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AT NINE-FORTY-FIVE Georgie Rocco and Phil Daley strolled out of the Crazy Cat, a casual departure as though boredom had set in for each of them simultaneously. Rocco's girl called after him: "Luck, Georgie."
Georgie glanced at her in the crackled mirror behind the counter and gave the familiar sign, the letter "o" shaped with his thumb and forefinger. Rosie tossed her head and then swept her hair out from under the ruff of her sweater. She straightened her back. This had the effect of shooting her breasts out beneath the sweater like artillery pieces under camouflage. Georgie threw her a dirty look—for all the good that did, but he had something more important to think about.
On the street, Phil Daley looked round at the shorter boy, scowling. "What did she mean, good luck?"
"Stay loose," Georgie Rocco said. "She thinks I'm playing poker or something." He lit a cigaret and sucked in a long drag of smoke, which he spewed defiantly toward the stars.
The muddle of noise, brassy talk, showy laughter, and music with a hard beat was muted when the shop door closed behind them. The clangor of somebody banging on pipes had the effect of getting it toned down even further. Georgie Rocco jerked his head toward the shop and grinned. His partner just stood, kicking one shabby shoe against the other. "For Chris' sake, relax," Georgie said.
Inside, Pete lowered the jukebox volume.
The Crazy Cat was a decent sort of place hung with faded college pennants and smelling all year round of the kerosene space heater. It was run by Pete Morietti, a religious old gentleman who felt that he did the community a service by keeping a shop where the kids could meet and drink soda and play the jukebox. There were worse places in Hillside. It was a one-factory, three-church town. Its taverns were more numerous. Pete was a little deaf so that he could say in all sincerity he did not allow bad language or indecent talk in his place. Nor could he hear the added volume when one of the boys would slip his hand behind the jukebox and juice it up. Whenever the people who lived upstairs hammered on the water pipes, Pete could hear that and he would get up and scurry across the room to adjust the machine. Every time the service man came to change the records, Pete complained of the way the volume control had of slipping.
Georgie Rocco flicked his cigaret halfway across the street and watched it roll with the wind. "See you," he said and eased himself into the phone booth that stood within a few feet of the shop. He had to close and reopen the door and close it again before the light went on, and that night he wanted the light on.
Phil Daley started down the street, trying to amble. It was too cold to amble even if he could do it while thinking about it. His legs felt as jerky as a toy soldier's. He cursed the fat slob of a Georgie Rocco who had got him into this, and himself for not having the guts to get out of it. He went on, starting up and slowing down. He couldn't see a soul on the street except Billy Skillet who was pounding with a stick on the hall door for somebody to come out and get him. Why the hell didn't they? The poor bastard had no legs—just an iron platform with rollers to get around on. If they didn't come out for him Daley was either going to have to break his time plan to help him or go around by the alley on the river side and that way Mike Pekarik, the third partner, wouldn't see him. He couldn't help him anyway. Billy Skillet was one of the first guys the police would go to. He perched day and night like a crow on his platform, seeing everybody who went by, looking for a handout he'd take but wouldn't ask for. Then Big Molly came out and got him, her nightgown popping up in the wind like a chicken's tail when she bent over to lift him up the stoop. Phil Daley wiped his face on the sleeve of his jacket. Sweating in October.
In the phone booth Georgie Rocco had dialed Daley's number, knowing he would get no answer. He let the phone ring while he improvised a conversation—if it could be called that: it consisted of reading aloud the initials scratched in the phone booth, and substituting obscenities for the milder words that plighted boys to girls, girls to boys. He had to open the booth for air. The light went out. He closed it quickly and hoped Pekarik hadn't seen it. Not that it was so important that they get to the car at the same time; but you had to make guys like Daley and Pekarik think so. You had to plan every step for them, key them up. The sweat began to ooze out around his neck. Like the football coach said: Nerves were all right, they were fine. They keyed you up. It's what you did with them. Georgie would have given anything to be team quarterback. He was a guard, and the second-string at that. Too fat. Too damned much starch in his food. No meat, no vegetables. Pasta, pasta, pasta!
He banged the receiver down on the hook and stepped out of the booth. He turned up his jacket collar, for the wind caught at his sweaty neck like a hand just out of ice water.
Phil Daley turned off the main street, his shadow running a skinny zig-zag ahead of him until it disappeared in the darkness. At the same time, further down the street, Mike Pekarik crossed from the Triple-X filling station, walked to the river's edge, turned then at a right angle and followed Daley where he had doubled back in the direction of the Crazy Cat, but at the rear of the buildings. Daley heard Pekarik whistling. Whistling! As Daley passed an alley through which he could see to the main street, something darted out of the dark into the light and then into darkness again before he could see what it was. He paused, hearing the scuffle. The low snarl, then the sudden screech of mating cats stiffened him. Pekarik passed him, still whistling.
"Shut up," Daley said, catching up with him.
The cats had started every dog in the town yammering.
Georgie Rocco moved along the outside wall of the Crazy Cat toward the factory parking lot. Once away from the building he lost the sound and throb of music in the steady, increasingly louder hum of the plant machinery. The frost silvered the tops of the cars belonging to the workmen on the night shift. At the edge of the lot Mike Pekarik's car was waiting, Mike having left it there earlier, its nose headed toward the exit. Rocco, passing, gave it an affectionate pat on the trunk. He opened the door on the driver's side and drew from beneath the seat a homemade blackjack, a large screwdriver wadded round with electrical tape. He tested the weapon in the palm of his hand lovingly, for it was his own creation.
The three boys met at the empty boxcar on the siding, some five hundred feet from the office. That close to the main building they found the machinery hum a real nuisance. It made a stranger to it want to whack himself on the ear as though the sound was in his own head. Rocco had warned his partners of this: he had also told them it would muffle any noise they made when they got near the office.
Georgie gave the others a final pep talk: "All you got to remember—take your time. Easy, slow, sure. After he opens it, we still got almost an hour."
For the tenth time Mike Pekarik asked: "How can you be sure he'll open it that early?"
"I told you, he does everything regular, like your old man going to the can."
Every Friday night for a month, Georgie Rocco had watched the office manager from outside the window of the small frame building attached to the factory. MacAndrews was indeed a man of habit. As Rocco had told his partners, he was the kind of guy who polished his shoes every night before he went to bed. Georgie had used psychology planning the robbery.
He took a nylon stocking from his pocket. The others got theirs out. "Put it on careful," he said.
They had rehearsed this, the donning of the stocking disguises, bringing the foot of the hose tightly round from the back and tucking it in with several thicknesses just under the nose.
"It stinks of perfume," Daley said. "He'll smell us coming."
"Want me to smack you one?" Rocco said. "They ain't going to smell once we're wearing them outdoors for a while."
When they were ready, Georgie Rocco gave the signal. He caught himself saying a Hail Mary and stopped in the middle of it. They moved up one at a time to their prearranged positions, Mike Pekarik at the side of one office window, Phil Daley at the other, Georgie at the door. MacAndrews, his chin in his hand, was poring over the bookkeeper's ledger, his back to the door. He turned a page. When the timeclock brayed ten, MacAndrews looked up at the clock, checked his watch and, even as Georgie had predicted, went to the iron safe at the side of his desk and began to twist the dial of the combination lock. MacAndrews was a company man. Every Friday night at the hour of ten he took upon himself to double-check against the books the cashier's figures on the pay envelopes the men would receive coming off the night shift at eleven. At eleven the Hillside police chief would be on hand. At ten MacAndrews was alone. In all his years of checking, he had found but one discrepancy: the company had once overpaid Georgie Rocco's father—since dead—by seventy-eight cents.
The moment the safe door swung open, Pekarik waved his hand.
Georgie's careful instructions to Pekarik had been to wait until MacAndrews returned to his desk with the box of pay envelopes and to give the signal the minute the office manager sat down. But Mike was excited as well as nervous. He had never in his life known a moment such as this; he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the safe door open, and he waved his hand, thinking to confirm Georgie's prediction of what MacAndrews would do, forgetting at the instant that he was giving the prearranged signal. Georgie started confidently into the office. Phil Daley wanted to run right then, seeing Rocco move too soon, but his distrust of Georgie if he were caught prevented his flight. He followed him into the office and Pekarik followed Daley.
Rocco saw instantly the mistake, but he was by then beyond escape. His own partners blocked the doorway, and he knew his backside was of a size to make him easily recognizable in retreat. MacAndrews was bent over, reaching into the safe. Georgie plunged ahead because there wasn't any escape. He had to strike his blow at a moving target. He struck hard and then again for he thought MacAndrews had seen him. MacAndrews hit the cement floor head-first, the sound like the cracking of a boiled egg on the sink. And he lay absolutely still where he had fallen. Georgie looked down at him, fascinated, then at Pekarik. "Stupid bastard!"
Phil Daley moved toward the prone figure shakily. He stooped down to where he could look at his face. The blood had begun to trickle from the sockets of MacAndrews' eyes. Daley looked away fast. "You killed him, Georgie. You said you were going to tap him."
"He ain't dead," Rocco said.
Pekarik began to whimper, his chin quivering beneath the stocking mask.
Daley said, "We better get going." He straightened up and, acting out of fear more than calculation, he closed the safe door, kicking it shut. The sound of its metallic clank gave him confidence. Still Rocco and Pekarik stood. "Will you get out of here? Nobody'll know what happened." He gave Rocco a shove, starting him toward the door. He pushed him outside. Pekarik scurried past both of them. Daley closed the office door, using his coat pocket to smear any prints on the doorknob. A few feet away a blast of steam exhaust spurted from the factory vent and the boys skittered down the walk in greater terror. Daley snatched the stocking from his head and led the way to the boxcar. He could run faster than Georgie Rocco, and just now he thought he could think faster.
In the shadow of the boxcar he said, "Nothing's missing back there, see? They won't know what happened if one of us don't tell them. A fight maybe. Nobody liked MacAndrews."
Georgie and Pekarik wagged their heads. Daley went on, "Georgie, you ain't seen Mike all night, me not after we left the Crazy Cat. Mike and me are going up to my place now and we'll be playing gin when my old man gets home."
"What about me?" Georgie said. "I'm the guy that needs the alibi." He turned on Mike and began to swear at him again for his stupidity.
"Cut it out!" Daley ordered.
"You got a sister home," Daley said. "Get her to alibi you."
"She'd rather turn me in!"
"Georgie, get yourself whatever alibi you can," Daley said, and then with careful logic: "We ain't seen you at all. If we ain't seen you, we don't know what you did back there. That way, nobody is going to tell anybody anything. Mike and me are going to take the car and drive up to my place like we never seen you at all."
Rocco was still holding his handmade blackjack. "What'll I do with this?"
Daley was beginning to feel the pleasure of superiority. "You got a big mouth, Georgie. Why don't you swallow it?"
The cowards, the bastards. Rocco heaped his under-breath abuses on Pekarik and Daley as he started home the back way as far as the river, then past the fire station and up the hill through the school grounds. What he wanted to do was cry or to go back to the Crazy Cat and pretend nothing had happened. But he could feel the blackjack in his pocket, hard and a dead weight. Jesus. He hadn't meant to kill him. He'd been scared; that was all. Jesus. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He had to stop for breath. Climbing the hill so fast had given him a pain in his chest. Looking down, he saw a couple of cars go by. He'd been lucky there, anyway. Nobody'd seen him. A dead, sleepy town—outside. Inside—back of the Triple-X Garage—things were going on all right, and there'd be a poker game at Big Molly's along with other things—if you could just get inside. But for that you had to have money ... and a tight lip. Another car went by. It was getting closer and closer to eleven. And MacAndrews lying there. Georgie got the picture again, clear as if it were happening all over again. Christ, what it felt like to hit him. And he'd hit him the second time because he knew he'd hurt him; it was to make him stop hurting he'd hit him again. Georgie heard his own little squeaks of agony that he couldn't keep inside himself, and began to run again. If Jo was home alone ... not that he could tell her. What he'd have to tell her was a story about a girl he'd been with. That was it. He'd tell her all about it and make her listen, all kinds of crap about her letting him paw her. Jo'd want to kill him, but if they asked her questions later she wouldn't be able to tell that on him so she wouldn't say anything. She might even say he was home.
He was less than a block from home coming out of the school yard. The light was on in the living room. That meant Martin was there, Jo's boy friend. That was better maybe. He'd go round to the basement and pretend he'd been down there for an hour, spying on them. What was to spy? All they did was sit and plan, then go into a clinch and then break up like in an old TV movie. Man, talk about squares!
But it was not Martin Scully who was sitting in the living room with Johanna; a man, Georgie saw as soon as he got near the house, but it wasn't Martin. With Martin there she'd have pulled the blinds down. Georgie stood on tiptoe at the side window. It was the priest, Father Walsh. Christ, what was he doing there at that hour? The first thing Georgie thought of was that his mother must be dead. But she was getting better. It wasn't serious, what she was in the hospital for, just some women's trouble. She was coming home next week: that's what they'd said.
He moistened his lips. If she was dead that meant they'd called up the Crazy Cat looking for him. That meant ... But Jo wasn't crying. She was just sitting there talking—serious. They were talking about him, that's what it was. Jo had that pious look. And Father Walsh had the look he always got when he wanted you to see things his way, maybe not as bad as you thought they were. He was a good guy for a priest—and a smooth looker. He could really send some of the girls. And, brother, didn't he know it!
Excerpted from Black Sheep, White Lamb by Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Copyright © 1963 Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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