- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The first night, when the vehicle parked in front of the garbage dumpsters on the far side of the parking lot, Stan thought it might be a police vehicle, detectives on a stakeout. But why with the lights on? That first night he stood at his front window until the vehicle drove away. Slowly at first, until it got to the apartment complex entrance. Then fast, heading south around the curve on Elmwood Drive, taillights disappearing between the gas stations at the crossroads.
Stan saw the same vehicle again the next night, parked in the same spot with its lights on. As he stood at the window that second night, he saw two figures in the front seat. The passenger got out on the far side next to one of the garbage dumpsters. Only the top half of the passenger was visible moving toward the front of the vehicle. Small head, short hair, large shoulders, a man. The man lifted the lid of the garbage dumpster and placed something inside, or simply reached inside. Then back into the vehicle. No courtesy light on while the door was open, so Stan could not see faces. And like the previous night, the vehicle drove slowly out of the lot, then fast once it was on the road.
On two nights in a row at exactly one in the morning a vehicle had visited the garbage dumpsters in the parking lot and Stan's curiosity began to torment him. If he didn't stay up late every night he would never have seen it. But he did stay up late. Sometimes watching television-switching between the classic movie channels or the Biography or History Channels. Sometimes at his computer surfing the Web. If he didn't stay up so late and have such an idle mind he wouldn't have concocted dozens of reasons for two men driving up to a garbage dumpster at one in the morning and tossing something in.
Stan really hadn't seen much of the driver, only that there was one, but because of the police stakeout idea he assumed both were men, both wearing overcoats like the guy who had gotten out and gone to the dumpster. Maybe they lived somewhere else, one of those new subdivisions way south, and were too cheap to pay a scavenger service. But a more enticing possibility was FBI agents checking someone's garbage. So why hadn't he seen a flashlight? Last night the man with large shoulders opened the lid, reached inside, then closed the lid gently with both hands. No noise, no package visible, like the man was reaching in to touch the garbage, to see if there was garbage. Crazy.
Tonight, the third night, Stan had prepared for the vehicle's arrival. He'd switched off the television at twelve-thirty and turned his lounge chair toward the window. As he sat there he thought about kidnappers picking up a ransom. But if that were the case, the man would have snatched up the ransom package and jumped back into the vehicle. And if the man had been putting something into the dumpster, what would it be? Garbage. A guy from the apartment complex who works nights, rides in to work with another guy because they both drive gas guzzlers and want to save money. A disc jockey and engineer doing the before-dawn shift at a radio station.
"Hey, man. You gonna stink up my vehicle with garbage again?"
"Only 'til we get to the dumpster. I'm too lazy to walk it over."
Stan rose from his chair and walked to the window. Should be in bed instead of spying on guys who'd laugh like hell if they knew a crazy bastard was watching them. But he needed to see if the vehicle returned tonight. A large vehicle tricked out with oversized wheels and maybe some other gadgets. A vehicle for someone with money to burn, or a vehicle for official business. He stared at the rows of cars and sport utes and pickups in the lot. But all of these seemed too small. He leaned close to the window looking at the vehicles parked at the far end of the lot. One vehicle parked beneath a yellowish overhead light in the distance looked like a big sport ute, but the distortion of the window glass and the distance made it impossible to tell. He waited.
Then, although the back entrance to the complex was not visible, Stan could tell that a vehicle had driven in because of the dip of headlights. Instead of a black sport ute, a large black car appeared from behind the last apartment building and turned toward him. High beams on. He backed away from the window out of the glare and watched the car approach. Once inside the complex it did not stop until it reached the garbage dumpsters. The car had come from the road, had turned into the complex for one purpose-to park at the garbage dumpsters across the lot, not more than fifty yards from his second floor window. On previous nights it had been a sport ute, tonight it appeared to be a limo.
Stan hadn't realized he was backing up until his chair bumped against his calves. He stooped down, heard his knees crack, and watched for movement inside the limo. He knelt on the floor balancing himself, his hands on the windowsill. He thought about gangsters, hit men sizing up a hit. Or maybe terrorists hiding out in apartments nearby, preparing for an attack. He was about to reach for the phone on the end table when an orange glow appeared in his peripheral vision.
The big sport ute that had been parked at the far end of the lot beneath the overhead light had moved out and was coming this way, only its parking lights lit. Maybe the police were already watching. Maybe someone else had seen the limo and now there would be a sport-ute-limo confrontation. The sport ute with oversized wheels had a spotlight mounted on the driver's door. He waited.
The sport ute's parking lights lit up the bumper of the limo ahead. A foot apart, limo and sport ute stood motionless. Limo with headlights on, sport ute with an unlit spotlight.
A man got out on the far side of the sport ute and walked quickly to the limo. Big shoulders, small head, just like the man from the previous night. Still no courtesy light inside the sport ute, and now no courtesy light visible inside the limo as the man opened the rear limo door and a tall thin man got out and stood next to the big-shouldered man. The tall man raised his hand. Not like a stickup, not like a wave. Like the Pope giving a blessing. Then the big-shouldered man opened the dumpster and the thin man lifted something in. At first the package had been hidden by the limo. But as the man lifted it in, Stan saw the shopping-bag size of it for an instant before the lid was closed.
The tall man got back into the limo, and after the other man closed the door he returned to the sport ute. Then the two vehicles drove slowly out of the lot, and when they turned onto Elmwood Drive sped through the curve in one swift movement like a snake. Just before they disappeared between the darkened gas stations, the headlights of the sport ute came on.
* * *
Stan's footsteps in the first floor vestibule echoed through the stairwell as he walked past the building's mailboxes. He checked his left coat pocket for his keys and kept his right hand in his right coat pocket, gripping his .45 automatic, still warm and moist from having been held as he descended the stairs.
It was two in the morning, nearly an hour since the vehicles had gone. Stan had sat in his lounge chair for a long time deciding what to do. At one point he'd held the phone in his lap, lifted the receiver and listened to the dial tone until it changed to the recorded message saying he should hang up and dial again. He'd hung up the phone. He'd not called the police because of the conversation constructed in his mind.
"I'd like to report a strange occurrence."
"Is this an emergency?"
"Well, no. You see, these two vehicles parked over by my garbage dumpsters for a while and two men got out and threw something in. The strange part is that this is the third night in a row that I've seen one of the vehicles."
"Two vehicles, huh?"
Eventually, after making him feel like an ass, the police would come out to look in the dumpster. Then they would question him. Whether they found something or not they would question him.
"You always stare out your front window at one in the morning?"
"I was watching television."
"Out the window?"
"No, but I do glance out occasionally. Is there a law against that?"
"Does anyone live here with you?"
"Where are you employed?"
"I'm retired." He'd want the facts straight, he's not that old. "Early retirement."
"Your name is familiar. Aren't you the guy? ... A long time ago ..."
Stan did not want to be questioned unless there was a reason. He did not call the police. But there was still something in the dumpster, something about the size of a shopping bag.
Though Stan could hear the drone of night bugs from the swamp across the road, the parking lot seemed quiet compared to the vestibule. Inside there had been his echoing footsteps. Out here his footsteps died in the night air, no echo, nothing but the bugs across the road. As he approached the dumpster he knew he would run back inside if he heard a car. If a car simply passed by on the road, he would run. He considered turning around, but if he did he knew he would be up all night wondering what was in the dumpster.
Stan had reasoned it out back in his apartment, had selected a single answer from all the possibilities. It had to be something valuable. Perhaps money or drugs or a gun. If it was drugs he would simply put it back. But if it was a gun, or guns, he did know something about that. Of course the possibility of it being money was the strongest draw. Even if it was counterfeit or marked he might be able to get rid of it a little at a time in surrounding towns. Although, once he did find out what was in the package, he could then call the police. The main thing was to be certain it was something worth calling the police for. Because if he called the police on a false lead there would be questions to answer, questions that had a tendency to unearth the past.
Stan had memorized the position of the package when he saw it lifted in, front right corner of the right dumpster. He approached the dumpster enclosure quietly, recalling how sometimes it wasn't so tidy around the enclosure like it was now. Like when someone was moving out of the complex and they'd pile all kinds of junk out here rather than moving it. That's when the scavengers came out of the woodwork. Sometimes a scavenger would arrive late at night and load junk into the back of a pickup older than his old pickup. But there was no overflow of junk tonight, no one had moved out and left their crap behind.
The enclosure was made of wood, just tall enough to hide the dumpsters from three sides. Unfortunately the open side faced Stan's apartment building. Made for a great view. People hauling garbage, kids trampling the grass, and then at night ... at night there was the occasional scavenger, and now this. As Stan stood before the dumpster he listened for rustling inside. Although he'd never seen rats, he once saw a raccoon jump in after someone had propped a lid open. He looked around, saw a light on in an apartment, but it was some distance away.
The lid of the dumpster was cool and wet. Although the lid was spring-loaded, Stan had to use both hands to lift it. Once the lid was up he was able to hold it with one hand while he reached inside and felt around with the other hand. There was only one bag down deep inside in the far right corner, its plastic feeling oily. He lifted the bag out, placed it on the ground while he closed the lid gently, then picked up the bag and walked quickly back to his building.
The bag bumped his thigh and shots of chills assaulted him from behind. If someone confronted him, would he pull out the .45 he hadn't fired in years? After finding the key to his gun cabinet and taking out the .45, it had taken him several minutes to figure out how to load the damn thing. Safe in his apartment he placed the .45 on the kitchen counter, the barrel aiming at the wall.
Stan stood looking at the black plastic garbage bag on his kitchen table. The overhead light glistened on it. It weighed about as much as a quart of milk. When he shook the bag he felt and heard another bag inside, a paper bag rustling. The bag was not full, not stuffed like a garbage bag should be. He recalled neighbors taking plastic bags with them to pick up after their dogs when they walked them. He thought about mobsters getting rid of a victim piece by piece. But he knew if he didn't look inside, the mystery would drive him crazy.
Had to be a pile of cash. Like winning the lottery. His retirement checks wouldn't support him much longer, and his meager Social Security wouldn't kick in for quite a few years. He'd have to move to a cheaper place, sell his guns, find another part-time job like the one he just lost at the grocery store. Or maybe if he reported his find, there'd be a reward. But with that would come the news coverage. Accepting a plaque from the mayor, having to answer questions about his find, having to answer questions about his past.
When Stan finally began untwisting the wire tape, he tried counterclockwise but it only got tighter. Because his hands were shaking, the wire jabbed beneath the cuticle of his thumb. He sucked the blood from his thumb, wiped his sweaty palms on his slacks and tried again. Several turns in the clockwise direction finally got the tape off. Keeping his face at a distance, as if a raccoon or a cat or a rat might jump out at him, he opened the bag. Then he moved in closer and peered inside.
The paper bag inside was dark brown, stiff like the reddish-brown paper in the meat department at the grocery store. Stan recalled photos of fetuses he'd seen on an anti-abortion Web site. He thought of how his son's body had deteriorated in a shallow grave so long ago. He hadn't seen the remains. The police lab had verified the identification through dental records. He recalled his wife's face, the way she looked when he found her dead in the bathroom a year after they found Timmy. His wife's eyes open when he found her, her head facing the door, her head twisted against the bathtub by the force of her weight, her cheek smashed against the tile forcing her mouth wide open as though she had screamed before her death. As though she had screamed out his name and he had not been there to hear it when she fell ...
No. The package on his kitchen table was too small to be a body. Even if it was part of a body, the only two people who meant anything to him were gone. There was nobody left who meant anything to him. If it was something grotesque, he could take it, had to take it because now his curiosity was overpowering.
With the paper bag still inside the plastic bag, Stan unfolded it and slowly separated layers of thick paper. At first he saw only a general gray shape, could have been anything. Then he opened the bag quickly to get it over with.
Eyes staring, gray, cloudy. Distorted mouth. Bloodless cheeks and nose. Blond hair matted down, glistening wet beneath the overhead light. Slice in the neck, color of boiled meat, folded back touching the chin.
Stan dropped to his hands and knees on the kitchen floor. Then he jumped up and ran to the bathroom where he knelt at the bathtub and bent his head under cold running water. Breathing, breathing until he choked, gagged, and vomited into the tub trying to erase what he had just seen.
Excerpted from The President's Nemesis by Michael Beres Copyright © 2006 by Michael Beres. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 8, 2008
This book should be popular now with the election going full blast. In the novel a loner is set up to be an assassin. But who is he being set up to assassinate? That is the question. The book kept me on edge, and I could identify with the poor sap being set up.
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