Hunter Myer heard a slight hiss through his iPhone earbuds, then a voice.
“Hunter?” the voice said. “It’s Angelo. You still there?”
“Of course,” Hunter Myer said through the mic. He was using a penlight to examine an alarm system’s secondary circuit board. The inputs and outputs were a mess, maybe on purpose. He was considering calling the whole thing off.
“There’s a Crown Vic coming your way,” Angelo said.
Angelo was in a Chevy at the end of the alley and around the corner, on lookout.
“Can’t tell, it’s unmarked.”
Hunter Myer clicked off the penlight, and turned so his back was flat against a moist and mossy brick wall. He was two stories up, suspended by a climber line and harness. There were two weedy ceramic flowerboxes on either side of him. He checked his watch. It was 2:37 a.m.
“Can you see it?” said Angelo.
“Yeah, it’s just below me.”
A dark full sized automobile slowed as it approached in the alley below.
Myer bit his lip. He might have to scramble. The only way was up, and then across an unfamiliar terrain of uneven rooftops and catastrophic fall potential. He took a deep breath and tried not to sway on the line. Then he noticed that the end of his rope was loosely coiled on the pavement below. It lead right back to him, for anyone who cared to look.
The car came to a stop below him.
“They stopped,” he said.
“Wadda we do?”
“We wait and see what’s going on,” Hunter Myer said. “And shut the hell up, unless you got something relevant to say.”
The faint hiss in Hunter Myer’s earbuds resumed.
Beneath him, the front doors of the Crown Victoria opened and two large men in expensive overcoats got out. One of them smoothing his tie over his belly, the other hiking up his pants. Hunter Myer could only see their shoulders and the tops of their balding heads in the dim backdoor light.
Cops didn’t wear expensive dark overcoats and ties at 2:30 a.m. in this neighbourhood. These were either mob boys or conventioneers. He guessed the former over the latter. He’d seen their kind round town before, kibitzing and talking hockey scores one minute, pulling someone’s nose off with a pair of pliers the next. But always dressed nicely for the occasion.
“You sure about this?” said the man on the driver side.
The passenger side man pulled a slip of paper from his shirt pocket, and said, “Backdoor of Monahan Block, 800 Clark Drive. Ba da boom, here we are.”
Driver side man lit a cigarette and said, “Where the fuck are they, then?”
“They’re late, we’re early,” said passenger side man. “It all works out.”
“You know,” said driver side man. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that.”
“About that Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah attitude of yours. You’re bustin’ my balls with it. How’s a Mary Poppins mother fucker like you get into this business, anyway?”
“When I was young,” said passenger side man, “someone saw potential in me. Now I’m living the dream.”
“Well, tone down the Dr Seuss shit. It’s depressing the hell outta me.”
Passenger side man lit his own cigarette, and both men smoked, each occasionally tracing mysterious outlines on the wet pavement with the toes of their well shined shoes.
Hunter Myer looked up. No moon to guide him topside. It had set twenty minutes ago. He listened. Only the faint sound of water dripping. The two men below would hear him if he started to climb. He was dangling like a fool. He needed to smoke a cigarette and take a piss. A second rate goldsmith heist wasn’t worth this kind of pain.
Then there was another set of headlights, coming from the opposite direction. Hunter Myer tried to get flatter against the wall, he tried to look like moist, mossy brick.
This time the car was a silver Continental. It stopped next to the two men in the alley. Nothing and nobody moved. Then the door opened and a man stepped out. His was a splendid fawn overcoat, a nice blend of wool and cashmere that hung well off of his slender, elderly body.
There was a beep and a click, and the Continental’s trunk popped open. The man in the fawn overcoat gave a nod, and driver side man and passenger side man went to retrieve the trunk’s contents.
“Pull the bum outta there,” he said.
”Yes, Mr Santo.”
So the fawn overcoat was named Santo, probably Francis Santo. A real east end bottom feeder.
The bum in the trunk emerged dazed and disheveled, his hands held behind him with thumb cuffs. Hunter Myer recognised him.
“Holy shit,” he whispered. “It’s Finny Finlinson.”
“Who?” said Angelo.
“Finny, the fence. The guy we sell our bootie to.”
“So? Hey man, I can’t see from here. What’s going on?”
“Looks bad, whatever it is,” Hunter Myer whispered. “Shut up for a minute.”
“It’s in here, right?” Francis Santo said. “This is where you keep your shit.”
“It’s where we keep our inventory,” said Finny. “But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Driver side man punched Finny in the stomach. He doubled over and fell to his knees.
“The painting,” Santo said. “The one that was stolen from me a month ago. You got in there, and I want you to open the door and let me take it home.”
“You think I bought that missing Vermeer of yours?” Finny said. He chuckled quietly and shook his head. “No one bought the Vermeer. It’s all over town that the painting’s yours. No one’s stupid enough to buy it.”
“Open the door,” Santo said, pointing to the 8X12 foot metal shutter.
“I can’t,” said Finny.
“Holy fuck,” whispered Hunter Myer. “That’s Finny’s warehouse down there.”
The location of Finny’s warehouse was the best kept secret in town. At any given time, it was filled with nearly every item heisted, burgled or snitched in the city within the past 48 hours. Before Finny and his boys turned it over at a profit.
“No way,” said Angelo. “Why are we breaking into a shitty little goldsmith shop when Finny’s warehouse is just downstairs?”
“Because we’re idiots.”
“Why can’t you open it?” said passenger side man to Finny.
“I don’t have the code,” said Finny.
“Use a key.”
“There is no key.”
“Why don’t you know the code?” said Santo. “It’s your warehouse.” He sounded incredulous.
“It’s not my warehouse. It belongs to me and my partners.”
“Which one has the code?”
“I don’t know.”
Now driver side man pulled a weighted leather blackjack out of his coat pocket, and struck Finny across the mouth. Blood and several of Finny’s teeth showered the wet pavement. He fell over onto his side.
Passenger side man crouched down and spoke into Finny’s ear: “The code.”
Finny chuckled again. “I don’t have it,” he repeated. His words were wet and slurred.
“Then who does?”
“I don’t know. I’m not supposed to know. That’s the point. The code is passed on and changed every 12, 24, 36 or 48 hours, randomly between me and my business partners. There’re seven of us. The one who’s got it, and is ready to pass it on, contacts one of us who doesn’t. Randomly, like I said. When he does, he tells whoever it is how long he’s had it – 12, 24, 36 or 48 hours. Then he walks away, and the guy who’s got it now changes the code right away. Then that guy’s the only one who knows it for however long he has it. The chances of you snagging the right guy are one in seven. I haven’t had the code for over a week. It’s how we keep creeps like you from getting in.”
“That’s a good system,” said Santo.
“Thanks,” said Finny. He struggled to get back up onto his knees and failed.
“You believe him, Mr Santo?” said driver side man.
“So why do you think I have the damn painting?” Finny said. “You should be talking to Sylvester Leonardo.”
“We did,” said driver side man.
“He said he didn’t have it.”
“Ha!” Finny laughed. “Did you slap him one with a blackjack?”
“Nah. He’s family.”
“He’s a fucking scumbag,” said Finny. “And you know it. And he deals in hot art. You’re the only ones in town who don’t know he’s got it.”
Santo glared at his two goons. They looked sheepish.
“Why’s a mook like you even got a Vermeer?” Finny said to Santo. “You suddenly got culture? A slob like you?”
Santo stepped up and kicked Finny in the gut. “It’s an investment,” he said.
“Wadda we do boss?”
“We visit Leonardo. And we do it right this time.”
“What about him?” Passenger side man pointed at the heap of bleeding humanity on the ground.
“Waste him,” Santo sneered. “Take him down to the inlet, and put a bullet in his head.”
“Holy shit,” whispered Hunter Myer. “They’re gonna cap Finny.”
“What’s that got to do with us?” said Angelo. “Just let it go. They’ll be gone soon. Try to stay quiet.”
“No way, man,” whispered Hunter Myer. “These wise guys are dicks and Finny’s always done alright by me.”
“Then what…?” Angelo said.
“I don’t know yet.”
Now passenger side man grabbed Finny by the collar and hauled him to his feet. Driver side man went over to the Crown Vic to open the trunk.
“Don’t you bleed on my car,” he said to Finny. Then something caught his eye. It was a length of rope that coiled on the pavement, and led up the side of the Monahan Block. He looked up and saw Hunter Myer hanging there.
“Mother fucker,” diver side man said.
“Start the car,” said Hunter Myer to Angelo. “Leave the headlights off, and get ready to drive.”
“Where?” said Angelo.
“Hey, Vinny,” driver side man said to passenger side man. “Come over here and look at this.”
“What?” said passenger side man. He dragged Finny along with him, walking over to the Crown Vic.
Driver side man pointed up, and Santo came over too.
Now Hunter Myer looked to either side of him. There were the weedy ceramic flower boxes, one on each side.
“Start driving, Angelo,” he said. “Straight down the alley. If I get this right, then there’ll be a really surprised looking old guy wearing a brown overcoat standing by himself in the alley. Run the fucker over, hard.
“I don’t get it,” said Angelo.
“Just fucking do it!” Hunter Myer shouted into the iPhone mic.
Now he took one of the heavy ceramic flower boxes, aimed and dropped it. It was a direct hit, on top of the head of driver side man. He dropped to the ground, surrounded by shards and didn’t move.
Angelo was accelerating down the alley now. He saw three men standing half a block away. A heavy object fell from above. And then there were only two. One of them, a runty beat up looking guy disappeared behind the Crown Vic and left only a surprised looking old guy in a brown overcoat standing there. Angelo floored it and hit the bastard square on. Santo flew into the air and fell several yards away in a busted up hump of cashmere and broken bones.
* * * * *
The Vermeer arrived in Hong Kong three weeks later, rolled up and hidden in a shipment of copper pipe. Payment was transferred to a numbered account. Sylvester Leonardo moved to Sicily.