by Mark Jones
In the back room of a tavern on the banks of
the Tennessee River, four farmers and a professional gambler played cards. The farmers
kept their eyes on their cards, and the gambler cheated them easily; but he never received
any money from this game because two armed men wearing ski masks entered the room and demanded
all the money on the table and in the player’s wallets. One robber, a very
large man, blew a hole in the ceiling with a shotgun, powdering the table with drywall
fragments. The other man, short and quick, raked the cash from the table into a plastic
The gambler wore a jeweled gold horseshoe on his hat and a big diamond
ring on his crooked little finger. The big man reached for the horseshoe but then
stopped and stared into the cold, gray eyes of the gambler. The gambler maintained
his poker face, but the big man gasped and said, “Clint,” which was the name
the gambler went by as a boy.
The short man said, “Why
did you say that?” But the big man was already retreating toward the door.
Not wanting to get between the big man’s shotgun and whatever weapons the card
players might have, the short man left too.
At the bar a third robber, who
wore a bandanna over his mouth like a cowboy bad man of old, held a pistol to the head
of the bartender. The third robber had pulled the gun so fast that the bartender
didn’t have time to reach his own gun below the bar. The customers at the bar
stood petrified as did the bartender. The third robber looked him straight in the
eye. When the big man and the short man left, the third man struck the bartender’s
head with the gun and then backed out the door with it in his hand and his finger on the
The fourth man wore a black ski mask and sat in an old Camaro
shined to look new. The driver barely waited for the other gang members to get in
before he took off down the road. The short man fell into his seat and was jerked
back before he even had time to shut his door.
The short man began to shout,
“What are you doing, Tommy, trying to leave me? I’ve got the money, you
idiot. And didn’t you think anybody would notice a guy in a car with a ski
mask on in May? And you, Eddie, why did you go and say that man’s name back
there? If you recognized his face, he might have recognized your voice. What
were you thinking?”
“Willy, I was thinking about all the
times he made me feel small and stupid when I was in school,” said the big man, pulling
off his ski mask. Lank brown hair fell into his eyes, tiny eyes in deep sockets set
above a nose and a mouth too small for his face.
think about then,” said Willy. “Think about now.”
Without the ski-mask, Willy looked anemic and emaciated.
“I am thinking about now,”
said Eddie. “Now is payback time. Remember how I said I was the first
kid in my class to get a sign that said kick me taped to my backside? Clint
put it there. I hate tricks.”
The man with the red bandanna
said, “You were the butt of that joke.” Without a cloth covering his
mouth, his breath smelled.
“Buddy,” said Eddie,
glaring at the man with the bandanna, “shut up.” Buddy was quiet
and then said “sorry.”
Eddie turned to the short man,
“Willy, Clint isn’t going to the cops. That was an illegal game. Who’s
going to come after me?”
“Bad folks like Clint’s dad.”
“You know, just the sheriff of Caloosa
County where you live.”
“Clint’s dad gave me a future as an outlaw when he put this
shotgun in his car and forgot to lock the door. And I say it again, who’s he?”
what we are,” said Buddy, “outlaws.”
Willy rolled his eyes.
Tommy asked, “How much did we get?”
Willy put his hand
in the bag and started counting quickly out loud. Tommy and Buddy shouted and whooped
when the total went over five thousand dollars.
eight thousand three hundred dollars,” said Willy, finishing the count. “We
can’t spend the money. Even if Clint can’t place Eddie’s voice,
word will get around if we start spending this kind of money in town.”
spend the money out of town,” said Tommy.
“Take off the ski mask. It’s
making you stupid,” said Eddie. “Clint or the sheriff or maybe even one
of those hayseed high-rollers would hear of it. Why can’t we just split the money
Willy explained, “Because if one us goes
down, we all do. We’re what they call known associates. And that’s
known to everybody, not just the law. Let’s buy something that we can’t
split up easily, that we can resell quickly, and that won’t get messed up in hiding.
Something a rat won’t eat and mold won’t grow on. We may have to
hide it for a year or two.”
Tommy stopped smiling and Buddy said, “It sounds like you’ve
already got something in mind you want us to buy.”
“I heard a guy in Statesboro named Charles
France has something to sell.”
‘What is it?” asked
“A platinum ingot.”
“Whoa,” said Tommy,
“I want green money, not something out of a catalytic
Buddy piped up, “Tommy, Willy has a good point. If one of
us starts flashing cash or buys something nice, nosy people in town will talk--and then
the word will get back to Clint or his Dad. Besides, what could be better than having
“I like my money in my pocket,” said Tommy, “not buried
in the ground. Eddie, what do you think,
“Let’s go to Statesboro.”
me out,” said Tommy.
“Why don’t we count you in for a little extra? Why don’t
we count you and Buddy three hundred off the top and drop you off at the Titillations Club
outside Statesboro while Willy and I go look at what Charles France has to sell.”
we get plenty of ones and fives. That club’s always been my first stop in Statesboro,”
said Buddy. “Come on, Tommy, Titillations is where we wanted to go anyway.”
Willy held his
tongue for the rest of the ride to Statesboro. After Tommy and Buddy got out at the
Titillations Club, he muttered a single word, “Idiots.”
They found Charles France, a tall blond man with a tattoo of a
guitar on his hand, in The Sporting Lounge. France had his girlfriend Uma with him.
Willy didn’t like Uma because she was too pretty, too lively, and too talkative
not to be noticed. Eddie liked her.
“Are you a musician,” asked Eddie, noticing that Uma wore a
t-shirt with the name of a band Eddie had never heard of.
“We’re going to be a rock stars.
Aren’t we, Charlie. Just you wait and see.”
“I like the
way you laugh,” said Eddie.
Willy cleared his throat noisily and said, “France, we heard you
have something to sell.”
“I do, gentlemen,” replied Charlie. “Uma why don’t
you step over there and talk to Carolyn while we do some business.”
Uma scowled, but she walked away toward another blonde woman in
the bar. Willy, Eddie, and France followed her jeggings with their eyes, then France
turned to Eddie and said, “If it’s the item I’m thinking of, I couldn’t
take less than ten thousand dollars.”
Willy stepped closer to France and said, “How about five
“We must not be talking about the same thing. I’m talking
about a pound of platinum, an ingot of pure metal that weighs no fewer than sixteen ounces.
Each ounce is worth more than a thousand dollars. I’m practically giving
it away because I don’t want to explain to anybody how I got it.”
dollars in cash, no explanations required,” said Eddie.
hundred something an ounce each isn’t enough. I’d be better off burying
it in my yard.”
“No again. This bar
is worth some real money.”
Uma drifted back to the group.
“What do you need this
real money for?” asked Eddie.
Uma said, “Equipment and travel expenses for my band.” She
touched Eddie’s hand.
Eddie motioned to Willy to come over to talk about their offer.
Willy told Eddie a pound ingot really was worth more than $16,000. Willy suggested
they up their offer.
Eddie turned to Uma and said, “Eight thousand.”
right. I need the money fast,” she said.
France said, “Pick my pocket while you’re
In the parking
lot of The Sporting Lounge, France, Willy, and Eddie walked to France’s rather dirty
Chrysler 300. Uma held back and walked behind the group. She went to stand
behind France, who opened the trunk of his car and took out a velvet bag that had once
held a bottle of Scotch whiskey. He opened the bag and showed Willy and Eddie the
ingot inside. Uma looked away.
“Why isn’t it shiny,”
“It’s tarnished,” said France. “It just needs
a good polishing. Let’s get this over with.”
Eddie handed France
a plastic bag with eight thousand dollars in it.
“If you fellows
don’t mind, please stick around while I count this money.”
I don’t play tricks,” said Eddie.
Eddie noticed Uma’s head was turned away
from the money. He saw she wore a diamond earring.
When Eddie and
Willy drove away, Uma blew them a kiss.
Eddie and Willy
drove to Titillations and found Buddy and Tommy enjoying making fools of themselves. Willy
shooed the girls away from their table while Eddie was taking the bar from the bag.
Willy said, “Let’s
figure out where to hide it.”
“Hide it?” said Tommy. “You mean you bought it without
talking to Buddy and me.”
“We got a great deal. We bought it for half the market
price that we can get from a dealer.”
Buddy said, “Let’s show it to the girls.”
up, you’re drunk. Keep those girls away from the table for a few fucking minutes
while I try something.”
Eddie moistened the velvet bag with his tongue and then rubbed
the bar with the bag. Nothing happened, no matter how hard he rubbed. He spat
on the bar, grabbed the salt shaker, and dumped it on the gob of spit, then he rubbed it
hard with the rag. The bar polished up a little but it still didn’t look like
the whitish, silvery platinum rings he’d seen in stores. It was duller.
shy once she walked into the parking lot,” said Eddie. “Did you see her
diamond earring? She kept turning her head to the side to keep from looking at me.
She wasn’t showing off her jewelry. Before we hide the platinum let’s
figure out if it’s worth hiding.”
Willy admitted he was suspicious of Charles France and of the
ingot. He suggested Eddie take it to Fat Red.
Fat Red kept a
warehouse of sorts in a rented garage behind a well-maintained house in a suburban neighborhood
that was clean as the plate glass windows in the nearby mall. Inside the garage the
shelves were stacked with consumer electronics. A table bore a computer, a machine
to print magnetic strips, and a pot of chili on a hot plate. A box of assorted
cell phones filled a chair.
Stooping over the pot of chili with a spoon in his hand, Fat Red
fed himself. He had recently amplified the color of his hair with red dye. His
sparse hair brushed the shoulders of his black t-shirt.
Red had a concealed video camera
on the outside of the garage. When he saw Eddie on the screen of the computer, he
unlocked the door. Fat Red trusted Eddie because Red thought Eddie was too dumb to
think of a scam and too smart to try to put anything over on him. Eddie entered
carrying a bag with a heavy square bulge in it.
“What did you bring me, a brick?”
“Sorry Eddie, I don’t know anybody
who wants to buy a platinum ingot. Have you tried a jeweler or perhaps the Federal
“Stop kidding around. I hate kidding.
I’m worried it’s not real.”
you get it?”
“I bought it from a guy named Charles France.”
probably not real.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because France keeps getting
in trouble with the law for talking people out of their money. He’s never been
convicted, but he’s not to be trusted. Eddie, you should always know who you
Eddie was quiet for a time and then said, “Will
you take a look at the ingot?”
Eddie unwrapped the ingot. Fat Red looked at the dull
color and smiled.
“That’s way too big a hunk of metal to be a pound of platinum.
Platinum is dense. And the color isn’t right.
doesn’t tarnish, Eddie. Put one end in that vice on the workbench against the
wall over there.”
Eddie did so.
“Now bend the ingot.”
Eddie bent it and heard a dry, crackling sound like a soft and
Fat Red’s laugh echoed the noise made by the ingot.
called tin cry. I think that ingot is tin. Only a few metals cry like that
when they are bent. Platinum isn’t one.”
“If you find the right buyer, maybe twenty-five, thirty
“What’ll I do with it?”
“Give it to your wife on
your tenth anniversary.”
“I’m not married.”
“Fat Red inhaled deeply
and said, “I wonder where old Charlie got this.” He paused. “He’s
not stupid enough to steal a tin bar.”
Eddie’s ears burned when he heard the word stupid.
I find him?” Eddie’s voice had an odd quaver from rage and embarrassment.
got quite a bit of your money. I guess he’s celebrating. Look for him
in one of those bars on Oak Street in Statesboro.”
Eddie drove his pick-up truck along an old logging trail leading
to a grove of trees among the hills. A small creek ran through the grove. The
trees were oaks, pines, and cedars. They rose through kudzu laced with poison oak.
In the passenger
seat Willy sweated with anxiety. “What are you going to do, Eddie? We beat
France up; are you going to kill him, too? If you do, how are we going to get our
money back? Hey, you don't think France and I set this up together, do you? You
don’t think this mess is my fault?”
Eddie shook his
head. He said not a word.
The truck left the road and splashed through the creek into a
little clearing where goldenrod grew. Eddie braked, opened his door, and pulled out
his shotgun from behind his seat. He and Willy went to the rear of the truck and
let down the tailgate. Charlie France lay on the truck bed curled up in fetal position.
said Eddie, “or I’ll kill you lying all curled up
France half rose and half rolled out of the truck. He fell
to his knees. “I’ll give you the money back,” he said.
Eddie’s eyes wept from
the goldenrod pollen. “Run,” he roared.
France took off,
running in a zigzag pattern across the clearing in an attempt to spoil Eddie’s aim.
Eddie fired the
shot gun in the air, tears running from his eyes.
Willy grabbed Eddie’s sleeve.
“Eddie, I’m asking
again. If you kill him how are we going to get the money back?”
about the money, and it ain’t your fault, Willy.”
“It’s sure all about the money
for Tommy and Buddy.”
Eddie stumbled from Willy’s grasp and fired again, missing
Eddie’s third shot hit France’s leg. He stopped zigzagging
and limped straight for the trees.
Eddie took long strides toward the retreating figure. He
fired again and hit France’s shoulder. France fell to his knees and started
“France, I got to stop your mouth.”
toward Charles France and fired at his other leg. France passed out. Eddie
stepped up close to France and fired at France’s other shoulder. France didn’t
even jerk. Red blood spattered the goldenrod. Eddie fired a kill shot to France’s
Tears, blood, and pollen smeared Eddie’s face. His shotgun
empty, he turned to Willy.
“Willy, don’t tell nobody about this. Not about the money.
Not about the tin. Not about me killing Charlie France. Tell Tommy and
Buddy they’ll get more than their share next time. And though I don’t
think you deserve it, so will you.”
“Why don’t we just take the money from the girl?”
about money, I said. She won’t tell nobody nothing because she’s scared.”
Willy at last understood.
never know, Eddie. Nobody will never know.”
* * *
did find out that proud Eddie murdered a man who’d made a fool of him with a
block of tin until about a year later when two boys searching for crawdads in a
creek discovered a human mandible. When
the sheriff of Caloosa County examined the jawbone, he suspected he was looking
at the last remains of the unfortunate confidence man Charles France.
all made sense, he thought. France’s
mother had reported him missing, and he was the only person who’d gone missing in
the area recently. Shortly before France
disappeared, according to his girlfriend Uma, he sold a platinum ingot that was
actually tin to a certain country thug named Eddie who had a history of
violence. The matter of the money that
bought the ingot would have to remain open, thought the sheriff, because the
answer would make trouble for his son Clint.
The sheriff’s deductions about the jawbone proved
correct. France’s dentist made a positive
identification. The sheriff sent his
deputies to bring in Eddie. Instead of
notifying France’s mother, the next of kin, the sheriff went to see Uma
her moving out of her apartment in Statesboro.
Her furniture was already in the moving van, so the sheriff and Uma faced
each other in a room empty of everything but a few boxes.
The sheriff hated telling people
that their friends, kin, and lovers were dead. He knew
he was too blunt for the job.
He said, “Kids found Charles France’s jawbone in a creek.”
eyeballs bulged with horror, and she began to cry.
The sheriff put his arm around her shoulder to
comfort her. “Don’t worry,” he
said. “I’ll make sure your name never
comes up in court. Besides, I feel the
money came into the right hands when you got together with Clint.”
Mark Jones lives in Atlanta with his wife and younger
daughter. He recently added "cancer survivor" to his list
of accomplishments and decided to devote more time to writing. His Twitter
handle is @marqjonz.