Monday, June 20, 2011


Rumors were flying that a retired bank robber had loot hidden up on Big Rock Mountain.  Leon and I attempted to limit the scope of that rumor to our young neighbors, Eddy and Darla, for obvious reasons. We didn’t want the Feds getting wind of it.
After loading a pick and shovel in the back of Leon’s old 1995 Ford truck, he, I, and Eddy climbed in. Eddy situated himself in the middle of the back seat looking over our shoulders. “Why did you wait so long, before digging up your loot?” Eddy asked when Leon placed the truck in gear.
Leon pressed down on the accelerator causing the rear tire to spit gravel out behind the truck as we pulled away from Eddy’s cabin. “You can’t recover stolen money until the statute-of-limitations runs its course.”
“What’s the statute of limitations?”
Praying that Leon would concentrate on his driving, while I fielded the question, I looked over my shoulder at Eddy.
            “After a certain amount of time, if you haven’t been caught, the district attorney can’t prosecute you for the crime.”
It didn’t take long to get to Big Rock Mountain, because it borders the lake where the three of us live. Leon pulled the truck over, threw the shifter in park, and switched off the ignition.
“We have to walk the rest of the way,” he said opening his door, before the dust settled.
While Eddy grabbed the pick and shovel from the truck bed, I put on my backpack, which I had filled with bottled water before leaving the cabin. When Leon took off up the mountain, I grabbed the shovel from Eddy and motioned for us to follow him.
For a seventy-two year old man, Leon kept up quite a pace for awhile, but halfway to the top, he and I had sweat pouring off of us like Niagara Falls after a major flood. I didn’t want him nor me to become overheated in the ninety-seven degree heat, so I hollered at Eddy to hold up.
“Let’s take a break.”
“Good idea,” Leon said, wiping his forehead.
We found a rock ledge to sit on and I pulled three bottles of water from my backpack and passed them out.
After finishing off his bottle of water, Leon pulled out a piece of paper and unfolded it.  “I better look at my map. Everything looks different since I was up here forty-four years ago.”
Eddy and I peeked over his shoulders. The map was nothing more than a pencil line drawn in the arc of a mountain, more like a giant inverted letter V with an X drawn near the top of the point.
“Spent a lot of time on that map did you, Leon?” Eddy asked. He grinned at me.
“It’s a lot more complicated than it looks. Didn’t want anyone finding the loot while I was in prison.” Leon folded the map back up and said, “Okay, I got it. We need to go up higher.”
Big Rock Mountain is made up of several hundred big rocks jutting out of the ground, twelve thousand or so trees, a bee hive in an old rotted out oak tree we passed on the way up, and at least three deer that scampered off, after we walked up on them. 
Two more bottles of water later, we reached the top of the mountain and were 1200 feet above sea level. Leon swatted at a bug circling his head. “Okay, according to the map, we’re in the right area. Start looking for a big rock with the letter X drawn on it.
Surrounded by approximately two hundred big rocks in the immediate area, Eddy and I stared at Leon. Apparently, we were thinking the same thing. That in forty plus years that letter X might have faded a bit.
“What did you use to write that X?” Eddy asked, shaking his head in disappointment. “After all this time, the chances of it still being visible are nil to none.”
“Permanent chalk,” Leon replied, walking off to our right. “They didn’t have magic markers in my day.”
I glanced at Eddy and gave him a thumbs up, like there was such a thing as permanent chalk back then.
After twenty-two seconds of exhaustive searching, Leon and I gave up and sat down to drink more water. Eddy, being only twenty-two years old and excited at the prospect of finding stolen loot, continued checking every rock in sight like a mountain lion in search of a rabbit.
Thirty-three minutes later, he yelled, “Over here, I found something.”
Leon and I picked up the shovel and pick and hurried over to where Eddy stood waving his arms in the air.
Leon knelt down and studied the rock like a man who had been in prison for twenty odd years, studies the center-fold of Playboy magazine. His face couldn’t have been more than two inches from the rock.
The big rock we were looking for, with an X drawn on it, turned out to be the size of a large shoebox. That permanent chalk must have been good stuff, because the chalk looked like it hadn’t been there more than a day or two. 
“Yep, I think that’s it,” Leon said getting back up on his feet.
Eddy put his hand on Leon’s shoulder. “You sure? You said it was a big rock.”
Leon was not about to back down. “At one time this was a big rock. Being exposed to the elements for over forty years must have taken its toll.”
That statement made it pretty clear to me that Leon had never studied geology. That rock was probably 4 million years old and forty years of wear and tear on a rock is equivalent to the wear and tear you put on a new tire pulling it off the shelf.
Eddy gazed at me and shook his head, before bending down to pick up the rock. Beneath it appeared to be freshly dug dirt. “I think somebody might’ve beat us to it.”
            “Only one way to find out.” I handed the shovel to Eddy.
He hit something right under the surface. Eddy bent down on both knees and finished digging up a jar with his bare hands. He held it up to show us it was full of coins and bills. “How much is in it, Leon?”
“Well, as I remember, the total take was six hundred thirty-four dollars and eighty-seven cents.”
“That’s all,” Eddy asked, his enthusiasm waning.
Leon shrugged. “It was a small bank.”
When we arrived back at Eddy’s cabin to drop him off, Leon handed the jar of money to him and told him to give it to Darla. It was to help pay for her schooling.
Leon and I had gotten word that Darla was trying to become a classroom teacher, but didn’t have enough money to pay for her tuition at the local community college. The amount of cash in the jar happened to be the exact amount she needed for a summer course. Eddy was beside himself and I could have sworn I saw a tear form in one of his eyes. He thanked Leon several times before letting us go on our way, which was two hundred feet farther down the road to Leon’s cabin where he had several cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in his refrigerator.
We were almost finished with our first PBR when Darla came bounding over like a gazelle on speed. She gave Leon a big hug and kissed him on the cheek. She didn’t thank me nor kiss me on the cheek. I guess Leon had no intentions of telling her that half of that money came out of my pocket.
I did ask her if she would finish reading my latest manuscript and give me some feedback on it. She’d had it over a month. It always amazes me how long it takes my beta readers to finish reading one of my stories. Darla is the better of the two beta reader I have. Eddy has never read more than two pages of anything I’ve written. At least Darla finishes reading a whole story, occasionally. She agreed and said goodbye.
On her way to the door, she stopped and turned around. “Eddy wanted me to tell you that he may not be the brightest star in the sky, but that plastic mayonnaise jar with a use-by date on the bottom was a dead giveaway you were pulling his leg about that being stolen bank loot.”
Leon smiled. “Tell him next time I’ll use old glass jars with leaded caps on ‘em.”
“I’ll tell him.” She went through the door almost skipping.
Leon went to the kitchen and brought back two more PBRs. He handed one to me. It was so cold my hand felt like I had wrapped it around an ice cube tray.
“You sure went to a lot of trouble to give those two a helping hand. I can’t believe you went up that mountain and buried that jar just to play a prank on Eddy. Why didn’t you just give them the money and save us all that sweating and climbing in the heat today?”
Leon pulled out a drawer from the hand-me-down coffee table that was in front of his sofa and flipped it over. On the center of the drawer appeared to be a large envelope taped to the bottom.
“Want to see the real map?”
“Real map?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. “You told me the money you stole from those three banks you robbed was recovered by the authorities.”
“It was for the three bank robberies I was charged with. Once you’re caught and charged, the statute of limitations stops running for those crimes, but it sure don’t for the banks you ain’t charged with robbing.”
“Exactly how many banks did you rob, Leon?”
“Seven and I’m gonna need Eddy’s help for sure to move that big rock. I was strong as an African bull elephant when I was twenty-eight, but the other day when I was up there, I couldn’t budge the darn thing.”
I smiled at him. “When are you thinking about going back after it?”
“November, when it’s a lot cooler, and everybody around here is convinced I’m just an old fool playing games with Eddy.”

Monday, June 13, 2011


After watching the ten o’clock news from a barstool, Jack knew he wouldn’t be going back to his office anytime soon. All that was left of Jack Farber’s Private Investigation Agency were pipes sticking up from the foundation and half of a toilet.
          He auto dialed his ex-partner’s number. She owed him big time; he still carried the bullet with her name on it and the scar to prove it.
“Detective Darnell,” Maggie said, sounding on edge.
“Hello, Maggie. It’s Jack.”
"Where in the hell are you? There’s an APB out on you.”
He traced his finger along the sticky bar. "Some stinking dive called The Bloody Bucket."
"Good God, what are you doing in that death trap? If you don't have a gun when you walk in, management issues you one."
"I brought my own."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"What’d they find in the rubble?"
"Fire investigators found two suspicious items: a pipe wrench lying next to a natural gas line and the charred remains of a mannequin."
"That's it?"
"What's up with the mannequin? Are you pulling our chain?"
He suspected the telephone call he’d received earlier in the day was a set up. Pulling the shades down, leaving a lamp on, and staging the dummy in his chair with its head down on the desk had worked. The threat was serious all right, and he had made a mistake that nearly cost him his life. He knew he was lucky to be alive. He pressed harder on his chest trying to keep the blood flow to a trickle.
"No. Just trying to stay alive," he replied, pressing harder on the chest wound.
A man sitting a couple of bar stools over from him looked down at the floor. "Hey, man. You're leaking blood."
      "Mind your own business,” Jack said, getting the Bartender’s attention. He pointed toward the man. “Give him a drink and put it on my tab."
The bartender poured the patron another shot. “Must be your lucky day.”
The man nodded, before downing the free drink.
“Maggie, are you still there?”
“Yeah, I’m still here. Where were you when the fireworks started?"
"In the alley behind the place. A little too close. I expected a shooter, not a bomber."
"Who is it?"
"I don't know. I got a call earlier today. A man offered me five grand in cash to drop the Hamilton case. He said he'd meet me alone in my office at nine tonight."
"That's a dead end case and you know it."
"The widow Hamilton begged me to keep working it. Besides, she's got plenty of money, and who am I to turn down a case that pays the bills.
“I wasn’t being critical. I was stating a fact.” There was a long pause. “I heard you’re doing all right.”
“If things get any better, I don’t think I could stand it.”
“You know what I meant. It ripped my heart out when they took your badge.”
“Thanks for your help. Fourteen years on the force gone to hell.”
“I thought I was saving your life. You’d still be on the force if you hadn’t told the psychiatrist where he could put his therapy sessions.”
“I’ve got a better one for you. I’d still be on the force if your machine hadn’t cut off the rest of my message,” Jack said, looking at the glass of bourbon he had ordered.
“Damn you, Jack. Tell me you’re kidding!”
“If you'd gotten the whole message, you would have known I was waiting for you at The All Nite Coffee Shop. Waiting for the one person I thought I could trust with my life. The next thing I know I’m told I’m suicidal and not fit for duty.”
“Are you coming in, or are you going to make us come after you?"
After hearing the troubled tone of her voice, Jack decided not to tell her the reason he had kept that information to himself until now.
"Right after I make a phone call," he replied. "You can call off that APB.”
"You're not coming in are you?"
He had no intentions of turning himself into the police, He closed his phone and looked at his watch.  He auto dialed his secretary's number.
"Hello," she said,in a barely audible voice.
“Did I wake you?”
“No, I was just resting my eyes. Of course you woke me. Why are you calling me at this hour of the night?”
"What does my lease agreement say about building repairs?"
"Have you been drinking?"
"Not tonight, kid." He pushed the untouched glass of bourbon away from him.
"The landlord has a maximum of thirty days to fix any problem with the building."
“In that case, you better work out of your apartment for the next thirty days.”
“There's a natural gas leak at the office and with your sniffer, you'd complain about it before you even walked in the doorway.”
“What am I suppose to do from my apartment?”
“The same things you do at the office: paint your nails, make personal phone calls, and watch game shows.”
“Get real. I have my nails done at Phoebe’s Nail Salon, like you would ever notice. Where are you going to be?”
“I’m going to be incognito.”
“What state is that in?”
“That's a good one, Denise. I’ll get in touch, if I need you."
"Wait. Does this have anything to do with why you sent me home early today?"
"Be careful."
"You can bet on it."
Seconds later, the first loud boom rattled the walls and shattered every piece of glass in the joint. Four people, at a table behind him, hit the floor. In the process of scrambling behind the bar, he opened his chest wound. Hunkered down, he placed his left hand over the wound and his right hand on his Sig Sauer automatic. The second boom was louder than the first one and resulted in hunk of metal flying through the window. Cheap Vodka and rot-gut Bourbon rained down on him when the projectile smashed six bottles of booze stacked up behind the bar. He recognized the side view mirror of his old Ford sedan when it came to rest beside him. It was time to go with Plan B.
Maggie looked across the street at her partner.
“Let’s go, Dan, code five."
He dumped two cups of coffee on the sidewalk and ran back to the cruiser. He slid behind the wheel and stared at her. “Where?”
“The Bloody Bucket.”
“Another shooting?”
“No, we’re picking up Jack Farber.”
Eight seconds later and a half block down the street, Dan asked, “Who gave you the tip he’s at the bar?”
“He called me.”
Dan glanced at the radio. Are you going to call it in?”
“I heard you two were a good team.” He took a hard left and put the pedal down again when the car straightened out. “Too bad about his wife and daughter, that would bring any man to his knees.”
“Shut up and drive,” she said, staring out the window.
The cruiser’s radio came alive. EMS and fire units were in route to The Bloody Bucket. All police units in the area were ordered to respond. Maggie shook her head and mumbled, “Damn it.”
       When they arrived at the bar, Jack was gone. He’d left behind a trail of blood that led out the back door of the bar and a note he told the bartender to give to Detective Darnell.
Whatever happens, we’re even.
She looked at the stained napkin in her hand. Why had he left her the same message she had interpreted as a suicide message twenty-two months earlier, unless, it was to tell her, and her only, where she could find him, The All Nite Coffee Shop.
“Dan, you stay here. I’m taking the cruiser,” she said on her way to the door.
He shook his head. “That’s against procedure.”
“Stick procedure.”
I felt someone shaking me.
“What are you doing on the floor? Is it your chest?”
I opened my eyes and found Eddy hovering over me, dialing 911 on speaker phone.
“You’ve reached a 911 operator. What is your emergency?”
I grabbed the phone from his hand and put it to my face. “Sorry, wrong number.”
I handed the phone back to him. “I’m okay. Must have fallen asleep and rolled off the lounger.”
“Man, I thought you were having a heart attack, Eddy said, taking the phone back.”
Using my right knee and his hand for balance, I rose and sat in one the four Adirondack chairs on our back deck overlooking the lake.
 “Thanks,” I said looking at the cooler he had brought over and set between two of the chairs.
One Friday night of each month, My neighbor, Eddy and I get together and drink beer while we stare out at the water. He and his wife, Darla are my beta readers, although Eddy has yet to read more than the first couple of pages of one of my romance novels. He considers himself a man's man, rough and tough and doesn't read romance novels.
He eased into the chair next to mine and pulled two beers from the cooler. “How come you to fall off the lounger?”
“I was dreaming about a man and a woman.”
He rolled his eyes. “That must have been one wild dream. So why did you have your hand on your chest?”
Something about the grin on his face told me he thought the dream might have been the kind young men have. “Bomb blast.” I said, taking one of the beers from him.
Two birds flew overhead and landed in a tree to off to our right.
I leaned back in the chair and stretched my legs out. "Hey, Eddy, if I write an old fashioned private eye story, would you read all of it?
"Only if it doesn't have any mushy romance talk in it."
I unscrewed the top from the bottle of Samuel Adams beer and took a drink of the cold tantalizing liquid, and then lowered it, gazed at him, and smiled.