Charlie Potatoes

by Michael Ryerson

“I’m gonna buy me a pair of buckskin shoes, with a brand-new suit and a silk shirt. And I’ll be Charlie Potatoes, comin’ down the street, with a Panama hat and a good-lookin’ gal,” his eyes softened and he was looking out to the horizon, ” No more “Yassuh, boss.” I’ll go to Rio and never be found. No more “Yassuh, boss”!”

                                                                     Joker Jackson, The Defiant Ones

                                                            *

Loehman was a small-timer living on hot checks, petty theft and ‘loans’ from his brother, the musician. He had a room at the Bristol, a fleabag down on Eighth Street below Pershing Square, drank a late breakfast in a joint on Broadway and would catch the shuttle out to the track at about noon most days. He’d been running around with Mickey the B, but Mick didn’t like the ponies all that much and in March he got himself picked up on a petty theft beef and an open warrant came up and he was on his way back to Folsom. So Loehman is pissing away his money, looking for a situation, when one morning he runs into a guy he’d known in the joint named Diggs. He’s standing there waiting for the shuttle and this guy strolls by with the Racing Form folded under his arm and Loehman immediately knows him and calls out. It was all downhill from there. 

Loehman was a small timer with a brother who had money. He pressed him for ‘loans’ pretty often but the patience thing was drying up and it was getting harder to come up with a fresh story every time. So it was getting harder to get more than a sawbuck out of him every month or so and he finally just started sayin’, ‘C’mon Morrie, give me a coupla bucks, will ya?’ And usually Morrie would come through. Usually. 

Loehman was a small timer looking for a situation because even he knew passing hot checks had its limits and he had to put some real money together. But it wasn’t easy. A con can’t get close to the real money without somebody blows the whistle. So he was poking around, sniffing around, hoping something would fall in his lap. And then he runs into Diggs. 

Diggs was a junkie. He had a room at the Harvey and most mornings he shot up in his room and laid back until it hit. Then he’d check the car he kept parked behind the hotel, a big, dusty, black Chrysler with bad tires and a venetian blind in the back window. Then he’d start to hustle. Maybe shoplift some out of the men’s stores on lower Main Street or out the backs of the shops on Broadway. He kept his eyes peeled for anything that was left lying around, a purse, a camera, anything that could be hocked, pretty much anything for five, ten bucks. Some mornings the sun hurt his eyes but if he waited in his room long enough, well…he’d feel okay. Like this morning. He was starting to feel a little better, almost normal again. He was looking forward to getting out to the track. He was going to play it smart for once, he was going to play for the steady money, the short odds, play the favorites to show or place, no more on-the-nose tickets where somebody can bump your horse coming out of the gate or crowd him into the rail or lock him up in the stretch. No, show money was the smart play, it was good enough for him. Unless, of course, a sure thing came along, then he’d have to be ready to cash that big ticket. Yeah, but only a sure thing. For once he was going to play it smart, he was going to come back from the track up, with more money than he’d taken. Sure he was. 

Now Diggs didn’t know Loehman all that well. He’d seen him on the yard at Folsom a couple of times and they had a couple of mutual acquaintances but they’d never done much more than pass the time. He’d bummed a smoke from him once or twice but that was pretty much it. When he heard someone call his name on that sidewalk, he had a half a pack of Chesterfields, a book of matches from the Alibi Room, a little bottle of aspirin tablets, a jack knife and twenty-seven dollars in his pocket. And he had two Codeine tablets folded in a five dollar bill in his right sock. He was flush but when he turned to see Loehman smiling at him, he was looking for a situation, too. 

On the shuttle they talked about the horses. Loehman leaned over and looked at the margin notes on Diggs’ copy of The Form and asked, ‘Ya got a system?’ To which Diggs frowned and said, ‘No, not really.’ ‘How long you been goin’ to the track?’ ‘I dunno, maybe twenty years or so.’ ‘Geesh, you’d think you’d have a system by now.’ Loehman had a system. He also had a half pint of rye in his jacket. They smoked the Chesterfields and drank the whiskey and played a couple of hands of whatever-happened-to until the shuttle dropped them off under the awning at Hollywood Park. The horses were not kind. The favorites ran out of the dough and the ‘shots came out of nowhere. Diggs cashed two tickets and came out down ten bucks. Loehman wasn’t so lucky. Riding the shuttle back that night, they didn’t talk much. Diggs was focused on cookin some H at the Harvey and Loehman was thinking about calling his brother.

Vincent Braga was a hood with a nose for business, he could smell trouble and he could smell money. He was a burglar and an armed robber, did some extortion and ran some protection but his specialty was home invasions, right through the front door. He believed in punctuality and simplicity. And he hated partnerships. He did some free-lance collections for Joey Sica and later for Mickey Cohen but he was never a company man, just a dependable guy who could do a job now and then. Mostly he was an independent. He carried a .32 automatic in his trouser pocket and never made trouble for nobody unless there was money in it. He favored dark wool blazers, silk shirts open at the collar and no jewelry. There was nothing flashy about Vincent Braga. He had a nice, calm, no-nonsense way about his business so when he had to lean on somebody, they never saw it coming. 

Braga had two offices. Most mornings you could reach him by leaving a message at Zimmer’s Gym over on Vermont. Tony Zimmer’s place was a little second floor walk-up with bad lighting and low ceilings. Nothing fancy. No one who ever answered this phone seemed to know who Vince Braga was but they were always happy to take a message. But Braga was always there and usually the call was returned. He would show up each day at eleven, quietly lift weights for a couple of hours and then just as quietly disappear down the back stairs. He had done a couple of favors for Zimmer over the years and so pretty much had the run of the place. Tony Zimmer liked having Braga around. Nobody ever bothered Tony Zimmer. In the evenings, you could call the bartender at Tom Bergin’s joint on South Fairfax and leave your name and in a few minutes Braga would call you back. But if you showed up at the Horseshoe looking for him, without an appointment, you’d better have some juice or a good story or you might never have a phone call returned again. 

Braga married Jack Basso’s daughter, Gina. They bought a little house out on La Tijera and now Gina was pregnant. Basso was a minor producer at RKO, also did some things at Paramount, all quick little ‘B’ pictures that usually made money. Nothing big. He was always trying to get his new son-in-law into the business but Braga wasn’t having any of it. He’d done some collections work at Paramount, had to scuff up a couple of make-believe tough guys who didn’t understand about gambling debts and compound interest, and he was pretty sure there would be hard feelings. And besides, he didn’t think it was such a good idea having his face thirty-five feet high on some movie screen. So show business was out but, beyond that, Braga had few illusions and fewer limits. Vincent Braga was a hood who was always looking for a situation.

If you called the Horseshoe and asked for the bar, you could leave a message for just about anybody. The bartenders would write it down for you and line it up by the phone behind the bar and anybody who came along could ask if they had a message and the bartenders would look through the line-up of messages and hand ‘em out. They were models of discretion. They didn’t know anybody and they didn’t want to know anybody. When a message would be taken for Vincent Braga, he was never ‘in’ and they didn’t know when he would be ‘in’ and as soon as they’d hang up, someone would nod at one of the cocktail waitresses and she’d go by his booth and touch him on the shoulder or tap the table as she passed and he’d walk over to the side bar and they’d lay the note in front of him and he’d read it and turn away without touching it. This time the note said ‘Call Bobby C.’ Braga looked up and asked the bartender how long ago he took the message, about two minutes was the answer. This was one Braga needed to return. Sometimes for little things, he used the pay phone in the back but not this. He left by the side door, walked through the alley to Barrows and used the phone booth. 

‘Hey Bobby, it’s Vince,’ he started but Carfagno cut him off, 

‘Whatta ya doin?’ 

‘What? Right now? Nothing really. Why? Whatta ya got?’ 

Carfagno lowered his voice just a touch for effect, ‘I need ya to help me for a couple of hours. Are ya good with that?’ 

‘Yeah, Bobby, you know I am.’ 

‘I’ll pick you up in an hour, where ya gonna be?’ 

‘One block south of the Horseshoe at Barrows, on the corner.’ 

‘See ya.’ 

The line went dead. Braga walked back to the Horseshoe.

When the cream-colored Lincoln pulled into the curb, Braga was still looking up the block for Bobby’s Cadillac. He had to bend down and look to be sure it was Bobby. He knew it was going to take longer than two hours. He was right.

                                                 ***********

Tuesday night, Braga had a message from the old man. Well actually, the message was from Sil Esmond but that meant it was the old man talking. Braga returned the call, Esmond got on the line and said, ‘Hello Vincent, whatta ya doin’? Ya busy these days?’ To which Braga, knowing how this game is played said, ‘Yeah I’m doin a few little things, nothing big, ya know, but still, keeping busy.’ Esmond was quiet for a second and then said, ‘Well ya know, it would be nice if you could come see us later.’ It sounded kosher, in fact, it sounded like money. If the old man was mad, it wouldn’t be Sil Esmond making the call, it would be one of the younger guys. ‘Yeah, sure Sil, I’d be happy to see you guys again.’ Now the way this game is played ‘later’ meant after dinner and this being the old man that meant Paul’s Steak House up in Beverly Hills just off of Doheny. The old man liked to set up there most nights, in the back dining room and hold court. Braga had been there before and while it usually meant money, it always meant you could be on the good side of the old man. Besides he’d just done this job with Bobby Carfagno who answered to the old man, so maybe this was going to be to settle that up. At ten, he parked his car a block away, up on Third Street and walked down Weatherly to the alley behind the restaurant. There were some pipes above the kitchen door and he reached up and slipped the .32 into the shadows, then he went around front. Now Johnny Weissmuller was working the door, kind of a greeter, sometimes out on the curb under the awning, sometimes in the foyer by the cloakroom, Paul thought it gave the place a little class, although by this time Tarzan was getting kind of beefy. But he still had that big, crooked smile and he knew how to shake hands and laugh out loud and make people feel like he was happy to see em. The ladies ate it up. He’d put his arm around them and they’d get their pictures taken with him and all. He had a good memory for faces and names. When he saw Braga, he smiled and said, ‘Hiya Vince, how ya been?’ and they shook hands. Braga walked on through to the back room. Joey Sica stopped him short of the table and put his hand on Braga’s lapel, ‘whatta ya got?’ he asked. ‘Nothing, Joey, nothing. I know better than to carry something in here.’ Sica kept his hand there for a second, then smiled and stepped back. The old man looked up, raised his hand and motioned to a chair. Braga sat down. But the old man didn’t look at him, he was busy talking to some guy Braga had never seen, a thin, older guy with grey hair. The old man was talking and this guy is listening and nodding his head and smiling a little bit but it doesn’t look like he’s enjoying it. Finally they finish and the old guy gets up, the old man doesn’t look at him. The guy leaves. There is some tension in the air, some unspoken thing. The old man looks at Joey and shakes his head. Joey smirks and shakes his head, too. Now the old man turns to Braga, ‘I understand you did something for us last week. Is this right?’ This was touchy, Braga wasn’t sure how much he could really say, this could be a conversation that shouldn’t happen. He hesitated, thinking, finally he says, ‘Yeah, I did a little thing for you. I was happy to do it. It was nothing.’ The old man leans back, his face relaxed, he likes this answer, ‘How’s your family, Vincent? How’s your wife? She have that baby yet?’ ‘No, not yet. The doctor says another couple of weeks.’ ‘Vincent I want you to know Bobby’s a good boy but sometimes he’s not a good businessman. And I know that thing you did for us took a load off his shoulders. I want you to spend a few minutes with Sil tonight. He’s got something we’d like you to take care of for us.’ Braga knew this was the money payoff for the Bobby thing. ‘Thank you, I appreciate it.’ ‘Let us know when that baby comes.’

                                                       ************ 

In June, Loehman paid for his room with a hot check and knew he had about three days to get reorganized before it came back from the bank. He knew he was on the clock. He called Diggs. They took the Chrysler down to a garage on Avalon Boulevard and Loehman bought a couple of re-caps for the front end and a serviceable used tire for the spare and a tank of gas and paid for it all with another bad check. They made small talk with the mechanic while he filled out a receipt for the tires and when they left Loehman noticed the guy jotting down their license number. They pulled out, turned right, headed south down Avalon  and he said, ‘That’s going to be trouble.’ Diggs turned right at Vernon, just cruising while Loehman thought. They passed San Pedro and then Main and just short of Broadway Loehman saw an electronics store, ‘Pull over here,’ he said. They stood outside the window looking intently at the display of new television sets, ‘Act interested but not too interested, act like we’re just trying to decide…’, Loehman said quietly. Diggs was insulted that Loehman thought he needed to be told but he didn’t say anything. Inside, Loehman wrote another check and they wrestled a Philco into the trunk of the Chrysler. Back at the garage, Loehman told the mechanic there was going to be a problem with the check but that he had something he’d like to trade for the tires and gas, instead. The mechanic, an aging welterweight with scarred knuckles and a broken nose said, ‘Yeah? Like what?,’ and spit on the ground. Diggs popped open the trunk and the brand new Philco gleamed in the sunlight. Loehman ended up with the check and a grease smudged slip of paper with their license number written on it. He didn’t notice the guy had transposed two numbers and had the license wrong.

‘Okay, now look, I need you to do this, I need you to drop me at my place and wait a couple of hours and then send me a telegram, send it to Joe Stearns, at the hotel saying my aunt in Colorado died so I can check out of there without the guy thinking something’s up.’

‘Who’s Joe Stearns?’ Diggs asked puzzled.

‘It’s me, fer cryin out loud, I ain’t stayin there under my real name. Joe Stearns ain’t been buying no portable televisions.’ 

Diggs dropped Loehman off and drove south on Main trying to compose the telegram. He couldn’t think of a woman’s name for the deceased aunt, every name he tried sounded phony. Aunt Alma? Aunt Mary? Aunt Jane?? Shit. He turned west on Adams (Aunt Hortense?). He cleared Hoover, made the light at Vermont and found that holding the Chrysler at thirty two miles an hour he could string the green lights together (Paulette? Aunt Paulette?). He made five lights in a row. He turned south on Crenshaw (Mildred? Nancy?) and pulled into the parking lot at the Alibi Room to get a drink and try to get something down on paper. Goddam, why didn’t Loehman just tell him the goddam woman’s name? Shit! She’s his aunt fer chrissakes. He took a stool at the end of the bar and nursed a beer and doodled on the back of a cocktail napkin. He decided to use his mother’s name, nothing phony about that, it was a real woman’s name. Yeah, that’ll make it sound real. He jotted down, ‘Come quick Louie, your Aunt Estelle is passing away tonight.’ Shit! ‘Come quick Louie, your Aunt Estelle is really sick and not expected to last the night!’ He wondered if you could get an exclamation mark in a telegram? Did he have to actually mention Colorado? ‘Come quick Louie, your Aunt Estelle in Denver, Colorado is really sick and not expected to last the night!’ Fuuuck! This is lame. Okay, who should it be from? The aunt’s dyin, so she probably can’t send it. Christ! Why couldn’t Loehman send his own goddam telegram? 

Diggs worried about using his mother’s name. Was it a jinx? Were you just asking for trouble? Was it a hooey to lie about your mother dyin’? He took a long pull on his beer and looked at himself in the mirror behind the bar. Okay ‘Estelle’ was out. Just then a cocktail waitress leaned against the bar and called out an order to the bartender. Her name tag said ‘Edna’. Diggs got a clean cocktail napkin and wrote down, ‘Louie, leaving for Denver right away. Aunt Edna very sick. Looks bad. Signed, Benny.’ Diggs leaned back and admired his urgent message. Jesus, when he read it, he almost jumped up and headed for the bus station himself! He folded it and put it carefully in his shirt pocket, stood up and was fishing around in his trousers pocket for some change when he sees this guy sitting in a booth that he knows from the joint but he can’t pull the name up. He’s looking at him in the mirror and the name is really close, he could never mistake that nose, musta been busted like five or six times. Calm, quiet guy though, he thought, if he’s the guy I’m thinkin’ of. Heavy hitter, was doing hard time, maybe like assault and armed robbery. Didn’t exactly travel in the same circles. Diggs wanted to say hello but he hesitated. Without a name it would be awkward and besides, this wasn’t the kind of guy you just went over and intruded on, not unless you had something to say.

Braga had a good memory for faces. He knew Diggs as soon as he walked in, before he ever got to the barstool. He knew he was a jumpy, small timer from Folsom and he knew he was a junkie. But whatever else he thought, he knew Diggs wasn’t known as a troublemaker or a stooge. Braga watched him at the bar, scribbling away on a napkin and drinking his beer. His shoes were beat up and the seat of his trousers was shiny. Braga decided it was just a coincidence he’d shown up at the Alibi but Braga had this thing about coincidences. He hated them. Eddie Rossiter was sitting across the room, in a booth with two girls from the Roundabout and Braga made eye contact with him and nodded toward Diggs. Rossiter looked over at him, stood up, stretched and slowly angled across the room to Braga’s table. ‘I know this guy from Folsom. I don’t think he’s up to anything. I just want you to know.’ Rossiter was a young skinny guy who wanted to work with Braga. He’d done some liquor store stick-ups and boosted a couple of cars but except for being in the drunk tank a couple of times, he’d never been to jail. He was pretty low-key and Braga liked that and he knew sooner or later they were going to do some business together but right now they were just a couple of guys who saw each other a couple of times a week at the Alibi.

So here’s Diggs looking at Braga’s reflection in the mirror behind the bar, trying to remember his name, while Rossiter’s watching Diggs from beyond the cash register and Braga’s ignoring everybody. His left hand resting on the table near a pack of Camels and a glass of Scotch. His right hand is under the table. Diggs scatters some change on the bar, knocks back the last swallow of beer, raises his hand to the bartender and heads for the door. Rossiter walks slowly out after him. When Diggs pulls out of the parking lot he doesn’t even notice the tall thin guy talking to the blonde on the sidewalk. Rossiter stops at Braga’s table, ‘A black ’51 Chrysler, four door. Dirty but not too beat up. BZL 046.’ Rossiter didn’t transpose any of the numbers. He got it right.

The Western Union boy, a waif-like man in his mid-fifties, walked briskly through the door of the Bristol at four-thirty in the afternoon with an envelope marked ‘urgent’. He required a signature indicating delivery had been accomplished, so the desk clerk rang room 508 and told Joe Stearns to come down to the lobby. Loehman arrived at the desk wearing a near-theatrical expression of concern and allowed his hands to flutter ever so slightly as he opened the envelope and with a deeply furrowed brow read the wire slowly to himself, moving his lips as the terrible news poured forth. Actually he was quietly impressed with Diggs’ telegram although he had no idea who ‘Benny’ was. Leaving the wrinkled telegram on the counter, all the better for the clerk to read for himself the horrific family tragedy then unfolding, Loehman started for the waiting elevator saying, in a hurried tone, ‘I’ve gotta pull my stuff together.’ And it was done. An hour later, a friend arrived in a black Chrysler to help with his move to ‘Denver’, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of months, as soon as I can get her affairs in order,’ Loehman said, his tone at once purposeful and somber, as he left. They drove directly to the Harvey where Loehman took a room on the third floor just down the hall from Diggs and just across from another old friend, Charlie Bittner, an aging grifter and likewise an alumnus of the California penal system. If such a thing were possible, a move from the Bristol to the Harvey was a move down. Loehman stretched out on his bed looking up at yet another water stained ceiling with peeling paint and had the vague sense he was circling the drain.

In July, Vincent Braga went north. He knew the way only too well. He traveled alone. He went unarmed. He kept the car under the speed limit. And, except for gas and a piss, he drove straight through.

Teddy Braga, Vincent’s older brother was standing outside the main gate near the visitor’s center when he pulled in. Vincent didn’t get out of the car, just sat smiling as Teddy opened the door and slid in, tossing a soft cloth bag into the back seat. They sat smiling at each other, almost laughing, neither one saying a word, just smiling and finally Teddy slowly shook his head as if to say, ‘Shit, am I glad that’s over.’ Vincent held out his hand and Teddy shook it slowly, squeezing it hard and said, ‘Let’s get the fuck out of here.’

‘Ya wanna stop, get something to eat?’ Vincent said, pulling the Lincoln onto Natoma, turning right toward the park.

‘Naw, let’s put some miles between us and this place, first,’  Teddy said, stretching and leaning back, ‘Yeah, some miles, work your way down to the freeway, maybe stop in Vacaville.’  He closed his eyes and seemed to drift off. They passed through the little town center and Vincent found Auburn Road turned left and took I-50 west, keeping the car well under the speed limit.

‘Who ya running around with these days?’ 

‘Nobody, same as always.’ 

‘I thought you hooked up with Bobby Carfagno.’ 

‘Yeah, I heard that too, a couple of times. We did few little things together but nothing long term. He’s too crazy for me and I don’t like working with another guy too much anyway.’ 

‘I don’t know him, I only heard about him from Joey Testa, you know, some stories. Joey and me were on the same block last year until he got transferred to Soledad. Anyway he said Bobby was kinda wild. When I heard you guys were working together I thought it was a bad fit.’

Vincent nodded, ‘Yeah, it would be a bad fit. Sooner or later he’d get you into a tight spot. He asked me to help him out one night and him being with the old man makes it kind of hard to say no. Mostly, I try to be busy when he’s around. Anyway, he picked me up one night, said we’d be gone maybe a couple of hours but you know how that always works.’

‘All night?’

‘Pretty goddamed close. Anyway, after we got rolling, he says he knows this place up the coast, a lake, where we can dump this body he’s got in the back and nobody’ll ever find it. And I’m noddin’ my head and all the while I’m thinkin they always find em. But Bobby’s pretty sure of himself and he’s not a jumpy kind of guy so I’m going along with it. The body’s got to be dumped and I don’t know any good places and since I didn’t whack the guy I don’t feel like I’ve got a lot of say in where he gets dumped. Now Bobby’s already got him in the trunk of this car and I ask if this car is hot, you know, are the cops going to be lookin for this car and he says no, the car is his second car and his wife is usually driving it and they never seen him in it so he doesn’t think it’s hot. So we drive out Lincoln Boulevard and pick up the coast highway at the base of the pier and head north below the palisades toward Malibu and Paradise Cove, all the way to Zuma and Bobby says we’re going a little farther than we have to but he wants to be sure we don’t have a tail and besides he can find this place even if we come into it from the northside. And on the way we pass this restaurant and he’s going on about how fabulous the food is in this place and he wants to stop and get a bite to eat and I’m thinking what the fuck are we doing stopping in a restaurant with a dead guy in the trunk of the car but I don’t want to make Bobby feel like I’m a jumpy guy so I says yeah, I could eat something. And we go in and sit down, it’s a real nice place, you know, real well decorated and all, kind of corny but nice and Bobby says this place used to be a whore house back in the old days and I realise this is the place Mickey was talking about, you know, where he took those pictures of that actor and then sold them to his agent or somebody. Really made a killing. So the veal is good but the pasta is kind of overcooked and the waitress has this big birthmark on her wrist, you know, like a big red spot with like hair growing out of it and I’m thinking what a shame, a good looking broad like that and a big goddam patch of black hair growing out of her wrist but I’m also thinking how that car looks out there in the lot, I’m trying to remember if the weight in the trunk is making it ride kind of low in the back and maybe a highway patrolman or a sheriff’s car is going by and sees it and wonders why it’s sitting like that. But we pay the bill and nothing happens and we go up the road a couple of miles past Trancas and Bobby’s squinting at the road signs and he’s saying things like I think this might be it or maybe it’s a little farther and I’m thinking I don’t like his guessing, I expected he’d be more sure of where we were going. We turn off on a little canyon road, I remember it was Decker-something and this road goes up like a sonofabitch, I’m thinking I might have to jump out, if the car starts to slide sideways or something, and the turns are kind of sharp and banked even, no trees that I can see, just sagebrush really, and a couple of places where the road turns to dirt and I’m thinking I’m glad it isn’t raining and how the fuck is anybody going to find this body and maybe Bobby actually knows what he’s talking about this being a good place to dump it. We don’t pass any other cars, not one. We come to a fork in the road, not like the little side roads we’d already passed but an actual fork with boths ways being about the same size and all and we stop and Bobby is peering out the windshield and craning his neck trying to read the road signs and he doesn’t have a clue and I say why don’t we just dump this guy right here, you know, just dump him right off the side of the road but Bobby says that’s a bad idea, we set out to dump him in the lake and that’s what we should be doing which makes me think somebody else must have a piece of this, maybe the old man. Bobby says he thinks we could go on either side of this fork and it would be okay, that they both come out the same place and I’m starting to think maybe I see car lights way out there on the left of our road and I don’t know if they would be on our road or some other road. We take the left side of the fork and a little farther on Bobby says yeah this is it and we pass a couple of houses, nice little places, kind of cottages or bungalows, but dark, no lights and no cars parked anywhere that I can see and I’m pretty sure this is like a vacation place and then I see the water right close to the road and some trees growing right out of the bank and Bobby pulls over and kills the engine and we get out and stand by the car and it’s really quiet. I’ve got my hand in my pocket resting on this little Colt I always carry, you know the one you gave me way back in Kansas City, see because I trust Bobby and all but you know everybody can be bought and this would be just the kind of place where somebody could drive up and whack me or maybe both of us if they knew this is where we were coming or even Bobby could turn around and have a piece in his hand so I’m moving kind of slowly just trying to take it all in and he pops the trunk and there’s this big bundle in there wrapped real tight and tied with some cord and I say who is it and Bobby just says, a thief. Now Bobby’s a talkative guy so if he just says a thief, I figure he doesn’t want to say and I’m okay with that, in fact I’m not even trying to guess who this guy is, so we lift this guy out and I’m thinking holy shit this guy is fucking heavy, I don’t think we can take him very far, he’s got to go two hundred- two hundred-fifty pounds easy, probably more, and there’s nothing to really get a good hold of and we’re there by the side of the road grunting around trying to manhandle this body down a little slope to a pier somebody’s got their boat tied up to. In the dark, I can’t see if the wood on the pier is going to hold us or not and I’m afraid of breaking through and all of us, all three of us, going into the water and it creaks a little bit as we go out on it but it holds us. We put this guy down at the end of the pier and Bobby goes back up to the car to get the chains and the concrete block and I stay down there by him. Bobby makes a couple of trips and then he looks around and says hey why don’t we take this little rowboat out onto the lake so we can dump this guy out in the middle where he won’t be so easy to see like if he was right by the shoreline. Now I’ve never been in a little boat like that and I didn’t know how to row a boat so I asked Bobby if he’d ever rowed a boat and he says what the fuck is there to it? We’re not going anyplace, just out on the lake a ways and who cares if we look good doing it as long as we dump this guy and get back. I can’t argue with that but this isn’t something I figured on. We’re lifting this guy into the boat and the boat is bobbing and weaving like we’re going to roll it over right there and I can see Bobby’s starting to think this wasn’t such a good idea and my grip slips and I drop my end of this guy and the body bounces off the edge of the pier and just kind of plops into the boat, dead center, and Bobby looks up at me and makes this gesture with his hands as if to say, see? Easy. I’m holding the boat steady for Bobby and he gets in it with no problem and I step out into the boat and it drifts away a little bit and I drag my foot through the water and my shoe fills up. Shit. I’m wrapping the chain around this guy and it’s making a hell of a racket on the bottom of the boat and Bobby’s rowing like a crazy man but we’re not going anyplace, not moving a bit, in fact, I think we’re kind of drifting backwards. I’ve got these padlocks, three of em and I’m tying off the chain and this guy’s got to weigh three hundred pounds now and I feed one chain through the concrete block and I snap the lock shut and we’re still drifting down the shore line and I’m wondering what is pulling us down that way, is there like a little dam on this lake, is there a little spillway? Bobby’s put one oar down and is trying to use the other one like a canoe paddle and he’s digging real deep into the water and making a bunch of noise and we’re only about fifteen, twenty feet away from the shore and I think I can see reeds right under the boat and I think the water’s maybe only four or five feet deep. So now he whispers okay let’s dump him right here. Get it? He whispers! Like real low, like the noise we’ve been making with the chains and the goddam oars never happened. So I shrug and say okay, sure, and we feed the concrete block into the water and the boat starts to lean over and I say if we fuck around with this guy we’re going to take on a shitload of water and Bobby says I know, let’s go fast and sure enough, we hoist this guy up on the side of the boat and the water starts pouring in but we roll him over pretty quick and the boat rocks back level and he sinks down farther than I thought he would, lots of bubbles and foam and the water lapping against the boat but otherwise real quiet again. But now, of course, we’ve got like eight inches of water in the fucking boat and it’s riding real low in the water and I’m thinking is this thing gonna sink and I say to Bobby don’t be moving around too much or we’re going down. And I had to be wearing my favorite pair of shoes. That’s what I get for going around with Bobby Carfagno. Now the surface of the lake settles down and the bubbles kind of go away and I think I can see him down there floating sort of standing up on the bottom, maybe ten, fifteen feet down. But I can’t be sure because it’s dark as hell and think I may be somehow looking at my own reflection. I say let’s get the fuck out of here and we both take an oar and start to paddle toward the pier which is now like a quarter of a mile away and the boat is riding like a garbage scow with all that water in it and we’re going maybe half a mile an hour. There’s at least eight inches of water in the boat and it’s way above my ankles and my feet are sloshing around inside my shoes but the boat is kind of inching it’s way toward the pier and I’m looking around thinking it’s weird we haven’t seen even one car, not nothing, what a perfect place to dump a body and the next time we’re going to have to be more prepared. Yeah, the next time, hah! But that’s what I’m thinking. So we get back in the car and we’re both huffing and puffing, sweat is dripping down my forehead into my eyes, I’m wiping it with my hand and wiping it off on my trouser leg, Bobby’s got a handkerchief out and is mopping away. He starts the car and we’re pulling away real slowly, real quietly, like we’re sneaking or something and I’m thinking if there’s anybody around here, one soul around here, they have to have heard everything we did. I think Bobby’s going to swing around so we can go out the way we came in but he keeps going down the road and says he thinks there’s a better way out this way, a big road, get us back to town faster. And we come to the far end of the lake and the road climbs a little hill and we pass some more houses, still no lights except one bright one on the side of a garage, and we come to some signs. Bobby’s reading them and he says holy shit, holy shit! And I say what? And he says that’s not the lake I thought it was, I’m not real sure I know where the fuck we are and I’m like starting to lose my composure. What the fuck Bobby! Ya gotta map in here or what? Yeah, but not for around here, we’re way past the county line and anyway I don’t know what this road is called. It’s real dark, like you can’t really see your hand in front of your eyes, really you can’t see a fucking thing but in the sky there’s a big bright spot and I say that must be the city, that must be L.A., just go over that way. So we’re feeling our way around these little fucking podunk roads trying to drive toward the lights and Bobby says we’re low on gas and I say how low? And he says pretty low and I kind of mutter Christ!, and start going through a list of things we’ve got in the car which wouldn’t look too good if we had to explain them to a cop but, really there’s not much as long as the bundle didn’t bleed all over the trunk and I ask Bobby if he’s got a gun or anything else we might have a hard time explaining and he says yeah he’s got a gun, whatta ya think I’m an idiot and I say don’t go there Bobby, yer the one’s who’s fucking lost and running out of gas and I can see this could deteriorate pretty quickly and I let it go for the moment. I’m thinking my trousers gotta be wet half way up my calf and I wonder what that’s going to look like if we’ve got to get out and pump gas and I slip my foot out of my right shoe and pour water out onto the floor of the car and he yells hey what the fuck and I say look genius we may have to get out of this car to pump some gas and I’d like to not draw attention if I can help it and I think sloshing around making a squeaking sound with my shoes full of lake water is probably going to raise a red flag or two with anybody that sees or hears me. And we come to a pretty big road and he thinks he recognises the name and we turn left and about two miles down, find the highway and a big restaurant and a couple of gas stations. And I tell him just sit here for a minute let’s look at these things and see if one of them is better for us. Now it looked like the restaurant had a side door, kind of a small door that wasn’t really in the dining room, I could see some pay phones on a wall in there and I figured the bathrooms have got to be right down in this area, so I says pull in there by those two big trees, away from the rest of the cars, by that door, and lets go in there and clean up a little bit.

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