An excerpt of Shoot the Woman First by Wallace Stroby, the third thriller in the series about thief Crissa Stone (available December 3, 2013).
A half million dollars in drug proceeds, guarded by three men with automatic weapons. For Wallace Stroby's determined heroine, professional thief Crissa Stone, and her team, stealing it was the easy part. But when the split goes awry in a blaze of gunfire, Crissa finds herself on the run with a duffel bag of stolen cash, bound by a promise to deliver part of the take to the needy family of one of her slain partners.
In pursuit are the drug kingpin’s lethal lieutenants and a former Detroit cop with his own deadly agenda. They think the money’s there for the taking, for whoever finds her first. But Crissa doesn’t plan to give it up without a fight, even as her mission of mercy puts her and a young child in mortal danger, with forces on both sides of the law closing in. After all, a debt is a debt…even if it has to be paid in blood.
Four hours after she got off the plane in Detroit, Crissa was parked on a downtown street, watching a rust-eaten Subaru with half a million dollars in the trunk.
“You sure that’s it?” she said.
Charlie Glass, the one who’d brought her into it, said, “That’s it,” and gave her the binoculars. He was behind the wheel, Crissa riding shotgun. They were in a stolen RAV4 with smoked windows, parked two blocks down from the Subaru, on the same side of the street.
From behind her, Larry Black said, “Taking a chance, aren’t they? Leaving it out there like that?”
Beside him, Cordell, Glass’s cousin, and the only one she didn’t know, said, “Nobody’s got the balls to touch it. Marquis know that.”
Through the binoculars, she could see the black and red Tigers cap on the rear deck, where Cordell had said it would be. A half block behind the Subaru, on the opposite side of the street, a black Nissan Armada with tinted glass sat at the curb.
“How many in there?” she said.
“Three usually,” Cordell said. “Sometimes four. Getting sloppy, though. Marquis caught them getting their smoke on in there last month. He rolled up with Damien to check on them. Whole ride smelled of reefer. He had Damien put a beating on them for that.”
“Who’s Damien?” she said.
“His brother. A couple years younger. He’s the muscle.”
She looked at her watch. Almost five on a Saturday, but only a handful of cars had passed in the half hour they’d been here. This was a business area once, sandstone office buildings and a bank, a row of stores. Now the bank was a discount furniture showroom, and most of the storefront windows were plywooded over, or covered by riot gates scrawled with graffiti. A barber pole hung drunkenly beside a doorway, all the glass gone. No one on the street at all.
She lowered the binoculars. “This is no good. Staying out here too long.”
“Thought you’d want to see the setup,” Cordell said. “So you’d know I wasn’t lying. This might be the last chance for a while.”
Fifteen minutes ago, they’d watched the Subaru pull up. The driver, a black man with dreadlocks, had gotten out, locked the car, and started walking. A Honda Accord had picked him up a block away and driven off. Almost on cue, the Armada had appeared from a side street, taken up its station.
She turned to hand the binoculars to Larry, took a better look at Cordell. Close-trimmed hair, round gold-framed glasses, denim jacket over a tie-dyed Bob Marley T-shirt. He looked like a college student.
“How often do they switch cars?” she said.
“Every time,” Cordell said. “Different hour, different street. But that Tigers cap is always there. That’s how they know.”
Larry was looking at the Subaru now, resting the binoculars on the seat back. “Just the Armada?” he said. “They don’t put anyone in one of those stores around there, cut a hole in the plywood, keep a lookout?”
“Guess he figures with those boys on watch, he doesn’t need to,” Cordell said. “They been doing this no sweat for over a month now.”
Glass looked at her, said, “What do you think?”
He was tall and dark-skinned, scalp shaved clean. She’d worked with him once before, a takeover at a check-cashing store in Pittsburgh two years back. The take had been weak, but he’d been solid, dependable. When he’d contacted her about possible work in Michigan, she’d agreed to fly up, meet with him, take a look.
“Not sure yet,” she said.
Larry lowered the binoculars. “What do they carry in there?” The oldest of them, he was from Kentucky, had a faint accent that drifted in and out. Early fifties, but fit, pale blue eyes, black hair swept back and showing gray.
“They go heavy,” Cordell said. “Shotguns, MP5, an AK maybe. There to scare the gangbangers away, is all. Shit was crazy here the last couple years. Dodge City, for real. Even an OG like Marquis has to watch his back. These young’uns don’t care who he is.”
“This Damien,” she said. “He ever in there?”
“No, Marquis keeps him close. He’s the palace guard. Never strays too far from the king.”
Larry passed the binoculars back to her.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Seems a little careless, considering the kind of money supposed to be in there.”
“Not careless,” Cordell said. “Confident.”
She half-turned in her seat. “All these stores out of business?”
“Yeah,” Cordell said. “The whole block, except for the furniture place.”
They heard a siren. She saw a blue and white Detroit PD cruiser coming up behind them, rollers flashing. Her stomach tightened.
The cruiser went by without slowing, past the Armada, past the Subaru. At the intersection, it braked, then turned left against the light.
She exhaled. Larry took out a stick of Juicy Fruit, peeled away the wrapper, folded the gum into his mouth.
“How do they get the car back?” she said.
“Same way on the other end,” Cordell said. “They take the money out, put the product in, park the car somewhere, make a call. Marquis sends someone to get it. Then they junk the car afterward. That’s why they always use a hooptie.”
“A what?” Larry said.
“A hooptie. A piece of shit. That way, it’s parked there, it doesn’t stick out. And nobody drives by, wants to steal it, either.”
“This the way it always is around here?” Larry said. “This empty?”
“On weekends, yeah,” Cordell said. “During the week, there’s more people around. There’s some office buildings back that way. But on weekends, or after dark, it’s like this.”
“He’s right,” Glass said. “I’ve been in this town two weeks. It makes the ’Burgh look like Times Square.”
She looked up at the buildings, a pale moon already showing in the afternoon sky. In the far distance, half hidden by other buildings, the gleaming glass columns of the Renaissance Center caught the last of the sun off the river. But this block was hard-stone, Depression-era architecture, dates carved into cornerstones. Empty windows, dark doorways. Ghost town. Deadtown. She pictured the vacant spaces inside the buildings, trash-strewn floors, broken glass.
“How long should we wait?” Larry said, and, as if in answer, a dark-blue Camry drove past. It slowed near the Armada, then again near the Subaru, stopped at the intersection. When the light changed, it made a left, the same direction the cruiser had gone.
They watched in silence. Two minutes later, a man came around the corner, not hurrying. She raised the binoculars. He was light-skinned, Hispanic, wore an olive-drab army jacket. He crossed the street, unlocked the Subaru, got in. After a moment, dark exhaust coughed from the tailpipe. The car pulled away, made a right at the intersection. The Armada waited, then pulled out after it, made the turn in the Subaru’s wake.
“They’re waiting to see if anyone’s following,” Cordell said. “They’ll stay with it a few blocks, then turn around, go home.”
The street was empty now. A scrap of newspaper blew across the lanes, flattened against a riot gate.
“It looks too easy,” Larry said.
“It is easy,” Cordell said. “But it won’t be for long. This a temporary thing, with his new connect. They may change it up next time, do something else entirely. But right now, like I said, they sloppy.”
To Crissa, Glass said, “Should we follow them, see where they go?”
She shook her head. “No need. If we do it, we’ll do it right here, on the street, before they get moving. Let’s sit a few minutes. See if anyone else comes out of the woodwork.”
The sun was slipping behind the buildings now, the street falling into shadow.
“Has to be a smarter way to move that much money,” Larry said. “Out in the open like this, doesn’t make much sense.”
“Like I said, it’s temporary,” Cordell said. “He heard that was the way Nicky Barnes used to do it, up in Harlem. That’s his idol.”
“Nicky Barnes is in prison,” she said.
“Not anymore,” Cordell said. “He’s in the program now. He went and testified against all those boys used to work for him, the Council. That was his revenge, because they disrespected him when he was in prison, went behind his back.”
“Bullshit,” Larry said. “A rat’s a rat.”
“Who does the driving on this end?” she said. “For the drop-off?”
“Just some low-level boys,” Cordell said. “Nobody he’d miss if they got arrested. Nobody who’d know anything worth telling the police, either.”
“None of them been tempted to just keep driving?” she said. “Head south, keep all that cash themselves?”
“What I’d do,” Larry said.
“They’re too scared,” Cordell said. “Marquis would find them sooner or later.”
“Tell the story,” Glass said. “One you told me.”
“Couple years back,” Cordell said, “a bagman took off with ten grand. Damien tracked him down in Cleveland a month later. Put two in his head, did the girl he was with, too. But first Damien cut off his dick and made him eat it. Just for ten grand. Word got around.”
“Sounds like street bullshit,” she said. “To keep the troops in line.”
“Maybe,” Cordell said. “Maybe not.”
“How many people know in advance where the drop-off’s going to be?”
“Five, six. Shit needs to get organized, people need to be told what to do, where to be. No way he can keep it a secret.”
“That five or six includes you, right?”
“Has to. I find the drivers, that’s my job.”
“So if his money gets taken, you’re a suspect.”
“We talked about that,” Glass said. “There’s no way around it.”
“I won’t be here to find out anyway,” Cordell said. “Soon as we do this…”
“If we do this,” she said.
“If we do this, I’ll be long gone afterward.”
“What about Damien?” Larry said. “Thought you said if someone ripped him off, they’d get found eventually?”
“Marquis headed for a fall,” Cordell said. “It’s just a matter of time. His connect got busted a while back, that’s why he’s buying from the Mexicans now, doing these hand-offs. Chances are his old connect is going to roll on him. Marquis an easy target. Word is, DEA been looking at him for a long time.”
“When’s the next drop-off?” she said.
“Next week. Don’t know what day yet.”
“He’s moving that much product?” Larry said. “Half a mil a week?”
“He’s stocking up, in case it goes dry again,” Cordell said. “He needs to keep the cash coming in. He owes money to the Mexicans, too, for what he already bought on commission. So he’s padding the bag a little each week until he’s caught up.”
“Five hundred thousand sounds high,” she said. “You see the money before it’s packed?”
“Nah, they do that up in the office. Behind closed doors. No one in there but Marquis and Damien, and this boy they call Metro that does the counting.”
She was wondering how much of it was street talk, Glass taken in by Cordell’s story. Cordell looked too young, soft, to be in the Game in any real way. But the drop-off and pickup had gone as he said they would. And even a quarter million might make it worth doing.
“How far in advance do you know the location?” she said.
“Couple days, maybe.”
“Not much time. Who picks the spot?”
“Marquis talks to the Mexicans. They work it out between them.”
“I know how it sounds,” Glass said. “But Cordell’s right. This is sloppy right now, because they’re fat and lazy. That’ll change. We got a window of time here. They may get their shit squared away at some point in the future. It won’t be so easy.”
“Body armor,” Larry said.
She turned to him. “What?”
“I’m just saying. If we do this—on the street, like this—we need body armor, vests. Any of the rollos in that Armada start popping off at us with that kind of hardware, stoned or not, I want some protection.”
“Good idea,” Glass said. “I can handle that.”
“You financing?” she said.
“Much as I need to. I’ll take it back off the top.”
“That a good idea?”
“You worried I’ll want more say in how we do it?”
“Should I be?”
“No. Just thought it would be easier that way, for me to put out the money up front, given the time factor. That’s all.”
He was right. And aside from the body armor, they might be able to do it with minimal expense. She was looking at the spot where the Subaru had been parked, thinking it through, considering the angles.
“Well?” Glass said.
“We’re good for now,” she said. “Drop me back at the hotel. We’ll talk tonight. I have some ideas.”
“You thinking it’s doable?” he said.
“At the moment,” she said, “I’m just thinking.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Glass said, and started the engine.
She always chose airport hotels. In a strange city, looking into possible work, it made it easier, quicker to get away if things went sour.
She had registered as Linda Hendryx, the name on her New Jersey driver’s license and credit cards. Over the previous year, she’d bought two other sets of documents as well, in different names. She kept them for emergencies, each with a U.S. passport if she had to leave the country. The two sets had cost her seventy-five thousand each, but she’d been flush from her previous work. She and a partner had turned up more than two million in cash that had been stashed away for years, proceeds from a 1978 robbery. They’d taken the money, split it down the middle. It was more than she’d ever made from a single job before.
Glass had dropped her off first. She’d showered, dressed, had a steak in the hotel restaurant. The waiter had just brought a second cup of coffee, left the check, when she looked up and saw Larry in the doorway, wearing a leather coat over a turtleneck sweater. He’d driven over from his own hotel, a few miles away. She looked at her watch. Nine P.M. He was right on time.
She got her own leather off the back of the chair, left cash for the bill and tip. They walked through the lobby together, out the revolving door to where his rental Ford was parked at the curb. She hadn’t rented a car here, wouldn’t. It made things simpler, reduced the paper trail.
She took thin leather gloves from her pocket, pulled them on.
“Cold?” he said. Early September, and Indian summer was starting to give way to fall here. Back in New Jersey, it was still in the seventies.
“Got it. Being careful. Can’t blame you.”
They got in the car. As they pulled away, a chime began to sound.
“That’s you,” he said. She pulled the safety belt across, clicked it into place.
“How long have you been in town?” she said.
“Got here yesterday. I’ll go home tomorrow if I don’t like what I hear tonight.”
A plane emerged from the clouds, passed over them, landing lights flashing.
“What’s your feeling so far?” he said.
“It has its good points,” she said. “A few bad ones, too.”
“I’m not sure of the company.”
The lines in his face were deeper than the last time she’d seen him, nearly six years ago. She wondered if hers were as well.
“I’ve worked with Glass,” she said. “He’s solid. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.”
“It’s his cousin I’m worried about. He’s in over his head.”
“I know,” she said. They’d left the airport, were on a long stretch of elevated highway. In the distance, she could see the lights of the city.
“I’ve never been much for taking off dealers,” he said. “Too unpredictable, too much risk.”
“On the other hand, aren’t many places to find cash these days. At least not in any amount worth taking. Dealers are always a standby in that respect. That’s one economy that never slumps.”
She opened the glove box, took out the pink rental contract. She saw he’d rented the car at the airport the day before, in the name Louis Brown.
“Sticking with the LB,” she said.
“Makes it easier. You worried this was a government car? Wired up?”
“Like you said, just being careful. No offense.”
She put the contract back in the glove box, closed it.
“Way I see it,” he said, “this Cordell’s taking a hell of a risk.”
“He must think it’s worth it.”
“You believe there’s that much money involved? Half a million?”
“Could be. Even if it’s half that, though, not a bad day’s work for four people.”
They rode in silence for a while, the freeway taking them over an area of dark factories and warehouses, dimly lit streets that seemed to go on forever.
“This town’s seen better days,” she said.
“So have I.”
“You still in St. Louis?”
“Off and on. Was down in Florida for a while. Got a wife there. Well, ex-wife now. Little girl, too.”
“Six. Her name’s Haley. I know, hard to believe, right? A kid at my age. Didn’t plan it that way, just sort of happened.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Congratulations.”
“Thanks. Things didn’t quite work out the way I hoped, though.”
“You see her?”
“Haley? Not much. They’re down near Orlando. I bought a house for them, send money when I can.”
She thought of Maddie, her own daughter. Eleven this year, and being raised by Crissa’s cousin in Texas, with no idea who her real mother was. Crissa sent them money every month, certified checks from a Costa Rican account.
“I heard about Wayne,” he said. “About his sentence being extended. I’m sorry.”
“That’s a tough break.”
“It was. His parole hearing was coming up. I almost had him out of there.”
It was Wayne who’d brought her into the Life. Before that had been a series of bad relationships marked by casual violence and petty crime. She’d been with Beaumont, Maddie’s father, for only a year, blurred months of drugs and alcohol.
Wayne had taken her away from all that. He lived well, showed her a life she never thought possible. He put crews together, did work all over the country. Eighteen years younger than him, but she’d become part of that world as well.
“You ever get down there to see him?” Larry said.
“I did for a while, regular. But the name they had on file down there on the approved visitors roll, the one I was using … I had to give that up, because of some things that happened. They had my picture, too. I can’t go back.”
“That’s rough. I’m sorry.”
“Nothing for it,” she said. “Just the way it played out.”
“I still feel responsible for what happened. In Texas.”
She and Wayne were living in Delaware when it all went wrong. Weak with the flu, she’d stayed behind when Wayne, Larry, and another man took down a jewelry wholesaler outside Houston. It was supposed to be a give-up by the owner, but a clerk had pulled a gun, shot Wayne in the shoulder. Larry had carried him out of there, but two blocks later, their driver put the car into a fire hydrant and park bench. Larry got away before the police arrived, but Wayne and the driver drew bids for armed robbery and conspiracy, ten to fifteen each.
“I maybe could have gotten him out of that car,” Larry said. “But the shape he was in, he wouldn’t have made it very far.”
“I had a cracked collarbone myself. Spent the night in the crawl space under a broken-down porch ’bout a block away, listening to sirens and radios all night. I was so fucked up, I couldn’t tell when I was awake and when I was dreaming. Next morning, I could hardly move. Never did heal right.”
“You did what you could,” she said. “You got him out of that store, gave him a chance. You didn’t leave him there.”
“Couldn’t, after all he’d done for me. He brought me in on plenty of work, set me up with a stake when I needed it. I owe him.”
“We all do.”
They exited the freeway, turned down a wide residential street. Big stone houses, fenced-in yards. But after a while, fewer houses were lit, and the streetlights were dark. Overgrown yards now, boarded-up windows. He touched the button to lock the doors.
“Sure you know where you’re going?” she said.
“I was here yesterday. I think I got it.”
They steered around a shopping cart on its side in the middle of the street. He made a right, then a left, and they were on a block lit by a single streetlamp halfway down.
The house was near the end of the block. He turned into the driveway, their headlights passing across plywooded front windows. It was a two-story house, gray stone, a rich man’s home long ago. A bay window faced the driveway, most of its glass intact. Beneath it was a tangle of weeds and shrubbery.
There was a garage in the rear, a silver Lexus parked beside it. He K-turned, backed in alongside the Lexus.
“You carrying?” she said.
He shook his head, looked at the house, the car ticking and cooling. The rear windows were boarded over, gang tags sprayed across the plywood, but the back door was ajar, darkness inside.
“Didn’t think I’d need it,” he said. “I flew here anyway, couldn’t bring anything. And there was no time to find something after I got to town. You?”
“No. Same reason.” She thought of the Glock 9 she kept in a safe at home, the smaller .32 Beretta Tomcat clipped to the springs under her bed. Wished she had one of them now.
“Nervous?” he said.
“You vouched for Glass, said he’s solid.”
“I did. And he is. Or at least he was, last time we did work together.”
“Still, no way to be sure what we’re walking into here, is there?”
They looked at the house, neither of them moving.
“Only one way to find out,” she said, and opened the door.
Cordell and Glass were in the big living room, a map open on the coffee table between them, bottles of Heineken beside it. The room was lit by two Coleman battery lanterns a few feet apart.
“Hey,” Glass said. “Come on in.”
He sat on a ragged couch, Cordell in a chair across from him. The hardwood floor was littered with trash. Chunks of plaster had fallen from the ceiling, lathe showing through. A bricked-in fireplace in one wall, a wide staircase that went up into darkness.
“I know,” Glass said. “Sorry. Best we could do on short notice.”
“You ought to put something over that window,” she said. “The light.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Cordell said. “No one around here to see it.”
A plastic vial crunched under her boot heel. She swept it away with her foot. “Whose place is this?”
“No one’s now,” Glass said. “Cordell found it. This block, you can take your pick. Plenty to choose from.”
“No one’s been here in a long time,” Cordell said. “No neighbors, either. Every house on the block about the same as this. Mayor’s been trying to get people to relocate closer to the city center, so they cut off services to some of these outer neighborhoods. Didn’t take people long to get the message.”
Larry had moved to her right. Without a word, he’d taken the lead when they’d entered the house.
“We’re going over some street routes,” Glass said. “Can’t be sure on the drop-off point until we get word, but it’ll likely be in the same general area.”
“Unless Marquis changes up,” she said.
“He won’t,” Cordell said. “He’ll stick to somewhere he knows, and he don’t know anything but downtown. He’s the king there, that’s the way he thinks. That’s his kingdom. No one will mess with him there.”
There were two metal folding chairs leaning against a wall. Larry opened them, dusted off the seats, set them near the table. A moth fluttered around one of the lanterns.
“More beers out in the kitchen,” Glass said. “If you want one.”
“Sounds good,” Larry said, and went back out. He’d take his time, she knew, look around. She sat. Glass pulled a lantern closer, then turned the map around so she could read it. There were three routes traced on it, one in blue, one red, and one yellow.
When she looked up, Cordell was watching her.
“Problem?” she said.
“Just surprised is all. When my cuz said he could bring some people in, I didn’t expect a woman.”
“Got an issue with that?”
“Not at all. Like I said, just surprised. But it’s all good.”
Larry came back in with two Heinekens. He put one on the table in front of her, then turned the other chair around, straddled it. He set his beer on the floor.
“We need to take these bottles with us when we go,” she said. “And you-all need to wipe down anything around here you may have touched.” She was the only one wearing gloves.
“We will,” Glass said.
She picked up the bottle, took a sip. It was lukewarm. She rarely drank beer, but better to go along with everyone now, keep them comfortable.
Larry pointed at the map. “If the drop-off’s near where it was today, how long to get out of the city, back here?”
“That’s what I was just working out,” Glass said. “Couple ways to go. Way I see it, we keep a transfer car close to the drop site, wherever that turns out to be, then switch over. We’ll be out of the city itself in fifteen minutes, maybe a little more. Then we meet back here, do the cut.”
“So we need two vehicles,” Larry said.
“That’s right. The jump-out car, then the transfer.”
“Three,” she said.
Glass looked at her.
“We don’t want that Armada chasing after us,” she said. “We need to block it off, disable it. Someone has to do that the same time we’re pulling the money out of that car. So we need two vehicles going in. Probably a good idea to have two transfers afterward as well, so we can split up faster, head back here.”
“So four cars altogether,” Glass said.
“Better a van for the jump-out,” she said. “Delivery van, bread truck, something like that. Easy to get in and out of. Back doors stay open, engine running. We pop that trunk, get the bag, everyone gets inside the van quick. Otherwise, with a car, even a four-door, we’re doing a Chinese fire drill, everybody tripping over each other getting in and out.”
“Makes sense,” Glass said.
To Cordell, she said, “How do they keep the money? How’s it packed?”
“Duffel bag. Big one. Kind people carry sports equipment in, hockey sticks and shit.”
“Is the money banded?”
“Yeah. Marquis, Damien, and the boy Metro do the counting themselves. Don’t trust anyone else. Marquis’s got an office above the garage he runs, that’s where he does his business. They’ve got a safe there, counting machines, everything he needs. Nobody gets in or out while it’s going on.”
“Maybe we should hit the office instead,” Larry said. “Bound to be more money in the safe than what they’re dropping off.”
Cordell shook his head. “He’s got an army up in there. Surveillance cameras, too. No one can get up those stairs without him knowing it. Steel door. All he has to do is lock it, wait for whoever’s outside to go away. If they even get that far.”
“The drop-off’s the vulnerable point,” Glass said. “Rip and run. One of us drives. Two of us hit the car, get the trunk open and the bag out. Another one faces off those boys in the Armada, like you said, keeps them occupied. Then we load up and we’re gone.”
“Cordell should drive the van,” she said. “We don’t want him out on the street. Even with a mask, someone might recognize him, hear his voice. He should stay up front.”
Glass looked at him. “You okay with that?”
“Driving? Yeah, I guess.”
“Better for everyone if you’re behind the wheel,” she said. “Off the street.”
“What about the second vehicle?” Glass said.
“We’ll leave it behind. We won’t need it anymore.” She took a slip of paper from her jacket pocket. On it was a list she’d written back at the hotel. She handed it to Glass.
“What I think we’ll need,” she said. “As we work it out, there might be more. But this is a start. We should get on these as soon as we can.”
He looked at the list. “Smoke grenades?”
“If you can find them. If not, we’ll have to figure something else out.”
“How about tear gas instead?” Larry said.
“Problem is the wind,” she said. “A shift in direction, and it’ll blow back on us. That means we’ll need gas masks as well, another complication. Smoke will do. It’ll give us the time we need.”
“And the Armada?” Glass said. “What about that?”
“I have some ideas.” She took another sip of beer, looked at Cordell. “Who else knows about this?”
“Who did you tell? Girlfriend? Wife?”
He seemed confused for a moment: “Nobody.”
“Who’s Marquis going to come looking for if he can’t find you? Family, friends? You’ll be putting them in danger, too, afterward.”
“You sure on that?”
“I haven’t told anyone shit about this.”
“Marquis won’t know that,” she said. “He’ll ask around, right? He’ll ask hard.”
“It’s cool. No worries there.”
She looked at Glass. He shrugged.
“Okay, then,” she said. “Let’s take another look at that map.”
* * *
An hour later, driving back to her hotel, Larry said, “Feel better?”
“It sounds good to me,” he said. “At least, what I’ve heard. Not much exposure. Done and gone, especially the way you laid it out.”
“It has its issues.”
“They all do. What part’s bothering you?”
“Cordell. He knows a lot. The money, the drop-offs, the time and locations. When he vanishes, Marquis will take it for granted he’s involved.”
“That’s the risk.”
“Say he doesn’t get away in time, or he goes somewhere stupid and obvious. Marquis catches up with him, he leads them right to us, or at least to Charlie.”
“I was thinking the same,” he said. “But there’s not much we can do about it.”
They were back on the elevated freeway now, dark streets below them.
“Almost forgot to tell you,” he said. “Bobby Chance says hello.”
She looked at him. “You talked to him?”
“I was out his way a few months back, looking at some work. Tracked him down to see if he was interested, but he said he’s out of the Game now. Whole thing fell through anyway.”
“Where is he?”
“Lives on a farm in southern Ohio. Got a woman with him. Might be his wife for all I know.”
“How’s he doing?”
“Shoulder’s still screwed up, from that buckshot he caught. He told me what happened.”
The last time she’d seen Chance had been outside a Connecticut emergency room. She’d left him there, gunshot and semiconscious, after some work they’d done together had gone bad. They’d taken down a high-stakes poker game in Florida, and a man had come looking for them, trying to recover the money. It had all ended in Connecticut. They’d left a dead body and a burning house behind them.
“That was a bad time,” she said.
“He’s on the straight now, or so he says. They’ve got a working soybean field there they rent out. Outside of that, though, I don’t see he’s doing much of anything.”
“He still use Sladden?” That was Chance’s contact in Kansas City, his go-between.
“Far as I know. That’s how I found him.”
“I’ll have to look him up someday.”
“He’d like that. He says you saved his life.”
“I’m the one got him into all that trouble in the first place.”
“Not the way he tells it.”
They saw the first signs for the airport.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” she said. “We stick it out here, organize as much as we can. We’ve got at least a week until the next drop. If something doesn’t feel right between now and then, we cut our losses, go our separate ways.”
“Makes sense. But…”
“Work like this, sometimes, even if everything doesn’t line up the way you want, it’s worth the risk. Because of the payoff.”
“You’re taking their word for how much money’s in there.”
“If this guy—Marquis or whatever his name is—is moving that much product on a regular basis, five hundred K is nothing,” he said. “These inner-city dope slingers bring in so much money, they don’t know what to do with it. That’s what always gets them in trouble, the money.”
“And the bodies.”
“You know how they catch monkeys in the Pacific?” she said.
He looked at her. “What?”
“Monkeys. In the jungle. Somebody told me this story once. They’re hard to catch because they’re so fast, climbing trees, jumping from branch to branch. Good eating, but you can’t get near them.”
“I’m not following you.”
“What the natives do is hollow out a coconut, leave just the right size hole, put a nut or some fruit inside. Monkey sees it, can’t resist. He reaches in, grabs the fruit, but when he makes a fist, he can’t get his hand back out. That’s the way the natives find them, coconut hanging from their arm. Can’t climb a tree, can’t do much of anything one-handed. Then they kill them and eat them.”
“What’s your point?”
“The monkey dies because it can’t let go of what it’s after, even if it knows it’s gonna be caught.”
“Okay,” he said. “I get it. Don’t be a monkey.”
“Something like that.”
“Here’s another way to look at it. We do the work and haul ass, get as far away as we can, let cousin Cordell catch the fallout. He doesn’t know anything about us anyway, does he?”
“Charlie would tell him only what he needed to know.”
“You say Glass is a pro.”
“Then he’ll know when to cut his losses, too. His cousin is an amateur. He’s aware of that already. He’s probably thinking the same thing we are.”
“Maybe,” she said. “But at the moment, Cordell’s in it with us. He’s working the setup, running the risks. If that changes, it changes. But right now, he’s one of us. We have to respect that. If not, why go in with him in the first place?”
“That sounds like Wayne talking.”
“You don’t agree?”
“I guess I do, right now. Later might be an issue. And there is one way to make sure.”
“We do the work, then pop Cordell. End of story.”
“Not an option.”
“You say that now.”
“Well, then,” she said. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Copyright © 2013 Wallace Stroby
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Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and a former editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. Shoot the Woman First is his sixth novel, following the acclaimed Kings of Midnight. He lives in New Jersey. The Crissa Stone novels are in development for a TV series by Showtime.