The Wheel of Fortune
by Bob Brill
|part 2 of 3|
“Here’s what happened, Mr. Bohack. I was layin’ in wait for him back of the buildin’, just like you tole me. My car was hid good. No way he coulda seen me. I heard him pull onto the gravel, heard his car door open, heard his footsteps. He was comin’, then he stopped. Something spooked him, I don’t know what, and then I heard him runnin’. I came around quick and got off one good shot as he was gettin’ back in his car. Got him in the left shoulder, but he managed to drive off. By the time I got my car goin’ he was way ahead, but I nearly caught up to him on the coast road when he hit a patch of fog and went off the cliff.”
Police Commissioner Lester Bohack interrupted. “I don’t like what I’m hearing, Lewis. You screwed up.”
“No, Mr. Bohack. I did just like you tole me. I was ready for him. Then suddenly he beat it.”
“Lewis, meet me down at the boat launch right away.”
“Yes, Mr. Bohack.” Lewis snapped his cell phone shut and spit out a curse that intensified his rodent-like features.
Forty minutes later Lester Bohack and Lewis were skirting the coastline in a police boat. At Bohack’s orders Lewis was dressed in a wetsuit. Scuba gear lay at his feet. Bohack continually played the powerful searchlight along the coast, looking for the wreck of Charlie’s car. “Now here’s the deal, Lewis. We don’t want a murder investigation on our hands. Because you put a slug in the poor bastard we’ve got to recover the body and get rid of it. We also want to recover the package. So you’re going to take a little dip tonight to make up for your screwup.”
“I tole you, Mr. Bohack, that wasn’t no screwup. It was outa my control.”
“You’re a professional, Lewis. Losing control is not in your job description.”
“Whatever you say, Mr. Bohack.”
At last they saw the car half submerged in the water. They pulled up alongside. The searchlight showed that in the tidal pools and plastered across the rocks, hundreds of banknotes lay scattered. “Damn,” said Bohack. “This is worse than I thought. Okay, Lewis, put on that scuba gear and bring me that body. Then pick up as much of that money as you can find.”
Several hours later, out of the dawn fog a police launch cautiously approached the shore. Behind it came a tug towing a barge. The wrecked automobile was hauled aboard the barge. From the deck of the launch Police Commissioner Bohack ordered the crew to search for more banknotes, some of which were diverted into the pockets of the crew. Two divers descended into the water. More pieces of the wreck were recovered and some additional banknotes. In less than an hour no trace was left of the wreckage. The boats disappeared back into the fog.
* * *
Later that morning Tyrone received a call to meet Commissioner Bohack at the usual secluded park bench. Tyrone allowed himself to be ten minutes late since he knew that the Commissioner would arrive even later. It was Bohack’s strategy to keep those who depended on him waiting. The length of the delay was proportional to the degree of intimidation he wished to inspire. Some had to cool their heels for hours in his outer office.
It was a sign of Tyrone’s privileged position that he never had to wait more than twenty minutes. When he saw Bohack appear on the path he glanced at his watch and smiled to note that the Commissioner was precisely twenty minutes late. The big man was puffing on a cigar as he approached. He had the body of the linebacker he once was, except for the bulge at the waist that testified to the rich diet he now permitted himself.
He sat down heavily on the bench next to Tyrone, took a drag on his cigar, looked at it appreciatively, blew out the smoke and came straight to the point. “There’s been a screwup, Tyrone. Your boy, Charlie Pelta, did not make the rendezvous point. Looks like he split with the cash.”
“Lester, I can’t believe that. Charlie’s a good man. He wouldn’t do that. Besides he didn’t have no idea what was in the package.”
“So you say.”
“Jeez, Lester, you don’t think I had anythin’ to do with it, do you?”
“I don’t know, but until I know something for sure, I don’t trust anybody. Whatever happened, the delivery wasn’t made and you still owe me. So we set up another delivery, let’s say tomorrow night, same arrangements, only you make the delivery yourself.”
“That’s impossible. I need at least two weeks to put that big a bundle together.”
“Tyrone, you’ll have to lean on some of those high rollers who owe you. You want to stay in business, you’ll have that delivery for me.”
“You put me in jail, there won’t be no more payments for you. You keep me goin’, I pay my dues, like always. Just give me more time.”
“Okay, Tyrone. You got a week, a week from tonight. Just one more thing. Put in an extra ten grand. Late payment fee. I can’t tolerate you, Charlie, or whoever it was, putting anything over on me. Got that? This can’t happen again.” Bohack hauled his bulk off the bench. “Meeting adjourned.” He walked away.
* * *
There was a knock at the door.
“Oscar, will you get that?”
Oscar put his pipe in the ashtray and walked to the door with a dancer’s grace. Though he was a big man, tall and broad-chested, with a large, almost entirely bald head, he was an Argentine tango instructor and his movements were fluid and elegant, both on and off the dance floor. “Think I should open up?” he said. “Could be trouble.”
Laura pulled a card out of her deck. The Wheel of Fortune. “Oh, this is too interesting. The winds of change are blowing for this visitor. Oscar, let him in.”
Oscar looked at Laura with open admiration. What he so admired was her nerve, her intelligence, her intuition. She made his life an adventure. He opened the door and Tyrone stepped into the room, brushed past Oscar and walked up to Laura. “What do you know about Charlie?”
“Right, and I gotta find Charlie.”
Tyrone brandished his fist in Laura’s face. “I told you before, don’t mess with me. I want the truth.”
Oscar put a hand on Tyrone’s shoulder. “Why don’t you sit down, Tyrone?”
“Good idea,” Laura added. “Then I’ll tell you the rest.”
Tyrone looked around, picked out a straight-back chair and sat down on the edge of it. He put his hands on his knees, his elbows out to the side. His whole body said he was ready to spring into action. With his greased-back hair and custom-made suits, Tyrone affected a persona that was a cross between Rudolph Valentino and a well-heeled gangster. His dark complexion and trim figure made him look more like an Argentine tango dancer than Oscar did. “Okay, I’m listenin’,” he said.
“Well,” said Laura, “Charlie got shot last night and then, with another car chasing him up the coast road, he crashed through the rail. Right down into the drink he went. He became a ghost. You know about that, don’t you, Tyrone? When somebody dies and there’s unfinished business, he can stay around as a ghost till it’s been settled. Charlie came here as a ghost and asked for my help. He’s here right now.”
“Crap. You expect me to buy that story?”
“Yes, Tyrone. You can’t see him, but he’s here. Look, pick a card out of this deck. Don’t show it to me.”
“I don’t go for that kind of stuff. I don’t go for ghost stories neither.”
“Just pick a card and shut up.”
“You and Charlie go way back, don’t you? Had your little fling with Charlie once upon a time, didn’t you? Gwenda told me all about you and Charlie, told me it was you what called me last night. She says you don’t read those cards right. Got your own screwy interpretations.”
“There are a thousand different ways to read the cards. For a hundred different purposes. I do it my way. I learn what I need from them. Now you can learn something by picking a card.”
Tyrone leaned forward and plucked a card from the deck. He looked at it and then held it close to his chest.
“Charlie is standing right behind you. Hold the card so he can see it.”
Tyrone palmed the card and held it up over his right shoulder. His smirk clearly conveyed his skepticism.
“It’s the Ten of Swords,” said Charlie to Laura.
“Charlie tells me you picked the Ten of Swords. I take that to mean you’re in a tight spot. You’re really hurting right now. Isn’t that so, Tyrone? Pick another card.”
“So what’s this about? Is this about me or is it about Charlie?”
“Both, Tyrone. What’s bothering Charlie now is who shot him and why. And that should be your concern too, since it’s all about this tight spot you’re in. Go on, pick a card.”
Tyrone picked the King of Swords, reversed. “Oh, that’s an interesting card,” said Laura. “The pressure is coming from someone in authority, someone corrupt, using his position of authority to control you. This person is putting the screws to you. Isn’t that right, Tyrone?”
Tyrone was sweating now. He turned in his seat and swept his arm twice through the area where he thought Charlie might be standing. “There ain’t nobody behind me. What are you tryin’ to pull here?”
“Tyrone,” said Oscar. “From the look on your face I see that Laura is clearly onto something here. Any idea who would have wanted to kill Charlie?”
“You show me his body, I’ll believe he’s dead.”
“So how did Laura know what cards you picked?”
“Card tricks. Anyone can do card tricks. I got dealers in my place can do wonders with cards.”
Laura said, “Take one more card, Tyrone.”
Tyrone drew the Hanged Man. “Ah,” said Laura. “Big changes coming for you. You’ve been turned upside down. The view could be illuminating. Here’s what we should do. Go down the coast and have a look at the spot where Charlie’s car landed. Want to come?”
“I’m gonna be very busy all week. I got no time for that.”
“Sure, Tyrone. You’re going to keep yourself really busy trying to wiggle out of this tight spot you’re in. But you might just learn something down by the water that would save you a lot of time. If you were a detective trying to solve the murder that’s what you’d do. Investigate the scene of the crime. Look for clues. You get me?”
“I’m not convinced there’s been a murder.”
“Well then, you’ll never know, will you? You can look for Charlie all week and you won’t find him when he’s right here in the room with us. Say, Charlie, can you tell me something you know about Tyrone that nobody but you would know? Oh, that’s good, Charlie. He says last week you were at the track together and you won the daily double because the horse that came in first was disqualified.”
“What was the name of that horse?” demanded Tyrone.
“Yeah, that’s right. But listen, Charlie coulda told you that last week.”
“The truth is, Tyrone, that until Charlie died I hadn’t spoken to him in a year. But forget it. You’re not ready to know the truth. Even though you’ve been turned upside down the view still looks the same to you. So why don’t you just get out of here? Oscar and Charlie and I are going down to the water to look around. You want to come? Okay. If you don’t come, that’s okay too.”
Oscar put a hand on Laura’s shoulder. “Maybe it would be a good idea to check out the Indian trading post first.”
Tyrone sprang to his feet. “What do you know about the Indian tradin’ post?”
“That’s where Charlie was shot,” said Laura.
“Okay,” said Tyrone. “I’m coming with you.”
* * *
At the old abandoned Indian trading post they found skid marks in the gravel. Charlie told Laura that’s where his car had been parked. “I must have made those marks when I pulled out.” They walked the ground, both front and back, but discovered nothing of interest. Those skid marks did not constitute much in the way of evidence, but they did shave the harsh edge off Tyrone’s attitude. Ever since they arrived at the Indian trading post, he had been watchful and subdued.
They got back in Oscar’s big Buick sedan and headed down the road Charlie had taken, turned onto the coast road and soon came to the broken guard rail. There they parked and got out to look down at the scene below. No car. Nothing but rocks and water.
“We can’t get down this cliff,” said Oscar. “We’ll have to get the boat and approach by water.”
They skirted the coast all afternoon in Oscar’s sleek power boat, Oscar, Laura and Tyrone, and somewhere out of sight, the incorporeal presence of Charlie. Tyrone wondered where in the boat Charlie was located. Was he sitting in the one empty seat? Was he sunning himself on the forward deck? Did he make contact at all with the material world of the boat? He caught himself. What am I thinkin’? This is nuts. And yet his lifelong belief system was wavering. Somehow this strange couple knew about the Indian trading post and there really was a broken guard rail. Still it was a bit of a stretch to think of Charlie as a ghost.
They followed the curvature of the coast line, and as they rounded each point and entered a new cove, they were disappointed time after time. No car, no sign of anything to indicate where the crash may have occurred. Tyrone was still unconvinced that there had been a crash, that Charlie wasn’t hundreds of miles away with $200,000 in hundred dollar bills.
I should be out collectin’ debts, he thought, puttin’ the heat on my customers. But he knew that his one week’s grace from Bohack was not enough for him to get off the hook. He was taking a long shot, out here chasing down a fool’s hunch, but if it paid off it could change the picture entirely. He had no better ideas at the moment, and each empty cove increased his anxiety.
Laura said, “Charlie wants you to know that he forgives you about Gwenda. He says when he was alive he was possessive about Gwenda. It was what he was brought up to believe in. Dying helped him get in touch with how he really felt, that he no longer loved Gwenda and didn’t care what she did. In fact, he wonders what you see in her.”
Laura stopped to listen. She chuckled. “He says it’s like the old joke. The husband catches his best friend and the wife together. ‘Why are you doing this?’ he asks the friend. ‘Me, I have to, but why you?’”
“That’s funny,” said Tyrone. “I don’t mean the joke is funny. I mean I was thinkin’ the same thing. Why do I do it? I’m not all that crazy about Gwenda now that I’m gettin’ to know her.”
Oscar sat comfortably at the controls of the boat. He was self-contained, at ease with himself and with his place in the world. He leaned over and whispered to Laura, “The more I get to know you, the better I like you.”
As they rounded the next point a new vista presented itself. They saw in the shadow of the overhanging cliff at the deepest point of the cove a little beach where a small boat lay anchored. They could make out three figures on the shore.
Copyright © 2009 by Bob Brill