“And I can turn it on from my phone, right?”, the elderly woman asked looking up at Darryl. The font was easily the largest size he had ever seen, the screen could fit only 5 words.
“Yes ma’am, just log in to the app, press the big red button that says arm system, and you are good to go. Any intrusion will be monitored and reported to the local police once it’s activated. Easy as 1 2 3.” She looked at Darryl through her thick glasses, her eyes super magnified and empty. He might as well have just read a poem in Mandarin to her.
“Hubert, come over here and look at this.”
“Come look Hubert!”
“Oh, okay.” Her husband, in a permanently stooped over posture, made his way over to Darryl and his wife at the sales kiosk. “Now what does this do? And how?”
Darryl gave him the same spiel he had just given Edna, his wife. Hubert seemed to comprehend less than she did. He didn’t even have a mobile phone or device and hers was primarily for talking to grandkids. As they discussed, Darryl looked out the window at the barren industrial plaza. A few cell phone stores intermixed with a burrito shop and a shoe department. The sun was almost directly overhead, which means he had about 6 hours to go with the Huberts and the Ednas.
As draining as explaining modern home security to the elder generations was, it had made him some good money lately. Seniors seemed more and more paranoid as they slowly blended into the lifestyle of relentlessly scrolling social media. They, collectively, were scared. Of what, he didn’t know. There wasn’t much danger in rural West Virginia other than diabetes and heart disease. They didn’t seem to fear junk food.
Darryl felt a vibration and checked his phone. It was a missed call from Chuckie, his weed dealer and part-time accomplice. They had been friends from back in high school and as they had grown neither of them had left town. Both maybe showed promise in their youth, Darryl in tech and Chuckie in machinery, but neither had felt too much of a push to leave town and make a name elsewhere. It wasn’t bad here, and there were plenty of stores to knock off in the area if they kept a low profile.
“We’ll take it” Edna said, taking Darryl’s eyes from his phone and down to the diminutive woman before him.”
Nice, another commission.
“Great. This is an excellent purchase. Beats the industry standard in almost every way, best quality cameras and the easiest to use app. When would be best for you to schedule an installation?”
Hubert’s wrinkled face perked up. “What installation? I’m installing it.”
Darryl had seen this a time or two before two. The elderly paranoia of letting someone you don’t know in your house.
“You’re welcome to of course sir, but here at SurveillancePlus we offer to have a qualified expert come to your location and locate problem spots and optimize the security system.”
“No thanks, I’ll do this myself.”
Darryl shrugged. They probably lived a long way away from the store too. It wouldn’t break his heart to avoid 2 hours of driving today. “Of course, sir. If you’ll come over here, I’ll ring you up.”
Darryl looked at the two of them. They probably didn’t have anything he could use anyway.
By the time he was finished with geriatric couple, he had missed two more calls from Chuckie. He wouldn’t call more than once unless he was really excited about a score. He took his lunch break and stepped outside. The winter weather had dusted the sidewalk that morning and as he walked, he heard the soft “pat, pat” of feet pressing down on the snow. He pulled a cigarette from the pack in his coat pocket and, once lit, took a long drag. He looked at the burrito shop and his stomach growled.
But first, business.
He phoned up Chuckie. He knew he’d pick up because he didn’t really work. Chuckie had had a few odd jobs, but he loved his herbal medicine so much he could never entertain keeping a real one and passing a drug test. He had made a pretty good living working the system and selling weed in bulk. He would moonlight at a gas station to stay off the radar of the government every now and then.
The phone rang once, and he picked up.
“Dare, man, I’ve got something.”
Usually, Chuckie would ask a few warm-up questions before getting straight into the business. Darryl tried to remember the last time he had heard him this excited.
“Oh yeah? What’s that buddy?” Darryl sounded a little dismissive. They were in West Virginia. What could it possibly be besides a pharmacy or a gas station or a house that Darryl had wired up and subsequently infiltrated? It was steady business.
“Can’t say on the phone pal, but it is big.”
“Set for life big.”
“Get the hell outta here Chuckie, you’re higher than a kite. I got to get lunch.”
“I’m not kidding. I can’t say on the phone. Come over after you’re done at work.”
“Alright brother, see you then.”
Set for life?
Darryl hung up the phone and took another drag. He wished Chuckie had just told him because he still had 5 hours to kill here. He always thought that urgent news should be delivered urgently and immediately, not like a time bomb lurking in the future.
He tossed the cigarette down and put it out with the heel of his shoe. With another deep break of the cold winter air, he ventured to the Burrito Shop.
The car was an older model, but he had wired up a new speaker system and kicker in it so no one could ever say it didn’t have a hell of a sound system. At stop lights people would look at him, with the feeling of his base in their steering wheel and shake their heads. He didn’t care, he loved loud rap music.
Darryl was more antsy than normal. He had even taken a few drags of his weed pen he kept in his car to try to mellow out, but nothing was working. A life changing score! The most they had ever taken down was 20,000 out of the safe of a gas station that they caught on the right day at the right time. While amateur in experience, Darryl thought that over the past 3 years he and Chuckie had worked out a nice system.
Darryl would stake out the shop or house, normally one he had helped wire up incorrectly so that none of the cameras would detect their entry points. Once properly staked, the two would mobilize in their black sweatshirts, pants, and masks and after they had parked a reasonable way away in their getaway car, walk to their destination over hills and back streets. First, Darryl would cut their internet line, as insurance, in case they got sloppy, or his cameras caught something that he hadn’t planned on. Once inside, they would make their way, with Darryl leading and watching for cameras, to the safe they wanted to rob. Chuckie would put down his tool kit while Darryl kept watch. Chuckie was a skilled machinist in school, and with all his time stoned on the couch, had watched plenty of lock picking tutorials. Usually, in ten minutes they had the safe cracked and were good to make their exit. They kept their jobs spaced out with time and distance, covering about a 60-mile radius that if any of the cops wanted to check, could probably center the robberies around the SurveillancePlus.
No one ever did.
He pulled up outside of Chuckie’s apartment complex. The exterior had been neglected and was shoddy and brown where it should have been white. As he entered, he could hear a man and woman and maybe a child screaming on an upper floor. He knocked 3 times on Chuckies door, the smell of marijuana permeating the cheap wooden barrier with a number 5 on it.
Chuckie, with his trademark smile and long sandy blonde hair, opened the door. He held out his hand, they clasped hands and hugged. Chuckie patted Darryl on the back.
“Come on in brother! You need a water or anything?”
“Nah, I’m good. What’s up?” Darryl had been roped many a time into hanging out with Chuckie and tossing a few back with a lit-up joint and football on the TV. It was easy to lose 3 hours at Chuckie’s.
“Have a seat man and I’ll break it down for you.” The couches made an L along the back left corner of the living room with a table in the middle which was covered in paraphernalia. The left most couch was facing the TV.
Darryl sat down and looked at Chuckie, who was staring at him with quiet intensity. Darryl squirmed in the couch for a second then looked around then looked at Chuck, who was still staring.
“What’s your deal man? Do I have something on my face?” He said, half laughing.
“I gotta know something brother. Are you in or are you out?” Chuckie said, with a flat delivery. His eyes focused on Darryl.
“In or out on what?”
“The score of a lifetime.”
“Get the hell out of here. Do you have something or not?”
“I do. But I gotta know. Are you in or are you out? Once you’re in, there is no going out.”
Darryl hesitated for a moment. Chuckie had always been a joker, but he was deadly serious. What changed? He searched Chuckie’s eyes for a crack in the façade, but there was none.
“I get one question Chuckster.”
“Okay, one question.” He acquiesced.
Chuckie’s face turned into a smirk.
“No games, how much?”
“No way.” Darryl leaned back, so this had been some B.S. from Chuckie.
“On my mother, Darryl, a million.” He hesitated for a moment. “Each”
Darryl laughed. His buddy had finally lost it. “What’d you find Chuck-o, the hidden city made of Aztec gold, in West Virginia?”
Chuck’s face kept its smirk. “I’m not lying Dare, I have it on good info. It’s an in and out job. No people, no one gets hurt, and we are set for life. It’s waiting on us.”
Darryl’s face lost its smile. “A million plus huh? On your mother?”
Chuck’s face lost its smirk as well. “On my mother.”
Darryl thought back to the events earlier today, selling security to old-timers. Would he do that his hole life? Then he thought of the single wide trailer he lived in with his girlfriend, Linda. He really liked her; maybe even loved her. Would he be happy to keep her in a trailer if they should go steady together? Raise a child there?
Chuckie had never sworn on his mother before.
Chuckie, like a shark in the water, sensed that Darryl was interested. He prodded farther. “Humor me Dare, what if I’m wrong? Okay, we go in and out, empty handed, and we live to fight another day. No harm no foul.” His voice started to rise with excitement. “But if I’m right buddy, we never have to work again. Set for life.”
Darryl smiled, he liked Chuckie’s enthusiasm. And he hated the trailer he lived in. Worst case, he and Chuck got a good story out of it. “I’m in.”
Chuckie made an inquisitive look. “You’re sure?”
Darryl put out his hand and stood up. “I’m in.”
Chuckie stood up as well, and they shook hands. “Well let’s get into it.”
A low voice, almost a growl spoke from the hallway. “Yeah, now that you two are done messing around, lets.”
“Darryl,” Chuckie said, sensing his friends shock at the third party in the house. “This is my Uncle Ronnie.”
“Pleasure to meet your Darryl.” Said the man with the buzz cut emerging from the hallway.
Darryl sized him up. He was a little taller than Darryl and Chuckie, probably about 6 ‘1”. He had a square jaw, with a face like a bull dogs and eyes like a shark. Small and beady and black. He looked like a man with a regular exercise regiment, built and fit. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a white t shirt. His sleeves were tattooed from the edge of his shirt to the ends of his fingers. Darryl noticed a tattoo peaking above the neckline of his shirt that looked like the legs of a Swastika.
“Chuckie, who the hell is this? How much does he know?” Darryl was livid that Chuckie would keep him in the dark like this. To bring a stranger into their business was introducing a fly to the ointment for no reason.
“I’m the man who is going to make you rich.” He growled. He stared at Darryl.
Chuckie quickly broke the tension with an introduction. “Darryl, this is my Uncle Ronnie. He just got out of Hazelton. 10-year bid.” He looked back at Darryl, who didn’t seem to have registered the introduction.
“What’d you do?” Darryl asked.
“Armed robbery in Wheeling. Getaway man got cold feet, left us out to dry. Partner got shot and I got nicked, quick trial, been in ever since.” He smiled and looked at Chuckie. “I guess taking what isn’t ours runs in the family, doesn’t it Chuckster?”
Chucky rubbed the back of his head and smiled uneasily. Uncle Ronnie had a way of making an entire room walk on pins and needles.
Darryl’s heart was racing. Chuckie clearly didn’t quite understand the true nature of the “in or out” ultimatum. Whenever someone like his Uncle Ronnie got involved, it was a blood pact. Darryl was going to have to do this job now, or else he’d be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life now that he’d seen Ronnie. He acted casual, shrugged, and sat down on the couch. “Well, let’s hear it pal. What’s the score?”
Ronnie smiled a Chestshire cat smile and sat beside Chuckie.
“Well before you two young bucks were old enough to know your ass from a hole in the ground, adults didn’t have the same options for recreational drug use that you two did. There was weed, sure, but it wasn’t this high-grade stuff. It was dirt. For the most part we were either drinking, or snorting cocaine so cut we might have ingested enough flour to make pancakes. If you were really reckless, you’d get into crack or you might even huff gas. It just wasn’t the same back then. We were neophytes to drugs, pure amateurs.” He looked wistfully at the ceiling as he set the stage.
Then he directed his eyes to Darryl. “Then, suddenly a miracle happened. A little blue pill, called Oxycodone came around. We’d been taking our sick little grandma’s pills for a while, to experiment. Then one day one of our relatives came home with this new wonder drug. Oxycontin. For pain, they said. Well, we just had to give it a try.” He smiled and leaned back on the couch, in reverie. “We were like virgins after their first time, hooked. We couldn’t get enough. And the doctors couldn’t give enough. We would wake up in the morning, crush an 800 up on the bedroom dresser, up the nose, then we’d enter Nirvana. It was like flying.” He closed his eyes and was silent for a moment. “And we made a killing. People couldn’t handle it and got hooked faster than a fish. It was easy, take your senile relative or neighbor to the clinic, give them a script to read the doctor, and pay them pennies compared to what you were going to make selling that shit. We were white trash rich for about 3 years. We sold it to all ages, races, sizes. Everyone was on it.” The pleasant memory suddenly ended.
“Then they changed the recipe. They realized, publicly, long after they had privately, that everyone was getting hooked on it. And docs were making an absolute killing prescribing it. Everybody knew the deal, even the government. It got so bad though, and enough pressure put on that they changed the recipe on the Oxy. You couldn’t crush it anymore into that sweet fine powder everyone loved. You had to microwave and melt it; it just wasn’t the same.”
Darryl snapped him out of it. “Okay, enough story. What the hell is the score?” Darryl was growing impatient with the memoirs of a drug dealer.
“Well, the original recipe disappeared in a blink of an eye once the news hit it’d be discontinued. The big money and doctors in the area horded it, knowing that once there’s no more supply, the demand will be sky high. There have always been rumors of the original blue 800 milligrams being out there somewhere. Like a buried treasure.” He leaned forward, and his voice lowered, like he was trying to keep it a secret from someone. “My roommate in the pen, one of the Atlantic City guys, he had heard this too. More than heard, he had been involved in a trade.” Ronnie looked around for effect. “He knew the location and where they were all coming form. He had made the pickup before. He had seen the little blue pills in storage.” Ronnie looked at Darryl. “It isn’t far from here.”
“How’d you get it out of him? That can’t be information he would give up, at least not willingly.” Darryl asked.
“Had to beat him within an inch of his life, a little torture.” Ronnie smiled. “I was only sentenced for 5 years. But it was an educated bet. I decided 5 more years of my life was worth a few million. Wouldn’t you?
Darryl didn’t know. What he did know was that Ronnie was an absolute psycho. He breathed in deeply.
“So, it isn’t liquid cash. We will be robbing pills. Do you have a reliable fence ready? This is going to be super-hot as soon as it’s in our hands.”
Ronnie nodded his head. “An old connection from the Aryan Brotherhood in the pen will be ready the next morning, cash in hand. One night job, in and our of our hands, simple transfer.”
Solid enough, Darryl thought. However, he didn’t enjoy the prospect of working with the Aryan Brotherhood. “Where is the target?”
Ronnie was ready. “Big house overlooking Cheat Lake. Not in a development, secluded with a gate. State of the art security system, that is where you come in. Stake out the house, pinpoint the cameras, deactivate the system and find our entry point. I will work with my nephew on getting inside the vault once were inside. No one will be in the house; I have a connect that told me they will be on vacation when we move.” He stopped for a moment. “No guns necessary, no one will be there. We move quick and are out in 15 minutes and we are set for life. You ready for this?” He looked back and forth between Chuckie and Darryl.
Chuckie had trapped him, Darryl thought regretfully. Given that all this was true , which he thought was a stretch, he and Ronnie would be linked now. Darryl thought the less violent men he knew, the better. But now he knew one that he could have certainly lived without. But a million dollars could make that easier to stomach.
“One more thing.” Darryl said. He looked at Ronnie. “What’s the split?”
“5 million in all, 60/20/20. A million for each of your services and 3 for me for making it happen.”
“50-25-25” Darryl said back.
“Come on Dare, a million is more than – “
“Shut up Chuckie.” Darryl would never have the pleasure to bargain for hundreds of thousands again.
Ron smiled. “Okay, I like your spunk, buddy. 50-25-25. Let’s shake.
Ron’s beady black eyes met Darryl’s as their hands met. Darryl could see the gaps in his teeth as he smiled.
The Black Escalade was moving down the interstate on cruise control, its solo occupant singing along to the classic rock on the radio. It was a long trip from Atlantic City to Morgantown, but Mr. Pringle didn’t mind. He liked the solitude inside the blacked-out interior of the SUV.
He had made this pick up many times, but this was probably the last time he would have to make it. It was to be the last transaction of the good Doctor Lyman. Like quaaludes, the magical bean stalk of oxycodone original had dried up. There was only enough for a few more pickups, and his boss in town had decided that they would be picking up in bulk this time. Save some money and tie up a loose end. His boss was economical like that. But before that, he had a few more stops to make and business to attend to. Debts to collect.
He scratched his balding head, messing up his combover. He wondered if there would be any crying or screaming. As a professional, he prided himself on being quick and clean with as little emotion as necessary. It was just business, and the doctor hadn’t had the foresight to see how the relationship would end through the lucrativeness of the beginning. Money had misled many a man smarter than the doctor. A whole lot of good all those years of school had done him.
The family had done a lot for the doctor. He had lived in lavishness and had not a care in the world for the past 20 years, making hand over first peddling to the family as a middleman to distribute to the elites on the coast. Mr. Pringle wondered what regrets he would have in his final seconds, if any.
Mr. Pringle almost missed the exit, he swerved across lanes, horns blaring at him, and caught the off ramp. He made a right and pulled into the truck stop overlooking the interstate. He parked beside a new Mercedes Sedan. Out of it came a towering man. Almost every man towered over Mr. Pringle, he was only 5’4” tall. The man wore a bulky jacket and derby hat and a pair of blue pants, with lots of pockets.
Dr. Tone climbed in the passenger seat beside Mr. Pringle.
“You’re late.” He said in a rich baritone.
“Yeah yeah, stomach has been bothering me. Sue me.”
He the tall man didn’t respond. He leaned back and pulled the hat over his eyes.
“You’ve always been such great company. Thanks for the stimulating conversation.” Mr. Pringle said as he pulled out of the lot. He caught the interstate heading west into the sunset.