I'll bet it was a long drive back to Charlotte.
You have no idea, even the car didn't want to go. I felt like I was having to floor it to get it up to Interstate speed on the way back. I dunno, I guess it just didn't want to go where the danger was, if that makes any sense.
Then again, I guess it could have just been my subconscious taking over my foot. Seems more likely looking back on it.
Anyway, so what did you do when you got back to Charlotte?
Well, since I wanted to get off the road as quickly as I could, I didn't know how much longer the car would hold out anyway, I found this fleabag hotel just south of the downtown area and plopped down there. I made sure to give yet another fake name when I checked in just in case these guys were smart and were calling around. Besides, I figured by then the cops would be looking for me for certain and I didn't want to chance any interference from them, not right then anyway.
However, after I got done checking in, I felt like a ghost. I pulled the shades closed, turned out the lights and stretched out on the bed, kind of wallowing in the near-total darkness. I just laid there, trying to figure out what the Hell I was going to do while staring at the textured ceiling. It was really just one giant wash of hopelessness and self-pity though, at least that's how it felt.
But the really bad news was that there weren't any answers coming. Though I could feel Little John's gun in my pocket, the thought of using it or even touching it just made me sick. I'd never liked guns and this, well, using it against someone, even if they were trying to kill me, got me all knotted up inside. The idea of taking a life was just too much for some reason.
But you were going to use it if you had to, right?
I honestly didn't know right then. I tried to envision a shootout and what I'd do. But I honestly figured I was dead either way, so I didn't see much point in it. I even briefly debated turning the gun on myself. You know, ending it right then and there, quick, clean, painless. I was a weird kid growing up, I never feared death, but I feared suffering for the rest of my life. I guess that's still the way my brain works.
It just seemed appealing to get it over with in a way that I knew wouldn't hurt, not for long anyway.
So what stopped you?
Well, my brain got working. I realized that this whole mess wasn't about me, it was about the money and that maybe, just maybe, I could get out of this and, if I could, I had a good chance at a really long and happy life. I didn't want to piss that away because I got scared at the last second. It didn't feel right. Besides, dead is dead, whether it's at your own hand or by some enraged gangster. It's all the same.
Still though, I needed a plan and there wasn't one. There was only one suitcase and two people that wanted it. Before talking to Little John, I was hopeful I could give it to the Gorillas and try to make Stan understand the score. But, if Little John said Stan would kill me, I believed him. Loyalty only goes so far and I don't think anyone in this business will take losing half a million lightly.
But then it hit me, what I needed to do was get myself out of it. This wasn't my money, it wasn't my feud. I had my cash and, if they wanted to fight over the rest, I should let them. I mean, I didn't ask for this, I was just doing a quick run, I'm not the one that got things so screwed up.
Actually, if you think about it, you did. I mean you're the one that attracted the private eye in the…
Shut up, ok, I know that. Still though, I mean, listen, it wasn't my fault and I wasn't about to be the one to die for it. However, the only way I could avoid that was to get them to stop coming after me and, or so I figured, the best way to do that was to get them to go after each other. I mean, that shouldn't be too hard, they're the ones they hate anyway. It's just a matter of setting it up.
Makes sense to me, but how were you going to do that?
Well, the only way I could do that was to get them face to face. As Little John pointed out, if I gave one of them the money, the other would come after me as well as go after the other guy. At that point, I just joined the other team and became someone's enemy and I seriously doubt I can turn to my newfound friend for protection. It's not as if they're going to die for me just because I gave them the money.
No, I had to get them face to face and there was no way they were going to do it voluntarily. It's not like I could throw a party and invite the two of them. A case of beer isn't going to soothe this one over. Besides, they really aren't the talkative types from what I can tell.
So, I decided to resort to trickery. I figured if I promised each of them the money and set up a place and time to meet, they'd both show up. It was inevitable. I mean, what were they going to do, say no? Then, I figured, once I had the two of them face to face, I could weasel my way out of it. I wasn't sure how, but it at least resembled a plan at the moment. It was the best thing going at least.
If that was the best plan you had, you were hopelessly screwed.
Tell me about it. And the bad part is, right then, it seemed brilliant.
But anyway, since Miguel's cell phone number was burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. I first tried to dial on my hotel phone, but it didn't have long distance access and the phone number had a California area code. At least I guess it was a California code.
So I went down to a pay phone and tried to call there, but it asked for almost five dollars in change before making my call. Without much choice though, I went down to a gas station and broke a five into quarters and dimes so I could make the call.
It seemed like I poured a pound of change into that phone, but, eventually it sprang to life and the phone started ringing. That was actually a huge relief. The last time I tried to call a cell phone on a pay phone I got that "phone off or caller out of range" message and watched as the phone ate all of my change.
But the relief went away pretty quick when he picked up the phone. He had a really gruff voice and a thick Spanish accent. Worst of all, he was pissed. He sounded as if I just woke him up or something.
"Who is this? What do you want?" he barked into the phone.
I was kind of stunned for his second. Not only was he shouting but the volume on the phone was cranked up. I briefly thought my ear drums were going to explode.
"Listen," I said timidly, trying to let the ringing clear out of my ears,"You don't know me but my name is Jake and, well, I've got your money."
"You're the gringo with the suitcase?" he asked. His voice, to me anyway, sounded more puzzled than angry right then.
"Yeah, that's me," I said.
"Then you're a dead man!" he shouted, causing me to pull the phone away again.
That gave me a real sinking feeling in my stomach, if I'd doubted his seriousness before there wasn't any left. "Listen, that's just it, I don't want to be a dead man, I want to give you the money."
Then he got really confused. He didn't say anything for a bit, but I could hear him whispering to others around him. "You want to give me, the money?" he asked.
"Yes, the money, in exchange for my life. You let me live, you can have your cash."
I could almost see him thinking on the other end of that line. I could tell he wasn't sure about what to do, but he was at least thinking about it hard. Better than nothing I guess, "Alright chico, you give me the case, you're not my enemy and I spare your life. That seems fair. Just meet me…"
"Wait a minute," I interrupted, "There's more. I don't know you, so I can't be too careful you know? Meet me in the lot behind the Greyhound station at eleven o'clock tomorrow night and I'll give you the money then. But come alone and come unarmed. I'll do the same."
Wait a minute, you were dictating terms to a gangster? That seems pretty outrageous to me.
It did to me too, but I didn't even realize what I was doing right then. I didn't see it as dictating terms to a killer, I just saw it as putting a plan into action, I had my eyes on the goal and really didn't take them off of it until I hung up the phone, that was when I realized what I had done.
Right then though, I just listened to Miguel think really hard. He was rubbing against the phone so I figure he was either moving around, scratching his forehead or, I don't know, something. But he was thinking.
"Alright gringo, I'll play your game. But if you don't bring the money, you're a dead man. We'll find you and don't you forget that."
"I don't see…" I didn't even finish the sentence before he hung up. Regardless though, he was gone and part one was finished.
You're pretty lucky if you ask me.
Yeah, well, luck had carried me real far up to that point. I just hoped it lasted another day or two. Because, then, I could be scott free.
I went back to the room and didn't waste any time with celebrating. I still had to call Stan and get him to agree to the same terms. After all, if he didn't then I'm screwed and on the run from Stan's hitmen because there's no way I was going to blow off Miguel because Stan didn't show up. That's just dumb.
The first thing that I did was I looked in the phone book and called the Red Wolf Bar. Unfortunately, there was no answer. I must have called at least a dozen times before accepting the fact that no one was going to pick up, no matter how hard I tried.
At that point, I kind of freaked. I didn't know Stan's last name so I could look up his home number and all that I had on me was the address and number for the bar. I was pretty helpless.
So what did you do?
Well, I paced a lot, I swear I wore down a tread in the carpet of that small hotel room. Not that it had much carpet to start with.
But, in the end, I decided that I only had one choice and that was to go to the bar myself. It wasn't safe, I knew that, but I figured that they wouldn't kill me unless there was a reasonable chance they could get their money back and, if I stashed it, they'd need me alive at least long enough to hand over the money.
Well, it made sense right then at least.
Anyway, I stashed the money in the room safe. Now, I saw on one of those news magazines about how insecure those really were and you can open them with a car key or something similar, but I figured it was more of a hiding spot than a secure place, that's all I really needed.
So, with so much fear that I was literally nauseous, I called the cab company and got a ride to the bar. I did make sure to bring Little John's gun though, even though I didn't want to use it, the last thing I wanted was to get into a scuffle, change my mind about taking a life and then not have it. It'd be a very bad way to die. Better safe than sorry I suppose.
When I got to the bar, I told the cab to wait outside and dashed in, hoping to find, well, I don't know what I was hoping for. I really didn't know what to expect and what, if anything, would get me out alive.
So what did you find?
What I found was the bartender and nothing more. The place was empty, chairs on the tables empty, and the bartender was behind the bar cleaning glasses with a rag.
"We're closed," he said without looking up at me.
I walked up tot he bar and sat down at a stool, "I'm here to see Stan, it's important."
The bartender looked over at me and his eyes got wide. Though the rest of his face was a as still as ice, his eyes got really, really big. "It's you."
"Yeah, it's me."
"You know," he continued, "Stan's really eager to talk to you he told me that, if you came here, I was to hold you for him, by force if needed."
Then I realized my reflex. I reached down and felt the gun in my pocket. I didn't pull it out or anything, but I felt it there. I guess it hit me that I wasn't as much of a pacifist as I thought I was.
"But if you do that, he won't get his money."
"I've got the money stashed in a safe place. Only I can get to it. You hurt me or hold me now, you, Stan, nor anyone else gets the cash. Pretty simple."
"I see, so what do you propose?" he asked, still rubbing at the same glass.
"I want to talk to Stan. I'm willing to give him the money, but only under my conditions. I have to look out for my safety you know?"
The bartender put up the glass he had in his hands and turned around to face me, resting his elbows on the bar and giving me an evil eye, "Stan's not here, he's in a safe place too. But I will gladly pass along any message you want to give him."
Let me tell you, the tone in his voice sounded like gravel. He was mad, madder than Miguel probably, but he was hiding it well. He didn't strike me as the type to blow up, which was good, but I was still waiting for him to reach across the bar and grab my throat and he was so big I didn't know what I was going to do if he did snap.
"Just tell him that I want to give him the money back, but I want to be safe about it. Tell him to meet me in the lot behind the Greyhound station eleven o'clock tomorrow night. Tell him to come alone and unarmed. I'll give it to him then, no problems. Do you think he'll make it?"
"I'd bet my life on it," he said with a growl.
All I could do was chuckle to myself, I looked down at the table and said, "That's good, because I am."
"He'll be there, don't worry."
"Thanks," I said, "I appreciate your help."
With that, I left the bar. However, even before I got out the door the bartender was getting on the phone and, presumably, calling Stan. For me, it was mission accomplished and I was alive.
Still though, that seemed to be a pretty small accomplishment considering what I had in front of me and that doesn't even count the brutal waiting.