December 19, 1951
"The way I see it," Eddie looked out the passenger window into the night and took a last drag on his cigarette, exhaling smoke not much whiter than his too-pale face, "a job like this one tomorrow, you either go in and kill everybody first thing, or else you gotta sell them the idea of getting robbed."
"Yeah?" The man driving the ice truck shifted his big black hands easily on the steering wheel.
"Yup, and this what we’re doing now is softening up what they call the sales resistance."
Behind the wheel, Walter peered out into the uncertain dark beyond his headlights, not really listening. "You figure?"
"Yeah, same as Mort and Slimmy on the tree tomorrow. Just doing our best to make for an easy sale."
Walter wanted to say something in polite agreement, but all he could think of was, "You know, I kind of wish I brought my gun."
Eddie crushed out a cigarette in the ashtray and looked at him with the edgy patience the State gives free to its long-term guests in recognition of their achievements. "You don’t got one?"
"Brother Sweetie said he ain’t for anybody to get killed this close to Christmas. Said it’s bad for the job coming down, somebody get shot."
"Brother Sweetie, he thinks things a long ways out." Eddie looked out at the dim-lit streets as they passed. "Someone gets shot tonight, then tomorrow it’s all over the news and everybody gets to looking over his shoulder and watching things close, and maybe they look twice at something more than it’s good for us."
"Yeah, I guess." Walter sounded unconvinced. "I figured he just thought it was bad luck to kill somebody this close to Christmas."
"Could be it is," Eddie reflected, "but it’s for sure bad luck to get yourself took dead this close to Christmas too, and you got a right to be worried about traveling light." He reached into his jacket and got the comfortable feel you can only get from having a Colt .38 Police Special tucked inside. "Does somebody see you out here this late, they see you driving this truck, maybe they figure you to be carrying money; they could stick a gun in your ribs, and that wouldn’t do us no good either."
"So I figure Brother Sweetie, he’s a selfish sunuvabitch sending you out with no heat on a night like this."
"And that’s facts too." The black man turned the truck carefully into an alley, looking to each side and checking his mirrors for any sign of something moving.
"You know he’s got two cars?" he asked. "What’s a man want with two cars when you can’t drive only one at a time?"
"I better know it," Eddie said, "he puts me to greasing one or the other does he see me slow down at the garage any. And one of them a brand new Hudson Hornet. Put him back more a grand-and-a-half, he said." He looked out his own window as he spoke, scanning the streets on that side.
"Well you done good with this here truck," Walter said. "Can’t nobody hear us coming nohow."
"Maybe too good." Eddie felt in his shirt pocket for a cigarette, remembered he didn’t have time for it and fingered the top of the pack wistfully. "It don’t really sound like a ’36 Harvester oughta sound. Maybe just too quiet. Somebody sees an old piece like this moving so quiet, maybe gets to thinking about it too much."
"Could be you’re just worrying yourself at it." The driver wrinkled his heavy brow thoughtfully. "Me, I like to drive quiet like this. You getting out here?"
"Yeah, but listen, Walter." Eddie rolled down the window, wincing as cold winter air flooded in, and he shifted in his seat. "You just ain’t safe in this neighborhood at night." He slipped the Colt .38 from under his war-surplus Army jacket and passed it over to the driver. "You better keep this."
"You won’t need it?" Walter slowed the truck as they approached a high chain link fence next to a building with a picture of a Greek warrior holding up a sword and shield and under that a sign that read
- Safe - Secure - Dependable -
"Not like you do." Eddie flexed his fingers inside dark gloves. "Just don’t lose it or nothing."
"Well thanks, Eddie." Walter tucked the revolver under one leg, pinning it to the seat, and slowed the truck a little more, feeling the long gearshift lever slide easily as he worked the clutch. "See you later?"
"Does everything go right," Eddie said, and he reached out the window with both hands and drew his lanky frame onto the roof of the cab, then crawled up onto the square metal roof at the back.
The truck was down to a slow walk now, and crouching on top, Eddie looked down at the fence. Eight feet tall, with a strand of barbed wire running across the top, and a sign:
And right beyond that, just inside the Ajax parking lot, the six squat, heavy-steel armored trucks parked in a neat row close to the fence.
He breathed in deeply, holding the air in his lungs, feeling the chilly small-town quiet like a cloak around him. Looked at the tight-coiled strand of barbed wire running the top of the fence and wondered if it really was electrified. It didn’t look like it could carry anything more deadly than pigeon-droppings, but...his hands shook a little and he looked down at them, wondering if the faint tremor was nerves or the seeping cold. He willed his hands to quit shaking, let his breath out slowly.
He looked at the fence again.
Then he rose and casually stepped over it, from the roof of the truck to the roof of the armored car on the other side. Slipped quickly down to the asphalt parking lot and crouched in the shadows to see if the noise of his entry had caught anyone’s attention.
In a minute or so he decided it hadn’t. He pulled a flashlight from the pocket of his olive-drab jacket and switched it on. The lens had been covered with windings of electrical tape until just a narrow sliver of light stabbed out in front of him, and he used this to check the numbers on the armored cars. Found the one he wanted, took a screwdriver from his pocket and set to work.
Five minutes later, he climbed to the top of the truck closest to the fence and jumped over, rolling with the eight-foot fall when he landed. Two minutes after that, he was walking casually past a radio repair shop at the edge of downtown, heading toward the gas station where Walter should be with the ice truck about now. A cigarette would be nice, he thought, only this is maybe too close. Wait just a little....
He passed the radio repair shop, hearing-without-hearing the music from inside that kept playing all night:
...To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray,
O-oh ti-i-dings of co-omfort and joy
He caught the tune and hummed softly as he moved through the shadows. Two blocks farther he put a cigarette between his lips and got a Zippo lighter from his pocket.
A single snowflake touched his nose as he lit the cigarette.
Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Boyd.