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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 was 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 closing time. The couple who owned and ran the place were always 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 on 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 he got from Gibson’s Magic Shop in Paris, Texas. That was a 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.
“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 a right. 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?”
“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 stop-light, 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 what ever 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.”
“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 in your hand.
GLUCK, GLUCK, GLUCK, GLUCK, GLUCK.
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 roller-coaster ride creeping toward the top where they would 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, but 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 shit in your pocket, trip over thin air, and shoot a guy in the back.”
Excerpted from Double Shot by Stuart M. Kaminsky.
Copyright © 2010 by Stuart M. Kaminsky.
Published in September 2010 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.