DOLLARS AND SENSE
By Daniel Hatadi
Sydney crime fiction writer Daniel Hatadi has been a musician, a petrol station attendant, and a software engineer in the poker machine industry. All great fuel for writing about crime, if not committing it. Daniel is writing his first novel about a young and bumbling P.I. called Danny Hawaii.
Larry sat with his back against the sofa, legs spread out in front of him, balancing an empty beer bottle on his belly. It was hot and he was thirsty but the fridge was in the kitchen, a whole room away. The blinds were drawn in a vain attempt to lower the heat; the flickering television was all that lit the room. A news report blared through the distorted speaker:
Milton Lockwood Jr., CEO of children’s clothing store, Active Kids, has pledged to help long time resident of Parramatta, Ruben Vanderbilt, with his banking dilemma. After being unable to deposit one million—
“Larry, the hot water’s stopped again. Can you—”
“Shit, Ted. I’m trying to watch the news. Look. It’s the guy next door, they think his name’s Ruben.”
An armoured truck will transport Mr. Vanderbilt’s savings to Parramatta’s Westfield Shopping Centre this Saturday. In a midday ceremony, both Mr. Vanderbilt and the Make-A-Wish foundation will be presented with a check for one million—
The television blinked off.
Ted threw the remote on the sofa. “The hot water’s stopped.”
“You want a hot shower in January?” Larry said.
“I’ll fix it when I finish my beer.”
Larry sucked at the empty bottle, looked at it, grunted and pulled himself to his feet.
With the hot water fixed, Larry grabbed the last bottle from the fridge and returned to the floor, this time holding on to the remote. The television was back on, pumping out the theme to Neighbours.
Ted walked past Larry into the kitchen, wearing nothing but a beige towel. Larry heard the fridge door open and close and Ted stood in the kitchen doorway, silhouetted against the fluorescent lighting, rubbing at his hair with the towel.
“Where’s the rest of the beer?” Ted said.
“Jesus Ted, would you—”
Ted looked down. “Sorry.” He wrapped the towel around his legs. “The beer?”
Larry held up the bottle and burped. “Last one.”
Holding the towel tight, Ted walked over and slumped on the couch. He looked down.
“You got any cash, Larry?”
Larry fumbled around and pulled a wallet out of his tracksuit pants. He opened it with one hand and held it up for Ted to see. “Nope.”
“Not good,” Ted said, “I haven’t got cash, you haven’t got cash. There’s no beer in the fridge, just pizza from last night.”
“Yeah, but you get paid on Thursdays, right? That’s … tomorrow.”
“You’re half right. Tomorrow is Thursday.”
“And? The other half?”
“I’m not getting paid.”
Larry pulled himself up from the floor and sat next to Ted, inching backwards while he watched the towel. When he reached the armrest, he said, “Don’t tell me.”
Ted pulled the towel tighter around his body. “I got fired.”
Larry pushed Ted along the footpath outside their house. The late evening had hit and the temperature had finally dropped below thirty. People were outside, kids playing rugby in the street, sprinklers going strong.
Three houses away, a man with a ragged beard wearing blue overalls pointed a hose at the jungle in his front garden. Even in this heat, the man was wearing a beanie.
A few feet before they reached the house, Ted spun around and whispered, “You do it.”
Larry spoke with his mouth like a slot, smiling at the man in overalls. “We already talked about this. You just have to start a conversation. I’ll take it from there.”
Larry pushed Ted aside. “Saw you on TV last night.”
The man in overalls looked at Larry, then returned to his watering.
Louder, Larry said, “I said I saw you on TV last night.”
The man in overalls took off his beanie. Underneath was a set of headphones that he hung around his neck. “Sorry I did not hear you. What did you say?”
“Saw you on TV, Chris.”
“Yes. They are making very big deal of me.”
“They called you Ruben Vinderstein. Why?”
“Vanderbilt. Ruben Vanderbilt. That is my name.”
“Then why do we call you Chris?”
Ruben pointed at the front wall of his house. Above the window, just under the roof, was a sign that said ‘Chris’.
Larry elbowed Ted in the ribs.
Ted coughed and said, “Hey Chris, how’d you get so much dosh?”
Ruben laughed and turned the knob on the hose. Water stopped pouring out of it. “It took long. I like not to make a fuss, but they have charity thing.” He held his hands and spilled some water from the hose onto Larry. Larry fumed but kept quiet. Ruben didn’t notice.
“So what are you going to do with all the money?” Larry said.
Ruben pointed with the hose at his garden. “Fix this all.”
The garden was a tangled mess. The plants had over-grown so much that they covered the windows. There was no door in view. Larry looked at the other houses in the street. The place needed some hefty renovation to bring it up to speed with the rest of the neighbourhood.
“What about security?” Larry said, then stammered, “I mean, what with all that money, you don’t want anyone breaking in.”
“I have already excellent security.” Ruben held the hose out and flicked it with his other hand as he counted. “Cameras for inside, alarms on windows and doors, camera in front—behind the trees—and camera on back. I have special monitor to watch. Security is very important to my mind peace.”
“Your name’s Ruben?” Ted said.
Back on the couch, with a bucket of ice in front of the fan, Larry and Ted sat in front of the television. Ted flicked through random stations.
Larry banged his legs on the floor. “We can’t break in. I’ll have to think of something else.”
“Break in?” Ted said.
“We need money. Chris who’s really Ruben has a cool million stashed away in his house. Security is tight, so we can’t break in, especially since we live so close.”
“You want to steal his money? That’s, like, wrong or something.”
“What’s wrong is I don’t have a beer.” Larry held up a glass of melting ice cubes.
Ted said, “Why is this kid’s clothing place giving him a cheque? Can’t he just take it to a bank? And how can they afford it?”
Larry grabbed the remote from Ted and muted the sound. “Do you know what the margin is on kid’s clothes? I don’t, but it’s big. There’s all these kids in Burma slaving away all day, and all they get is a bowl of rice. Did you see how big the store is? Think about it. Kids grow out of clothes, they need new shit every year, and these yuppie parents think it’s gotta be designer shit.”
“But why are they giving him a check?”
“Shut up, I’m thinking.”
Ted made a grab for the remote. Larry slapped his hand. Ted kept quiet, watching Larry’s face.
“I’ve got it,” Larry said. “Simple. We don’t break in to his house, we wait.”
“The news report said they’re coming round on Saturday with an armoured truck. That’s when we do it. But not in front of his house, there’ll be camera crews. Everyone round here’ll think it’s the circus.” He looked at Ted. “You still talk to your pal, Monkey?”
Ted shrugged. “We play pool sometimes. Why?”
“He’s still into all that military shit? We could get some gear off him.”
“Like a car bomb.”
Larry and Ted sat in Larry’s puke green Corolla. They were parked directly opposite Ruben’s house. In Larry’s hands were two black boxes with red buttons, a switch on one. He held the box with the switch out to Ted.
“Remember what Monkey said?”
Ted nodded. “Yep. Put the box with the red light under the truck.”
Larry smacked Ted in the shoulder. “No, the one with the light stays with me. The one with the switch is the bomb. When you put it under the truck, flip the switch. The light on my end goes on, so I know it’s armed. Then we follow the truck, and when we reach a good spot, I press the button.”
“Why don’t you do it if you know everything?”
“Cause I’m the one with the plan. Now go.”
“But what do we when the bomb goes—”
Larry shoved the box at Ted, leaned over, opened Ted’s door and pushed him out, then slammed the door shut.
The armoured truck had arrived with two burly security guards. Neighbours in their gowns and slippers crowded the street. Ruben Vanderbilt was dressed in a pale blue suit that reminded Larry of high school dances. He ducked down in the car to watch Ted. One of the security guards pushed a shopping trolley filled with calico bags toward the truck. The other stood near the rear, hand on gun, watching, waving people away.
A young boy with a dusty mop of hair walked up to the guard at the rear of the truck. Larry could hear his squeaky voice from the car.
“Is that a real gun? I heard they’re plastic.”
“Buzz off, kid.”
“I’m not scared of you.”
“You heard me. Get.”
The kid scratched his head like he was trying to take it off. He backed up and shifted to the right, opening his eyes wide. “What’s he doing?”
“Who?” The security guard bolted around the side of the truck and slammed into Ted.
Ted stepped back.
The guard looked him up and down. “You got a reason to be here, mate?”
“What? No. Umm, yes. I’m watching Chris, it’s like reality TV.” Ted put his hands on his pockets to cover the bomb.
“What are you hiding there, mate?” The security guard unclipped his holster, his eyes narrowed.
“Nothing. Just a present.”
“For little Johnny here.”
“My name’s not Johnny,” the kid said.
Ted took the bomb out of his pocket and handed it to the kid. “Just give it to your dad. Tell him it’s for the garage.”
The kid’s eyes lit up. “Cool, a remote, thanks!”
Ted’s mouth moved but nothing came out. His shoulders dropped and he dragged his feet to the car. He got in and shut the door.
“I lost the bomb.”
“Yeah, I saw.” Larry punched Ted in the side of his gut.
Ted coughed, grabbed his side. “The kid’s got it.”
“I saw that too.”
“I told him it was for his dad, for the garage. He thinks it’s a remote.”
Larry punched Ted in the arm. “It is a remote. It’s a remote fucking bomb.” He slouched forward and rested his chin on the wheel.
“Larry, you okay?”
“Shut up.” Larry looked around. The guards were heaving the last bag from the trolley into the back of the truck. The doors shut with a double smack and the truck drove off. Larry rubbed his eyes and looked around. The neighbours were returning to their homes. A few kids were still on the street. Larry saw the kid take the bomb out of his pocket and look it over.
“Stay here,” Larry said, and got out of the car. He stomped over to the kid, came at him from behind. He smacked the kid in the back of the head and snatched the bomb.
“What ya do that for? What did I do?” The kid sat down on the road and started bawling his eyes out. Larry wanted to turn around and say something to him, but he saw a couple of neighbours coming back.
One of them yelled from across the street. “You! What did you do to him?”
Larry jumped in the car, started up, and drove off in the direction of the armoured truck.
The Corolla sped along the highway. The windows rattled and Larry heard a high-pitched whine somewhere behind him. The car needed work, but he didn’t care right now.
“Where are you going?” Ted said.
Larry hands were tight on the wheel. “Where do you think?”
“The truck’s not coming this way, is it?”
“We can go faster on the highway. We’ll get there first.”
“The shopping centre, idiot.”
Larry screeched the car into the parking lot and collected his ticket. He didn’t want trouble getting away later. He handed Ted the black box with the red light and shoved the other box into his pants.
“You hold on to this and stay in the car. I’ll be back.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m planting the bomb.”
The truck had come quicker than Larry expected. It was already in the outdoor parking section, next to a podium and small stage. One of the security guards was standing at the rear of the truck and the other was inside the driver’s cab. Larry walked toward the truck, unsure of what to do next, and then it came to him. He broke into a run, rushed up to the guard, and knocked him on the shoulder.
“Hey! I need help. There’s an old lady fell down, she’s bleeding to death!” Larry said.
The guard chewed on a toothpick. “Step away from the truck.”
“Sure,” Larry said, backing away, “but I need help, I don’t know first aid.”
The guard ran his tongue inside his mouth. A lump moved across the surface. “Where’s the parking attendant?”
“There’s no one there!”
“Okay. Let’s go.” The guard clipped his holster shut, then looked Larry up and down. “No, you stay here. Talk to Horace in the front. He’ll get the medics.”
The guard walked off.
Larry nodded and waited for the guard to step out of sight. Larry swallowed. The guard disappeared into the enclosed parking space and Larry bent down. He fumbled with his pocket, the bomb caught on the switch. He stood up and arranged his pants so he could pull out the bomb without arming it, then bent down again. With one hand he felt for a clear space under the bumper bar, found it, and nudged the bomb into position.
He turned around, one finger on the switch, still kneeling behind the truck. He took a deep breath, looked around the car park, nodded and flicked the switch.
The ground shook.
A huge cracking sound came from the car park. Windows in cars parked nearby shattered. Larry felt a shock wave go through the concrete, up his bent legs, and into his stomach.
What happened? A car accident? Maybe a van had slammed into the wall of the car park. But why then? Why just when he flicked the switch on the bomb?
He heard the guard in the front of the armoured truck slam the door and race to the car park, yelling at Larry to get out of the way.
Larry rose to his feet. His hearing was fine, but the crack of the explosion wouldn’t leave him. It bounced around inside his skull as he made the connections.
The bomb had two parts: the remote trigger, and the bomb itself.
He’d planted the trigger under the truck. He’d flicked the switch.
Ted had the bomb.
The bus back home took about two hours. When Larry walked into the flat, it was stinking hot. The air was a blanket that followed him into every room. He checked through the house, hoping that somehow Ted would be there.
He looked at the door to Ted’s room, then sat on the carpet, resting his back on the couch. He reached up and felt for the remote, pulled it down and flipped through the channels, settling on the news.
A charity event at Parramatta’s Westfield Shopping Centre today was rocked by tragedy. Mr. Ruben Vanderbilt was to be presented with a ten thousand dollar check from Active Kids, in exchange for an equal amount of coins that local banks refused to cash. Before the presentation took place, an explosion in the car park killed local, Teddy Crawford, as he sat in his car. The cause of the explosion is still unknown.
Larry remembered now. They were carrying heavy bags into the truck. The bank wouldn’t cash the money.
Ten thousand dollars.
He did the calculation.
One million cents.
Daniel Hatadi ©2006
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