Not Quite Kosher

An Abe Lieberman Mystery

Abe Lieberman (Volume 7)

Stuart M. Kaminsky

Forge Books

“You sure?”
Wychovski looked at Pryor, and said, “I’m sure. One year ago. This day. That jewelry store. It’s in my book.”
Pryor was short, thin, nervous. Dustin Hoffman on some kind of speed produced by his own body. His face was flat, scarred from too many losses in the ring for too many years. He was stupid. Born that way. Punches to the head hadn’t made his IQ rise. But Pryor did what he was told, and Wychovski liked telling Pryor what to do. Talking to Pryor vas like thinking out loud.
“One year ago. In your book,” Pryor said, looking at the jewelry store through the car window.
“In my book,” Wychovski said, patting the right pocket of his black zipper jacket.
“And this is…? I mean, where are we?”
“Northbrook. It’s a suburb of Chicago,” said Wychovski patiently. “North of Chicago.”
Pryor nodded as if he understood. He didn’t really, but if Wychovski said so, it must be so. He looked at Wychovski, who sat behind the wheel, his eyes fixed on the door of the jewelry store. Wychovski was broad-shouldered, well built from three years with the weights in Stateville and keeping it up when he was outside. He was nearing fifty blue eyes, short, short haircut, gray-black hair. He looked like a linebacker, a short linebacker. Wychovski had never played football. He had robbed two Cincinnati Bengals once outside a bar, but that was the closest he got to the real thing. Didn’t watch sports on the tube. In prison he had read, wore glasses. Classics. For over a year. Dickens, Poe, Hemingway. Steinbeck, Shakespeare. Freud, Shaw, Irwin and George Bernard. Ibsen, Remarque. Memorized passages. Fell asleep remembering them when the lights went out. Then two years to the day he started, Wychovski stopped reading. Wychovski kept track of time.
Now, Wychovski liked to keep moving. Buy clothes, eat well, stay in classy hotels when he could. Wychovski was putting the cash away for the day he’d feel like retiring. He couldn’t imagine that day.
“Tell me again why we’re hitting it exactly a year after we hit it before,” Pryor said.
Wychovski checked his watch. Dusk. Almost dosing time. The couple who owned and ran the place were alway the last ones in the mall besides the Chinese restaurant to close. On one side of the jewelry store, Gortman’s Jewelry and Fine Watches, was a storefront insurance office. State Farm. Frederick White the agent. He had locked up and gone home. On the other side, Himmell’s Gifts. Stuff that looked like it would break if you touched it in the window. Glassy-looking birds and horses. Glassy not classy. Wychovski liked touching real class, like really thin glass wineglasses. If he settled down, he’d buy a few, have a drink every night, run his finger around the rim and make that ringing sound. He didn’t know how to do that. He’d learn.
“Why are we here again?” Pryor asked.
“Anniversary. Our first big score. Good luck. Maybe. It just feels right.”
“What did we get last time?”
The small strip mall was almost empty now. Maybe four cars if you didn’t count the eight parked all the way down at the end by the Chinese restaurant. Wychovski could take or leave Chinese food, but he liked the buffet idea. Thai food. That was his choice. Tonight they’d have Thai. Tomorrow they’d take the watches, bracelets, rings to Walter Polk Street. Walter would look everything over, make an offer. Wychovski would take it. Thai food. That was the ticket.
“We got six thousand last time,” Wychovski said. “Five minutes’ work. Six thousand dollars. More than a thousand a minute.”
“More than a thousand a minute,” Pryor echoed.
“Celebration,” said Wychovski. “This is a celebration, back where our good luck started.”
“Back light went out,” Pryor said, looking at the jewelry store.
“We’re moving,” Wychovski answered, getting quickly out of the car.
They moved right toward the door. Wychovski had a Glock. His treasure. Read about it in a spy story in a magazine. Had to have it. Pryor had a piece of crap street gun with tape on the handle. Revolver. Six or seven shots. Piece of crap, but a bullet from it would hurt going in and might never come out. People didn’t care. You put a gun in their face, they didn’t care if it was precision or zip. They knew it could blow out their lights.
Wychovski glanced at Pryor keeping pace at his side. Pryor had dressed up for the job. He had gone through his bag at the motel, asked Wychovski what he should wear. Always asked Wychovski. Asked him if he should brush his teeth. Well, maybe not quite, but asked him almost everything. The distance to the moon. Could eating Equal really give you cancer. Wychovski always had an answer. Quick, ready. Right or wrong. He had an answer.
Pryor was wearing blue slacks and a Tommy Hilfiger blue pullover short-sleeved shirt. He had brushed his hair, polished his shoes. He was ready. Ugly and ready.
Just as the couple inside turned off their light, Wychovski opened the door and pulled out his gun. Pryor did the same. They didn’t wear masks, only hit smaller marks that-lacked surveillance cameras, like this Dick and Jane little jewelry store. Artists’ sketches were for shit. Ski masks itched. Sometimes Wychovski wore dark glasses. That’s if they were working the day. Sometimes he had a Band-Aid on his cheek. Let them remember that or the fake mole I got from Gibson’s Magic Shop in Paris, Texas. That was bad hit. No more magic shops. He had scooped up a shopping bag of tricks and practical jokes. Fake dog shit. Fake snot you could hang from your nose. Threw it all away. Kept the mole. Didn’t have it on now.
“Don’t move,” he said.
The couple didn’t move. The man was younger than Wychovski by a decade. Average height. He had grown a beard in the last year. Looked older. Wearing a zipper jacket. Blue. Wychovski’s was black. Wychovski’s favorite colors were black and white.
The woman was blonde, somewhere in her thirties, sort of pretty, too thin for Wychovski’s tastes. Pryor remembered the women. He never touched them, but he remembered and talked about them at night in the hotels or motels. Stealing from good-looking women was a high for Pryor. That and good kosher hot dogs. Chicago was always good for hot dogs if you knew where to go. Wychovski knew. On the way back, they’d stop at a place he knew on Dempster in Chicago. Make Pryor happy. Sit and eat a big kosher or two, lots of fries, ketchup, onions, hot peppers. Let Pryor talk about the woman.
She looked different. She was wearing a green dress. She was pregnant. That was it.
“No,” she said.
“Yes,” said Wychovski, “You know what to do. Stand quiet. No alarms. No crying. Nothing stupid. Boy or a girl?”
Pryor was behind the glass counters, opening them quickly, shoveling, clinking, into the Barnes & Noble bag he had taken from his back pocket. There was a picture of sigmund Freud on the bag. Sigmund Freud was watching
Wychovski. Wychovski wondered what Freud was thinking.
“Boy or girl?” Wychovski repeated. “You know if it’s going to be a boy or a girl?”
“Girl,” said the man.
“You got a name picked out?”
“Jessica,” said the woman.
Wychovski shook his head no and said, “Too…I don’t know…too what everybody else is doing. Something simple. Joan. Molly. Agnes. The simple is different. Hurry it up,” he called to Pryor.
“Hurry it up, right,” Pryor answered, moving faster, the B&N bag bulging. Freud looking a little plump and not so serious now.
“We’ll think about it,” the man said.
Wychovski didn’t think so.
“Why us?” the woman said. Anger. Tears were coming. “Why do you keep coming back to us?”
“Only the second time,” said Wychovski. “Anniversary. One year ago today. Did you forget?”
“I remembered,” said the man, moving to his wife and putting his arm around her.
“We won’t be back,” Wychovski said, as Pryor moved across the carpeting to the second showcase.
“It doesn’t matter,” said the man. “After this we won’t be able to get insurance?”
“Sorry,” said Wychovski. “How’s business been?”
“Slow,” said the man, with a shrug. The pregnant woman’s eyes were closed.
Pryor scooped.
“You make any of this stuff?” Wychovski asked, looking around. “Last time there were some gold things, little animals, shapes, birds, fish, bears. Little.”
“I made those,” the man said.
“See any little animals, gold?” Wychovski called to Pryor.
“Don’t know,” said Pryor. “Just scooping. Wait. Yeah, I see some. A whole bunch,”
Wychovski looked at his watch. He remembered where he got it. Right here. One year ago. He held up the watch to show the man and woman.
“Recognize it,” he said.
The man nodded.
“Keeps great time,” said Wychovski. “Class.”
“You have good taste,” the man said sarcastically.
“Thanks,” said Wychovski, ignoring the sarcasm. The man had aright. He was being robbed. He was going out of business. This was a going out of business nonsale. The man wasn’t old. He could start again, work for someone else. He made nice little gold animals. He was going to be a father. The watch told Wychovski that they had been here four minutes.
“Let’s go,” he called to Pryor.
“One more minute. Two more. Should I look in the back?”
Wychovski hesitated.
“Anything back there?” Wychovski asked the man.
The man didn’t answer.
“Forget it,” he called to Pryor. “We’ve got enough.”
Pryor came out from behind the case. B&N bag bulging. More than they got the last time. Then Pryor tripped. It happens. Pryor tripped. The bag fell on the floor. Gold and time went flying, a snow or rain of gold and silver, platinum and rings. Glittering, gleaming little animals, a Noah’s ark of perfect beasts. And Pryor’s gun went off as he fell.
The bullet hit the man in the back. The woman screamed. The man went to his knees. His teeth were clenched. Nice white teeth. Wychovski wondered if such nice white teeth could be real. The woman went down with the man, trying to hold him up.
Pryor looked at them, looked at Wychovski, and started to throw things back in the bag. Wait. That wasn’t Freud. Wychovski tried to remember who it was. Not Freud. George Bernard Shaw. It was George Bernard Shaw with wrinkled brow looking at Wychovski, displeased.
“An accident,” Wychovski told the woman, who was holding her husband, who now bit his lower lip hard Blood from the bite. Wychovski didn’t want to know what the man’s back looked like or where the bullet had traveled inside his body. “Call an ambulance. Nine-one-one. We never shot anybody before. An accident.”
Wychovski knelt and began to scoop up watches and the little gold animals from the floor. He stuffed them in his right pocket. He stuffed them in his left and in his right. A few in the pocket of his shirt.
It was more than five minutes now. Pryor was breathing hard trying to get everything. On his knees, scampering like a crazy dog.
“Put the gun away,” Wychovski said. “Use both hands. Hurry up. These people need a doctor.”
Pryor nodded, put the gun in his pocket and gathered glittering crops. The man had fallen, collapsed on his back. The woman looked at Wychovski, crying. Wychovski didn’t want her to lose her baby.
“He have insurance?” he asked.
She looked at him bewildered.
“Life insurance?” Wychovski explained.
“Done,” said Pryor with a smile. His teeth were small, yellow.
The woman didn’t answer the question. Pryor ran to the door. He didn’t look back at what he had done.
“Nine-one-one,” Wychovski said, backing out of the store.
Pryor looked both ways and headed for the car. Wychovski was a foot out the door. He turned and went back in.
“Sorry,” he said. “It was an accident.”
“Get out,” the woman screamed. “Go away. Go away. Go away.”
She started to get up. Maybe she was crazy enough to attack him. Maybe Wychovski would have to shoot her. He didn’t think he could shoot a pregnant woman.
“Joan,” he said, stepping outside again. “Joan’s a good name. Think about it. Consider it.”
“Get out,” the woman screamed.
Wychovski got out. Pryor was already in the car. Wychovski ran. Some people were coming out of the Chinese restaurant. Two guys in baseball hats. From this distance, about forty yards, they looked like truckers. There weren’t any trucks in the lot. They were looking right at Wychovski. Wychovski realized he was holding his gun. Wychovski could hear the woman screaming. The truckers could probably hear her, too. He ran to the car, got behind the wheel. Pryor couldn’t drive, never learned, never tried.
Wychovski shot out of the parking lot. They’d need another car. Not a problem. Night. Good neighborhood. In and gone in something not too new. Dump it. No prints. Later buy a five-year-old GEO, Honda, something like that. Legal. In Wychovski’s name.
“We got a lot,” Pryor said happily.
“You shot that guy,” Wychovski said, staying inside the speed limit, heading for the expressway. “He might die.”
“What?” asked Pryor.
“You shot that man,” Wychovski repeated, passing a guy in a blue BMW. The guy was smoking a cigarette. Wychovski didn’t smoke. He made Pryor stop when they’d gotten together. Inside. In Stateville, he was in a cell with two guys who smoked. Smell had been everywhere. On Wychovski’s clothes. On the pages of his books.
People killed themselves. Alcohol, drugs, smoking, eating crap that told the blood going to their heart that this was their territory now and there was no way they were getting by without surgery.
“People stink,” said Wychovski.
Pryor was poking through the bag. He nodded in agreement. He was smiling.
“What if he dies?” Wychovski said.
“The guy you shot,” said Wychovski. “Shot full of holes by someone she knows.”
The expressway was straight ahead. Wychovski could see the stoplight, the big green sign.
“I don’t know her,” Pryor said. “Never saw her before.”
“One year ago,” Wychovski said.
“So? We don’t go back. The guy dies. Everybody dies You said so,” Pryor said, feeling proud of himself, holding G.B. Shaw to his bosom. “We stopping for hot dogs? That place you said? Kosher. Juicy.”
“I don’t feel like hot dogs,” said Wychovski.
He turned onto the expressway, headed south toward. Chicago. Jammed. Rush hour. Line from here to forever. Moving maybe five, ten miles an hour. Wychovski turned on the radio and looked in the rearview mirror. Cars were lined up behind him. A long showroom of whatever you might want. Lights on, creeping, crawling. Should have stayed off the expressway. Too late now. Listen to the news, music, voices that made sense besides his own. An insulting talk show host would be fine.
“More than we got last time,” Pryor said happily.
“Yeah,” said Wychovski.
“A couple of hot dogs would be good,” said Pryor. “Celebrate.”
“Celebrate what?”
“Anniversary. We’ve got a present.”
Pryor held up the bag. It looked heavy. Wychovski grunted. What the hell. They had to eat.
“Hot dogs,” Wychovski said.
“Yup,” said Pryor.
Traffic crawled. The car in front of Wychovski had a bumper sticker:
don’t blame me. i voted libertarian.
What the hell was that? Libertarian. Wychovski willed the cars to move. He couldn’t do magic. A voice on the radio said something about Syria. Syria didn’t exist for Wychovski. Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Bosnia. You name it. It didn’t really exist. Nothing existed. No place existed until it was right there to be touched, looked at, held up with a Glock on your hand.
Wychovski heard it over the sound of running engines and a horn here and there from someone in a hurry to get somewhere in a hurry. He looked up. Helicopter. Traffic watch from a radio or television station? No. It was low. Cops. The truckers from the Chinese restaurant? Still digesting their fried won ton when they went to their radios or a pay phone or a cell phone or pulled out a rocket.
Cops were looking for a certain car. Must be hundreds, thousands out here. Find Waldo only harder. Wychovski looked in his rearview mirror. No flashing lights. He looked up the embankment to his right. Access drive. The tops of cars. No lights flashing. No uniforms dashing. No dogs barking. Just GLUCK, GLUCK, GLUCK. Then a light. Pure white circle down on the cars in front. Sweeping right to left, left to right. Pryor had no clue. He was lost in Rolexes and dreams of French fries.
Did the light linger on them? Imagination? Maybe. Description from the hot-and-sour soup-belching truckers? Description from the lady with the baby she was going to name Jessica when Joan would have been better. Joan was Wychovski’s mother’s name. He hadn’t suggested it lightly.
So they had his description. Stocky guy with short gray hair, about fifty, wearing a black zipper jacket. Skinny guy carrying a canvas bag filled with goodies. A jackpot pinata, a heist from St. Nick.
Traffic moved, not wisely or well, but it moved, inched. Music of another time. Tony Bennett? No, hell no. Johnny Mathis singing “Chances Are.” Should have been Tommy Edwards.
“Let’s go. Let’s go,” Wychovski whispered to the car ahead.
“Huh?” asked Pryor.
“There’s a cop in a helicopter up there,” Wychovski said looking up, moving forward as if he were on the role coaster ride creeping toward the top where they plunge straight down into despair and black air. “I think he’s looking for us.”
Pryor looked at him, then rolled down his window to stick his head out before Wychovski could stop him.
“Stop that shit,” Wychovski shouted, pulling the skinny Pryor inside.
“I saw it,” said Pryor.
“Did he see you?”
“No one waved or nothing,” said Pryor. “There he goes.”
The helicopter roared forward low, ahead of them. Should he take the next exit? Stay in the crowd? And then the traffic started to move a little faster. Not fast, mind you, out it was moving now. Maybe twenty miles an hour. Actually, nineteen, but close enough. Wychovski decided to grit it out. He turned off the radio.
They made it to Dempster in thirty-five minutes and headed east, toward Lake Michigan. No helicopter. It was still early. Too early for an easy car swap, but it couldn’t be helped. Helicopters, He searched this way and that, let his instincts take over at a street across from a park. Three-story apartment buildings. Lots of traffic. He drove in a block. Cars on both sides, some facing the wrong way.
“What are we doing?” asked Pryor.
We are doing nothing,” Wychovski said. “I am looking
for a car. I steal cars. I rob stores. I don’t shoot people. I show my gun. They show respect. You show that piece of hit in your pocket, trip over thin air, and shoot a guy in the back.”
“Accident,” said Pryor.
“My ass,” said Wychovski. And then, “That one.”
He was looking at a gray Nissan a couple of years old parked under a big tree with branches sticking out over the street. No traffic. Dead-end street.
“Wipe it down,” Wychovski ordered, parking the car and getting out.
Pryor started wiping the car for prints. First inside. Then outside. By the time he was done, Wychovski had the Nissan humming. Pryor got in the passenger seat, his bag on his lap, going on a vacation. All he needed was a beach and a towel.
They hit the hot dog place fifteen minutes later. They followed the smell and went in. There was a line. Soft, poppy seed buns. Kosher dogs. Big slices of new pickle. Salty brown fries. They were in line. Two women in front of them were talking. A mother and daughter. Both wearing shorts and showing stomach. Pryor looked back at the door. He could see the Nissan. The bag was in the trunk, with George Bernard Shaw standing guard.
The woman and the girl were talking about Paris. Plaster of? Texas? Europe? Somebody they knew? Nice voices. Wychovski tried to remember when he had last been with a woman. Not that long ago. Two months? Amarillo? Las Vegas? Moline, Illinois?
It was their turn. The kid in the white apron behind the counter wiped his hands, and said, “What can I do for you?”
You can bring back the dead, thought Wychovski. You can make us invisible. You can teleport us to my Aunt Elaine’s in Corpus Christi.
“You can give us each a hot dog with the works,” Wychovski said.
“Two for me,” said Pryor. “And fries.”
“Two for both of us. Lots of mustard. Grilled onions. Tomatoes. Cokes. Diet for me. Regular for him.”
The mother and daughter were sitting on stools, still talking about Paris and eating.
“You got a phone?” Wychovski asked, paying for their order.
“Back there,” said the kid, taking the money.
“I’m going back there to call Walter. Find us a seat where we can watch the car.“
Pryor nodded and moved to the pickup order line. Wychovski went back there to make the call. The phone was next to the toilet. He used the toilet first and looked at himself in the mirror. He didn’t look good. Decidedly.
He filled the sink with water, cold water, and plunged his face in. Maybe the sink was dirty? Least of his worries. He pulled his head out and looked at himself. Dripping wet reflection. The world hadn’t changed. He dried his face and hands and went to the phone. He had a calling card, AT&T. He called Walter. The conversation went like this.
“Walter? I’ve good goods.”
“Jewelry store?”
“It matters?”
“Matters. Cops moved fast. Man’s in the hospital maybe dying. Church deacon or something. A saint. All over television, with descriptions of two dummies I thought I might recognize.”
“Goods are goods,” said Wychovski.
“These goods could make a man an accessory maybe to murder. Keep your goods. Take them who knows where. Get out of town before it’s too late, my dear. You know what I’m saying?”
“Walter, be reasonable.”
My middle name is reasonable. It should be ‘careful’ out it’s ‘reasonable.’ I’m hanging up. I don’t know who you are. I think you got the wrong number.”
He hung up. Wychovski looked at the phone and thought. St. Louis. There was a guy, Tanner, in St. Louis. No, East St. Louis. A black guy who’d treat them fair for their goods. And Wychovski had a safe deposit box in St. Louis with a little over sixty thousand in it. They’d check out of the motel and head for St. Louis. Not enough cash with them without selling the goods or going to the bank to get a new car. They’d have to drive the Nissan, slow and easy. All night. Get to Tanner first thing in the morning when the sun was coming up through the Arch.
Wychovski went down the narrow corridor. Cardboard boxes made it narrower. When he got to the counter, the mother and daughter were still eating and talking and drinking. Lots of people were. Standing at the counters or sitting on high stools with red seats that swirled. Smelled fantastic. Things would be alright. Pryor had a place by the window, where he could watch the car. He had finished one hot dog and was working on another. Wychovski inched in next to him.
“We’re going to St. Louis,” he said behind a wall of other conversations.
“Okay,” said Pryor, mustard on his nose. No questions. Just “okay.”
Then it happened. It always happens. Shit always happens. A cop car, black-and-white, pulled into the lot outside the hot dog place. It was a narrow lot. The cops were moving slowly. Were they looking for a space and a quick burger or hot dog? Were they looking for a stolen Nissan.
The cops stopped next to the Nissan.
“No,” moaned Pryor.
Wychovski grabbed the little guy’s arm. The cops turned toward the hot dog shop window. Wychovski looked at the wall, ate his dog, and ate slowly, his heart going mad. Maybe he’d die now of a heart attack. Why not? His father had died on A Washington, D.C., subway just like that.
Pryor was openly watching the cops move toward them.
“Don’t look at them,” Wychovski whispered. “Look at me. Talk. Say something. Smile. I’ll nod. Say anything.”
“Are they coming for us?” asked Pryor, working on his second dog.
“You’ve got mustard on your nose. You want to go down with mustard on your nose? You want to be a joke on the ten o’clock news?”
Wychovski took a napkin and wiped Pryor’s nose as the cops came in the door and looked around.
“Reach in your pocket,” said Wychovski. “Take out your gun. I’m going to do the same. Aim it at the cops. Don’t shoot. Don’t speak. If they pull out their guns, just drop yours. It’ll be over, and we can go pray that the guy you shot doesn’t die.”
“I don’t pray,” said Pryor, as the cops, both young and in uniform, moved through the line of customers down the middle of the shop, hands on holstered guns.
Wychovski turned, and so did Pryor, Guns out, aimed. Butch and Sundance. A John Woo movie.
“Hold it,” shouted Wychovski.
Oh God, I pissed in my pants. Half an hour to the motel. Maybe twenty years to life to the motel.
The cops stopped, hands still on their holsters. The place went dead. Someone screamed. The mother or the daughter who had stopped talking about Paris. “Let’s go,” said Wychovski.
Pryor reached back for the last half of his hot dog and his little greasy bag of fries.
“Is that a Glock?” asked the kid behind the counter.
“It’s a Glock,” said Wychovski.
“Cool gun,” said the kid.
The cops didn’t speak. Wychovski didn’t say anything more. He and Pryor made it to the door, backed away across the parking lot, watching the cops watching them. The cops wouldn’t shoot. Too many people.
“Get in,” Wychovski said.
Pryor got in the car. Wychovski reached back to open the driver-side door. Hard to keep his gun level at the kid cops and open the door. He did it, got in, started the car and looked in the rearview. The cops were coming out, guns drawn. There was a barrier in front of him, low, a couple of inches, painted red. Wychovski gunned forward over the barrier. Hell, it wasn’t his car, but it was his life. He thought there was just enough room to get between a white minivan and an old convertible who-knows-what.
The cops were saying something. Wychovski wasn’t listening. He had pissed in his pants, and he expected to die of a heart attack. He listened for some telltale sign. The underbody of the Nissan caught the red barrier, scraped, and roared over. Wychovski glanced toward Pryor, who had the window open and was leaning out, his piece of crap gun in his hand. Pryor fired as Wychovski made it between minivan and convertible, taking some paint off both sides of the Nissan in the process.
Pryor fired again as Wychovski hit the street, Wychovski heard the hot dog shop’s window splatter. He saw one the young cops convulsing, flapping his arms. Blood. Wychovski and Pryor wouldn’t be welcome here in the future. Then came another shot as Wychovski turned right This one went through Pryor’s face. Through his cheek and back out. He was hanging out the window making sounds like a gutted dog. Wychovski floored the Nissan. He could hear Pryor’s head bouncing on the door.
The cop who had not been shot was going for his car, making calls, and Pryor’s head was bouncing something out of the jungle on the door. Wychovski made a hard right down a semidark street. He pulled over to the curb. Wychovski grabbed Pryor’s shirt, pulled him back through the window, and reached past him to dose the door. Pryor was looking up at him with wide surprise.
Wychovski drove. There were lights behind him now, a block back. Sirens. The golden animals lay heavy in his pockets and over his heart. He turned left, wove around. No idea where he was. No one to talk to. Just me and my radio.
Who knows how many minutes later he came to a street called Oakton and headed east, for Sheridan Road, Lake Shore Drive, Lake Michigan. People passed in cars. He passed people walking. People looked at him. The bloody door. That was it. Pryor had marked him. No time to stop and dean it up. Not on the street. He hit Sheridan Road and looked for a place to turn, found it. Little dead end. Black-on-white sign: no swimming. A park.
He pulled hi between a couple of cars he didn’t look at, popped the trunk lock, and got out. There was nothing in the trunk but the bag of jewelry. He dumped it all into the trunk, shoved some watches in his pocket, picked up the empty canvas bag, closed the trunk, went around the side to look at Pryor, who was trying to say something but had nothing left to say it with. Wychovski pulled him from the car and went looking for water.
Families were having late picnics. Couples were walking. Wychovski looked for water, dragging, carrying Pryor, ignoring the looks of the night people. He sat Pryor on an empty bench next to a fountain. Pryor sagged and groaned. He soaked George Bernard Shaw and worked on Pryor’s face with the bag. It made things worse. He worked, turned the canvas bag. Scrubbed. He went back for more water, wrung the bloody water from the bag. Worked again. Gunga Din. Fetch water. Clean up. Three trips, and it was done. George Bernard Shaw was angry. His face was red under the dim park lamp.
“Stay here,” he told Pryor. “I’ll be right back.”
Wychovski ran to the parking lot, not caring anymore who might be watching, noticing. He opened the trunk and threw the bag in. When he turned, he saw the cop car coming down the street. Only one way in the lot. Only one way out. The same way. He grabbed six or seven more watches and another handful of little golden animals and quickly shoved them in his bulging pockets. Then he moved into the park, off the path, toward the rocks. Last stand? Glock on the rockss? Couldn’t be. It couldn’t end like this. He was caught between a cop and a hard place. Funny. Couldn’t laugh though. He hurried on, looking back to see the cop car enter the little lot.
Wouldn’t do to leave Pryor behind unless he was dead. But Pryor wasn’t dead.
Wychovski helped him up with one arm and urged him toward the little slice of moon. He found the rocks. Kids were crawling over them. Big rocks. Beyond them the night and the lake like an ocean of darkness, end of the world. Nothingness. He climbed out and down.
Three teenagers or college kids, male, watched him make his way down toward the water with Pryor. Stop looking at us, he willed. Go back to playing with yourselves, telling lies, and being stupid. Just don’t look at me. Wychovski crouched behind a rock, pulling the zombie Pryor with him, the water touching his shoes.
He had no plan. Water and rocks. Pockets full of not much. Crawl along the rocks. Get out. Find a car. Drive to the motel. Get to St. Louis. Tanner might give him a few hundred, maybe more for what he had. Start again. No more Pryor. He would find a new Pryor to replace the prior Pryor, a Pryor without a gun.
Wychovski knew he couldn’t be alone.
“You see two men out here?” He heard a voice through the sound of the waves.
“Down there,” came a slightly younger voice.
Wychovski couldn’t swim. Give up or keep going. He pushed Pryor into the water and kept going. A flashlight beam from above now. Another from the direction he had come.
“Stop right there. Turn around and come back the way you came,” said a voice.
“He’s armed,” said another voice.
“Take out your gun and hold it by the barrel. Now.”
Wychovski considered. He took out the Glock. Great gun. Took it out slowly, looked up, and decided it was all a what-the-hell life anyway. He grabbed the gun by the handle, holding on to the rock with one hand. He aimed toward the flashlight above him. But the flashlight wasn’t aimed at him. It was shining on the floating, flailing Pryor. Wychovski fell backward. His head hit a jutting rock. Hurt. But the water, the cold water was worst of all.
“Can you get to him, Dave?” someone called frantically.
“I’m trying.”
Pryor was floating on his back, bobbing in the black waves. I can float, he thought, looking at the flashlight. Float out to some little sailboat, climb on, get away.
He floated farther away. Pain gone cold.
“Can’t reach him.”
“Shit. He’s floating out. Call it in.”
No one was trying to reach Wychovski. There were no lights on him.
Footsteps. Wychovski looked up. On the rocks above him, Wychovski could see people in a line looking down at Pryor as he floated farther and farther from the shore into the blackness. Wychovski looked for the moon and stars. They weren’t there.
Maybe the anniversary hit hadn’t been such a good idea.
He closed his eyes and thought that he had never fired his Glock, never fired any gun. It was a damned good gun.
Wychovski crawled along the rocks, half in half out of the water.
He looked back. There was no sign or sound of Pryor.
Copyright © 2002 by Double Tiger Productions, Inc.