Chapter 18 - On the Run


Vega followed Chuck like an extra in a zombie movie.

However, Rudy had finally returned to his senses and started to panic. "Chuck, we've gotta get out of here before the police find us. We're up to our ass in alligators and we didn't even do anything."

"Now wait a minute. If you're trying to convince me that pulling a gun on the governor is on the Miss Manners list of approved etiquette, we've gotta have a little talk."

"Well, yeah, but there's nobody alive that knows who did that except the three of us. But eventually, somebody's going to figure out what happened up there. I say we get out of here as fast as we can move, even if we have to do it on foot."

"Just relax and use your head. Nobody's looking for us yet, because nobody knows we're still alive. Whoever planned to have us shot in that office is either dead, or convinced that we're dead. Nobody except us knows that the cops accidentally killed the big boys. If they did, this place would be a zoo right now. Our best hope is just to take it easy and leave at a nice, normal speed. I think I know someplace we can stay out of sight and organize ourselves."

"Where's that?"

"The buses we came up here in. They're probably still sitting in the alley waiting for us. Nobody's going to spot us, and we can have some privacy while we figure out our next move."

The two rose and guided Vega to the buses, which sat waiting to provide refuge to the trio, just as Chuck predicted.

Rudy hit a semi-hidden switch and the bus door oozed open with a hiss. He scanned the seats. "Good, no driver. I half expected him to be asleep on the seats somewhere in the front."

Chuck led the group to the back of the bus saying, "We can hide if somebody comes along. I'd feel safer if I knew nobody would find us without a decent search."

The familiar surroundings seemed to bring Vega back from his shocked state. He was coherent enough to say, "I've gotta take a leak," as he ducked into the bus washroom. Vega's muffled moans sneaked through the toilet cubicle's metal door.

"Cortez, you okay in there?" Chuck asked as he searched his suit pockets.

Vega responded with another moan and a cough. Apparently the morning's excitement had unsettled his stomach. He opened the door and bravely leaned out of the cubicle for a second, then abruptly retreated, slammed the door and made more retching sounds. When he finally emerged, his new jacket looked like it was involved in a head-on crash with a batch of oatmeal cookie dough. It didn't smell like it though.

Looking up from a seat covered with the contents of the governor's wallet. Chuck admonished Vega. "Listen my friend, that new suit could be your ticket off the streets. You should take care of it."

"Get off it. We're dead men and no suit is gonna change that. We just watched an assassination, and whether they meant to kill us or the guys they nailed up there, we know what happened. I figure that leaves us two chances, slim and none; and slim just left town on a bus like this one."

"Vega's right, Chuck. We should hide until they stop looking for us. They may be closing in on us right now." Rudy's face showed more fear than his words expressed. Chuck knew he'd have to disband this trio if he was going to survive very long.

"One thing you two forget is that we have time left. I'm sure they still haven't figured out that the governor and his pals are the stiffs they found up in Weede's office. And besides, we have a little travelling money. While you two were shaking and puking, I came across some assets in this wallet. Would you believe four different gold credit cards."

"So what the hell good is that?" Rudy asked. "You can't get any money without the guy's number, and that's gone, along with the top of his head."

"But that's Where you're mistaken, my dear Watson. He wrote a four digit code on the back of each card. I've heard about people that dumb, but I never thought I'd be lucky enough to meet one. We should be able to take these to any ATM machine in town and get cash without showing ID or anything."

"But how do you know it'll work? There's gotta be a catch."

"Yeah, the catch is, when they figure out the governor's dead, they turn off the card. Until then, it's easy pickin's. Come on you guys, I used to be a real person a couple of years ago, before I hit the streets. I know how this stuff works. Now do either of you have anything of value in your wallets?"

As Vega groped for Peen's wallet, Rudy inventoried Weede's personal effects.

"It looks like Dickie had a couple of gold cards too, but I don't see any secret numbers on "em. Hey, wait a minute, look at this. There's a hundred dollar bill stuffed inside this little compartment."

"Alright, hold onto it. You're going to need it. Anything in your stuff Vega?"

"Yeah, some more plastic money, and a bunch of bills." He laid the credit cards and a green wad of paper on the seat next to Chuck. "Count that up, Mr. Jackson. I think we have a nice little nest-egg here." He kept conveniently quiet about the hundred dollar bill that peeked out at him from behind a business card; he didn't want to confuse Chuck's counting. Then he stuffed the handcrafted wallet back into the inner pocket of the spackled suit.

"Holy shit, there's over $800 here, Vega. I'd heard rich guys never carry much cash."

"Probably a rumor started by rich guys so you wouldn't take their wallets," Rudy quipped. "So what do we do with all this money? If we're all dead men, cash isn't gonna help us much."

"Look, we have to go different directions." Chuck knew his only chance was to head out on his own, without two grown men to babysit. He slipped into his best poker face. "You guys had lives before we met, and so did I. I think we'd all better go back to living those lives while there's still time. Let's divide our assets and get out of Sacramento while we can."

Rudy seemed hesitant, but Vega rapidly agreed. "Sounds right to me, Chuck, but I don't trust that plastic money. How about if you give me an extra hundred in cash and you two split the cards between yourselves."

Chuck didn't understand Vega's misgivings, but nodded as he looked at Rudy.

"Well hell, I guess it's alright with me," Rudy agreed. " Give me my share of the cash and two of Peckerwood's gold cards with those little numbers on the back. You can have the cards Vega found. Sound fair?"

"Suits me." He thumbed through the cash and gave Rudy $155. "Take that and add it to the hundred you already have." Then he turned to Vega and slipped him $305. "I think you're making a mistake by not trusting the gold cards. Sure you don't want one?"

"No thanks, I'm just fine. Good luck with them, but I don't trust machines to give me money. If I can't see the cashier eye to eye, I won't do it. Trust me, I'll be fine."

As each man repocketed his reorganized wallet, a hiss at the front of the bus announced the driver's return. "Excuse me, are you gentlemen lost? This bus is headed for the garage." The driver took the length of his walk to the back of the bus to size up the trio. He decided they were too important to treat in his normal rude fashion. "If you're looking for the capital tour, this ain't it. You got to go over to the office for that."

"Excuse us. Mr. Gomez here had a little accident. We tried to get him to your restroom, but didn't make it in time. He's got an important meeting with his assemblyman this afternoon and he's a little under the weather." Chuck stuck a thumb straight into his mouth and made the international symbol for too much liquor.

"Oh, got you. Well, from the look of his suit, he's gonna need more than a restroom. There's a one hour dry cleaner a few blocks from here."

"Yeah, I noticed it on the way over. Thanks a lot, sorry for the trouble. Well just be on our way." Chuck couldn't help thinking that he could easily make a career of making excuses for other people's vomit.

The three were a few steps out of the bus when the driver started yelling. "Hey, you bastards, get back here and clean up the puke in my bathroom."

Rudy kept up with Chuck, while Vega ran off in the opposite direction yelling "Good luck."

The driver took off after Vega, but soon gave up the chase and returned to clean himself up before he headed for the garage.

A few blocks walk brought them to a bank branch. With a little fiddling, they punched in the number they had memorized from the back of the card. As the device hummed, Chuck glanced nervously about. He knew nobody was watching, but he felt nervous just the same.

"What if it doesn't work? What if it sounds an alarm?" "Relax Rudy, these things are picky, but they're as dumb as a marine's dog."

The humming stopped as the screen lit up with its new message, "AMOUNT TO WITHDRAW IN MULTIPLES OF $20."

"Hell, let's try for the jackpot. I wonder what the daily limit is at this branch." He carefully punched in 1-0-0 then stopped. "What the hell." He punched in a third zero and hit ENTER.

The ATM smugly responded "TRY $500 OR LESS."

Chuck grinned as he carefully punched in 5-0-0-ENTER. The ATM dutifully whirred and softly clicked twenty-five times as it counted out the bills to itself. When it was sure it had counted properly, it raised its little door like a modern day drawbridge. $500 appeared from the wall.

"Bingo!," Chuck yelped.

"THANK YOU. HAVE A NICE DAY MR PECKERWO," the ATM screen politely replied as it spat out the card.

"Well, I'll be damned," Rudy whistled. "How many times can you do that?"

"I'm not sure, I think it depends on the bank and the card you're using. Let's try it again with another card." Chuck repeated the sequence, but the ATM was annoyed by a second attempt.

"DAILY LIMIT REACHED," was all it would say. even to a request for $20.

The third card offered similar results, but the fourth seemed to please the ATM at some hidden level. The magic door again rose to reveal twenty- five more $20 bills.

"THANK YOU. HAVE A NICE DAY MR. PUCKERWOLD." read the ATM's screen as Chuck relieved it of its burden. The card came out of the slot like a naughty kid's tongue.

Chuck handed Rudy the second packet of bills along with the other generous gold card. "I think Vega made a mistake. We're gonna make out..."

Chuck's words were drowned out by the sirens of a dozen police cars and ambulances that ripped past, headed for the capitol building. "Holy shit. Matthius and the boys must have gotten themselves into some major league trouble."

He spotted a transit platform nearby and whispered "What do you say we catch that streetcar and get the hell out of this neighborhood?"

Rudy nodded eagerly.

Once on board the sleek new train, they felt their tension melt to a manageable level. "Rudy, let's catch lunch at the end of the line before we split up, what d'ya say?"

"To tell you the truth, I'm gonna miss having you get me out of scrapes, but I do have relatives back in Detroit I want to see. This seems like a mighty fine time for a long trip."

"Well, let me book you a first class plane ticket with one of these cards. I don't want anything to happen to you."

"That's decent of you. Fact is, I'm not sure how to use one of these things without getting into trouble."

"Okay, no problem. We'll do it over lunch, just like the big boys. It looks like a nice place over there." Chuck pointed through the streetcar window at a steak house, expensively covered with dark wood.

Both men hopped off at the next stop and walked a block to the restaurant. As they entered, their eyes were suddenly plunged into darkness. A voice greeted them from the inky depths. "Good afternoon gentlemen. Two? For smoking or non-smoking?"

"Uh, doesn't matter." Chuck's eyes started to adjust to the moody lighting enough to make out the well-dressed man who greeted them.

"There will be a ten minute wait before you are seated. Would you care to have a seat at the bar?"

"Well, yes we would, but first, I'm expecting an important call, and I told my office to have them call me here. Could you please see that I get it?"

The attendant hesitated and looked uneasy until he noticed the twenty dollar bill that Chuck held loosely. "Yes sir, right away. What's the name sir?"

"Peckerwood. By the way, can you let me know the best number to use. I want to give it to my secretary." Chuck's cool expression didn't give away his sheer terror, or show the world how impressed he was with himself for this great scam.

The attendant scribbled a number down on a bar check and handed it to Chuck. "Here, let me get you a phone." He popped out of sight, then reappeared like a genie bearing a wireless phone. "Use this. Local calls only I assume?"

"Of course. Thank you very much." Chuck palmed the phone and seated himself at the bar. An amazed Rudy joined him. In minutes, an appropriate travel agency had been found through directory assistance, and flights booked under phony names using Peckerwood's credit card.

Rudy had ordered the beer while Chuck did the business. When Chuck hung up, he asked, "Is that all there is to it?"

"Almost. They're going to verify the credit card number and seat availability and call me back. It pays to be the governor, even if you're not, "chuckled Chuck.

"Your table is ready, gentlemen."

"Thanks. Oh, here's your phone. Remember to let me know when they call back."

"No problem, sir. Just keep the phone until the end of your meal. That's why we have them here. Now please come this way."

Plenty of sirloin and too much wine made for the most delightful lunch either man could remember. Before dessert showed up, the little phone rang with confirmation. All they had to do was pick up their tickets at the airport.

Oral Peckerwood picked up the tab for lunch, and generously tipped the entire staff. Even the dishwasher was rewarded for a job well done. Everybody was so well pleased that no ID was requested when the gold card was presented.

A limousine became visible in front of the steak house as they reeled from the shock of the bright sunlight.

"Hop in, Rudy," Chuck grinned, as a uniformed man held the limo door open. "We're traveling first class the rest of the day. I arranged it through the travel agent. It's already paid for, so stop gawking and get in."

Rudy unfroze long enough to get himself seated. Chuck slid in behind him as the driver closed the door smartly. Two glasses of chilled champagne waited on the counter in front of their seat. An elegant, effervescent cloud fizzed over each glass.

Chuck grabbed a glass and handed the other to Rudy. "You know, you remind me a little of a friend of mine. I just wish he could have been here with us today to get a little of this. He deserved it."

It could have been the wine, or it could have been the pain that made Chuck choke up with tears. He didn't stop crying until the limousine pulled up in front of the terminal.

When they got to the ticket counter, two first class tickets were waiting. One to Detroit, and one to Los Angeles.

Rudy waved to Chuck from the front of a plane bound for the Motor City.

Chuck hardly saw him through the grief as he whispered, "So long, Rubby."

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