Skip to main content
Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Hard Cash Valley

A Novel

Brian Panowich

Minotaur Books



Arnie Blackwell was sweating bullets.

He’d sweat so bad on the plane, he felt like he’d just stepped out of a shower fully dressed. When he’d boarded the plane in Atlanta, he’d had no idea that the suitcase he’d used to pack up the cash would be too big for him to carry on, and now Arnie was standing in front of the baggage-claim carousel on the bottom floor of the Jacksonville airport, shoulder to shoulder with all the other passengers, waiting on a little more than five hundred grand to magically appear on the conveyor belt.

He couldn’t breathe. Every time a suitcase that wasn’t his slid out from behind the black rubber curtain, his heart thundered in his rib cage hard enough to hurt. The baggage-claim area was massive and Arnie was surrounded by hundreds of people—every one of them he was sure knew something wasn’t right with him—but as each new unfamiliar piece of luggage came into sight, the blue and gray concrete walls of the wide-open expanse moved in closer and tighter until it began to feel less like an airport and more like another prison cell. He began to feel claustrophobic. When his phone rang it nearly sent Arnie into cardiac arrest. He flinched hard enough to bump both of the travelers flanking him as they waited for their own bags. One man, a big, tough-looking joker in a Carhartt sweatshirt, actually pushed him back. Normally, Arnie wouldn’t take that kind of shit from anyone—regardless of their size—but he kept himself in check. There was too much riding on his keeping his composure. He ignored the big redneck. Right now, he just wanted that light brown tweed suitcase with the Moosejaw bumper sticker plastered across the lid to appear on the conveyor so he could collect his payday and possibly get his hands to stop shaking. He fumbled the phone out of the pocket of his Adidas windbreaker and read the name on the display—Bobby Turo. Arnie wiped a sweaty palm on his pants and then held the phone to his ear.

“Bobby? Is everything all good? Did you get back safe?”

“Yeah, man. Smooth sailing.”

“Is William okay?”

“Yeah, we went right where you asked me to.”

Arnie’s heart slowed a beat. “And you walked him in, right? You gotta walk him in. And you gotta stay there with him, Bobby. Don’t you fucking leave him. You can’t just break him from his routine. He’ll freak out.”

“Sounds more like you’re the one freaking out. Take it easy. He’s fine. He knew more about what he was doing than I did. Calm down, bro.”

Arnie’s head started throbbing with a sudden rush of blood. His voice suddenly quiet. “Are you high right now?”

“Dude. Arnie. Relax. We did it. We’re home free and the kid is fine. We went over it a hundred times. I promise. It’s all good.”

“It better be all good, Bobby. If we lose that kid we lose even bigger scores.” Arnie glanced around him and kept his voice hushed. “Two hours. You stay put for two hours. Right where I told you to go, and then take him where I said to take him—right? Bobby? Are you listening to me?”

“Arnie, Jesus, will you chill out. Randy says wassup.”

“No, I won’t chill out, you fucking idiot, and why is Randy with you?”

“He’s not—he just texted me.”

Arnie shook it off. “Bobby, I just want to know my little brother is where he’s supposed to be.”

“Well, he is. Okay.”

Arnie took a deep breath. “Good. All right. Now try to pay attention, you pothead. I’m at the airport in Jacksonville. I just landed. I had a problem with my luggage. They wouldn’t let me carry it on—you should’ve checked into that before you gave me the damn thing to use—but as soon as I get it in my hands, I’m going to pick up the other package. You did send the other package, right?”

“Yes. Days ago. I told you that.”

“To PO Box 213. On Gaston Street.”

“Jesus, Arnie, yes—to PO Box 213 on Gaston Street.”

“Good. After I check into the motel and get a few hours’ sleep, I have to set everything up down here for me and William long term. When I’m done, I’ll be back for him, but you and I aren’t going to talk for a while after that—clear? Do not call me under any circumstances. It’s too dangerous—unless there’s a problem with my brother. And there better not be a problem with my brother, Bobby.”

“Just handle your business, Arnie. I got this.”

“You fucking better.”

Arnie heard the double beep of another call coming in on the line. He looked at the display again to see William’s name. He lifted the phone back to his ear. “That’s Willie calling me on the other line. I swear to God, Bobby, if you fucked this up. If he’s alone right now and you’re lying to me. If he’s in trouble—”

“I said he’s fine, man. You need to calm down.” Stoned or not, Bobby was getting tired of being scolded like a child. He got defensive. “Maybe you should remember who bankrolled this little adventure, Arnie. Without me there would be no—”

Copyright © 2020 by Brian Panowich

“Love Sonnet XVI”: From 100 LOVE SONNETS: CIEN SONETOS DE AMOR by Pablo Neruda, translated by Stephen Tapscott, Copyright © Pablo Neruda 1959 and Fundacion Pablo Neruda, Copyright © 1986 by the University of Texas Press. By permission of the University of Texas Press.