Part three of the story

The final installment of the story.  Still searching for a title . . .

*************************** 

           They’ve slept through the night – that much Darren can figure out as he sees farmland pass them by. Somewhere in the Midwest, he figures, though never having been out here he has no idea whether they’re in Nebraska, Iowa, or Ohio. Naomi is curled up on her seat, her feet just barely reaching the seat opposite her. Can’t be comfortable, he thinks, as he feels a crick in his own neck from leaning against the windowpane for the better part of the night.

            He feels slightly better rested now than he did yesterday, but wonders again how much of that has to do with having even more distance between him and San Diego. He reaches into his bag and feels for the envelope he’d been holding the night before, opening it a crack and counting the small stack of bills one more time, locating yet again a small scrap of paper behind the stack. Early Monday morning, just a couple of hours before he walked to the bus depot, he sat outside a café drinking some weird tea that the waitress insisted he’d like, all on the pretext of waiting for a delivery, which came as the sun was still rising – that simple white envelope, unmarked but for a label reading ‘Sheridan Delivery’ on the back.

            This was his payment for the job.

            This was all he had to work with now that San Diego was part of his past.

            This was what he walked away with after he and his partner discovered in the darkness of their attempted bank heist that opening any one of the safety deposit boxes – to say nothing of the particular one that the man who’d hired them really cared about, which turned out to be in a separate vault altogether – would set off at least two separate alarms.

            And that man who’d hired them – a man who insisted on going nameless – had laid out the deal for them: 1) get to that deposit box, remove its contents, get out of there, and give me those contents, or 2) burn it down, no questions asked, no need to meet.

            When Darren first heard these two options, he laughed for a moment. Stealing was one thing, and he’d done plenty in the San Diego area, but arson was a new one. He thought maybe the guy was joking, but a few seconds passed and it was clear – there was something in that safety deposit box that he badly wanted to have, and if he couldn’t have it, well then no one else could, either. And he’d pay to ensure either outcome.

            Option one paid more, so Darren and his partner put most of their energy into researching the bank and determining how they would enter the lobby area and then access the various vaults. Option two was an afterthought marked by the small bag that they half-filled with lighter fluid and matches. After all, it paid less – significantly less. So why give much time to burning down a whole building?

            But that night went badly – it rained starting right before midnight and as soon as they got inside the bank they saw that their research had been incomplete, if the keypads by the vault doors were any indication. Darren’s partner was prepared to open the security panel on the back wall and cut the necessary wires that would allow them to get to the safety deposit boxes in their own sweet time; Darren even offered the added possibility of finding their way into the main vault and whatever cash they could carry. Why not? They were already there, right?

            Looking back, it was that extra item that made a difficult job impossible. As soon as his partner opened the panel and determined which wires to cut, Darren was already mapping out how they would not only walk into the vault, but also how they’d cram their bags full of bills, then swing by the safety deposit box in question, take out its contents, and be on their merry way.

            Darren’s partner was about to cut the third and final wire when they both heard the sound they most feared – the alarm system, blaringly loud, even before they’d determined the exact location of their employer’s box. They looked at each other in a panic, pausing.

            Then they knew that now they had only one option left – if they wanted to get paid at all, that is.

            The next morning, after sleeping for all of a couple of hours in the back of a borrowed and beat-up Honda Celica, Darren waited at that café and avoided reacting when a pedestrian he’d never seen before dropped the envelope on his table and continued walking. When he checked to see if the money was all there, he was disappointed, even angry. I nearly died for you, he thought. Then he reached inside the envelope for the scrap of paper that included a brief note, typewritten, presumably from his now former employer.

You & your partner are nearly useless. I’ve already heard that the police have found a bag that you left behind. And as for burning down the bank, you didn’t finish the job, so now they know the target – the safety deposit boxes. Consider your diminished payment a product of your sloppy handiwork. Don’t even think about complaining or renegotiating, either; after all, arson’s a felony that you don’t want to fight in court.

            Why Darren keeps the note, he has no idea, but the anger has largely subsided now. Nothing much he can do except hope that the money from the job will be enough for him to get started – somehow, somewhere. Naomi begins to stir, so he puts the envelope deep inside his bag.

            “Wow – I slept good.  You?”

            He nods, though now he’s beginning to feel groggy again.

            “Mmmm. Another day on the bus,” she says, slowly rising to a sitting position in her seat. “So any more ideas about what you gonna do once you arrive at your destination?” She smiles as she finishes the question.

            “I don’t recall mentioning any ideas yesterday,” he says.

            “True. Does that mean you still don’t know?”

            “Weighing my options.”

            “Aren’t we all.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Well, we all got things we’re looking to do, right? Like I told you I need to find a job, right? They don’t just hand you one when you walk into a new town. And I know almost nothing about Albany – so I gotta figure out which jobs are even worth trying for, y’know?”

            “Sure. What sorta work did you do in San Diego?”

            “Little of this, little of that. Worked the deli counter some, but been working as a messenger for the last six months or so.  Pretty good pay, actually.”

            Darren watches his hand reach for his bag as if it has a mind of its own. “Messenger?”

            “Yeah, I’d bike around, sometimes walk. Any old thing – packages and envelopes big and small, just stuff that people wanted to get to other people right away. And without having to deal with the post office.” She frowns slightly after this final observation.

            “Uh huh,” he says, but his mind is racing with the possibilities. “Are there a lot of messenger jobs in San Diego?”

            “Not tons. It’s no San Francisco or Oakland – the city’s just laid out real different, at least that’s what my boss said. There’re only three or four companies hiring in San Diego – QuikStop, Mercury Services, Sheridan Delivery – and the other one I always forget. It might be out of business, for all I know.”

            At the mention of Sheridan Delivery, he feels his heart beat not so much faster as louder. And he recalls shaking her hand and feeling those calluses and seeing those scratches – by-product of delivering messages around greater San Diego? Maybe.

            “You think you’ll look for another messenger job in Albany?”

            “Maybe. Not sure there’s as much of a need, though – I mean, it is the capital of the state and all, but the urban section is pretty small compared to San Diego. It would be nice to find something as good as Sheridan offered, though.”

            Darren swallows, but doesn’t want to lose the rhythm of the conversation or let on that something’s wrong. “How do you mean?”

            “Oh, you know – flexible hours, that sort of thing. My boss let me set my time every week and trusted me to get my work done. If I could get that sort of job, let me tell you – that would make everything perfect.”

            “I see.” He sits, staring ahead now, thinking about how this young woman could easily have been the one who dropped off the envelope that is currently nestled in the bottom of his duffel. But no, it wasn’t her – she was with her family, evacuated from her building, thanks in no small part to his efforts.

            “Now I gotta ask, why all this curiosity about messenger jobs? You looking to get into the field?” Again, the smile.

            “I dunno,” he mutters. “Maybe. Didn’t really know that much about it in San Diego, that’s all.”

            “Yeah, well, it’s gonna help me pay my bills for at least a couple of months. Funny, though, my main boss at Sheridan, good as he was, he never talked about our clients.”

            “Why’s that funny?”

            “Well, maybe not funny, but I always imagined delivering some important package to a higher-up at town hall, or some secret message for a CEO – I know, sounds crazy.”

            He laughs, but it’s nervous laughter now. He sees a sign saying ‘Welcome to Missouri’ along the highway.

            “I was working on Saturday and my boss, he was on edge for some reason,” Naomi continues. “I couldn’t get him to explain anything, so I just picked up my packages and envelopes and left.”

            “Why do you think he was on edge?”

            “Got me. I even wondered about it Sunday while my parents were walking mi hermanos out of church. Did he know something about the fire? Like I said, I know I’m talking crazy here, but maybe some kinda premonition or something. Didn’t dare mention that to mi familia. Way too much superstition there already, if you ask me.”

            For a brief moment, he is convinced that she’s onto him – and has been from the moment she got on the bus. But how could that be? he thinks. She wasn’t working Sunday; she wasn’t the one who delivered the envelope with his payment. Surely he’s just being paranoid.

            But then what about him? Here he is leaving San Diego with one bag, no real answers to her questions, and no plans for the future. That all adds up to ‘person of interest’ – maybe even ‘suspect’- certainly someone who inspires suspicion.

            Naomi appears not to notice his panic, though, instead opening her novel and reading it, settling herself in for another long day on the bus.

            The hours pass slowly for Darren, punctuated by his hit-or-miss attempts to sleep and avoid thinking about what Naomi may or may not know. He considers getting off at the next stop and not getting back on – he’s far enough away from San Diego by now that he should be in the clear, he figures, but his uncertainty about this woman, coupled with all that she’s told him on this, the second day of their trip, makes him feel indecisive.

            Hunger pangs hit him now and he has half a mind to ask the bus driver when they’ll be grabbing breakfast or lunch – he recalls after looking at his watch one more time that he still has not watch – but holds off doing even that. Better not to call attention to myself, he thinks, ridiculous as that is on a bus where he’s one of two riders. But not five minutes later, the driver calls out as he did late the night before, loud and clear for both of them to hear, “Lunch break!”

            They walk off slowly, Darren bringing his bag with him like he did for dinner yesterday, Naomi refraining from commenting on the bad this time. Another nondescript roadside diner, another chance to stretch before continuing the trip.

            They sit in a booth across from each other and both order the daily special of club sandwich and clam chowder, and wait in silence.

            “Be back in a minute,” he says, picks up his bag and heads to the bathroom in the back. Is now the time to make the break? he thinks, but when he opens the door, he sees a tiny window that he can barely stick his arm out of. Damn – oh well. He does his business, slowly washes his hands, and walks out.

            Even before he slips back into the booth, he sees that their food is ready. Pretty good service, he thinks, and is about to start eating.

            “Now it’s my turn,” she says, laughs and grabs a few French fries. As she walks, he notices her figure – she’s slim, not very tall, but he guesses that she could hold her own in a fight – not that he’s looking to start one or anything.

            He starts eating, feeling those hunger pangs come back loud and clear: first the soup, to pace his empty stomach, then nibbling on the sandwich. A few minutes pass and he doesn’t pause to consider where Naomi is, but keeps eating, not so much enjoying the food as shoveling it down as if he might not see any more any time soon.

            As he sips his coke, he looks to his left and sees a familiar-looking envelope marked ‘Sheridan Delivery’, but this one’s sealed. On the front it reads ‘Hand over on Tuesday, April 5.’  He opens it and unfolds the scrap of paper inside before thinking about who might have written it.

You think you’ve gotten away, but I know better. I paid you half when I should have paid you nothing, you never even contacted your partner, and now the police are beginning to ask me questions. Don’t think for a minute that this is the end. I will find you.

            He looks up, sees the bus driver eating his sandwich and the women’s bathroom door still closed; he grabs the note and shoves it in his pocket. In one fluid motion, he reaches into his bag, takes a ten dollar bill out of the envelope there and lays it on the countertop, grabs his bag, stands up, and leaves the diner, not looking back for anyone.

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Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Naomi was delivering the second envelope all along, right? She was on the bus as a messenger and her stories were lies. She knew right from the beginning about the guy. Am I wrong?

    I liked it a lot – a lot of great twists. Are you planning to submit it to any magazines? I think you should. It is a very well written and developed story!

    • Naomi’s delivering, but the envelope’s sealed – but she seems aware that something’s up, just not the specifics.

      Thanks for the kind words. I haven’t thought about specific places to submit it to – need to do some research on that one. If you hear/know of anything out there where you think it might fit, please let me know.

  2. Check out duotrope.com – excellent source for finding out magazines. I use it all the time. There are a lot of magazines that might be interested in your story. Worth mentioning: Glimmer Train, Crazy Horse, AGNI, One Story. But beware – it is not an easy market to break into. But really what is easy, right?

    • Thanks for the suggestion. And yeah, nothing’s easy, is it?

  3. What a great twist! I certainly was not expecting that and it came as quite a surprise. I applaud this writing 🙂

    • Many thanks – ending stories always baffles me. How to end the thing in a way that’s NOT predictable? But at the same time, how to end it in a way that remains consistent with the characters and the situations already described?

      (Low bow for applause)


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