Innocent on the run. Part 18
The following morning he was awakened by Dottie bustling about in her tiny kitchen, getting breakfast ready. Chip was in the bathroom, getting washed ready for school, and Dottie turned around and saw that he was awake.
'I'm sorry, Rick,' she apologised, 'I didn't mean to wake you yet. You must be exhausted after yesterday.'
He sat up, rubbing his eyes. 'Morning! ' he yawned.
'Did you sleep well ?'
'Yes, I don't remember much after getting into bed.'
'Praise the Lord,' Dottie said.
Chip came in from the bathroom. 'Morning Chip,' he said.
'Oh Hi, Rick. Didn't expect you to be up yet.'
'I'm used to getting up early. What time is it anyway?
'Seven thirty,' Dottie answered him.
Ricky swung his legs out of bed and pulled his trousers on, before making a beeline for the bathroom to wash and dress. When he came out there was a place laid at the table for him. Chip was already eating his cereals and milk. Dottie put a plate down in front of him. There were two rashers of bacon, two eggs and a hot scone, straight from the oven. The coffee pot was put on the table and Dottie sat down to join him for a cup.
'You're not eating,' he said to her.
'I can't eat that stuff, I'm too fat as it is.'
Ricky got tucked in to his breakfast. It was delicious and when he had finished the scone, she put another one on his plate. Chip took one as well, but he cut his open and poured maple syrup on it.
'Now, listen,' Dottie said to Chip. 'Don't you go blabbing your mouth off about Rick being English and hiding from the police, hear?;
'Yeah, Ma.' he said, as if humouring her.
'Never mind Yeah, Ma' she said, clipping his head with her tea towel. 'You just be careful. We don't want Rick arrested. Now get out of here and go to school.'
Chip gathered up his books and went out shouting, 'So long.' on the stairway outside.
'What you going to do today, Rick,' she asked as she folded up his bedding.
'Find some work, I hope. I'm going to try the garages, back down the road a bit.'
'Okay, people always need help out here. There'll be a hot meal for you when you get back tonight.'
'I want to thank you for what you've done for me ...' he started to say, but she said, 'No foolishness now. We're glad to help.'
'Yes, but you took me in not knowing anything about me.'
'We know all we needs to know. You're in trouble, that's enough to know. Now get out of here and get yourself a job.' she added sternly.
He turned to go. 'Thanks, Dottie.'
She waved her tea towel at him. 'Git.'
He went down the stairs and out on to the street. It was hot already and still only about eight o'clock. There were not many people around yet, just a few people hurrying along to work. The first garage he came to had nothing for him. 'Too late,' the man told him. 'I hired me a man yesterday.' The next garage didn't need anyone, and the third told him to come back later as the boss wasn't there, but they didn't think he needed anyone. The next place was a car sales and repair depot and the boss was a big, red faced, fat man. He looked Ricky up and down. 'Can you change wheels, son?'
Ricky had helped his brothers with their motorbikes, so he had a good idea of mechanics, and he had seen people changing wheels on their cars once or twice before, it didn't look too difficult.
'Yes, Sir,' he said, hoping he could do it without damaging anything.
'Okay, come with me.' He led the way to one of the sale cars on the forecourt. It was a huge Chevrolet, and it had a flat tyre on the back. The Boss pointed to a trolley jack across by the repair shed. 'Go get the jack and change the wheel for me.' Ricky dragged the jack across. It was on wheels and slid underneath a car. Once it was under the car and placed in the right position on the chassis, the handle turned one way so you could pump the jack up. Turning it the other way released the hydraulic pressure and the jack collapsed. The boss saw him struggling with it and showed him how it worked.
'I've never seen a jack like this before.' Ricky told him.
'Yeah, I can see that,' he replied.
Ricky placed the jack under the car and found a large solid looking part of the chassis. He turned the handle and started pumping the jack up. The car rose steadily from the ground, and when it was clear he stopped pumping. The boss handed him the wheel brace, which was a spider - like spanner with six different nut sizes on it. He pulled off the wheel trim and exposed the nuts. Finding the right sized spanner on the spider, he slackened off the wheel nuts. They were very tight, but he used all his strength and they eventually gave way. Quickly removing the nuts, he slid the wheel off the brake drum, and rested it on the floor. He knew the spare wheel would be in the boot, so he went around and got it out. It was a simple matter to place the new wheel on the hub, and replace the nuts, tightening them up once they were all on. He slipped the wheel trim back on and released the jack, drawing it out from under the car when it was fully down.
The boss looked at him. 'Not bad,' he said. 'Just two things. One, if that had been a front wheel, you would have had to release the wheel nuts when the wheel was on the ground. If you hadn't, when the car was in the air, the wheel would have spun when you tried to shift the nuts. As it was a back wheel, the parking brake held the wheel still while you slackened them. Two. Always tighten the wheel nuts with a last wrench when the wheel is on the ground, before you put the wheel trim on.'
Oh, well, Ricky thought. I've blown it!
'When can you start?' the boss asked.
Ricky was taken aback, 'R,right away,' he stammered.
'Okay, go see Frank in the workshop, and take this flat tyre with you. He'll find you some coveralls. Ten bucks a week and I buy lunch.'
'Thanks very much,' Ricky said.
'Call me Joe. Honest Joe. That's me,' he said pointing upwards. Ricky looked up and saw the sign above the car sales. 'Honest Joe's Auto's ' Joe grinned, 'What do they call you son?'
'Rick.' He turned and walked over to the workshop, rolling the punctured wheel with him. There was a man inside working on an engine on the bench.
'Frank?' he asked.
'What?' Frank snarled.
'Joe says to find me some coveralls.'
The guy threw his spanner on to the bench with a clatter. 'Shit, do I have to do everything around here?'
Ricky followed him across to a steel cupboard and caught the pair of overalls that he threw at him. Frank threw a ripped and stained pair of baseball boots on to the floor. He looked at Ricky. 'That's all we got, take it or leave it.'
Frank was the same height as Ricky, with black, slicked down hair. His face was pockmarked all over, and his black, fiery eyes stared at Ricky over a huge beaked nose. He was middle aged and weighed about twelve stones. He stared as Ricky put the overalls on over his clothes.
'You'll sweat you're balls off like that, dopey.' he said, wiping his hands on an oily rag. He indicated a door behind him. 'Go change into them in the rest room.'
Ricky went into the filthy room, gritting his teeth. This guy had already got up his nose, and he hadn't started work yet. The rest room, as he called it, was a toilet with one pedestal in an unbelievably filthy condition. An oily, cracked sink and a disgustingly dirty roller towel were fixed to the opposite wall, and any paint that had been on the walls had peeled off years before, the cracked and dirty plaster showering off in clouds of dust when you brushed against the wall. Imprints of oily hands had impregnated the wood around the door handle, leaving it blackened and stained. The floor was covered in old rags, empty oil tins, cigarette packets, gum wrappers and cigar stubs. The rubbish from years of neglect! He took the overalls off again, then stripped to his underpants, taking care not to let his clothes touch the floor or walls, before putting the overalls back on. He changed out of his boots into the baseball boots. They were a bit tight on him, but as Frank had said, 'That's all we got, ' he had no choice. Bundling his clothes up, he took them out with him.
'Where can I put these ?' he asked.
Frank was working on the engine again, and he pointed with a spanner at the cupboard where he'd found the overalls. Joe came in as Ricky was putting his clothes away. 'Got a nice little job for you, Rick.' He led the way back out to the forecourt and showed Ricky where the hose pipe and cleaning materials were kept, instructing him to wash all the cars, starting with the ones nearest the road and working back. Ricky counted them, and found that there were forty cars on the site, all of different sizes and colours. He worked his way through them steadily and had done the first row of eight when the hose pipe snagged on something and wouldn't move any further. Ricky stood back and tugged it, but it didn't move, so he yanked on it with all his strength and it came free at the same time as he heard a tinkle of breaking glass. He looked back along the length of hosepipe to a knot in the pipe where a wing mirror from one of the cars was trapped, swinging free from the car that it should have been fixed to.
'Shit.' he whispered in panic. He'd ripped a wing mirror off. He dashed over to the car with the mirror in his hand and balanced it back in the hole it had popped out from, hoping that it wouldn't be noticed. He swept the broken glass up in his hand and looked around. No one had noticed, Joe was in his office out of sight, so he dumped the broken glass under the back of the furthest car from the front. Joe came out of the office about an hour later, and called him in for a cup of coffee.
'Where you from, kid ?' he wanted to know.
'I'm over from England on a holiday, but I ran out of money.'
'Okay, so when are you going back ?'
'I can go back any time.'
'So you got an open ticket, huh ?'
'You're folks are not with you?'
'No, I came on my own.'
'How did you get here? '
'The ship came right here to Houston?'
'No, Port Arthur. Is there a dock here at Houston ?'
'There sure is. The ship canal brings them right up to the city.'
Ricky's heart skipped a beat. Oh, great! Maybe he could find a ship to take him home.
Joe said, 'Frank and me've got to deliver a car to a customer soon, so you'll be in charge here. If anyone wants anything, stall them until we get back, O.K.'
'For now, keep washing them cars, buddy.'
Ricky went back to washing the cars, happy at the thought of jumping on a ship and being taken home.
Joe came out twenty minutes later and called him over to the office. 'Here's the keys to that Chevvy on the end. Bring it over here outside the office to clean it. That way you can answer the phone if it rings.' Ricky looked at the keys. 'Uh, I can't drive.'
Joe looked at him in amazement. 'Can't drive ? Course you can drive, it's easy. Look I'll show you how.' He took Ricky over to the Chevvy and showed him where to put the keys in the ignition. 'Put the lever in Park,' he said, pointing to the automatic gear selector. 'Start the engine with the key, then put the lever in Drive, and the car moves. When you put your foot on the gas, it goes faster, put your foot on the brake, it stops. Simple?' he asked.
'Uh, yes. It looks easy.'
'Okay, get in and do it.'
Ricky slid behind the steering wheel and looked out over the huge bonnet. It was vast! He made sure the lever was in Park, then turned the key. The engine purred into life. Joe was watching him, nodding his head in encouragement. He slipped the lever into Drive and the big car crept forward. The car had to be turned right, out of the line of vehicles, so Ricky started turning the wheel slowly. Where the actual front of the car was, he had no idea, as he didn't know how much chrome plated bumper stuck out from the front of the bonnet. Joe directed him, waving him on, and when he'd gone far enough, held up a hand to stop him. He signalled for Ricky to go back and turn the wheel the other way. Joe dashed around the back while Ricky found reverse, and stopped him again when he'd reversed enough. Now he could see that he was clear of the other vehicle in front of him, so he crept forwards again and drew up outside the office. He felt exhausted! The sweat was pouring out of him and running into his eyes. 'There you go,' Joe grinned. 'Now you can drive.' Frank came out of the garage, got into his car and started the engine. He waited while Joe got into the Ford that he had to deliver, and followed when he pulled off the forecourt. Joe shouted out the window, 'Back in twenty minutes.' and waved as they sped off. Ricky started cleaning the Chevvy, and was half way around the enormous car when he heard a car pull on to the tarmac in front of the office. He straightened up and started to panic when he found he was looking at a police car, and the cop was already getting out of it. He looked wildly around him, trying to decide which way to run, when the cop waved him over. 'Hey, kid.' he called. Ricky dropped the sponge he was using. This was it. He was caught. He could almost feel the handcuffs snapping on to his wrists and hear the prison door creaking open, as he walked dejectedly towards the policeman.
Copyright Deric Barry 2005.
Innocent on the run. part 19.
The policeman stood with his hands on his hips, looking at Ricky. 'What's up, kid? You sick?'
'No.' he mumbled, lying through his teeth. His stomach was in uproar, and his heart beating like mad. He stumbled towards the cop, almost holding out his hands for the cuffs, when the policeman said, 'Where's Joe?'
Joe! He wants Joe, not me. Thank God!
He muttered, trying to hide his accent, 'Back soon.'
The policeman looked at him curiously, trying to decide whether he was a genuine half wit, or was he just practising to be one. He turned and got back in his car and started the engine. 'Tell him Lennie called and I'll speak to him later.' He looked at Ricky to see if his message had got through. 'Okay?'
Ricky nodded. The cop looked away and said, 'Jeez,' before driving off shaking his head.
Ricky opened the Chevvy's door and sat down with his head resting on the steering wheel. His legs had gone wobbly. The sense of relief was enormous. He'd have to get down the docks and see if there was a ship he could get on. He'd be a nervous wreck if he didn't. After a while he felt better, so he got out and finished cleaning the car. He was throwing the dirty water away when the phone rang, so he ran to the office and lifted the receiver.
'Hi, kid, it's Joe. Listen, we're held up for a while with this guy who bought the car. Any messages?'
'A cop came in. Lennie. Said he'd see you later.'
'Okay. Now when you've finished the Chevvy, start on that red Ford next to it. The keys are on my desk. See you later.' He hung up. Ricky picked up the bunch of keys off the desk and went back outside. The piece of forecourt outside the office wasn't big enough for two cars, he'd have to move the Chevvy first, then bring the Ford over. It was a tricky operation, and he managed it without causing any damage, but he was sweating streams by the time he'd finished the operation. He was finishing the Ford off when the car pulled up and Joe got out, carrying a paper bag. Frank drove across to the garage and parked his car.
Joe grinned, 'Hey, you did it, driving's easy, aint it?'
'Yes. Piece of cake.'
'Anyone else been?'
'No. Oh, yes. Someone was looking at that Blue car on the front row.' He indicated the car he'd ripped the wing mirror off, hoping that the fictitious customer would get the blame for the damage. 'But he drove off again.'
'Okay.' Joe went into the office and put the coffee on to boil. When it was ready he called Ricky in. He pointed at a paper bag on the desk. 'Lunch.' he said.
Halfway through lunch, a car pulled up on the road near to the car display and a man got out and started inspecting the cars. Joe was out of the office like a shot. It was the fastest Ricky had seen him move. He talked to the customer for ten minutes, showing him different cars, before the man climbed back into his car and drove off. Joe came back to the office, and he had the wing mirror on his hand. His face was like thunder. He stamped into the office. Ricky's face went white.
'Goddam,' he shouted. 'This guy you saw looking at the cars this morning. What did he look like?'
Ricky thought fast. 'Tall, skinny guy with red hair.'
'You sure it was red hair?'
'There's a tall skinny guy with black hair who thinks he had a raw deal from me, just because his transmission was shot. Said he'd get even. Now I find one of the wing mirror's broken off. Thought it was him.'
'No, this guy had red hair. And a red moustache,' he added. Joe threw the mirror in the corner. 'Goddam.' he repeated. Ricky breathed a sigh of relief. He was off the hook. He finished his sandwich and went outside to wash some more cars. Later that afternoon, they got quite busy with a lot of people looking at the cars. Joe went out with a customer on a trial run, and told Ricky to hold the fort. When he came back he told Ricky that he always went out with the customers on trials, ever since he'd had a car stolen letting someone go out on his own.
Three men walked on to the site, looking at the cars, and wanted a trial run in a fast looking coupe. Joe explained that he was just taking a lady out in a car, and if they could wait a little while, he'd be happy to take them out. One of the men, a short, swarthy looking individual with shifty eyes said, 'Hell, we don't need no one to come with us.'
'I'm afraid it's company policy, sir.' Joe said. 'Our insurance is void if one of us doesn't accompany you. If you're in a hurry.' he added, 'I'll get Rick here, to come with you.'
Shifty eyes was about to say 'No.' when one of the others said, 'Yeah, okay. The kid can come.' They drove off the forecourt with Ricky sat in the back alongside Shifty Eyes, and headed towards the city centre. 'How much gas is in this heap,' the one alongside the driver asked. 'Not much,' came the reply.
'Okay, pull in to the next gas station.'
They pulled in to a garage forecourt and filled up with gas. Ricky thought it a bit strange that they should put gas in one of Joe's cars, but maybe it was an American custom, and they'd get the money off Joe later. They drove through the city, on wide roads packed with vehicles of all kinds, huge skyscrapers lining the route, and out the other side to the suburbs. They'd been gone a long time, now, and Ricky wondered how much of a trial they would give the car. Surely Joe would be worrying about them, thinking they'd had an accident.
'How much further are we going ?' Ricky asked.
'Shut it, kid.' Shifty Eyes snarled.
They pulled up to the side of a long, low building, and the man alongside the driver got out. Shifty pulled a revolver out of his pocket and pointed it at Ricky. 'Out.' he said. 'One wrong move, and you're dead.'
Ricky's eyes widened in fear, but he opened the door and got out onto the pavement. Shifty followed, the gun concealed in his pocket, and grabbed Ricky's arm. 'Move.' he said. The three of them went around to the front of the building, Ricky sandwiched between two men. He could see that it was a bank, now.
My God, he said to himself, they're going to rob the bank. They paused in the doorway and the two men pulled their neck scarves up over the lower part of their faces. Bundling Ricky in through the door, they shouted, 'Stick up, no one move!' There were no customers, just two people behind the open plan counter. They froze at the sight of two guns pointing at them. Shifty bellowed at them, 'Put the money in bags. Move it.' The staff started shoving money in bags and putting them on the counter, until there were five bags stuffed with money in a pile. 'Now move back from the counter.' Shifty shouted, covering them with his gun. He pushed Ricky forward. 'Get the bags,' he said. Ricky picked up the bags and moved back to Shifty. 'Outside,' he snarled. Ricky went out through the door as the car pulled up with the two nearside doors open. He slid into the back and was pushed into the corner by Shifty propelling himself in on top of him. Both doors slammed shut as the car screeched away from the curb and raced down the street at breakneck speed. The driver gave a triumphant whoop, as they sped off, slapping the steering wheel in exultation. The two men took their bandanas off and the one in the front handed Shifty a holdall. He took the bags of money from Ricky and put them in the holdall, watching through the rear window for any sign of pursuit. The man in front handed his gun back, and Shifty put both weapons in the holdall. The car was on the outskirts of the suburbs now, heading towards the country and they raced along the roads, overtaking other vehicles and jumping traffic lights. 'Slow down, for Christ's sake.' Shifty shouted. 'You'll have the cops on us.'
The driver laughed, 'Yahoo,' he shouted. 'We done it! Yahoo!!
'Shut up you crazy bastard.' Shifty bellowed, but he was smiling. The car slowed a little, and soon they were right out in the country, with not another vehicle in sight. The driver turned off on to a dirt track and they bounced along the uneven ground for a few miles before coming to a halt under some trees. Another car was waiting there, and they transferred the holdall to its boot, before climbing in and driving away. The men were in an excellent humour, laughing and telling the driver how easy it had been, as they drove off the dirt road and back on to the highway. They headed back towards the city and took the ring road, by-passing the centre. Once away from Houston they headed South, keeping to the speed limit. Two police cars passed in the other direction, with their lights flashing, and Shifty waved them goodbye out of the back window. The driver thought it was a huge joke.
Ricky was worried. What would they do with him? He could identify them. What was
also bad, was that the bank staff could identify him. He was as much a bank robber as they were. Who would believe that they forced him to do it ? He hadn't been threatened inside the bank. He'd done as he was told and picked the bags of money up. To anyone watching, he must have seemed a part of the gang. He thought he was in trouble before, but that was nothing compared to the trouble he was in now.
The car drove on down the highways, Ricky sitting in the corner, lost in his own thoughts. Two hours later they turned the car off the highway, onto a dirt road, and after a couple of miles, pulled up at a lonely farmhouse and drove the car into a barn. The two men in the front got out, and, as the driver opened Ricky's door, the other one opened the boot and got the holdall out. Ricky got out and was escorted into the farmhouse by Shifty and the driver. 'Don't even think about running anywhere,' Shifty told him. 'We're thirty miles from the next farm.'
Shifty unlocked the front door and they went into the living room. The driver went to a refrigerator in the corner of the kitchen and came back with six beers. The three men opened beers and drank noisily.
'Have a beer, kid.' The driver said. 'I won't tell the cops you're under age.' He laughed, spilling some beer from his bottle.
'No, thanks.' Ricky said. It was beer that got him in the mess he was in, in the first place.
Shifty and the other man were pulling the money bags out of the holdall, and putting them on the kitchen table. The driver took Ricky by the arm and sat him down on a kitchen chair where they could keep an eye on him. They emptied the bags of money on to the table in a pile and started counting it. Ricky had never seen so much money before ! There was a mountain of it, and it took ages to count ! The three men were ecstatic! The driver grabbed Shifty and did a little dance with him. 'Yahoo,' he whooped. 'Sixty eight thousand dollars. Whoooee.'
'Cut it out, you moron,' Shifty laughed.
The other man was grinning all over his face. 'Take a good look, kid,' he said. 'You'll never see that much money again.' They divided the money into three piles and each put his pile in a bag, storing the bags in a cupboard. Shifty tucked the guns in his waistband and threw the holdall in a corner. The driver took some steaks out of the fridge and got a frying pan out. He heated the pan up and threw the first steak in. It was huge and filled the pan, and it smelled great as it sizzled away. He turned it once after about a minute, then once that side had cooked for a minute, he tipped it onto a plate, and passed it to Shifty. He cooked another one, said 'Here, Dan,' and the other man put down his beer and took it. The last one he cooked was for himself. Ricky looked at the meat and felt hunger pangs. He was ravenous.
'Do one for the kid.' Dan said.
'Let him do his own, I ain’t his servant.'
Ricky got up from his chair and took a steak from the pile on top of the fridge. He heated up the pan again and cooked it. It was the first time he'd cooked a steak, and maybe it was a bit burned, but it tasted heavenly.
'Now, look,' Shifty said, opening another beer, and lighting a cigarette. 'We've got to decide what to do with this kid. He can identify us, and we could go down for a long time for this job.' The driver went across to the fridge and got another six beers out. He and Dan opened bottles.
'I only want to get out of the country...' Ricky began. 'Shut it ! ' Shifty warned.
'What's that ?' the driver asked him?
'I'm an illegal immigrant. I just want to go home to England. '
'No one knows you're in this country?' Shifty asked.
'No.' he lied.
'Well then, it's easy.' Shifty told the others. 'We can knock him off and no one will miss him.'
Ricky was petrified. They were going to kill him. He started babbling, 'No, No, you don't need to do that, all I want is a ship and I'm out of the country, drop me off at a port and I'll jump a ship, I'll be gone before you know it, no one will ever know I've been here and when I'm gone you're .....'
'Shut up !' Shifty screamed.
Dan said, 'We can't take you anywhere kid. They're looking for three men and a kid, the kid wearing dirty blue coveralls. The whole state will be out looking for us.' 'Yeah,' the driver giggled, 'We're famous, kid, we'd never make it. We're like the James gang,' and he drew an imaginary gun and said 'Bang bang,' laughing hysterically. He crossed to the cupboard and took a bottle of whisky out. Breaking the seal and holding it to his mouth, he gulped the fiery liquid down, and belched. 'Wow, ' he gasped.
Shifty took the bottle off him and drank deeply. 'We got to think,' he said, and lit a cigarette. Ricky's stomach was knotted up and he started to shake. 'Maybe if two of you stayed here and the other one took me.....'
'Get this kid out of here,' Shifty bellowed. 'I can't think straight with him yakking.'
The driver took Ricky by the arm, and dragged him up off the chair. There was a door opening off the kitchen and he kicked it open and shoved Ricky inside. He looked around him, but there was no means of escape. There was no window and the walls looked solid. It was a store room with shelves full of tins of food. Boxes and sacks of other goods were stacked at one end and large pieces of meat hung from hooks in the ceiling. It looked as though the three men had taken enough stores to last them years. Obviously the plan was to hide out here, after getting rid of him, Ricky thought. He was in big trouble. He listened at the door to try to overhear what their plans for him were. Shifty was talking rapidly, but Ricky couldn't hear what he was saying through the thick door. He heard the driver's maniacal laughter once, but he gave up trying to eavesdrop after a while and sat in the corner with his back against a sack.
Copyright Deric Barry 2005.