So, after the heat blew over about the private eye, what did you do?
Nothing. I mean I was still scared to death. I just wanted out of California and fast. My gut was screaming at me to runaway and runaway fast. I just knew that any second the police would figure out why the private eye was really killed and come knocking on my door.
So why didn't you run?
Like I said, I was holding a million dollars worth of cocaine. I stay there I might go to prison. I leave, I' be killed for certain. Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6, that's what my dad told me.
So, eventually Wednesday came around and then…
I made my way to the airport. Well, first I had to fight the urge to get there early, really early, and sit around in the terminal with the suitcase from Hell dangling in my fingers. Not smart. So I used what willpower I had left and I called a cab at about 4:50 pm and he dropped me off sometime around 5:10 pm in front of the terminal.
At first I was nervous that the bathroom might be past security and with all of this post Sept. 11th stuff going on, I knew I'd never make it past the screeners, much less with the guys carrying the M-16s. I mean, there was enough shit there to make a pro nervous, me, I was practically shaking.
So how did you get in?
I played it Bogart again. I got out of the cab, paid my fare and walked right into the airport, right past the reservists with the M-16, pretending like I was in a hurry for some imaginary flight. I then got inside, found the bathroom in question, went inside and locked myself in a stall.
Figured you'd be safer in there?
No, I needed to throw up. I felt more trapped then than I ever did with my wife and the game was much more serious. This wasn't about a job or a house, this was about my life. For the first time I could remember, I felt stuck, helpless and, worst of all, scared out of my mind.
But anyway, after I got out of the stall and started cleaning myself up, I glanced at my watch and noticed that it was about a minute past five-thirty and, as if on cue, someone else walked into the bathroom carrying the exact same suitcase as me.
Can you describe him?
I didn't really look at his face much. He was a big black guy, probably around 6 foot, 6 foot 2 maybe, 250 pounds or so and he was wearing a nice suit, tie and everything. Looked kind of like a bouncer you know?
Anyway, when I saw him I started running my hands under the water like I was washing them and he took the sink next to me and started doing the same. I really don't know what came over me, I guess I just started acting out a scene from a movie I saw, but something clicked and it was like I knew just what to do.
"So where you flying to?" I asked.
"New York," he said with this really gravely voice, "Going to see my family."
"You know, I thought I'd seen you in New York, what's your name?"
"Cobra," he said more softly.
I exhaled loudly, it was the right guy. I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, as far as I was concerned, all I had to do was switch bags, get the Hell out of the airport and on the first bus back to Charlotte. It was like the weight of the situation had been lifted from me you know?
"That's a nice suitcase you got there," I said as I used my foot to nudge my bag over closer to him.
"Yep," he said, sliding his bag closer to me, "Real nice. Real expensive though. Plus, if you don't read the instructions on the inside flap you might not know how to use it and wind up doing something stupid."
The tone of his voice really spoke to me there. He wasn't just making fake conversation at this point, he was giving me instructions. I didn't know what, but I knew it was important.
"I know what you mean," I said, still trying to be nonchalant. There was a long pause while I waited for him to say something else, when I was certain he had nothing left I added, "Well, it's been nice chatting, I best be on my way," as I scooped up the bag he came in with.
I turned to leave but as I stepped away he called from the sink, "Just remember, those bags are very expensive, don't let anything happen to yours, it would be a real shame if it did."
Pretty ominous, if subtle warning wasn't it?
Yeah, especially with the way he said it. It was very condescending and threatening. Right then I was more scared of him than the guys outside with the machine guns.
So what did you do now that you had the bag?
I got out of the airport as fast as I could without drawing attention. I left by a different exit so different people would see me coming and going and I hailed a taxi out front as quickly as I got to the curb. I had him take me straight to the hotel where I barricaded myself in the room for a few minutes, trying to take in what had just happened.
Must have been hard.
It was, very hard actually. I had just made a major drug deal in a major airport bathroom with army men literally twenty feet away. Pretty gutsy. But when I calmed down I realized that I needed to at least check the suitcase and see what ?Cobra? was referring to by instructions.
Now, honestly, I expected the case to be locked, I figured anyone who put three-quarters a million dollars in a suitcase would lock it, but it sprang right open when I flicked the latches, exposing the contents to me without any fight at all.
What were the contents?
Money. All denominations and in all forms imaginable. There were several packs of fresh hundreds, some loosely strewn about twenties and even a few tens and fives floating around. It wasn't neat and pretty like in the movies, but it filled up the entire suitcase, and entire suitcase filled with cold, hard, green cash.
Must have been beautiful.
It was. It was. But I was too scared to mess with it right then. Instead, I just slid my hand into the front pouch and pulled out a sheet of paper with some handwriting on it.
What did it say?
It was hard to read, it had obviously been hastily written, but it basically told me that the heat was on Stan back in Charlotte due to the Private eye and that, rather than meet him at the Red Wolf Bar I was to meet an associate of his in the men?s restroom at the Greyhound station in Charlotte. Apparently it was the same deal though, a week from that day, 5:30 pm and so on only this time I'm looking out for the name ?Gabriel?, like the angel. I would take my 75 grand and pocket it in advance, then hand him the suitcase. Pretty simple.
The funny part though was that on the back of the sheet were the instructions on how to input a combination and lock the suitcase. I don't know if that was on purpose or not, but I followed them to the letter and set the dials to triple sevens, I guess I was hoping it would bring me luck.
Sounds like luck was already on your side though, I mean, one down, one to go right?.
Yeah, that's how I saw it. Or at least that's what I was telling myself as I got my return ticket from the bus station. I honestly figured that the worst was behind me.
I guess I should have learned though, the worst is never behind you…