The Heist by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips (Part 3)
The three in the plane were dressed in casual but stylish attire, a trio out looking at Texas real estate their clothes said. O’Conner even wore loafers. Once on the ground, after the plane was checked in, they walked to the two vehicles they’d driven. O’Conner had outfitted any in the crew who had to interact with the public with fake IDs.
“You set?” O’Conner said to Ellison.
“Roger that,” he affirmed. They’d previously gone over his part of the heist.
“See you then.”
With that, Ellison got in a late model Jeep and the oth- er two headed toward an Acura. When the Chrysler’s engine fired up, O’Conner heard a voice on the radio as the driver’s window was a quarter way down. Some wingnut yahoo who identified himself as McLeary was going on about how a cad- re of Hillary Clinton’s followers were not only funding Black Lives Matter, but using witchcraft and tantric sex magic to hypnotize the leaders to do their bidding. Getting behind the wheel of the Acura, O’Conner maintained his poker face while Gonzales in the passenger seat gave him a sideways glance.
“He seems okay,” Gonzales said as they watched the Jeep drive off.
“Knows his way around a stick.” O’Conner drove off too. “That was a smooth ride. And Racklin says he’s cool.”
“And how do they know each other?”
“Pulled a couple of jobs together, it seems,” O’Conner said. “That haul from the cosmetic heir’s compound in the Hamp- tons.”
Gonzales nodded. “Yeah, I heard about that one. Flew the crew away in a seaplane.”
“Given Harrington and the ranches around him have planes, the ground seems safer for a getaway. But he’ll be use- ful.”
Gonzales was quiet, staring out the windshield. “What worries you?”
“Oh, I guess I’m getting old. I don’t like working with new-
bies. If we need a pilot, why not use Billingsly or Lombino?” “Billingsly is doing a five-year jolt in Merced,” said O’Con-
ner. “And Lombino is dead.”
“No shit,” said Gonzales. “What happened?”
“What do you think? Plane crash,” said O’Conner. “I heard he was working some smuggling thing and tried to take off on a short runway with too heavy a load. He wasn’t able to clear some telephone wires or some such. Flipped the plane and bam that was it.”
“Damn,” Gonzales said. “That’s…”
“Yeah,” said O’Conner. “Yeah, it is. So we get Ellison.” “Who else is in?”
“Dollarhyde’s good.” He added, “She’s…something else.” “Easy, son,” said O’Conner. “She’d chew you up.”
“Yeah, but if you gotta go…” Gonzales said. “Anyone else?” “Eel and Benny Parker.”
“Okay. That’s a good crew. I feel better.” “Glad you approve.”
“Just watching our back,” Gonzales said. He decided he’d bring a few items for extra protection the day of the job. It never hurt to be prepared.
At seven minutes past two a.m. on Friday, the day of the robbery, a pale half-moon in the night sky, O’Conner and Gonzales followed the tributary that descended from Lake Washaw, the body of water they’d spotted from the plane. Each man was dressed in black clothing and had an equipment bag strapped to their backs. Gonzales had a pair of night vision binoculars on a strap around his neck. They did not carry any
scuba gear. O’Conner had studied a map of the area obtained from a wildlife center, and had determined the tributary was too shallow in this part to swim in. Instead, a small inflatable skiff had allowed them to work their way quickly and silently to the outer perimeter of the Crystal Q ranch.
Night vision binoculars to his eyes, Gonzales swept the landscape before them as they neared where Harrington’s property line began. “I see some heads sticking up.”
There was no fencing here but there were sensors buried about the ground. The intention was to know if a cow was wandering away and not so much to catch an errant hiker. The two didn’t think there was someone monitoring the seismic devices around the clock, but no doubt any recorded move- ment up this way would be noted.
Taking a knee, the box man unlimbered his equipment bag. From inside it he extracted a device about the size of a shoebox. He placed this on the ground, pulling up an anten- na connected perpendicularly to the main section. Gonzales powered up the battery-operated gadget. He studied its screen as he slowly turned first one dial then the next, O’Conner looking on. The thing emitted a low hum.
“I think that’s it,” Gonzales announced as the hum subsid-
“You’re not sure?”
For an answer, Gonzales got up and, holding the device,
stepped toward then past one of the sensors. This was a round- ed black plastic head the diameter of a coffee cup lid. Beneath the ground was buried the rest of the sensor that sent a signal if movement disturbed its wave net. These rudimentary sen- sors couldn’t tell a cow from a man, but as the two would not be meandering around, it could be concluded later that their deliberate movements were those of an intruder or intruders.
The machine Gonzales built was designed to cycle the sen- sor’s signal back on itself, thereby not noting their presence. That was the theory at least.
“Well?” he said, turning back to O’Conner. “You coming?
We’ll know soon enough if it’s working or not.”
The other man, standing over six feet, had remained sta- tionary, his large hands down by his sides. It was as if he’d been formed from the rock and wood, inanimate until such time as he needed to expend energy. With cautious, controlled move- ments O’Conner followed the exact steps Gonzales had made and the two worked their way down to the maintenance build- ing.
“Shhh,” O’Conner hissed as they got close to the building.
Both men went stone. A sound hovered near the building before them. Though in dark clothes, both were exposed on open ground. Somebody was singing terribly offkey.
“Been around a loooong time, Marie,” crooned the voice happily.
With nowhere to hide, both men rushed forward and went flat against the front of the maintenance building. From around the far corner walked an individual who was obviously drunk. He had a beard and was middle-aged. His dress shirt was unbuttoned, a pot belly expanding the athletic tee under- neath. He wore slacks and cowboy boots. He also carried what remained of a bottle of Jim Beam. Whoever this man was, he wasn’t so drunk that he wouldn’t see the two interlopers.
“We can’t kill him,” Gonzales growled.
O’Conner was already heading toward the newcomer. “Who the fuck?” the bearded man began, but before he
could get anything else out O’Conner was on him. The first
blow sent a fist into the man’s stomach, doubling him over. He
vomited, which smelled liked bubble gum and sour cabbage. “Ah, gawd,” he grumbled, bent over and staggering, the
pain and booze making his head woozy. A swift foot against
his ankle and a push to his shoulder sent him down on all fours.
“You done come for my gold, I knew this was going to happen,” he sputtered. “The uprising has begun. McLeary was right.”
O’Conner brought his fist down on the man’s temple, drop- ping him onto his side where he lay, unmoving. Tim McLeary was a Texas-based right-wing talk show gabber who went on about this or that conspiracy, to the self-fulfilling delight of his loyal listeners. Among his theories was that Barack Obama was a secret ISIS insurgent imam and that a special ops unit of the government had been infusing our drinking water with chemicals to turn the red-blooded gay. Gold hustlers and wipes for men’s taints were among his biggest advertisers.
“Now what?” Gonzales said, looking down at the bearded man who had begun snoring. “There’s no hiding we were here now.”
“So we don’t hide it. We finish what he came to do but we make it look like something else.”
Afterward, Gonzales understood what O’Conner was talking about.
Lottie Amaya wasn’t much older than that Gracella, she noted for what had lately become something of an obsession with her. And really, to be honest, her ass was just as luscious as that woman’s, though she had to grudgingly admit Gracel- la’s rack was better, but damn. She knew homegirl was from the barrio like she was, yet here she was, the chick who used
to pimp beer in a skimpy bikini raised to queen of the Crystal Q spread, while Amaya, who graduated with a B+ in algebra, was cleaning the toilets and unclogging the indoor Jacuzzi in this pinche ranch house. Not that a woman should get a break because of her body, she admonished herself, but still, damn. That goddamn B+ and two and a half years of community col- lege hadn’t exactly opened wide the doors of opportunity.
Dusting a salvaged wood cabinet in the upstairs hallway, she looked at her reflection in the 1940s era Églomisé mirror above it. She still had it going on, she surmised. Maybe rather than be all quiet-like as was advised when she got this job, she should try chatting the lady of the house up. Be all interested in whatever the fuck the latest thing was these rich bitches got into to occupy their time when they weren’t shopping. What was it lately? Developing a line of coloring books based on famous football players from Texas? This somehow to benefit homeless shelters.
There were worse pastimes she could pretend to find fasci- nating, she reflected. The doorbell rang. As she was close to the stairs, she descended and opened the door. A striking-looking black woman stood there under the portico, morning light slanting across her tight form. Shit, was she some kind of per- sonal trainer for Gracella, Amaya wondered. She was rocking Michelle Obama-worthy toned arms.
“Good morning,” the black woman said pleasantly.
“Yes?’ Amaya said. The woman was dressed in denim ca- pris, a loose sleeveless number, and a sash around her waist. Nesting under one of her buffed triceps was a rolled-up yoga mat.
“I’m here for Mrs. Murieta-Harrington’s ten thirty.” “I’m sorry?”
“Her krav maga session,” she said matter-of-factly.
The hell is that? Amaya almost blurted. Well, she didn’t know anything about no session, but then she wasn’t in charge of the lady’s schedule. That was for Susan to say.
“Hold on a second and let me get her scheduler.” “No problem.”
And where the hell was Gracella? Amaya hadn’t seen her since her coffee and two eggs and lox, and that was more than an hour ago. She must be in her bedroom because she wasn’t out at the pool. Spacious was an understatement when de- scribing that bedroom that was damn near larger than Ama- ya’s apartment. The housekeeper turned and there was a man standing in front of her with a black hockey-style mask on, only his eyes showing. He pointed a handgun at her face. She gasped and was about to yell but he clamped a gloved hand over her mouth and put his wolf eyes close to her flushed face.
“Where is the lady of the house and the one called Susan?” said O’Conner from under the mask in a voice that was so calm and cool he might as well have been asking for directions to the local Walmart. “Are they together?” He relaxed the hand over her mouth.
Behind her, Amaya saw the woman slip by, a pistol grip shotgun retrieved from inside the rolled-up mat. She too now had on a mask, a curious contrast to the rest of what she wore. Amaya wished she’d paid more attention to what the woman had looked like, but who paid attention to the ones who con- stantly came and went, being paid to satisfy whatever the hell latest whim had gripped Gracella?
“I think she’s in the library. Susan, I mean,” Amaya an- swered, stammering some but then getting it together. “I think Miss Gracella’s in her bedroom.” Despite the guns and forced
entry, there was a calming quality to this man that soothed her. She could feel her heart rate slowing to normal. How cra- zy was that?
“Get Susan in here, please.” “I, ah…”
The man, wide in the shoulders with sizeable hands like her ex who worked construction, pointed at the wall intercom. “On that.”
“Nothing funny,” O’Conner advised. “Yes, sir.”
He accompanied her to the intercom. The other woman had partially closed some of the drapes. Not all the way as they might look odd, but just enough, as if to block some of the harsh early light and also to better obscure their presence from any ranch hand walking by.
“Susan,” Amaya said, pressing the button for the library, “you’re needed in the front room.”
“What is it?” came the reply, clear on the state-of-the-art equipment.
The home invader was holding a half sheet of plain paper with block lettered words on it. She read them. “One of the ca- terers is here,” she read, verbatim. “Ferenzini, he says. There’s a problem with the check they were given.” How did he know about the upcoming party and who one of the caterers was? Who the hell are these people, she wondered.
There was a pause as Susan ran through her responses, but then said, “Very well. I’ll be right there.”
“Have a seat,” her captor ordered. He was no kid, she could hear the years in his voice, but Amaya could tell he kept in
shape. Each of his movements were efficient, measured. She sat on the couch.
“I’m going to tie you up and gag you,” the man was saying to her, again in a reassuring manner, like a car salesman tell- ing her he added the all-weather undercoating free of charge. She caught herself wanting to flirt and ask him was he going to spank her too. What was wrong with her? This was some serious shit going down.
Using zip ties, he began to truss Amaya up. She noticed there were two more men inside the house now, dressed simi- larly to the first one. Not in burglar’s clothes like what you saw on old movies, but slacks, expensive casual shoes, and dress shirts. They looked like the vendors that had been coming and going all week getting things ready for the upcoming func- tion the mister was throwing. The housekeeper tried to figure out what these robbers wanted—the original art on the walls? Gracella’s jewelry? The missus had a few diamonds, pearls, a platinum band on a watch, but unlike what Amaya had seen on shows like the Real Housewives of Atlanta and whatnot, homegirl didn’t go in for a lot of bling. No, she had a notion these thieves were after something else, something bigger.
The ties cinched, a bandana like you could buy in a li- quor store in the ’hood was placed around her mouth. Maybe the robbery was going to be on the news, given that Clovis Harrington was well known. Maybe one of those entertain- ment sites would interview her about her harrowing ordeal. This could be the break she’d been waiting for, and damned if she wasn’t going to take advantage. In her head she began practicing how distraught she’d be for the news cameras. Not too much, didn’t want to overdo it. But give them just enough to let your audience fill in the blanks, that too sincere drama teacher had said, back when she played Mrs. Gibbs in her high school’s production of Our Town.
O’Conner finished securing the housekeeper. Vivian Dol- larhyde, the buffed woman from the doorway, held the Moss- berg shotgun at the ready. She’d gone deeper into the house where a second set of stairs led to the next floor library. He and Gonzales started for the side hallway that led downstairs to the wine cellar. Benny Parker, who had come in behind her, was to remain up here on watch and lend Dollarhyde a hand just in case. The other two in the string were in position else- where, waiting for their cue.
Distantly, O’Conner heard the boom as the charges he and Gonzales had planted in the maintenance building went off. After planting the explosives, they’d ransacked several tractors, ATVs, and generators in the building, smashing diesel injectors, ripping out wiring, and so on.
Using Rustolium spray paint they’d found in the building, they’d graffitied the interior and exterior walls with slogans like “Meat is Murder,” “Animals Have Rights,” and “No hormones, No GMOs.” The dodge being to make their attack look like an animal rights action so that when the drunk man was sober, him going on about the two whose faces he couldn’t recall would be in keeping with those hippie activists types. Given this was a busy ranch with two other maintenance buildings on the acreage, the assaulted building was closed up pending repair. Now, after the explosions, there would be little left to fix.
O’Conner and Gonzales exchanged a look as they heard muffled cries from outside as vehicles sped toward the fire. Time was tight. The plan was to be in and out in under ten minutes, eleven tops.
Susan Treacher stepped out of the library, turning and pulling the double doors closed behind her. The annoyed look
on her face was replaced with one of surprise as the masked woman appeared in front of her, a shotgun barrel pointed at her midsection.
“I need you to remain calm,” the masked woman told her.
“Okay,” she said. Years ago, when she’d managed a clothing store in a mall, she’d been robbed. She knew then, like now, that the best course of action was to do exactly what you were told. Still, the sense of being violated came flooding back to her. Like waving a gun around automatically gave you the right to take what wasn’t yours.
“Where are the two other housekeepers?” Dollarhyde said. They’d been scoping out the house since early this morning and knew the chef—whose phone they’d cloned and tapped— had left on errands in preparation for the Remember the Alamo soiree. They’d planted a tracker on his van. That’s why they knew to have Treacher come see about a matter he’d ordinarily attended to.
“You made Lottie call me.”
“If you would answer my question.”
“Cessie’s in the east wing and Flora’s in the wine cellar.” “Shit,” Dollarhyde growled. “Why is she down there?’
Eyebrow raised as if that were an impertinent question, Treacher sniffed, “I told her the bottles needed dusting and the floor mopped. It wouldn’t do to have guests down there and dirt and what have you in the air making people sneeze.”
“Jesus, what, the rich have special noses?” the masked woman said. “Move.” She jerked the shotgun toward the stairs.
Treacher complied. As they descended, Dollarhyde had to hold the shotgun with its shortened barrel in one hand while texting with the other.
“What?” Treacher said as the sound of the exploding equipment building startled her.
“Never you mind.” Dollarhyde was putting the hand holding her encrypted cell under the gun’s barrel and intended to give her prisoner a light jab. To her consternation, the civilian had stopped when the distant boom thundered.
The explosion riled Treacher. She’d heard about the animal rights business and figured this woman with the shotgun was part of that. A bunch of tree hugging Croc wearers. She would be damned if she was going to be part of any of that shit, made to pose with a cow carcass or painted with its blood. She pretended to stumble as they came off the steps and as she did so, came around and up with the house keys she wore on a plastic wristlet. One of the keys stuck out of her fist like a spike and she aimed this at the other woman’s eyes like she’d been taught in her self-defense classes.
“Stupid,” Dollarhyde said. She meant herself for getting distracted and letting the square get the jump on her. She blocked the keys but had to rear back. Treacher lunged at her and now had both her hands on the shotgun. They violently contended to possess the weapon. Treacher tried to use her foot to upend Dollarhyde but she was too quick and, turning sideways, putting her hip into the other woman, torqued her upper body while both still held the shotgun. Treacher found herself momentarily airborne then slammed down onto the hardwood of the back hallway. The Mossberg was wrenched from her sweaty hands.
“Now quit fooling around,” Dollarhyde said, standing over Treacher, the gun barrel pointed dead zero at her head.
The whole thing had taken less than a minute. Treacher half expected to be struck with the weapon, but if she were knocked out, that would probably be too much of an inconvenience. She noticed the veggie militant wasn’t even out of breath. She would be wary now for anything else Treacher might try. With a groan, she slowly got up.
“Let’s go fetch Cessie, shall we?” “Yes, ma’am,” Treacher said edgily.
Then from upstairs, a door could be heard opening and Gracella Murieta-Harrington called out, “What was that? Su- san? You there?”
The smell of cleaning fluids in the musty air reached O’Conner’s nose as the text came in from Dollarhyde. He held up his hand and he and Gonzales paused on the stone steps. Holding the phone over his shoulder, he showed the safe cracker the message. The soles of their shoes were a rubber composition and by habit, they’d been careful coming down to the wine cellar even though they supposed no one was there. The two heard muffled music from around a near corner, a female rapper over the boisterous track.
“Been livin’ long and tough like you was rough. But my game is strong an’ you won’t be around long.”
Flora Tafani had her back to the two men who crept up behind her. She was bopping her head to the too-loud rap tune on her wireless headphones, bent over as she used her microfiber mop to clean the polished cement floor. She went stiff as a hand clamped on her shoulder and she reflexively bolted upright. Turning in the direction the hand indicated, she glared open-mouthed at two masked men, one of them with a finger to the mouth slit of his mask in a shushing fashion.
Before she could fully assemble what was going on, the headphones were removed and shut off. Gun to her temple,
she sat on the floor, back to the wall where the taller of the two men indicated, right near a rack of Malbec and Merlot she’d recently dusted. Zip-tied and gagged, she watched as the men hunched down and reached in between the bottles, feel- ing around. She heard a grunt from one of the men, followed by a click, and damn if the rack didn’t swing out smoothly over the stone floor.
Exposed was a formidable-looking safe door set into the stone wall that Tafani had no idea was there. One of the men tapped his gloved index finger on the electronic lock on the safe while the other one unlimbered a messenger bag and set it on the floor. From inside this he took out what looked to her like one of those pirate cable boxes her brother used to make. Various coated wires dangled from this thing as the man powered it on. A low hum came from the device.
The man who had tapped the lock let out a sigh of appreciation. “Well,” he said. “Aren’t you a beauty.”
“Be cool,” Dollarhyde said as she came further into the hacienda-style bedroom that had its own loft, taking up the second and third floors. Treacher was in front of her, the end of the Mossberg’s barrel on her spine. There was a high ceiling with maple wood beams forming a hatch pattern above their heads and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ranch’s cattle and land. The heavy drapes were open but diaphanous inner curtains covered the windows, the light coming through bathing the three in warm, comforting hues. In addition to the massive four-poster bed, lounging couches and plush chairs resided over the herringbone pattern oak floor and the en suite bathroom included a full-size Jacuzzi that Dollarhyde glimpsed through the open bathroom door. There was a seventy-two-inch flat screen TV on one wall competing
with over-sized art such as a print of Warhol’s multi-image, multi-colored Marilyn Monroe.
Murieta-Harrington narrowed her eyes at Monroe’s re- peated face. It was as if those nine sly, sexy grins were a knowing wink that only she understood. The lady of the house had been having phone sex with Culhane on her burner when the explosion went off. She figured that it was a sign the robbery was going down, something that was confirmed when Treacher was brought in by the gun-toting woman in a mask. Now it was up to her to play the part of surprised victim.
In character, Murieta-Harrington back-peddled, raising her arms as she did so.
“Put them down,” Dollarhyde advised. She didn’t think anyone could see them up here through the curtains but no sense getting sloppy again. “Both of you sit on that love seat, if you’d be so kind.”
Treacher sneered, “Like we have a choice.”
Dollarhyde said to the back of her head, “Really, though?” She bumped the weapon against her back. “You do. Choices you have are easy, hard, or unconscious with possible concus- sion. Take your pick.”
As the women sat down, a disguised Benny Parker appeared in the doorway.
“We good?” he said.
“Yeah, we’re okay,” said Dollarhyde. “Watch ’em while I get them settled.
Dollarhyde produced two zip ties from her back pocket and proceeded to bind the two women together. A buzzer sounded dully through the open bedroom door.
“What’s that?” she said harshly.
The others exchanged a look. Murieta-Harrington answered, “The side door. The hands use it when they need something.”
Dollarhyde gagged the two women.
Cassie Warner was taking another toke on her joint when she heard the side door buzzer. She was in the toilet off the kitchen enjoying her unofficial smoke break. The spacious room contained only a toilet and a sink but was large enough for a shower. There was a louvered window and she’d discovered that by putting a towel down at the base crack of the door and blowing her fumes out the window, she could consume unmolested and undetected. To mask the aroma of weed clinging to her clothes, she employed the Lysol she carried in with her. She’d spray some on, covering the tell-tale smell with the nostril-stinging antiseptic.
The buzzer sounded again, followed by a knock. Reluctantly, she extinguished her joint and fanned her hands in front of her face. Hurrying, she didn’t use her cover-all technique, but stepping out of the room, was glad nobody was around. She answered the door. One of the foremen, Raynor, she recalled, was standing there.
“Everything okay in here?” he said in his mild Texas drawl, face tanned from years of being outdoors.
“Yes, sure, why?” “The boom,” he said.
“Huh?” So that had been real and not an imagining due to her Fantastic Paradise fade. “What happened?”
“We’re checking it out now. Looks like them damn animal lovers left us a goodbye gift. Anyway, figured I just better check in on y’all.”
“Everything’s fine,” she said. Then there was a thud, followed by a grunt, and both looked toward the kitchen’s swinging door leading into the rest of the ground floor.
“Well, since I’m here,” he said, coming inside. “Yeah,” Warner said. “Come on.”
The two went off toward the sound.