Chapter 36: Mortimer climbs the ladder

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 13

Mortimer Climbs the Ladder

 

Mort Groggins stared down at Larry Polo’s peaceful face for a moment before he covered it entirely with the first shovelful of dirt. It was too bad Larry had to go, but he was a significant impediment to Mort’s planned career path.

For a big man, Larry had gone down quite quickly. One sharp twist of the neck from behind was all it took.

Mort made his way back into the empty premises when the burial in the deep woods behind Peter’s Pleasure Palace was complete. It was well after midnight, in early July, but the crickets still chirped cheerfully as he emerged from the bush.

Inside the Palace, Mort went to work. First, he emptied the till of the considerable night’s takings, leaving the depleted drawer in the fully open position. Then he ripped his shirt in three places before breaking a beer bottle against the bar’s hard surface.

He stared into the bar mirror to help guide his hand while he carefully cut two long gashes in the hairline, just above his forehead. He didn’t flinch at the pain but instead smiled happily as blood flowed rapidly down both sides of his face.

As a finale, he closed his right eye tight and punched himself as hard as possible. After overturning a few chairs and tables, he departed for Peter Polson’s office three blocks away at the pawnshop.

Polson was a night owl and would still be awake, but Mort pounded hard on the door anyway. After a few moments, he saw Peter cautiously approaching the door, a revolver in his right hand.

“Jesus, Mort. What the hell happened to you?”

“It was that bastard, Polo. For no reason, he jumped me from behind and hit me over the head with a beer bottle. When I turned around, he punched me in the eye and used the bottle again. When I woke up, the till was empty, and Larry was gone.”

“That son of a bitch,” Polson roared. “I knew he was unhappy with his part of the take, but I never thought he would turn on me like this,” Peter motioned for Mort to enter. “C’mon in Mort, I’ll get you a cold cloth for your head.”

After giving Mort some first aid, Peter poured a double shot of the good stuff for each of them and lit a cigar.

“Shit, I guess I’ll have to shut the Palace down until I can find a replacement for the asshole.”

Sensing his opportunity, Mort said, “You don’t have to do anything, Peter.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve been on the job now for almost six months. I know the routines. I can run the Palace for you and probably do it a hell of a lot better than Polo did.”

Peter thought about it for a moment. He didn’t want to shut down the money-making Pleasure Palace if he didn’t have to. A solution crossed his mind.

This is the guy who murdered the miner who bit off the girl’s tit. I can always hold it over his head if things go off track.

“Okay, Mort. You’ve got yourself a job. Pays fifteen bucks a day and fifty percent of the girl’s tips. You can usually shake down a little of the upstairs nooky action as well.”

“Make it twenty bucks, and you’ve got a deal.”

“All right, we’ll make it twenty.”

“And do I still get my five free drinks a day?”

“Christ, you drive a hard bargain.” Peter laughed and shook hands with the devil.

 

Mort made good on his promise. He ran the Pleasure Palace efficiently and without a whiff of trouble, so he was surprised when he got the call from Peter.

“I want you to close down the Palace tomorrow afternoon and accompany me to a meeting at the Fargo State Orphanage.”

“Are you putting me in an orphanage, Peter?”

“Don’t be a smartass. I’m meeting with two guys I do business with. They think I’m shortchanging them, and things could get rough. I want you to cover my back.”

“Okay, I’ll pick you up. What time?”

“Just before noon. Walk over here instead of driving because we’ll be going in the truck.”

The next day as he walked over to the pawnshop, Mort reflected on his progress to date.

With Polo gone, I’m on my way up. Now, if I could only get a line on that bastard Reverend Teller’s location, my life would be complete.”

Despite making numerous inquiries, Mort had been unable to uncover Bill Teller’s location since it was almost five years since the Tellers moved on from Fargo. Sadly, for Mort, it had never crossed his mind to have asked Larry Polo, one of the few people in Fargo who knew where the Tellers lived.

With Mort behind the company truck's wheel, they set off for the meeting at the Fargo State Orphanage.

“If you don’t mind me asking, Peter, why the truck?”

Polson thought for a moment. “I guess I might as well fill you in, seeing as you’re replacing Polo in the organization. I got a deal going with two partners. One runs the orphanage, the other is a high official in the state government. It’s a simple plan. I get the supply contract every year. We send them crap from the pawn operations, and they pay inflated list prices.”

Mort grinned. “Sounds pretty sweet.”

“And that ain’t all. We got the kids making parts for a bunch of customers in their machine shop. It’s supposed to be part of their learning program, but it’s just a moneymaker for us.”

“Boy, you guys got all the bases covered.”

“There’s one more part. When the kids reach sixteen, they are supposed to move out and get a job. We don’t give a shit about the boys. However, if there are any promising young ladies, we encourage them to seek employment at the Pleasure Palace. They usually burn out after a year or two, but there are always fresh ones coming along.”

“Great idea, boss, but why are we taking a truck?”

“The Triumvirate, that’s my two partners and me, have a deal to split all profits equally, three ways. Sometimes we might ship a load and charge for things that don’t get delivered. The guys don’t care about that, but they think I’m skimming the extra profit for myself.”

“And are you?”

Peter laughed. “None of your fuckin’ business. Besides, I know they’re screwing me out of some of the machine shop proceeds.”

“You still haven’t explained why we’re arriving in a truck?”

“They placed an order for 150 blankets, and I know they’re going to do a surprise inspection expecting a short count. I can just see the asshole’s faces when they see the invoice is for 150, but the real count is 158.”

They both started to laugh.

 

Inside the Fargo State Orphanage, the partners were getting ready for the meeting. Mike Prentice had some disturbing new information to share. Harry Cortez was anticipating the pleasure of blindsiding Peter Polson with a surprise truck inspection.

They waited in the boardroom while Gretchen Griswald, Harry’s assistant of two years, made preparations around the table.

“Gretchen, make damn sure the coffee is hot this time, and don’t forget the oatmeal cookies Polson likes so much.”

“Yes, Harry, I won’t forget.” Gretchen gazed sullenly at the man she hated. Detested so much it hurt.

She left the room but wasn’t even out of hearing range when Prentice laughed and said, “You still banging that beast, Harry?”

Cortez laughed. “Only when I can’t find anything better.”

Gretchen flushed as she recalled a Triumvirate meeting that took place two years ago to discuss her future after leaving the orphanage. Gretchen was sitting in a small room next to the boardroom but could clearly hear the men through the air vent.

She was then sixteen-years-old. The three men were discussing her as if she were a piece of meat.

Peter Polson was objecting vehemently. “Christ Harry, I can’t use her at the Palace. Her figure is okay, but she’s got a face like a horse. She won’t make a cent for us.”

“You could always give the customers a bag to put over her head,” Prentice said.

“Shut up, Mike. I’m not taking her, and that’s that.”

“Well, we can’t keep her around here,” Prentice said. “She’s of leaving age, and besides, she eats like a horse too.”

Harry had an idea. “Why don’t I just keep her here as part of the clerical staff? We can charge the state for a full salary but only give her half. I’ll find something useful for her to do.”

Peter leered at Harry and snickered. “I just bet you will, you old pervert.”

Two years after listening to the men, Gretchen was still smarting from the crude remarks and the ill-treatment she received daily as Harry’s part-time mistress. She despised them all.

Gretchen delivered the hot coffee to the boardroom as ordered, pretending not to notice when Peter Polson kept his hand on her behind as she served him. There was also another man present she didn’t know.

He looked dangerous and contemptuous as he stared openly at her figure. The stranger’s eyes reminded her of a cold and lethal reptile.

Larry Polo, who usually attended, was nowhere in sight. After Gretchen departed, she quietly entered the small room next to the boardroom and sat by the air vent to listen. This time, she had a pad and pen.

 

Prentice gestured in Mort’s direction. “Peter, I have to tell you I don’t feel comfortable talking in front of this guy. Who is he, anyway?”

“He’s Larry’s replacement. Name of Mort. He won’t talk. I guarantee it.”

Cortez jumped in. “How can you be so sure?”

“Remember the miner at the Palace? The guy who bit Tina Wilson’s tit off? Mort here killed him and dumped the body. He won’t talk.”

“Maybe he’ll come in handy then because we have a real problem on our hands.”

“What are you talking about, Mike?” Peter asked.

“I just got word the polls show Governor George Kingston hasn’t got even the slightest chance of re-election. As you all know, George is a good friend of mine. Anytime he gets a complaint about the department, his office automatically forwards it on to me.”

Prentice paused for a sip of his coffee before resuming. “But if Tom Ringwald wins the election, and right now he’s the clear favorite, he’s a fire breathing reformer. If he gets wind of what we’ve been doing, we’re all fucked.”

Polson snorted. “Shit, Mike, there can’t be many complaints that make it to the governor’s office.”

“True. We’ve managed to muzzle most of the complainers except for that bastard, Reverend Teller. He won’t stop despite everything we’ve tried. He sends a letter to the governor’s office almost monthly, demanding an investigation.”

Mort felt a chill tingling at the base of his spine. He couldn’t believe his ears. He spoke for the first time.

“Did you say, Reverend Teller? The Reverend William Teller?”

“Yes. Teller’s a minister down in Washburn, and he is one big pain in the ass,” Mike said.

Mort stared into space, thinking of his dead brother.

“How would you like your big pain in the ass to go away, not for a little while, but permanently?”

Mike hesitated. So far, the Triumvirate was only guilty of various frauds, nothing like murder. But on the other hand, if exposed, they would all do jail time.

He nodded at Mort. “Yes, I’d like the pain to go away. Permanently, but without anything leading to us.”

“I’ll go to Washburn this coming Monday and see it done.”

In the next room, Gretchen frantically took notes. Her face blanched when she heard the plan to silence Bill Teller for good. She was only a young girl when Emily Teller worked as a nurse at the orphanage, but she remembered her well. Because Emily was so lovely, the kids always called her the golden angel.

There was no way for Gretchen to know Emily had died during childbirth. Still, it didn’t matter; Gretchen was determined no harm would come to the Teller family if she could help it.

In the truck on the way back to the pawnshop, Peter started laughing.

“Did you see the look on Harry’s face when the warehouse guy reported we shipped eight blankets too many? I thought he was going to piss himself. He was so sure he had caught me in a scam.”

“Too funny.”

Peter looked closely at Mort. “Are you sure you’re ready to do a job on Teller?”

Mort had a stone-cold look on his face. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you just how ready I am to meet the good reverend.”

(Story continues shortly in Chapter 37)


Submitted: June 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 easywriter. All rights reserved.

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