A Kiss Like Money
A Conner Samson Story
by Victor Gischler
......Most of the hardcore rummies,
the derelict gin monkeys, the beer bellies and the winos had
already drifted out for the evening. Two a.m. was closing time
at Salty's, but Sid didn't shoo me off my barstool. He was a
good egg, old Sid. I was face deep into my fifth vodka martini.
Tony, the one-armed pool hustler, who'd been hanging around
the place about a month, leaned over the jukebox pondering
his next selection. It took about five minutes
and twenty bucks to teach me not to play pool with him anymore.
My pal Detective Sergeant Frank Morgan was relieving his much-abused
bladder in the smelly trough which passed for a men's room when
the safecracker spilled into the saloon, clutching his guts and
leaving a trail of blood.
Sid dropped a tray of beer mugs and rushed to the safecracker.
......Johnny Amir was a squat
little Egyptian with one eye and soft hands who Frank
had sent up with my help three years ago. The rest of his gang
had gotten away. Frank and the boys in blue had squeezed him
pretty good, but he wouldn't give up his partners in crime.
......Sid folded an apron under
Amir's head. "He's still breathing, Conner."
......I reached across the bar
and dialed 911. "Send an ambulance. Salty's saloon on the
beach. Hurry." I hung up and told Sid, "They're on
the way. How is he?"
......"Looks like he's got
a couple of slugs in the gut. He's a mess. Look at the blood.
Christ there must be a gallon of it."
......Tony tried to shoulder
his way in, get a look at Amir.
......Sid pushed him back. "Don't
crowd. This guy's in bad shape."
......Tony frowned but stayed
out of the way. "I was just trying to lend a hand."
......Every one-armed guy's favorite
......Frank stumbled out of the
can struggling with his fly. "What the hell's this?"
I told him. "Gut shot."
......"I think he's trying
to talk," said Sid.
......"Back off," said
Frank. "Give him some room." Frank knelt next to him,
and when the Egyptian tried to talk it came out like a sad little
said Frank. "Don't strain yourself." So he leaned in
close. Amir's lips moved.
......In ten minutes, the place
swarmed with uniforms. A pair of defeated paramedics zipped Johnny
Amir into a body bag and rolled him away. Behind the bar was
the best place to keep out of the way, so I helped myself to
another martini. A uniformed cop approached and handed me a sour
of the self-service policy, pal?" asked the cop.
......"I don't get enough
olives the other way."
......"Funny guy, huh? How
about I let you dry out at the station?
......Frank saved me. "That's
Conner Samson, Eddie. Lay off. He's okay, he's with me."
......"The private dick?"
I told him.
......He ignored me and told
Frank, "Okay, Sarge. I'll leave him to you."
......When Eddie'd gone, I asked
Frank, "So what's the story?"
......"Not now, Conner.
I'll call you tomorrow."
......Frank was a professional
hardass, but I could see he was even more sour than usual. I
called a cab, went home and slipped into martini dreams.
......Frank's jackhammer knock
on my apartment door pulled me out of bed at the crack of noon.
My tongue tasted like five miles of dirt road, and I could only
get one eye open. The summer Florida sun leaked through the blinds.
I struggled into my robe, had the other eye open by the time
I let Frank in.
......He came bearing gifts.
Two big styrofoam cups of black, black coffee and a paper bag
full of bearclaws. We parked at my kitchen table. I crawled into
the cup of coffee with gratitude. The bearclaws were for Frank.
He was short and round and bald and married, and a bearclaw might've
been the only thing giving him the will to live each morning.
......"You look like shit,
......"I wish I felt as
good as I looked."
......"Well, shake the cobwebs
out and listen up," said Frank. "I just drew two weeks
vacation from the department. I told the old lady we're going
......I sipped my coffee. "I
got nothing against the fish."
......"We're not really
going fishing, you dumb shamus. I got a proposition for you."
He finished the last half of his bearclaw in one bite and washed
it past his throat with a hot gulp of coffee. "Let me tell
you a story."
......"Some of this you
know already, but just listen," said Frank. "A few
years ago, we sent Amir up for cracking an office safe over at
Westinghouse. He'd planned to pawn some manufacturing secrets
to a rival company. He slipped up, got himself nabbed and copped
......"Yeah, yeah, yeah,"
I played along, "and then he copped a plea. So?"
......"So," Frank bit
into another bearclaw, before he continued, "about three
weeks before, there was a bank heist. The University of West
Florida Credit Union. Remember?"
......I remembered. It had been
splashed all over the papers for months. Every two weeks, the
credit union cashed state paychecks as part of its service to
the campus. Teachers, students, custodians, anyone who drew a
state paycheck could cash it at the union, so they stockpiled
cash the night before every payday in preparation for the rush.
If I remembered correctly, the bandits made off with nearly three
hundred thousand dollars. The money was never recovered, the
robbers never caught.
......"We knew Amir was
in town," continued Frank. "Famous safecracker and
all. The grapevine told us where to find him, so we were on him
pretty quick after the heist. We leaned on him good, but the
guy was a clam. And we weren't able to uncover any physical evidence
linking him to the crime."
......"Maybe it wasn't him,"
I suggested. "If he was in town to pull the Westinghouse
job, it might just be a coincidence."
Frank said the word like it had taken a crap in his mouth. "I
might not of had anything on the guy, but I've been a cop for
nineteen years. I can smell a crook. Amir was the safecracker
for the credit union heist. You can hang your hat on that. When
we busted him for the Westinghouse job, I found this on his key
......Frank fished a silver key
with big teeth out of his pocket and pushed it across the table.
I picked it up and took a squint at it. Not a house or car key,
and the teeth were too big to be a safety deposit box. "A
lock box maybe or a footlocker."
......"Good eye. I got a
footlocker at home, and the key for it's almost exactly the same.
It's a good-sized locker. Big enough to hold three hundred thousand
in cash by my estimation."
......"That's kind of a
stretch. Maybe the guy kept his comic book collection
......Frank shook his head. "We
checked his house and his car. We also went over the Westinghouse
offices. It doesn't fit anything, and it's not a bus station
or airport locker key. I asked him about it in interrogation,
but he claimed he'd never seen it before. Okay, maybe it's a
stretch like you say, but I don't think so. I'm going on my gut.
I admit that. But I want that money. Help me, and I'll cut you
in for half."
......That woke me up, and I
forgot my hangover. "Did I hear you right, Frank?"
......His face clouded, and he
sat back in his chair. "Listen to me, Conner. In a few years,
my time's up. You know what a cop's pension is? Peanuts. I've
been shot at, cursed at and spit on. Every junkie with a box
cutter has tried to take a chunk out of me. And what's my reward?
A gold watch and a plot in the old cop's graveyard. The insurance
company's already made good on the money, and the safecracker's
caught two bullets. Why should we let all that dough go to waste?"
......Frank laughed. "Not
everyone wants to talk to a cop. You look up your contacts, and
I'll look up mine."
......"I don't know, Frank."
......"What was your last
job? Some broad that thinks her old man is putting it
to his secretary? Peeping in some windows? What'd you get paid
......"So give yourself
a break. Tell you what. If we use up my vacation time and haven't
found the money, we'll call it quits. But if we find it . . .
" he trailed off letting his big grin finish the story for
......"A footlocker key.
Not much of a lead, buddy."
......"Don't get me wrong,"
said Frank. "I'm not proposing we run around Pensacola with
shovels digging for buried treasure. Amir told me something when
he was lying there on the floor bleeding in Salty's. He said
......"What's that supposed
......Frank said, "It's
worth three hundred thousand to find out."
......I putzed around in my bathrobe
awhile, poring over the copy of the police file Frank had left.
Although I remembered the big bank job from the newspapers, it
was good to plug the holes of my Swiss cheese memory. The investigators
at the time figured three people for the job. Amir, of course,
had been the safe man. Another guy had helped him, kept watch
and filled in on odd jobs while Amir applied his expertise.
......I decided to concentrate
on the third guy.
......According to Frank's report,
the robbers hadn't forced their way in. So the cops on the case
figured an inside man. Terrence Ladd had been branch manager
at the time. Not only did he have a key and the codes, but a
recent merger had made his position obsolete. The police had
had enough to pick up Ladd for questioning, but his lawyer bee-lined
to the station and sprung Ladd before the cops could lean on
him too hard. He'd been out just long enough to eat a bottle
of sleeping pills, and too many people took his suicide as an
admission of guilt to bother continuing the investigation.
......The file had listed a wife.
Anne. But she'd moved back to Michigan to be near her sister
after the suicide. The daughter, Penelope, was a student at the
University of West Florida across town. It took about a split
second of thought to shorten Penelope to Penny, so I looked up
her address in the phone book, hopped in my Plymouth Fury and
paid her a visit.
Penelope Ladd held my business card like it was radioactive.
"Private Investigator." She looked up at me from the
lounge chair, shading her eyes against the sun. "You're
......"I've been practicing."
......"Funny too. What can
I do for you, Conner Samson?"
......I pulled up one of the
other deck chairs near the swimming pool. I'd found Penelope's
apartment, and her roommate had informed me she was catching
her afternoon ration of ultraviolet. She was getting a tan all
right, and she was good at it. She was a career blonde with long
legs and a taut belly. Her breasts were small but stood up for
themselves. There wasn't much to her electric orange bikini,
and she had some bright, thin lines on her hips and around her
arms where she'd recently traded in her swim suit for one of
a different cut.
......"I'm looking into
something, and I was hoping you could answer a few questions."
......"What're you looking
into?" Her smile was big and white and full of trouble.
......"Some old business."
I fished a cigar out of my pocket, unwrapped it and stuck it
in my face without lighting it. "Can I call you Penny? Pretty
she repeated wistfully and turned the volume up on her smile.
"My father used to call me that."
......"Terrible thing, his
......Her smile hit a bump in
the road, caved in a little around the edges. "I think I
know the old business you're talking about."
......"An Egyptian safecracker
named Johnny Amir fell dead at my feet the other night. That
sort of stirred things up again."
......"I'll tell you what
I told the police three years ago," she said. "My father
didn't have anything to do with the robbery. I don't expect anyone
to believe me. The police didn't, and of course I was just eighteen
at the time. I don't see what good it is dragging it up now.
But I know in my heart my father was innocent."
......"A lot of people thought
him guilty when he took the pills."
......She sighed, sat up in the
lounge, fixed me better with a hard look. "It was a bad
time for my father then. He was losing his job. My mother wanted
a divorce. They were waiting for me to start college to make
it final. When they arrested him, it was the last straw."
......"Don't be, Mr. Samson.
I'd like to know what you think I can tell you."
......"I'm not sure,"
I said. "But when the Egyptian died, the last thing he said
was "pretty penny." I suppose it's some kind of coincidence."
......"I'm sure I don't
know." She stood and wrapped a towel around herself. "I'm
going in now. Before I start to burn."
......"Thanks for your time...pretty
......She shot me a dagger look
over her shoulder on the way up to her apartment.
......I slunk back to my Plymouth
and sat in the driver's seat. I didn't bother cranking the ignition
because I didn't know where I was going. My chat with Penelope
Ladd had been a bust. Pretty Penny. Those words had to mean something.
But aside from a lounge chair full of eye candy, I hadn't gotten
much out of my morning. I cranked the Plymouth , planning
to drive out to campus and take a look at the scene of
the crime, when Penny came bounding out of her apartment complex.
......She'd slipped into a pair
of white shorts and a blue tanktop. Her sandals flop-flop-flopped
out to a red Nissan. She hopped in and sped away. I gave her
a little lead and followed in the Plymouth.
......I trailed her down Scenic
Highway and over the bridge into Gulf Breeze. I kept three or
four cars back the whole time, but I didn't get the feeling she
was looking in her rearview mirror too much. We turned along
the coast road until we hit Old Navy Cove where she hooked a
left into Jerry's Marina. I parked at the bait and tackle shop
across the street and lit my cigar.
......Penny left the Nissan and
skipped down one of the docks between a line of boats. Jerry's
was a small marina on one of the waterways so none of the boats
were too big, certainly nothing commercial. There was no way
I could follow her down the dock without risking her catching
me coming back the other way, so I fished the copy of the police
file out of the back seat for a little light reading.
......During his initial investigation,
Frank had interviewed a couple of campus cops who'd stumbled
onto the tail end of the robbery. They'd squeezed off a few bullets
at the two fleeing bandits, and one of the cops claimed to have
winged one of them. They found a few splatters of blood, but
a sweep of the area hospitals had come up empty.
......I'd smoked half the cigar,
when Penny came back down the dock. She had a puzzled look on
her face. When she got in her car, I had a decision to make.
I could keep following or see what was at the end of the dock.
I flipped a mental coin and watched the Nissan speed away.
......I strolled down the dock,
eyeing the boats, chewing the stub of the cigar, half expecting
what I'd find. The cabin cruiser was about ten years old and
in good shape, nice lines, maybe twenty-six feet with a pair
of husky inboards. Across the stern in fancy blue script was
the ship's name. Pretty Penny.
......If Penny had just been
through her, I didn't really think I could do any better, but
I shrugged knowing I'd have to give it a shot. I stepped aboard
and went through the boat by the numbers. The first thing I found
was the registration in Terrence Ladd's name. If Penny had inherited
the boat, she hadn't bothered to change over the title. A red
footlocker in a closet all the way forward held a first aid kit
and a flare gun but nothing like a big wad of cash. I slumped
into the pilot's chair and scratched my chin. A framed map hung
over the wheel and beneath the two-way radio. It was one of those
souvenir charts of Santa Rosa Island the locals push on the tourists,
stained brown around the edges to look like pirate parchment
with a campy cartoon drawing of old Fort Pickens out on the western
most tip. It wasn't anything you'd want to navigate by, but maybe
it was Terrence Ladd's idea of nautical decor.
......I didn't know what else
I could accomplish at the marina, so I got back in the Plymouth
and headed for home. Just over the bridge, I spotted an old yellow
pickup truck in the rearview mirror. I thought I'd seen it tailing
me earlier that morning, but had put it down to paranoia. But
the truck definitely seemed familiar.
......I took a couple of experimental
turns, and the truck stayed close. But not close enough to get
a good peek at the driver. I stood on my brakes and took a sudden
right without signaling, then zigzagged through a residential
neighborhood. I came out Ninth Avenue, satisfied I'd thrown him
off. He may have been connected to the case somehow, but it was
more likely one of my creditors out for his pound of flesh.
......At home, my answering machine
blinked at me like a Christmas tree on crack, but I didn't have
the heart to check it. I was tired and out of ideas, so I hit
......I didn't get much of a
nap, though. I kept tossing and turning with the idea
that something right under my nose didn't smell right. Finally,
I gave up and made myself a pot of coffee and gulped down two
cups. I checked the answering machine. All six messages
were variations on a theme. I should go to the hospital, they
told me. Frank Morgan had caught a bullet in the back.
......"It's was just before
dawn," said Frank, "when the old lady heard something
knocking around downstairs." Frank looked like hell and
was setting some kind of world record for having tubes sticking
out of him. The doctor had told me they'd dug a 9mm chunk of
lead out of him, but it hadn't hit anything vital. They had him
on his side now in the hospital bed. He looked pale and haggard.
......"So you went down
to investigate." I asked, "Didn't you have your service
......"It's on the nightstand,"
said Frank. "But the cat thinks she should be fed before
the paper boy comes, so she's always making some racket. I thought
I'd open a can of tuna-liver-whatzit and get back to bed. Thing
is, I got downstairs, and it was obvious some one had taken
the credit union file. I had it wrapped up in a couple of
rubber bands on the dining room table, and I noticed right off
it was missing. Well, that got me the rest of the way awake.
I turned around to run back upstairs and grab the pistol. I got
maybe three steps when I heard the shot and felt the slug in
my back. Next thing I know I'm kissing carpet and the old lady's
screaming her head off. I faded out, then woke up after surgery."
......"That's some story."
......"First thing I do
when I come to is have one of the nurses dial your number. Flash
a badge and you usually get service, even if your bare ass is
hanging out a hospital gown."
......"You were afraid I
wouldn't come visit?"
He winced so hard I almost hurt. He talked tough, but he was
in bad shape. "Anyhow," said Frank, "You needed
to be told. If I was shot because I'm poking my nose into that
credit union hold up, you may be next."
......"Only kryptonite can
Geez, I think my dope's wearing off. Call the nurse, will you,
......I hit the button, and the
nurse knew what to bring. She injected the painkiller directly
into the tube that flowed into Frank's left arm. I saw relief
immediately wash over him. That was strong stuff, and he'd be
......"I'm out of the loop
for awhile," he said weakly. "You keep poking around."
......"I might have to make
some executive decisions."
......"You're . . .in charge."
He could barely keep his eyes open.
......Then it hit me. Why I couldn't
get a nap earlier, what was bugging me about this case. "Frank,
why did Amir go to Salty's when he was shot?"
......"Salty's. . .Amir."
I leaned in close, pronounced my words clearly. "Did you
know Amir would be there? Was he looking for you?"
said the nurse. "He needs to rest."
......The thought was clear now,
and I didn't like it. The idea that Frank was more connected
than I'd first thought with the credit union hold up. Not that
he'd help stick the place up. I couldn't quite swallow that.
But maybe he'd cut a deal with Amir. Maybe he'd sent Amir up
for the Westinghouse job to keep the money safe, to keep Amir
away from his partners. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I could choke a
hippo with so many maybes.
......At home, I had a visitor.
......Penny Ladd had draped herself
across the two steps that led up to my ground floor apartment.
She wore the same tanktop and shorts, and her skin glowed bronze
in the waning rays of the day's red sun. She nudged a pair of
sleek sunglasses to the end of her nose and regarded me over
the dark lenses.
......"I think we got off
on the wrong foot this morning," she said. "I thought
maybe if you were looking into what happened with my father,
it might not be a bad thing. It might be something that could
clear his name."
......She was offering a way
we could be okay with each other, and I hopped aboard. "That's
right. I'm just trying to find out the truth."
......"Can we talk about
......I climbed the steps past
her and unlocked my front door. "Come in. Want a drink?"
......Her smile came back full
volume. "I'll have whatever you're having."
......Inside, I built us a pair
of vodka martinis. She choked on the first one. The second went
down a little easier, and by the third it was like mama's milk.
I made mine weak and nursed them along. She talked about her
......"It just seems like
yesterday he was hanging my grade school art projects on the
refrigerator." She leaned across my kitchen table, ripped
a clean sheet of paper out of the spiral notebook I used to keep
track of my thoughts. "At Thanksgiving, I made him a hand
turkey." She put her thin, brown hand over one of my hairy
paws, placed it in the center of the page, traced an outline
of my hand with a blue pen. She finished the turkey after I removed
my hand, the fingers as the tail, the thumb the turkey's head
and neck. "Of course, I had a full set of crayons in the
......I smiled at her. "I
think I filled a whole closet with popsicle-stick sculpture.
You should have heard my old man gush. You'd think I was Leonardo
......I was aware her hand was
still on mine, and she was aware I was aware and let it stay.
She was warm. She pulled away from me slowly, her eyes full of
......"I meant to tell you.
My father's boat is called Pretty Penny. I suppose it's
my boat now."
......"Really?" I kept
my voice neutral.
......"I went out there
to take a look," said Penny. "I couldn't imagine what
it might have to do with anything, but I couldn't stop thinking
about it." As she talked, she absently flipped over the
turkey-hand drawing and drew a near perfect copy of my hand.
I said. "You didn't have to trace that time."
......She laughed. "Actually,
I did trace. The pen marks push through from the other side.
I just drew over them." She pushed paper and pen aside and
asked, "Why don't you come out to the boat with me? Have
a look around. Maybe you'll see something I didn't."
......I didn't want to confess
I'd followed her, so I agreed to meet her the next afternoon
at the marina. She gave me directions, and I nodded like it was
all brand new. I told her I had to visit a friend in the hospital
and I'd see her on the deck of the Pretty Penny about
......She kissed me goodbye,
and her taste lingered a long time.
......I dressed for boating,
deck shoes, khaki shorts, green polo shirt.
......The nurses at the hospital
told me Frank had just taken another dose of pain reliever. He
was out like a light. I asked the nurse to mention I'd stopped
......I chipped the hours away
with small errands. I filled up the Plymouth with premium. At
the supermarket, I bought a sixpack of Mexican beer, cold cuts,
rye bread and potato salad.
......At Jerry's Marina, I passed
a leather-faced old salt at the rental counter. "Nice day
to sail. You want a boat for the afternoon? Fish or ski."
......"No thanks. I'm on
the way out to the Pretty Penny."
......His smile became half leer.
"I seen that boat. She comes well equipped."
......I found out what he meant.
Penny was on deck in one of those red, white and blue American
flag bikinis. Her skin glistened with oil. She smiled big as
I approached and waved me aboard. We ate on deck, then moved
into the little cabin below to finish the beer.
......We kissed lightly at first,
but soon I shucked my clothes and untied her bikini. Her hands
worked over me, fingers lingering on old scars. It was hot in
the cabin, no breeze, and our sweat and oil mixed. After, we
lay in the sheets sticky with suntan oil. Penny's breathing was
steady. She'd eased into sleep, coiling like a child next to
......But for me, it was too
hot to sleep. I climbed out of the tight cabin, back to the pilot's
station aft, out in the open air. I sat on the stern trying to
catch the breeze off the water. I thought long and hard about
Johnny Amir and his box of money. He'd said "Pretty Penny."
Frank was very definite. But if the money wasn't here on the
boat, then something else was. Some clue. Something that would
tell Frank where to look. Why Amir would confide this information
to Frank was a problem I filed away for later. So I sat there
thinking around and around in circles, squinting hard at the
souvenir map of Santa Rosa Island over the pilot's wheel.
......The sun was sinking fast
now, the last rays glinting off the glass in the map's frame.
I thought about Penny tracing a perfect outline of my hand using
the pen marks on the other side, and rose slowly, took the map
in my hands, knowing what I'd find. I found where the back of
the frame had been taken apart and not put back together quite
right. I took it apart slowly, separated map from frame, turned
it over, and it was all there.
......Thank you, Johnny Amir.
......"You mean it's been
here the whole time?" Penny held Amir's map with reverence.
The safecracker had used the souvenir drawing of Santa Rosa Island
as a guide for his own map. He'd traced the shape but filled
in directions, channel markers and mileage-everything someone
might need to track down the hidden loot.
......"Yeah." I didn't
say what we both knew, that the map was hidden aboard her father's
boat, and any notion that he might have been innocent floated
away when I found it. If she didn't want to talk about it, that
was fine by me.
......I flipped on the Pretty
Penny's running lights and eased her into the channel. The
inboards chugged steadily, and I pointed the bow toward Santa
Rosa Island. Amir's map clearly indicated we'd need to sail for
the western most tip of the island where I supposed a circled
dollar sign meant the money was located. No "x marks the
spot" for Johnny Amir.
......Beside me, Penny stood
rigid with anticipation, her little hand on my forearm squeezing
just a bit tighter with each mile that passed. Soon we rounded
the buoy which marked where the channels crossed, and I knew
we were close. I brought the boat near to shore and when we reached
the fishing pier-rebuilt after the last hurricane-I pulled along
side and tied her off near one of the ladders.
......Penny strapped a fanny-pack
around her waist, claiming it was handier than a purse.
......"I don't think you're
going to need anything," I said.
......"A girl never knows."
...... We climbed up to the pier,
and old Fort Pickens was lit from the bottom by the ground lights.
It looked ancient and eerie in the clear night. If a park ranger
came by, he'd send us away, but in the meantime, we had the place
......"This is it, isn't
it?" Penny's voice was low with awe. "It's here."
I held the map up to the moonlight. Amir wasn't a bad artist,
those safecracker's hands, I guess. He'd drawn a row of cannons
facing the gulf, and the dollar sign was drawn over the third.
We hiked around the outside of the fort until we came upon a
gun emplacement which guarded the approach between the island
and the mainland. We counted three cannon, and Penny looked down
the dark barrel.
......"It's cemented over,"
......"Amir wouldn't have
hidden it there," I said. "Kids would find it."
......"Maybe." I knelt
next to the cannon. It was raised on a wooden platform so it
could fire over the rampart. I ran a hand along its smooth surface,
but found no sign the planks had been forced apart. In front
was a different story. Three of the boards looked newer then
the ones adjacent. The nails were newer too. Could it have stayed
under there three years? It was nailed up tight. No reason to
move the cannon.
......"I need something
to pry with."
......"I'll look around."
Penny was gone five minutes before returning with a claw hammer.
......"Where'd you get that?"
......"They're working on
the restrooms by the pier. There was a pickup with a toolbox.
I had to knock off the padlock with a rock."
......"Good girl. Was there
......"It was this or
a big screwdriver."
......I went to work. I had to
bang out the corner of the platform where the planks met to give
the claw some purchase, but it was easy after that. I pried out
three boards, putting my back into it, trying to find leverage
with the hammer's short handle. I was drenched in sweat and dirty
when I was finished.
......I had to go flat on my
belly and reach in with both hands. The box was actually a green
suitcase of thin metal covered with a three-year layer of crud
and mold where water had leaked on it. Penny and I stood over
it breathless, soaking in the moment before the final unveiling.
......"We're rich, Conner"
Somewhere in the back of my brain I realized her quest had shifted
gears. She was a treasure hunter now, no longer the avenging
daughter out to clear the old man's name. But I was caught in
the moment myself and let it pass.
......I didn't have Frank's key,
so I banged the lock apart with the hammer, then threw open the
suitcase. The money was stacked in neat rows, still bound in
the credit union wrappers, pristine bills, twenties and fifties
and hundreds. The smell of money wafted over us.
......From behind, a husky voice
growled, "Let's not make any sudden moves, okay?"
......Penny coughed up a startled
yelp. I turned slowly. Tony Dale stepped out of the darkness
like a ghost, an automatic pistol in his one good hand. His eyes
shifted from me to Penny to the money.
......"I thank you for finding
my money," said Tony. "I've been waiting a long time
for it." He tapped his empty sleeve with the gun. "Took
a bullet for it."
......Something in my head clicked.
"You had a little trouble following me yesterday, didn't
you Tony." I finally remembered where I'd seen the yellow
pickup before, in the parking lot of Salty's Saloon.
......His grin wasn't friendly.
"You threw me off pretty good, Samson. I guess you know
your business. Penny was much easier. I waited at the marina
about two hours when it occurred to me you might take off somewhere
in the boat, so I rented one myself right before the guy closed
up shop. It was a lot easier to follow you by boat. I just kept
my running lights off and stayed back far enough so you wouldn't
......"Now you and Penny
carry that suitcase of money back to the boat and we get out
of here. I don't want any trouble. When we get back to the marina,
you two can tie each other up or something. As long as I get
a head start."
......We carried the money back
to the Pretty Penny, and Tony kept his gun on me while
I started the boat. I'd thought I might make a play for him when
he tried to negotiate the ladder, but the pier wasn't that high
up and he made the jump with no problem. So I steered the boat
into the channel and we made for Jerry's Marina.
......In the boat, Tony and Penny
sat on opposite sides of the stern while I steered.
......"I suppose that's
a 9mm you got there, Tony?"
......"What about it?"
......"Nothing. It's just
that Frank Morgan's in the hospital right now cause he took one
in the back. I was just wondering how the ballistics would match
......"It was a shame,"
said Tony. "All I wanted was the files. If the guy would've
just stayed asleep, he'd still be okay."
......"I owe Frank an apology,"
I said. The channel buoy sprang up ahead of us in the distance,
its red light bobbing with the current. I pointed the boat right
at it, but it was still a ways off. I turned to face Tony and
kept talking. "I wondered why Amir would come to Salty's
to spill his secrets to a cop. Now I realize Amir was there to
see you, Tony. Amir was so out of his mind from blood loss, he
didn't know who he was talking to. Frank must have suspected
your involvement and had been keeping an eye on you for three
......Tony laughed. "Yeah,
the three of us made an unlikely team. Me and Johnny Amir and-"
......The silver automatic in
Penny's hands spat fire twice, and Tony fell to the deck dropping
his pistol and grabbing at his belly. I'd seen Penny fumbling
with the fanny-pack while Tony and I were talking, but I hadn't
realized what she was up to until the gun had flashed in the
moonlight. By then it was too late. Tony groaned on the deck
......She fired again. Tony twitched
said Penny. "The money's ours."
......"It's not done,"
......She swiveled the gun in
my direction. "What are you talking about?"
......"You shot Tony twice
in the belly, the same way you shot Amir."
......"Yes. You were in
it with Amir and Tony. You had access to your father's key and
alarm codes. You were in on the robbery. That's why your father
committed suicide. He was wrongly accused, but he couldn't-or
wouldn't-turn over his own daughter to protect himself. When
Amir came to you after he got out of the pen, you shot him. I
haven't quite figured that part all the way yet. Maybe
you wanted to cut Tony out of it, but Amir wouldn't go along.
It doesn't matter. It had to be you who shot the safecracker."
Tony shot the cop. He shot Amir too."
......"Sorry, honey. Tony
was at Salty's that night when Amir came stumbling in. I saw
......And I thought all of a
sudden that I might have been a little too clever for myself.
She set her jaw and lifted the gun toward my midsection. She
was too far for me to make a play.
......The boat shuddered like
a train wreck when it collided with the buoy, jerking to port
with the horrid screech of fiberglass on metal. Penny was thrown
against the gunwale but managed to hang onto the pistol. But
it gave me an opportunity, and I was on her. She tried to bring
the pistol around again, but I caught both her wrists, twisted
hard, and she dropped the gun into the water.
......She fought a moment, but
I was stronger and she gave up quickly, melting against me. "Conner,
please. We've got the money. We could go away. We could take
the boat to Mexico. You could have me." She glanced down
the length of her own body, and then her eyes rose up slowly
to burn into mine, in case I didn't get it.
...... Her lips found mine, and
for a moment, I yielded. I kissed back hard. But her kiss was
like the money, sweet and alluring, but too many men had died
for it. "I'm sorry, Penny. I truly am." I reached for
the radio. Pensacola PD would meet us at the marina.
......"What did you tell
them?" Frank was sitting up now. He looked better, but not
......I shrugged. "That
I was helping you on an old case. They took the money, but you've
been put in for a commendation."
......"Great. Maybe they'll
give me a medal," said Frank. "Something to pin on
my dress uniform when they lower me into the ground."
......"Yeah, well what was
I going to do, shoot her? I mean, c'mon, Frank."
He grunted, and made a dismissive, sweeping gesture with his
hand, but the question hung in the air.
buy you a drink when you get out of this place." And then
there wasn't much left to say. I made some goodbye noises
......I didn't figure Frank was
in the mood to hear what the police had found after an early
morning search of Penny's apartment. Letters. A whole stack of
them between her and Amir going back two years. She'd been writing
him in the pen twice a week detailing how they'd get together
when Amir was released and how she'd look after the money if
only he'd tell her where it was. Amir was smart not to tell her,
but not smart enough. When Amir was finally released, he'd found
out there was a lot more to Penny than a tan and a smile.
......I hopped into the Plymouth
and pointed it toward Salty's, stuck a cigar in my mouth. I wanted
a vodka martini and to see if there was anybody left in the place
I still knew.
Copyright (c) 2000 by Victor Gischler.
Gischler's fiction has appeared
in Blue Murder, Cozy Detective, Panic Attack,
Plots With Guns, HandHeldCrime and elsewhere. His
short story "Hitting Rufus" was selected for Best
American Mystery Stories 1999.
Victor also perpetrates Hardboiled Dixie,
a regular on-line column that appears on Themestream.
He's also one of the few people to interview notorious hardboiled
crime writer (and possible murderous lunatic) Z.Z. DelPresto,
Another tale from the Conner Samson casebook
will appear soon in Nefarious, and a Conner Samson novel
is in the works. Victor lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with
his wife Jackie. He's currently annoying agents with the
manuscript of his first novel.
And head here for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
| Table of Contents | Detectives A-L M-Z | Film | Radio | Television | Comics | FAQs |
| Trivia | Authors | Hall of Fame | Mystery Links | Bibliography | Glossary | Search |
| What's New: On The Site | On the Street | Non-Fiction | Fiction | Staff | The P.I. Poll |
Drop a dime. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.
"...and I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."