Category Archives: Tony Sportiello

Checkmate

Rick was tiptoeing quietly around the expensive furniture, taking particular care not to knock over the priceless Ming vase located directly in the middle of the room when the lights suddenly and unexpectedly went on. He looked quickly to the doorway and there stood the owner of the house, Nathan Munroe. A gun was in his hand.
+++++“Well, hell,” Rick swore.
+++++“Indeed,” agreed Munroe.
+++++Rick sighed deeply and pulled off his mask. “Man, oh man, what a week,” he said. “Usually I’m not one to bitch, but this has been like the one from hell.”
+++++Munroe smiled. He was a tall man, almost six foot five with grey hair.
+++++“First my car gets towed on Monday, Tuesday the cleaners lose my suit, I get food poisoning from my favorite Chinese restaurant and to top it all of, now this.”
+++++“That’s rough,” Munroe concurred. “You have my deepest sympathy.”
+++++“Look, this is nothing personal, my being here. I mean, a lot of people see it as a violation, being robbed. That really doesn’t enter into it. If I could only break into the houses of people I didn’t like, I would.”
+++++Munroe nodded his head “That’s reassuring.”
+++++“You, for example, seem to be a very reasonable person. Intelligent, with obvious good taste. Open to…negotiations.”
+++++Munroe’s eyebrow raised. “Negotiations?”
+++++Rick continued. “What I mean is, this doesn’t necessarily need to go beyond us.”
+++++Munroe paused briefly as though considering the option. “I see. By the way, are you armed?”
+++++Rick looked alarmed at the mere prospect of carrying a firearm. He patted himself down in front of Munroe. “No. No, I never go armed. I hate guns. They have a nasty habit of going off. Besides which, that’s an automatic ten years at Rikers.”
+++++Rick looked at the brandy in Munroe’s hands and subconsciously licked his lips. Munroe noticed but made no indication that he was willing to share what was undoubtedly a $75 bottle of liquor. Instead he took another long drink. Rick frowned.
+++++“Not for nothing, but how did you know I was here?” Rick asked. “I’ve cased this place for three weeks, I know every move you make; when you eat, when you work, when you go to bed…it’s ten o’clock at night, you’re supposed to be on the other side of the house, talking to Tokyo.”
+++++Munroe smiled, obviously pleased with himself. “Actually, I was. But I recently installed a new security device. The Pantheon 3000.”
+++++The burglar’s eyes got wide, his jaw dropped a little and his entire body slumped. “Christ,” Rick swore.
+++++“I can see you’ve heard of it.”
+++++“Yeah, I’ve heard of it,” Rick said. “Who hasn’t? I think they have one guarding the White House. Not for nothing, but isn’t that a bit of overkill? I mean, this is just a home, not Fort Knox. You can get by with any garden variety security system, that sucker must have set you back a ton.”
+++++“Obviously it was money well spent,” Munroe said proudly. “It alerts me the instant someone moves within the perimeter. I knew you were here the moment you stepped foot on my lawn.”
+++++Rick hung his head in defeat. “And you called the cops, no doubt”.
+++++Munroe wandered over near the window and took a glance outside. “No, I haven’t called the police. Not yet,” he answered.
+++++Rick looked up in surprise and something akin to hope. “Not yet?”
+++++“No. I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
+++++Rick rose from the couch, “Well, look, I have some cash. If it makes any difference, you can have it. Take all of it.”
+++++Munroe appeared not to hear Rick initially, his eyes still focused outside. Rick wondered if he was ever going to address him again when he turned to him and said, “What’s your name, anyway?”
+++++“Rick.”
+++++“Well…Rick…when you climbed over my fence, crossed my lawn and let yourself in through my garage, did you happen to notice the automobile parked there?”
+++++“Not really. It was dark.”
+++++“Had you bothered to turn on the light, or visited at a more reasonable hour, you might have noticed a Lamborghini Murcielago, valued at approximately three hundred thousand dollars.”
+++++Rick stared in disbelief. “Three hundred thousand dollars? For one car?”
+++++Munroe nodded. “Now, then. You were going to make me an offer?”
+++++Rick exhaled loudly, apparently realizing the absurdity of the situation and slumped back on the couch. “Well, under the circumstances, we can probably skip that part and cut right to the pathetic begging.”
+++++“Something tells me you’re not the pathetic begging type.”
+++++“You’d be surprised,” Rick said. “I mean, I really REALLY don’t want to go to jail.”
+++++Munroe appeared surprised. “Jail? I said nothing about jail. I’m afraid you misunderstood. When I said I haven’t made up my mind yet, I was speaking of whether or not to let you live.”
+++++Rick’s eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?”
+++++“The choice is not freedom or incarceration,” Munroe clarified. “The choice is life and death.”
+++++“Are you serious?” Rick asked.
+++++Munroe started moving about the room. Rick thought he was going over the situation in his head. “After all, I could kill you right here and now and who could blame me? Here I am, alone and defenseless…”
+++++“You have a gun!” Rick pointed out.
+++++Munroe continued on. “I hear a noise, I reach for my revolver to protect myself, I walk into my study and there is a desperate villain who springs at me with the force of a Belgian tiger…”
+++++“Oh, for the love of….”
+++++“Terrified by the unexpected assault, my body acts on its own, independent of rational thought, and before I know what’s happened, there lies the body of the unfortunate burglar, riddled with…several…bullets.”
+++++“Why would you do that?”
+++++Munroe fingered his revolver almost carelessly. His expression was not actually malicious, but rather one of indifference. “I’ve been thinking the same thing. I’m afraid you won’t like the answer.”
+++++“There’s not a whole lot about this conversation I’ve particularly enjoyed,” Rick pointed out.
+++++“The truth is, I might just kill you out of curiosity,” Munroe said. His eyes suddenly lit upon the chessboard he has set up in the corner of the room. “Do you play chess, Rick?”
+++++“And the hits just keep on coming. Does it matter if I play chess?”
+++++“It might.”
+++++“Yes. I play chess. It so happens I’m a very good chess player, in fact,” Rick said.
+++++Munroe moved a chair into the middle of the room, pushing aside an end table so as to make room.
+++++“There’s a set over on the desk. Bring it here and set it up.”
+++++“If I do will you let me go?”
+++++“If you don’t, I’ll shoot you right now.”
+++++“I’ll set it up then.” Rick moved over to the marble chessboard which he was sure cost more than his car and began setting up the chess pieces. “You do realize you’re insane, don’t you?”
+++++“I’ve been called worse.”
+++++“Recently?”
+++++Munroe smiled. “I’ll be white.”
+++++“Of course.” Rick pulled out the chair with the Paris design and sat across from Munroe. “Look, there’s no chance anyone else is going to suddenly drop by and save my ass, is there? Wife, girlfriend, mistress?”
+++++“None that I’m aware of.”
+++++“There are other things I can do, you know. To help you.”
+++++“The mind reels…” Munroe said, sarcastically.
+++++“I’m serious. I really am a very good thief…”
+++++“All evidence to the contrary….”
+++++Rick looked insulted. “Yeah, well, give me a break, I didn’t know you had a Pantheon 3000. The point is, there’s ways I could help a man like you…”
+++++Munroe began the game by moving his pawn forward. “Your move.”
+++++Rick pushed his pawn two spaces in front of his queen. “Be of use to you,” he continued.
+++++“I’m listening.” Munroe moved his knight out and Rick countered with his knight. Munroe played his bishop and almost without thinking, Rick drew out his other knight.
+++++“Let’s say you need some info on someone, like a competitor or something,” Rick went on. “Or an employee you think is stealing from you…well, I could go in and get that info. I’m good at that.”
+++++Munroe frowned at the board. “What are you doing?”
+++++“Trying to keep you from shooting me.”
+++++“The game, Rick. Your opening moves. Is that…is that the Traxler Counter Attack?”
+++++Rick grinned. “I told you I’ve played before.”
+++++“Impressive,” Munroe conceded. “I have to take you a bit more seriously, I see.”
+++++“That’s what I’m saying. If you use me in the right way…”
+++++Munroe pushed a pawn. “To be honest, I just don’t see it happening….”
+++++“Why not?”
+++++“Isn’t it obvious?” the millionaire asked. “Once I let you leave this room, what guarantee would I have that you wouldn’t just disappear?”
+++++“What possible benefit do you get from killing me?”
+++++Munroe’s eyes were on the board. “You are good…”
+++++Rick responded angrily. “Answer me, damn it!”
+++++Munroe coolly raised the revolver. “Watch it, boychick! Keep those emotions in check, or you’ll make my decision for me. Understood?”
+++++Rick eased back in his chair. “Yes.”
+++++“To answer your question, I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I don’t pretend that I’ve been a particularly good man so far. In fact, I’ve been what you might call a total s— at times.”
+++++“I’m shocked.”
+++++Munroe chuckled at the response. “I’ve lied, I’ve cheated, I’ve stolen…much more than you ever will, dear Rick. I’ve slept with the wives of some of my closest friends on a whim. I’ve closed businesses and put thousands on the unemployment line just to prove a point. Still, with everything I’ve done, I’ve never actually killed anyone. I mean, not directly. I’m sure that some of my actions have resulted in people’s deaths, but to actually take a life. To cause a person’s demise. I can only imagine how that feels.”
+++++“Are you serious?”
+++++Munroe continued. “Would I become wracked with guilt? Wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat? Would your face refuse to leave my thoughts, tormenting me?”
+++++“Count on it,” Rick assured him.
+++++“Or would, as I suspect, absolutely nothing happen? It’s fascinating, isn’t it? One of those philosophical questions you always speculate on but don’t really have the opportunity to explore.”
+++++“You’ve actually thought about this?”
+++++“Spiritually speaking, it’s not a problem. I have no delusions of the after life. With all I’ve done, if there is indeed a hell I imagine there’s a room with my name already booked.”
+++++“You do realize you’re talking about murder.” Rick pointed out.
+++++“No, you’re talking about murder,” Munroe clarified. “I’m talking about self defense. I understand that in the eyes of the deceased, the distinction is irrelevant, but for those of us left alive there is a distinct and significant difference. Murder, I go to jail. Self defense and I go to Joe Allen’s for a nice steak dinner. It’s your move, by the way.”
+++++Rick barely looked at the board, sliding his castle across. “Do you have any conscience at all?”
+++++“You are on particularly shaky ground here to be moralizing; after all, it is you who broke into my house…”
+++++“To steal, not to kill!” Rick reminded him. “Christ, with all you have you’d barely even miss it.”
+++++Munroe squared his shoulders and peered directly into Rick’s eyes. Rick imagined he’d never seen a man look so dangerous. “There you’re wrong. It’s taken me a long time to accumulate what I have, a hell of a long time, a lot of blood spilled. You couldn’t even begin to understand how I’ve gotten where I have. I’ve climbed over the broken bodies of friends and foes, and I don’t intend to let any piss ant, dime store burglar make off with so much as a single dollar of my money. Are we absolutely clear on that point?”
+++++“Crystal,” Rick said aloud.
+++++“Good.” Munroe glanced down at the chessboard and smiled, moving a castle and taking Rick’s bishop. “Tsk, tsk. You’re getting careless. Nerves?”
+++++“I wouldn’t be surprised.” Rick responded by pushing a knight. “So, basically, you would kill me just to see how it feels?”
+++++“I’m considering it. Well, let’s face it, when am I ever going to get a better chance? You presume to steal from me, you arrogant, incompetent little prick, and you expect there to be no consequences? And besides, you don’t really seem to have much value otherwise. You’re not a very good burglar, your chess game is creative but hardly noteworthy, I take it you’re not married…
+++++“No.”
+++++“Well, there you go. But let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Give me one good reason I should keep you alive.”
+++++Rick mulled the question over in his mind. “I guess….I can’t.”
+++++Munroe almost looked sympathetic, spreading his hands. “So you see where that puts us…”
+++++“Wait. What you just said….I’m not a very good burglar. Maybe that’s it,” Rick suggested.
+++++“Maybe that’s what?”
+++++“Maybe that’s how I can make you money. I mean, real money. I’ve done it before.”
+++++Munroe sighed heavily. “I thought we’d already been through this.”
+++++“Hear me out. If you don’t like what I have to say, you can pull the trigger.” Rick looked about the room as if searching for something. “What’s the most expensive thing you own in the house?”
+++++“The Egyptian Rose, of course.”
+++++Rick frowned. “A flower?”
+++++“It’s a diamond, you idiot,” Munroe replied. “The most expensive diamond on the western hemisphere. You mean to tell me you’ve never heard of it? I assumed that’s what you were here to steal.”
+++++“Um, well…”
+++++“What kind of a burglar are you, anyway? The Egyptian Rose is worth ten million dollars. On a bad day.”
+++++“That’s great. Insured?”
+++++“Of course.”
+++++Rick brightened. “Then that’s the ticket.”
+++++Munroe stared at the burglar, confused. “I’m afraid I’m missing something.”
+++++“Ok, here’s the deal. You were in your bedroom tonight, as always, drinking obscenely expensive cognac, when you heard a sound. You come running in, but you’re too late. The window is open, the place is a mess and someone has made off with the Egyptian Tulip.”
+++++“Rose,” Munroe corrected.
+++++“Whatever. The point is, it’s gone. You call the police, they search the area, gather up the clues, but no luck. The piece goes on the record as stolen, the insurance company comes in, snoops around, finds my prints, pays you the money, you’re ten million bucks ahead. Now that’s one serious paycheck.
+++++Munroe paused to let the words sink in, trying to discern the end game. “Are you proposing that I let you steal the Egyptian Rose in order for me to collect the insurance?”
+++++Rick shook his head emphatically. “I don’t really steal it, of course. I take it out, I rummage around, I leave my fingerprints all over the place, and I give it back to you. In return, you let me escape. The cops have my prints on file, they already know I’m a thief, no one is going to suspect we’ve had any communication between us, we’ve never even met! So this way you keep the diamond, stash it somewhere out of sight for a while, collect the insurance, and I get to, you know, not be dead. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
+++++Munroe looked down at the chessboard, distractedly. “Whose move is it?”
+++++“On all fronts, it’s yours.”
+++++Munroe started to move but then held back. “Let me see if I understand you correctly. You break into my house…which you did….make your way to the study…which you did…you steal my diamond….which you then give back to me…..leaving your fingerprints all over for the police to find….what’s to stop the police from arresting you and throwing you into prison, which is what you didn’t want in the first place?”
+++++Rick shrugged. “They’ll have to catch me first. I’m not saying it’s ideal, I’ll be on the run for the rest of my life, but better that than dead.”
+++++“I see your point,” Munroe acknowledged. “And how do I know I can trust you not to shall we say, ‘spill the beans’ in the unfortunate event that you do become apprehended?”
+++++“Well, on the one hand we have the testimony of a very rich, very solid, law-abiding pillar of the community. On the other we have the word of an ex-con, who got his hand caught in the cookie jar….”
+++++Munroe thought for a few more seconds and then slowly he smiled. “You know something, Rick? I almost believe this could work. With perhaps a few modifications…why, this is a plan which is…dare I say it….almost worthy of me.”
+++++“High praise indeed,” Rick acknowledged. “Ok, so let’s do this and get it over with, I have to book a flight to Canada before they figure out whose prints these are.”
+++++Rick removed his gloves for the first time since he arrived in the house and began systematically placing his fingerprints all over the room. He touched lamps, desks, opened drawers, rummaged through books. “Might as well make it easy for them.”
+++++“Make sure you leave them all over the safe as well,” Munroe reminded him.
+++++“Which is where, exactly?”
+++++Munroe winked slightly and reached under the desk. He pressed a button and a section of the far wall appeared to lift. Munroe moved across the room and pressed a second button, located behind a picture frame. Two slats opened and the safe appeared.
+++++“Mother of God!” Rick swore, admiringly.
+++++Munroe put his arm around Rick’s shoulders in a familiar manner. He had waited a long time for someone to truly appreciate how impenetrable his safe was and was happy to finally be able to show it off. “Exactly. You’re looking at the finest, state of the art equipment there, my friend. I could leave you alone here for a month and you wouldn’t be able to open it.”
+++++“Well, let’s not find out. What’s the combination?”
+++++Munroe looked positively smug. “It’s a ten digit code which you must execute in ten seconds or less, otherwise an alarm goes straight to the police. The numbers must be done in order, no going backwards, otherwise an alarm goes straight to the police. Each number must be pressed firmly, otherwise….
+++++“I got it,” Rick responded, impatiently. “Look, you want to do this yourself?”
+++++“Nonsense, it must be done using your fingerprints, remember?”
+++++“I remember. What’s the code?”
+++++“I have to confess I’m rather proud of it. It’s a number I don’t have to work hard to remember, yet no one else could possibly deduce its origin.”
+++++“Sounds like a keeper,” Rick conceded. “Now, what is it?”
+++++“495 051 5253,” Munroe responded.
+++++Rick thought for a second and nodded his head, moving to the safe. “Got it.”
+++++“It’s amusing how I came up with it, actually. I can tell you because I have to change it anyway, but…”
+++++Rick didn’t even bother to look back at the millionaire. “It’s the years the Yankees won the World Series five years in a row, ’49-53, I got it. Very clever.”
+++++Munroe appeared a bit crestfallen. “Well, yes.”
+++++“Here’s a tip. For women the codes are almost always their children’s birthdays. For men, their favorite sports teams.”
+++++“Thank you,” Munroe said. “I’ll remember that. Are you a Yankee fan?”
+++++“Boston, actually.”
+++++Munroe stiffened noticably. “I should have shot you on sight.”
+++++“If you don’t mind, I’m trying to focus here.” Rick indicated the safe. Munroe nodded and watched. Rick moved to the keyboard on the side of the wall and took a deep breath. He quickly and confidently punched the numbers in. Suddenly, there was a click and the safe opened. Rick smiled and reached into the safe. He came out with a large, obscenely beautiful diamond. “Is this it?”
+++++“Yes. Nice job.”
+++++Rick admired it up against the light. He’d never seen its equal before and doubted he ever would. The way the diamond seemed to glow in the room was almost breathtaking. “It’s a beauty, all right. I don’t know if I’d pay ten million for it, but whatever.”
+++++He handed it to Munroe, who paused to examine it as well. “In the unlikely event we ever meet again remind me to tell you the story of how I procured this. From one thief to another.”
+++++Munroe placed the diamond in his pocket. He moved to the corner of the room and procured a large bag from the shelf. He handed it to Rick. “Here.”
+++++Rick looked at him oddly. “What’s this for?”
+++++“You may have noticed I have a few more things in my safe than just the diamond,” Munroe explained. “About three million dollars in cash that the IRS doesn’t need to know about, plus some documents I prefer kept hidden from prying eyes…put everything in here. I’ll store it elsewhere temporarily. When the insurance company finishes its investigation, I’ll return it.”
+++++Rick nodded appreciatively. “You think of everything, don’t you?” He returned to the safe and started to shovel all of the contents into the bag.
+++++“Yes, I do,” Munroe said softly.
+++++Rick finished putting the valuables into the bag and turned to hand it to Munroe. That was when he saw the gun was raised and pointed at his chest. He smiled weakly. “Ok, well, hate to not steal and run, but…”
+++++“I really am sorry about this,” Munroe said. “You were actually beginning to grow on me.”
+++++Rick stared at him in disbelief. “You’re still going to kill me?”
+++++Munroe nodded, almost sadly. “I’m afraid so.”
+++++“For the love of God, why?”
+++++Munroe moved across the room and took the bag from Rick’s hands. “Well, it occurs to me that I can do everything you propose…have the diamond stolen, collect the ten million dollars insurance money, blame it on you…and still satisfy my curiosity.”
+++++“You are one truly twisted son of a bitch.”
+++++Munroe smiled. “If it makes you feel any better, it’s not really to satisfy my curiosity. You are what one would term a ‘loose end’. In my experience, loose ends are better off left….unloose.”
+++++Rick shook his head in wonder. “Man, oh man, what a piece of work. Ok, look, before you kill me, which, ok, fine, I realize you have to do, would you allow me to at least finish the game? I mean, some sense of closure?”
+++++“But of course,” Munroe answered. “I am not totally without mercy.”
+++++“Thanks.” Rick returned to the board and pondered his next move. “Tell me something. Did you ever hear of a guy named Jonathan Langston?”
+++++“Name doesn’t ring a bell,” Munroe answered, “but I’ve dealt with thousands of people in my lifetime.”
+++++“You probably wouldn’t have dealt with him. Jonathan Langston was a guy who went to MIT about twenty years ago. He was a mediocre student, nothing spectacular at all, but his folks had money, so they kept him going.”
+++++“Fascinating. Is Mr. Langston an acquaintance of yours?”
+++++Rick shook his head. “Never met the man.”
+++++“May I ask why he has entered the conversation, then?” Munroe placed his rook in front of Rick’s knight.
+++++“Jonathan fancied himself both an inventor and a salesman,” Rick answered calmly. “By all reports he sucked as an inventor, if he built it you could bet your bottom dollar it didn’t work; but man, he was one hell of a salesman.”
+++++Rick moved a piece. “He didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, but he LOOKED like he knew what he was talking about, know what I mean?”
+++++Rick glanced at Munroe, who was studying the board carefully. “Your move,” he said.
+++++“I’m aware.” He tentatively pushed his Queen forward. “So anyway, this friend of yours….Mr. Langston.”
+++++“Right, Langston. Well, he set up shop, first in Los Angeles, then Las Vegas, then New York. Anywhere he could find a large group of very wealthy, not very bright people. He really was a genius in his own way, just not when it came to his product.”
+++++Munroe looked as if he could sympathize. “And his product….exactly what it is he sold?”
+++++“Funny thing that. He designed security systems.”
+++++Munroe’s eyes rose and he stared at Rick coldly. Rick smiled as he moved a bishop across the board.
+++++“Check,” Rick informed him.
+++++“Did you say…security systems?”
+++++Rick nodded. “Yes. Specifically, he designed and marketed this colossal failure that came to be known as the Pantheon 3000.”
+++++Munroe took a breath. “Is that right?”
+++++“The truth is, Nate, and I’m just telling you this for your own good, but the system’s flawed,” Rick said. “It looks nice, it looks very impressive and it will keep out your basic run of the mill highwayman robber, but in the hands of a real pro it just doesn’t cut it.”
+++++Munroe rose from his seat and lifted the gun in Rick’s direction. “I’m not sure I like where this conversation is heading.”
+++++Rick nodded in agreement. “You’re going to like it a lot less in about two minutes. See, a true professional knows not only how to get around the Pantheon 3000, but incredibly enough, the system can actually work against the homeowner. Pull a few wires, scramble a few signals it can provide video access that you can easily tap into from say, a van parked down the ways.”
+++++“Video access?”
+++++“Showing the movements of the folk inside, where they are, what they’re doing, where they keep their guns, that kind of thing,” Rick explained.
+++++Munroe pressed his finger on the trigger of the gun and pulled. He wasn’t terribly surprised when nothing happened.
+++++“So that, hypothetically,”Rick continued calmly, “you can break into the house hours earlier…say while he was out at dinner…and remove the bullets from the gun, were you so inclined.”
+++++Munroe started to move for the door but Rick quickly produced a small revolver of his own that had been strapped to his ankle. He aimed it right at Nathan’s forehead. “Not so fast, boychick. We’re not done with the lesson.”
+++++“I underestimated you,” Munroe decided.
+++++“You think?”
+++++“How did you know I wouldn’t just call the police?” Munroe asked.
+++++“I didn’t. I took a chance that the macho millionaire would want to handle things in his own way. I never suspected you actually were going to kill me. That was a surprise, you sadistic bastard. But your place is wired, Nate, including your cell phone. Had you called them I’d have simply called the whole thing off. Now sit down.”
+++++Nathan Munroe let the gun fall from his hand and sat down in the chair opposite Rick. Rick transferred the contents of the satchel into a gym back he had hidden under the couch. He went on with his narrative. “But let me tell you the guy who DID know what he was doing. The guy who designed your safe. I’ve heard about him, spent hours trying to figure out his stuff but man, he is in a class all by himself. I mean, I don’t care how good you are, you couldn’t break into that thing, not in a thousand years. Hell, the only way you could get anything out of there would be to, I don’t know, have the idiot owner practically hand you the password, and what are the odds on that?”
+++++“So that’s really what you came for. The Egyptian Rose.”
+++++Rick shrugged his shoulders. “Well, yes, but the three million dollars is a nice second prize. Now, the diamond, please.”
+++++Munroe sighed and took the diamond out of his pocket. He handed it to Rick. “Pity. It is gorgeous. I guess I will just have to be content with the insurance money.”
+++++“Oh, there won’t be any insurance money,” Rick corrected.
+++++“What are you talking about?”
+++++“I’m talking about the note to your insurance company, Nate. The one they’re receiving in the morning, telling in detail how we met and how you asked me to come and fake a robbery of the Egyptian Rose, even going so far as to having me place my fingerprints on your furniture and giving me the combination to your safe. I was tempted, but in my sincere desire to go straight, I decided at the last minute I couldn’t go through with it and was leaving town. What do you think their reaction is going to be when they get that letter and then hear from you that you’ve had a break in?”
+++++Munroe struggled to follow. “I don’t understand. Why would you do that?”
+++++“Because I want you to suffer. I want you to hurt and this is the best way I know how. See, of the thousands of people you put on the unemployment line…the nameless faces whose lives you destroyed….just to show you could…at least one had family. A brother. A brother who watched as that family you threw out into the streets begged and scraped for charity. A brother who saw them forced to sleep on the floors and couches of relatives, moving from town to town, clawing out an existence any way they could.”
+++++“There are other jobs,” Munroe said, defensively.
+++++“Yes, and there are other diamonds. Think of it that way.” Rick lifted the bag with the three million dollars. “This…this will go to my brother and his family.”
+++++He held the Egyptian Rose up to the light. “I’ll hold on to this, just as a memento of our great evening together. Maybe I’ll sell it, maybe I won’t. As for the documents you’re worried about people seeing…..start to worry.”
+++++Rick made his way to the door. “By the way, on my way in here I keyed the side of your Lamborghini….just to show I could.”
+++++He started out but came back in, as if he suddenly remembered something. He went to the chessboard and slid his queen to the other side of the board, trapping Munroe’s king.
+++++“Checkmate, you son of a bitch.”

The Point

“Two fucking hours,” Kyle said.
+++++I nodded.
+++++“Two hours and that kid hasn’t shut up for one minute.  Ray, let’s just blow him away as soon as he comes out of the bathroom, we’ll tell Jesse and Jay it was an accident.”
+++++“We can’t do that.  Now just relax.  It won’t be long.”
+++++I had to admit, it was tempting.  Jesse and Jay asked us to take their nephew along for this latest hit, get him ‘used to the ropes’.  Considering that Jesse and Jay ran basically everything on the East Coast from drugs to prostitution and considering those who did not do what they asked usually found themselves very dead, we agreed.  The brothers had been in America for almost ten years now, and little by little they’d been bringing other family members over from the old country.  Their nephew Lonnie was the latest…and the worst.
+++++Kyle was right, he hadn’t stopped talking from the minute he got in the car.  His chattering was incessant, and his voice was one of a high pitch, it reminded me of those whistles that only small dogs could hear.  Fortunately, he had to pee so we stopped outside the local McDonald’s and got some respite while he relieved his bladder.  Ordinarily, I’d be reluctant to park at a local fast food place with someone stuffed in our trunk, but the place was pretty empty and the guy was pretty unconscious, so I thought we were safe.  Kyle continued.
+++++“It wouldn’t be so bad if he actually said something, but he just babbles on and on and on and on.  I mean, how’s he going to be a hit man?  What’s he going to do, talk people into committing suicide?  I tell ya, right now I’d consider it if it would get him to shut up.”
+++++Kyle and I had been partners in Jesse and Jay’s operation since it started.  It wasn’t that we were friends, or even that close, but we played to each other’s strengths and I guess the guys at the top liked the results.  Kyle was explosive, impulsive and could scare the shit out of people when he wanted.  I was more cautious, calculating, always going with the odds.
+++++Kyle was about 6’2″, 240 lbs, played some linebacker in school.  I was a straight A student, with a degree in science and history.  How I came to be a hit man is a long story, and one I don’t need to get into here.
+++++Lonnie came out of the McDonald’s grinning like a hyena and holding up three milk shakes.
+++++“Just one shot to the head,” Kyle said under his breath. “I could do it easy from this angle.”
+++++“Knock it off,” I answered and Lonnie got into the car.
+++++“Hey, I figured some sugar would do us good,” he said, “Keep the energy up, you know? You gotta have a lot of energy for this kind of job, right?  I mean, the adrenaline helps and all but still, you need some kinda extra boost, some extra kick, to help get things going.”
+++++He put the shakes into our cup holders as I started the car and drove off.  The place we were heading was only twenty minutes away and I couldn’t wait.
+++++“So what this guy do, anyway?” Lonnie continued, in between sucking on his milkshake.  “Was he like an informer on Uncle Jesse and Jay, or did he embezzle money, or refuse to pay some protection, or sleep with someone’s wife, or what he do?  What?”
+++++Kyle sighed heavily.  “Kid, I told you, we don’t know what he did and we don’t care.  It’s not our job to ask questions.  We just do what Jesse and Jay tell us.”
+++++“Yeah, but he must have done something really nasty to get bumped off, right?  I mean, you don’t just kill someone for no reason. I bet he did something pretty bad.”
+++++“Maybe he talked too much,” Kyle said.  If the kid got the hint, he didn’t show it.
+++++“So how long have you guys been partners?” Lonnie went on.  “I hear it’s been like forever.  I wonder if I’ll have a partner. I wonder if it will be a chick, like in the TV shows. A blonde, maybe, with a British accent, or someone Spanish.  Big boobs.  I like big boobs.
+++++Don’t get me wrong, small boobs are ok, too.  I’m not prejudiced.  They say you guys have been partners forever, you’re legends, like Batman and Robin, only, you know, you kill people.”
+++++“Ten years,” I said, to interrupt the flow of gibberish.  “We’ve been partners for ten years.”
+++++Lonnie leaned forward so his head was almost in the front seat. “So, what’s it like? You know, to kill someone.  What’s it like inside?  I’ve never done it.  Uncle Jesse and Uncle Jay don’t think I can, but I think I’m ready.  I think I’d be pretty good at it, actually.  I got nerves of steel.  They don’t know that, but I do.  But you guys have done it, I mean, really done it.  What’s it like?  Do you stay up at night, do you sleep, do you see the victim’s faces in your dreams, do you ever hallucinate?”
+++++“Kid, it’s just a job,” Kyle said. “Like accounting or dry cleaning.  Just a job.  Besides, we never kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it.”
+++++This last part wasn’t true, but it made Kyle feel good to say it, so I let it pass.
+++++“I should probably have a gun,” Lonnie said thoughtfully, switching topics as he tended to

  1. “I don’t have a gun and I think if I’m really going to be a hit man at some point I should probably get one, don’t you think? Or at least a sharp knife.”

Kyle rolled his eyes at me as if to say ‘how much longer do we have to put up with this idiot?’ when the woods came into view.
+++++“There,” I said, bringing the car to a stop.  “That’s where we leave the body.”
+++++Jesse and Jay had picked the place, and I had to say it was perfect.  About as far away from civilization as you could get and still be in New Jersey.  There wasn’t a car, a house, or a soul in sight.
+++++“Damn,” said Kyle.  “I didn’t know a place like this existed in Jersey.  Let’s do this and get it over with.  I’ve got a date with the wife tonight.”
+++++“I didn’t know you were married,” Lonnie remarked.
+++++“I didn’t say she was my wife,” Kyle grinned, and winked.
+++++The trees were thick and dark, long branches hung down everywhere and since the sun was starting to set you couldn’t see for more than thirty yards in any direction.
+++++“So this is where we’re going to do it,” Lonnie said excitedly, but his voice low.  “This is where it happens.”
+++++“Apparently so,” Kyle said and we all got out of the car.  I went to the back and opened the trunk.  The guy had woken up somewhere along the line and was staring up at me with frightened, uncomprehending eyes.  He obviously had no idea what was going on except he knew he was gagged and both his hands and feet were tied tightly.
+++++“Damn,” Lonnie said, to no one in particular.  “He looks scared.”
+++++“Well, it won’t be long,” Kyle answered and reached into the trunk.  He lifted the guy over his shoulder and held him there like a sack of potatoes.  Kyle was monstrously strong and whoever the guy was couldn’t have weighed more than 170 pounds.  He looked almost comical flung over Kyle’s shoulder.  “Where do we do it?”
+++++“Straight that way,” I said, pointing to a small clearing in the woods.  “We’re supposed to leave his body out in the open so eventually someone sees it.  Those are Jesse and Jay’s orders.”
+++++Kyle grunted and turned to walk towards the clearing.  Lonnie followed, his head down, possibly thinking of whether his new partner would be Swedish.  The small man looked up at me.  His eyes grew wide with fear when I lifted my gun.
+++++Once, twice….three times I shot Kyle in the back of the head.  The blood was everywhere.
+++++He died instantly, I know that.  I insisted on that part.
+++++Lonnie began screaming in terror, clawing at his eyes as if to take away the sight of what he had just seen and falling backwards over himself.  I went to the small man and undid his ropes, cutting them neatly.
+++++“Get lost,” I said.  “Don’t ever tell anyone about this or next time it will be you.”
+++++The man scrambled away as fast as his little legs could take him.  I went over to Lonnie, who was still shaking uncontrollably and offered him my hand.  He took it…probably afraid not to….and I lifted him up.  Together we walked back to the car.  He sat in the back.
+++++“You see, kid,” I said, as I started the car and began driving away, “Kyle was a good guy, but not too bright.  Your Uncle Jesse got married a few years back to a girl thirty years younger than he was.  A real beauty from the old country.  I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it’s wrong, but Kyle and she…well, let’s just say they became acquainted.  And now they’re not.  By the way, that’s our next stop.  Jesse’s wife.  We’re not going to do anything, we’re just going to deliver the news.”
+++++The trip from the woods to Jesse’s house took about two hours, with traffic.  About halfway there I got bored and turned on the radio.  For the entire trip, Lonnie never said one word.
+++++Which I guess was the point.