The Heist by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips (Part 4)
Gonzales studied the screen of his homemade electronic device. The safe’s lock required a combination punched in cor- rectly on its keypad. But he wasn’t trying to hack the sequence. What he wanted was to short-circuit the alarm feature. He knew these modern safes were often linked to a smartphone app that would send out an alarm to the owner should some- one try to tamper with them.
“Three and a half minutes,” O’Conner announced, no worry in his voice, merely stating the fact. Using a chuck key, he tightened the carbide tipped titanium drill bit in place on the battery-powered drill.
“Copy that, jefe.”
Gonzales carefully turned two black knobs on his box and could tell from the reading he was honing in on the override frequency, digital numbers flashing by on a smaller square screen in a corner of his box. Both men were aware that time was ticking by while the machine searched the airwaves for the correct contact.
“Ah, por fin,” he announced triumphantly when the ma- chine finally made the connection. He pulled one of the knobs out, locking the frequency in place.
“Phase two,” he said, holding out his hand.
O’Conner handed the drill to the old man, being careful
not to kick the humming box that Gonzales had set on the floor. With precision, he got to work drilling into the side of the case steel lock. O’Conner was at his side, occasionally spraying some WD 40 on the bit and the deepening hole as it bore, slowly but steadily, inward, metal shavings falling to the floor like robot tears.
Momentarily, both paused at a thump of something hitting the floor above them. Glancing at each other, they silently agreed to continue on. The others in the crew either dealt with whatever it was or they didn’t. They were too close now.
Upstairs, the housekeeper and the ranch hand came into the front room and gaped at the sight of Amaya lying on her side on the rug. She’d managed to twist her body off the couch, despite one of her ankles being bound to one of the stubby legs. But she landed more off balance than she’d intended and was now tearful from the excruciating pain radiating through her lower leg. She realized she had at least dislocated that an- kle if not broken it.
“The hell?” Raynor said as the two went over to the woman. He had a buck knife in a scabbard on his belt and got it out and was about to cut her zip tie loose.
“That’ll be enough of that,” Benny Parker said. He aimed a Glock 19 with a custom-made suppressor at them.
The others were crouched down to the injured Amaya and Raynor sought to hide the knife between his body and hers.
“On the floor, shit-kicker,” Parker said.
Raynor tensed and Warner touched his arm. “It sure as shit isn’t worth it.”
He looked from her to the pleading eyes of Amaya. He dropped the knife on the floor as Parker stepped closer and kicked it away.
“Good thing we have plenty of these,” said Dollarhyde, holding up more zip ties.
Back downstairs, Hector Gonzales inserted what looked like a shortened straw in the hole he and O’Conner had made. Two wires, red and black, led from one end of it. The robbers stood and stepped away from the safe. Gonzales set off the charge by touching the two bare ends of the wires together. A low yield of Semtex handily blew the lock off. They’d used a higher yield of the stuff for their timed explosives in the equipment building.
Tafani jerked her body as the destroyed mechanism clat- tered across the metal floor to land next to her. Then the two thieves opened the safe’s door to reveal stacks and stacks of cash. The two men pulled out four nylon duffle bags from under their shirts and began loading the money into them.
“We’re a minute behind,” O’Conner said, zipping closed his second bag as they quickly loaded the swag. “We gotta go. Our ride is here and waiting.”
Gonzales was already heading for the stairs. Due to the time constraint and the weight of the bags, they left the drill and their other instruments behind, even the custom-made box whose signal was still broadcasting to whoever was monitoring the safe that it was still whole and secure. It wouldn’t matter when it was found: the parts used to make it were available from any electronic outfit and the shell was a hollowed-out switcher box Gonzales had rescued from the trash. Same for the drill and bits. There was nothing identifying about them that could tie them back to anyone. Gonzales did make sure to take away any leftover explosive material.
Up top in the front room, O’Conner and Gonzales joined the rest the crew. On the couch sat Murieta-Harrington, tied to Treacher and Warner. Dollarhyde had cut Amaya free from
the couch leg and she sat in a chair, her leg elevated on a stool, holding ice in a towel on it. Parker stood near Raynor, who sat on the floor, his hands zip tied behind his back and his ankles zip tied too. He glared at the robbers. There was a bruise the color of eggplant on the side of his jaw where Dollarhyde had struck with the stock of the Mossberg when he’d tried to yell out.
“Y’all gonna be in a world of trouble,” he said. “Don’t matter one goldarn you got your faces covered and all that. Mr. Harrington will see you pay. You jus’ wait.”
Outside, the duplicate of the chef ’s van idled.
Parker gagged the man who mad-dogged him like whatever they were absconding with was his personally. Warner too was gagged and, with everyone secured and silenced, as one, the four along with the stuffed duffels of cash left through the side door and got in the van.
“GPS tracker indicates the real chef is heading back this way,” Howard Racklin said behind the wheel. “Damn near at the front gate.” He was a square-shouldered individual with a bulldog’s homely face and the temperament of a German shepherd. Loyal to a fault but a terror if crossed.
“Then drive, baby,” O’Conner said.
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Racklin descended the slope behind the house then went left along a road that they knew from their aerial scouting would take them toward the main entrance. A ranch this size, the four who’d invaded the house had hiked in on foot before sunrise but knew they would need wheels to hasten their exit.
“Shit,” Racklin swore, eyes on the rearview.
“What?” said O’Conner. He, along with the others, looked out the rear windows in the rear double doors. A battered pickup was coming up fast behind them, a billowing plume of dust and dirt in its wake. A man stood in the bed, firing at them with a rifle.
“How’d they tumble?” Racklin wondered aloud.
“There,” O’Conner said, pointing. In the receding distance, the real chef ’s van was parked near the house.
Several gunshots cracked and instinctively, the van’s passengers ducked. Bullets pinged around them but none entered the interior. Dollarhyde and Parker were closest to the back and they pushed out the windows, designed specifically for that purpose in case they needed to shoot. Raising their weapons, they returned fire. The pickup veered off and Racklin took the van onto the rougher terrain, the after factory heavy duty hydraulics being able to handle the off road transition. He drove deliberately into a bunch of grazing cattle that were seemingly oblivious to the gunfire.
“What the fuck, Rack?” Dollarhyde yelled.
“Hold on,” the getaway man said as he expertly maneuvered the van amid the cows that trudged out of the way but didn’t scatter in a panic. Indeed, they were languid about the whole matter.
“You’d think they’d be livelier,” Parker muttered.
“If you knew your fate was to wind up as meatloaf or rib- eye, would you?” O’Conner observed.
“Deep,” Dollarhyde said, patting her shotgun for reassurance.
“We got help on the way?” Gonzales asked. “Yeah,” O’Conner replied.
Racklin was blocked by some cows bunched together and began backing up, the flanks of the animals bumping and
thumping heavily against the side of the vehicle. He was using the rearview mirror for guidance as his hands steered the wheel, occasionally turning his head to the side. His face was fixed in place, calm and determined as he expertly maneuvered the vehicle backward at speed. The ones in the pickup were at the edge of the cows and shooting again as they came forward. A cow’s head exploded and red gore coated the passenger side window. A car came up, a ranch hand shooting from that too.
“Here he comes,” Racklin said, the sound of a single engine plane vibrating through the metal roof of the van.
“Jesus,” they heard the one with the rifle yell as the pilot veered over them at such a low level it made their pursuers duck their heads. Then a petrol bomb was dropped on the car, the flaming gasoline dripping inside the open windows. The occupants ran from the vehicle. The bombs had been previously put together by Gonzales and they began to explode all around them. One of the ranch men, his arm and upper torso on fire, went into a tuck and roll in the dirt while several of his buddies rushed to help extinguish him. Eel Estevez was in the plane with Ellison, dropping the petrol bombs.
Divots of earth, grass, and cow shit mushroomed into the air as two other bombs exploded. A man on horseback who’d come galloping up was thrown as the horse reared. This explosion proved to be the catalyst that caused the cattle to finally show some urgency as the driver of the pursuing Jeep tried to avoid being firebombed from the air. As the cattle panicked, two of the beasts collided with the pickup, or maybe it was the other way around; the bottom line was that the driver was thrown forward, his head cracking the windshield and the vehicle coming to a hard stop.
The van reached a tree line of twisted willows to the westside of the ranch, their branches like the petrified fingers of witches reaching up from the grave. Further in, Racklin killed the engine and they left the van amid the brambles and trunks. The quintet gathered their bags and weapons and headed off on foot. The vacated van held a timed device, again thanks to Gonzales, that in twenty minutes would set off an incendiary explosive that would destroy the vehicle and any trace DNA. Through the woods they went, doubling back to the trail that led to the lake, conspicuously making sure to leave noticeable footprints. Then they broke off and up a knoll, then another rise, then down to an overgrown fire trail O’Conner and Gonzales had come upon that day on foot after they’d cased the ranch from the air. In an area of sage and acanthus the group retrieved two two-person ATVs left hidden amid the foliage. Each had a roll bar cage, so with two seated in the vehicles and Benny Parker hanging on the back, they drove off.
Not too long later they abandoned the ATVs on the side of the highway, where they would hopefully be stolen. They got to the safe house in an SUV they’d hidden at the same spot under a camouflage of branches and brush. The “safe house” was actually a rent per day office in a rundown building east of I-35 in Fort Worth. An area not yet a gleam in gentrifiers’ eyes. As far as the building’s owners knew, the space was being rented for a two-day seminar on annuities and dividends by a small actuary firm.
The door to the second-floor office burst open and the crew, loaded with guns and bags of cash, piled into the front room. Even though it was after regular business hours, they had opted to take the stairs up from the ground floor to lessen the chance of being seen by any of the other tenants should anyone be working late.
“Holy shit,” said Benny.
“You can say that again,” Dollarhyde added. She lifted the duffel bag of cash she was carrying, the muscles in her arm flexing under her coppery skin, and placed it on the office conference table.
“Oh, I’m going to be saying that for some time,” said Benny.
O’Conner looked over to Gonzales, who had a portable
police scanner in his hands and an earbud in. The older man shook his head in the negative and disconnected from the device.
“Nothing?” said O’Conner.
“Knife fight at a bar downtown and some asshole threaten- ing to jump off a building. That’s it.”
“After the ruckus we just caused?” Estevez said.
“The League is keeping the lid on,” O’Conner observed. They were thieves who’d stolen unreported money. There was no going to the law about this.
“Well, that doesn’t mean we should be standing around any longer than we need to,” Ellison said. “Let’s close this show and get outta here.”
O’Conner and Gonzales picked up the four duffel bags of cash. They proceeded to pull the bundles of money out of them and stack them on a table. O’Conner divvyed up the proceeds. A sense of exuberance pervaded the room as they stared at the stacks of money.
“Holy shit,” said Benny, shaking his head.
“Before we call it a day…” said Gonzales, holding up a bottle of tequila.
“Now that’s a good way to cap off a job,” Dollarhyde said. Gonzales handed her a sleeve of plastic cups and she handed
them out to crew. One by one, Gonzales gave each of them a healthy dose.
Inwardly, O’Conner was pleased. It had been a good haul. Even with the insiders’ cut, the Financier’s overhead and share, everyone was walking away with plenty. He raised his cup.
“Good work,” he said. “And good luck to us all.”
“Sláinte,” Gonzales said, the distinctly Irish toast getting questioning looks from the others.
“What?” he said. “I can’t be multi-cultural?”
Benny said, “Dude, the kind of money we got today? You be whatever you want.” With a chuckle, he and the others downed their shots.
Ellison motioned to the larger stacks of cash O’Conner was putting away. “Lot of green there.”
“It is,” O’Conner said flatly.
“You’re gonna make sure all that gets delivered to all the right people?” Ellison said, not bothering to hide his skepticism.
O’Conner looked at him blandly, a spark like flint rocks striking behind his eyes. Stillness enveloped the room. A large dog barked beyond the walls.
“We just trust you. Right?”
O’Conner’s voice was like cut glass. “You’re saying?” “Nothing.” Racklin hit the pilot’s shoulder with a stack of
bills. “He don’t mean nothing. We’re all good. Right?”
Ellison looked from Racklin to O’Conner. “Yeah,” he said. “we’re all good.”
“Okay then,” said Racklin. He quickly finished putting the rest of his money into his bag and lifted it. “Let’s go. I want out
of town and out of Texas, and I want it now.”
As Gonzales and Dollarhyde wiped the place down, the others finished packing up their money and gear. Thereafter they left the office and once again took the stairs to the ground floor and exited the building. Outside on the dirt lot that served as the parking area, everyone began to head toward their cars. O’Conner came out last, buttoning up a windbreaker.
“What the hell?” Racklin exclaimed. “What’s up?” said Benny.
“Someone slashed my tires.” “Mine too,” Dollarhyde said.
Ellison produced a pistol and slammed it across Racklin’s head, sending him to the ground. At the same time a motorcycle roared from around a near corner, the rider left-handedly spraying bullets at the crew from a Tec-9 with an extended magazine. Everyone ran for cover, rounds burrowing into the dirt, pinging off the cars and the concrete of the office build- ing. Ellison, firing the pistol, threw his duffle of cash into the hatchback of his Jeep, the only vehicle with its tires still intact. He then scooped up two fallen bags of loot and tossed them in to join his.
O’Conner went prone behind a bonded Monte Carlo, a gun in his fist.
The motorcycle rider continued to spray the area with bullets, keeping everyone down. He reached the periphery of the lot and, screeching back around, he continued shooting.
Steeling himself, a grim O’Conner partly rose from his hiding place, a round striking close to him. He took aim and fired three shots at the rider. The second one penetrated the rider’s helmet and the man fell backward off the motorcycle.
O’Conner looked around for Ellison.
“Bastard,” he heard Dollarhyde snarl. Ellison was pushing her ahead of him. He had her cut down Mossberg pointed at the woman’s head.
“Keep your ass on the ground,” he demanded as Racklin began to pick himself up.
“Go fuck yourself,” Racklin said as he continued up.
The pilot stepped close and struck him again with the butt of the weapon.
“Hey,” O’Conner said, stepping away from the Monte Car- lo. “This is bullshit. People are looking down here from their windows. Cops will be here in a heartbeat.”
“Motherfucker,” Ellison said, his voice breaking with emotion. Pushing Dollarhyde to the side, he brought the shotgun up and fired. O’Conner raised his arms to cover his face but took most of the blast to his torso and went down hard. The money he was carrying dropped down too.
O’Conner grunted as he thudded onto the dry earth. The pilot ran over to get the dual equipment bags with the money, O’Conner laying on his side, his back to him, the bags on the other side of his body. Bending and reaching for them, O’Conner turned around and, sitting up, drove a knife into the pilot’s thigh. He quickly pulled it free of Ellison’s leg as he intended to plunge the blade into the man’s chest. The pilot yelped, moving backward and avoiding blade. O’Conner got to his feet. The sleeves of his windbreaker shredded. Blood leaked from his wounded forearms beneath.
O’Conner had gotten a familiar feeling in the back of his neck when Ellison groused about the split. Before coming outside, he’d put on one of the special jackets Gonzales had brought along—the old man being overly cautious these days.
The clothing was based on a design from a famous tailor in South America who outfitted heads of state, including U.S. presidents it was rumored, in suits and everyday wear woven with his proprietary blends of polyester and nylon. The bullet resistant windbreaker had protected him from the majority of the shotgun’s small gauge load. Apparently, though, the knock-off garment was lacking protection in the sleeves.
Rushing to the pilot, the two men grappled and grunted for control of the shotgun, Ellison kneeing O’Conner and break- ing free. But now O’Conner had the weapon and was readying to blast Ellison away when the pilot produced a compact stun grenade and threw it at him. O’Conner wryly noted the damn grenade had been among those made by Gonzales. He dove away as the thing went off. Ellison then lit and threw a remaining petrol bomb at the Monte Carlo, setting the car’s roof on fire. He’d put sugar in this one O’Conner concluded, noting how the fuel didn’t run down the sides of the car. In that way, the stuff would stick and burn. Nasty.
Ellison turned and ran, putting distance between him and the crew he’d sought to double cross. The Monte Carlo’s fuel tank, having been punctured by bullets, had leaked gasoline all around itself and proceeded to ignite in a deafening blast that sent sections of sharp metal flying in all directions. During this, the pilot managed to get to his dead cohort’s still idling motorcycle. With parts of the destroyed car charred and smoldering, Ellison was a block away in a matter of moments, leaving the battered thieves behind.
“We gotta get out of here,” Gonzales said, gripping O’Con- ner’s arm.
“He’s got to be dealt with,” O’Conner vowed, staring after the receding pilot.
“He will be,” the older man said, knowing enough about
the mindset of the man beside him. “But right now we have to get away.”
The sound of sirens in the distance seemed to bring O’Con- ner back to the present.
“Right,” he said. He looked over at Racklin who was looking at the pilot’s abandoned Jeep. “That good to run?”
“Yeah, looks okay,” he said. “Keys are in it. He was prepared to get the hell out.”
“Yeah,” said Gonzales. “With our money. The little shit.”
“Okay,” O’Conner said. “Everyone crowd in. Racklin, you good to drive?”
“Yes,” he said.
“We’ll drop each of you off one at a time. From there you’re all on your own with your share.”
“And you two get the car?” said Estevez.
O’Conner rasped, “You want to argue about it, Eel?” He held up his hands. “Not me. I’m good, ese.”
In the car, O’Conner said to Racklin, “You’ll be the last to get out, we’re gonna have words first.”
“I know,” a contrite wheelman said.
Within the next hour, the empty car had been wiped clean and left on the street. The crew had scattered to the winds, Racklin as well, but he was short a hefty part of his cut, due to his having been the one who vouched for the traitor Ellison. The Crystal Q job was now officially behind them and whatever came next, O’Conner reflected, he’d be ready.
More from Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips at The Strand Magazine.