindig planned at the ranch. Congress people, lobbyists and what have you, are coming out for a big ol’ Remember the Alamo bar-b-que and political soiree. In all that hoo-rah, the job could go down.”
O’Conner had pulled off heists during functions in the past, pretending to be the hired-on waitstaff or even the magician clown once. But he said, “I don’t know. A bunch of strapped, Second Amendment loving Lone Star State lovers pumping beer and Jack through their veins and feeling all sovereign and shit. No, there’s too much to control. Too much to go wrong. It only takes one asshole thinking he’s Goddamned Wyatt Earp to pull his piece and piss on our parade.”
O’Conner paused, then, “But a bash like that takes a lot of prepping. That means strangers being seen at the house before the event. That wouldn’t be so odd. They could be helping plan things, or be extra help getting the place ready.”
“I can see that,” the Financier nodding in agreement. O’Conner recalled watching one of those tours of celebrity homes with Gardner one night on TV. “Is there an on-site chef?”
“There is,” the Financier affirmed. “Know what he drives? “
The Financier pulled out a smartphone and swiped at the screen. “Yes, he has a van. He uses it for errands and such, sometimes he transports a side of beef from one part of the spread to the house. Fresh slaughtered meat being a perk of a cattle ranch.”
O’Conner said, “I would imagine overseeing the upcoming celebration means he’s got a lot to handle, making several runs throughout the day, dealing with the various vendors.” O’Conner wasn’t talking so much to the Financier as working out details, thinking aloud as he did so.
“You thinking of having the wife send him off on a specific mission? That might be too much of a giveaway,” said the Financer.
“Possibly,” said O’Conner. He continued, “Have the boyfriend get word to the wife. Have him tell her I need the chef ’s cell number and a few pics of the van so I can match the make. Make sure he gives her a burner phone to use, and that she destroys it afterward. Have her throw the thing in a river or smash it up and bury the pieces in a pile of cow shit.”
He paused for a beat. “You’re sure she’s up for this?” “From what I gather, she’s game. She really hates her husband. She’ll come through.”
O’Conner considered that and several other variables. “Nothing out of the ordinary. If she can, have her do up a diagram from what she remembers as far as the layout of the place and anything else she can give us that will help when we get there. But only what she remembers. I don’t what anyone wondering about why she’s prowling around. Does Harrington have an airstrip on his ranch?”
“He does,” said the Financier. “No self-respecting cattle baron wouldn’t. Several other ranches around there have them too.”
“That’s good,” O’Conner mused.
He wondered if there was a way to spook Harington, give him a reason to want to move the money and do the snatch with the goods in transit. Keeping that possibility to himself,
he added, “We can probably assume the safe where they keep the cash is an electronic make and not manual.”
“That’s my guess,” the Financier said. “But I really don’t know. Could be anything.”
“Well, the man I have in mind is up for the challenge,” O’Conner said.
“The Mexican gentlemen?”
O’Conner said, “He’s A-Number One, reliable and up for whatever is thrown at him. He’ll get the job done.”
The two talked over several other particulars, including where O’Conner would retrieve the Financier’s cash investment he’d use to put together the equipment needed for the takedown. The two then left the coffee shop and said their goodbyes. He drove away in his recent model Cadillac CTS with the Carbon Black package, having been turned on to Ca- dillacs by the old box man Gonzales back when. O’Conner began to put the pieces together for how the job could go down. First, he was going to do his research.
At a local library, he used one of the computers to look up articles on the North Texas Citizens Improvement League. From left wing sources like The Nation and Mother Jones, he scanned reports that talked about its influence in conservative politics. He also found a profile of Clovis Harrington. A native Texan, he had a lean face, a trim mustache, and in the picture he committed to memory, wore designer glasses. There was a granite cast to those eyes behind the lenses. The shallow smile on his face told you he was polite to a degree but those eyes said he was a motherfucker when it came to his business. Or you messing with it.
As was expected, he was an avid hunter, gun rights enthusiast, and vocal supporter of all things freedom as defined by right of center politics. There was also speculation in more than one piece he scanned about Harrington’s below the table dealings, naming names of certain associates. There had been a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of the League about five years ago but as far as he could tell, nothing came of it. Still, that gave him an idea.
In the parking lot of the library, O’Conner opened his trunk and from a lockbox hidden in a compartment he’d installed under the spare tire, he extracted one of his encrypted sat phones. From memory he called a number and the line connected after the signal bounced around through several satellites so as not to pinpoint the location of the person he was calling. At least not in the short amount of time he’d be on the phone.
“This is O’Conner,” he announced. He didn’t have to tell the one he was talking to the line was secure. Given that per- son’s technical expertise, their equipment told them it was.
“Well, well,” a voice said. It was electronically modified. “How long does the SEC keep files? This would be an in-
active case but less than six years old.” He related the specifics.
“There should be a trail in their database as it might be a case they would re-open at some point,” came the reply.
“How much to see if it’s there and to get a copy?”
“Ten thousand,” the hacker on the other end said with- out hesitation. Or rather hacktivist, as she and her colleagues would say, and O’Conner was pretty certain the person was a she though they’d never met. The target being a group she was ideologically opposed to was added incentive.
“Very well. My procedures have changed since last we did business but I’ll communicate the details to you.”
“I still use the drop,” he said. “Under the name Donald Lassen?” “Yes.”
“You do know this is the twenty-first century?” said the hacker.
“So I’ve been told.”
A chuckle. “Okay, we’re cool. I’ll get everything to you.” “Right.” O’Conner severed the call and returned the sat
phone to its compartment. In his car again, heading onto the
freeway, he felt like a pro athlete who’d been sidelined for most of the season but now was back on the field. There was a familiarity, but there were always new plays and players coming at you. If you let your old moves make you complacent, you’d be blindsided for sure. For missteps in this kind of endeavor were fatal.
A half smile shadowed his face as he drove on.
Four days later, O’Conner sat in a Cessna Skyhawk, banking over the land near the Crystal Q ranch. A number of small planes were common in this part of the landscape, several spreads had their own airstrips as the Financier had said. O’Conner and the two other men in the plane with him weren’t concerned about raising unwanted notice from their target.
“That tributary flows behind that maintenance building,” Hector Gonzales pointed out. The building was a modified corrugated metal barn. A man wearing a straw cowboy hat was working on a tractor near the structure.
Gonzales was well into his sixties, but his eyes were still sharp and he was one of the best cracksmen O’Conner had ever worked with. He was an expert on anything that had a combination, an electrical code, or just needed to go boom. Whatever kind of safe held the money, Gonzales could open it.
“I noticed that,” O’Conner said as the pilot brought the plane back around in a circle. “About three miles to the southwest, past that tree line, was that lake we saw. If we slipped in there and scuba’d back here, we could plant the charges to ignite that building.” On his lap were a pair of military grade binoculars and a hand-drawn map on which he’d been making notations. “Assuming we overcome any sensors and the like.”
“Draw them away from us,” Gonzales finished, nodding his head slightly. “I’ll put together something lovely.”
The pilot, a pleasant-faced thirty-plus man named Ellison with pale eyes and thin lips, stared straight ahead. Neither O’Conner nor Gonzales had worked with him before. Howard Racklin, their wheelman, had brought the pilot on, vouching for him. O’Conner liked the fact that the pilot didn’t feel the need to chitchat or try to ingratiate himself with him or Gonzales.
“One more pass around,” O’Conner said to Ellison. “Okay.” He pulled back on the controls and the small craft’s
O’Conner turned some in his seat to address Gonzales, who sat behind the two. “After we land, let’s map out how we get into and out of that lake area. We’re not in fishing season but that doesn’t mean there won’t be campers to contend with. Plus, I’m thinking there might be someplace we can plant a couple of ATVs for the getaway.”
“Right,” Gonzales said, looking out the side window as the Cessna veered back over the Crystal Q ranch.
“You sure you’re up to this?” O’Conner asked. It had been
a while since he’d last worked with Gonzales, and it seemed to him that for the first time since he’d known him, the old crook was showing his age.
“Don’t worry about me,” Gonzales said. “I’m good to go.” “I’m just saying we can’t be bringing a walker along with
us on this trip.”
“Wait, did I say don’t worry about me or fuck you? Damn, you get to be my age and… You know what? Just assume I said both.”
O’Conner grinned and turned back around.
Below, the work day of the modern mega ranch of thou- sands of heads of livestock took place, with pickup trucks equipped with automatic feed dispensers, ranch hands astride horses, and ATVs going about their duties. Various buildings and covered pens dotted the land. The fact that the ranch was of some size figured into O’Conner’s calculations. The main house was some distance from all this and did not have a con- tingent of guards rotating about. From what they’d seen of oth- er such homes, this one was modest by comparison. It was a three-story, nine-thousand-square-foot structure done in the southwest style. There was a large blue-green pool and built- in hot tub at the back of the house, all of it done up in stone, quartz, and jade. Leading up from this, atop what looked to have been a levee long ago, was a copse of old oak trees. Very old, O’Conner noted, judging from the size of their trunks and many branches.
From the Financier by way of the wife, they knew there were three housekeepers, the on-site chef and quarters for the wife’s driver. There was also a woman named Susan Treacher who served as Murieta-Harrington’s scheduler and all-around factotum. That the slush fund was located there wasn’t known to many, and in this part of the country, who would dare rip off the North Texas Citizens Improvement League?
Done with their reconnoitering, the Cessna headed back toward the single engine airport in Grand Prairie. They flew over a part of Fort Worth that was, as the term went, trending. What with its Thai-Oaxacan fusion eateries and art galleries springing up in empty spaces where once the likes of auto parts stores and pet suppliers existed.
In a rented house in a residential section not far from this nouveau-hip area, Gracella Murieta-Harrington and Zach Culhane were romping on the rug in the front room. Culhane had his hand inside the woman’s lacy panties, his finger rub- bing her clit. He sat on the floor, naked, behind her, and she snuggled against him, sitting inside the V of his legs, her back pressed to him.
“Mmm,” she murmured as he pleasured her. She turned her head up and they kissed as he plunged his wet finger inside her. On the sound system, one of those set-ups that included wireless speakers, Toni Braxton sang “Breathe Again.” Culhane kneaded one of Murieta-Harrington’s luscious breasts as her chest rose and fell in a syncopated rhythm.
“Oh shit, Zach,” she shuddered. “I want you inside me.” “Yes, ma’am.”
Murieta-Harrington stood momentarily, sliding her pant- ies off as her nipples dangled before Culhane’s face. He suckled on them then he lay back on the rug. He was fully erect and she took him in her mouth and purposely made loud sounds as she gave him a teaser blowjob. She didn’t want him climaxing just yet.
“Whoowee,” he chortled.
Murieta-Harrington stopped what she was doing and got on top of him, guiding him into her. They went at it with the
fury of battling ninjas and soon both were panting and spent. She reached over and plucked the glass of wine that was on the nearby coffee table. She took a gulp and handed the wine to him. He also drank some.
Murieta-Harrington asked, “Have you met this man the Financier brought in to do the job?”
“Aren’t you curious?’
“Sure. But it was pointed out to me that it’s better if I don’t know who he is. You’re the one who has to be at the house.”
“Then I should meet him.”
He stood, eyes moving about the living room in search of his knit boxers. “That’s not going to happen. Other than when he’s there doing the job.” He retrieved his shorts from under an end table. The home had come furnished in the linear Scandinavian style that was all the rage at the moment, a collection of warm woods and chrome trim.
“Then how do we know we can trust him? We don’t even know when the robbery’s going down.” Sans clothes, she sat in a grey and walnut finished lounge chair, crossing her muscu- lar legs, an annoyed look on her face. It was as if she were the director of a nudist colony judging a new applicant who didn’t meet her standards. She had not let her figure go after marry- ing Harrington.
He put on his shorts. “It’s the Financier we’re getting our payoff from. That’s good by me.”
“And you trust him?”
He spread his arms wide. “What choice do we have, babe?” “They’re thieves, cowboy,” she snorted.
“So are we, darlin.’ Anyway, the Financier doesn’t cheat people.”
“You mean to tell me he has a code or some lame shit like that?” She crossed her arms, the trapped air in the room cir- culating between them. “It’s not like you know him that well.”
Now he was putting on his pants. “It’s a little late to be worrying on this, ain’t it? ”
“I don’t like us being so out of it. Having to depend on peo- ple we don’t really know.” She stood and walked toward her jeans thrown across the coffee table. She began to put them on with no underwear.
“This was your idea. Now we gotta see it through.”
“Yeah, well, the only fuckin’ I want is from you, honey chil’,” she said, a Texas raised Mexican-American who could slip in and out of a thick Southern accent since her teenage years. She clipped her bra back on.
He came up behind her, putting his arms around her taut waist. “Oh, we’ll be doing plenty of that, and in style.”
She got a lopsided grin on her face as she placed her hand on his forearms. She looked at the wall where a near-empty bookshelf was save for some dog-eared issues of Flex magazine that Culhane had piled there, a screwdriver, and a pair of headphones. He wasn’t much on book learnin’, he’d said. She liked that about him. Just keep him pussy dazzled, she re- minded herself, and everything would work out.