Culprits: The Heist Was Just the Beginning

Culprits: The Heist Was Just the Beginning

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943818907
Publisher: Polis Books
Publication date: 02/27/2018
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 683,949
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Richard J. Brewer, a native Californian, has always been a lover of stories and storytelling. He has worked as a writer, actor, bookseller, story editor, book reviewer, movie and television Development Executive, and audiobook narrator. He was co-editor of the critically acclaimed Bruce Springsteen inspired short story anthology Meeting Across the River. His most recent short story, Last to Die, was included in another anthology inspired by The Boss, Trouble in the Heartland, and was noted as one of the Distinguished Mystery Stories of the year in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015.

Gary Phillips is the author of the Ivan Monk series, and is the author of numerous novels and graphic novels. He co-edited and contributed to the acclaimed Black Pulp, has short stories in the upcoming Asian Pulp and Jewish Noir, and wrote Big Water, a graphic novel about the fight for that most precious of resources. A reviewer said of his novella The Extractors, about a one percenter who steals from the one percent -- "Gary never disappoints. Great plots and complex and interesting characters, McBleak being one of them." He lives in Los Angeles.

The are the co-editors of OCCUPIED EARTH: Stories of Aliens, Resistance and Survival at all Costs, available now from Polis Books.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Heist

by Gary Phillips and Richard Brewer

O'Conner crossed his arms before his face as the blast from the shotgun knocked him down.

* * *

Less than two weeks before, he'd gotten a cup of coffee from the ink-laden barista with the pierced lip and boxer's biceps. At the setup on the side where various types of sugar and dairy were located, he poured some half and half in his cup. As he stirred his unsweetened coffee, he scanned the people in the national chain coffee emporium. He didn't used to frequent such places, coffee was coffee, for Christ's sake, and he didn't see any reason to spend five dollars for his caffeine fix. But as of late, he'd found himself in them more often given Gwen Gardner's addiction to her premium lattes.

He almost smiled at the notion of how domesticated he'd become. Or rather, how he presented the illusion of domestication. Though it was true he was less inclined to take on jobs these days. His lady Gwen had inherited several Fix & Go auto body shops in Southern California from her deceased father. An enterprising type, Papa Gardner had opened the first one in Gardena in So Cal's South Bay in the mid '80s. O'Conner, something of an enterprising type himself, had amassed a decent amount of money from his various scores over the years. Cash he'd squirreled away in numerous locales; buried under a couple of snow birds' vacation homes in Lake Tahoe, a storage locker in Palmdale, and a long non-working oil field of rusting automated pumpers in El Segundo among his hidey holes.

He'd gathered a percentage of these funds, laundered them through the Financier, and invested the clean monies in Gwen's shops. Coordinating with her, he helped oversee the operations, with a closer attention to detail than she had before the two lived together. The result of their collaboration was a significant increase in the quarterly bottom line. That, along with his infusion of money, allowed the company to open a new outlet in Culver City with another one coming to the West Adams area of Los Angeles early the next year.

As the auto body shops were not the only legit and underground businesses he'd invested in, O'Conner had income and comfort and a good woman to share it with. What he didn't have was the rush. He didn't have the heightened edge to his senses that planning and pulling off a heist brought. And he missed it.

"Better than sex?" Gardner had teased him yesterday, her hand and head tenderly on his chest as they lay in bed.

"A close second," he'd breathed. Then they made love again. "A distant second," he amended hoarsely, losing himself in their ardor.

O'Conner allowed a brief smile to alter his placid face at that tactile memory. He sat at a small table toward the rear of the shop, sipping his coffee. Nearby were two women in their twenties laughing and muttering as they both looked at something on a smartphone screen. Cats, he considered, it's always cat videos.

The man he was here to meet came through the front door. He nodded at O'Conner and walked to the cold case next to the order counter. The Financier extracted a plastic square bottle of a viscous green liquid and paid for his choice. He came over to O'Conner.

"It's been a while," the newcomer said, sitting opposite. He wore a sport coat and pressed slacks in contrast to O'Conner's dark windbreaker, grey t-shirt underneath, and washed black jeans.

"You reached out."

"And you answered," said the man. "I wasn't sure you'd be interested."

"Yes, you were."

Though semi-retired, or whatever the term for his current self-imposed status, O'Conner still used the old methods when someone wanted to contact him. In an era where smart TVs could spy on you, the physical drop was as reliable now as when first developed by the Culper Ring during the Revolutionary War, he reasoned.

O'Conner maintained a mailbox under a false name in a shipping store twelve miles from Hemet, California where he and Gardner lived in a suburban housing complex. He varied his route to the box, but once a week would make the trip to see if there was mail. Few knew of its address and he'd been curious when he'd read the terse message from the man sitting across from him. Then, once read, and as was his practice, he burned the sheet with the five sentences on it along with the envelope. He then flushed the ashes down the toilet and made a call from one of his SMS encrypted phones at an appointed time to the number of a similar device that was answered by the other man. The phones were designed not to record messages which could be retrieved by law enforcement. O'Conner and only a few others knew the actual name of this man. To most of the criminal world in which he operated he was only known as the Financier.

Toned and fit, the Financier, with his short, sandy-colored hair and angular face, was in his mid-fifties, maybe eight years older than O'Conner. He showed even white teeth as he undid the plastic strip securing the cap of his concoction, a kale and acacia berry smoothie, the label indicated. He shook the bottle briefly. "I figured there was only so much of civilian life you could stand. Thought it might be time for a break in the routine, as it were."

"In Texas," O'Conner said.

"An eighteen-thousand-acre cattle ranch outside of Fort Worth called the Crystal

Q." He drank some of his smoothie, dabbing at the corner of his mouth with a finger when he set the bottle down.

"Clovis Harrington is the owner of the ranch. More importantly, he is the head of the North Texas Citizens Improvement League."

"And they would be?"

"The League is a major fixture all across the Lone Star State. Several of its members, if not exactly in the inner circle of Bush, that is W, were in the immediate outer orbit. Truth be told, a few of them were hoping for a different outcome to the presidential election, but whichever way things went, red or blue, capitalism is capitalism and they knew they would have a seat at the big kid's table."

"Still, I would think it's a bigger one now given who's in office."

The Financier regarded his health product, as if debating whether he'd done enough penance for today and would have an order of french fries for lunch. "That is true, and their good ol' boy ex-governor is a cabinet secretary, but our mercurial president and the ones who have his ear whisper dire things about the League, and not without good reason."

"They have ties to the teabaggers," O'Conner gleaned.

The Financier nodded. "Or whatever they are calling themselves these days. But that gets me to this: Harrington's group knows that no matter how much they prop up the bogeyman of voter fraud to justify their questionable ID laws and help configure districts to ensure the white vote, the brown factor looms just over the horizon — despite the current immigration policies. To combat the dark flood takes an excrement load of ready cash."

O'Conner had more of his coffee and declared, "They've got a slush fund."

"And they've beefed it up with an eye toward the mid-terms and the future. They've always bribed judges, water commissioners, and the like. But if the Latino tide is coming, odds are that no matter how committed to La Causa any future school board, city council member, or mayor might be, one does have to pay for those damn braces the kids need."

"Or have boats to buy," O'Conner observed dryly.

"Or sex scandals to quiet." The Financier finished his health drink. "For every three or four torch bearers, there will always be the greedy ones with a hand out and an eye to turn."

In their arena, notions like altruism were alien concepts. O'Conner noted that the two women had left and a trendy type with a beard, hair knot, and skinny jeans had sat down in their place. He got busy on his laptop after he'd slipped on his noise cancelling headphones. O'Conner imagined he was listening to the best inspirational hits of that tall, big-toothed Tony Robbins, or something on how to start your own artisan cheese and toast shop.

"So, what are we looking at?" said O'Conner.

"The League members have recently levied a tax internally, and my estimate is there's some seven million in untraceable money being housed in a vault in the wine cellar at the Harrington spread."

"How do you know this?"

The Financer looked back at him with the slightest of smiles.

"You have a source," said O'Conner. He'd already come to this conclusion, he only wanted confirmation. "Close?"

"Close as silk sheets."

Momentarily, O'Conner's eyes focused elsewhere as he examined various parameters of the potential job. "How much does your inside man want of this bounty?"

"Inside man and woman. He wanted two million but I told him as the crew would be handling the heavy lifting, he would have to settle for six hundred grand ... for the both of them."

Crossing his arms, O'Conner sat back. "And what's the complication?"

The Financier managed a wry smile. "Seems there always is one, doesn't it?"

O'Conner didn't respond, waiting.

The Financier added, "The info comes from the wife's side piece. But he doesn't really have much of anything to do with this, it's really she who is the source."

"What's the boy toy's name?"

"Zach Culhane."

"He solid?"

The Financier's chair was at an angle to the table and he crossed one leg over the other. "If by that do you mean is he a cocaine fiend or prone to maudlin drinking and spilling his guts to strippers, the answer is no. At least he wasn't when I dealt with him in the past."

"What do you know about her?"

Expressionless, he said, "The former Miss Range Rider Beer. She's the third wife, about twenty-two years Harrington's junior. Her name is Gracella Murieta-Harrington, originally from Corpus Christi."

"And she's willing to go along with the takedown for that amount?"

"Apparently. From what Culhane told me, they both came upon this idea during some pillow talk about a month ago. Her husband is bored with her and she with him, but she pretends otherwise, at least externally. She knows about Culhane's past and he's the one who reached out to me through an old crime partner from back when. He used to boost cars for an outfit I bankrolled once."

"What I mean is," O'Conner said, "if this thing goes down, he and the wife won't be able to sit tight until the heat dies down. I'll bet the number of people who know about this slush fund and where it's kept could be counted on one hand. Maybe the wife isn't supposed to know, but how long will the husband believe that? She and the this guy could be sitting right in the crosshairs."

"I hear what you're saying," the Financier said. "Harrington will suspect this is an inside job and may put the screws to his wife as the logical suspect. Which would lead him to the kid and maybe to my involvement."

"Does the go-between, the one Culhane reached out to, does he know how to find you?"

"Where I lay my head?"

"Um-hmm."

"No."

O'Conner assessed this. It wasn't his concern if the Financier was found out. Everyone took a risk in this kind of thing. It was more about making sure he remained as untraceable as was possible. The wife and boyfriend were both sources of vital information and the weakest links. There was going to be no foolproof way for them to effectively mask their own involvement should one or both of them fall under suspicion, get pressured, and crack. What that would mean was that the crew would have to move quickly and effectively. In, out, and be in the wind before anyone could get a bead on them. Judging from what the Financier said, O'Conner was sure the League had a certain reputation in the Fort Worth area, so there was that. Maybe there was a way to throw suspicion elsewhere, minimize their exposure.

"Is there any way I can scope out the layout of the ranch beforehand?" O'Conner asked. "Maybe the wife wants to get some redecorating done."

The Financier huffed. "This might be very un-PC of me, but you do realize you might be a little implausible as an interior decorator."

"Be that as it may."

"I think that might be too chancy." He paused for a moment. "But the wife should be able to get some shots done on her cell. She can send them to the address of a techie cutout I know who can retrieve them and I can then get them to you."

"Is there a timeframe?" O'Conner said.

"Three weeks."

"What happens then?"

"There's a shindig planned at the ranch. Congress people, lobbyists and what have you, are coming out for a big ol' Remember the Alamo bar-b-que and political soiree. In all that hoo-rah, the job could go down."

O'Conner had pulled off heists during functions in the past, pretending to be the hired-on waitstaff or even the magician clown once. But he said, "I don't know. A bunch of strapped, Second Amendment loving Lone Star State lovers pumping beer and Jack through their veins and feeling all sovereign and shit. No, there's too much to control. Too much to go wrong. It only takes one asshole thinking he's Goddamned Wyatt Earp to pull his piece and piss on our parade."

O'Conner paused, then, "But a bash like that takes a lot of prepping. That means strangers being seen at the house before the event. That wouldn't be so odd. They could be helping plan things, or be extra help getting the place ready."

"I can see that," the Financier nodding in agreement.

O'Conner recalled watching one of those tours of celebrity homes with Gardner one night on TV. "Is there an on-site chef?"

"There is," the Financier affirmed.

"Know what he drives? "

The Financier pulled out a smartphone and swiped at the screen. "Yes, he has a van. He uses it for errands and such, sometimes he transports a side of beef from one part of the spread to the house. Fresh slaughtered meat being a perk of a cattle ranch."

O'Conner said, "I would imagine overseeing the upcoming celebration means he's got a lot to handle, making several runs throughout the day, dealing with the various vendors." O'Conner wasn't talking so much to the Financier as working out details, thinking aloud as he did so.

"You thinking of having the wife send him off on a specific mission? That might be too much of a giveaway," said the Financer.

"Possibly," said O'Conner. He continued, "Have the boyfriend get word to the wife. Have him tell her I need the chef's cell number and a few pics of the van so I can match the make. Make sure he gives her a burner phone to use, and that she destroys it afterward. Have her throw the thing in a river or smash it up and bury the pieces in a pile of cow shit."

He paused for a beat. "You're sure she's up for this?"

"From what I gather, she's game. She really hates her husband. She'll come through."

O'Conner considered that and several other variables. "Nothing out of the ordinary. If she can, have her do up a diagram from what she remembers as far as the layout of the place and anything else she can give us that will help when we get there. But only what she remembers. I don't what anyone wondering about why she's prowling around. Does Harrington have an airstrip on his ranch?"

"He does," said the Financier. "No self-respecting cattle baron wouldn't. Several other ranches around there have them too."

"That's good," O'Conner mused.

He wondered if there was a way to spook Harington, give him a reason to want to move the money and do the snatch with the goods in transit. Keeping that possibility to himself, he added, "We can probably assume the safe where they keep the cash is an electronic make and not manual."

"That's my guess," the Financier said. "But I really don't know. Could be anything."

"Well, the man I have in mind is up for the challenge," O'Conner said.

"The Mexican gentlemen?"

O'Conner said, "He's A-Number One, reliable and up for whatever is thrown at him. He'll get the job done."

The two talked over several other particulars, including where O'Conner would retrieve the Financier's cash investment he'd use to put together the equipment needed for the takedown. The two then left the coffee shop and said their goodbyes. He drove away in his recent model Cadillac CTS with the Carbon Black package, having been turned on to Cadillacs by the old box man Gonzales back when. O'Conner began to put the pieces together for how the job could go down. First, he was going to do his research.

At a local library, he used one of the computers to look up articles on the North Texas Citizens Improvement League. From left wing sources like The Nation and Mother Jones, he scanned reports that talked about its influence in conservative politics. He also found a profile of Clovis Harrington. A native Texan, he had a lean face, a trim mustache, and in the picture he committed to memory, wore designer glasses. There was a granite cast to those eyes behind the lenses. The shallow smile on his face told you he was polite to a degree but those eyes said he was a motherfucker when it came to his business. Or you messing with it.

As was expected, he was an avid hunter, gun rights enthusiast, and vocal supporter of all things freedom as defined by right of center politics. There was also speculation in more than one piece he scanned about Harrington's below the table dealings, naming names of certain associates. There had been a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of the League about five years ago but as far as he could tell, nothing came of it. Still, that gave him an idea.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Culprits"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Richard Brewer.
Excerpted by permission of Polis Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword, 5,
Chapter 1 - The Heist - Gary Phillips & Richard Brewer, 7,
Chapter 2 - Aftermath - Gary Phillips, 54,
Chapter 3 - Last Dance - Jessica Kaye, 62,
Chapter 4 - The Wife - Zoë Sharp, 70,
Chapter 5 - The Financier - David Corbett, 106,
Chapter 6 - Snake Farm - Manuel Ramos, 126,
Chapter 7 - Eel Estevez - Joe Clifford, 149,
Chapter 8 - I Got You - Brett Battles, 166,
Chapter 9 - Racklin - Gar Anthony Haywood, 195,
Chapter 10 - Showdown - Gary Phillips, 210,
Chapter 11 - Hector - Richard Brewer, 230,
Chapter 12 - All Debts Paid - Brewer & Phillips, 254,

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