Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 14 - Morocco
Jeb decided long ago that one day he would live in Morocco. It started when he first saw the movie, Casablanca. He loved the sound of the name, Casablanca. He was Rick, wearing the white jacket, wooing the beautiful women. He’d fallen in love with the whole idea of living in another part of the world, strange, mysterious, Casablanca. To follow that dream he would need money and lots of it.
He had dumped the contents of the nylon zippered bag onto the bed. Pawing through the stash of jewelry and diamonds from his latest score he knew his dream was within reach. After this heist, he could live in a foreign country like a king. He’d checked extradition laws to be sure he would be safe there. Morocco had no treaty with the United States to extradite alleged criminals. That information cinched his decision to make it his future home.
He had traded one of the Rolex watches in exchange for a new identity - Rick Bogart. It was easy enough to buy a passport with a phony name. With his contacts in the creatively dark parts of the world he could even have it stamped with a trail of travels that would give him a rock solid alibi and avoid implication in the robbery. His plan was falling into place just as he had always imagined. The only thing remaining was to dispatch Connie.
His paid snoops had kept close watch on her narrowing the location of her last stop to the convenience store where she’d filled up with gas. His plan was already in motion, perhaps even as he stood gazing into the mirror. It wouldn’t be long now. Once he set the cops on her he’d have a clear path to travel.
“Nobody leaves me until I want them to,” he repeated, smiling at his reflection. His revenge would be swift and sure, but first, he must leave her holding the bag in the literal sense. He laughed at his own cleverness and at the cliché that fit nicely into the scheme of things.
There was a rarely-used airstrip about eighty miles from his hometown where flights took off and landed without the benefit of a flight plan or records of any kind. Jeb had paid the going price for certain members of airport management to look the other way when the Cessna would take off, landing upstate. From there, another plane would take him to New York. There he would board a commercial flight to Morocco using his new identity.
“Just have to grease the right palms,” he said. “Like I always say, it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know.” He chuckled and dialed the number from memory. The phone line crackled before the ring tone kicked in. His contact answered on the first ring.
“State your purpose,” the burly voice growled.
“And that’s supposed to mean something to me?”
“Yeah, if you want the other half of your payment.”
“Oh, that Jeb,” the voice softened at the mention of money.
“Are we on for the little trip we talked about?” Jeb asked.
“Just waiting for the weather to clear up. Can’t fly in a tornado,” he added.
“It’ll blow over,” Jeb said. “It always does. Besides, I’ve got a tight schedule to maintain.”
The gas pump clicked off. Connie returned the nozzle to its slot and tightened the gas cap. The spaces in front of the food mart were taken. She moved the car around to the side of the building. She rolled the driver’s window down a few inches and turned to Queenie.
“They should make the employees park somewhere else,” she fussed. She shut off the car and grabbed her purse.
“I’ll be right back,” she told the dog whose expression showed concern. Connie locked the car and went inside to pay for the gas and pick up supplies. Queenie moved into the vacant driver’s seat and whimpered.
She moved quickly along the aisles of groceries, picking up canned meat, crackers, and favorite snacks. The basket on her arm was filled when she approached the register where she found the store clerk turned away talking on the phone. Above his head, a small TV hung from a metal arm over the rack of cigarettes. She tapped his shoulder and motioned to the screen with the universal signal to turn up the volume as she strained to hear the announcer. The announcer led with details of the breaking news story.
“A robbery at a jewelry store late yesterday left the store owner on the floor of his jewelry store overnight. Discovered unconscious this morning by a neighboring merchant the owner, whose name has not been released, sustained a gunshot wound and was hospitalized in critical condition. Police are looking for a man and woman with a dog in connection with the robbery. More details on this Aubrey, Texas shopping center in our mid-day report. Now back to the weather.”
The name of the town brought Connie to full attention. Aubrey was where she’d lived with Jeb. Focused on the news, she didn’t notice the customer that entered the store and quickly disappeared behind the bread aisle.
The clerk finally hung up the phone and without a word, started ringing up her purchases. She found a rack of newspapers next to the register and put one on her pile. The clerk frowned, then, punching in more numbers, added it to her total.
“Anything else, Ma’am?” he asked, with emphasis on the last word.
“May I have the restroom key?” The clerk took a wood plank from a hook and set it on the counter in front of her. It was half of a wood ruler that had a hole in one end with a tattered string connecting the key to the stick. He turned abruptly toward the television to watch a commercial. Connie grabbed the bags and headed to her car to drop them off. She reached behind the driver’s seat for the plastic water jug.
“I’ll be right back with some water for you guys.” Queenie watched her leave and disappear into the restroom. Moments later, she went back in the store and dropped off the key. The clerk was busy ignoring the next customer in line. His eyes were trained on the TV where a daytime soap opera blared. The man in the hat slipped out through the doors unnoticed.
The three dogs greeted her with excitement as she hooked the leash to Queenie’s collar. The puppies danced in their box eager to spend time in the grass. Queenie led the group with the pups following close as they headed behind the building, sniffing, exploring and taking care of business.
Once Connie was out of sight, the man in the hat approached the driver’s door of the car and reached in through the narrow opening of the window. With practiced ease, he unlocked the door. Crouching next to the car door alongside the building, he popped the latch for the trunk. With his thumb, he pressed the door lock and quietly pushed it shut. At the open trunk, it took him less than twenty seconds to slip something into the hollow crevice next to the spare tire. Nestled beside the rubber, the bag with the name “Bedazzled Jewelers” glowed in silver embroidered letters as the trunk lid quietly closed.
Rusty walked along the railroad tracks for a few miles heading toward the interstate and the convenience store nearest the campsite. From a good way down the track he could hear the clanging of the warning bells. As he drew closer, he could see the crossing arms were malfunctioning, the arms stuck down across the road. Cars approached the crossing, most sitting idly for a few moments before venturing into the opposite lane and crossing the tracks on the wrong side of the road. He stepped along the ties walking on ancient timbers headed toward the campsite where he hoped the dogs would still be waiting.
He glanced at the driver at the front of the line of waiting cars. In the passenger’s seat sat a large, blond dog whose eyes followed his motion as he scurried in front of the sedan. The driver was looking down at something in her lap. Her long, wavy hair struck a familiar bell in his memories. She looked up long enough for him to notice the bright green color of her eyes before she broke eye contact and looked back down.
“There you go,” she said, freeing the chew toy from the cardboard and plastic casing. Queenie took the offered toy and held it motionless while she watched the man move out of sight down the track. Connie opened the box of puppy bones, grabbed two, and tossed the box behind her seat.
“That’s all you get until we get to the motel.” She glanced down the railroad track for as far as she could see. To the right, the hobo that crossed in front of her car was nearly out of sight down the tracks. He was ragged, but clean. There was a certain familiarity to his gait as he walked along the track.
“No way,” she said aloud. “It couldn’t be him.” Queenie looked out of the passenger window as Connie spoke sensing something out of the ordinary in her mistress’s voice.
Connie glanced at the map and put the car into gear. “It’s another fourteen miles before we get to the motel,” she told her canine passengers as the wind rocked the car. “We need to get somewhere safe before this storm hits.”
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© 2017 Peg Cole