At the police station, Officer Jones looked at John with the RCA Victor dog head-tilt. “You found this out on the railroad tracks?”
John nodded his head.
“I was out jogging and saw the train,” said John. “I talked to the detective, who said cash had been stolen, and right after the train pulled out I saw this package.”
“So, how do you know there is money inside?” Greg Jones was serving in a small town, but he wasn’t slow. His good friend John started to shuffle his feet.
“Uh… I did open the package and look inside, but when I saw it was money.” John lied, “I wrapped it back up and brought it here. I guess that’s bad for evidence, with my fingerprints all over it.”
Greg liked John, but still wondered at the story. “The train came by hours ago, and you’re just bringing it in now?”
John blushed some more. He had expected kid glove treatment from Jones, who he had known for over 10 years. Greg was a favorite speaker at the high school.
“Sorry, I guess I should have brought it in right away.” John moved his hands in the air to look convincing. “But I wanted to shower and get cleaned up before I came in.”
The honest looks and the past history he had with John persuaded Jones to believe. But he still wanted to try one more probe. “Maybe you thought about keeping it instead of turning it in? That’s quite a pile of cash.”
John’s mind was racing. Was he really that transparent? Did Officer Jones suspect that money was missing? Was it better to pretend that all the money was still there? Greg hadn’t done more than a cursory glance at the package, so he wouldn’t be suspecting any money was gone. Or was he? Would it be better to try to convince Greg that the bundle had been faked before he found it, to throw off the cops? Decisions, decisions.
“I don’t think it’s really full of money,” John finally sighed. “I was tempted at first, but when I opened it up and flipped through a few bills, I could see that the rest is just paper.”
Officer Greg Jones acted surprised as he looked. He had been planning to return the money to the bank personally and gain some recognition for his small town, maybe get a reward, a reward for John and maybe get a raise from the city council. He did just as John thought he would, and pulled the brown wrapper off and looked at the stack, flipping the edges.
“You’re right, there’s mostly paper here.”
John looked at his long time friend and asked, “But if no one claims the bundle, do I get the money that is real? It looks like there’s only really about eighteen hundred dollars.” Jones looked up after counting the outside bills and flipping into each stack.
“There is only $1800, you’re right,” Greg said as he smiled at his friend again. “You must have counted those a few times.”
John blushed again, but it worked to effect. “Yeah, I checked it out pretty thoroughly. I hope it doesn’t screw up the investigation.”
“Tampering with evidence. Punishable by 3 to 5 years in the pen.” Greg tried to look serious, but found he was smiling and waved off the concern. “Don’t worry, John, this really is normal behavior. People are curious, and really don’t usually have any criminal intent. We think we know who did this anyway. The real question is where the rest of the money went.”
Officer Greg Jones looked at John Graham, who only shrugged his shoulders. It was the moment of truth, and John wanted this look of curiosity to look sincere. “Is there supposed to be a lot more?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry about it,” Jones replied. “And yes, if no one comes to claim this money, it’s yours after 90 days. But don’t get your hopes up. There was a bank robbery south of here earlier today, and they have the serial numbers. I would bet this is theirs.”
John looked up. “So, probably no reward either, huh? Well, is there anything else you need from me? I guess I’ll go home and tell Reba we just lost $1800 in cash.”
Jones nodded. “That’s all I need for now. But maybe it would be better not to tell Reba the amount.” They both laughed, and John went out the door.
John found himself smiling as he left the tiny police station – really just a two room shack. He was smiling the smile of the deliberate, slow and careful person he now perceived himself to be. His plodding behaviors were crossing over into his thinking, and now he was “plotting” as well as plodding. He believed he had conned his friend, and might be spending a great deal of money in the very near future.
To himself, he thought, “Well, one foot in front of the other. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
To get back to Ridgeway, Ray would have to get some more cash. Tonight. The easiest place for him to hit would be a gas station, since they were cash rich and the smaller ones were usually only staffed by one employee.
Ray had robbed over 30 gas stations during his 49 years stint of living by his wits and a little bit of force. He had served time for only 3 of these robberies, and had learned much more to refine his technique while talking with other inmates during his all-expenses paid “vacations”.
Tonight would be a “hit and run”, especially appropriate since he had no transportation and would have to run as fast as he could to get away. He had been “inspecting” several gas stations locally, and had decided on one that had a small forested area nearby which would aid in his flight.
For his weapon of choice, he had invested in a sharp electricity-testing tool; actually buying it at a local automotive store. No sense in getting arrested lifting something that only cost three bucks. Ray expected to make over $2000.00 tonight with the help of his little three dollar friend.
Ripping off the electrical connections and pocketing the tool outside the store, Ray walked back toward the gas station and took cover in the trees nearby, knowing that the longer he waited this night, the more money there would be in the till. And the darkness would aid him if he would be patient and wait an hour or two. But if he waited too late, he knew it would be easier for the cops to flush him out, since there wouldn’t be anyone else around to confuse their search. An hour or two would be fine.
Mike Shepherd bounced his head up and down, “head-banging” to the heavy metal music which the boss let him play, as long as it wasn’t too loud. It was incongruous – the music was meant to hurt your ears with its volume, but could still produce the happy feet Mike liked when he listened to metal.
This was a good job for a high school student. Three or four nights a week in the gas station gave him spending money, a gas “charge” account (which came out of his check every two weeks), and access to lots of music time. Sitting around gathering money and then counting it at night beat the old days when attendants had to pump the gas, and with very few other things to buy in the station, there wasn’t the confusion of having to worry about selling drinks, food, and other items like at other stores. It was a simple business, and judging from the stack of money he placed in the safe each night, the owners were happy to keep it simple.
His best friend Eric had got him this job, recommending him to the ancient boss who didn’t hear so well. Training had involved both of them working together for one night, while Eric explained the gas reset controls, the safe, the restocking of oil, the cleaning of windows, the expected pleasant behaviors towards even the biggest jerks who might show up that night to pump their own gas.
Mike had so much information crammed into his head that night he was trained he had bounced his head off the glass-plated sliding door of the cashier’s booth. Hard. He had been carrying two oil cans when he went to cross through the booth to the other side. Through a closed door. He had such inertia going that the impact had knocked him back three to four feet. Both Mike and Eric had a good laugh about it. There was a lot to learn in only one night of training, and the rising bruise on his head helped remind Mike to open the door next time before crossing through.
That had been almost a year ago. This was not the most demanding job in the world, but he was happy to do it, listening to his own choice of music. His long hair swayed and bounced as he marveled at being paid for sitting on his butt for eight hours.
Ray had watched Mike rock out in the small booth, and waited for dark. Lit like a torch, the booth and Mike were on display for anyone who drove by, but this road was not as traveled as some Ray had scoped out. Now that it was dark, and most of the commuters were safely home after their long day at work, the business at the pumps slowed to a crawl. There was a customer every five minutes or so, and that would be plenty of time for Ray to take care of business. If all went well, he could be in and out in less than two minutes.
Ray walked up to the gas station palming the sharply pointed metal calmly in his coat pocket. He was about to pull it out when a car approached for gas. It was self-serve, so the guy got out and started to pump. Mike Shepherd opened the cashier window and greeted Ray.
“Hello, sir. Can I help you?”
Ray looked at the car pumping gas. Looking back at Mike, he muttered something about using the restroom. Mike pointed to the back of the lot, where a separate building held the “facilities”. The company policy was to let customers use the toilets, and if the attendant was feeling generous, to let others use it, too. Though the sixties were long past, Mike viewed himself as something of a hippie, and had the social concerns for the indigent appropriate to that social segment.
“Out in the back, man”, he said, tossing Ray the key to the door.
Mike continued to rock on, feeling justified in his social concerns of helping to equalize the societal inequalities, and turned up the volume a little.
Ray watched from a crack in restroom door while the customer paid with a check. He then emerged with the resolve to do this now, before another interruption came by. The cold metal dagger in his hand fit perfectly across his palm and up to his index finger, so he was confident he would be able to hide the weapon from everyone but Mike, who would be the only one to see the slender spike of steel in Ray’s hand.
As he approached the booth, he took the key and held it out with his left hand, intending to keep that hand in the window once it was opened. Mike blithely grabbed the key and stuck it on its appropriate metal screw to hang from the front of the booth. As he looked back, Ray had his arm in the booth, with his other hand just outside the window holding something that looked sharp.
“Give me the money in the till, and the twenties you have under it. I’ll take any bundles you have already made up, too.”
Mike looked back at the eyes of the man he had just befriended. An incredible sense of betrayal began to well up inside of him, but looking into those eyes immediately banished any protest. The eyes were unwavering and serious, with no hint of compromise. Mike reached into the drawer and pulled out a stack of ones.
“Forget the little stuff. Give me the big bills.”
Still stunned at his first encounter with violent crime, Mike began to shake. He pulled out the stack of twenties, about three hundred dollars worth. “Now give me the stuff under the drawer,” growled Ray, quietly, as if someone nearby might hear. Ray looked about slowly to see if they would be interrupted.
Mike grabbed the fifties and stacks of twenties he had made. They were instructed to put five twenties into stacks and put them under the drawer as they received them, although at this moment Mike was thinking it would have been a better policy to put them in the safe. But then again, you never know when you might need change for a hundred dollar bill.
There were five or six stacks, with another half-dozen fifty and one-hundred dollar bills. Ray could see he was only going to net a thousand, but with $100,000 waiting for him in another town, he decided to cut his losses and not have the kid get into the safe. Besides, the kid was starting to shake pretty badly, and that was when things usually began to go wrong. The cash would fit in his pockets, and then he could run.
“Quick. Give it to me,” Ray barked, making Mike jump. He dropped one stack and began to bend over to pick it up. “Leave it, and give me what you’re holding.”
Mike, in slow-motion it seemed to him, handed over $1300 to Ray. As if to emphasize the seriousness of the moment, Ray held the shaft of the tool in his hand, exposing the dagger. “Don’t do anything stupid. I’ll be watching, and I don’t want you to call anyone for five minutes.” Ray backed away and after 25 steps, disappeared into the thicket of trees to the west. Mike’s eyes were transfixed as he watched his attacker walk slowly backwards. Then he slowly looked down at his hands and noticed he was shaking.
His pacifist roots also shook loose at that moment in the realization that he had just been robbed. The station policy was to not resist when a robbery happened, but it had never happened to Mike before. It felt like someone had just kicked him in the stomach, and as his blood began to heat, the money became not the station’s money, but his own money, which he had just let a greasy little man escape with into the woods.
Logic and reason lost their appeal as Mike unlocked and threw open the sliding doors and ran into the woods after Ray. There was no reason to try to get the money back, but the sheer terror of the moment had been replaced with anger, and a desire to tackle the short guy. That single thought drove him forward on his young legs. Mike was in considerably better shape than Ray, and in moments had overtaken him. Mike jumped onto the back of the smaller man, and wrestled him to the ground.
Ray had never been chased and caught before in his countless robberies, and was in fact, used to getting away without any trouble. The excitement of the moment must have distracted Ray as well, since he didn’t even hear Mike approaching. All he felt was the sickening thud as two bodies thrashed to the ground in the leaves.
Mike had never been a fighter, so he had no idea what to do now that he had Ray on the ground. Ray, however, had spent his life scrabbling for bits, and the fighting instinct took over. He fought almost without thought, and though Mike was bigger and stronger than Ray, it was only moments before Ray was pummeling Mike with his fists.
A kind of frenzy took over as the blood began to flow from Mike’s face, which seemed to change. Ray then saw the face of his brothers, saw cruel cellmates, and saw the face of oppression. The rage swelled as Mike stopped caring about the money and was fighting to protect himself, and thought only of escape. He flailed out at Ray, scratching and punching as best he could, but mostly Mike was just trying to dodge the punches.
As Mike dragged his fingernails across Ray’s face, blood oozed out slowly. The pain of the scratches were the final blow, and with renewed energy, Ray grabbed Mike’s long hair, pulled him up, and took the spike of steel in his other hand. Turning Mike around, Ray stabbed the short piece into the base of Mike’s skull.
Mike’s body went limp and collapsed to the ground.
Ray was pulled down with the body. Then he let go of the hair. Blood was running down his cheek, and his bottom lip was beginning to swell. He could taste blood in his mouth, and the anger he had felt continued for a good while. Slowly, he backed away from the body and looked around in the trees.
No one had seen this. Ray doubted anyone had even seen the robbery. He took a deep breath and backed away a few more steps.
He rubbed the blood from his face and gathered his thoughts. He needed to get away from here as fast as he could, and the bus station was only a few blocks away. He could get cleaned up there and find out when the next bus was going to Ridgeway. “What a stupid kid,” Ray thought to himself. Stupid to get killed for money. This would complicate matters a bit, but for the money that waited for him in the near future, this inconvenience wouldn’t stand in his way. He had killed before and not been caught.
Another dead body would make no difference.
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