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Bill turned and looked me in the eye. “I was able to cut them off when they tried to turn onto Millwood. You know the bridge there?”
I had no clue where this neighbourhood was, but I nodded so the old guy would keep telling his story.
“I cut in front of them when they tried to get on the bridge and they lost control, jumping the curb and driving right into the valley. The minivan hit a tree. I got out of my cruiser with my Smith and Wesson in my hand. Those two brothers, the Johnson boys, tried getting out the sliding door on the passenger side, but I had them covered. It wasn’t until I got closer that I saw that the driver’s seat was empty.”
“McPherson was the wheelman,” I said, using cop-show talk.
“That’s right. He’d slipped out when I came around the passenger side. He could have made a run for it down into the valley, but he was hurt pretty bad. He looked kinda like you look now.”
Bill pointed toward my face with a hooked finger.
“Before I knew it, he was around behind the vehicle, pointing a sawed-off shotgun at me.”
“Wow,” Bryan said under his breath.
“He was just a kid then, nineteen years old,” Bill said. “He was breathing heavy, adrenaline made him like a live wire. I thought my goose was cooked.”
“What’d McPherson do?” Bryan asked.
“I was mesmerized by the barrel of that shotgun. There was no way I could have turned and got a shot off in time. But he lowered the gun and said, ‘Ah, hell,’ and tossed it into the snow.”
“Wow,” I said.
“That kid could have killed me, grabbed the loot and stolen another car. But he didn’t. Instead I got credit for busting the whole gang single-handed.”
Next day, Bryan and I went to clear out McPherson’s apartment. The superintendent was going to trash everything, so we thought we should see if there was anything anybody might want. It was bigger than I expected, but he’d been there so long his rent was dirt-cheap. Apart from the size of the place, it was a lonely mess that reminded me of my own apartment. The place stank of cigarettes and had a green carpet resembling Astroturf. A fat charcoal-fur cat watched us from an old armchair.
“The lady next door has been feeding the cat,” Bryan said.
“What’s going to happen to him?”
“She’s got two of her own, so she can’t take him. The super’s looking for someone willing to take him up.”
All the shelves were covered in shelf paper with a fake wood pattern that was peeling off, exposing cheap particle board underneath. The upholstery on the couch had little holes where cigarette ash had burned through the puke-yellow fabric.
We started filling garbage bags with McPherson’s junk. He had lots of loose papers, cassette tapes, and stacks of sports and porn magazines. Bryan took all the shirts and jackets out of the closet and threw them on the bed. Bryan wanted to take them to the Salvation Army, but they stank so bad I doubted they would take any of it.
“Hello,” Bryan said, and started knocking on the white board at the back of the top shelf of the closet.
“What is it?”
“A false backing.”
I got a flathead screwdriver from one of the kitchen drawers and tried to pry the board loose. My wrists still weren’t strong enough, so Bryan and I switched spots. He got the board loose and pulled it down. In the gap behind the false backing was a coffee can. Bryan peeled the plastic lid off.
“No way,” he said, looking inside.
He tipped it toward me. Inside were rolls of old bills, mostly twenties.
“Wow,” I said. “There’s gotta be a few grand in there. You think that’s left over from the bank jobs he pulled?”
Bryan nodded. “McPherson’s daughter should get this money,” he said.
It was easy for a guy who didn’t need the money to say a thing like that.
“Any clue how to find her?” I asked.
“I saw some phone bills on the kitchen table, maybe he called someone who would know.”
“That’s a shot in the dark,” I said. “And if we report the money the cops would probably take it.”
“We’d probably get a finder’s fee.”
“That’s a lot of hassle for less than we have now.”
“If you want to keep it, just come out and say it,” Bryan said. He tucked the can under his arm like a football.
“Damn right I want to keep it, I got bills to pay, man. In case you didn’t notice, I can’t work.”
Bryan looked into the coffee can, stirring the cash around with his free hand. “What if it was your funeral, your apartment I was clearing out? Would you want me to just give away your money to one of the boys?” he said.
Bryan tilted his head back and looked down at me. His cheeks seemed redder than usual.
“I wouldn’t give a hoot,” I said. “I’d be happy that I had friends who’d even show up to clear out my apartment.”
Bryan wiped his fingers across his eyebrows chuckling a little.
“Fine,” he said.
“Yeah, fine. But there’s one condition.”
“And what the hell is that?” I asked, feeling like a real asshole.
“You have to take the cat too.”