This is Part 3 of this story, read part 1 here and part 2 here. I counted fifteen diamonds, each a boulder compared to the engagement ring my pops had given ma way back when.
I counted fifteen diamonds, each a boulder compared to the engagement ring my pops had given ma way back when. These beauties looked big, the smallest at least two carets. If the quality was good, and my gut told me it was, the stones would go for a-quarter-million easy, in the right circles. And there they were, scattered across my desk, as pretty as you please.
For a second I thought about what these diamonds could mean for me, a whole new life, but I dismissed the thought right away. Big Jimmy would take out his anger on Joey and Marge if we didn’t deliver the urn with every stone accounted for. I replaced the diamonds in their felt sack and dropped it back in the urn. Diamondback Dolly’s Zip Lock coffin went in next. I screwed the lid on tight, locked the urn in the closet, and pocketed the key.
Joey must’ve seen the light in the window from outside, because a few minutes later he opened the door. He tossed his hat on his desk then put his feet up and pulled a toothpick out of his shirt pocket. The toothpick started to work at something back in molar territory, and when it was rolling around just right, like a stick in a garbage disposal, he said, “What gives? Where’s the urn?”
“In the closet,” I said. I didn’t know if I wanted to tell him about the diamonds just yet. He’d be better off not knowing if things went south. “What’d you find out?”
He took a glass out of his drawer and wiggled it at me. “Got any medicine?” I handed him a slug of after-work sunshine and poured one for myself. The clock on the wall said it was after ten. He swallowed his shot in one gulp and grabbed the bottle.
“Nobody knows who the guys in the van are,” he said, “but they’ve been seen in town before. A little bird told me he remembered seeing them after that burgle job a couple years back at Angorra’s Jewelry store over on Elm.”
“Yeah,” I said, remembering. “That was a pretty big heist.”
Joey nodded. “They disappeared and the cops never found them. They showed up again around the time that Brink’s security truck got knocked over a year back. The pattern seems to be one job a year then disappear.”
“I guess so.” I ran my tongue around the rim of my glass. The liquor was cheap with a strong aftertaste that guaranteed it’d pickle your noggin in minimum time. It was all I could afford at the moment, but I wasn’t sure it was better than nothing.
“What’d they get from the Brink’s truck?” I said.
“Plenty of a girl’s best friend, what I heard.”
“How about Angorra’s?” I asked, pretty sure of the answer. “Also diamonds?”
Joey drained his glass and poured himself another drink. His toothpick swirled around then disappeared. It popped out a second later. “Yeah. Hey, why all the interest in the loot and what’s it to do with Big Jimmy and those creeps in the van?”
I swallowed the rest of my own medicine and put my glass back in the drawer. “Nothing. Keep the bottle, Joey, it’s almost empty. I gotta go.” I stood up and shrugged on my jacket.
Joey put his chair down on four legs and said, “Mac. The cops got a witness at the motel. Says he saw a rust covered heap pull out after the van.”
I stopped and looked at him. “Who’s the snitch?”
“Some rummy sleeping behind the dumpster. He woke up when that beret wearing crew dropped Big Jimmy’s driver.”
“So I’m good?” The last thing I needed was for the cops to be on me.
“Yeah, you’re good Mac.” He held up the empty bottle to show me the single drop remaining. “And you’re a real pal. Last of the Rockefellers.” He put the empty bottle in his trashcan and stood up. I grabbed the urn from the closet and put it under my arm.
“Why don’t you leave it here?” he asked as he locked the office door behind us.
I thought about what Big Jimmy had said. “It has sentimental value.”
“Aw, you’re a loon,” was his reply.
But, it wasn’t sentimental. Now that I knew what was in the urn, I also knew why those douchebag beret-wearing lugs wanted it. They were probably the crew that robbed Angorra’s and the Brink’s truck. It also explained the hit on Overcoat at the motel. They weren’t after the money. What Jimmy was paying me and Joey was nothing compared to what the diamonds were worth. The van guys wanted the Urn and so far, they didn’t know I still had it or they’d have made a run on us already. I wondered how they knew about the exchange at the motel.
“Be careful, Joey. I’m betting the guys with the van are looking for the urn.”
Joey’s comment about the rummy talking to the cops got me thinking. The next day around noon, I parked in front of the main precinct house of Metro PD where my longtime pal Eddie Wong worked as a robbery detective. I’d never known a cop to turn down a free lunch and I figured I could ask him some questions.
The Fifth Precinct building was all concrete with little square, recessed windows, a perfect example of how ugly a city building can be. The guy who designed it probably got an award. Traffic was bad out front as the patrol guys pulled in, cutting off cars as their prowlers turned to park in the big, unpaved lot across the street from the station. The city had run out of money and just covered the lot in compactable gravel. The cops hated it because when it was dry the surface got dust on their pants. When it was wet, their shoes got muddy.
On the other side of the street, I stood waiting on the sidewalk at the foot of several flights of concrete stairs that climbed straight up to the main entrance. I’d only waited five minutes when Eddie Wong pushed through the large doors and called down to me. He descended the steps and stuck out his hand.
“Hi ya, Mac! I got your message. What brings you down to the station?”
We shook hands. “Nothing much. I just wanted to have lunch with an old friend.”
“Okay,” he said like he didn’t believe me. “We can grab something down the street at Mimi’s BBQ. You want to drive? I’d hate for one of the prowler guys to give you a ticket for leaving this heap of junk here.” He grinned and nodded at my beat up Explorer parked illegally at the curb. A second later we eased into traffic and headed toward Mimi’s.
I’d met him in first grade when he was a squirrelly little kid like me. Now he was five-eleven and quick as a cobra compared to my stocky, five-ten, beefier build. In high school his mother came to the conclusion Eddie would never amount to much because of our friendship. They were Chinese-American and I was poor white trash. To prove his mother right, Eddie joined the cops after high school instead of going to medical school like his sister. He found being on the force suited him. I’d joined with him and lasted five years. I didn’t take to following orders.
I’d left town and after bumming around, settled in Boston to work as a junior detective for a law firm. A partner at the firm named Rita Fiore introduced me to another P.I. and told me shut up and listen, I just might learn something. Between sets on the heavy bag at Henry Cimoli’s gym he’d given me pointers on how to detect. Once, he’d said, “Kid you’re already tough. Now be smart. But if that doesn’t work, do what I do. Shake things up. People do strange things when you scare them out of their rabbit holes.” A black man on the bench press pushed three hundred pounds like it was nothing and said, “That’s what you do best, babe, shake things up.” Eventually, I grew tired of one month of spring and eleven months of winter, and moved back home.
Eddie and I grabbed a corner booth at Mimi’s and ordered a couple of blue plate specials. He brought me up to date on his family and after a while, the food arrived. Around a mouth full of shredded pig smothered in sauce, I said, “Have your guys run across any wackos in a van doing robberies? They wear black berets and are fond of shotguns.”
Eddie looked over his bun while he chewed. “How about that. It’s only been ten minutes and you’re already asking for something.” He swallowed and said, “I know homicide is looking for a beat up, rusty SUV that chased after some perps like you described. The perps were driving a van. The SUV belonged to a man described about your height with same colored hair.” Eddie shook his head. “Why didn’t you at least call me and report what you saw?”
“Put me in a line up if you’re so sure,” I said. “We’ll see if the rummy can ID me. Besides, I can’t tell you anything because I don’t know anything. At least not yet.”
“But, you want something,” he said.
“I need to know who the guys in the van are. I heard they did the Brink’s job and that jewelry store on Elm Street a couple of years ago.”
Eddie looked up at me and slurped some soda through his straw before saying, “What’s this all about, Mac?”
“I know they stole diamonds in both robberies and now they’re back in town. I want to know why.” I already knew they were after the diamonds, but I didn’t want to involve Eddie.
He crossed his arms and sighed. “We don’t have anything on them for the robberies, but we’ve heard the rumors. And there’s another rumor Big Jimmy ordered both heists. Maybe the van guys are looking to get paid. Maybe Big Jimmy stiffed them. All I know is Homicide is not getting anywhere with Jimmy’s crew, and we can’t find the van.” Eddie looked at his watch. “Look Mac, I have to go. Give me a ride back to the station will you?”
I’d just dropped off Eddie and pulled away from the curb when Big Jimmy called.
“What?” I said.
“That’s no way to talk to a guy who can have you paved under the freeway,” his baritone voice said. “Do you still have the urn? I hope for your sake you do.”
“Yeah, I still got it,” I said, “but, I want to get rid of it and fast. It’s too dangerous lugging it around. Oh, and Jimmy, my price has gone up. Those guys in the van put some holes in my ride that need patching. The price needs to be adjusted.”
“Fine,” he said, without argument. “I want the urn as soon as possible. Meet me tonight on the west side of Eastland Mall. Ten P.M.”
“And the extra cash?”
“See you tonight,” I said. As soon as I’d hung up, my cellphone rang again. The display said Marge.
“Hey Marge. I was going to call you—” But a man’s voice cut me off.
“Zis is not Marge. Zis is an interested party in zee urn you have. And vee have zee nice Marge here mit us.” I could hear Marge cussing like a sailor in the background and started swearing myself. The SUV swerved as I pounded the steering wheel before I calmed down enough to ease it over to the side of the road, lock the tires and slide to a stop next to the guard rail.
“Let me talk to her.”
“Nein”, the voice laughed. “Nein. Not yet. Ven vee have zee urn, maybe vee vill give zee fraulein back to you. Vee must meet and you must give us zee urn.”
My brain was working overtime. I needed a plan and all I had was a voice that wanted what I couldn’t give him. And then it hit me. An idea that could go wrong in so many ways. But, it was my only chance to get Marge back and get me and Joey out of this mess.
“Meet me on the west side of Eastland Mall tonight,” I said. “You know where that is?”
“Ja. Vee know it.
“Good. I’ll see you tonight at ten-fifteen. Don’t be late.”
To be continued, the exciting conclusion of The Urn, next time at New Pulp Tales…