Dead leaves overlap each other on the forest ground covering the dirt from the coming cold. Two boys sit on a fallen tree about fifty metres away from a house. They sit hidden by the darkness and branches from pine trees. The moon illuminates the sky and outlines of clouds hang over everything. They can just make him out inside of the house, still sitting at his computer with the blue screen forming an aura around him.
One of the boys covers his mouth and yawns. “I can really use a smoke” he whispers; a kid maybe 20 years old with red hair and small, rodent like eyes that are soft to look at).
“Oh, I know. Yes-ser-ino” his friend answers back. He’s a little older but looks young. Skinny and tall but solidly built. He is the leader of a little rat pack and he talks sarcastically even though he’s in a serious mood tonight. “He’s moving. We got a mover” he says.
The man in the house rises from his computer desk and turns off the monitor. Only darkness now in the house and the boys envision the mans silhouette making its way through the hallways into the bedroom and under the covers. They wait an hour more and then the tall one says let’s wait an hour longer to be sure. The pair emerge from the woods with a tiny saw and a hockey bag and the red-head starts sawing the door handle while the tall one holds the glass door steady so it doesn’t make any noise. They do this for two hours. The night before they sawed for four hours and the night before that they sat on that dead tree all night just to see the habits of the person living there. He doesn’t have very good ones, he hadn’t even put a piece of wood behind the glass door to stop it from sliding. The taller boy is convinced he will never know it was them either; he invited many people over that day. Everybody knows what he has and how much of it. He sneaks in and his partner holds the hockey bag open.
After coming out of the woods the way they came in the boys drive out of the Quebec countryside and back towards the river. Their car is white and sporty but nothing too flashy to attract attention. Snow is lightly falling as the tires roll through the sleepy French town in the early morning hours. The neighbourhoods are on hills so they roll down and up again while the sun starts to break the sky, slowly making their way to downtown and finally over the bridge.
“You ever notice that the peace-tower looks like it’s giving the finger to Quebec on this bridge?” says the redhead.
“Every day I do.” Replies the tall boy.
They are both very tired but it’s a good, quiet time they can take advantage of for the more serious work. The car creeps through a few intersections in town checking to see if there are any signs or counter signs on the light posts. Any messages to come meet or cancel the meeting scheduled for later. All looks well. At the roundabout in front of the Chateau-Laurier the white car pulls to the side with its emergency blinkers on. The red-head looks around before hopping out of the car with an aluminum can of temporary spray-paint and jogs over to a light post. He marks an orange X at the foot of the post and it looks like a construction crew left it there. He hurries and hops back into the car, tires already rolling as he shuts the door. Zigzagging through the one-way streets to check for surveillance they finally make the turn in the direction to a cousin’s house to sleep.
They wake up to the sound of the cousin’s children running on the hardwood floor. They leave without showering and drive off for a coffee. In the parking lot of the donut shop the red-head pulls out a notebook, a small one with a coil at the top, the kind a detective might carry. The two review what is on the agenda for the day and it doesn’t amount to much beside a meeting in the afternoon which they already left the call sign for. They have time to try and unload the 20 lbs of marijuana they stole the night before. The snow that had fallen in the early morning hours had melted now and the ground was wet. They peel off with no destination in mind.
“Why don’t you try buddy?”
“Buddy isn’t exactly a buddy anymore. What about your friend? The dreads guy.”
“He wasn’t really my friend I just worked with him. I don’t know what he’s doing. I don’t know if I have his number. Lemme look.”
“Yeah just try if not no worries, barzini.”
The taller boy drives while the red-head looks through his phone for the guys number. The driver is happy with the way things have been falling into place. It finally feels like the plan that was laid out for him is becoming real, like all those trials and set backs were just tests and he passed and now it’s time to reap. It’s a shame, that last night he had to stray off the righteous path a little. But it has been a tough go, it’s either me or you, buddy is what he thinks. He rather it be you. It was a hiccup, but not the end of the world. He’s still a good person. He still has a mission and a purpose and even though God almighty has not shown it to him yet he has learned how to read the signs. He drives forward up hills and down them again and the red-head sighs and says “Fuck dude, I don’t think I have it”.
They brainstorm more about who to contact. It’s money for anybody willing to take it. They aren’t asking for much. The meeting they have scheduled brings them to a park to sit on a bench and soak in the sun that is out this day. A nice warm relaxation in the middle of an autumn day, warm enough to unbutton a few buttons or zip a jacket only half way. It won’t take long, thinks the tall boy. It will work out. He really feels fate guiding him. To where he isn’t sure. He just knows it will be big and important, and he will be rich. Filthy, rank-stinking rich. So rich he doesn’t know what to do with all the money. He’s getting closer, he feels it, and as long as he stays good, doesn’t do anything too evil, fate will bless him. And he knows he slipped up last night, that stealing is wrong, but the other guy knew what game he was playing. I’m just a better player, a professional. He begins to make these justifications in his head. He’s good at it. He prefers to call it a robbery and not stealing, a heist. Just like the old ghosts of the wild west; Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Jose Chavez. He doesn’t know their stories too well but he knows the names and that is what’s important.
He notices down the pathway on a bench opposite them a woman who can’t be much older than him wearing a long brown coat and reading a small blue book.
“Birto” says the taller boy as he moves his chin in the direction of the woman on the bench.
Her legs are bare coming out of the long coat and has one crossed over the other, swinging her foot to a silent rhythm. Her nails are red and so is her lipstick and this stands out against her peachy skin. She has on a large hat with a blue rim and sunglasses.
“Go. I’ll wait here” Birto answers his tall friend.
The tall boy gets up and off the ground to make his way onto the park path. All smiles walking by the old ladies and the kids and pedestrians as he makes his way to the woman who he really does think looks gorgeous. She doesn’t notice him as he walks up and sits on the same bench, leaving a gap between them. He looks over as she continues reading, focused on her little book and not caring at all for the tall boy who just sat beside her. Finally, he looks over and says:
“Excuse me. Do you have the time?”
“No. Go away.” The woman continues reading, not paying him any mind. Her eyes hidden by her hat and sunglasses. People of all kind walk by the bench as the tall boy stretches his legs, making himself more comfortable. People walking dogs, people riding bikes, old people walking slow, walkers with their heads down.
“You made me wait.” She says under her voice.
“I didn’t recognize you.”
“I recognized you.” she closes the book and places it on her lap. “But I am wearing a new coat. Do you like it?”
“It’s a nice coat.” He feels the collar a little, feels like felt, like a textile that isn’t really used anymore.
“So, what’s up. What have you been doing?”
“Just going, going, going as far as I can. I have a story to tell you but I know you must be a busy lady so I’ll tell you later.”
“No, tell me. I’m not busy.”
“O.K, well, last night we robbed this guy for like twenty pounds-yo. Just zip in and out. And so now we just need to find someone to take it and bam, it’s like free money. So, I think I already know what you will say, but if you know anybody, just letting you know.”
“I don’t know anybody.” She says, with an amused smile.
“I thought so. But if you know anyone”
“Look, I like you, but I have something to do soon. So, tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s been quiet. They haven’t been around us lately; nobody has been following us, that we have noticed at least. But you know me I’m careful so I’m like as sure as I can be. So that’s good but makes you think what they are up to.”
“Yeah. They will be back. They are scared for now about getting too close. I saw to that.”
A few kids walk by passing a bottle in a paper bag. On yet another bench sits down an older looking man, and the two watch him carefully before continuing their conversation.
“So, we are seeing Checkered Red later to see if he found the rest of the stuff.”
“Good. That’s most important right now. See if you can find out what both groups are doing though. Maybe lay some wire taps.”
“What do I know about wire taps?”
“Figure it out” she says, a bit impatiently this time.
“I’ll let you know when to come by when I need you. I’m going to be busy so don’t call unless it’s real important for the next little while.” She gets up and pats his head like a dog.
The tall boy gets up, but not right away. He walks back to his side-kick Birto who had been watching for surveillance during the encounter.
“What’s your name?” asks the strange man they just met right before they were going to leave the park.
“J.” answers the taller boy.
“Jay? How do you spell that?”
“Just the letter J. My parents were illiterate.”
Birto laughs. The strange man laughs. He laughs loudly, draws attention, and has been drawing attention ever since he showed up in that taxi, a taxi that drove into the park on the path meant for walking with the driver visibly confused, and the strange man came out wearing a track suit with arms wide open and yell “I am back! Yo, open the trunk!” and he went to the back of the cab with a cigarette already lit and the driver helps him take out a knock off Gucci bag with wheels. And the boys watched this all happen not even 15 feet away and J thought fate, fate you did it again. You brought on this trash of the earth to take everything off our hands.
It wasn’t hard gaining his trust and that made J nervous at first but he calmed down eventually and set a time to meet later in the night. J has met many people this way, people that later have proved to be useful. Some have been useless, of course, but it’s like fishing in a way that he reels in any bite or nibble. It’s what makes him a leader; people will follow him even if it’s literally off the street. It’s how he met Birto and the rest of his rat pack crew of Quebecois rough necks (although Birto is Irish, as are most of the boys in the circle, but they all grew up across the river and that’s where J ended up to). They followed him from being nobodies to being nobodies with extra cash and steady work to keep them from being completely lost. J shakes the strangers hand in a strange ritual and they set off in different direction.
It’s later in the evening now and the sun has been slowly dying. The temperature begins to drop and a strong wind is blowing furiously over the park across from the Art gallery.
“How does wind even work?” asks Birto.
“It’s the world spinning. We are spinning very fast right now.” Answers J.
They are trying to light a cigarette, blocking the wind with their backs and hiding under their coat while furiously flicking their lighters.
“He will be here. I hear his skateboard.”
Around the corner of the Hotel Chateau Laurier rolls into view another boy in a red lumber jack coat. They call him Checkered Red. His hair is messy and black and he has on a backpack. He gets to his friends and they give each other a fist bump.
“Look, I couldn’t find it all, but I have most of it ready to go I just have to pick it up from the nursery” tells Checkered Red.
J stands listening while looking off into the distance.
“She won’t be happy, but ill tell her” he says finally.
They keep talking, making plans for what to do for the night. They have to first go see the stranger they met in the park earlier in the day.
The white sports car pulls in front of an old brown brick house next to the highway, not far off from where people wait by the lights to ask for change from drivers at the light.
“O.k Red, wait here, sit up front. Birto, wait until we come outside. I will let you know when to do it.”
J walks up to the house alone. He opens the little gate and closes it behind him and knocks on the door. On the other side the stranger opens the door, smiling and friendly. He only lives on the first floor. The upstairs must have a different entrance. The living room is filed with glass sculptures and posters of what the stranger thinks “looks trippy”. Maps of cities that are far away in technicolour and black and white. J takes a seat on a couch and can see the little kitchen with dozens of bottles used to make cocktails. On another shelf are jars of biters and garnish J knows nothing about.
“So, it’s in the car. I guess I’ll take the money first then we can go out and get it, if that’s O.K. with you”.
“Yeah, sure totally”.
They proceed to count out $30,000 on the coffee table next to an ashtray and small glass sculpture. An easy $30,000. A good day.
J gets his shoes on to go outside and he starts feeling a tight grip on his lungs. An uneasy strain on the back of his neck causing a slight headache.
Maybe we shouldn’t go through with it. This jerk doesn’t deserve it as far as I know. An easy $60,000 though. Me or you buddy.
The walk into the street and Birto is standing by the white car with a can of bear mace hidden in his waistband while casually smoking a cigarette and talking to Checkered Red who’s sitting in the passenger seat of the car.
“Lemme open the trunk.”
“Boys. How you doing”
“Good. I like your shoes.”
“Thanks, bro, I got like two of the same pairs, ha-ha.”
J shuts the trunk with the hockey bag. He gives Birto a nod, a subtle nod but a heavy nod with authority. The stranger turns to J and Birto takes out the can and removes the orange safety cap behind his back.
“Here you go, boss”
“Perfect, perfect. Excellent doing business with you boys.”
It’s in your pocket already. It’s his own fault. It’s too late, the wheels are moving, the boulders are rolling down the hill already.