By Gina Gallo
It was supposed to be the perfect crime. Kelsey and Watts had done
their homework like real pros, scoping out the house ahead of time to make sure no one was home. What better time to hit it than New Year's Eve? Revelers would be partying, drinking themselves into a
foggy oblivion that would not include checking on their home front as the new year rang in.
It was fitting, Kelsey reasoned. The first day of the century for their
first big heist. How often did they get the chance to rip off one of the biggest drug and gun dealers in the country? The tip had come from Joey Fingers, that weasel-eyed
little pusher down on Broadway. Strictly a small time hustler, but his
mangled fists told another story. Only one finger remained on his right hand, courtesy of the Big Man
who'd caught him skimming one too many times.
"He don't make enough money?" Joey growled. "I took maybe ten grand - what's the big deal? But
they chopped off one finger for every grand, just so I remember. Like who could forget once the first one got whacked?"
"Guess the Big Man don't count too good," Watts observed. "He only took nine fingers."
"So's I could flip you the bird, you mope!"
Since it's hard to be a trigger man with just one finger, Joey's career nosedived. The Big Man needed an attitude adjustment, he told Watts and Kelsey., and he knew just where and how to do it. It was a
plan that would benefit all of them. He'd tell them the location, they'd do the heist and avenge Joey's honor. Afterward, they'd split the money, sell the guns, and peddle the dope. What could be easier?
"921 Glenwood Terrace?" In the car on New Year's Eve, Kelsey squinted at Joey's scribbled directions. "I can't make this out, Watts. Looks like chicken scratch to me."
"Poor guy got one finger, whattaya expect? 921, is it?" Watts let out a low whistle. "Hot damn, we hit the jackpot."
On a street lined with Frank Lloyd Wrights, the Big Man's place looked like
a mini-castle with a stone tower and mullioned glass. Set back on a heavily wooded lot, there were
enough trees and bushes to provide a virtual wish-list of cover for burglars doing the midnight creep.
"Look at them windows," Kelsey said. "Must be a hundred years old. Just tap out a pane and waltz
right in. This'll be a piece of cake!" He glanced toward his partner. "Why you pulling on that ski mask?"
"I'm a burglar. I gotta hide my face."
"You're a moron. Who's gonna see you if nobody's home? Ski masks are for bank hold-ups."
"Just grab those bags on the floor. Couple minutes from now, we'll be fillin' 'em up with money and
"Plastic bags you bring to a burglary? Fer chrissake, Watts, what the hell were you thinkin'?"
"Lawn and leaf bags," he corrected. "Heavy duty plastic, but lightweight.
Perfect for this job."
After parking their ancient Chrysler Imperial in the circle drive, the two men lumbered off to commit the perfect crime.
Later, Kelsey would wonder why such a powerful man didn't have a better security system in his house. It was almost too easy to break in. The tiny-paned windows shattered as expected, but the iron
gridwork between them left too small a space for his ham-sized fist to fit through. Much simpler to kick in the back door. The thunderous crash echoed through the yard, but it didn't matter.
None of the neighbors were home either, as far as he could tell, They couldn't have chosen a better time to hit.
It was only when they stumbled through the dark kitchen that Watts remembered the flashlights. The ones they'd forgotten to pick up at K-mart earlier in the afternoon, along with an acetylene torch in
case the Big Man had a safe. But since the kitchen was in the back of the house, he decided it was okay to turn on the light. Just a small one, enough to get the layout of the place. The Big Man lived
large, and they didn't want to miss a thing.
"You gotta be kiddin' me!" Kelsey called. "This guy's got doilies on his furniture!"
He was in the den now, or possibly the living room - whatever they called this room with the rocking chair and the collection of porcelain figurines. So far, no weapons in sight, unless you counted the
knitting needles in that basket of yarn. "This joint looks like my grandmother's place!"
"Keep looking!" Watts hissed. "Guy like him probably does this to throw people off. Puts on a
straight front, y'know?"
"That's why he got a bunch of Martha Stewart books on his coffee table?"
"Check the insides. Maybe they're hollowed out to hold the dope."
Kelsey strode toward the bathroom, confident he'd find the stash.
The perfect hiding place would be close to the plumbing in case of a raid. He remembered that from an
"NYPD Blue" re-run. As long as you kept the stuff within flushing distance, there'd be no incriminating evidence.
But the bathroom contained nothing more contraband than lavender bath salts and hemorrhoid cream. He patted down the hand towels, the swagged shower curtain, the box of Depends and the seersucker
robe on the silver hook. There was nothing.
In the bedroom, Watts was dumping out drawers on the plush pink carpet.
No money, no drugs, but plenty of ladies' lingerie, if that term applied to corsets heavy enough to stop bullets. Flannel nightgowns were next, and some rubbery- looking thing with a hose attachment that
had him wincing. Maybe this Big Man was the freaky type.
It was the collection of photos on the cherrywood dresser that made Kelsey pause.
"What's with all the old people?" he demanded. "Looks like class picture day at the retirement home. Not one bimbo in the lot. This don't look
like the Big Man's style at all." He toed a can of Polident from the rubble on the floor. "Y'think maybe his mother lives here with him?"
Busy pawing through the Lawrence Welk albums in the study, Watts only grunted. He was starting to sweat now, either from the exertion of ripping open tasseled throw pillows or upending the dusty
rubber plant. The money could've been stashed in the dirt. He'd seen that in a Frank Sinatra movie. Or maybe it was just the rubber plant.
It wasn't until they hit the library that Kelsey spotted it. Not an arsenal of expensive, high-tech weaponry or a cashbox full of currency. It was a handsomely carved lidded box, exotic and
eye-catching on that plain maple desk. He knew a stash box when he saw it. In Kelsey's younger days, there'd been decorative bongs and roach clips- all the fanciful paraphernalia that were part of the
weed-smoking ritual. These days, it was coke, and the Big Man would have the mother lode - probably sitting right there in that fancy box. Bounding across the dark room, he reached for the jackpot.
"Watts! Get your ass over here now!"
It was more than he'd hoped for, more than he dared to believe. The way his partner's eyes bugged
out at the sight of it only added to the thrill. There had to be at least half a kilo here. He dipped a finger into the powder, then decided to pour some lines instead. What better way to celebrate New
Year's Eve and the perfect crime than with enough coke to blow them both into the next millenium?
They snorted up the thick lines, first one, then another, and waited for the
sublime punch. When Kelsey started to gag and choke, he thought he'd done too much too fast. When Watts started to howl in pain, he thought the world was ending. He wasn't entirely wrong.
At the hospital ER, the chief resident is finishing up a brutal stretch of duty. After twenty hours on
call, his eyes look like the roadmap of Hell, and his shoulders slump with fatigue. But he can't resist telling the story one more time to the day crew just coming in.
"These guys were in full respiratory arrest when the cops brought 'em in.
Lucky that silent burglar alarm tripped or they'd both be history."
One of the nurses reads his charted notes.
"Bone fragments obstructing their nasal passages?"
"And their tracheas. Had their faces buried in it, far as I can tell."
"How'd they get the funeral urn anyway?"
"The lady's 80 years old. When her husband died, she wanted to keep him close by, for company. After he was cremated, she kept him in a canister on the desk."
"And those guys thought it was cocaine? Are you kidding?"
The resident chortles.
"You haven't heard the best part. They thought they were ripping off some drug dealer. Turned out
they weren't even in the right city. The guy they were looking for lives in Detroit."
"But what happened when the lady found out about her husband?"
"She didn't. The neighbors said she's visiting her kids in Arizona for the holidays. Way I heard it from
the cops, they're not gonna tell her about it....only the break-in. She doesn't need to know the grisly details."
"Good idea," the nurse nods. "These guys go looking for snow and end up with angel dust instead?
She'd never understand."
Gina's next book, ARMED AND DANGEROUS: MEMOIRS OF A CHICAGO COP will be released by Forge/St. Martin's Press in March, 2001.
Copyright © 2000 by Gina Gallo - www.gallostories.com
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