THE GUN FACTORY CAPER
By Anne K. Edwards
It started the day I ran into Tiny and his new gal in Gaffer’s Bar. She was the usual poor piece. When you’re Tiny’s size, you take what you can get. She had a goodie job. That was what Tiny went for--poor pieces with sweet jobs. You know what I mean--bank clerks, jewelry store clerks, cashiers with the uglies. He always had something in the fire.
“Why, Nick, ole pallie. Where you been?” He draped hisself over my shoulder, stinking of stale cigars and cheap perfume.
“’Lo, Tiny. I was up to New York for a spell.”
His gal threw me a poison look that said, drop dead.
But Tiny hung on. “Doing something good?”
“Keeping away from the cops.”
He smirked. “Did it again, huh?”
I burned. “Yeah. Miter told Sully and me the take was ten gees. I blew the box. We grabbed the stuff and scrammed.” I choked on the memory. Me, a smart guy, getting foxed like that.
Tiny was interested. “How much?”
“Nothing?” He looked thunderstruck.
“Just the night watchman’s lunch. We blew a safe for a cheese sammich and an apple.” I couldn’t keep the disgust out of my voice. “Papers said it wasn’t even locked.”
Tiny’s face shattered. He roared. People around us stared. I felt my face get hot. Even Poor Piece was grinning.
He finally quit hitting the table. “Luddy, go fix your face. I wanna talk to Nick.”
She got up-- Like wow! Best looking stilts I ever seen. And what they led up to-- I almost bugged out right there.
I looked at Tiny. He glared.
“Put your eyeballs back,” he growled. “That’s mine. Face ain’t so hot, but when the lights’re out, I don’t care.”
I shook my head in wonder.
He leaned toward me. “I wanna discuss a ‘do’.”
“Sure. Luddy works for a research outfit that does business with the govermint. And they got lots of secret plans.”
“Govermint? You kidding? Do you know what happens to guys who mess with the govermint? They get buried so far under the system, they never see daylight again.”
“Sure there’s a risk, but I ain’t going into something without a clear picture. Besides, it ain’t govermint, just some research firm.”
“What’re you gonna do about Luddy?”
“Take her along. She likes me and money. Like I said, in the dark who cares?”
I could see he was netted. That Luddy with her switchy hips had netted manpround Tiny Villetto. “Never thought I’d see it,” I muttered at him. “Next thing you’ll tell me is you’re gonna marry her.”
He grinned. “I am.”
“You’re nuts,” I told him.
“Cool it. She’s a good dollie. Does like I tell her. Now about this plan. You interested? I need a can opener.”
That was me, a can opener. “I wanna know more before I come in.” I wasn’t ready to follow a guy who’d marry a face like Luddy’s. Them legs, maybe, but not that face. He’d have to spend the rest of his life in the dark.
“This research outfit’s got plans for a gun called SILENCE. Stands for something that means you aim it at a building, the building vibrates and falls down. But no noise.”
“That’s no big deal.” I pushed my chair back. Govermint offices was full of nutty plans. Kept people off welfare and gave the papers something to wrangle over between election scandals.
He put his hand on my arm. “Hold on. This gun,” he whispered, giving the other tables a suspicious sweep, “is for planes. They fly real high over a city and when the people wake up the next morning, it’s just rubbish.”
“Rubbish? Oh--rubble. Go on.” It was still nuts. I was nuts for listening.
“Well, there was a embassy guy who was interested in them plans. He tried forcing some schnook from his country into getting them. Threatened his relatives. The guy blew the whistle on him. Now, the new guy wants them. He’s willing to pay.”
“That ain’t much when you put the whole thing together.”
“While you got the safe open, we’ll just take as much as we can carry. He said he’d pay for everything we get.”
“Enough to live high for a long time.”
I closed my eyes to think. When I opened them again, Luddy was back and Tiny was nuzzling her neck. Smoke from her cigarette drifted across my nose. Grass! Dumb dame.
“Put that out. Cops off duty got noses, too.”
She bared her fangs at me and crushed the butt like she wished it was me.
Tiny intervened. “Do you know Lennie Clay?”
I shook my head. “Never heard of him. Small time?”
“No. Good time. Runs a few games and swipes cars. He’s in. So’s his mate, Joey, a purse snatcher.”
Was I a fool! Right there, I should’ve passed this deal by. But I didn’t. Imagine, I says to myself, me on a big job. Might lead to better things. Yeah. Sure.
A few days later, Tiny got us together. Luddy took a powder so it was just me, him, Lennie Clay, and Joey. Lennie and Joey immediately went into a clinch on Tiny’s bed. Lennie did greet me with a hopeful smile, but Joey yanked his arm.
I shook my head. He wasn’t my bag.
Tiny’s room was smaller’n a sardine can and smelt like one. I wanted to open a window, but he said we could be heard on the street.
Tiny asked, “Any cats? We need a guy who can see in the dark.”
Lennie raised his hand.
Tiny looked him over, then nodded. “Driver?”
Joey, the pursesnatch, spoke up, “I can get wheels.”
Tiny peered at him. “Where?”
“Go to dealer, almost closing time. Take one for a ride. Keep it.”
“Good.” Then Tiny turned to Lennie, the swipe. “You’re gonna take the place of one of the contract crew who’s gonna get sick. ‘Bout nine, open the rear door and wait.”
He pulled a folded paper out of his coat. “Luddy drew some plans. The back stairs’re located by a ladies room. It’s got a side door. We’ll use that.” He pointed to a closet-sized room.
Luck was on our side. An office full of secrets and the guards rarely checked. Boy, oh boy! Gives me a pain to think of it.
I stuck around after the others left. Tiny brushed off his bed and sat down. “Hate to use pairs, Nick.”
“Ah! They’ll do the job. Their sex life’s none of our affair.” I lit a cigar.
He opened the window.
I ignored it. “Say, Tiny. Whyn’t we sell the stuff back to the govermint? Might get a better price for it.” I blew smoke at him.
He rubbed his jaw. “That’s awful chancy.”
“Better’n being called a traitor. They get life.”
Tiny grunted and looked at me. “You got a point, Nick.” He got quiet. “Before we do anything, I gotta find a paper man.”
“ID. Luddy says we might have to flash them for the guards.”
“Where is this place anyhow?” The whole thing had a smell to it.
“The old Gun Factory.”
“That’s it!” The smell was the Anacostia River. I got up. “You lost your mind? Do you know what it’s like down there at night?”
“Luddy told me,” he muttered, but I could see he had doubts.
“Joey’ll have to stay with the car. If he leaves it to help, some thief’ll steal it or strip it. They work fast.”
“So he stays with the car.”
“What building we doing?”
He studied the plans. “Looks like one sixty.”
“Where in the hell’s that?” I began to pace, blowing more smoke.
“Siddown,” He grumbled. “I ain’t sure. Off M Street.”
“Ah, shit! The whole place is off M Street.” I was ready to fade. D.C. after dark? No sir! The ‘do’ was becoming a ‘don’t.’
“Nix. We’ll find it.”
I put out the cigar, but it smoked on. “All right.”
I went back to my pad to turn in. But I couldn’t sleep. Tiny’d let me think he’d done his homework. He hadn’t. I smacked the pillow again and turned over. My elbow hit the wall. I lay in the dark trying to picture the job. No way. Something escaped me, but the fishy odor hung on.
I got up and got a beer.
Two beers later I was still awake, watching the gray dawn take over. It looked like dirty laundry, streaked and grimy, just hanging in the air.
About nine, somebody banged on my door. I opened it.
It was Tiny.
He waddled in and sat in my chair by my window.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I come to talk about the job.”
I sat on the edge of my bed. “Okay, shoot.”
He had another paper. “Luddy gimme the room number. She said the can you’re gonna open has a red five on it. It’s got five-drawers. She ain’t sure if it’s got a padlock or a spinner.” He turned to the window as a line of trucks rumbled past, dropping crap on the street. “Gawd, what a mess that subway’s making.” Tiny made a face at the smell that came in the open window.
“Which kind is it?” I asked.
Tiny looked blank.
I snapped my fingers in front of his face. “The cans. What kind?”
He blinked. “Oh, yeh. Spinner.”
That meant sandpaper, a light, and a scope. Maybe a drill.
He shook his head. Guessed Luddy kept him awake all night. “Lennie’s gonna be a janitor tonight.”
“They didn’t get suspicious?”
“Naw. I paid Ed Leeboy off. He called in sick.”
“When do we go?”
“Joey’s gonna get the wheels this morning. He’ll meet us at my place after dark. About 8:30.”
I had my doubts about Joey, but I held back, asking instead, “Got the ID’s?”
“Yeah. See you later. Got to meet Luddy.” He left.
I paced my room trying to figure out what made me uneasy about this job. No luck. Things seemed worked out when I went over the plan in my mind. We’d covered everything. Looked like a piece of cake. It was: crummy.
I spent the rest of the day slumped in my chair by the window. I sat there drinking warm beer. Fog snuck up on the city and rain fell, hitting the glass like bullets. Sure hoped it cleared out soon. The beer finally worked, and I got a couple of hours of out time late in the afternoon. By the time I woke, the rain had stopped. We was all at Tiny’s when Joey came strutting in. “Wait’ll you see what I got.” He grinned all over his puss.
Tiny shrugged him off. “We gotta go.”
He led us downstairs. We looked up and down the street. It was almost empty. “Where’s the damn car?” Tiny glowered at Joey.
Joey’s face crumpled. “Right over there.” He pointed.
I followed his finger and blinked. What I saw made my eyes water.
“What?” yelped Tiny. His face turned a dangerous purple. I could see it even in the dark.
“Better keep it down, Tiny,” I warned.
He shifted his anger to me. “Here we’re ready to go, and this goddam idiot comes up with what he calls wheels--a pink Volkswagen with a thing on the front. I oughta kill him right here and bury him in it!”
“But it goes.” Joey croaked.
“I told you to get something no one would spot.”
My bad feeling was back. “Can we go tomorrow night?”
Tiny shook his head. “No. Gotta be now. Luddy says they’re moving them files to storage tomorrow.”
“Then we got no choice.” I had this knot in my stomach.
Tiny glared at Joey who shriveled into his jacket. “If this car fouls us up, I’ll take care of you personally.”
Joey looked like he was gonna cry. I didn’t see how that dinky pink thing was gonna carry three guys--and not one lightweight--
“If the cops spot it--” Tiny drew his finger across his throat.
“Open the trunk so I can stow my box.” It was getting heavy.
Joey backed away. I grabbed him. “Open up.”
He tried to wriggle free. Tiny got a hand on him too. “What’s up now?” He growled, giving Joey a shake.
I let go and walked around to the front. The thing Tiny had referred to was a silver Rolls front mounted on the trunk and it was jammed. It would have to be cut open. I wanted to cry.
“Well?” Tiny asked impatiently as he hung onto Joey.
“No good,” I snarled. “Jammed.”
Tiny turned black. He hit Joey. The force of the blow knocked the little guy down, but it made us all feel some better.
Joey scrambled to his feet. “I’m sorry, Tiny.” He squeaked. “A broad stopped too fast in front of me when a light changed.”
Tiny shook his head.
I pulled the door open. It crackled. The passenger seat wouldn’t budge. I went around to the driver’s side. That door snarled too, but the seat moved. I dropped my box, hoping it’d make a hole in the floor. No such luck.
I started to get in and stopped. “What the hell--” I turned to Tiny. “There ain’t no back seat.”
Tiny blew his lid. “Joey, you’re the dumbest bastard ever lived!”
Joey moved like a speared fish in Tiny’s grip. “I thought it’d have more room for stuff that way.”
“I was gonna keep it. The man said it’s the best buy for the money. A girl who has horses owned it.”
“But we ain’t buying!” I snapped.
Two big tears rolled down Joey’s cheeks.
“Look,” I said. “We gotta use it if we’re going, unless you wanna wait for the bus.” Then I got in back and sat on my box. One real uncomfortable seat.
Tiny nearly threw Joey behind the wheel. The whole car shook when he started it. That little engine made so much noise I thought I’d go deaf. Sounded like my ma’s old sewing machine when the needle got stuck.
Then it stalled. “You drive stick?” Tiny’s ears turned purple.
Joey hunched his back and cringed. “No.” I almost didn’t hear him.
Tiny got out. He moved fast for a fat man. He hauled Joey out and forced himself in. His cussing made my ears burn.
Joey scurried around to the other side and crawled over the front seat to sit in the back with me.
Tiny’s anger was enough to make that car move. We headed toward the old Gun Factory in Southeast D.C.
Tiny gritted his teeth every time he had to shift. “How the hell did you get this thing downtown?” He snarled over his shoulder.
“Drove it in low.” A corner of Joey’s left eye twitched.
“Will we be there soon? I’m getting a cramp.” I was sitting so low I couldn’t see the street.
“Yeah. We’re just north of the turn now.”
“It’s getting hot back here.” I said. “And what’s that stink?” It was coming from under the front seat.
Tiny sniffed loudly. “Smells like a goddam horse.”
Joey nearly disappeared. It dawned on me the dealer hadn’t even cleaned the car. I wanted to go home. Then I saw the top of the gun factory wall. It still looked like a jail.
“You get out and jimmy the lock on the gate,” Tiny told me. “We’ll circle and come back.”
By then, I was numb from the hips down. My brain must’ve died too, because I did what he told me. I struggled out over Tiny with my box and stood there watching the dinky taillights disappear up the street.
I tried the gate. It was open, just pushed shut. I stepped inside to wait. Second Street sure was lonely.
I waited nearly an hour. Just when I was ready to say “nuts with it” and scram, they showed up. The car was limping. I swear it was.
After they got through the gate, I shoved it shut and got in the passenger’s seat. The damn car nearly shook my guts loose.
My heavy cap protected my head, but Joey had nothing on his and it kept cracking on the engine compartment. Sounded hollow.
“What the hell’s wrong with the car?” I yelled into Tiny’s ear.
“Flat tire,” Tiny bellowed over the noise. “Joey hadda jack one.”
He slowed for a turn. “Joey busted a trunk on another VW for a jack and tire. But the damn thing’s too big.” He hit a big pothole.
Joey’s head hit the roof.
We crept around in the damp river fog until we found 160. One spooky neighborhood.
The bug stopped with a loud squeal. I couldn’t wait to get out. I heard some low cussing from Tiny while Joey struggled over the passenger seat.
“What’s the matter?” I looked in the window.
“I’m stuck. Pull me out.” Tiny continued his barrage against the car and Joey in growing outrage.
We tried. He wouldn’t budge and the seat was as far back as it would go. He was wedged in but good. “Let’s get out of here,” I said. “It ain’t gonna work.”
Tiny pushed me away. “No. Go without me. Put the ID’s on.” He gave Joey a black look. I really felt sorry for the little bastard when Tiny finally got free.
Lennie was waiting at the back door. “You’re late,” he said.
“Car trouble.” I jerked a thumb at Joey.
Place was so quiet I felt like I was breaking into a graveyard. It smelled like one with the piled garbage bags sitting out back.
“Somebody’s coming!” Lennie hissed. He jerked Joey behind the metal stairs.
In a few seconds a tall black dude in a black get-up came down, carrying some kind of office machine. He grinned at us, gold teeth flashing in the dark. “Hep yo’sef, gennelmen. There’s plenny up there.” Then he vanished outside.
“Man!” Joey wheezed, “That was close.”
“Close?” I growled. “That man’s a thief.” No wonder taxes were so high.
Joey linked arms with Lennie and they led the way. I tagged behind. We tiptoed up the steps and went through the ladies room.
The light in the hall wasn’t so good. “Is that a seven, two, or a nine?” I pointed to a scribbled smear on the paper.
“Writing’s awful.” Lennie held it up. “It’s a seven.” He said positively.
I shrugged. It was his and Tiny’s show. I had this feeling--
We found room two oh seven. An expired credit card opened the lock, and we went in. Cans stood in rows like in a cornfield.
Then we heard voices.
“It’s the night shift over in the computer room,” Lennie whispered loudly as we hid behind a cement column.
“Cripes!” I exploded. “That queers the drill.”
“Use acid.” Joey urged.
“Oh a spinner? Don’t be stupid.” I looked around. “There’s more than three in here. Tiny said three.” His absence wasn’t helping any.
“So he’s wrong. There’s the one.” Lennie pointed with his flash at one with a red five on the front. I tried the spinner. It squealed. Thing needed oil. I got out my scope. Wasted time made me sweat. Lennie kept looking at his luminous watch. His version of looking out. On the tenth try I held my breath as I turned the handle. It opened.
“Get moving,” I said. “We want the second drawer.”
Lennie started stuffing the stiff gray and green folders into the sacks. Him and Joey grabbed the same one. Papers all over the floor. They gathered them up and shoved them in the sacks. Finally, we had three bags. Only emptied two drawers.
“Shouldn’t we sort this junk?” Joey asked.
“No time.” I pushed a drawer shut . “Let’s scram.”
We nearly ran down the hall with our loads. Once through the ladies room, I let myself breathe. Then Joey fell down the stairs. Papers went everywhere.
“You stupid jerk! Whyn’t you watch where you’re going?” Lennie lost it.
Joey picked hisself up. “That step’s broke.” He warned as Lennie put his foot in the hole.
Lennie’s sack hit Joey in the head, and down they went.
My nose stung. Me--a grown man--nearly crying over a fouled-up heist. I swore I’d go straight if we ever got out of there.
We made it except Joey. Lennie went back to look for him. I followed.
He was cowering in a corner. “Get it! Get it!” He squealed.
“What?” Lennie asked. “Get what?”
Joey blubbered, pointing in three directions at once. “The mouse! Over there!”
I spotted it by the stairs. The biggest rat I ever saw. I grabbed a hunk of cement and tossed it. The rat ran for a hole.
Joey was pretty shaken. We had to drag him and his sack to the car.
Tiny was cussing a blue streak. I started to laugh. I just couldn’t help it. The whole thing was so damned funny.
He glared at me. “You nuts? Shut up!”
“You know that watchman’s lunch? Well, Tiny, this is even better.” I told him.
I made Lennie and Joey get in the back with the sacks and I sat up front with Tiny as our wheels limped out the gate. It took twenty minutes to get to my place. By then, the back tires were smoking from the load. Joey and Lennie who were in a clinch on the sacks.
“Be at my place.” Tiny snarled. “Noon.”
I laughed as he drove away. I was glad I didn’t have to help him out of that car. He was mad enough to kill.
I showed up at Tiny’s pad at noon. Lennie was waiting.
“Where’s Tiny?” I asked.
“Don’t you know?” He was feeling nasty.
“If I did, would I be asking?” I felt nasty too.
He was ready for a brawl. “I ain’t taking nothing off you.”
“What’s eating you?”
He handed me a wrinkled piece of dirty paper. I unfolded it. A note from Tiny. “Dear Suckers, thanks for the help. Luddy and I are going to live high for a long time. Tiny”.
Then Lennie caught me off guard. His fist connected with my jaw, and I saw stars. But I stayed on my feet and swung half blind. I must’ve hit him because when the stars cleared, he was down.
“What was that for? I didn’t have nothing to do with Tiny skipping. He took me, too.”
“I’m gonna get him! I’m gonna fix that sonovabitch good!” He got to his feet.
I was ready if he wanted more. But he backed off.
“Do you know where they’re heading?” he rubbed his jaw.
I didn’t want no part of his revenge. It’d be screwed up, too. “You got Joey to help you find Tiny. I don’t know where he went and don’t care.” That idea I’d had about going straight was looking good.
That surprised him. “Don’t you want your share?”
“Nope. It’s all yours.”
“All right. I’ll hafta get him by myself. Joey got grabbed this morning.”
“Yeh. That bitch he ran into turned in a complaint of hit and run.”
I got the picture. In that pink VW, how could the cops miss him? It was his own fault. But it meant the cops’d place that damned car in the Gun Factory when those files was missed.
I left Lennie standing there. I don’t know what he did and I don’t care. But if I ever see Joey or Tiny again, I’m gonna get rough. I grabbed a paper the other day. It had a story about some embassy official being sent home. Seemed he paid eighty gees for plans of a World War II deisel-powered submarine. He got grabbed with three sacks of papers that were going to be burned by that research firm.
I ain’t superstitious, but that whole “do” was cursed. Kind of makes you wonder, don’t it?