Authors: Robert Ward
Edwards shook his head.
“No, it’s too late for me,” he said. “I’m a citizen of the world. But don’t think it’s all that great, Bob. Because it’s not. The people I know don’t care whether I live or die. They’re sophisticated, cool, and stylish, but inside they’re empty. If we had to battle terrorists tomorrow, who would you rather have by your side, some cosmopolitan jet-setter or the guys in your neighborhood? I know who I’d choose. Your Baltimore guy, he’d fight to the end. For you and him, because he’s your mate. You’re a lucky man, Bob, working here, having close friends. I’m telling you, hanging out here has really made me miss old Liverpool. You ought to stay right here, Bob. Take trips, see the world, but don’t dig up your roots. You do that, you’ll never be at home anywhere again. I know.”
“Yeah …” Bob said. “Thanks for the tip. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to get down to business. Where do we meet?”
Edwards smiled and pointed at the big brick building directly across the street from them.
“Right there,” he said.
Bob looked at the fortress of a building, with its old and shattered windows.
“The American Brewery Building?” Bob said. “That’s all closed up.”
“Not anymore,” Edwards said. “Don’t worry, we’re covered. It’s a perfect meeting place. Fifth floor at one A.M.”
“I’ll be there,” Bob said.
Bob looked at Edwards’s intense gray eyes. They looked, he decided, like a frozen carp’s.
“See you then, Bob,” Edwards said. “And don’t forget my mask.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Bob said. “Tell me, just for fun, Colin. You’re giving me five million. How much are you selling it for?”
Edwards gave a slit of a smile and shook his head.
“That would come under the heading of ‘things you don’t really want to know,’ Bob. I’ve got to run now. Diplomatic party over in D.C. G’night.”
He pressed his cold hand into Bob’s and then turned and walked toward East Baltimore Street, where a sleek, black limousine was waiting for him. Bob watched him get in and speed away.
Yeah, Bob thought, Colin loved old Baltimore. As long as he could hop in his limo and speed off to D.C. As long as he could get in his private Learjet and land in Paris.
Well, in a few more days, he’d be able to afford a limo. Whenever he liked. The thought made him flush with pleasure. No, he was going to be fine. Edwards was just indulging in a kind of verbal masturbation. In reality, a guy like him would last five minutes in “Charm City” before he was bored out of his mind.
Bob had had a whole lifetime of the neighborhood clans, the small potatoes romance of the ‘hood. He wanted out, he wanted sophistication and beauty and sexiness, the whole wide world that he’d missed. He’d be just fine in New York and Los Angeles and Paris and all the other rich, decadent places.
And if he did get homesick, he could always sky back to old Baltimore, eat a crab cake, drink a National Bohemian beer, catch an Oriole game, and then get the hell out again.
That would be all the hometown this hometown boy would ever need.
From the back alley, behind a wall of honeysuckle vine, Bob watched as Ray Wade hit the remote button. They were dressed in the uniforms of the Baltimore Power and Electric Company, gas masks half on, the goggles sitting on their foreheads making them look like World War I aviators.
There, partially hidden by Emile Bardan’s hedge, was a canister of gas painted in earth tones. From the canister there was a black wire, which entered the house via the crawlspace door just under the pantry at the rear of the house.
“Gas is activated,” Ray said.
“How long will it take?” Bob whispered.
“Not long,” Ray said. “Anyone in that house will be asleep in about nine minutes.”
Bob’s cell phone vibrated and he quickly answered it.
“You start it up yet?”
It was Tony Hoy, who was stationed on the other side of Emile’s house. Once the gas was activated, he and Cas would open the ladder, and with Cas holding it steady, Tony would climb to the roof where he would deactivate the burglar alarm. This meant he had to climb a ladder right in front of both a first- and second-story window. If one of the guards happened to somehow stay awake he’d be dead meat.
“Nine … no, about eight minutes,” Bob said.
“You sure?” Tony said.
“Yeah,” Bob said.
“Guess what Cas is doing?” Tony said.
“Jerking off?” Bob said.
“Eating a sub,” Tony said. “Fucking guy ate three oyster subs from Captain Harvey’s today. Always goes on a binge when it’s showtime.”
Bob felt his stomach churn wildly. Wasn’t there some kind of code of professionalism among thieves? No eating on the job?
“Got the ladder ready?” Bob said.
“Oh yeah. Man, I hope that gas works.”
“Yeah,” Bob said. “Me, too.”
He took a quick peek over the bush and saw a small piece of the metallic ladder sticking up over the bushes.
“Your ladder’s visible,” he said.
“Sorry, boss,” Tony said.
Bob felt a stunning rush of happiness. “Boss,” Tony had called him “boss.” This was his “crew” and he was “The Boss.”
“How much time now?” Tony said.
“Not long,” Bob said. “Chill.”
Good advice, now if he could only take it himself. His chest pounded. He tried not to think of the words “heart attack.” What if someone came along and saw them? He looked around, but didn’t see anyone.
After what seemed like an eternity, Ray spoke.
“That’s it,” he said. “Everybody is wasted in there.”
Bob hit the preset button on his cell phone and waited.
“Yeah?” Tony said.
“Go,” Bob said.
He watched as Tony and Cas went barreling into the yard, through the gate. Cas quickly set the ladder against the side of the house. Tony climbed it so fast he looked like a primate.
Ray smiled tensely in the darkness.
“Wait till you see how quickly he disarms the alarm,” he said. “You’re getting your money’s worth.”
Bob shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his nerves screaming inside him. He hated it out here in the alley, but if they headed into the backyard they’d activate the motion sensor lights and maybe even the burglar alarm.
He took out his binoculars and saw Tony on the roof. He was working on the fuse box, about two feet away from the high-tension wires. For the first time Bob realized the affinity between criminals and athletes. They were both about physical performance under pressure. No wonder the public liked clever criminals so much more than they did psychologists. They risked more, and they were physically brave. Psychologists had more in common with, say, movie critics and other wimps.
Even standing in an alley next to a can of rotting trash, Bob felt glamorous. He shut his eyes and imagined a young woman, someone in her twenties, checking him out: so cool, so composed, waiting in the alley with a SIG Sauer in his coat pocket. Compare that to a nerd sitting in an office saying, “Hi, Elmo. Tell me all about your mom.”
“Get your gas mask on,” Ray said. “Time to rock ‘n’ roll.”
They found the first guard, a big black man, snoring on the kitchen floor. He looked peaceful, and they quickly relieved him of his automatic weapon. The second guard, a Latino, was sprawled in a less comfortable way, right on the second-floor steps. His head had hit the edge of the step when he fell and there was a bit of a bump on it. In spite of himself, Bob felt sorry for him and had to restrain himself from waking the guy up and offering a towel wrapped around some ice cubes. Ray took the second guard’s pistol out of his holster and dragged him to the landing.
After tying and gagging both guards, they raced up the steps to the third floor and quickly found the floor safe under the right corner of an expensive maroon rug.
Bob wanted to stay there with them, where the action was, but dutifully headed down a narrow hall to the master bedroom, which overlooked the street. His job, the only reason Ray had relented and let him come inside, was to keep watch on the front of the house.
He looked out the front window. The street was empty.
He started to sit back down on the bed when he was jolted out of his skin by his vibrating cell phone.
Jesus, who the hell would call him now? Of course, he wasn’t going to answer it, unless …
He looked down at the display and to his shock and surprise he saw Emile’s cell phone number.
What should he do?
Not answer it. Right, of course. Emile was out at the Havana Club, dancing and seeing his girlfriend.
But what if he wasn’t?
Bob looked at a little door, which led from Emile’s bedroom to a small balcony covered with dying plants.
Where the hell was Emile? What if his girlfriend was sick and he was coming home?
Bob slid out on the balcony, crouching down so no one could see him from the street. He quickly took off his gas mask, then answered the call.
“Doc? You there?”
“Right here,” Bob said in a shaky voice.
“Listen, Doc, I just need to talk to you a second. You have a minute?”
“Of course, Emile,” Bob said. “Where are you?”
“I’m over at the Havana Club,” he said. “I just started having a really bad feeling, Doc.”
Bob swallowed to keep the panic down in his stomach.
“Tell me about it,” Bob said.
“It’s like he’s here, watching me,” Emile said.
“Have you actually seen him?” Bob said.
“No. But I thought I did. I’m having a tough time telling what’s real and what’s not.”
“Of course,” Bob said. “You’ve been under a very great strain. That makes perfect sense.”
Bob was suddenly swept away by a surge of warm feeling toward his patient. Even though he was robbing him, he still felt sort of protective toward Emile. He didn’t want him to suffer, not unduly, anyway.
“Listen to me,” Bob said. “Look all around the room.”
“Okay,” Emile said. “But I’m getting a sick feeling. That he’s going to try and finish me off tonight.”
“Are you looking?” Bob said.
“Yes,” Emile said. His voice was small and scared. Bob felt a wave of guilt so strong that he nearly vomited.
“And what do you see?”
“The band, the dance floor, people eating, drinking.”
“Right,” Bob said. “And no sign of Colin, right?”
“No,” Emile said. “No sign of him. Ah, he’s not here, Doc. I’m just a screaming paranoid.”
“Not at all,” Bob said.
His back hurt from stooping by the huge, dead balcony plant, so Bob stood up and looked at the street below.
There, on the opposite side of the street, three stories down, a man walked a dog. What if the guy happened to look up at him? Bob crouched back down and his back began to ache again.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” Emile said. “Hope I didn’t disturb you, Doc.”
“Not at all,” Bob said. “I suggest you and your girlfriend dance and, though I don’t want you to overdo it, have a couple of drinks and relax.”
“You don’t think I should just go home and crawl into bed?”
“No!” Bob said. “I mean, the thing about anxiety is if you try to run away from it you legitimize it to yourself, which, of course, only increases it. But if you face it head-on, and deal with it for what it is—just a feeling, not a reality—then you back it down.”
“You make it sound like a person,” Emile said.
like a person,” Bob said. “Fear is a bully. You back a bully down, he loses his power.”
There was a pause. Bob looked inside down the hallway. Still no sign of them.
“Okay, Doc,” Emile said. “I get it. I really do. Thanks a lot. I’m starting to feel better.”
“No problem,” Bob said. “I’m glad I could be helpful. Now you go have a Cuba libre and enjoy your night.” He felt that generally he’d given Emile excellent advice. In most cases, where the phantoms
illusory, staying and facing up to your demons
Tonight, of course, was an exception.
Bob flipped his suffocating gas mask back on and took a step inside. Just as Ray Wade came walking in from the back bedroom. In his hands was a black carbon-and-steel box. Silently, he held the box in the air over his head, like a boxer displaying his championship belt.
Bob moved forward and Ray placed it in his hands.
There was a glass window on one side of it. And there, staring him in the face, was Utu the sun god, seeker of justice and vengeance.
Bob felt his heart skip a beat.
The eyes were carved in such a way that they seemed to stare
his own eyes, leaving them craters of ash. The face was strong and cruel. He felt, suddenly, that the mask was passing judgment on him.
The thought sent shivers through his body and he quickly handed the box back to Ray.
“We did it, Doc Bobby,” Ray said. “Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
It had started to rain. As they drove in Ray’s ‘79 Camaro I-Roc to the old American Brewery Building, it came down in driving sheets and pounded on the windshield. Suddenly, rookie criminal Bob began to worry about 911. Was he out in the rain catching his death of cold? And what about Ethel Roop and all his other patients? Did they need him? Would they miss him? Maybe his kindness and insights were all that kept them from falling apart?
He suddenly felt sick to his stomach. What was he doing here in this car with these men? He had a stabbing impulse to leap out of the car, go to a church, confess the whole caper, and beg the priest for forgiveness.
“I heard you back there on the phone, Bobby,” Ray said, barely able to see through the windshield. “Really threw me for a minute. Thought you might be calling our local gendarme, Officer Garrett.”
“Get serious,” Bob said.
“But I gotta say, given the caller, I think you played it just right,” Ray said.
“Hey,” Tony said. “Giving a guy therapy while you’re breaking into his pad? I never heard of anything like that before. That’s exceptional villainy. I think Dr. Bobby should maybe get a special bust in the Hall of Shame.”