Collateral Damage – Injury inflicted on something or
someone other than an intended target.
is the hard part. That’s what Bolander
always said. Comparatively speaking,
action is easier because it’s driven by your experience and reflexes, dictated
by what is happening around you. But not
waiting. Waiting is suspended animation.
It gives you time to go over the plan, look
for holes, probe for weaknesses, wonder if you should have polished this or
tweaked that. Waiting is where
self-doubt creeps in and makes you second-guess things you shouldn’t worry
said this particular job was a piece of cake.
He had a reputation for meticulous planning and no mistakes, which is
the reason Archie was his partner. But
something went wrong this time.
to Bolander, the overseas merchant had come out of the Diamond Exchange with a
million and a half dollars worth of diamonds and emeralds in an alligator
briefcase chained to his wrist. He
entered the back of the armored truck only to find Bolander waiting for him
with a shotgun in hand and a Lone Ranger mask hiding his features. The diamond
merchant was startled, more so
when he saw the two guards bound and gagged on the floor. Bolander duct-taped
the man’s wrists and
ankles before using a pair of bolt cutters to sever the chain securing the
was at the wheel of the getaway car parked fifteen yards behind the armored truck.
He watched Bolander exit the rear, toss the
mask and shotgun inside then stroll to the car, briefcase in hand. He slipped
into the passenger seat as Archie checked
the mirrors before pulling smoothly into traffic. That’s when a Mexican
illegal in a battered
pickup ran a red light and T-boned the driver’s side. Archie was pinballed
from steering wheel to
side window to dashboard. By the time he
stopped bouncing he was a bloody, battered mess. Bolander slipped away in the
gathering crowd. Around the corner he flagged a cab and, thirty
minutes later, was seated aboard Amtrak’s Sunset
Limited on its way from New Orleans to Los Angeles.
was his story when he called me. He told
me Archie was dead, but gave no details.
I found them out later. He said
that even with Archie gone, the plan hadn’t changed. He still expected
to see me the next
morning. I told him I’d be there.
exited the train in San Antonio where I picked him up and we spent five minutes
talking about Archie before driving five hours to Dallas. I took the first leg,
switching drivers after
we ate chicken fried steaks in Waco. The
top jewel fence in the county lives in a gated and guarded compound just
outside of Fort Worth. His name is
Elliot Kruger and he only deals in loose gems—no jewelry, no exceptions. He
also pays 25% on the dollar which is 5%
more than anyone else who deals in hot gems.
He pays the extra because he is very selective about his customers. Over
the years I’ve sent a lot of guys his
way and he likes doing business thru me.
had switched the loose stones from the alligator briefcase to a nylon gym bag
lined with cotton batting. Kruger looked
like your neighbor’s kids’ grandpa, complete with a horseshoe of cropped white
hair, twinkling blue eyes, and bifocals perched on the end of his slender nose. Think
of Geppetto the woodcarver in Pinocchio.
Bolander handed him the gym bag which he handed
to an associate who could have passed for Santa Claus if he’d been wearing a
red suit. “Professor,” Kruger said, “we
await your appraisal,” then asked us if we’d like some refreshment. Bolander
said a beer would be good and we
were each brought one after the Professor left the room. We made small-talk
while we waited, my
contribution being an occasional nod and grunt to show I was paying
attention. We were halfway thru our
second beer when the Professor reappeared with a smile and a Samsonite overnight
case. Kruger took the case and arched an
inquisitive eyebrow. The Professor said,
“Very nice. As good as advertised.
Three hundred and thirty thousand for the
lot.” Kruger shifted his eyebrow to Bolander
who said, “I’ll take it,” and we did.
the compound with me behind the wheel, Bolander opened the case and whistled
softly under his breath. I glanced over
at the banded stacks of cash and grinned.
We found a FedEx store in a
Fort Worth mall and I watched the attendant box up the case and slap on a label
addressed to Bolander at his home in the Ozarks. “Safer than an armored
car,” Bolander said as
we crossed the parking lot.
hours later we were in a Best Western motel in Joplin, Missouri. We ate a light
supper and turned in early.
at dawn, we had breakfast at a Cracker Barrel and spent a little over an hour
driving to Springfield, Missouri where we left the Interstate and followed
twenty miles of twisty, two-lane backroad to Bolander’s place.
was waiting. She hugged us both, kissing
me on the cheek and Bolander on the lips.
It was obvious what they wanted so I said I thought I’d take a
walk. I spent half an hour kicking thru
leaves and chunking rocks at squirrels.
Back at the cabin, Bolander grinned at me while Opal rustled up
something on the stove. They had a
we-just-fucked look about them and I felt a sharp pang of jealousy. Not that
I wanted Opal in particular, although
I wouldn’t have kicked her out of bed, just that I could use a good fuck,
too. Later I’d drive into town and see
if Sandy was still tending bar in one of its two taverns.
washed down soup and sandwiches with cold beer, all of us antsy now that the
money was in transit. Like I said,
waiting is the hard part; waiting for the job, waiting to fence the goods,
waiting for the money to arrive. The best
thing about Bolander was his approach to thievery which was purely
professional. He had a solid reputation,
but little was known about him. No one
knew who he really was, or where he lived, or anything about his background. His
only mode of communication was burner
cell phones and he always called you, never the other way around. Anonymity
was his safety net, his protection,
his way of staying off everybody’s radar.
and I were exceptions to the rule. We
went way back with Bolander; back to being kids together, to the orphanage, to
dropping out of school and running away to join the carnival. Back to shoplifting
and grifting and scamming
marks and gradually working up from knocking over gas stations and convenience
marts to banks, then jewelry stores.
That’s where we found our niches.
Bolander’s was loose gemstones (no jewelry or baubles, no matter how
tempting). Archie’s was being a
dependable second banana, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but a guy you
could count on and one hell of a wheelman.
As for me, I’ve always been a people person so I developed
relationships. I knew guys who knew guys
who could fence anything if the money was right. I knew a couple of high-priced
who couldn’t care less if you were guilty, and a few judges (including two on
the Federal bench) who could be bought, and several cops in several states who
could make evidence disappear or fake you an ironclad alibi or provide reliable
people to vouch for your sterling, law-abiding character.
said at the start, waiting is the hard part.
After ten years of being in business—an average of two Bolander jobs a
year, plus several others for different clients—I was wrapping it up. Nobody
stays lucky forever. Sooner or later the odds catch up with
you. All along I’d had a number in my
head, a number that would let me live comfortably the rest of my life. My cut
from this last job of Bolander’s would
put me over the top. Bingo! Time
to retire to the land I’d purchased
outside of Boise, Idaho, where I planned to raise a few cattle, grow some
potatoes, and find a good woman who wanted to settle down with a guy who drank
sparingly and knew how to treat her right.
Now the wait was almost over. FedEx
would deliver by 10am
tomorrow. I intended to be on the road by
noon. Bolander wasn’t sure what he was
going to do. Maybe find another partner,
maybe go into semi-retirement, maybe open a legit business.
afternoon Bolander took a nap while Opal and I played dominoes. She told me
how she’d met Archie when he came
into a bar where she was waitressing. He
sat at a table by himself and nearby were two ersatz cowboys who were hassling
her—asking for her number, remarking on her physical attributes which were
plentiful, trying a little touch and grab.
She went across the room to wait on some college boys and saw that
Archie had joined the two assholes. By
the time she returned, Archie was back at his table and the pair of hasslers
were gone. She told me he was such a
mild-mannered guy she had no idea what he could have said to them. I told her
not to be fooled by Archie’s easy
affability, that when riled he could be tougher than marked-down meat.
was the same night she first met Bolander who stopped in to have a beer with
Archie. He was a charmer, Bolander was.
Handsome, too, far better looking than me or
Archie. He was the kind of man who had a
way with women, and he had his way with Opal.
They’d been together going on four years, though I never got the feeling
it was permanent. A comfortable relationship
to be sure, but more one of convenience, as if each of them was waiting for
something better to come along.
drove into town for supper, giving them some space and time. After supper, I
hit the local tavern for a
few beers and some laughs with Sandy the bartender. She and I had known each
other a couple of
years and were occasional fuck-buddies.
Those occasions being whenever I was at Bolander’s place. Like
me, Sandy enjoyed a good romp in the
hay, no strings attached. She called it
intimacy-of-the-moment, which was the only kind either of us wanted. After she
closed the bar, we went to her apartment
where we played some satisfying mattress polo then ate warmed-over pizza while
naked in bed. A shared shower led to us crawling
back between the sheets for another athletic round of exercise before falling
awakened early, but Sandy wanted to sleep in.
When I slapped her on the butt she rolled away and mumbled for me to
leave her alone. I found eggs in her
refrigerator and scrambled four with sour cream and green onions, made some
buttered toast, and watched Fox News
while I ate. It must have been a slow
day for news because they had a segment on the Diamond Exchange robbery. That’s
how I found out about Archie.
FedEx had come and gone by
the time I got to Bolander’s. He was
sitting at the table with stacks of cash in an open gym bag. He nodded at the
brown paper sack across from
thousand five hundred,” he said. “Your
didn’t count it, in fact didn’t even look at it. Instead, I turned
a kitchen chair around and
sat, folding my arm across the back. My
eyes never left his face.
in the back packing,” he said. “We’re leaving
as soon as you do. She wants to visit
her people in Florida and I could use some sun, sand, and cold beer under an
voice was a little raspy, partly from stress and partly from grief, when I
asked, “Why’d you shoot Archie?”
expression didn’t change except for a slight narrowing of his eyes. He
took a deep breath and let it out
slowly. “Believe me, Hank, he was
already dead. It was a gift.”
what? Did you say a gift? You’re
going to have to make that make
had to be there,” he explained reasonably.
“He was gone. All cut up and his
head bashed in. There was blood
everywhere and he wasn’t breathing.”
you shot him?”
did it to confuse the cops. I needed
time to get away.”
you put the gun in his hand?”
sighed again, shook his head sadly. “Believe
me, if he’d been alive I’d’ve stayed. As
it was I wanted the cops thinking about him, not about a second guy.”
you made it look like a suicide? That
was pretty fast thinking, don’t you think?
What if he wasn’t dead, just in a really bad way?”
know dead, Hank,” he snapped, “and believe me, Archie was.”
it was like you say, why didn’t you tell me before? Why’d I have
to hear it on the fucking news?”
I knew you’d take it the way you’re taking it now. Man, you had
to be there. Do you honestly think I’d
shoot him if he wasn’t already dead?”
dunno,” I said honestly. “Maybe if you
knew he was dying anyway. If he wasn’t
dying quick enough. If you were worried
he might give you up.”
wouldn’t do that.”
right, he wouldn’t. Not ever. But
how could you be sure? All those jewels and him being the only guy
who could finger you.”
tried being reasonable again. “Even I’m
not that cold. Do you think I could be
dunno,” I said slowly. “I’m not sure.”
“Shit,” he said
gruffly. I knew you’d take it all it wrong.”
was my brother,” I said sadly.
and like a brother to me. That’s what
I’m talking about. I wasn’t sure you
wouldn’t come looking for me. I’m still
not sure of that.”
thought about the revolver tucked in the waistband of my jeans.
I wanted to kill you you’d already be dead.”
huh, but that’s right now. What about
is no later,” I said flatly. “I’m
out of business . . . retired . . . as
what you say, but I also know how you are.
You get fixated on something and can’t turn it loose. You worry
it like a dog worries a bone. What if you’re sitting out there in the
boondocks and decide there’s more to it than I’m telling you? I
don’t intend to spend the rest of my life
looking back to see if you’re behind me.”
telling you it’s over,” I said flatly, almost convincing myself.
like to believe you, Hank. Truly I
would.” His hand came up from under the
table and he cocked the gun he held. It
made an inordinately loud sound in the quiet room. “I just can’t
take the chance.”
could see his finger tightening on the trigger.
Two shots, almost as one—Bam!Bam!—but
not from Bolander who stumbled forward half a step, surprise changing his face,
his hand dropping as he fell against the edge of the table and onto the
floor. Standing behind him was Opal,
smoke curling up from the muzzle of the gun she held. Her expression was mixed,
determination in the
set of her jaw, regret in her green eyes.
sat there, mouth agape.
or not, he shouldn’t have shot Archie,” she said quietly. “He
really shouldn’t have.”
Bolander standing between us, her gun was pointed at me. It didn’t waiver. My mouth was dry as cotton, but I managed to
make my voice work.
happens now, Opal?”
shook her head as if to clear it, then refocused her gaze on me.
was going to shoot you, too,” she said.
“Take your money and go, Hank.” Glancing
at Bolander’s body she added, “I guess his share is mine now.”
looked down, too, then asked, “What about him?”
take care of it,” she said in a wistful tone.
dropped into what had been Bolander’s chair and put her head in her hands. I
rose to walk around the table and massage
her shoulders while she cried softly. Her
trying to stifle the tears brought on the hiccups. I patted her back and she
finally lifted her
head, saying, “You’d better go if you’re going to make any miles before dark.”
I could think of to say was, “I may drive all night.”
walked me to my car, the brown paper sack in one of her hands like a mom
sending her son to school with his lunch.
I got behind the wheel and put the sack on the passenger’s seat beside
me. She leaned in the driver’s open
window and kissed my temple.
carefully, Hank. You’ve got my cell
number, don’t be a stranger. Call if you
need anything. I’ve never been west of
the Rockies so maybe I’ll come visit sometime.”
always be welcomed,” I said, suddenly realizing that I meant it.
down the driveway I looked up and saw her in the rearview mirror. She had one
hand on her hip and the other
half-raised in a goodbye wave. The sun
highlighted her red hair like a nimbus. Archie
was dead. Bolander was dead. My
old life was dead, and Idaho would be a
new beginning. How many people get that?
wondered if she was coming on to me, that crack about maybe coming to
visit. Not that I’d mind so much, just
that I didn’t know how to take it. She’d
saved my life, but unlike Bolander I wasn’t all that good with women. She
was a good one, though, that much I knew
. . . and a good-looking one.
turned onto the twisty, two-lane blacktop I caught a last glimpse of Opal’s red
hair. Like a halo, I thought. Maybe
there was something there after
all. Once I got settled and some time
had passed maybe I’d call her from Boise and find out.
and raised in the mountains of West Virginia, Jim has lived in ten states and
three foreign countries. Currently retired somewhere in the Ozarks, he has
a passion for his wife, blended (not sour mash) bourbon, Hawaiian shirts,
anything fried in bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet, stray dogs, and whatever
vegetables are in season with the exception of Brussels sprouts and eggplant.