03 October 2018

Job Hunting

Prompt:  The Robbery | Word Count:  1493 | Genre:  Fiction

Dustin pulled up to the curb at Donnie’s and honked twice.  It was almost dark.  He fiddled with the knobs on the AM radio, then pushed the cigarette lighter in wondering if Donnie would emerge before the lighter popped out, red hot.  

This was supposed to be a solo job, breaking into the back office of the Duffy Butcher Shop, where everyone knew Easy Joe O’Halleran received the weekly pay offs.  Rumor was they were left overnight in the deep freeze, wrapped and bundled in ten piles, a thousand smackers each.

Dustin had been riding along on jobs for a while now, sometimes helping to smash a lock or even kneecaps, more often standing guard or driving the car.

A solo hit on Duffy’s would definitely move him up in the ranks.  

And with Christiana knocked up, he needed money.  A lot more money if she decided to keep it this time.

Pop!  The lighter clicked out and still no Donnie.  Dustin thought about honking again, but felt too antsy to sit any longer.  Exiting the Chevelle, he noticed the bad Bondo job again.  Maybe with his cut, he could also afford to fix it up and paint it. This Chevelle could be a thing of beauty.  All it took was money.  

Dustin rang the bell, and then knocked.  Donnie was supposed to have a gun for him.  A small pistol, numbers filed off and untraceable.  Just in case.  He could ditch it if he had to, but if he needed it, it was easy to conceal.

No answer.  It wasn’t like Donnie to leave him hanging.  Maybe he was over at Yvette’s?  Easy enough to check.  And if Donnie wasn’t there, Yvette would probably know where he was. She kept him on a short leash.

Back in the car and on the way to Yvette’s, Dustin went through the steps of the break-in.  At each one, he paused, considering all the possibilities or obstacles potentially created.  At each, he broke down the subsequent choices and the ramifications of each.  He’d never had to do this on his own, but he’d sat with Donnie playing out scenarios like this.

“Visualization,” Donnie had said, a dreamy look in his eyes.  “The difference between the champion and all those losers.”  At the word “losers” he’d elbowed Dustin in the sternum, almost knocking him over.  Dustin wasn’t a loser.  Duffy’s would prove it.

Almost to Yvette’s, a police cruiser going the opposite way on Spruce Avenue flipped a U-turn and switched on the lights and siren.

“Crap,” Dustin shouted. Perhaps too abruptly he pulled into a gas station.  He realized how grateful he was that he didn’t have Donnie’s gun on him and tried to calm his breathing.  Dustin could see the officer emerging from the vehicle to approach him.

“Do you know why I’ve pulled you over this evening?”

“No sir, uh, why, sir?”

The officer leaned in close, beefy forearms folded on the bottom of the window opening.  He sniffed, then stuck his head inside sniffing more.

Dustin kept his eyes facing forward, trying to hold his breath to keep from smelling the officer’s rancid exhales.

“Turn your damn lights on, son!”  And with that, the officer slapped Dustin’s shoulder and laughed, walking back to his vehicle.  

Dustin watched in the rearview as the fat policeman pulled up his pants, still laughing.  He could feel himself quaking, a thousand thoughts racing through his head.  First of all, he couldn’t afford a single mistake, like not having his lights on. Dustin knew he needed the gun, second. It wasn’t like Donnie not to be home at a scheduled time.  Getting pulled over was bad luck, definitely.  Dustin hated superstition, didn’t believe in it, finding it a lame and ridiculous excuse for poor planning.  But he’d be lying if he said that he wasn’t feeling uneasy because of these two events, Donnie not being home, and the cop pulling him over.

Hands sweaty and shaky, he restarted the Chevelle, pulled the knob to turn on the lights and put the car in gear.  At Yvette’s he didn’t even bother to stop.  All the lights were out and no cars in the driveway.  He continued on his way.  Without the gun, what were his chances?  How likely was it that he’d need it?  Again he played out the scenarios, but this time without the pistol.

Twenty minutes later, he was parked a block from Duffy’s.  He’d driven down the alley – a calculated risk, he knew, but he wanted to check if lights were on inside the building, and they were.  It was less of a risk than walking down the alley and having someone able to identify his face.  The Chevelle was ugly enough to be unnoticed.  Not so ugly that it would stand out.  

Dustin drummed the steering wheel, wondering what he was doing and knowing there was no way he could pull this off.  He sat with this weight in his belly, the lights on the street glowing against the overcast night sky.  What did it mean to not do a job?  How would he be viewed? Could he explain that he’d let his level-headedness rule?  That his thoughtful calculations of the situation might lead him toward a different kind of role in the organization?

The decision made not to hit Duffy’s, Dustin felt the adrenaline leaving his body.  He was exhausted and worried.  Rolling down the window, he gulped the cool night air. Instantly he felt better.  He opened the door and stepped out into the evening.  Walking up the block, he turned the corner and broke into a slow jog.  After a few blocks he stopped in front of an ice cream shop.  There were no customers.  One girl worked inside.  She looked bored, sitting behind the counter, her head propped on her hand, a dark hair braid cascading over her shoulder.  

He pushed the door open. It buzzed and the girl snapped to attention.  Silently, she stood and waited for his order.  He scanned the choices of ice cream.  The display freezers were empty except for vanilla and chocolate.  

“Pretty slim pickings,” he joked.  She didn’t react.  “Chocolate milkshake, please.”

She made the milkshake without comment, adding the ingredients and blending them in an old machine that whined and then sighed as it was turned off.  She was pretty but not much on customer service, he thought.

She handed it to him and turned away.

“How much?”  Dustin asked.

She scanned him. “Oh.  You’re not with…”  her voice trailed off.  Then she cleared her throat.  “Three fifty.”

He gave her a ten and couldn’t help but ask, “Who did you think I was?”

“Nevermind, I was wrong.” She blushed and handed him his change, which he dropped in the empty tip bucket.  She was suddenly busy, sweeping the floor and turning away from him, her braid swinging across her back.

“Is it the O’Halleran’s? Do you think I work for them?”

She turned.  “Do you?”

He shook his head.  

“Are you a cop?”

Again he shook his head. “What makes you think that?”

She looked around, nervous. “We don’t actually get many customers here,” she whispered.  She gestured at the shop.  “This isn’t really an ice cream shop anymore.  I hate it.”  

Now Dustin turned on the charm.  He pulled a stool over to the counter and leaned in.  “Are you talking, like real gangsters?”  he whispered, taking a pull on the straw.  He made his eyes big, as if in surprise.  

“I’ve worked here for a year.  It used to be fun.  But they’ve chased away all the customers.  My boss never comes in anymore because she’s afraid of them. She pays themand theyuse heroffice.  It’s so unfair.”

“Wow.”  Dustin didn’t know what to say.

She went back to her sweeping.  Dustin sat quietly, thinking over his milkshake, hatching a new plan.  The O’Hallerans must have become nervous about Duffy’s getting hit – somehow they must have heard rumors – and moved their operations here.  

“You really thought I was a cop?”  Dustin asked.

“Not really.  But I hoped so.”  She kept sweeping, not looking at him.

“Why don’t you call the cops?”  

She shrugged.  

Dustin smiled.  He wasn’t sure he could trust this girl. “You want to bust the O’Hallerans?  On a school night?”  

How she took that joke would tell him what he needed to know.  She stopped sweeping.

“It’s not funny.”  She turned and he could see the color rising in her cheeks.  She was furious, not with him.  

Dustin raised his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it.”  He smiled.

She leaned on the broom and raised an eyebrow. “If you’re not a cop and you’re not with the O’Hallerans, then what are you doing in this neighborhood?”  She leaned on the broom.

He raised the milkshake as if making a toast.

“Fair question.  What if I told you I was looking for a job around here?”