Patrick J Lambe
I was taking my time with the jimmie. I wanted my customer to feel he was getting his money’s worth. I’d given my standard line, “this is a Taurus, and they’re harder to get into than most cars.” You could insert any make or model for the Taurus. The guy shook his head, played with the ridiculous gold chain around his neck.
They were a strange crew, even for a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop. The guy in the running suit and jewelry kept looking around, playing with his chain. The other two - heads shaven, dressed in worn jeans and oxblood Doc Martins- leaned against the car, passing a bottle between them. They looked like shanty Irish. I wondered how they had managed to lock their keys in the still running car.
One of the Irish guys walked over to me, took a good look. “You Caucasian?”
“I just asked if you were Caucasian, looks like you could have a little sand nigger in you.”
The guy in the running suit inserted himself between us. “Come on Bernie; let the guy do his job.”
“I’m Hungarian,” I said, turning my attention back to the lock.
“I’m in kind of a rush fella, and I’ve used a jimmie before. You don’t have to put on a show for me. Just open the door,” Running Suit said.
I popped the latch, stepped back to admire my handiwork. Running Suit pulled out his wallet, counted off five twenties. “I know we said $120 but this is all I have.” That was fine with me. I only had to turn $40 into the dispatcher, along with the receipt.
He signed it without noticing I hadn’t put an amount at the bottom. I’d write $40 when I was back in the cab. Most people don’t notice. When they do, I put in whatever amount I get off them; tear it up as soon as they’re out of sight. I have another receipt book that I had lifted out of the dispatcher’s office. It was a newer one, with the $40 stamped on the bottom of it. I fill out one of them and hand it in to the dispatcher, applying the difference to my tuition. I was kind of glad this guy hadn’t noticed though, I had run out of dummy receipts earlier in the day and I didn’t want to waste any of the ones that I could write the amount in manually.
“The sand nigger’s ripping you off Vinnie,” the Irish guy named Bernie said.
The other Irish guy put the bottle on the roof of the car, slipped his hand into his jacket pocket. “I hate being overcharged by mud people.” The hand came out, heavier with the addition of brass knuckles.
“You two get in the fucking car. What do you care? It’s not you fucking money.”
I walked back to the tow truck, started the engine. I noticed another car pull up about a hundred feet behind the one I had unlocked, a Corolla, late model. I pulled away and I was about to merge into the Turnpike entrance when I realized I had left the receipt. I had to get it back or I’d catch hell from the dispatcher.
I pulled a k-turn and drove back, parked behind the car I’d jimmied. The Corolla was idling in front of the Taurus. A guy was about to get into the passenger’s side. He looked back at me, took a couple of steps towards my tow truck. The driver said something in a foreign language. The guy picked something up off the ground, turned back around and hopped into the passenger’s seat. It drove away, fast.
I walked up to the Taurus. One of Irish guys was in the back seat, his head was leaning back, his mouth opened. I noticed he had no teeth, must have worn dentures. I had no idea where they were. The other Irish guy was slumped forward in the passenger seat. Between them, they had enough bullets in them that they could have opened their own ammo store. I looked closer. It was hard to tell with all the blood, but it looked like they were missing their ears.
The guy in the running suit had made it a couple of feet away from the Taurus. Judging by the blood trail, I’d guess he’d crawled the second half of his journey. He was only missing one ear, and he had a gun in his dead hand.
A car pulled up in front of the Taurus when I was on my way back to the tow truck. I hopped in the cab, turned the key. A guy ran from the car, stuck a wallet with a badge on the tow truck window, said. “Officer Tolland, I’m an off duty New Brunswick Detective. Out of the cab.”
“Curtis Benczik, Hungarian, right?”
The state trooper was huge, probably six four, . But you didn’t notice his size first. It was his eyes. The left one was brown, the right one brown on top, a milky bluish white in the lower hemisphere.
a bohunk too.
knew a ton of state troopers from my job. They could form their own ethnic group. Crew cut, mustache, imposing size, muscles
that could only be larger with the addition of steroids. If any of them were transported in a time
“I’ve talked to
some of the troopers out of the
“I’ve grown fond of my ears.”
“You read the papers?” He poured some water out of the pitcher into a glass.
“Yes Officer Herczog, I read the Star Ledger almost every day.”
“Call me Vern.” He took a sip of the water, put on an expression designed to have me think he was lost in thought. “Ever read about Aloysius Mazzucco or his son Tullio? They usually have the word alleged in front of their names when you see them in newsprint.”
“‘Alleged’ Al and Tullio ‘Trifecta’ Mazzucco. Of course I read about them. They’re the reason you have a job.”
“How about Serge Petronokov, or the Vakensky brothers?”
“I can’t say I’ve read those names.”
“You’d have to look towards the back of the paper, at the obits. Someone put a couple of .38 slugs into Serge. The Vakensky brothers, well it wasn’t that clean.”
“Listen Vern, it’s been a long night. I’ve got an early class…”
“The guy who crawled away from the car, the organ grinder; names Vincent ‘Dial Tone’ Bilancia. I’ve been working Organized Crime for ten years and I can’t figure out where these greasballs get their nicknames. He was a known associate of the Mazzuccos. The two Micks, Bernard and Seamus O’Riordan, a couple of low lives. Hired muscle.”
“I want to call a lawyer.”
“Have you wondered about how they locked themselves out of the car?”
“If you could just bring me to a phone…”
“They were coming
back from what was left of the Vakensky’s apartment in
“You can go.”
I walked towards the interrogation room’s door.
“We couldn’t find the receipt for when you jimmied their lock open. You have to sign it, right? I saw your signature on the paper work you filled out for us. You’ve got pretty good handwriting. Some of the Russians can read more than Cyrillic.”
The guy leaning against the back drivers side door was dressed in new jeans, Timberland Boots and an expensive looking pull over black sweater. His head was shaved completely bald, and I’d guess he was an Arab of some type, probably Lebanese. I pulled the tow truck onto the shoulder, turned it around so it faced the BMW, popped the hood. I grabbed the jumper cables that I kept in the cab and hopped out.
“You called for a jump?”
A man opened the passenger door, got out, looked me over. He was dressed in an expensive looking suite, double breasted. His dark hair was held back by some type of styling gel. I’d guess the Arab was a little older than me, late twenties. The guy with the gel was probably in his late thirties.
“Curtis, right?” The guy with the hair said.
The bald guy eased off the car, walked around toward the passenger side.
“Passenger seat,” the one with hair said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
He pulled his suit aside, showed the handle of a pistol, looked like a .38. “Don’t worry Curtis. If I wasn’t gonna take you back to your truck I’d have drove my beater. I wouldn’t want to mess up my new Beemer.”
The bald guy opened the passenger door. I walked around the car, stepped in. I was about to put the jumpers on the floor of the passenger seat. The guy with hair put his hand out towards me. “I just got it detailed.”
I put the jumper on the shoulder of the road.
“You can get it when we come back.”
The bald guy got in the back seat, directly behind me.
“I’m Tullio and my associate is Omar.” He eased the Beemer into the Turnpike traffic. “We want to know what you saw the night our associate was killed.”
“I didn’t see anything. I opened up the trunk, and by the time I got back to pick up my receipt it was all over.”
“That’s a good story; for the police. You’ve got to do better for us.” Omar had leaned uncomfortably close to my ear to say it.
“The cop, Herczog. He said the guys were probably Russians. They were pulling away when I came back. One of them said something in a foreign language, it could have been Russian.”
“The plate on the car?”
“Did you tell the police that?” Tullio said.
“First thing I want you to do is to tell the cops everything you know. Tell them you had a sudden gush of memory.” He handed me a slip of paper with some numbers written on it. “Tell them you remember these numbers. It’s a partial plate number. Let them fill in the missing digits. The make of the car.”
“A Corolla, late model.”
Tullio pulled the car into one of the turnarounds in the middle of the Turnpike divider, the ones that only the State Troopers are allowed to use. He eased the Beemer into the southbound traffic.
“It was a Mercedes, ten years old. Matches the plates.”
“I don’t know about this Tullio.”
“If you help us out, maybe we can help you out somewhere down the line.”
“But Tullio I…”
“We know who did it. We can’t get to them so we’re going to have to let the cops earn their salary.” Tullio cruised through the Easy-Pass lane at exit 9, turned the car around illegally in the exit ramp, barreled through the tolls.
“We know you don’t want to get involved, but you are. Wrong place and all that. Why not turn it to your advantage?” Omar said as we headed North on the Turnpike, towards my truck.
“Shit, Herczog,” Tullio said. He was sitting on the back hood of his unmarked, parked behind my tow truck, smoking a cigarette.
Tullio reached into his suit jacket. “You’re gonna have to hold onto this for a while Curtis. This could be a parole violation.” He dropped the pistol in my lap.
“No fucking way,” I said, trying to hand the gun back to him.
“Hold it now or get a real close look at it later.”
I put the gun behind my belt, covered it as best I could with my work shirt.
Herczog walked over toward us. Tullio rolled down the window. “ Officer Vernon Hercozog. Catch any bad guys lately?”
“Didn’t your mom tell you not to get in the car with strangers?” Herczog leaned into the window. Let the cigarette fall from his lips into Tullio’s lap. Tullio flicked the cigarette onto the floor of his car.
“Cut me a break Herczog. I just had it detailed.”
“Get out and put your hands on the hood,” Herczog said as he stepped back from the driver’s side door. “You too,” he said, indicating Omar with a head knod.
“Don’t you need probable cause?” Tullio asked as he opened up the door and assumed the position.
“You just made a furtive movement,” Herczog said as he patted Tullio down.
“You dropped a lit cigarette on my balls.”
“How about this. I’ve got probable cause because you probably pumped a few thirty-eight rounds into Serge Petronokov.”
“I read about it in the papers. It’s a shame. Trotsky’s probably rolling around in his grave.” Tullio said, as he leaned up against his car and lit another cigarette.
Herczog ran his hands over Omar and found nothing.
“Where are you boys coming from?”
“We had a little car problem. Called a tow truck. Curtis here came out doing his job.” Tullio said.
“Part of your job, driving around with cheap mobsters?” Herczog was looking at Tullio, not me.
“Curtis is a pro. Came for a test drive to make sure everything was OK. Right Curtis?” Tullio said.
I opened up the door and walked to my tow truck.
I was sitting on my couch half asleep, watching a Girls Gone Wild infomercial with the sound turned down, too tired to jerk off. I heard something on the landing outside my apartment window. I rolled off the couch, onto the floor. A human shaped shadow formed behind the curtain. I crawled into my bedroom, looked back through the door. The guy must have used a glasscutter. His hand came through the round hole in the window, reached up, undid the latch.
I crawled back to the nightstand next to my bed, opened it, grabbed the .38 Tullio hadn’t bothered picking up yet; waited until the guy was fully in my apartment. Gave him time to draw his gun, then I pulled the trigger three times. The guy spun around, a half a revolution, fell to the floor. I ran over to the window and looked out. Someone took a few shots at me from the aisle two stories below my apartment. I threw myself on the floor and waited a couple of seconds.
I heard sirens, went to the front of my apartment, looked out the window, saw a couple of police cars roll up onto the curb. I ran to the back, to the window the guy had broken into. I was halfway out when I heard from the ally, “Police officer, hold it right there. Put it down.” One of the cops held his pistol on me while the other one climbed the fire escape and took the .38 I had placed on the landing.
I had lawyered up right away. Guy I know, hangs out at my local bar, the Court Tavern. I had my doubts about him. How good can a lawyer be if he’s at a bar from lunchtime on five days a week? But he was the only one I knew, and I heard he has a great secretary who does all the real work.
“It’s not as bad as it seems. The shooting looks clean, self defense. The gun charges though. You’ve got a good record; maybe we can plead it down,” my lawyer said.
Herczog had let us alone in the interrogation room for a few minutes. Some one had knocked and told him he had a phone call. He came in with a huge smile on his face after my lawyer had given me the good news.
“Looks like we both win on this one, Curtis. The CSI guys think it looks like a classic case of self-defense. The Russkie had a gun out when you shot him, that’s good for you. We found the .38 used to send Pertonokov to the great Kremlin in the sky, that’s good for me. I can throw another case in the closed file. No need to re-read your rights, I’ll tack first degree murder onto the illegal weapons charge.”
“I didn’t kill Petronokov…”
“Glad we got you before you got a chance to take a shot at Varishlev.”
“Worked with Petronokov before you put him out of business. You had a partial of his license plate in your pocket.”
I looked over at my lawyer. He had taken his glasses off his eyes, rubbed the lids with his fingers.
“ ‘Alleged’ Al must be spending a fortune on diversity classes,” Herczog said. “It warms my heart; first he lets a Lebanese into his organization, now one of my own people.”