The Wheelman ( Limited time Up )

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

A former getaway driver looking to get back into the game has a story to tell

It was four in the morning when the knock came at my door.

“Sorry to bother you so late, but I saw the light.”

“That’s all right. What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering...”

“Hey, tell you what,” I said, cutting him off. I saw the look of desperation in his eyes and I didn’t want it walking through my door at any hour. Especially so at such quiet times like these. “There’s an all night coffee shop just down the way. My treat.”

“Yeah. Yeah. That would be great.”

We made our way down the front stairs of my three flat apartment house and stepped out into the quiet morning. It would be at least an hour or more before the world woke from its slumber, with the sun just starting to make its appearance on the eastern horizon. Clay Greeley looked more like a desk clerk than a wheel man in his size too small cheap-off-the-rack sports coat that did nothing to hide the pot-belly that he acquired since we last met. Men like Clay Greeley were a strange bunch. Many were half-dead wild cats that never understood the game of musical chairs that the life of crime tends to be. Like junkies searching out that next fix, many wheel men bounced around the all night dives where honest men didn’t tend to tread; seeking out that motley crew of people that needed that extra pair of experienced hands. The type of people that considered normal was the cold feel of metal in their hands and had a natural inclination to look over their shoulder; the type who kept violence as a mistress. Wheel men came in all shapes and sizes, all different backgrounds. Each one differing from the next. However, any wheel man worth his salt all had one thing in common: hyper-organization skills. Most think that one just needed nerves of steel and nascar knowledge when it came to cars and driving. While those attributes were indeed a necessity, that hyper-organization trait was the key for true success. Any asshole could get behind the wheel of a souped-up hot rod, but if that driver didn’t know dick about how to get away, from the routes needed taken to stay off the radar to the ones needed to run a high speed getaway, then, in my humble opinion, weren’t worth my time. All that spelled was disaster. Back in the day, Clay Greeley was the man to have. But then something happened. And now he was just a shell of that former man.

Dakota Cafe called from the corner in a soft neon glow and was showing the beginnings of early morning lifers as they stopped in for their cheap caffeine and even cheaper food fix. We took a booth down the way where the big bay window looked out onto the street.

“How’s the world been treating you, Clay?”

“Kind of rough, actually.”

“I’m sure.”

The waitress materialized next to our table with a couple of stained laminated menus talking of breakfast specials. I just asked for a black coffee and told Clay to get whatever he liked. She filled out her little tab and disappeared just as quick as she arrived. 

“So what brings you by,” I said once she left.

“As I said: things have been tough lately. Nobody seems to need a person like me anymore and the ones that do, don’t pay well.”

“That’s a problem all the way around our business lately. Too many idiots with the taste of easy money. Sadly, there’s no such things as easy money. While a few get lucky for a while most all end the same way: a coffin or a cell.”

“Guys like you and me are dinosaurs,” remarked Clay.

“I like to think of myself as one of those rare birds that people thought were extinct.”

Clay laughed as the waitress returned bearing the fruits of the cafe. Clay sunk into his breakfast like a man that was on borrowed time. In truth, I guess we all were in our line of work.

I drank my coffee —surprised to find it was fresh— and watched him work out whatever was on his mind. Although I knew what the question was going to be the second I saw him standing at my door. 

Clay put his knife and fork down, wiped his mouth. Here it comes, I thought when he took a deep breath.

“You were in five years, right?” I said, beating him to the punch.

“Ah... yeah... listen...”

“And now you’re having a rough of it trying to score gigs. So why come to me?”

“Because I hear in the wind you got something brewing.”

“You hear wrong.”

“So you just like to sit up nights?”

“Insomnia.”

Clay laughed. “Yeah right. I know you...”

“You don’t know me. All because we’ve worked a couple of gigs; we happen to know and hang around the same scene and people doesn’t mean you know anything about me.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. But the others, they all respect you. If you could bring me on it would be a game changer.”

“There’s nothing to bring you on too.”

Clay sighed. His demeanor sunk. He was a broken man. I could almost feel sorry for him but those were the brakes. Although, men like that could still be useful. Men with his talents always are. So...

“Why were you inside?”

“Because I fucked up?”

“How did you fuck up?”

“You know.”

“I know what I heard. But I want to hear it from you.”

Clay was quiet as he wrung his hands together. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was back five years ago. When he spoke, it seemed that he was reciting the events of that day more to himself than to me.

“It was a bullshit job really,” Clay began. “A two man gig on a small mom and pop jewelry store over in Westchester. They knew the layout well since it was an inside job. The kids of the owners were the ones that plotted out the gig. Those two assholes were squirally as fuck. That should have been when I walked away. I knew they were juicers but I needed the money. I lost my stake on the NBA Finals and it left me short with Tommy Crocs&socks. I had already been avoiding him and his crew for about a week but it was just a matter of time.”

The waitress came back and refilled my coffee and cleared his plate.

“Fucking Tommy can be a real ballbreaker,” I said. “How much were you into him for?”

“Ten large.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah. Now you know why I took the gig.” 

“Wait. How much were these two looking to score out of mom and dad?”

“Two fifty.” I raised my eyebrows at the sum. Clay continued, “I thought the same thing at first but they assured me that they had a big order coming in. I guess they stock up early for the holidays to get the best price, then sit on it for the coming spike they know that comes every year. It was all worked out on their end.

“The day before the heist the shipment comes in. Of course the old man is on hand for it so they couldn’t do it then. But he has a neighbor he employs open in the mornings for him...

Yeah yeah yeah. Mable is like six-something—”

Sixty-five, Marky. Sixty-five.”

Yeah yeah. So it’ll be a cake walk. We come in just after she gets there and bum-rush her, tie her up, hit the cases and the vault and be gone. It’ll be the easiest ten g you’ll ever fucking make.”

I laughed. “That should have been your second clue to pass on that.”

“Don’t I know it. 20/20 hindsight and all.”

“Clarity of mind comes in the time that passes between then and now.”

Clay nodded his head. “And I’ve had five years to work out all the mistakes. The first and biggest was taking the gig.”

“So what happened day of,” I said.

“It was a Saturday. I got to their place at seven. Old Maid Mable was supposed to be at the store by eight. The moment they jumped in the ride my stomach was in knots. I could tell they were juiced up. By the way they talked, they must have been up all night jerking off about what they were going to do with the score. But I kept telling myself it was just a little old lady and they weren’t even packing. Boy, was I wrong on both accounts.”

“Head up Canterbury and hang a right at Westchester Boulevard.”

“I know the route, Marky, that’s why you pay me,” Clay Greeley said. “What kind of wheel man would I be if I needed someone to give me directions?”

“Yeah, Marky. Let the man do his thing.”

“Shut the fuck up, Phil.”

Clay stopped the Dodge Charger at the corner of Canterbury and Westchester and waited for the light. Traffic was sparse. Which was good. The engine to black beast rumbled as he got the arrow to make the turn. The parking lot to the strip mall where Molina Jewelers & Watches was located was mostly empty. They still had a few minutes before Mable showed so Clay circled the lot slowly then backed into a spot with a full view of the store front.

The Wheel Man took deep breaths to center himself, go over the plan one more time in his head; follow the routes. If it all went according to plan he’d pull the Charger up to the store and wait while Marky and Phil did their thing then shoot north up the boulevard for one and a tenth mile then jump on the Ike Expressway and shoot towards the city propper and lose himself in the weekend traffic before the cops ever thought about getting to the scene.

Simple.

Except it was now eight-oh-five on the clock and still no Mable. As the clock ticked off a minute after another minute, Marky and Phil got antsier.

“What the fuck man? Where she at?”

“Relax, Phil. She’s coming. She’s coming.”

“Maybe she’s sick,” said Clay.

Marky shot him a glaring look for a reply. Then said, “There she is. I told ya she’d be here.”

Marky indicated to the red Jetta that pulled into the parking lot and parked, partially obscuring their view of the storefront.

Clay noticed as she got out of the car that Mable wasn’t as feeble as the two of them made her out to be. The other odd thing to note was that Clay was pretty sure she didn’t use a key to enter the shop and was about to say as much when Marky said, “Okay, it’s showtime.”

The two would-be thieves pulled down their ski-masks as Clay slowly pulled from the spot and made his way to the front of the strip mall. Right before they jumped out Marky said, “Okay, Phil, give me the heater.”

“What the fuck,” said Clay, confused as Phil handed his brother a short barreled revolver from the bag he carried and then pulled another out for himself. “I thought you said no guns?”

“Can’t have a heist without’em!” 

Marky jumped from the car before Clay came to a stop. Phil pushed up the seat and flopped face first into the cement as he excited the backseat.

“Should of got a fuckinig four-door, fucker!” Phil disappeared inside before Clay could respond. 

The seconds dragged by. The longer the gig went the harder Clay’s heart beat; the worse his anxiety got. 

Then...

Clay looked in the direction to what sounded like thunder. Except the sky was the door for Molina’s. The thunder came again and again. Each clap changes pitch from somewhat loud to very loud. 

Marky burst from the door and fell. His gun skidded across the pavement, disappearing from view. He pushed himself up on all fours and made an attempt to claw for the open car door. Clay could see the overalls he wore stained red, holes cut paths on both sides.

Finally realizing he was already dead, Marky collapsed before he ever got to his destination.

The car door slammed shut from the inertia. Clay Greeley jammed the throttle to the floor; the tires spun before catching black top and hurdled the Charger away from the carnage, heading for the boulevard. Sirens in the distance. 

Clay knew that he should slow down, blend in with the traffic, even the little that there was. No one knew what had happened other than the ones involved but panic was in full control now. Pushing him to get away as quick as he could. Clay knew once he hit the Ike...

Clay Greeley was weightless; trapped by the seat belt that kept him in place the Dodge Charger spun to the sound of screeching tires and broken metal. Someone screamed. Clay realized it was himself as he clung to the now useless steering wheel he clung too. Flashbacks of the time his parents took him on the tilt-a-whirl came to mind. How he gripped the roll bar in front of him wishing for the ride to end.

Then nothing. 

I stared back at Clay, telling his story. It pretty much was what I heard.

“I never saw the car that pulled out in front of me,” He said.

“The one veritable you can’t account for: the random act of man.” I took a sip of coffee. Confused about a couple of things. “So what the fuck happen in the jewelry shop?”

Clay laughed sardonically and said, “Turns out thor old man was fucking old, well, not so old Mable every Saturday morning. So when his two idiot kids burst in to rob the place they froze when they saw him. Them being masked, their father never knew it was them and went for the .45 auto he kept. Capping off Phil inside the place, Marky I guess started shooting out of reaction, clipping Mable in the neck, poked a couple of holes in the old man who was able to drill Marky before he got out the door.”

“Tough break,” I said. Something still didn’t sit right. “Two things though.”

“Yeah?”

“Why’d you panic?”

Clay shrugged his shoulders. “To be honest, I don’t have a clue.”

“Yeah. I guess it happens. But with a body count like that, how’d you only get five years?”

Clay Greeley’s dejected stare was all the answer I needed. While I could look the other way about panicking on a job with a couple of amateurs, his eyes told me I could never work with him again.

I got up from the table, called for the check and left.  

Copyrighted: Paul Dabrowski
 


Submitted: February 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Paul Dabrowski. All rights reserved.

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