Two days later, Allen drops by Roger’s office. He doesn’t bother to call first and pushes his way past the protesting secretary. Ackerman is bent over a pile of papers, sifting through the ashes of someone else’s financial life.
“Allen? I didn’t know we had an appointment.”
“Never mind that,” Allen says, dropping into the client chair. “I came to pay my father’s debts.”
“Good for you. How much?”
“All of it,” Allen says, relishing the confusion on Roger’s normally smug face.
After signing the necessary paperwork and leaving a check, Allen stands up.
“Roger, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
“That poster is absolute dog shit. Splurge fifty bucks on a decent replica.”
He leaves without closing the door behind him and winks at the secretary, who nearly drops her bottle of white-out.
Indeed. Servitude is for the broke, Allen thinks as he races his snowmobile across the lake. He remembers the way Rosa slipped out of her sweater, and how the sight of her black bra ran straight to his blood. The way her nipples felt and tasted. The way she sighed when he was done teasing her and got down to business.
He parks his snowmobile and unstraps the leather bag from the passenger seat. It contains two bottles of champagne and veal cutlets. Rosa is coming over for dinner tomorrow night and only the best will do.
He bounces up the steps to the house and walks in.
Powerful hands grab him and spin him around. Before he is able to utter a word, a fist smashes into his nose. Allen has never been in a fight, has never even broken his nose, but he’s pretty sure this is what it feels like. His eyes fill up with water and his face feels like there’s an ax buried in it.
He sinks to his knees and blood drips to the carpet that has avoided serious blemishes of any kind since 1922. Just when he wonders if he’s going to pass out,
hands grab him again and shove him into a chair, as if he weighs no more than 90 pounds. A wad of paper towels is pressed into his hands.
“Clean yourself up, Mr. Voss,” a voice says from the other side of the lake. It’s deep, with a thick French accent.
Allen dabs away blood and tears until he sees almost clearly. The man who sits in front of him on the sofa is huge. 300 pounds at least. His skin is improbably dark and he has the soft features of a malevolent baby. He is dressed in a black overcoat. His bowler hat, which looks straight out of “Boardwalk Empire” sits on the coffee table in front of him.
There are two men with him. The one who punched him is also huge, but muscular, not fat. He is white and bald and his face is halfway between cruel and indifferent. The other man is slender and black. They are both dressed in impeccably suits. As a concession to his hands-on activity, Allen’s torturer has rolled up the sleeves of his white silk shirt.
“I take it you see things clearly now,” the black man says. “You know who I am.”
“No,” Allen says. The answer elicits a backhanded slap from his torturer, which feels like being hit on the side of the face with the flat end of a shovel.
“That’s enough, Jean. His kind can’t take too much. Running is all they know how to do.”
“Not well enough,” Jean says and the big man laughs.
“Where are my drugs, Mr. Voss? Or my money? I’m a reasonable man, as you can see. I’ll settle for one or the other. Having both would be stealing, a bad idea as your partner, Mr. Chapnick has found out.”
“Marcel,” the black man says, “and you can’t talk your way out of this.”
“That’s the thing. I’m not Mr. Voss. My name is Allen Lienforte. This is my house. I can explain everything, but you have to promise not to hit me.”
Marcel puts his hand over his heart. His hand reminds Allen of a bear claw.
“You have my word.”
“This is what happened. I was strapped for cash and I rented out the basement to a man who called himself Greg Shaw. But he was really Lyle Voss. And one night, he fell down the stairs and broke his neck. I found the drugs he had on him. And a deposit slip for $250,000 dollars.”
“There’s more money than that,” Marcel says.
“I know. He must’ve spent the rest. Anyway, I figured I could impersonate him and get the money out of the bank. You know, pretend to be James Leary and withdraw the money.”
“I haven’t done it yet. I’m going to the bank tomorrow.”
Marcel looks to the slender man. He takes out an iPhone, scrolls through until he finds what he’s looking for and hands the gadget to Marcel. Marcel studies the screen, then Allen’s face. He sighs and gets up.
With remarkable speed for a man his size, he covers the distance between the sofa and the chair and punches Allen on the ear with a closed fist. Bells go off, and Allen can’t hear anything for a few minutes. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Marcel sit back down on the sofa.
“You know the one thing never changes about people? Their eternal sense of ingratitude. You and that clown, Eddie, work for me for five years with no problems. Two of the most reliable runners, my people tell me. Then one day, you ingrates decide to rip me off. Knowing who I am. Hearing all the stories. Why? Because you want more. You always want more. Like children who are not happy with just one toy for Christmas.”
“I’m telling you the truth.”
“Let me tell you what I believe. I believe you have the money in a bank. You wouldn’t be stupid enough to keep it here. Besides, we searched this dump. So, here’s what we do. We’ll be back tomorrow and you’ll be here with the money. The only way out of here is on the snowmobile and we will put a tracker on it. It’s easier to trace than a credit card, let me tell you. Bring my money back and I will reward you with your life. Sounds good, Mr. Voss?”
“Would you like Jean to set your nose for you? Otherwise, it will heal crooked.”
“Suit yourself. Au revoir, Mr. Voss.”
And just like that, they are gone. Allen sits in the chair for a long time.
When he opens his eyes, it’s almost dark. He limps to the bathroom and washes his face, wincing at every touch. His nose is crooked and his ear is swollen. He looks like he has barely survived a car accident.
There is only one thing to do. He takes Lyle’s wallet from the oven (he has read in a detective story that it’s the best place to hide things in plain sight) and pulls out the cashier’s check. $250,000. All he has to do is hand it over to Marcel. He will be alive. And broke.
He pockets the wallet. Swallows five aspirin and puts on his snow parka.
He takes a peek out of the living room window and sees a black SUV parked close to the driveway. They are keeping an eye on him; no big surprise. The snowmobile is out of the question. If he leaves through the front or back door, they will surely see him.
He goes down to the basement, careful to step over the broken step. One of the windows on the far side of the basement is at ground level. This means that it is covered by snow on the outside. Working in complete darkness, Allen works it open and digs a tunnel in the snow. He wedges himself through the window, feeling the chill enclosing his body.
Afraid to stand up (do they have night vision goggles?) he crawls his way down to the lake. Then, keeping to the shoreline, he crawls on his knees for a full mile before he dares stand up.
Halfway across the lake, he breaks into a jog, then a full run.
The Sunrise Motel & Bungalow complex, fifty miles outside of Phoenix in a field of dust, is popular with no one. Allen fell in love with it the first time he laid his eyes on it. A narrow, two-lane road leads to a main office and the motel building. Behind it, twenty bungalows are spread out in no particular formation.
Allen pays cash for six months and settles in. It takes him five minutes. He puts his toothbrush in the bathroom and hangs his parka in the closet. He doesn’t know when, if ever, he will need it again, but he can’t bear to part with it.
The day after he arrives, he rides into town on the ten-year old Kawasaki he bought from a contractor near the airport. He feels anonymous and almost safe. The cold, the snow, Marcel, the money and most of all Greg Shaw, a.k.a. Lylve Voss seem a lifetime ago.
He parks his motorcycle and unlocks the door to his cabin. He takes off his sunglasses and puts them on the counter.
“How?” he asks the man who is sitting in the sagging armchair.
“Tracer in your coat. Marcel is amazed you didn’t get rid of it.”
“Cost me three hundred dollars,” Allen says and is surprised to see that his voice does not shake. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
“No, thank you,” the man says. “I won’t be staying long enough to finish it.”
“It still took you a while to find me.”
“We lost you at the airport. The tracer doesn’t work that far above ground. Then we picked you up in Phoenix. Marcel called me the next day. I’m a local freelancer.”
The man takes a gun out of his pocket and screws on the silencer.
“I wonder if you could do me a favor,” Allen asked.
“Sure. Within reason.”
“There’s a spot out back. You can see nothing but the desert for miles. I would like it to be there. If you’re not in a hurry, I would like to see the sunset one last time.”
“Happy to oblige,” the man says. I’m from Montana, originally. Never miss a sunset when I’m home.”
He stands and points to the door. Allen opens it and steps out into the warm, dry air. He holds the door open for his visitor and when they are both outside, Allen closes the door behind him very quietly.
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