The Summons - Page 15

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With ample time to plan his movements, he was not surprised when nothing went right. His arrival time was suitable, 11:20 P.M., Wednesday, May 10. He had hoped to park illegally at the curb, just a few feet from the ground-level door to his apartment, but other drivers had the same idea. The curb had never been so completely blocked with a line of cars, and, to his anxious satisfaction, every one of them had a citation under a windshield wiper.

He could park in the street while he dashed back and forth, but that would invite trouble. The small lot behind his building had four spaces, one reserved for him, but they locked the gate at eleven.

So he was forced to use a dark and almost completely abandoned parking garage three blocks away, a large cavernous multilevel that was sold out during the day and eerily empty at night. He'd thought about this alternative off and on for many hours, as he drove north and east and plotted the offensive, and it was the least attractive of all options. It was plan D or E, somewhere way down the list of ways he wanted to transfer the money. He parked on level one, got out with his overnight bag, locked the car, and with great anxiety left it there. He hurried away, eyes darting around as if armed gangs were watching and waiting. His legs and back were stiff from the drive, but he had work to do.

The apartment looked precisely the same as when he'd left it, which was an odd relief. Thirty-four messages awaited him, no doubt colleagues and friends calling with their sympathies. He would listen later.

At the bottom of a tiny closet in the hall, under a blanket and a poncho and other things that had been tossed in, as opposed to being placed or stored, he found a red Wimbledon tennis bag that he hadn't touched in at least two years. Aside from luggage, which he thought would appear too suspicious, it was the largest bag he aid think of.

If he'd had a gun he would've stuck it in his pocket. But crime was rare in Charlottesville, and he preferred to live without weapons. After the episode Sunday in Clanton, he was even more terrified of pistols and such. He'd left the Judge's guns hidden in a closet at Maple Run.

With the bag slung over a shoulder, he locked his door on the street and tried his best to walk casually along the downtown mall.

It was well lit, there was a cop or two always watching, and the pedestrians at this hour were the wayward kids with green hair, an occasional wino, and a few stragglers working their way home. Charlottesville was a quiet town after midnight. A thundershower had passed through not long before his arrival. The streets were wet and the wind was blowing. He passed a young couple walking hand in hand but saw no one else on the way to the garage.

He'd given some thought to simply hauling the garbage bags themselves, just throwing them over a shoulder like Santa, one at a time, and walking hurriedly from wherever he was parked to his apartment. He could move the money in three trips and cut his exposure on the street. Two things stopped him. First, what if one ripped, and a million bucks hit the pavement? Every thug and wino in town would come out of the alleys, drawn like sharks to blood. Second, the sight of anyone hauling bags of what appeared to be trash into an apartment, as opposed to away from it, might be suspicious enough to attract the attention of the police.

"What's in the bag, sir?" a cop might ask.

"Nothing. Garbage. A million dollars." No answer seemed correct.

So the plan was to be patient, take all the time that was necessary, move the loot in small loads, and not worry about how many trips might be required because the least important factor was Ray's fatigue. He could rest later.

The terrifying part was the transferring of the money from one bag to another while crouching over his trunk and trying not to look guilty. Fortunately, the garage was deserted. He crammed money into the tennis bag until it would barely zip, then slammed the trunk down, looked around as if he'd just smothered someone, and left.

Perhaps a third of a garbage bag - three hundred thousand dollars. Much more than enough to get him arrested or knifed.

Nonchalance was what he desperately wanted, but there was nothing fluid about his steps and movements. Eyes straight ahead, though the eyes wanted to dart up and down, right and left, nothing could be missed. A frightening teenager with studs in his nose stumbled by, stoned out of his wasted mind. Ray walked even faster, not sure if he had the nerves for eight or nine more trips to the parking garage.

A drunk on a dark bench yelled something unintelligible at him. He lurched forward, then caught himself, and was thankful he had no gun. At that moment, he might've shot anything that moved. The cash got heavier with each block, but he made it without incident. He spilled the money onto his bed, locked every door possible, and took another route back to his car.

During the fifth trip, he was confronted by a deranged old man who jumped from the shadows and demanded, "What the hell are you doing?" He was holding something dark in his hand. Ray assumed it was a weapon with which to slaughter him.

"Get out of the way," he said as rudely as possible, but his mouth was dry.

"You keep going back and forth," the old man yelled. He stank and his eyes were glowing like a demon's.

"Mind your own business." Ray had never stopped walking, and the old man was in front of him, bouncing along. The village idiot.

"What's the problem?" came a clear crisp voice from behind them. Ray stopped and a policeman ambled over, nightstick in hand.

Ray was all smiles. "Evening, Officer." He was breathing hard and his face was sweaty.

"He's up to something!" the old man yelled. "Keeps going back and forth, back and forth. Goes that way, the bag is empty. Goes that way, the bag is full."

"Relax, Gilly," the cop said, and Ray took a deeper breath. He was horrified that someone had been watching, but relieved because that someone was of Gilly's ilk. Of all the characters on the mall, Ray had never seen this one.

"What's in the bag?" the cop asked.

It was a dumb question, far into foul territory, and for a split second Ray, the law professor, considered a lecture on stops, searches, seizures, and permissible police questioning. He let it pass, though, and smoothly delivered the prepared line. "I played tennis tonight at Boar's Head. Got a bad hamstring, so I'm just walking it off. I live over there." He pointed to his apartment two blocks down.

The cop turned to Gilly and said, "You can't be yelling at people, Gilly, I've told you that. Does Ted know you're out?"

"He's got something in that bag," Gilly said, much softer. The cop was leading him away.

"Yes, it's cash," said the cop. "I'm sure the guy's a bank robber, and you caught him. Good work."

"But it's empty, then it's full."

"Good night, sir," the officer said over his shoulder.

"Good night." And Ray, the wounded tennis player, actually limped for half a block for the benefit of other characters lurking in the darkness. When he dumped the fifth load on his bed, he found a bottle of scotch in his small liquor cabinet and poured a stiff one.

He waited for two hours, ample time for Gilly to return to Ted, who hopefully could keep him medicated and confined for the rest of the night, and time perhaps for a shift change so a different cop would be walking the beat. Two very long hours, in which he imagined every possible scenario involving his car in the parking garage. Theft, vandalism, fire, towed away by some misguided wrecker, everything imaginable.

At 3 A.M., he emerged from his apartment wearing jeans, hiking boots, and a navy sweatshirt with VIRGINIA across the chest. He'd ditched the red tennis bag in favor of a battered leather briefcase, one that would not hold as much money but wouldn't catch the attention of the cop either. He was armed with a steak knife stuck in his belt, under the sweatshirt, ready to be withdrawn in a flash and used on the likes of Gilly or any other assailant. It

was foolish and he knew it, but he wasn't himself either and he was quite aware of that. He was dead-tired, sleep-deprived for the third night in a row, just a little tipsy from three scotches, determined to get the money safely hidden, and scared of getting stopped again.

Even the winos had given up at three in the morning. The downtown streets were deserted. But as he entered the parking jar age, he saw something that terrified him. At the far end of the mall, passing under a street lamp, was a group of five or six black teenagers. They were moving slowly in his general direction, yelling, talking loudly, looking for trouble.

It would be impossible to make a half-dozen more deliveries without running into them. The final plan was created on the spot.

Ray cranked the Audi and left the garage. He circled around and stopped in the street next to the cars parked illegally on the curb, close to the door to his apartment. He killed the engine and the lights, opened the trunk, and grabbed the money. Five minutes later, the entire fortune was upstairs, where it belonged.

At 9 a.m., the phone woke him. It was Harry Rex. "Wake your ass up, boy," he growled. "How was the trip?"

Ray swung to the edge of his bed and tried to open his eyes. "Wonderful," he grunted.

"I talked to a Realtor yesterday, Baxter Redd, one of the better ones in town. We walked around the place, kicked the tires, you know, whatta mess. Anyway, he wants to stick to the appraised value, four hundred grand, and he thinks we can get at least two-fifty. He gets the usual six percent. You there?"

"Yeah."

"Then say something, okay?"

"Keep going."

"He agrees we need to spend some dough to fix it up, a little paint, a little floor wax, a good bonfire would help. He recommended a cleaning service. You there?"

"Yes." Harry Rex had been up for hours, no doubt refueled with another feast of pancakes, biscuits, and sausage.

"Anyway, I've already hired a painter and a roofer. We'll need an infusion of capital pretty soon."

"I'll be back in two weeks, Harry Rex, can't it wait?"

"Sure. You hungover?"

"No, just tired."

"Well, get your ass in gear, it's after nine there."

"Thanks."

"Speaking of hangovers," he said, his voice suddenly lower, his words softer, "Forrest called me last night."

Ray stood and arched his back. "This can't be good," he said.

"No, it's not. He's tanked, couldn't tell if it was booze or drugs, probably both. Whatever he's on, there's plenty of it. He was so mellow I thought he was falling asleep, then he'd fire up and cuss me."

"What did he want?"

"Money. Not now, he says, claims he's not broke, but he's concerned about the house and the estate and wants to make sure you don't screw him."

"Screw him?"

"He was bombed, Ray, so you can't hold it against him. But he -aid some pretty bad things."

"I'm listening."

"I'm tellin' you so you'll know, but please don't get upset. I doubt he'll remember it this mornin'."

"Go ahead, Harry Rex."

"He said the Judge always favored you and that's why he made you the executor of his estate, that you've always gotten more out of the old man, that it's my job to watch you and protect his interests in the estate because you'll try to screw him out of the money, and so on."

"That didn't take long, did it? We've hardly got him in the ground."

"No."

"I'm not surprised."

"Keep your guard up. He's on a binge and he might call you with the same crap."

"I've heard it before, Harry Rex. His problems are not his fault. Somebody's always out to get him. Typical addict."

"He thinks the house is worth a million bucks, and said it's my job to get that much for it. Otherwise, he might have to hire his own lawyer, blah, blah, blah. It didn't bother me. Again, he was blitzed."

"He's pitiful."

"He is indeed, but he'll bottom out and sober up in a week or so. Then I'll cuss him. We'll be fine."

"Sorry, Harry Rex."

"It's part of my job. Just one of the joys of practicin' law."

Ray fixed a pot of coffee, a strong Italian blend he was quite attached to and had missed sorely in Clanton. The first cup was almost gone before his brain woke up.

Any trouble with Forrest would run its course. In spite of his many problems, he was basically harmless. Harry Rex would handle the estate and there would be an equal division of everything left over. In a year or so, Forrest would get a check for more money than he had ever seen.

The image of a cleaning service turned loose at Maple Run bothered him for a while. He could see a dozen women buzzing around like ants, happy with so much to clean. What if they stumbled upon another treasure trove fiendishly left behind by the Judge? Mattresses stuffed with cash? Closets filled with loot? But it wasn't possible. Ray had pored over every inch of the house. You find three million bucks tucked away and you get motivated to pry under every board. He'd even clawed his way through spiderwebs in the basement, a dungeon no cleaning lady-would enter.

He poured another cup of strong coffee and walked to his bedroom, where he sat in a chair and stared at the piles of cash. Now what?

Through the blur of the last four days, he had concentrated only on getting the money to the spot where it was now located. Now he had to plan the next step, and he had very few ideas. It had to be hidden and protected, he knew that much for sure.



Tags: John Grisham Thriller
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