By Dave Reddall
AA97663683A was conceived and born in 1996, a product of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s team of designers, technicians, and high-speed presses. It was part of several thousand sheets of hundred dollar bills that were printed, cut, bundled, and then distributed to several commercial banks. One of those banks was Meadowbrook Savings and Loan. Jerry Olinski’s bank.
* * *
It was the kind of winter afternoon that freezes the feet of the homeless and warms the hearts of oil company executives. Low, slow-moving clouds threatened yet more snow for an already snow-weary city.
Jerry Olinski walked out of Meadowbrook Savings and Loan having just cashed his final paycheck from Armstrong Tool and Die. He stood for a moment, hands thrust in his pockets against the cold, angry and disoriented. Almost twenty years on the job, and guess what? Here’s your severance pay. Good luck, and don’t let the door hit you where the dog bit you.
Downsizing. That’s what the mealy-mouthed bastards called it. Decruiting. Negative hiring. Employee outplacement. Anything but what it was: the order of the boot. Armstrong was moving its operations offshore. Good thing the kids were almost grown, and a real good thing that Marie had her job. But what the hell was he supposed to do now? Forty-six, one skill, no place to sell it. And now it was snowing and he’d forgotten his gloves.
The kid came out of nowhere. He was wearing the uniform: black hoodie, baggy camo pants, high-tops. And then there was the gun. It looked comically big in the kid’s bony hand, but Jerry found nothing amusing about looking down the bore of a nine millimeter pistol held by a kid who couldn’t even be in his teens.
“Into the park,” said the boy.
Jerry looked around in disbelief. It was still light, the street bustling with people, all of them studiously not noticing what was happening. Legs shaking, he walked into the trees that bordered the boat pond.
“You know what I want,” said the boy tonelessly, “and you better have enough, too, or I’m going to bust your sorry ass.”
Jerry complied, hands trembling so violently he almost dropped the envelope.
The kid nodded. “That’s right.” He pulled out the bills, fanned them, tucked them in his pocket, waggled the gun at Jerry.
“Your lucky day, Bo.”
And then he was gone.
* * *
AA97663682A bore a large portrait of Benjamin Franklin. When held up to the light a smaller watermark picture appeared. An aphorist, Franklin once observed that “The Cat in Gloves catches no Mice,” which certainly applied to Oscar Ruiz who now possessed AA97663682A and several other portraits of Franklin, and who had worn no metaphorical gloves when liberating them from Jerry Olinski. Getting paid. That’s what Oscar called it. You put in work, you got paid. Too bad for whitebread. Should have used direct deposit. Only a fool cashed a check around here on Friday.
Oscar checked his sneakers. They were a little frayed, a bit dirty. Time for a new pair of kicks. Couldn’t be hanging with his set in old Airs. After that he’d head down to the video arcade, play a few rounds of Duke Nukem. He especially liked the bonus award: kicking the victim’s head through the goal posts.
* * *
Teddy Boykins watched the kid, who was now wearing brand new, top of the line hightops, do the pimp roll out of the store.
“That boy won’t live long enough to vote,” he thought. Oscar had made no attempt to conceal the gun while trying on shoes and Boykins was glad to see the back end of him going out the door.
He closed up for the day, pulling the metal security gate across the front of the store. In his wallet was the C-note the kid had paid with. Teddy had plans for that hundred. He was going to get lucky tonight.
* * *
Franklin again: “Where there is Hunger, Law is not regarded.”
There are different kinds of hunger.
At eight o’clock Teddy Boykins walked out of the Black Rose and straight into the hands of the vice squad. The Black Rose was a florist shop on the ground floor and a brothel on the second and third. Unfortunately for all concerned, the proprietor of the upper floors had missed a payment to certain members of the law enforcement community, and a reminder was being sent.
Two hours later, Teddy’s “date” for the evening paid her bail bondsman with, among other bills, AA97663682A. The bondsman, who bore the mellifluous name of Enrico Rapasadi, soon found his way to a poker game on the fourth floor of the Yates Hotel where, in a distressingly short period of time, he found himself cleaned out. His cash, including the now wrinkled hundred, belonged to Billy “Batman” McDermott.
“Too bad, Rico,” said McDermott, grinning. “Just not your lucky night.”
Rapasadi had noticed that McDermott won a lot, and had begun to suspect him of cheating. There were, however, rumors as to how Billy had acquired his nickname, so he kept his suspicions to himself, put away his empty wallet, and went home, belatedly reminding himself of the old adage that if you can’t spot the sucker in the game within ten minutes, it’s you.
Twelve hours later Billy McDermott got up from the table, several thousand dollars richer, took a cab to the Plaza (one of the advantages of being a successful gambler was tenancy in the finer hotels), caught ten hours sleep, cleaned up, and headed out to another game. He took along five thousand dollars, his loss limit, leaving the rest in his suitcase in the Plaza.
* * *
Oscar Ruiz, meanwhile, was preparing to put in more work, this time ripping off hotel rooms. Working in partnership with Lenny, a bellhop at the Plaza, he had procured the necessary card which, with one swipe, would admit him to a room selected by his partner. Lenny, sensing that Billy McDermott had had a good night, chose his room as the target.
Oscar let himself in and went to work. Finding the dresser drawers unproductive he tried the luggage, which was locked. In a trice he had snapped open his gravity knife and slashed an X in the top of the suitcase. Therein lay a large manila envelope containing McDermott’s bank, including AA97663682A.
“Yes!” said Oscar, stuffing the money in his pocket. Time to go. Back to the lobby, return the card to Lenny, along with his cut, and go celebrate.
He knew he was in trouble as soon as he reached the hall. House dicks, one on each side, closing in. Oscar reacted instinctively: one of the men was obese, so fat thought Oscar, he probably has to iron his clothes on the driveway. Feinting left, he dove to the right beneath the fat man’s outstretched arms, regained his feet and took off down the hall. Banging through the fire door he charged down the stairs and burst into the lobby.
Another suit, guarding the elevators, spotted Oscar and gave chase. He was young, fit, and very fast. Oscar, new sneakers a blur, barely beat him to the heavy brass and glass doors. The concrete steps outside had been cleared and salted, but the sidewalk was slick with new snow. Oscar skidded, then darted between two parked cars and started across the avenue.
* * *
Jerry Olinski’s interview at United Industries had been unproductive. Good references, but sorry, we’re not hiring now. We’ll keep your application on file, give you a call if something opens up. Right. And the shoes will stretch and the check’s in the mail.
One quick one at the Tic Toc Club had turned into six, or was it seven? And disappointment had turned to anger. No job, no health insurance, no prospects. Meanwhile the fat bastards in Washington paid lip service to the poor and unemployed while getting free haircuts, two-dollar lobster salad sandwiches, limo service, housing stipends, PAC money, and all the graft they could squeeze.
The kid came out of nowhere. Jerry didn’t even have time to hit the brakes. Not that it would have done any good: angry, distracted, and drunk he had unconsciously increased his speed to almost forty-five and had no chance of stopping on the slick pavement.
Oscar bounced off the right front fender and went airborne. His flight was a short one, terminating abruptly against the rear of a Cadillac Escalade. He crumpled to the street, head twisted at an impossible angle.
* * *
Richie Soboda had seen bad ones before. What ambulance driver hadn’t. But it was always tough when it was a kid. This one must have hit the rear of the SUV awfully hard. The guy who hit him was sitting on the hotel steps, holding his head and weeping. Yeah, a bad one, but not without its bright side.
The roll of bills he’d palmed off the kid’s body was as big as his fist. While his partner conferred with the cops, Richie stepped away and sneaked a look at the money.
Damn! Must be a couple of thousand bucks there, maybe more. Ben Franklin stared up from the topmost bill, a sardonic expression on his face. Hadn’t Franklin been called Poor Richard? Soboda smiled at the irony. Poor Richard, meet rich Richard.
He slid the wad back in his pocket. It was obviously ill-gotten and it sure as hell wasn’t going to do the kid any good. Why should some cop or coroner have it when there was enough to keep Richie in Jack and blow for some time to come?
He headed back with a spring in his step. No doubt about it. This was his lucky day.
Dave Reddall’s stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Mouth Full of Bullets, Thrilling Detective, and Thuglit. He was nominated for a Shamus award in the short story category. He lives in Wellfleet, MA.
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