Long Gone by Then
Leroy and Walter were friends from way back when. They had worked together at the factory. All of those years they were buddies while they were raising babies, coaching Little League, and attending the high school football games together, to watch their sons play, while cheering the team to victory.
Now they sat together out in the screened-in-porch, alongside Walter's 1950’s style home, overlooking the driveway leading back to the garage, and the neighbor’s driveway and side yard. Sipping their black coffee, and talking over old times, they got together two or three days a week, spending time over their mugs, before setting out for the town square. There they would take advantage of the community center, to sit out on the bricked veranda, and play either chess or gin rummy. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
“Nothing ever happens, at least not anything that I want to talk about. I can’t even remember the last joy ride I went on,” said Leroy, using their pet name for the rather [now] exciting act of making love. Both were very fortunate to still have their wives part of the picture.
“Tell me about it,” muttered Walter. “A joy stick is pretty pointless, if there is no joy to be had. We used to make things happen, just because we wanted them to so bad,” said Leroy, shaking his head. “Now the only thing I seem to want to happen, is to start my stream when I gotta pee.”
“Ugh. My doctor says I should be timing myself when I go. Why? I ask. He says that way we know who won the race. When I ask what race, he says never mind, just jot down how long and how much. I guess it all means something in the big picture; I just don’t know the name of the film.”
They heard a car door slam and the sound of an engine starting up, the throbbing growl telling them it belonged to Hector, the twenty-something resident next door, who drove a throwback to earlier times, when gas still cost two-bits a gallon and you could fill your ten gallon tank for two fifty. Now they watched the vintage Pontiac Firebird zipping past them, backing the length of the driveway in a quick burst of speed and confidence, which belied the presence of a backpack on the roof of the car. As he neared the front, being able to see that it was clear in both directions, the driver slid into the street, shifted gears, and peeled out. He was obviously too impressed with his own sense of power, to note the backpack’s rapid slide along the roof of the low-slung vehicle, down the sloping back windshield, and onto the ground.
Leroy reacted first, as befitted the former linebacker’s instincts, and was on his way to the screen door, before Walter’s front chair legs had even hit the floor. After all, offensive linemen, are known more for brute strength, than for speed. He watched as Leroy retrieved the backpack, in the bright June sunshine, and brought it back up the dozen steps, and into the porch. “Well, looky here,” Leroy exclaimed. “Numbnuts screwed up,” he chortled. “I mean, besides living and breathing.” He had unzipped the top of the backpack and was peering inside. His smile evaporated, as though he were looking at severed body parts. Without speaking, he upended it, and dumped the contents onto the table. The neatly bundled packages of twenty dollar bills, made a low thumping sound on the surface of the table.
If they were surprised, they did not show it. Hector had long been on the radar for several reasons, the loud music and the constant flow of visitors, only two of them. Now to see a pile of money that came from this source, was to be expected.
Walter’s first thought was, why couldn’t they be hundreds? His second thought was obviously similar to what Leroy’s expression reflected. He said, “This is not good. That thug is going to know exactly what happened, he’s going to come straight here, and he’s going to kick some geezer butt.” His freckles seemed to stand out in his pale face, making him seem younger than his 68 years implied.
Leroy’s black features rearranged themselves, from a frown, to a slowly forming smile. “He may come here to kick some geezer butt, but he’s not going to want to leave without this backpack. What we need to do, is relocate this loot, and then take a few precautions, before he comes back. We may have hours, or we may look up in ten seconds, and see him roaring back.”
Leroy continued, saying, “As I see it, we have three choices. We can give the money back; we can turn it over to the cops, or we can keep it, probably for a very short time, before Hector comes back and kills us. Take your pick.” Leroy paused and then continued. “Or there’s a fourth choice. We can convince Hector when he comes, that it is in his best interests to direct his attention elsewhere. Where do you suppose he got all of this loot? Let’s go do a little investigating next door.”
They went through to the rear of the house, and across through the back gate into their neighbor’s yard, where they found a locked back door, and little chance of gaining entry through any of the dual-glazed lower windows, not without making a lot of noise. They turned their attention to the back door, and examined the door handle and quickly determined that it was a matter best handled by a hammer, one of the ten pound variety.
Whereas glass breaking suggests burglary, an unidentifiable, generic crash, of a mall obliterating a door handle, and exposing the inner workings, would blend in better in a neighborhood. After Walter’s clumsy, but effective use of the mall, the back door stood ajar. Upon entry, the first thing they noticed was the heady fragrance of skunk, that had them disconcerted, until they discovered the source, a sealed room, which turned out to be a grow site for marijuana. The room was ablaze in grow lights, and the pungent smell permeated everything.
They knew that the house was rented, because for the previous thirty years, the couple who had lived there, had exchanged pleasantries with Walter and Agnes, and so it was hard to accept that this house had been treated so disrespectfully by Hector.
“Well, now,” speculated Leroy. “Hector would probably like to keep this operation under wraps. Wouldn’t you think?”
“I would think yes. Bit Hector is also going to want his money back.”
“HIS money? I just found that money in the middle of the street. That makes it my money.” Leroy was trying to make a point.
“Fine. Your money. Your money and your dead ass. What are you going to do with all of that money when you’re dead? Hard to spend money when you’re six feet under.” Walter waited.
“What Hector wants is not necessarily what Hector gets. But it will serve to help us out, until he is put away. Then we will not have to worry about the money.” They went back next door and stashed the money in Hector's garage, where they figured it would be safe, until they had had a discussion with the money's previous owner. They then returned to the kitchen, where they each had a shot of Jameson's.
Any further discussion of money was put on hold, as they heard a vehicle come screeching to a halt out front. They waited. Two minutes later, when the pounding on the door let them know the time had come, Leroy dialed 9-1-1 and set the phone on the top of the refrigerator, and the rest is history. Hector’s appearance was brief and volatile, and went uninterrupted for close to three minutes, before sirens were heard approaching. Hector ignored the sirens, until it was too late to do anything but spring outwards, into the hands of the awaiting constabulary.
Afterwards, as Leroy and Walter were counting the money, they thought about what the detective had said about Hector’s past, about how he had a long record and that the illegal grow operation was going to keep Hector put away for at least twenty years.
“Should be long enough,” mused Leroy. “After all, I would be close to ninety. We won’t have to worry about giving no money back. It’ll be long gone by then.