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The caper went off without a hitch except that Wally Garden got plugged.
There were five of us. My idea had been that three would be enough, figuring the less there were the bigger the cut for each. But Oscar Trotter made the decisions.
Looking at Oscar, you might take him for a college professor--one of those lean, rangy characters with amused, intelligent eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses. He sounded like one, too, when he didn't feel like sounding like somebody else. Maybe he'd been one once, among all the other things he'd ever been.
But there was no question of what he was now. He could give the toughest hood the jitters by smiling at him a certain way, and he could organize and carry out a caper better than any man I knew.
He spent a couple of weeks casing this job and then said five men would be needed, no more and no less. So there were four of us going in soon after the payroll arrived on a Friday afternoon. The fifth, Wally Garden, was cruising outside in a stolen heap.
Wally was far and away the youngest of us, around twenty-three, and he wasn't a regular. I didn't know where Oscar had picked him up; somebody had recommended him, he'd said. It must have been somebody Oscar had a lot of confidence in because Oscar was a mighty careful guy. Wally was supposed to be very good with a car, but I think what made Oscar pick him was that he was moon-faced and clear-eyed and looked like he was always helping old ladies across streets.
Protective coloration, Oscar called it. Have one appearance during the job and another while making the getaway.
So there was the kid, and Oscar Trotter who could pass for a professor, and Georgie Ross who had a wifeand two children and made like a respectable citizen except for a few days a year, and Tiny who was an old-time Chicago gorilla but could have been your kindly gray-haired Uncle Tim.
As for me, I'd been around a long, long time in thirty-four years of living. I'd almost been a lawyer, once. I'd almost married a decent woman, once. I'd almost...
Never mind. I was thirty-four years old and had all my features in the right places, and whenever Oscar Trotter had a job I was there at his side.
Wally Garden's part was to swipe a car early in the afternoon and pick us up on a country road and drop us off at the factory and drive slowly for five hundred feet and make a U-turn and drive slowly back. He picked out a nice car--a shiny big Buick.
The factory manufactured plastic pipe. It was in New Jersey, on the outskirts of Coast City where real estate was cheap. The office of the large, low, sprawling plant was in a wing off by itself. From that wing a side door opened directly out to a two-lane blacktop road that had little traffic. There was an armed guard who arrived with the payroll and stayed until it was distributed, but he was an old man who was given that job because he couldn't work at anything else.
Oscar decided it would be a cinch. And it was.
We were in and out in seventy seconds--five seconds under the schedule Oscar had worked out. We barged in wearing caps and T-shirts and denim work pants, and we had Halloween masks on our faces and guns in our hands. Tiny had the guard's gun before the sluggish old man knew what was up. Seven or eight others were in the office, men and women, but they were too scared to cause trouble. Which was just as well. We weren't after hurting anybody if we could help it. We were after dough, and there it was on a long table in an adjoining room, in several hundred little yellow envelopes.
Seventy seconds--and we were coming out through the side door with two satchels holding the payroll, pulling off our masks and sticking away our guns before we stepped into the open air, then striding to the Buick Wally Garden was rolling over to us.
Some hero in the office got hold of a gun and started to fire it.
The newspapers next day said it was a bookkeeper who had it in his desk. One thing was sure--he didn't know a lot about how to use it. He stood at a window and let fly wildly.
None of the slugs came near us. Anyway, not at the four of us out in the open he was firing at. But he got Wally who was still a good twenty feet away. Got him through the car window as if he'd been an innocent bystander.
The car jerked as his foot slipped off the throttle and it stalled and stopped after rolling a few more feet. Through the windshield we saw Wally slump over the wheel.
Oscar yelled something to me, but I knew what to do. Sometimes I could think for myself. I ran around to the left front door.
The shooting had stopped. No more bullets, I supposed.
Wally turned a pale, agonized face to me as I yanked open the car door. "I'm hit," he moaned.
"Shove over," I said.
He remained bowed over the wheel. I pushed him. Oscar got into the car through the opposite door and pulled him. Groaning, Wally slid along the seat. Georgie and Tiny were piling into the back seat with the satchels. There was plenty of screaming now in the office, but nobody was coming out, not even the hero. I took Wally's place and got the stalled engine started and away we went.
Sagging between Oscar and me on the front seat, Wally started to cough, shaking all over.
"Where's it hurt, son?" Oscar asked gently.
Wally pushed his face against Oscar's shoulder, the way a frightened child would against his mother's bosom.
He gasped, "I feel ... it stabs ... my insides ... bleeding."
He was the only one of us wearing a jacket. Oscar unbuttoned it and pulled it back. I glanced sideways and saw blood soaking a jagged splotch on the right side of his shirt. It looked bad.
Nobody said anything.
Posted January 16, 2010
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