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Read an Excerpt
Green on the River Road
By Maureen Hammond
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Maureen Hammond
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThey were fighting already, as Refugio had said that they would, except that this time it was not a fight over women. This time it was a fight over stopping to smoke some weed.
"Come on man! Just pull over I need a little tip. Come on!"
"No just wait till I get off this damn road".
The heavy SUV blows up a track of dirt as it makes a sharp right turn just after crossing the Colorado River on the Veterans' Bridge.
"Okay, now you're off the road, this looks more like a path than a road. Come on that Yesca's calling me.
"Okay Fucker, just wait esse."
Finally the car pulls off the dark and desolate road onto a wide sandy shoulder area. The moonless night is pitch black and blanketed with stars which competed for attention with the far off neon lights of the AVI Casino. Once the driver turned his lights off, the darkness around the car looms like an underground cave. The desert night gives up its ripe sounds, the Cicada's buzzing, the night-swifts soft call, and the brushing quacks of ducklings rustling their nesting place in the river just below.
"Where is it?"
"Dumb ass, its in the blue bag right on top and make it quick".
Rudy jumps out of the passenger side and unties a tight rope holding what looks like camping gear on the top of the luggage rack. He sees the small blue bag stuck under two larger bags. It takes all of his strength to move the larger army green locker bag with the words Patricia Gym in large white letters off the pile and he inadvertently crashes it to the ground. It falls well behind him.
"Jesus! What's it? Cement?" Rudy yells out loud as he removes the second yellow bag and tosses it down onto the ground, landing it just behind his left foot. Rudy excitedly reaches the blue bag, unzips it and fondles the small plastic bags inside. He extracts one, unzips it, and pulls a small pipe from his shirt pocket and tamps down a goodly amount of marijuana into the opening. He cigarette lighters it and deeply inhales, holding his breath and fluttering his eyelids.
The driver, Flaco, yells impatiently, "What the Fuck!, Come on we can't stay here all night." Then he jacks the car in reverse to scare Rudy.
"Fucker," yells Rudy, as he inhales yet another drag, opens the passenger side door and jumps into the car. As Rudy exhales, Flaco moves the car toward the road.
"Hey, I didn't tie down." Flaco slams on the brakes and calls Rudy a "dumb fuck."
"Hey relax have a toke, come on, take it," as he hands the pipe to Flaco. Flaco inhales deeply and then exit's the car.
"We gotta go, keep on time man, Oh shit! I'll tie down."
Flaco goes to the side of the SUV, settles the blue bag, zips it, gets the yellow bag, and throws it on top of the blue bag. He ties the rope, securing the corners, double checks the slip knots and gets back into the car. Rudy is zoning out and smiling into the sweet desert air. Flaco keeps an angry silence as he moves the car off the sandy dirt road and on to the two lane paved road, heading south toward Yuma, their final destination. The army green canvas bag is left where it fell in the dark desert night with fifteen million dollars in neat packets of hundreds placed under two T-shirts from the Patricia Gym.
Chapter TwoShe was no longer as tired as usual, the movie had energized her. It was a silly romantic comedy with actors she deemed "cute", Jude Law and a plot easy to follow, escapist in nature, a "chick flick". She had been one of six people in the stadium seat theater auditorium. Hannah was a regular at the AVI, not as a gambler but as a moviegoer. She had been captivated from the moment the AVI announced the building of a stadium eight movie complex. She smiled at the gamblers totally consumed by their machines as she passed them on her way to the parking lot. She bore them no ill will, unless she recognized some of her students' parents. She went through the automatic doors with thoughts of the movie still in her head. She breathed deeply when the clear desert air hit her nostrils. A relief from the oxygen piped and smoke filled air of the casino. For a moment she forgot where she had parked her truck. "Let's see," she mumbled to herself while moving her lips. "Okay, lets see, down to the big sign, right, fourteen cars down, yep there it is." ( A couple passed her and looked at her quizzically at which time she began singing, to cover the fact that she was talking to herself ... again) She unlocked the door to her small size gun metal grey truck and sighed heavily as she turned on the ignition, and quickly relocked the door. She was always amazed when her five year old truck started immediately, as she often considered it an act of personal courage to drive it as far and as fast (sometimes) as she often did.
She had just crossed the bridge and made the sharp right turn on to the two lane road heading home to Needles when her bladder started acting up. "Damn," she said out loud, and then, "Christ," as the pressure to relieve herself became more immediate. She knew she should have gone to the restroom, but she thought she could make it, after all, teachers' bladders should be nominated for "Ripley's Believe It Or Not." She opened the window, no help, and when she could not hold the bladder pressure any longer, she pulled her car off the road into a wide sandy area. She angled the car against some brush and the road, so as not to be seen by passing motorists, unzipped her pants, and made sure that no cars were coming as she relieved herself, saying out loud, "God this is the darkest road in all creation."
She saw the car lights approach on the road, she ducked a little and as the lights passed they struck a green canvas bag, just in front of her truck. She hurriedly pulled up her pants, not liking the sensation of not wiping, but it was better then wetting herself. She went to the bag. Thinking that some poor soul had forgotten their clothing. She unzipped it, and saw what looked like some clothing. She was about to zip the bag up and leave it where it set when one of those split second mysteries that change the course of ones life moved her hand to rustle the shirts (maybe it was attributable to checking the book bags of future criminals at her school). She felt beneath the shirts and knew by touch that she was feeling money. She did not know how much it was and her mind did not consider any other thoughts as she pushed and pulled the bag with all of her strength toward the rear of her truck. She dropped the tailgate and acting now out of pure instinct and drive she used her legs and back to shove the huge bundle onto the truck bed, slamming the tailgate shut and rushing to drive away from the scene. She was an impulsive person and it had served her well in her fifty years of life. Turning onto the main road, her mind became preoccupied with what was IN THE BAG.. It could be just paper, no, the feel was money ... my God what if it was money, some gambling tourist, probably drunk had left their winnings by the side of the road. Well I'll find out when I get home. Hannah had left only a wet spot and one footprint in the sandy turnout. Behind the bank of brush, eyes had been watching her.
Chapter ThreeFlaco and Rudy pulled into the gas station at Spirit Mountain Casino.
"I'll go in ... you fill it up." Rudy nodded as Flaco ambled his way through the front door of the gas station to pay the Indian man at the counter. When he came out he began watching Rudy, who had left the gas nozzle in the car, while he began checking the luggage.
Flaco admonished him, "Hey, what you doin' man? No more. That is all. No mas. we don't need to smoke away all our profit". Rudy was oblivious. "Where's the green one?"
"Where's the fuckin' green bag? Where's the fucking green bag?"
"Flaco began rummaging around the luggage with Rudy, "I t's ... Christ.. I put back the yellow bag there it is ..."
"I can see that asshole ... but where's the green one?" "Did you take down the green one too? Fuck we gotta go back, and you better pray that its there ... He'll fucking kill us ..."
The gas nozzle was left on the ground as the SUV peeled out of the station, making a left hand turn through a red light and speeding down the highway. Rudy and Flaco were edged forward in their seats trying to push the car faster back toward the spot on the dark road where they had left the Patricia Gym bag.
"Hey call him now let him know!"
"No. Hell no, the bag will be there. Look we haven't passed any cars. It'll be there." The SUV roared down Boundary Cone road "Look no cars man, no one even uses this fuckin road."
As they make the turn on to Veteran's Highway, Flaco almost hits a small pickup truck "Watch it man we don't need to crash ... and slow down the spot is right over ... well up ahead just past those turn signs."
Flaco makes a wide turn off the main road, into the sand and then over to a dirt road, slowing the car to a crawl. He follows Rudy's pointed finger and stops the SUV just above a wet spot in the sand. He leaves the car lights on and both men jump from the vehicle, searching frantically for the green bag. "You sure that this is where we stopped?"
"I don't see it asshole." They searched the length and width of the sandy widened road for ten minutes. "Maybe it was down a little farther, we have to find it! He's gonna kill us!"
Chapter FourHannah drove while her mind raced. Was it really money? How much? Was it stolen? Was it from the casino? I'll get it home ... Someone will probably claim it ... If its claimable ...
As she began the turn onto Boundary Cone Road, she was blinded by the lights of a fast moving vehicle. She caught only a glimpse of the sharp nosed driver as he skidded his SUV almost straight intro her small truck. She screamed out loud, "Oh my God.!. Let me get home ..." as she swerved to the right and into the sandy shoulder to avoid being hit. She kept a vigilant eye on her rearview mirror and the side mirrors. There was a sixth sense that told her that the driver of that car was in a big hurry maybe to recover something that he had lost. As she thought of turning around and finding out, there was something about the sharp nosed man's face that told her not to do that., and getting home once again became the top priority.
The SUV drivers also had a top priority. It was the single only time they used the phone. He peeled it out of the glove compartment, his hands shaking. The phone only dialed Refugio's number. The phone was only to be used in an ultra extreme emergency. Flaco had never used it before on any of his trips. He was terrified. The voice on the other end was gravelly, strong, and angry, "Flaco, What is the matter?"
"Refe, one of the bags is missing."
"The green one."
Refugio's tone became higher, more enraged, "What the hell do you mean its missing?" Refugio became furious, raging, as he listened to the story of the lost Patricia Gym bag. "Let me talk to Rudy."
When Rudy told him the same story Refugio ordered them to meet him at the Avi Casino's parking structure, Level three in exactly two hours. He would be coming down from Las Vegas after he gathered his small entourage of men.
Refugio had been in Las Vegas with his wife, a rare vacation from the dry cleaning business in Bakersfield, and even rarer to spend one with his wife, Veronica. He had taken her on a shopping trip (all the stores at Caesars Palace). Her favorite, Neiman Marcus, was a nice way to spend a part of the millions which were his twenty percent of the illegal trade. His wife loved the new fashions, she loved her new Escalade, and she loved Refugio. She was a beautiful woman in her late forties, but then no one could tell her age when youthful graces could be obtained for a plastic price and Veronica kept her looks by visiting a "spa" just outside of Ensenada every four years, a nip here, a tuck there, and she was twenty-five forever. Refugio made his excuses to his wife who clutched her credit cards as she kissed him goodbye gently on the mouth. He left two of his entourage to protect her, the others went with him.
Rudy slammed the phone back onto the glove compartment, "He's coming here ... Fuck, we're dead ... Lets run man."
"Where? He'll find us."
"Lets go look again we got to find that fuckin' bag." Cars came down the highway, one was a tribal police car.
"Lets get the hell out of here."
"To the damn Avi, go have a smoke, a drink, get drunk and wait for El Jefe."
Rudy sunk down into the seat, hands to his head, rocking himself back and forth, "He's gonna kill us, he won't believe us. Were in some bad shit here."
Flaco said nothing. He drove slowly toward the casino. He turned the SUV into the Avi complex and drove toward the parking structure, whose entrance was graced with a beautiful mural. The SUV passed just to the left of a painted river, a painted mountain, and a giant painted pot. They drove directly to the third level, parked the vehicle and waited.
Chapter FiveHannah had stopped shaking as her truck cleared the underpass and she entered Needles proper. She drove past the mid-western hobbit-like houses that clustered near the railroad tracks, turned up J street to the middle of the signal-less town. She drove uphill, uptown toward home, passing the occasional homeless roamer, one tweeker, and two late nighties, on the almost deserted streets. Her street was quiet and dark. Her hands were shaking as she pressed the garage door opener.
Once she had driven the truck into the still quiet safeness of the dark garage she breathed her first sigh of relief. The electric sound of the door closing the rest of the world out was the best sound she had ever heard. She leaned against the back of the truck and felt the green bag with her hand. The light in the garage was just bright enough for her to see that just under the T-shirt of the unzipped bag was green, tons and tons of green wrapped bills. She starred in wonder at the mountain of money exclaiming over and over, "My God and Oh Christ", a prayer of astonished amazement.
Her first instinct in this state of shock was to count the money, then later look for identity. She tried, but could not lift the bag out of the truck bed so she began the tedious process of lifting out saran wrapped bundles of bills, finding that each packet contained 100,000 dollars. She moved these paper bricks directly onto her bed in the master bedroom at the back of the house. She seemed to be moving with the same urgency with which she had driven the car, carrying two at a time, then three at a time, then four. The money seemed endless.
After seventy five trips the bag at last was empty, and Hana starred at the fifteen million dollars covering her bed. The last thing she did was move the now empty canvas bag into the bedroom, recovering her senses long enough to ask herself why she had not simply moved the bag, when it was light enough, into the room. "Nuts" she said to herself simply, "nuts".
She counted the bundles again. One hundred and fifty. Her state of automatic shock did not abate,. When a persons whose yearly salary of about 40,000 dollars is in the presence of so much cash the effect is one of almost religious awe, especially when the culture in which you live worships the contents of what lies on your bed. She was dumbfounded. She numbly ran into her bathroom, and starred at her non-wrinkled fifty year old face that looked back at her in the mirror. She smoothed her self-dyed blonde hair and double blinked her deep green eyes. She shook herself and splashed cold water onto her face, then softly dried, patted her face, then turned suddenly to once again look at the top of her bed. This was not a dream. There was fifteen million dollars on her bed. But What the ... what now? Sleep was out of the question. She had school tomorrow ... She would call in sick. No. No, that was not a good idea. She would get through the day tomorrow.
For the next two hours she bundled fifteen garbage bags with money, and put fourteen of them into the attic inside her bedroom closet with the help of a utility ladder from her garage, swearing as she almost over-stepped on a lower rung. One of the bags she left near her blue slippers by the bed. She went into the bathroom and ran the shower then came back into the bedroom and moved the fifteenth bag of one million dollars on the other side of her bed near the bathroom door.
Excerpted from Green on the River Road by Maureen Hammond Copyright © 2010 by Maureen Hammond. Excerpted by permission.
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