So how was the bus ride home?
I don't know really, I slept through most of it, I mean, most of the time I was in California I didn't sleep a wink. After that whole ordeal with the private eye, I just sort of stayed up most of the night wringing my hands.
Magically though, as I watched the bus leave the station and eventually cross the California state line, I just felt all of the weight, the guilt, the pain, everything get lifted right off of my shoulders. The air was thinner, the sun was brighter and even though Greyhound buses aren't the safest place in the world, especially when you're carrying 750 grand in a suitcase, it still felt as secure as home ever did.
Long story short, once I watched the bus turn it's back to the California sunset and cross the state line, I nodded off and only remember bits and pieces of the rest of the trip.
Not really. The same dirty Greyhound stations, the same bad food and the same dull scenery. You know, nothing special.
So what did you do when you made it to Charlotte?
Well, since I didn't want to sit around in that California hotel room, I left right after I was done at the airport. The bus trip itself was only four and a half days and my appointment was a week from the first pickup. This meant that when I got off the bus in Charlotte, though I could literally see the bathroom where the next drop would take place, I couldn't just wait around for it. Standing around a Greyhound station for 2 days with a suitcase full of money is just begging for it to be stolen.
What I ended up doing instead was catching a cab and going to another hotel. This one just a cozy chain hotel fairly close to the station. It was a bit of a dump, but it was nice enough for a few nights and it was still within walking distance to food and such. I couldn't complain.
Oh, and for the record, this time around at the hotel, I paid cash and I used a fake name. It's amazing really, but if you pay cash and put down enough for a few nights in advance, they won't even ask to see your ID or anything. They just took me at my word you know?
Maybe you just look like an honest guy?
Doubt it. By that point I'd been sleeping in the same clothes for almost a week and I looked like I was worn down to my wits end. All I really needed was a shower and a shave though, especially the shave. Beyond that I was pretty happy though.
Anyway though, you were still set up for two more boring days in a hotel room.
Not really. I mean, there wasn't a lot to do, but I did find a small hole in the wall bar down the street from the hotel to hang out at. I just told them all I was in town for some big graphic design convention and they just kept asking me about my job, my family and my life, hanging on every word like I was some kind of idol or something. I guess the fact that most of them were stone drunk might have had something to do with that.
Anyway, I spent some time there, watched some TV, got a lot of delivery pizza and kind of made a party of it. Honestly I felt like I was celebrating my survival and my freedom and, though I was still kind of lost and unsure about what to do, I made the most of it this go around.
Still, the honeymoon had to come to an end right?
Yeah, it did. Wednesday came around and it was time to take care of business. I walked to the bus station, it was about four blocks away, and ended up waiting nervously in the lobby for about twenty minutes while I watched the clock, praying and praying for 5:30 to come early.
Well, it didn't come early, but when the clock did finally read a few minutes before 5:30, I made my way into the bathroom and immediately choked back vomit.
Your nerves finally catch up with you?
No, the bathroom. My God. In college I used to hang out in bars and clubs all the time, I've seen my share of disgusting bathrooms. Hell, to be honest, I've thrown up in a few. But this was wretched. The smell alone was enough to make me gag and somewhere between the holes in the wall and the bad lighting, it was almost too much to take.
And the weird thing there was that the rest of the station was actually pretty nice. I mean, well-lit, fairly clean, you know, not bad for a bus station. It was like night and day, or something like that at least.
Anyway, I started breathing through my mouth and went over to the sink to start washing my hands. Unfortunately though, I wound up standing there for at least a good five minutes running my hands under the water. This guy was obviously late and if anyone walked in they'd probably think I had a disorder or something. I was literally washing my hands that long.
However, he did eventually come in, about 5:35 on my watch, and he followed suit, washing his hands in the sink next to me.
So what did this one look like?
He was different from the guy in California. The other guy was big and dressed nice. This guy was a smaller white guy with a goatee and long hair wearing khakis and a polo shirt. Looked kind of like a yuppie blues player or something. Same as last time though though, I probably couldn't draw you much of a picture of him. It wasn't his face I was interested in, just his name.
Well, he pulled up next to me and almost immediately started talking, "Hey, haven't I seen you around here before?"
"Probably not," I said pretending to focus on my hands, "I'm just passing through."
"Come on, what's your name?" he asked.
I didn't know how to answer really. I wasn't given instructions on what to call myself but since I figured "Gabriel" probably wasn't his real name, I could lie too, "Daniel," I said.
"Cool," he said, "My name is Duma."
I almost froze. He was the only guy in the bathroom, he was playing the game, but the name was wrong. I tried to keep my cool, but I know that he could see the terror in my eyes, "Duma, huh, like the angel of, um, silence isn't it?"
"Yeah," he said, puzzled, "You know your stuff don't you."
"Yeah, I've done some studying," I said turning off the water, "Well, I need to be going. I've got a ride to catch. I'll talk to you later though."
He went to speak to me again, but I just walked right past him and out the bathroom door. From there, I hurried across the lobby and, when I got outside of the station, I just broke out in a dead run. I mean, I'm not in any real shape or anything, but I ran, just ran all the way to the hotel.
You were that scared?
Yeah, I was. I got to the room, I threw open the door, dashed inside, shut it, locked it and leaned my body up against it like someone was going to break it down. I was just freaking out. I was seriously losing it.
I was there, alone, in Charlotte with three-quarters a million dollars in drug money on my person and no way to get rid of it. I'd never seen so much money in my life and it was amazing how eager I was to give it away.
So what did you do?
I paced the room and tried to think about what I wanted to do. You know, try to collect myself. I thought first about going to the Red Wolf bar and seeing if I could get in touch someone there, but I knew the cops would be there waiting on me. I then thought about going back to the bus station, but I figured that guy was probably a cop as well and that they'd be waiting on me there, besides, without knowing what this Gabriel guy looked like, I'd never be able to pick him out and he probably wouldn't be able to pick me out either.
So, all I really did know was that I was a sitting duck where I was. A hotel room with one door was not a smart place to hide out at. I needed to move. So, I basically started planning my escape.
I dashed to the nightstand and ripped open the phonebook. I knew that I had at least 75 thousand that I could use in order to get away, more if things became real ugly.
What was your plan?
First I wanted to go by bus again. But I realized that that would make me go back to the station where I envisioned swarms cops waiting on me. Flying was out of the question thanks to airport security and I didn't know enough about trains to make a call there. Besides, there you have the problem with waiting at the station again. Not a smart place to be.
So, what I eventually settled on was the idea of dipping into my funds and buying a cheap used car, you know, hopefully find a crooked car salesman where if you paid cash he'd look the other way type of thing. Figured it couldn't be too hard and it didn't have to last long, just enough to get me out of town.
Anyway, I had just about finished finding a car dealer when a knock came at the door. I almost completely froze. I was literally shaking as I set down the phone book and walked over to the door.
I looked through the peephole and I saw a guy that looked a lot like the one I'd seen at the bus station just awhile before. You know, long hair, goatee and all of that.
Frightened, I shouted, "Who is it?" through the door.
"It's Gabriel," he replied, "Open up!"
I exhaled so hard I though my lungs were going to collapse. I threw off the chain, undid the deadbolt and opened the door as fast as my nervous hands could move. When I got it open though, there he was, looking almost exactly like the first guy, just a little taller and with different eyes if that makes any sense.
Somehow though, I just knew that this guy was the real deal. He even acted more authentic, especially when he barged in the room and shut the door behind him without saying a word to me. Oddly enough, his rudeness was comforting, it just seemd more real I guess.
Well, he came in, checked the room quickly and switched off the lights, letting the room only be lit by the sun coming through the partially closed blinds. Beautiful sunset that day by the way.
When he was satisfied, he looked at me long and hard and said, "Ok, you didn't give the suitcase to the guy in the bus station did you?"
"No," I said pointing to the case on the bed.
"Good," he said as he dashed over to the bed and began to pick up the suitcase. I told him the combination to the lock and he threw it open.
"Have you taken your cut yet?" he asked.
I shook my head no, "I put it back after the bus station."
He started counting quickly and laid a pile of money on the bed. "Here's a hundred thousand, consider the extra twenty five grand a bonus for not screwing this up."
I walked over and sat on the bed where I started counting the money, "Thank you, but what the Hell is going on?"
"Bad shit man, bad shit. You know that private dick in L.A.? Well, Stan paid off some gang there to take him out. The dumbasses got caught, screwing up an easy as Hell job."
"I saw that on the news, they called it a gang shooting," I said trying to relax.
"Yeah, well, it was. That is, until those dipshits started talking. They told the police everything to save their own skin. Now their gang is pissed at us because two of their guys are in jail and the cops are after both of us."
"Shit, that is bad," I said, "Which gang was it though?" I asked knowing full and well I wouldn't recognize the name.
"Some hispanic gang, Los something or another. I don't remember Stan told me."
"So where is Stan now?"
"Stan, he's out on bail, hiding out. They arrested him on some bullshit charges. Got me too though. I just got out myself a few hours ago. That's why I missed our little appointment."
Suddenly I started realizing how serious this all was. Sure, it was Stan and them that were being arrested and shot at, but I was now a drug runner too, this could fall on me as well. "So, is any of this going to stick?"
"Not likely," Gabriel said, "Cops don't got any evidence but the weak confessions of two scared young gangster punks. They can't get him, not with his lawyers."
"That's good to hear," I muttered. For his part though, he just ignored my comment and kept counting.
On an on he went until he blurted out, "It's too dark in here, turn on the fucking light so I can finish this and get lost."
I obliged without saying a word and he wrapped up the last few stacks of bills in a hurry.
"Well, it's all here man. You're about fifty bucks short but right now I don't think anyone will care," he said standing up by the bed," just be sure to take your cut and get the Hell out of town. Where you go ain't my problem, but get lost and quick. Stan might call you when things cool down."
I nodded my approval and extended my hand to shake his hand. He met me with a firm grip and I said, "It was real nice to see you."
"Nice doing business with you too," he replied.
I turned to open the door but, just as my fingers touched the knob, I heard a muffled explosion. Though I didn't recognize what it was or where it came from, it was immediately followed by the sound of shattering glass and a loud, but dull thud.
I turned around just in time to Gabriel, his eyes already lifeless, fall straight to the ground like a bag of rocks.
I'll tell you, I've seen dead people before, I've been to funerals and such, but I'd never seen anyone die right in front of me and it was scary. I mean, he was obviously dead before he hit the ground. He didn't rattle, no blood spurted out of him or anything for that matter. None of the stuff you read about. The only thing I saw when he hit the ground was a deep dark red hole in his head that was kind of oozing this really dark blood out of it. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before.
I stood there in awe for a second, too stunned to even think about own safety you know? I knew he'd been shot, I knew I should take cover, but I just couldn't move.
I know I wasn't there long though, it sure seemed like an eternity. I snapped out of my trance when someone outside shouted, "That's Los Gorilas motherfucker! Los Gorilas!"
I knew then I was in deep shit.