Through the darkness, Earl Tuepelo watched his headlights illuminate the oncoming country road. And he listened to the windshield wipers. With a quick glance at the lighted clock on the dash of the new, 1964, Cadillac convertible, Earl saw the time was 8:45 PM.
It had been raining most of the day. Earl felt the car heater gently blow warmth against him as he drove, even though it was spring and not really that chilly outside.
Earl was dressed in his drying boxer shorts and damp white socks. The leather seat felt warm and comfortable behind his bare back and the back of his legs.
This was a fine automobile, he told himself. It was made with a man as tall and strong as Earl in mind. Earl promised himself that—in say, a year or maybe fourteen months—he would buy a new Cadillac himself.
Buying a new Caddie would be easy. He could pay cash and wouldn't even scratch his share of the money that was in the duffel bag stashed back the trunk.
But Earl wouldn't pay cash. The transaction would be a business expense. A legitimate business expense of small business. A business showing a health profit again, after a string of bad financial shocks.
Earl would have Jay Jay paint 'Tuepelo's Auto Service and Garage' on both sides of the car. Really nice and professional. Just like the big metal sign Earl had Jay Jay build and erect next to the State Route in front of the place.
What, exactly, Earl asked himself, had that printer-guy called it? The logotype of his business? That was it. That was just the ticket.
Hell, Earl told himself, as he watched the wet trees on both sides of the road pass by in the bright light of the high beams, he would even have the phone number of the business painted on each side the car. Yes, Earl thought, he liked that idea; after all, it would be his new—Cadillac—work car. But it would be a white Caddie; not red like the one Earl was driving now, he decided.
Jay Jay would paint the logotype on the trunk and the hood. The final touch would be having the motto: 'What Ever It Takes To Do The Job' painted in crisp red letters with yellow shadows along the back edge of the trunk.
Earl would have Jay Jay center the motto, using the key hole of the trunk lock. That way, every driver of every car that Earl passed would be able to read it.
Yes, Earl firmed his square jaw and squinted his left eye thinking on it, they would be able to read it and know.
Read it—and know what? he asked himself. Well, Earl figured, they might not know, know. At best, Earl conceded to himself, they might have an inkling when they read that motto. If they read the motto.
Because, Earl conceded, to really know—each driver he would pass in that new Caddie would either had to have been a Marine who landed and fought with Earl's Platoon on Guadalcanal and other choice island spots in the Pacific; or, had just spent the last four-and-half hours of this lousy day with him.
The first two-and-a-half of those last hours, Earl spent digging a grave for two men. Using, as a pick and shovel, the lug wrench, jack stand and hubcap of this new, 1964, Cadillac convertible. In the pouring rain. Out in the Geiger Reserve National Wilderness, just this side of the middle of nowhere.
As he approached a rise in the wet country road, Earl saw out in front of him, a bit of light reflecting off the phone lines and electrical lines, strung up between the utility poles above the ditch on his side of the road. He flicked his high-beam head lights to low, knowing a car was coming from the other direction that he couldn't see because of rise.
Earl wished he could have done more for Gabe and Auggie.
They had deserved better than that deep, wet hole in the ground.
Earl had grown up with those two boys. They'd done some fishing and swimming together as kids. The three of them had gone hunting a half-a-dozen—maybe ten—times in high school.
As the Cadillac convertible crested the rise of the road, a car passed by going in the opposite direction. Earl glanced in the rear view mirror above the dash, watched the red tail lights recede, and flicked the high-beams back on.
Earl knew he and Gabe and Auggie had really gotten to know each other, and become true friends, while serving in the Marine Corps.
The three young men had been together during basic training and then, some how, during their combat training; serving in the same platoon of a Combat Team in the Marine Corps' First Battalion.
That was where they had gotten to know their other Marine buddy from the platoon, George C. T. Child.
The 'Indian' had been what the other recruits had called him. George was Lakota Souix. He was almost as big as Earl. The joke during basic training had been that if George wore two pair of socks he'd be the same height as Earl. And Earl had been a really big guy.
For awhile, Earl remembered, guys in the platoon had tried to call George 'Two Socks', but that hadn't lasted long. After everybody had somehow found out George's real family name was Thunderchild—that was the 'T' in C. T. Child—and they saw the things George could do with knives; well, 'Two Socks' hadn't seemed to fit.
And nobody had ever tried to call him Thunderchild. It just had seemed to the young recruits that that kind of nick-name for a marine; well, that would have had to have been EARNED. Just being born with it, wouldn't cut it.
Then a few weeks later, somebody had discovered the 'C' stood for Cussatcha.
Now that name, the whole barracks agreed, seemed to fit George to a tee. Mostly because no body ever heard him cuss. Ever.
When the Drill Instructor yelled, "What kind'a fuckin' name is that for a Marine?" —Earl remembered the tone in his friend's voice when George had said, standing at attention, "Translated from the Lakota, Gunnery Sergeant! Cussatcha means 'Cuts Your Balls Off Laughing', Gunnery Sergeant!" —Nobody else knew Lakota, so nobody could verify that exact translation.
But then, none of the guys had doubted George, either. Not even the Gunnery Sergeant.
After having gone through training together, Earl, Gabe, Auggie and George had gone off to war—in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
The two squads that the four young men had been in, were part of a four squad platoon that naturally had been on the same ship crossing the Pacific. And, once in the Pacific Theater, they had spent time together in New Zealand, training and waiting to be deployed.
Then, they had lived through the combat landings and island jungle-fighting on Guadalcanal; and later, on the Jap side of New Guinea, New Britain, at Cape Gloucester.
Oh yes, and then there was that little place called Peleliu. Even Earl didn't like to think about that island.
But it had been on Guadalcanal where their platoon had gotten their motto: 'What Ever It Takes To Do The Job.'
They had been through a hell of a lot together, Earl told himself. It had seemed that up until today, even the Devil himself didn't want them.
So, earlier in the day—outside the Bank—Earl had done what his combat instincts had dictated. Retrieve his fallen comrades.
And after the engagement, Earl had done what he had to do. Which had included burying two old friends. Using only a Cadillac lug wrench, jack stand and hubcap.
There had been no other tools to be had and nobody else to help dig.
here had been no mourners other than Earl Tuepelo. Not an honor guard and rifle salute provided by the local post of the V.F.W. No flowers or visitation. No folded flags. No tearful good-byes from family and loved ones.
And Earl was the only friend in attendance. Shit, Earl told himself, George hadn't even there.
And Auggie and Gabe had really wanted George to come along.
Earl felt a little bad about that. He had told the boy's he would ask George in on the Bank job. But Earl really hadn't been able to bring himself to just come out and ask that of George.
George and his young family were doing so well and all. Plus, George was working for the Forest Service as well as helping his wife run Angell's Inn and Guest House.
Yes, it was the Inn that Gabe's parents' once owned. But after the war, Gabe hadn't wanted any part of it. Gabe hadn't seemed to want anything; but to just keep on the move. Like he could out-distance his demons; out-run his nightmares.
So when it had come to asking George to join the boys for the heist, Earl had known George didn't have that back-against-the-wall motivation that faced Auggie, Gabe and himself.
Earl had asked George if he might be interested in joining a high-risk, onetime, business venture, but that was all.
Of course George hadn't been interested enough to even ask for more details. Maybe he hadn't wanted to know more details.
George always had an ability to sense situations, Earl reminded himself. And a few times, Earl would swear, he had seen George whistle up the wind. Once, a really good one; it had been exactly what they'd needed. And twice, it had been just a nice refreshing breeze.
But, Earl hadn't wanted to rile George's senses about the heist. 'Cause, if George didn't know anything specific, he wouldn't have to choose between his good friends and doing what was right.
George could be one straight laced, son-of-bitch, Earl laughed to himself. Because he wasn't the kind to cry. And the rain on the windshield was bad enough tonight.
The irony of it all, Earl told himself, was that if George had been in on the heist, instead of Gabe's asshole nephew, nobody would be dead right now. Everybody would be literally, rolling in the dough. It would have just been awhile before they'd have been able to spend very much of the stuff.
Hell, Earl told himself, even if nothing else goes as planned for this job—just as long as he himself didn't get caught by the cops while all that bank money and damned leather satchel was actually in the Caddie's trunk—his two dead friends' families would never even know what happened to 'em. Earl wasn't going to tell them, that was certain.
Earl saw two luminous-yellow dots of animal eyes reflecting his headlights far up the road and slowed down. No need for any more of God's creatures to be killed today, Earl said to himself.
Earl knew Auggie's wife and young son didn't even suspect August Corman was missing yet. Let alone, shot down dead. They thought Auggie was on the other side of the state. Thought he was collecting a large cash loan made to a fellow Marine quite some time ago who had finally inherited the money he needed to pay Auggie back with interest.
The Caddie splashed by the approximate spot on the road and the water filled ditch where Earl thought the eyes had been and he didn't see anything. Just as well, he thought, the way his luck was running today. He push down on the gas pedal.
Auggie's family was unaware of what was going on. In fact, Earl told himself, and looked at the lighted clock again, Auggie's wife should be getting a collect phone call in just about ten minutes.
Yes, a collect phone call from dead man. From the town Auggie was supposed to be visiting. And when she accepts the charges, she'll think she hears Auggie's voice. And it will be August Corman's voice, but he just won't be the one in the phone booth making the call.
Yep, Earl thought, she would hear her husband telling her that he had gotten all the money he expected and would be on his way back home in the morning.
Auggie's wife knew that Auggie didn't like talking on the phone.
When Auggie had to talk on the phone—he did just that; he talked. He didn't listen much. People who didn't know him thought Auggie had been rude as hell. And, he used to be—in person. And if—you didn't know Auggie.
That was one of the reasons Earl had enjoyed Auggie's company. No bullshit. Also, Earl had always enjoyed watching strangers' reactions to Auggie's no-nonsense ways. Plus, his down-home sense of humor had been be mighty entertaining.
Earl asked himself, had it been his fault if some people didn't realize some skinny shrimp like Auggie had been in the Marine Corps? Not that Earl had ever had to get Auggie out of trouble when he'd gotten in a fight. Heck, no. Earl always had just lent a hand because it had been fun.
Up ahead, through the rain, Earl could see the lights of an isolated gas station. It was next to the crossroads the Caddie was approaching. Earl knew this Station should still be open. He could see no cars at the pumps.
Earl thought he might stop behind the place and run in and get a pop. Then he realized, he couldn't go into the place dressed the way he was. And his change was in the trunk with his pants. He picked up speed and checked the rear view mirror over the dash again.
Now, Earl thought to himself, Gabriel Angell—on the other hand—he had never had a wife. And as far as family, just his bitch of a sister, somewhere in Florida; maybe. Nobody had heard from her in a long while.
Earl knew that Gabe and his sister, Grace, had never been close even as kids. And Gabe's nephew, Theodore—his sister's only child, may he rot in hell—died inside the Bank today.
Teddy-boy hadn't made it out on the wet, rainy sidewalk in front of the Bank.
Even if Teddy had made it out of the Bank before he croaked, Earl told himself, he wouldn't have picked Teddy's sorry dead ass up for anything.
So, Earl was sure, nobody would know that Dead Teddy was Gabe's nephew. Unless, of course, they spent a lot of time and effort and got very, very lucky.
Teddy himself had told everyone that he had done some time in a State Pen out West. So at some point, Earl knew, John Law would figure out who the John Doe was on the slab in the Thornton City Morgue. But that prison time was before Teddy and Gabe had accidentally run into each other.
Gabe had told Earl that he had thought the kid had reminded him of somebody when they had first met. Gabe had said they both finally had realized they were related after the two had shared a pint of whisky and stories about each others lives in a Greyhound bus over a three state ride.
While the two had gotten stiff on the Greyhound and drank, Teddy had recalled his Mom had had a brother—an uncle he'd never met. And that his Mom's maiden name was Angell. That her parents had owned a hotel. And that she'd grown up in a podunk town called Station Gorge. But that had been about all Teddy knew of relatives on his Mom's side.
Gabe had just up and asked Teddy if his momma's name was Grace? It was?
Gabe had told Earl that Teddy had told him that Teddy's Daddy never liked to talk about the fact that his first wife—Teddy's Mom, Grace—had ended up running off with some salesman when Teddy was twelve.
So, it had been about twelve year's since Teddy saw his mother, Earl figured to himself.
Teddy himself had told Earl that he hadn't even known where Grace had gotten to. And that, had been good by him.
Earl knew that Gabe hadn't visited Station Gorge for longer that five days in a row since he'd gone off to the War. When he had been in town, Gabe had stayed at Angell's Inn and Guest House.
Now, George and his wife owned the place. Before that, the Inn had belonged to Gabe's family. And it had been Gabe's childhood home.
But after the War, Gabe had become the original vagabond. That had been what George, Earl's business partner in Tuepelo's Garage—until Earl bought George out and George bought Angells' Inn—had called Gabe. And in Gabe's absence, the nickname had stuck.
Auggie, George and Earl, himself, had started referring to Gabe as the original vagabond.
The last time Gabe had passed through Station Gorge was four months to the day, before the bank job.
Earl had been looking for two more people to come in on the heist. It was so well planned, and the payoff was so large, Earl couldn't pass it up. And, best of all, it would be a one time thing.
Also, it would get Earl's ass out of so many jams, it wasn't funny.
When Earl had mentioned the opportunity in a round-about-way to Gabe, Gabe hadn't even had to think about it. If Earl and Auggie were part of the job, Gabe had said, he wanted in; no matter what was involved.
Gabe had stopped by and visited Auggie the next afternoon. They'd had a nice visit and had taken a walk around Station Gorge together and discussed some stuff.
When Gabe had talked to Earl that evening, Gabe had suggested Earl ask their old Marine buddy, George Cussatcha T. Child to be the fourth man on the heist.
Two days later, when Gabe had learned more of the specifics of the job and that George hadn't been interested, Gabe had given Earl a phone number where he could be reached after he had left town.
Gabe had told Earl, since George hadn't wanted in, Gabe knew a fourth person for the job. A person that Gabe would personally vouch for.
When Earl had asked who it was, and how well Earl knew the guy, Gabe had started telling Earl the story about how he'd met his long lost nephew.
Earl hadn't been thrilled, but they had needed a fourth man and by that time, they had needed him fast.
The rain was starting to let up, so Earl decided he could exceed the speed limit by fifteen or twenty miles-an-hour. He had been keepin' it down to eight or ten over.
Not only was Earl now thinking about his thirst, but Earl realized he was going to have to pee at some point. The good news was Earl didn't have that much farther to drive and he hadn't seen one cop.
But one cop would, most likely, be one cop too many. Earl's automatic pistol was in the trunk with the rest of his muddy clothes and his bloody rain jacket.
Before Earl had pulled out of that little meadow way back in the Wilderness, he had decided he would go for broke.
Earl had managed not to use his weapon the whole day and told himself then and there, as he had stripped down in the rain, he didn't want to be tempted if he got in a jam.
Earl pushed the Caddie a little faster on the wet country route. The car responded and handled as smooth as it was fast. And Earl knew the car could go a hell of a lot faster than he'd had it all day. Damn, what a shame.
Earl remembered that Gabe, at some point in the lead-up to the robbery, had told Earl about some beautiful redhead. Gabe had said he wanted to patch things up with her, once Gabe got his share of the loot. Gabe had made some noise about have a stash of cash already hidden. But Gabe had wanted more.
It seemed to Earl, the way Gabe had talked about it, it was almost like Gabe hadn't been sure how much cash he had stashed. And that had seemed a little strange. But, Gabe always had drunk a lot.
The one thing Gabe had been certain about, he wanted a whole lot more money. And, he wanted it before he'd go back to finally be together with this red head, again.
It had sounded to Earl like Gabe might have actually been in love. The poor stiff.
From what Gabe had told Earl, Earl had figured this beautiful redhead to be Gabe's only real attachment in the world, besides his nephew.
Earl got the impression the redhead lived around St. Louis somewhere.
But Gabe had also told Earl, he hadn't been through St. Louis for awhile. It seemed that Gabe and his lady love had had some kind of a falling out. Part of it had been pressure from the lady's parents, who hadn't enjoyed the thought of their only child marrying somebody as foot loose as the original vagabond.
Gabe had gone on to say that this woman was true blue, and was so in love with him, that she would still be waiting for him when Gabe finally did return.
Yeh, Earl said to himself—as he tried to square that claim with his own personal experiences—right.
Now, Earl was willing to bet his life on the fact that Gabe—the original vagabond—didn't have anybody who was going to feel his absence and file a missing persons report.
So, Earl felt to his bones, it would be next to impossible for anybody to tie the disappearance of one August Corman to the disappearance of one Gabriel Angell.
There was only one person who could tie either Auggie or Gabe to the bank robbery in the city of Thornton, eighty miles away, across the state line—and that was Earl. And Earl knew he wasn't going to tell anybody about that.
Unfortunately, Earl sighed, there was one person who knew what Earl was up to today. But, at least that person would never talk to the cops.
Still, Gabe and Auggie; they had been his friends. And they had saved Earl's life, at least a couple times each, just back in those stinking jungles. And once or twice on a couple rat-ass piles of sand and rock news reels had called islands. So, even if their funeral hadn't been much in the way of what people from Station Gorge might call traditional; Earl had seen men buried with a lot less.
But, Earl said to himself, there had been a prayer. Earl had even said the words out loud. He actually had been shouting through the tears and the rain there at the end. The emotions had sort of hit him all of a sudden. Hit him like it used to after a hot fire fight on Guadalcanal, or in what he'd been through in New Guinea and worse later.
It always did catch up to Earl. When he was dead tired and feeling just a bit safe afterward—bang. He'd be overcome for just a bit.
Then Earl would be fine. Out of his system. Cleared his head.
Yep, Earl told himself, then he was just fine and dandy.
He started tapping the open palm of his right hand on the steering wheel. At least, Earl told himself, his two buddies had a marker. Even if it was only a bent and muddy Cadillac hubcap; stuck up in the fork of a big maple tree that spread its branches about fifteen feet from the site of their fresh grave.
Not that just anybody passing by would be able to tell there even was a grave there a couple of months from now.
Besides, nobody ever went back that far into the Geiger Reserve National Wilderness at that particular spot. The empty beer can Earl had put on the tire track of the old logging lane three years before had still been in the same spot. Earl had seen it as he'd pulled the Caddie back in the little, gravel-meadow turn around earlier today.
The old beer can had even been standing up.
Earl had dug down through the dirt and gravel, as far as he could, in two-and-a-half hours. He'd learned how to dig during his stint in the Marine Corps. And, he'd put all the dirt and gravel he could on that big blanket so he didn't have to hubcap-it all back in.
There had been some rope in the trunk and, with a few saplings he took down, it hadn't been too bad. It was a good thing the Caddie had a trailer hitch.
How many people, Earl wondered, put a trailer hitch on an new Caddie convertible? Now, that he thought about it, Earl told himself, God had given him just what he'd needed to do the job. And not one thing more.
Thank you Lord, Earl said to himself as he slowed the car down for a tight bend in the wet road, for my imagination and problem solving skills.
The wet road Earl was following was now descending through hills and the thick woods. It was turning in a miles-long sweeping curve to the south.
Earl could feel the growing pressure in his bladder. Earl knew that within five miles the road would curve back to the east and then be running flat along the north rim of the Geiger Valley. Earl would be at his destination in about half-an-hour. He could hold it for that long. He was a big man and had an equally big bladder. Like everything else, Earl told himself, and grinned.
Earl had to admit to himself that diving in this Caddie was like no other riding experience he'd ever had. In fourteen months, he would have a Cadillac convertible to drive. The car would have the motto painted on the trunk by Jay Jay. Let drivers he passed decide for themselves what the words might mean to the man behind the wheel.
On this day, all day long, Earl had been reinvesting himself in the motto; 'What Ever It Takes To Do The Job.' And what an investment it had been. So far.
But; job done. So far.
Now, Earl had to make sure the money and that damned leather satchel were hid so well, nobody would accidentally find the loot. He had the perfect place, he just needed a half-an-hour to drive there and to put the loot to rest before it had the chance to become evidence.
Earl thought it over and decided. After the loot was secured, Earl had a perfect place to put the Caddie. It was a shame, too. The car didn't even have a thousand miles on it yet. Oh, well, Earl told himself, there had already been such heavy sacrifices today that one more sacrifice would just be ... well, water under the bridge—and over the Falls.
Earl turned the radio back on and listened to the regional high-power AM radio news station, to see if there were any more bulletins about the robbery.
The first radio bulletin Earl heard was about forty minutes after the heist. The radio station had actually broken in on the normal programming to broadcast their scoop. The 'Late Breaking News' had stated that unconfirmed reports claimed there had been at least four people killed and an unknown number wounded during a bank robbery in a branch of the Thornton Bank in the city of Thornton.
The bulletin had gone on to say that a witness, who had been in the Bank at the time of the robbery, stated the deaths and injuries were the results of a shoot-out inside the Bank between the robbers and private security guards, not employed by the Bank.
One of those people killed in the Bank was believed to have been one of the three robbers who entered the Bank wearing masks and carrying weapons. After the shots were fired inside the Bank, the witness reported the robbers left the building with what was believed to be a 'very large amount' of cash.
The on-air reporter who had been reading the bulletin had gone on to say there was an unconfirmed claim that a second shoot-out was believed to occur outside of the Bank. After the second group of shots were fired, killing a private security guard, the robbers made their escape in a dark, late model Cadillac.
Due to the heavy rain at the time of the robbery, the source at the scene believed no one was able to obtain the license plate number of the Cadillac.
The on-air reporter said that the Thornton Police Department had refused to make any comment about the ongoing situation until they completed their investigation, saying that any speculation about the incident was premature at this time.
Earl had nearly run off the road while he was listening to the first radio report. He was amazed at the amount of information the station had broadcast. And how much it had helped him.
No reported color of the getaway car. No plate. It was hot anyway. Whoever called the radio station with the tip didn't seem to know that any of the robbers were killed or even shot outside the bank. So, maybe John Law didn't know either.
Well, that's me bein' hopeful, Earl had told himself. Thank you, free enterprise.
Earl had decided that, rather than be distracted from his goal of making a clean get away, he would turn the radio off and wait for the next hourly local news report before he turned the radio back on.
The subsequent news bulletins Earl had heard broadcast by the radio station hadn't given any new details of the robbery. In fact, the reports had actually given significantly less information than the first bulletin.
Earl hadn't heard anything about the robbery after he'd gone across the State line and got way back into the Geiger Reserve National Wilderness. That last news bulletin Earl had heard said that City, County and State Police were putting up roadblocks, but by then, Earl wasn't in the City, the County, or the State.
Now, Earl drove the Caddie through the wet weather, down through the night. As he drove out of the high ground north of the Geiger Valley and the Geiger Reserve National Wilderness, Earl started thinking how he was going to have to deal with the fifth member of the heist. And that man was the only person, living, who could link Earl to the crime.
The Fifth Man was the brains behind the whole job. He was one chrome-plated bastard, in Earl's opinion. He would want the satchel as soon as he could get it, and whatever the hell was inside the thing.
Earl admitted to himself the guy had a right to that, no question about it.
That satchel and its contents his was part of the deal. For the Fifth Man having setting up, what should have been, the perfect crime.
But Earl knew the Fifth Man was going to be a bit of a problem. Just how big of a bit? Earl was willing to wait and find out.
The Fifth Man would most like try to demand that he and Earl divide the money in the trunk of the Cadillac fifty-fifty. Right away. Well, in three days, when they were scheduled to meet next. The Fifth Man would definitely expect to get the satchel. And that would be part of the problem.
The Fifth Man wouldn't care that two good friends of Earl's—and good men—were dead. And that they were shot getting what the Fifth Man wanted. He wouldn't be bothered that some cocky kid who couldn't pull his weight was dead—and the real cause of this whole screw-the-pooch deal.
Earl knew the Fifth Man would want what he would consider was his satchel and half the cash. Pronto, Tonto.
The Fifth Man would say, screw Auggie's family. Screw who ever might be in line for Gabe's share.
Maybe that would be the mythical redhead, Earl told himself.
Earl knew that now he'd never find out exactly who she was, or where she was supposed to be waiting for Gabe. In Gabe's dead dreams, most likely, Earl told himself.
And what, Earl asked himself, about the kid's share? Well, that was the grave digger's fee, Earl decided. And screw the Fifth Man if he didn't like it. There was plenty of room near that maple tree for another grave. But Earl would never besmirch his buddies' last resting place like that.
Hell, if it didn't come out in the news, Earl might not even tell the Fifth Man that Auggie and Gabe were dead. But, that guy had his ways of findin' stuff out. That was what he did. And after a week at the most, Earl knew Auggie would be considered missing by his family and then, everybody who lived in and around Station Gorge.
Maybe, Earl thought for a second, the Fifth Man might think Auggie and Gabe had absconded with the loot in the confusion of the gun fights? Nah, Earl told himself. That was a disrespectful thing to even think about blaming on Auggie.
Anyway, with what had happened at the Bank, Earl told himself, the Fifth Man would just have to buck-up and wait for awhile.
How long? Until Earl felt safe enough to get the loot back out of hiding. Because, once the loot was hidden, Earl wasn't going to turn around and retrieve it until after the heat died down. Way down.
The Fifth Man couldn't do anything more to Earl. He would never see the satchel. And what ever was in it. And that must really be somethin'.
Earl accepted the satchel as being the Fifth Man's real reason for setting up the robbery in the first place. All that cash was just a diversion for Mr. John Law. And the promise of their share of the money had been the necessary enticement for the three dead robbers.
For Earl, the money was only part of the payoff. Earl was in the unpleasant position of being in the Fifth Man's debt. And owing him money was only the half of it.
By obtaining the satchel for the Fifth Man, all of Earl's monetary debts would be cancelled. By giving the Fifth Man his share of the money, Earl would remove the other leverage the Fifth Man held over his head. Or so the Fifth Man had promised.
Earl turned on the radio right before the hour and listened, warm and comfortable in his boxers and socks, to the news report. It was the same as before. A watered down version of the last bulletin. With even less information, Earl realized. Bank robbed; but not even what bank. People killed; but not even how many. Road blocks, it said; but not where or by what agency. That was it. Earl turned the radio off.
The car headlights illuminated the falling rain and the approaching wet country road with its shallow right side ditch, water running in it. A few feet back from the ditch was guard railing. Beyond that, Earl knew, was the cliff down into the Geiger Valley.
Earl slowed down the car to drive over the raised culvert most of the town people of Station Gorge called the Goat Mill Creek bridge.
Earl could feel his nerves starting to build. He was close to being safe. Earl checked his rear view mirrors; over the dash and out both side windows and only saw the glow of his tail lights on the retreating wet road and ditches.
The Caddie crossed the bump of the bridge and Earl didn't even feel it as a bump—just a soft uplift—as he would have in any other vehicle. But Earl knew there was a bump in the road, even if he hadn't felt it. And Earl knew promises could be broken.
It was then, as the Caddie's headlights showed the road turning right toward Station Gorge, that Earl realized if he was going to have to finally fire his automatic, it would be some time in the next week. And it would be into the Fifth Man.
Earl didn't find that prospect displeasing, at all. After everything that had happened getting this job done, Earl told himself, what would be one more missing veteran.
The Caddie followed the wet road to the right. Earl could see a section of the low hanging clouds ahead in the dark night sky, made brighter than the surrounding overcast by the light coming up from Station Gorge through the unseen trees.
Back in the trees along the left side of the road, Earl could see the lights of his home approaching. He wondered if his wife were at home. And if she wasn't, were his two young sons, Ginn and Rudy, home by themselves. Again.
When Earl left town ten days before, supposedly for a business trip to Chicago, he had asked his mother-in-law to stop in every couple days. She knew why Earl made the request.
As he came up to his driveway, Earl was tempted to pull in just to check. He didn't.
Earl drove past his driveway and front yard. Now he could see the tall hedge passing by on his left that ran in to the edge of town.
Hedge on his left, a short bit of pasture and then the drop over the cliffs to the valley on his right, Earl listened to the tires of the Cadillac splashing through puddles as the car went by the city limits and slowed down.
The tall hedge turned left where Pendergast Street dead-ended into road Earl was driving on. Using the Caddie's turn signal, Earl followed the hedge around the corner onto Pendergast Street.
At the first intersection the Caddie made another splashing left and stopped in the dark town lane. Earl backed the Caddie to his left off Colbert Lane. He eased onto the gravel parking lot in front of the large implement door in a huge L-shaped barn on the west side of the lane.
Earl turned the headlights off. With the engine still running, he got out of the Caddie into the rain. The change from the warm interior of the convertible to feeling cold rain on his bare shoulders, back and arms was an uncomfortable shock.
I'm becomin' a wuss, Earl told himself as he moved across the wet gravel in his stocking feet and rolled open the big door of his barn. Then he rushed back to Caddie over the gravel.
Earl got inside the convertible—he could hear the rain falling on the convertible top—and backed up into the dark barn. The red Caddie rolled on to the old concrete floor of the two car repair bay using the backup lights to light the inside the deep bay.
Earl checked the car's slow progress into the barn through all the rear view mirrors. But he could have done it with his eyes shut.
The big barn was part of the farm Earl had inherited from his Father. Earl's grandfather had been the town blacksmith. The barn had a full Smithy in the southeast side of the barn adjacent to the large repair bay where the stolen Cadillac was now parked.
Earl Senior had learned blacksmithing from his Dad and then had learned to repair cars in the barn. Earl had learned his trade from his father around the Smithy and in the repair bay of the barn.
When Earl had come back from the War—having talked his Marine buddy, George Child, into returning to Station Gorge to be his partner—Earl had moved the repair business out of the barn to a location beside the State Route on the other side of town.
Even now, from time to time, Earl used the Smithy to do metal work. But now, a long section of the reverse 'L' shaped barn was rented by George Child and his family. They kept their horses in the majority of the north section of the barn and bales of hay and straw in two of the lofts.
Earl Senior used to have a big flock of sheep in that part of the barn.
People in the area who had horses could still arrange to stop by and meet Earl or George at the Smithy to have their horses shod.
With the car inside the barn, Earl put the transmission in Park. He turned off the engine, took the keys out of the ignition and got out of the Cadillac. Other than the rain outside the open bay and on the tin roof—then there was the sound of a horse nickering, down an open passage way from the north end of the barn—the barn was quite.
Earl took a deep, slow breath. Earl could smell the rain, hay, horses and old grease. Earl took muffled steps to the bay opening, grabbed the wooden handle, and closed the large rolling door which squeaked along on its runners above the doorway outside the barn.
With the large barn door closed, Earl felt he could relax and calm down a little. Earl turned on the side lights in the repair bay and left the overhead work lighting off.
At the back of the two car bay there was an old, rolling, A-Frame engine hoist, behind the red Caddie. Hanging down from the iron cross-pipe of the A-frame was its heavy chain-lift tackle. There was a big metal cone on casters that had a oil-bubble level at the top, used to balance tires. Next to it was a small wheeled rack of tools and lead balance-weights.
Next to the A-frame at the back of the empty second bay was a small, baby blue and white, fiberglass speed boat on a tow trailer. The trailer rested on its crank-adjustable metal front nose wheel. The big outboard motor was canted at an angle for towing the boat and had a canvas cover around the top of the motor.
On the back wall was a two-hundred gallon, air pressure tank and an old electric compressor pump used to provide compressed air for filling tires and powering various tools that had been moved to the new Garage.