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Authors: Mike Knowles

Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense

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BOOK: Never Play Another Man's Game
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CHAPTER SEVEN

O
ne guard got out of the passenger side and walked around to the back of the truck. He knocked on the door and another guard opened it up from theinside. The guard stepped out from the rear, holding a blueduffel bag. The two men did a quick scan of the lot that was more habit than on-the-job vigilance, and then wentinside. The duffel had shrink-wrapped bricks of cash inside. The guards would open the
ATM
and pull out the depleted cassette. One man would stand guard while the other refilled the cassette with the cash from the bag. The stopwatch in my hand said the door was open for twenty-five seconds. The two men entered the store, leaving the driver out front in the truck. The driver waited patiently in the cab and kept busy by checking his mirrors every few seconds.

Two and a half minutes in, Rick got back in the car. He was jazzed up seeing the truck and he gave me a playful punch on the shoulder.

“See, man? Everything I said was on the money. You doubted me, but you gotta give it to me. I came through, right?”

I didn't take my eyes off the truck. The driver was giving each mirror equal attention. He was alert and professional at his first stop; odds were he would get more and more lax as the day went on. Problem was, the cash would diminish along with the driver's attentiveness. If the truck was going to get hit, it was best to do it early.

At the seven-minute mark, the two guards were back. The back door was opened with keys and the empty duffel bag went in along with one of the guards. The other guard let himself into the passenger seat and the driver started the engine. The driver checked his mirrors and the truck moved away from the curb. I stayed behind the truck, keeping the Volkswagen ten car-lengths away.

The next stop, a Walmart, went much like the first. The two men went in while the driver stayed in the truck checking his mirrors. Two more stops came and went with nothing changing but locations. It was on the fifth stop that something different happened. It was a small difference, but it was something. Stop five, an
ATM
at a Best Buy, happened without any compulsive mirror checking. The driver instead answered a phone call and stayed on the phone until the other guard let himself back into the cab. From my spot across the lot, it looked like the driver was embarrassed at being caught on the phone. The driver did a quick mirror check, too fast to really notice anything, and got back on the road again with us in tow.

Because the truck was doing a double shift, there was a brief stop for lunch at a Subway restaurant. The guard riding shotgun and the guy in back got out and went in to buy lunch. When they got back, the driver went in, used the washroom, and got a sandwich. The truck was stopped for less than ten minutes and then it was on its way down the Escarpment. The truck did the second half of its run, which included a number of Walmarts and several more supermarkets. Ruby and I took turns getting out of the car and watching the action inside. We had seen everything we were going to see with the driver; we still needed to check the guards for holes in their game. By seven, we were done for the day and following the truck on its way back to the warehouse.

The entire shift ran just over ten hours and that was with working through lunch. I was right — the driver got lazier about checking his mirrors, but it didn't do us much good when there were only a few stops left to make.

I drove by the warehouse parking lot and turned onto the next street. Everyone in the car was quiet. An entire day crammed into a Volkswagen sedan had worn everyone out. I found a Swiss Chalet and pulled into the lot. We needed to talk and I needed to eat. Rick limped more than he had earlier in the morning as he hustled across the lot. He made it to the door ahead of me while Ruby trailed far enough behind for us to have to wait for half a minute at the door for her to catch up. We were seated immediately and after we all had ordered drinks, Rick opened his mouth.

“I don't see what we need this guy for, Ma.”

“Rick, please, not now,” Ruby said. The old woman looked worn out. She had only been able to eat and drink what she picked up while she surveilled the guards; it was mostly candy bars and bottled water.

“No, I mean it. Why should we cut this guy in for something we can do ourselves? It's my job. I found it and I can do it. We don't need him.”

Rick had enough sense to shut his mouth when the waitress came back with our drinks. The teenage girl gave Ruby a coffee, me a tea, and Rick a beer and a shot.

“Are you ready to order?”

“No, we still need a few minutes,” Ruby said.

“Okay, just wave when you're ready.”

Ruby thanked the girl and Rick downed his shot. He slapped the shot glass down on the table and took a swig of beer.

“Me and Franky could do this no problem. He's already signed on. We smash the truck, take the money, and we're off.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said, putting the tea bag into the hot water. “If you need any extra help maybe you should ask the people at the next table. They heard everything you just screamed, so they're already up to speed.”

Rick lowered his voice and leaned towards the centre of the table. “Fuck you, asshole. I don't care what my mom told you, this is my job and I'm not cutting you in so I can hear you talk like an asshole while we knock over that truck.”

“Not the deal,” I said. “I'm not doing the job with you. Never was.”

“If you're not doing the job, then why are you here? You owe my mom a favour or something?”

“Think of me as a consultant, Rick. I'm getting paid to plan.”

“So what, she tell you you're getting a cut of the score or something? 'Cause I don't think so.”

I poured the tea and added milk from one of the tiny containers on the table. I stirred with the watermarked spoon, sipped the tea, and looked at Ruby.

“I am going to sign the house over to Wilson. He will get it when I die.”

“No fucking way!” Rick yelled. “The house? That should be mine. What the fuck, Mom?”

The waitress came back to the table looking nervous. Rick saw her coming and snapped at her. “We're still not ready.”

“Oh, uh, right. I just came to tell you that you can't yell like that in here. This is a family restaurant.”

“Fuck you,” Rick said.

The girl welled up and hurried from the table. I got up, threw down a twenty, and said, “Let's go.”

“No way. I'm starving,” Rick said.

“If she calls the cops, you won't eat until a lot later.”

I walked towards the door and heard Ruby say, “Let's go,” to her son.

I debated leaving Ruby and her idiot kid in the parking lot, but that wouldn't get me what I wanted. I needed the house more than I needed peace and quiet. Being able to slip straight into a clean house was an opportunity that wouldn't come around again. I would use the time Ruby had left to construct a new alias. It would take time, and money, for me to get in touch with the kind of people who could make something like that happen. They would help me build an identity on paper that would allow me to live in plain sight. When the old con finally died, I would have identification, credit cards, and a passport in a new name. The second life was necessary to survive. Houses required taxes and bills to be paid, and for that to happen there needed to be a citizen opening his wallet.

“Where to now?” Rick said when he got into the car. “My fuckin' leg is killing me, so there better be no walking.”

“I'm taking you home.”

“Cool, you're a fucking psycho and a drag.”

“I thought we had a deal,” Ruby said from the back seat.

“We do,” I said. “But my half can wait until tomorrow.”

“Are we still on this? Ma, I told you there's no way this asshole is getting that house. I live in a one-bedroom apartment. I need that place. I don't mean that I want you to die, but come on. What about me?”

There's a spot three inches from the point of the chin that boxers call the magic button. The spot is a hard target to hit because it's on the jawline and therefore is really only about an inch in diameter. The spot isn't magic; there's nothing but pure science at work. Impact at the right point along the jaw reverberates through the skull and shakes the brain with a high degree of force. The grey matter bounces off the hard calcium cage it sits in and causes an instant knockout. It was this one-inch-in-diameter spot that my elbow connected with. The distance between my elbow and Rick's face was small. My hand was on the keys in the ignition so it was two feet at most. It was the pivoting of my hips that gave the elbow enough force to put Rick to sleep. The impact came up from under him and he didn't see it coming. He just crashed back into the headrest and then forward into the dashboard.

“Rick!” Ruby yelled. She climbed over the seat and pulled her boy back into a sitting position. She stroked his face while she looked for any signs of damage. “You didn't have to hit him.”

“He had it coming.”

“He's just a boy.”

“You hear yourself? He's in his twenties. He's a big boy who got himself in serious trouble with some boys who are much bigger. Now, I'm going to take you home. Tomorrow, I'll meet you and Rick at your place. I'll give you a rundown of the job. I see a way to do it, but that's all it is. A way. With the help you have access to, I don't recommend being anywhere near three armed guards, but that's your call.”

“What about Rick?”

“I'll put him on your couch.”

“He'll be mad when he wakes up.”

“Do yourself a favour and tell him to do something about it. I won't kill him, but the hospital time might just save him from the revolvers those guards were carrying.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

A
fter I dropped Ruby and the Boy Wonder off, I went back to the house. The rent would be due in a few weeks — a fact that made me acutely aware that there hadn't been any real money coming in for a long time. The rent made me think about the job and the money inside the truck. I had been living off savings while I sorted things out with all the people who wanted me dead. The money slowly drained while the list of people just seemed to keep getting bigger. I put a bullet in almost everyone who came looking to do the same to me, but that was only a temporary solution. There would always be another Paolo or Julian or Sergei; it was just the money that would go away. I had to take advantage of the lull in people wanting to see me dead and start earning again. The armoured car job had potential. The number of stops proved what Rick had said he heard. The truck was definitely doing more than its usual load. He said there were ten trucks to be repaired and that this was week six. There were four heavy Friday runs left. With the right manpower and the right plan, the job could work out. But all that would hinge on keeping Rick and his friend Franky away from the action. I had a few ideas on how to do that, but not all of them would pan out. While I mulled the remaining options over, I dialled up Sully's Tavern.

“Sully's.” Steve picked up on the second ring.

“Busy tonight?” I asked.

“Usual.”

“What's usual, Steve?” Getting information out of my friend was like trying to get a goldfish to roll over.

“I got to the phone in two rings. What does that tell you?”

“Tells me my seat will be free. See you in a bit.”

I hung up the phone and took the Volkswagen over to Sully's. I spent a few hours drinking Coke on a bar stool and talking with Steve while the regulars sat nursing drinks and watching the hockey game. The little bartender was wearing his usual clothes — a white V-neck T-shirt and a pair of khakis. He had a rag over his shoulder and a mop of hair on his head. The hair hung down to his chin and made him look like a skinny sheepdog. I knew Steve better than most and I was always happy to see the shag in front of his eyes. Steve's hair was like a violence barometer. When he pulled it up, someone was about to get hurt or worse. Steve had two settings — normal and homicidal. His wife, Sandra, was like a living, breathing anti-psychotic. When she was around, Steve was in check. Take Sandra out of the equation, or put her in danger, and the little bartender's lizard brain took over. Most people wrote off Steve on account of his size, but the pile of people he put down would go way over anyone's head. He didn't feel pain the way others did and he never got tired. I had seen the carnage he was capable of more than once, and it made me glad every time I walked in and saw his eyes hidden under his hair. The bartender was my only real friend and he had no illusions about what I was. We spoke openly about the job and he put his two cents in whether I liked it or not.

“You haven't done a proper job in a while. Might be time to come out of retirement, or sabbatical, or whatever it is you're on.”

“I could use the money,” I said.

“I doubt you're broke, but you will be sometime.” It was weird how Steve could almost read my thoughts. “Plus, you're paying rent for the first time in a while. That will eat at your savings quicker than you think.”

“The house won't be an issue anymore,” I said.

Steve laughed. “She's a fucking con. Don't go thinking because you and her go way back that she'll deal straight with you. She's been crooked so long she doesn't know how to be on the level.”

I nodded.

“You ever figure out what put the cops on you?”

I thought about the two cops who had recently died because of me. A crooked cop had thought he could string me along like bait for something better to bite at. He had no idea that his partner was in the pocket of a Russian mobster. Both the cop and his partner, along with a Russian mob boss and one of his lieutenants, ended up chum after a shootout that I thought no one could link me to — until my front door came down. “That cop Morrison was smarter than he looked. I'm guessing he had a line on me and the torch got passed to another cop after he went down.”

“Cop with a vendetta. Perfect.”

“Can't all be successful bartenders,” I said.

“You think crooked cops are trouble. Try living with a pregnant wife. Cops just found your front door. I'm sleeping with the enemy.”

As though she could hear him talking about her, Sandra emerged from the back room. She said hi to me and then leaned over the bar to give me a kiss on the cheek. Sandra rubbed Steve's back and what little I could see of his cheeks went pink. The most violent man I knew looked human and completely harmless and it made me feel good. I tried to be like that once — regular, connected — but I couldn't do it. The way I felt following the armoured car all day backed up what I already knew. Following the truck felt good; it felt right. My mind was focussed and I was calm, really calm, for the first time in a long while. I couldn't kid myself anymore — I wanted to get back to work.

“Sorry to hear about your place,” Sandra said. “How did it happen?”

I went through what I thought had gone down with Sandra and talked with her some more about my housing situation. The talk turned into a conversation that lasted a few hours.

I went home from the bar late, but happy with what I had accomplished. I had gotten done what I had planned to take care of before I met with Ruby and Rick the next day without getting off the bar stool. With my schedule clear, I had nothing left to think about but the job. I sat on the living room floor, in the corner beside the front window. I had no blinds, so the streetlight bled in. I watched the strobes of passing cars and listened to the sound of the vehicles passing. The sounds were rhythmic, like man-made waves, and as I listened I slowed my breathing. This wasn't something that my uncle had taught me. I had read about meditation in some old books I found at a garage sale and taught myself the techniques. In the pile of books, I also found a dog-eared book written by a samurai. The samurai had fought over sixty duels in his lifetime and was never defeated. I learned another practice from the samurai's words. The ancient warrior described visualizing death in every possible form over and over so that the inherent fear of dying lost its power. The goal was to become so familiar with death that it was no longer another opponent to fight against, but rather something that travelled with you everywhere. I practised the samurai's lessons until death lost its venom. The old swordsman had developed something valuable and I expanded the teaching to the jobs I worked. Instead of visualizing death, I visualized each job going wrong in every possible way.

Over the years, I had learned to relax and spend hours running through what needed to be done in my mind. I ran through scenario after scenario, letting my mind devise every kind of interruption and complication. I sat for hours on the floor, the buzz of traffic barely noticeable, as I repeated the job again and again. I died a hundred times, and wore steel bracelets a hundred more, until my brain found a way through the minefield and I walked away with the money inside the armoured truck.

BOOK: Never Play Another Man's Game
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