by Jed Power
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
“Lenny Quarters there?” It was a hard voice, almost as hard as mine. I didn’t have any trouble hearing it, even with all the bells and whistles from the arcade outside my office door. Still, I didn’t recognize it.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I said into the cell phone. “Whattaya want? And make it fast. I gotta count my money.” I wasn’t kidding either. I was seated behind an old beat up metal desk in the office of my business, Lenny Land Arcade.
Every week I had my workers empty the arcade machines and lug the sacks of quarters to my office. Right now, some of those sacks surrounded my desk like I was trying to hold back a rising tide. Yeah, I had a coin counter. Even with that, it was a hell of a job though. And I had to do it myself too. If I didn’t my help’d rob me blind.
“While you’re at it, count out ten grand for me,” hard voice said. “I don’t want no quarters either. Big bills’ll do.”
My heartbeat ticked up a couple of notches. “Who the hell is this?”
My anxiety level took the elevator up. With good reason too. I didn’t like hearing what this guy was threatening. See, I’d moved to Hampton Beach years ago from out of state, where I’d done a stint for some scores I’d been involved in. All this time I had assumed that no one here knew about my history. If they had I’d never have gotten the license and permits for my arcade. The powers that be wanted the beach to be a family attraction and they didn’t want anyone with an unsavory background ruining their little goldmine of a tourist trap. So now, this guy on the phone said he was going to put an end to my lucrative arcade business if I didn’t come across with money. And maybe he didn’t know it, but that might also throw a monkey wrench into a few little side things I had going on. Profitable side things. I didn’t want the spotlight of publicity shined on them either.
My mind was bouncing around like a pinball in one of the games out on the floor, as I tried to come up with a way to handle this. I had no luck, so I decided to stall for time. “Look, I can hardly hear you with the racket in here,” I lied. “Call me tomorrow. We’ll talk.”
“You bet your fat ass we’ll talk, Quarters.” The phone went dead.
The next few days I racked my brain trying to come up with a way out of this jam I found myself in. During that time, I took a few calls from hard voice and did my best to hold him off. His last call had told me my stalling was over. He told me to have the ten thousand ready at my arcade after closing Wednesday night. He’d call then. That was on Monday.
Caller ID’d told me the numbers he called from and a connection at the phone company told me the locations. The calls had been made from phone booths scattered along the local seacoast. That gave me an idea. With the demise of pay phones, only two of the coin-gobblers remained on Hampton Beach. I figured hard voice wouldn’t risk coming by the arcade after he made the call Wednesday night; he’d be a sitting duck for a setup. No, he’d call and have some elaborate way for me to drop off the money somewhere so he could pick it up and beat it without me seeing him. At least that’s what I would’ve done. I hoped he thought like me.
I also reasoned he’d want to be close by when he made his last phone call with the money delivery instructions. That way he could keep an eye on me, make sure I didn’t try to pull something. So I was betting that he’d use one of the two remaining beach pay phones to make the final call. The one closest to my arcade was also in a more secluded section of the beach than the other, somewhere where he’d probably figure he’d be less likely to be seen. So I decided on that pay phone. I figure the odds were at least 75-25 in my favor.
In case I was off base on any of this, I planned to get the ten grand cash from my safe deposit box and put it in my office safe where it would be close by if I needed it. No, I wasn’t thinking there might be a need to fork it over. More I thought hard voice might pull something where I’d have to flash the dough, show him I was sincere. That’d be before I bashed his brains in.
When Wednesday night finally came, I locked up my office and left the arcade a little before closing. I told my number two man to take care of turning out the lights. I wanted to make sure I was at the pay phone before hard voice got there and made the call.
Outside, I could smell the salt air and hear the surf; it must’ve been high tide. I walked down a dark street that dead ended at the beach sand. I went along the beach until I came to a large sand dune. I trudged up it. When I got to the top of the dune, I could see below on the other side of it the deserted state park and one lone telephone booth. It was near a closed bathhouse. I lay down in the seagrass and watched.
I waited just about as long as I thought I would–five minutes after I would’ve closed the arcade. That’s when a dark car’s headlights illuminated the parking lot as it pulled in from Ocean Boulevard. I could hear the car crunching gravel as it pulled up to the booth and stopped. The driver doused the headlights, hopped out of the car and walked up to the phone.
I couldn’t be sure it was hard voice; it could be someone else using the phone. Not even when he slid the door aside, stepped into the booth, lifted the phone from the cradle, dropped in some coins and dialed. I still wasn’t sure.
Suddenly I felt a vibration in my pants pocket. Now I was sure.
I stood and walked quickly down the dune towards the phone booth. I took a gun from my jacket pocket. I shot hard voice dead.
On my walk back to the arcade, I didn’t see another soul and I was sure I’d gotten away with it. Even if hard voice had told someone else what he was up to, they wouldn’t say anything. How could they? They were probably involved in the shakedown too. And if his woman, or someone else who might be inclined to talk, knew what he was planning and went to the cops– big deal. They still couldn’t prove anything.
So I felt I was home free and I was feeling pretty good. That is until I turned the corner onto Ocean Boulevard. Up ahead and kitty corner across the street, I saw police cars with their flashers on. And they were parked every which way right in front of Lenny Land Arcade. My stomach suddenly felt like I’d eaten a bad clam.
I made a mad dash across the street and over to my arcade. Standing outside on the sidewalk was my number two, my assistant manager. He was a real geek with a pockmarked face. He’d been with me for years and was older than the rest of my crew who were mostly teenagers. He turned from the cop he’d been talking to, saw me, and ran toward me.
“Jesus, Lenny,” he whined, his Adam’s apple sliding up and down as he spoke. “We been robbed.”
My stomach felt like that bad clam had turned into an entire platter of them. “What happened?” is all I could say. I had a feeling what he was going to answer. I hoped I was wrong. Of course, I wasn’t.
“He came in as I was closing. Held a gun to my head, Lenny.” I’d never seen an Adam’s apple move as much as his did. “I had to open the safe.”
The safe. Except for this time I never used it to store money, just papers like I said. So the geek knew the combination. Now the ten grand was gone. And I couldn’t yell at the geek for that. It might come out why I had ten grand in there. I bit my tongue and decided I’d have to live with it.
The geek started to speak, and goddamn it that Adam’s apple didn’t start dancing faster if that was possible. “Lenny, he had a truck backed up to the rear door.” I knew what was coming before he said. Hard voice, the punk, had made the geek help him load all those sacks of quarters that had been waiting to be counted from a week’s take into the truck. And I was right. That’s exactly what the geek said in so many words. What he didn’t say, what he didn’t have to say, was that, yeah they were only quarters, but they added up to a lot more than the ten grand.
I didn’t know if the dizziness I felt was from what I’d just been told or from all those flashing colored lights from the cop cars making everything look unreal. You’d think I’d be used to that, what with all the bells and whistles and flashing stuff I see in the arcade every day. I guess I wasn’t though. I’d been slapped hard.
But there was more, of course, because than I remembered. The phone booth! I shot him when my cell phone rang. Didn’t I?
The geek must’ve read my mind because he said, “I tried to call you as soon as I could. You didn’t pick up.”
That was it for me. I realized now when my cell phone rang; it hadn’t been the guy in the booth calling. It’d been the geek. Someone was dead in the phone booth down near the beach. Someone I shot. I didn’t want to know who.
The geek moved closer to me, whispered. I could smell pepperoni on his breath. “He said to tell you something, Lenny. Don’t come after him. Remember those felony convictions.” The geek looked at me funny for a second. “And he said tell Lenny to remember the phone booth too.”
I’d always thought I was a smart guy. Now I knew I was nothing but a simpleton. Hard voice had me all wrapped up with pretty paper and a bow. Losing the money–ten grand and a lot more than that in quarters–hurt, sure. But I could live with that–easy. If I could live with this punk, whoever he was, knowing I killed someone, I had no idea. But I knew I’d find out. And probably the hard way. I could already imagine him shaking me down for every dime I had. The arcade too. Maybe until there was nothing left for me to do but put the business end of a gun in my mouth. Yeah, I’d find all that out.
I stood there in a daze, my head lowered. I don’t know how long I stood there like that. It must have been a while because when I looked up again I saw the geek. He was standing over near the front of the arcade. The big garish purple logo Lenny Land Arcade splattered across the facade behind him.
He was talking on his cell phone and smiling. His Adam’s apple wasn’t moving. There was nothing I could do.
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