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Mark Jones
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tincry.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2016

Tin Cry

 

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 bag.

 

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 trigger.

 

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.

 

“Don’t 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.”

 

“Who’s he?”

 

“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?”

 

“That’s 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.

 

“So that’s 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.”

 

“We could 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 up?”

 

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 Tommy.

 

“A platinum ingot.”

 

“Whoa,” said Tommy, “I want green money, not something out of a catalytic converter.”

 

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 buried treasure?”

 

“I like my money in my pocket,” said Tommy, “not buried in the ground.  Eddie, what do you think, big guy.”

 

“Let’s go to Statesboro.”

 

“Aw, count 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.”

 

“Make sure 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 thousand dollars?”

 

“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.”

 

“Five thousand dollars in cash, no explanations required,” said Eddie.

 

“Nope.  Three hundred something an ounce each isn’t enough.  I’d be better off burying it in my yard.”

 

“Six thousand.”

 

“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.”

 

“Oh, all right.  I need the money fast,” she said.

 

France said, “Pick my pocket while you’re about it.”

 

***

 

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,” asked Eddie.

 

“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.”

 

“No problem.  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.”

 

“Buddy, shut 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.

 

“Uma was 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?”

 

“A platinum ingot.”

 

“Sorry Eddie, I don’t know anybody who wants to buy a platinum ingot.  Have you tried a jeweler or perhaps the Federal Reserve?”

 

“Stop kidding around.  I hate kidding.  I’m worried it’s not real.”

 

“Where’d you get it?”

 

“I bought it from a guy named Charles France.”

 

“Then it’s 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 deal with.”

 

Eddie was quiet for a time and then said, “Will you take a look at the ingot?”

 

“Show it.”

 

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.

 

“It’s tarnished.”

 

“Platinum 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 snickering laugh.

 

Fat Red’s laugh echoed the noise made by the ingot.  

 

“That’s called tin cry.  I think that ingot is tin.  Only a few metals cry like that when they are bent.  Platinum isn’t one.”

 

“Tin?  What’s it worth.”

 

“If you find the right buyer, maybe twenty-five, thirty dollars.”

 

“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.

 

“Where can I find him?”  Eddie’s voice had an odd quaver from rage and embarrassment.

 

“He’s 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.

 

“Get out,” said Eddie, “or I’ll kill you lying all curled up like that.”

 

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.

 

“Faster.”

 

Willy grabbed Eddie’s sleeve.

 

“Eddie, I’m asking again.  If you kill him how are we going to get the money back?”

 

“It ain’t 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 Charlie France.

 

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 to crawl.

 

“France, I got to stop your mouth.”  

 

Eddie advanced 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 head.

 

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?”

 

“It ain’t about money, I said.  She won’t tell nobody nothing because she’s scared.”  

 

Willy at last understood.  

 

“Nobody will never know, Eddie.  Nobody will never know.”

 

* * *

And nobody 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.

It 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 first. 

He found 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.”

Uma’s 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. 

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