This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
The alarm clock buzzed. Within minutes, John was out the door. Fortunately, traffic was slow in the fresh morning. He pulled over at the three-hundred block of Spring Garden and waited. Soon he saw Stranger making his approach. He motioned for an angry Stranger to get in.
“What’s going on. I told you to meet me at 200 Spring Garden Street! YOU messed up the whole job.”
John put his finger to his lips and whispered, “They know about us".”
Realizing someone might be listening, John pulled out a notebook and began to write. He gave Stranger the details his son passed from the night before.
Once out of the car Stranger hissed, “I’ll let Charles know about this.”
Without another word, Stranger started down the street in the opposite direction. It was nearing 9:00. John drove down the 200 block, paying close attention to what was happening around him. There was a man standing on the corner in plain clothes. John recognized him as the officer that tailed him the day before. As far as John could tell, he wasn’t recognized and started for home.
- Black - Part 5
Someone is watching John Black. John just might get away thanks to Kent.
John knew Maureen would wonder why he returned from work early. He took his time and stopped at the florist to pick up some flowers, hoping that would limit her questions. It did - all but one. “John, why are home so early?”
John was prepared. “We had a great month. Max knew I put forth my best effort, so he gave me the rest of the day off. Let’s go celebrate!”
“I’ll be right back.” Maureen hurried off to start the dishwasher. The breakfast dishes were still stacked in the sink. As she passed the phone, it rang, almost as if on cue. She didn’t recognize the number, and she ignored it. Within seconds, it rang again. The same information appeared on the caller ID. She reasoned if it was important, the caller could leave a message. She’d get back to them later. The caller was persistent. It rang a third time.
John grabbed it. “Mr. Black, I know you’re home.” He immediately recognized the voice. It was Charles. “Meet Stranger at the 1700 block of Passyunk in a half-hour.” John tried to explain, “I can’t . . . “ The phone went dead. “Honey, that was Max, I have to go back to the office. I won’t be long. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
Traffic was slow, but John got to his destination on time. He parked the vehicle and waited. Within a few minutes, he saw the familiar figure approach. John used to think his dress was strange, but then how fitting it was for a man named Stranger. Keeping his head down at all times was his normal gait. The tan trench coat and black fedora hat seemed as natural to John as his own shirt and tie. The man opened the back door and slid across the seat directly behind John.
“So, Stranger. What’s this about?”
A deep voice answered. “Mr. Black, do not turn around for any reason. Do not look into the rear-view mirror, or I’ll have to kill you.” Now, we have a problem.”
The voice was unmistakably that of Charles. John heard it many times but never had personal contact with him, A chill climbed up John’s back. He knew if Charles made a personal appearance to anyone, something must be terribly wrong.
“And what is that, sir?”
“The job at the Cornerstone, it couldn’t have been butchered any better if you tried. Stranger filled me in. He told me how you forgot to black out the camera. They have imagery of the entire burglary.”
“Sir, I took care of that.” He felt the temptation to tell Charles that it was Stranger who forgot to tend to the camera. Common sense told him otherwise.
Feeling a sense of pride, he continued. “I went back last night and disengaged the camera.”
“Good, Mr. Black, but the problem remains. The camera isn’t filming now. It already did. You have the camcorder, but they have the video. Oh, and by the way, did you think to wear gloves last night when you broke in? Your fingerprints are over everything you touched.” Charles's voice proceeded to get louder.
“The doorknob you touched, both inside and out. The safe door when you closed it...”
John wondered, how did he know I didn't wear gloves? How did he know I closed the safe door? His puzzled look asked the question.
Charles replied, “This is a secret government operation. We cover our tracks better than your average crook. Stranger, as in all cases, leaves behind a small surveillance camera. Nobody will notice it, but it captures everything. This keeps us one step ahead of the enemy. It is activated by motion. Your movement sent us the feed. We saw everything you did last night.” John shook his head.
“I will need to lay you off until this investigation passes. Give it a couple of weeks and we’ll see where we are. Stranger will be in touch. Until then, lay low. If there are any more mess-ups, you will need to be eliminated, and in this business, eliminated means eliminated, if you get my drift.”
John got the drift and returned home.
The morning started where the night before left off. Another phone call. Maureen picked it up. “Mrs. Black, this is Terri, from the bank. We have several checks deposited in your husband’s name, but it appears they are drawn on a dead account.”
A stunned Maureen took a moment to respond. “Terri, what do you mean? I know John has been depositing checks often and for bigger amounts, but Max gave him a raise. After all these years, he’s finally getting what he deserves. The checks are all good. Max has been paying him for years and never bounced a check, not once.”
“Mrs. Black. it’s not a matter of bouncing a check. It’s a matter that the company signing the checks doesn’t exist,”
“Well, Keller and Baxter is the company John works for, always has. It should be no different.”
“No, all the bad checks come from a defunct business that closed four years ago. I’m sorry, but the checks are bad. How soon can you place the money into your account?”
“I’ll have to talk to John about this. Here’s not here now, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I have some information. How much do we owe?”
“It comes to $42,356.08. The late fees aren’t included in that amount.”
“Oh my. There’s a terrible mistake - terrible. What’s the name of the business on the checks?”
It comes from Bridgeman and Son, a construction outfit that’s no longer in operation. The signature is unintelligible, and we have nothing to compare it, except that it wasn’t signed by Bridgeman or his son.”
“Okay, Terri. I’ll get right on it as soon as John comes home. Thank you for letting me know.”
Maureen’s mind raced. Where was John when she needed him? The phone still in hand, she dialed Max’s number.
“Max . . . “
It only took Max a second to recognize the voice. “Oh, hi Maureen. It’s nice to hear from you. How are you?”
“Fine. Max, the bank called today. They said the checks John has been depositing are no good. You do have money in your account to cover them, don’t you?”
A moment passed before Max spoke. “Maureen, John still hasn’t told you, has he?”
”Told me what?”
“I had to let him go. He was skimming money. Over $13,000. I hated to do it, but I couldn’t take the chance of keeping him. I’m not sure why he was skimming. If you folks were having financial issues, all he would have had to do was ask. I could have advanced him a paycheck or two. He was always one of my best employees. I really don’t understand.”
Now, it was Maureen’s turn to be silent. What she was hearing wasn’t making sense. John left every day, returned at the same time. Nothing seemed unusual in his schedule. He brought home his checks and promptly deposited them. She thought back to the night he left a check on the table. She carefully put it away, but never noticed the name it was drawn on. The lights flickered, then went out.
With no work lined up, John took to driving the streets until his usual time to arrive home. The sun hadn’t set yet, but he noticed the lights were turned off. He entered the house and joked, “Honey, you trying to save electricity?”
Maureen wasn’t amused. “No, I’m not trying to save electricity. We don’t have electricity.”
“I’ll check the breaker.”
“No need to do that.” Maureen gritted her teeth. “We don’t have electricity because you didn’t pay the bill. John, what’s going on? The bank called today. The checks you’ve been depositing are fake. Who is Bridgeman and Son? The mortgage hasn’t been paid. The bank said you owe more than $42,000, and they want to know how you plan to pay it back.”
“What! That can’t be!”
“John, level me. What is going on?”
“I paid all the bills. I paid our bills two months in advance.”
“No. That’s not the case - not the case at all. Bridgeman and Son doesn’t exist. It was a construction outfit, but a few years they went under. Now, tell me, what’s going on?”
John’s state of shock showed. It was clear to Maureen he really thought the work was legitimate.
“Honey, we’re in big-time trouble. What are we going to do? And what’s your new job about. I talked with Max this afternoon. I know you’re not working for him.”
© 2021 William Kovacic