It is astonishing how well men wear when they think of no one but themselves.
- Bulwer-Lytton, English Novelist and Poet (1803-1873)
Chapter 5: You Ever See This Guy Before?
The three of them waited parked across the street, not wanting to be spotted by the guy who would be taking over for Carlos. Johnny had filled them in on how it had gone with Carlos and they were sitting there, watching the store and waiting for Carlos’ shift to end when a black Mazda pulled up and a middle-aged Sikh in a 7/11 uniform stepped out. Dude had the full turban on his head and everything. Johnny just started laughing.
“What, you never seen a raghead working a 7/11 before?” Darren asked.
“No, I’m just thinking how totally screwed we’d have been if it’d been old Punjab here who’d sold the ticket instead of Carlos.”
“I guess we’d of had to kill him too, then.” Darren said.
Johnny offered up a single, half-hearted laugh and then looked out the side of his eyes to try to see how serious Darren was about making it a night of multiple murders. Darren just stared straight ahead and there was really no way of telling.
A minute passed, then another, then it had been five . . .
“Where the hell’s your buddy, man?” Darren asked.
“What if he slipped out the back and he’s on his way, bringing the tape to the cops or something?” Susan said almost hysterically. In trying to discreetly watch the store, Johnny had parked across the street where they could see everyone entering and leaving the front, but they couldn’t see inside to make sure Carlos didn’t head out the back of the store at the end of his shift.
“Don’t worry, he’s on board with this. He knows we’re outside waiting for him.” Johnny said, not feeling as confident as he tried to sound. “I’m pretty sure that’s his car parked right there,” he said, pointing to the Buick that had been parked since they got there. But Johnny couldn’t seem to shake a paranoid image that kept popping into his head of Carlos behind the counter, deciding that he did want to be a good citizen after all and calling the cops on his cell phone.
Another minute passed and then it was ten full minutes before finally, there he was, strolling casually out of the store. As he passed the front of his car on his way to the driver side, Carlos made the most subtle of head nods in their direction. Confirmation.
Johnny and Carlos had talked about it and they agreed that Carlos had to pull his car out and leave the parking lot just like he always did, so Johnny started up the car, waited for Carlos to pull out of the parking lot and then Johnny lead the way back the three blocks, one eye on the rear view the whole time. They found a couple spots to park across the street, half a block away from the building.
“You guys are nuts, why do you want to risk going back in there?” Susan asked.
“This guy needs to see we don’t joke around,” Darren said.
“I’m not going back in there,” she said.
“That’s totally cool, just wait in the car,” Johnny said.
“I’m not staying out here alone in the car!” she said, somehow even more upset at the thought of that.
“Darren, will you just stay here and keep Susan company?”
“Are you serious?” Darren asked.
Johnny wondered if the reason Darren sounded disappointed was because he’d be missing out on another chance to see his handiwork. “Just hang tight, Carlos and I are going to go in there, I’ll show him the body and he’ll know if he tries to fuck with us, he might end up that way too.”
Carlos and Johnny crossed the street. There were no cars anywhere to be seen. Just after midnight and all the good townsfolk were tucked safely into their beds. God bless quiet neighborhoods, Johnny thought again.
As they neared the building, Johnny said quietly, “It’s up on the second floor and those walkways really reverberate, so walk lightly.”
“How’d you guys kill him?” Carlos said very quietly.
They reached the sidewalk in front of the building. There were two apartments in the front that had windows facing the street. Johnny just put his finger to his lips and peered through the glass of the front doors. No one to be seen. They pulled the doors open smoothly and walked quickly towards the stairs.
How the hell did he figure that out? Johnny asked himself. While it would have been obvious to anyone that there was treachery involved in their desperate need to get the tape, Johnny was impressed that Carlos had made the leap from this meeting with a friend to making an impression on him with the former owner of the ticket to either being tied up to being dead. Carlos had guessed he was dead.
And I’m disappointed, he thought to himself. That’s the sick thing, I’m disappointed there’ll be no shock value in showing him the dead body, no chance to see the shock on Carlos’ face when he realizes what a bunch of stone cold killers he’s dealing with.
They had reached the top of the stairs and were headed down the long walkway towards the corner apartment when they heard a door open and Johnny’s heart lept up into his throat. The door closed again and Johnny realized with relief that the sound had come from down on the first floor and on their side, beneath the walkway and out of view.
They kept walking calmly, silently. They heard the click of a lighter and it was so quiet Johnny could swear he could even hear the soft crackle of the tobacco on the inhale down below them.
They made it to the door and let themselves inside.
They’d left in such a rush that the three of them hadn’t even thought to turn the lights off. Had someone already noticed that the neighbor who (he was guessing) was an early to bed type of guy still had his lights on this late? There was nothing to do at this point but shut the door behind them and walk the six feet over to stand in front of the body.
“You ever see this guy before?” Johnny asked, pointing.
“Yeah, I know that guy,” Carlos said calmly. “In fact, when you first said I’d sold the winning ticket, he was the first guy that popped into my head. He was a regular, he was in there all the time, but I’d never seen him buy a ticket before, so it kind of stuck in my head, it’s probably that Slurpee guy, beginner’s luck.”
Most people would think of dealing with the guy with the surveillance tape in terms of a negotiation: even as incriminating as the tape might be, it was just a video tape after all. How much could a video tape be worth? $1 million? $2 million? $5 million? And the negotiator would try from the outset to minimize the importance of what the other guy had.
From the beginning, Johnny hadn’t been thinking that way at all. He figured if you made it an equal split, then the guy you were bringing in had that many million reasons more not to turn snitch, so he didn’t minimize the value of the tape at all.
“You’ve got just about the most valuable video tape on the planet, Carlos. Are you ready to go in on this? Put together a little joint partnership here?”
“Well I don’t know about a joint partnership, but I got a big blunt right here, why don’t we smoke it and make it official.” Like a magician finding a coin behind someone’s ear, Carlos produced a blunt from the front pocket of his jacket. He sparked it, took a big hit, passed it over to Johnny and while holding it in, he said, “Don’t leave the roach in the ashtray.” He held the smoke in, then while exhaling he said, “DNA and shit.”
As the first couple hits started taking hold, Johnny couldn’t believe he was sharing a blunt with a gangbanger and a dead man.